CarolinaNorth


The following letter does an excellent job summing up my reasons for delaying the July’s abbreviated community review process for the ciritical Estes Drive/MLK, Jr. intersection, the two congested transit corridors and the surrounding area which includes UNC’s Carolina North campus.

The current CH2020 proposal calls for us to plan in haste and repent in crisis.

This intersection is a bulls-eye for development activities and lies at the crossroads of competing goals: creating an appropriate gateway to UNC’s Carolina North, managing a critical transition point between Downtown and North Chapel Hill/Carrboro and East Franklin St., supporting the new transit framework for MLK, Jr. and acting as the template for the ring of development around Horace-Williams Airport.

In many ways, it is one of the most critical areas in Town and deserves a thorough, deliberative and broad-based community evaluation before moving forward.

The following letter asks Council to take the time to “get it right”.

June 23, 2012

Dear Mayor and Town Council,

We are residents of Estes Hills, Huntington-Somerset, Coker Hills, Coker Hills West, Mount Bolus and Coker Woods and would be affected if zoning changes are made to the Town’s land use map in our area.

The Estes Neighbors group strongly recommends that the CH2020 Plan expand the scope of the proposed Estes Corridor study to include all or most of the ‘MLK South future focus area’, and develop a robust, deliberative and broadly inclusive community outreach effort to build a consensus for managing development prudently within that focus area. Two hundred and eight of our neighbors have signed on to that vision.

By definition a small area plan needs to include a larger area than the small strip along Estes Drive. The Estes/MLK,Jr. intersection is a critical element of several overlapping concerns: a gateway to Carolina North, a current traffic bottleneck, and a key transition point between downtown and north Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

We recommended a focus area plan that covers Estes Drive Extension to Seawell School Road and MLK from Homestead south to Hillsborough Street, including Carolina North. Further, the focus effort must answer the following open questions:

(1) What land uses in this MLK South focus area are most compatible with the new Carolina North campus, the biggest change in our Town for decades?
(2) How will future development be effectively integrated with the Carolina North MLK transit plans to ensure continued mobility for residents, commuters, and transit access to Carolina North?
(3) How will the anticipated development affect our neighborhoods?

Summer is not the time for this critical planning effort. Many stakeholders are away on vacations, the Council is not in session, no clear process has been described, and not enough time will have passed for residents to have adequately digested the new CH2020 plan. Fall is a better time to start a robust, inclusive and sustained community process,
ensuring both strong participation and one resulting in broad community support. We anticipate several rounds of discussions and community evaluations of draft proposals extending into 2013.

Our recommendation: We request that the language making the Estes Corridor study a priority be removed. See p.45 of the Implementation Chapter in the June 25th DRAFT Comprehensive Plan.

Not only is this narrow strip of land an insufficient basis for planning, we also don’t know of any instance in the 2020 discussions where such a study emerges as a priority. We think it makes good sense to complete an integrated area plan for the MLK and Estes focus area before any changes are contemplated for Estes Drive.

In addition, we ask the Council that the final Comprehensive Plan contain a detailed process to develop area plans for all future focus areas, including:
(1) participation by citizens;
(2) adequate time to do the job;
(3) enough data to support assumptions and justifications; and finally
(4) how area plan recommendations will be turned into changes on the zoning map.

We ask that the area plan process be built in consultation with the affected neighborhoods, the University, property owners, businesses and interested residents. We envision something much more detailed and rigorous than the 15-501 south discussions, but shorter than the Glen Lennox process for all these areas. Development within each of these areas will impact not only the surrounding neighborhoods but all of Chapel Hill.

Thank you for considering these changes.

Sincerely,

David Ambaras, Mary Andersen, Stephen P. Berg, Kim and MaryEllen Biechele, Jill Blackburn, Watson Bowes M.D., Laurie Cousart, Rose Marie D’Silva, Glen H. Elder Jr, Verla Insko, Patty Krebs, Fred Lampe, Ross and Winsome Leadbetter, Emily Lees, Ronald C. and Sue Link, Julie McClintock, Sarah K. McIntee, John Morris, Priscilla Murphy, Nelson and Diane Price, Sandy Turbeville, Pat Lowry,Will Raymond, David Robinson, Steve Rogers, Gretchen Stroemer, Susan Swafford, Misako Toda, Alan Tom, Barrie Trinkle, and Cathy Walker

Just got back from another presentation/planning charrette covering the Town’s new Downtown Development Action Plan and Framework.

The plan, created with input from UNC, the Downtown Partnership, Downtown businesses and local citizens, is supposed to look at economic, cultural and social development opportunities over the next 5 to 8 years and layout a fairly structured framework for encouraging change that meets both these goals and those encapsulated in the Town’s 2000 Downtown Small-Area Plan, Comprehensive Plan and other relevant guidelines created over the last decade.

Today was the first opportunity the public has had to review Kling-Stubbins’, a Raleigh planning consultancy, realization of that input into an initial proposal.

First reaction? Wow!

Back in April I attended both public input sessions to lobby for my vision of Downtown. I made a number of practical and visionary suggestions (as CitizenWill readers might expect) of how we could improve Downtown including using ongoing development initiatives like the University Square project to catalyze action. Today I saw quite a few of my and other folks suggestions captured and integrated into the proposed framework. Very encouraging.

The framework sketches out a series of evolutions that go far beyond a 5 to 8 year horizon: a new grid of east-west/north-south roads, linear parks stretching along Pritchard and Roberson creating several north-south axes through Town, creation of smaller human-scale city blocks to encourage greater pedestrian access, a multi-model transit station along a corridor running on the east margin of Parking Lot #5 (folks might remember my lobbying for such a corridor and its rejection by Council and RAM Development), an emphasis on work-force/mixed income housing OVER luxury condos, more parking especially along the margins to build up capacity, along with a slew of transformative elements to make Downtown physically and psychologically more productive.

On the planning side, Kling-Stubbins recognized that the overlapping jurisdictions between Downtown’s TC-2 zone and the Northside NCD (neighborhood conservation district) presented some serious challenges both for the neighborhoods and managing controlled growth along the Rosemary St. corridor (principally to the north). Addressing the incompatibility between the currently approved Downtown development projects and the maintenance of Northside, Cameron and Pine Knoll neighborhoods’ integrity is a key issue facing our Town. The framework presented this afternoon didn’t shy away from this issue but, instead, made solving the clash of competing objectives a priority.

In the “everything old is new again”, a few elements, like recreating the informal alley that ran through Fowler’s parking lot to connect Rosemary St. and Franklin St. to offload some traffic and add additional intersection corners (which attract and support high rent business), were rolled out. When I asked the consultants why they resurrected historical components of Downtown that I thought had worked, they admitted they were not aware of the history but had derived these proposed changes from first principles.

Another encouraging aspect of today’s presentation was how data-driven the process Kling-Stubbins used.

Analysis showed that, in spite of Council’s rhetoric in selling the ridiculous Lot #5 project, there are actually quite a few “eyes on the street”. Peak pedestrian traffic at Columbia and Franklin was over 10,000 folks. Consultants remarked that the high pedestrian counts throughout Downtown indicated quite healthy and enviable conditions especially in comparison to other benchmark college towns (Athens, Austin, State College).

Market evaluations show a need for Downtown work-force housing in lieu of more luxury condos. Again, contrary to recent Council policy.

For all my glee there are some sticking points – including incorporating wider public input, making Downtown neighborhoods partners and using TIFs (tax incremental financing, a problematic form of tax transfer payments) to pay for required infrastructure.

The Downtown Partnership will be posting the slide presentation, backing analysis and other materials used today on their website tomorrow (DownTownChapelHill.com).

I plan to whinge on more about the positives and negatives once those materials are available.

So, executive summary: framework is shaping up, has integrated public input, presents a revolutionary vision of Downtown the implementation of which will take decades.

Another issue on tonight’s Orange County Board of Commissioner’s (BOCC) agenda involved UNC’s Bingham Research Facility ( report on UNC’s response to environmental violations and plans for expanding the facility [PDF]).

There’s been a number of recent (Chapel Hill News) stories (INDY) outlining the numerous environmental and policy missteps [PDF] made over the last few years.

Local community group Preserve Rural Orange (PRO) has done a great job keeping public attention on UNC’s problems at the facility. They have also provided a slew of good suggestions to address the growing concerns.

Recently appointed Associate Vice Chancellor Bob Lowman, who has the unenviable task of straightening out years of shoddy operations, spoke on behalf of the facility this evening. He pointed out that 8 of 10 key issues PRO raised earlier this year have already been addressed, not because, as he said “they were working on them” but because “they did the right thing”.

He related his new management approach – air problems quickly, address key concerns expeditiously and keep the community in the loop.

Folks from PRO responded well to the tenor of his comments (there was a bit of a gasp when he revealed the plan to build an on-site 500,000 gallon water tank)

After his presentation I felt that UNC was back on track by picking Bob to lead the effort.

That said, I did ask the BOCC to consider jointly creating a framework with UNC for managing the growth of UNC’s Orange County facilities. This new framework would resemble the one Chapel Hill elective officials, staff and community members used to create the Carolina North development agreement.

While I don’t believe all aspects of the Carolina North process apply to this new expansion, key lessons involving fiscal equity, transportation infrastructure, environmental monitoring and remediation and public participation could certainly be applied in addressing some of the issues arising from this project.

For instance, one citizen mentioned that the White Cross Volunteer Fire Department was scrambling to get $900 to cover expenses dealing with protecting the existing Bingham Facility (which it appears doesn’t even have rudimentary safety gear like a sprinkler system). The $14.5M NIH grant recently awarded UNC for expanding the Bingham Facility will spur the creation of $60+million worth of facilities. $900 a year won’t cover it.

Bob Lowman immediately offered to redress this financial inequity, which is fantastic, but depending on an ad hoc approach when we have four years experience in creating a structured, transparent and fairly thorough framework for highlighting and negotiating solutions to these type of problems makes little sense.

Hopefully the BOCC will consider using those hard-earned lessons to manage UNC’s migration into rural Orange.

As some readers might recall, I was appointed to serve on Chapel Hill’s Sustainable Community Visioning Task Force early last year.

Before we got started there were a few issues to address involving recruitment of a diverse membership to reflect both the concerns of the business community and the community as a whole. After settling on over 20 members, we began to work on a fairly ambitious task – to create a framework for making reasonable decisions on beneficial growth over the next 10 years.

The last few months the SCVTF worked diligently to create a set of principles that will inform our final work product. In the last few weeks, though, concerns about how to address issues raised as long ago as last Spring, once again surfaced.

Four members, Amy Ryan, Del Snow, Madeline Jefferson and myself, submitted the following letter to the committee as a whole this evening outlining not only our concerns but some proposals to more effectively, efficiently and energetically move forward with the task at hand.

Kudos to Amy for doing a fantastic job of word-smithing:

March 8, 2010

Members of the Sustainable Community Visioning Task Force,

When the task force was convened last summer, we were united in one thing: our willingness to commit a significant amount of time and energy to the task of ensuring that the future development of Chapel Hill would proceed in a positive and equitable manner. We all see the importance of providing citizen guidance to town staff, review boards, and local developers for managing the successful growth of our town.

As was made evident at the last meeting, there is a group of task force members who are concerned with the direction our work has taken and feel that our mission is being compromised. We would therefore like to take this opportunity to state our concerns in detail and propose an alternative to the process currently under way.

Our concerns with the current process fall into four specific areas:

1. No opportunity to look at the big picture

By focusing first on individual key areas in town that are likely to develop, we will not be looking at the town as a whole, as we were charged to do, and will not be able to see the cumulative impacts of our recommendations.

Unless we spend many meetings looking at every key area (which the task force seems disinclined to do) and then assessing the cumulative impact of all of them together, under the current plan we will have no way of determining whether our recommendations are reasonable, equitable, or practical for the town as a whole.

2.No specificity

The current Comprehensive Plan does an admirable job of providing general guidance for the development of Chapel Hill, but many of its provisions and recommendations are vague enough that they can be used to justify a broad range of development options, some less desirable than others. The task force’s set of guiding principles, while useful as a general statement of our vision, do not make any progress toward offering more specific, concrete guidelines for the town and local developers.

We agree that it is not the SCVTF’s job to create detailed small area plans, nor do we feel that such exercises are a particularly effective way of guiding real world development. Rather, beginning with the principles’ general vision for the town’s development, it should be the task force’s goal to provide leadership in guiding the town to begin developing specific, context-based guidelines for future development.

3.No acknowledgment of constraints

As the process is currently constituted, there is no mechanism for the task force to acknowledge and plan for factors that will limit the town’s development. The school district has confirmed that we are running out of sites in town for building new schools; the resources of our local watershed are finite; we can add only so many more cars to current roads before quality of life deteriorates; like all communities we have a responsibility to work toward sustainable resource use.

Phil’s “Where Do We Go from Here” memo of 3/9/10 (PDF) states that our charge is “recommending what kinds of growth and where growth can occur if it does occur, not whether growth should occur, or how much or how little.” While none of us are in a position to predict the future, we also can offer no meaningful guidance to growth without accepting and working with at least some general parameters of how much growth is expected, responsible, and desirable. We were charged by Mayor Foy to “challenge all assumptions,” not to work without any assumptions whatsoever.

4. No plan for iterative community input

In our discussions at the beginning of our tenure, the group was strongly in favor of obtaining community input that would provide feedback on our work along the way.

Until Phil’s 3/9 memo, the task force had not been informed of any plans for eliciting community opinion on our recommendations before our report goes to council. If the goal of a May report to council still holds, we question whether there is time for steps 3 and 4 of Phil’s plan to be implemented and incorporated into our report.

For our work to succeed, it must be “owned” not just by us, but by the community as a whole. Adequate time for public input on the guiding principles, hierarchy of trade-offs, and vision for all key development areas is crucial to making this happen.

Given these concerns, we would like to propose modifications to the plan of the task force’s work as we carry forward:

1. Spend one or two meetings on a Reality Check exercise

Given high and low estimates of population changes anticipated in Chapel Hill, along with accepted formulas for calculating expected demand for schools, commercial space, water, etc., it should be possible to form rough estimates of how many square feet of new residential, commercial, and civic space the town will require and can support. The task force could then spend one meeting in small groups deciding how this growth could be logically allocated throughout town; another meeting would allow reconciliation of the groups’ visions into a single task force plan, which town staff could review for conflicts or other problems.

This step would allow us to address big picture issues while avoiding hours of extra meting time looking at each small area in detail in order to build a picture of the cumulative development effects. It would also allow us to work within our development “budget,” accommodating constraints and planning for the town’s future needs. The resulting map would also provide a clear object for testing against the task force’s guiding principles.

2.Conduct character-based small-area development studies of one or two key neighborhoods

Using the information obtained from the Reality Check exercise, the task force could take the development allocated to one or two specific areas and take a close look at how best it could be accommodated.

The product of such a study would be a clear statement of the current neighborhood character, identification of opportunities for development and important elements to preserve, guidance for reconciling expected conflicts and making trade-offs, and specific examples for developers and town staff and boards on what kind of development would be appropriate.

Ideally, this exercise would be a quick example of a more in-depth process that the town would ultimately conduct in each neighborhood in town where significant development is likely to occur.

3.Plan for community input

It is vital to provide enough time for citizens to review and comment on the task force’s work as it progresses. Key elements for review would include (1) our refined list of guiding principles (after we have tested them in one or two small areas); (2) our map showing general allocation of development across the town from the Reality Check exercise; and (3) our recommendations for the select key areas we study.

When the town moved forward to develop in-depth neighborhood plans, it would obviously be crucial to get citizen input about how they see the neighborhood, what is lacking, what development works, and what doesn’t. This information would be the basis for the work of whatever group was charged with carrying this work forward.

While all members of the SCVTF may not have the exact same vision for Chapel Hill, we are united in our concern for the town and its future. It is time for us to be united in framing and agreeing to the process that will carry us forward. At the end of our tenure, we should all agree that we have produced a product that will identify the principles we hold in common, help us preserve what we value and improve what is falling short, and provide useful guidance for the town as it grows and develops. The process we have outlined above can be accomplished efficiently, will produce more useful guidance for the town, and will provide the basis for developing the specific development vision and guidelines the town so urgently needs.

Signed,

Amy Ryan
Del Snow
Madeline Jefferson
Will Raymond

cc: Garrett Davis
Phil Boyle
Mayor Kleinschmidt
SCVTF mailing list

I want to quickly respond to Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt’s comments this evening.

First, spending $8-12M on the Lot #5 project, building luxury condos and enriching a private developer, is not the same as “protecting our Town’s infrastructure”.

The Lot #5 (West 140) project is discretionary – the push to keep it going is not based on sound economic fundamentals.

Putting Lot #5 on par with filling potholes or expanding the Library is a great political speaking point – but certainly not grounded in reality – suggestions otherwise does the public a disservice.

At the same time, other probable debt-related outlays aren’t included in the analysis. Mark suggesting the lump of general obligation (G.O.) debt covers the whole gamut of obligations minimizes the challenge before us.

Beyond that bit of misdirection, Mark knows (or should know) that our Town’s current reserves are low compared to historical reserves on a percentage basis.

That $1.9M increase Mark bandied about sounds big but isn’t considering the $55M hole we’re in. No matter how hard fought the battle to get that $1.9M last year, weighed against future operational and capital demands – like trying to expand the Library – the percentage improvement in overall reserves was slightly better than negligible and doesn’t position us any better to deal with MAJOR outlays (if you use a more reasonable debt ceiling).

To use the credit card example several Council members relied on this evening, there is a qualitative difference between the following two scenarios:
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I was appointed as one of the “at large” members of the Town’s Sustainability Task Force several months ago.

One of the first issues we took up was representation on the task force itself. Essentially, did the task force membership represent the reasonably broadest possible diversity of viewpoints and experience we needed to craft a sustainable game plan covering Chapel Hill’s growth these next 10 years?

Along with most of the task force, I agreed it didn’t so we asked the Council to grant us permission to broaden our membership and renew the call for volunteers. I’ve been calling folks I know, sending emails, talking to various organizations that might otherwise be disinclined from participating to try to get new members who will broaden our task forces’ perspective.

As of July 20th I’m pleased to say we’ve had an increase in interest – amounting to 10 new applicants:

  • Anne Eshleman (24, student, new resident)
  • Stacia Cooper (47, insurance regulator, 7+ years)
  • J. Patterson Calhoun (31, business manager, newly returned resident [in Triangle 8 years prior])
  • Lister Delgado (40, investor, 5 years in-town/5 years just outside )
  • Donna Bell (38, social worker, 7 years – Northside resident)
  • Kevin Hicks (44, product engineer, 4 years)
  • Christopher Senior (53, green builder, new resident)
  • Daniel Outen (22, student at Kenan Flagler, 3 1/2 years)
  • Todd Woerner (53, chemist/teacher/lab manager, 18 years)
  • Brian Paulson (23, city management, 11 years)

The task force will resume its work mid-August by adding 6 of these 10 (or more I hope) applicants to the position.

I will be reviewing these and any other applications with an eye towards choosing folks that have a distinctly different vision of where Chapel Hill should be in 10 years. By maximizing diversity of considered opinion we should not only end up with a stronger set of recommendations but also a message that is widely acceptable.

Quick note, the Town, this morning, has fixed the links and added the missing Carolina North material.

Obviously well less than 24 hours prior to the “public hearing”. Certainly undercuts claims of transparency and support of public review.

In any case, here is tonight’s agenda with the missing supporting material:

As some of you folks know I’ve been involved – as a citizen – fairly deeply in the attempt to create a successful agreement between UNC and the Town managing growth of the massive Carolina North project.

The Carolina North project could either contribute greatly to or severely diminish the quality of life in Chapel Hill.

To succeed we need a comprehensive agreement that we all can live with. It needs to be fair, not shifting significant costs onto local residents. It needs to manage impacts so that water, air, noise and traffic concerns don’t spill over into the wider community. It needs to meet the needs of the University while honoring the community in which it thrives. It also has to have understandable consequences, demarcated trade-offs and a compliance regimen that UNC will follow.

I’ve attended almost every forum, meeting and public hearing. Suggested improvements in both process and content, more than a few which have been incorporated into the CURRENT draft.

When Council started the final phase of the process, the creation of a binding legal contract between the Town and UNC governing some period and extent of development on the Horace-William’s Airport tract (Carolina North), I took the firm position that their schedule was too aggressive, the amount of work clearly underestimated.

Unlike a traditional development zone, once the agreement is signed the Town – which is us – will be bound not only to the agreement’s stipulations but the supplementary addenda – most notably UNC’s Carolina North Design guidelines [PDF] (which envisaged 8-story buildings lining Martin Luther King Jr./Estes).

There are many moving parts to the agreement – each serving a vital function: protecting the environment, maintaining nearby neighborhoods’ integrity, providing a flexible and transparent process to manage UNC’s growth, etc.

I argued then, as I do today, that the schedule – which has become even more arbitrary (no money to build) – would severely limit the Council’s and wider public’s ability to review and digest the final agreement.

I knew that the bulk of the work would be rushed at the finish line with the public short-changed in the end.

Many of the meetings I would start my comments by pointing out that the public was ill-served by the continuing trend of providing key documents late, incomplete or not at all. As recently as last Thursday’s “public” information event (more like window dressing) the revised development agreement was not available until nearly 6pm (for a 7pm session!).

The information session reviewed a version of the agreement, completely reorganized and extended, with folks who had no opportunity to have read it (I had my laptop and was scrambling to both read the new revision and find out if my prepared questions had any relevance anymore).

Worse, I had to guess on where to find the correct revision (it is here [PDF], not available as a markup or clean version as noted on Monday’s agenda here) [I notified staff later that evening - the problem still exists as of 4:30pm Sunday].

How can Council hold a public hearing on a development agreement that is unavailable to the public 24 hours prior?

They can’t but they will.

Unfortunately, with key underlying studies delivered nearly a year late, with the development agreement still in flux, informal public input not only not fully integrated but cut-off, my prediction of a rush to failure was all to correct.

Council is poised to adopt an agreement incorporating hundreds of pages of supplementary material that they and the Town Manager have not fully read (watch June 8th’s Council meeting) , that is not – as of June 15th – finalized and that continues to have several substantial points of contention – including major traffic issues and costs essentially amounting to a yearly fee of up to several hundreds of dollars per homeowner.

Worse, the current draft agreement is peppered – just like a lousy credit-card deal – with “to be determineds”.

Without a firm contract and the time to adequately review it, the public continues to be ill-served (heck, when you buy a house you get at least 3 business days to back out after signing – and that contract has legal boilerplate that is well-established, one house instead of 3 million square feet of development and an established legal framework to protect your rights).

Why Council is insisting on adopting an agreement that is unfinished and unread? Why not limit the term from 5 to 8 years, the scope to 800,000 to 1,000,000 square feet to protect the public’s interest in maintain our quality of life? Why the rush?

Please contact Council here and ask them to grant the public fully 60 days to review a complete and finalized agreement.

Seems like the municipal elections are officially on. Kevin bowed out as mayor. Mark bowed in. Laurin, not surprisingly, ready to go again. And now Penny.

I ran with Penny in 2007 and welcome her 2009 run.

She did her homework, was firm in her convictions, eloquent and handled some rather nasty rebukes by two of the incumbents with grace and good cheer.

I’m hoping that this year, unlike the 2007 campaign where the incumbents orchestrated an issues shut out, will be a year in which the rather substantial problems before our community get not only a fair hearing but elicit specific proposed remedies by the candidates.

Here’s Penny’s announcement:

I am proud to announce my candidacy for Chapel Hill Town Council. While running in the 2007 council race I was honored to meet many folks that live and work in Chapel Hill who share my love for this beautiful town. Chapel Hill has a bright future, and I believe I would be a positive addition to the Town Council as they guide us through the next phase of growth. As a small business owner raising a family in Chapel Hill, I represent the unique perspective of the average everyday citizen. In the coming months I look forward to talking to the people of Chapel Hill to gain an understanding of their priorities, needs, and concerns. I can best represent Chapel Hill by ensuring that everyone has the chance for their voice to be heard as we shape the future of our town.

Councilmember Jim Ward and Mayor Kevin Foy just floated the idea in tonight’s Carolina North work session of charging all UNC students, in conjunction with the University, a fee for bringing their cars to Chapel Hill.

This Council already floated the idea of charging more for Downtown parking, an idea not only at odds with both the Downtown Parking task force recommendations [PDF] (of which I was a member) but also the Friends of Downtown, a group of Chapel Hill business owners and other concerned citizens who want to improve the Downtown experience for visitors and residents alike.

It is clear that Carolina North will shove roughly $800,000 to $2.4 million costs per year (spiking to much more 6-7 years out) onto Chapel Hill’s citizens’ shoulders, but creating a new fee based on your reason for living here doesn’t make sense.

I’m at the roll-out of tonight’s UNC explanation of the tardy (a year late) Tischler-Bise Carolina North fiscal impact study.

The classroom at the School of Government is fairly packed with elective and governmental staff folks (about 45 from all three governmental bodies – Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Orange County). Beyond a smattering of media folks (Daniel with the Chapel Hill Herald, Jesse with the Chapel Hill News), there’s a handful of concerned citizens.

Other than those “required” to be here (if at least for no other purpose than to say they were there), some of the “usual suspects” include Penny Rich (former candidate Town Council), George Cianciolo (Chapel Hill planning board), Scott Radway (former planning board member), Joe Capowski (former Council member), Terri Buckner (former Tech board member among other civic posts) and myself.

Further comments follow as comments on this post.

I haven’t said much about the fluffy TischlerBise fiscal impact study commissioned and worked on jointly by UNC’s administration, our local governments and TischlerBise’s consultants.

Fluffy? Like previous UNC commissioned analysis – notably the previous Carolina North and Orange County Airport Authority economic justifications – the upside is mostly in intangible (i.e. hard to measure, hard to hold accountable for) benefits and the downside – in hard currency – mostly downplayed, low-balled.

Carolina North could be a great asset to the local community but UNC cannot shift millions of dollars of costs onto the shoulders of local residents.

No matter how the consultants twisted the numbers it is clear that Chapel Hill will take a significant financial hit as Carolina North – the question now is how much?

There’s a preview session setup for Council this evening at UNC’s School of Government (open to the public in case you are interested in seeing some consultancy sleight of hand):

The consultants who prepared the fiscal impact analysis for Carolina North will present their final report to the public March 31. The presentation will begin at 7 p.m. in the Wicker Classroom (2603) at the School of Government on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Free parking is available after 5 p.m. in the School of Government parking deck, with additional paid parking in the N.C. 54 visitor’s lot and the Rams Head deck. Chapel Hill Transit service is available via the RU, G, S and V routes.

My estimate?

At least $15-20 million over the next 10 years or, roughly, 3 to 4 cents per $100 valuation per year of additional tax burden (on-top of our contributions via North Carolina State taxes).

A couple meetings tonight that folks may want to check out.

First, a meeting on Northside and the corrosive effect burgeoning development, taxes and shrinking opportunities is having on that traditional community.

From today’s Herald-Sun:

Local activists united to address what they view as “historic discrimination, rising property taxes, and development that threaten communities of color in Chapel Hill” will share alternate visions for collaborative sustainability and social change at 6 tonight.

United with the Northside Community Now (UNC-NOW), St. Joseph C.M.E., NAACP, and EmPOWERment Inc. will host a community meeting at St. Joseph C.M.E. Church, 510 W. Rosemary St., to discuss the impact of local development on historically African American neighborhoods.

“It is important that we come together as a community to be the voice of righteousness and justice in the face of the injustice and racist environmentalism that is threatening our neighborhoods,” the Rev. Troy F. Harrison of St. Joseph C.M.E. said in a news release.

Second, at 7pm, the second Town-sponsored community outreach on the Carolina North development agreement.

A Public Input/Information Session on Carolina North will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19, in the Chapel Hill Town Council Chambers of Town Hall, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Carolina North is a proposed satellite campus of UNC-Chapel Hill. It is expected to be contained within about 250 acres of the Horace Williams Tract’s 1,000 acres and be built in phases over the next 50 years, as proposed. The property lies just to the north of Estes Drive adjacent to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The Thursday session will provide an update on the status of UNC-Chapel Hill’s
Carolina North plans and a description of issues being addressed by policy-makers and Town/University staffs. These issues include the following: design standards and public art; police/fire/EMS facilities and services; school site; recreation facilities; greenways, connections; historic, cultural features; stormwater management on site; water use and reclamation; energy conservation, carbon credits; Solid waste management; remediation of landfill; stream buffers; trees, landscaping; sedimentation; neighboring lands, compatibility, buffers; noise, lighting. A public comment period is scheduled.

This meeting will be aired live on Chapel Hill Government TV 18. Additional informational sessions on Carolina North have been scheduled for 1 to 5 p.m. March 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. April 1.

For more information, contact the Town of Chapel Hill Planning Department at (919) 968-2728 or carolinanorth@townofchapelhill.org.

Additional material is posted online at www.townofchapelhill.org/carolinanorth.

Tonight presents an excellent opportunity to not only get information but to help steer the discussion on what should be part of the development agreement which will codify the community’s expectations.

Council member Laurin Easthom says “Now is the time” for the community to get involved with the planning for Carolina North.

Now is the time. Now is the time to comment on Carolina North, the largest development to ever hit the Town of Chapel Hill. The Town Council and UNC Trustees are meeting monthly to hash out a development agreement that will allow UNC flexibility and assurances in its development of Carolina North. If we come to an agreement by June on how Carolina North will develop, we may be done for years in decision making on how things are done. It’s time to wake up, and get active, and come to these meetings so that UNC can hear what you think.

Damn straight, especially if you serve on one of our Town’s advisory boards. The Carolina North train has left the station and is picking up speed, “Now” is definitely the time.

More here.

[UPDATE]

The Daily Tar Heel’s Emily Stephenson chimes in here (DTH ‘blogs). A story on yesterday’s poor turnout here.

[ORIGINAL]

Earlier today (Nov. 19th), UNC’s Board of Trustees approved the draft Carolina North design guidelines making the proposal official UNC policy.

This evening, the first in a series of informational/public feedback sessions on Carolina North was held. With the creation of the Carolina North development agreement well on its way, the Council’s explicit call to advisory boards to attend, if possible, and the aggressive schedule to meet next July’s commitment, I expected a fairly full house.

Crowded house? Not the case.

The meeting started with roughly two dozen citizens in attendance. By the time Jack wrapped his presentation covering UNC’s design intent the group of interested citizenry was down to 19. At the end of the Dr. Owen’s presentation, covering the development agreement process, only 17 non-staff/non-press folks remained. Of those, eleven were drawn from the “usual suspects” ( Fred Black, Joyce Brown, Fred Stang, David Godschalk, George Cianciolo, Lynne Kane, Mike Collins, Loren Hintz, Ed Harrison, Bob Henshaw, me).

Disappointing! As Carolina North’s development director Jack Evans noted this evening, the formal process for approval has begun. The first phase of Carolina North is on its way.

Chapel Hill residents need to wake up and show up.

Every resident will eventually be affected by Carolina North’s development. At least 5 advisory boards will be consulted on both the outline and details of the development agreement. Community groups like the Friends of Bolin Creek and Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth (well represented this evening) could play key roles in shaping the discussion.

There is quite a bit of work before the community. If we follow Pal Alto’s trajectory, the development agreement – which is, as Dr. Owens pointed out again this evening, essentially a binding legal contract – could swell to 200+ pages over the next 8 months (that’s 25 or more pages of detailed legal requirements per month – a heavy responsibility). Those pages will dictate development over a long period. Once set, unlike zoning ordinances, the ability to tweak conditions requires mutual agreement. Mistakes could be difficult to correct.

The community has a tremendous opportunity to shape the outcome at Carolina North. Both UNC and Chapel Hill’s Town Council agreed to involve the public at every point in the process. But, so far, Chapel Hill’s citizens have not turned out.

The negotiations between UNC and the Town will continue to accelerate. The momentum is building rapidly. My concern is that by the time citizens go into reactive-mode – recognizing missing elements in the plan, trying to wedge in protections beyond those outlined – the inertia will be too great and the time too short to significantly change course.

Now is the time for public concern. Now is the time for community involvement.

Because of the extensive impacts Carolina North will have on this community over the next several decades, I’ve asked Council to “bang the drum loudly”, to go beyond simply inviting the public into the process. We need to seek out folks, develop multiple avenues of engagement and draw them into the discussion. That said, at some point it comes down to whether our citizens want to shoulder their part of the burden and work on behalf of folks that will live here decades hence.

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