Carrboro


The Carrboro Citizen has another report on Carrboro’s BOA’s decision not to amend the inter-local agreement governing access to Lake Jordan water.

I was bothered by this passage:

Board member Joal Hall Broun said the issue was not the lake water, but freeing up OWASA in the event of emergencies and allowing the utility to find ways to keep the cost of water from rising. Many people in the community can’t afford increases in their water bills like those seen in recent years, she said.

Joal should recall that OWASA bills went up as this community met the conservation challenge. It was not the lack of water that increased fees but the unsustainable cost structure of OWASA and the way capital outlays are financed.

It boggles the mind that five years into our great conservation efforts local leadership still hasn’t pushed OWASA to rework its financial model to reward good behavior.

Our neighbors across the tracks are celebrating their 100th birthday today.

Carrboro, “the little community that could”, has still managed to keep itself, as local radio icon Ron Stutts likes to say, “one degree cooler than Chapel Hill”.

Celebrations start this evening around 7:30pm at the Century Center across from Weaver St. Market.

More information at Carrboro.com.

In case there’s any confusion, Morgan Freeman had nothing to do with this post!

I’ll be helping the Orange County Democratic Party over at the Caldwell precinct in northern Orange County from 9:30am to 4:00pm. Drop by if you’re in the area.

Over the last week I’ve received emails asking my recommendations for the judicial races. Here’s who I’m voting for:

US SenateElaine Marshall

I know, Elaine isn’t running for the bench but since I have your attention….

A lot has been made of the apparent Democratic electorate malaise this year. We are still involved in the longest war of our country’s history. We still haven’t punished the use of torture or kidnapping as tools of war. Affronts to our Constitution, to basic human rights continue to be promulgated. Backroom deals derail chances of improving our populaces health and welfare. Billions are bilked and the public coffers milked. Spying and lying are now commonplace insults to our country’s democratic well-being. So much of the same old, same old with nary a peep from so many Democratic “yes we can change” Congress folks.

I understand that immense lethargic unease the folks that turned out in 2008 must feel. Does that mean we need to suffer with a Burr under our saddles another 4 years? Hell no.

Elaine is more than the anti-Burr choice. She wasn’t supported by the torpor inducing national Democratic apparatchik, a real win in my book. She will work to bring real change on behalf of all North Carolinians if elected. Do your part today to make that happen.

Supreme Court – Bob Hunter

Both candidates have a strong record on governmental transparency, solid experience and track records of reasonable judicial advocacy. While Jackson served as counsel under Labor Secretary Cherrie Berry during a period of time when that office was less than proactive on a slate of labor related issues, it’s not clear to me if her role allowed her to advocate for better outcomes. Hunter has the edge in experience, great endorsements and, as a Democrat, the background to work towards an equitable decision on Congressional redistricting should it land in the Court’s hands.

Court of Appeals – Gray,Elmore,Geer.

Gray and Geer, Democrats, have solid reputations, been unequivocal that politics will play no role in their courts. Elmore is a solid choice.

Court of Appeals – Instant Runoff version: Thigpen – 1st. Hammer – 2nd. Payne or Middleton or Vesper -3rd.

In other races:

Board of Commissioners – Earl McKee.

I’ve been watching Earl as he has taken on a few County issues these last 18 months. He spent 6 months attending BOCC meetings to get a feel of the office before ever standing up and speaking his piece. His first issue, challenging the expensive remodeling of an office space to serve as a Commissioners chamber, demonstrated the type of leadership he plans to bring to the Commission: he did his research, spoke sincerely and directly to the issue, stood firm on his principles while pursuing the best policy for both his rural district (District 2) and the County as a whole.

Sales Tax Referendum – AGAINST

This is a lousy year to raise any taxes – no matter how small the bite – but that is not the main reason I stand so firmly opposed to this referendum.

Poverty is on a steep uptick in Orange County. Demand for health and welfare services is at an all time high. Long needed structural shifts – from fully staffing our community health system to shifting the emergency homeless shelter burden off the IFC – are not occurring supposedly due to fiscal difficulties at the County level. Yet, when presented with $2.3M from a sales tax or $4.6M windfall from refinancing the County’s debt, the BOCC chose areas outside those vital needs.

I lobbied them to put the lions share towards addressing the needs of those struggling the most – for the 1 in 5 Orange County residents in poverty and other residents who are just treading water. $2+ M new revenue targeted effectively represents more than a life jacket – it would lift folks out of the deep end of the pool and move them on to firm ground.

Again, I appreciate the BOCC making a somewhat firm commitment to spending priorities – I just don’t support the same set of priorities.

The BOCC has been clear, as they should be, that this revenue sharing plan is a firm commitment over the next 5 years and will not change – period. The BOCC has also reaffirmed their stance that this new revenue will not replace existing revenue or cover existing expenses – it is new money for a new purpose )funds will not be freed up elsewhere that could be redirected to human services).

Given that, tomorrow, I’m voting NO for the sales tax in hopes that we will get another chance to set the priorities for that spending, that the new priority will be waited heavily towards addressing human service needs and that core needs – like improved emergency medical services(EMS) and required school facility repairs – be paid out of core budget.

More of my reasoning on voting against the sales tax below:
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The Triangle is a great place to live for many reasons, one of which is the incredible folks you meet from all walks of life who are working to make the world a bit better.

Carrboro’s Joan Widdifield is working to improve Bolin Creek’s health. A regional resource, Bolin Creek, its associated watersheds and subsequent water courses needs some real care and attention. Dr. Joan is also a consultant advising Clear Path International, an organization dedicated to dealing with the ongoing trauma of unexploded ordinance (UXO) around the world, on mental health and PTSD issues. As part of that effort, she is working on “Hearts and Mines”, a documentary shedding light on the problems UXO continues to cause in Vietnam.

Hearts & Mines is the story of the epilogue of the Vietnam-American War. More than three decades after the peace has been declared, Central Vietnamese villagers still live with the specter of unexploded ordnance (UXO) that can strike at any moment. With unprecedented access, this dramatic documentary follows victim-assistance and mine clearance NGOs and shines a light on the far-reaching effects of military conflict and the power of unexpected kindness and encouragement.

More information here.

Elaine and Lee are my next door neighbors. I’m usually hesitant to participate in these corporate campaigns but….the need is there and Elaine and Lee are working hard to address the growing demand for recreational opportunities for special needs folks in this community. That was enough to get me beyond my initial trepidation.

Please consider participating in their call to action and help fund recreational programming for special needs individuals in our community.

Hi Neighbors,

Lee and I have spearheaded an effort to develop social and recreational programming for special needs individuals in our community through our local Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Center. We have applied for a grant for $25,000 from the Pepsi Refresh Challenge. We have one month to get as many votes as possible in order to be one of 10 winners in our category. Like American Idol, we need to spread the word and have people vote daily. Below is information about the project and how to vote. You can vote once a day between now and August 31. We are currently in 87th place, having climbed from 348th in 3 days, so we know that mass voting makes a difference.

Thanks for you help,

Lee and Elaine Marcus

BRIDGES is a local, non-profit, recreational program that helps people with special needs have fun and learn new skills.

If you and all your friends vote for our proposal, BRIDGES can win a $25 thousand grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project.

How to Vote

  1. www.refresheverything.com/bridgesdch (click) on the web.
  2. Click on Vote for This Idea.
  3. Follow the sign-in steps. (You will be asked to create a password the first time you log in.)
  4. Scroll to the Vote button (bottom) and click. (The vote counter will change from 10 to 9))
  5. Remind your friends to vote daily.

You can vote once a day every day from August 1 to August 31 2010.

Thanks for your support.

Learn about BRIDGES: www.shalomdch.org, click on the BRIDGES logo.

If you don’t want to use a “real” email address, take a look at Mailinator. It’s an online service that provides “disposable” email addresses to avoid spam.

WUNC’s Laura Leslie (a reporting treasure) has a great post (Mon.: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before) on tonight’s 47 to 1 NC Senate vote “to ban video gambling – again – in North Carolina”.

Republican Tom Apodaca didn’t mince words in urging his fellow senators to ban video gambling.

“This is something we really don’t need. I mean, this is just a scourge, and I’ll happily vote to ban this.”

It’s not the first time Apodaca’s said that. North Carolina has been trying for years to get rid of video gambling. Its critics say it’s addictive, it breeds crime and corruption, and it preys on low-income and minority populations. And yet, it’s more popular than ever among those who say it’s harmless entertainment.

Wilmington’s Democratic Sen. Julia Boseman was the lone dissenter, arguing that the industry, if properly regulated, could generate millions of dollars in tax revenues.

You might recall a similar argument made in selling NC’s “educational” lottery.

If the lottery is any indication of the trajectory Internet/video gambling would take, the only way to grow revenues is to expand the reach of the games. With the lottery, what started as sales of tickets for a NC-only game became sales of scratch-offs along with mega-lottery options.

Easily deployed, requiring no special infrastructure, regulating the games the Senate banned this evening would become exponentially more difficult as their numbers increased.

There are other downsides which NC has already experienced:

…critics warned that video poker had become a front for organized crime. The allegation turned out to be true. Operators were bribing local officials to look the other way, and pumping money into campaign coffers to make friends in Raleigh.  Federal investigators sent about half a dozen people to prison – sheriffs, industry figures, and eventually, former House Speaker Jim Black.

I was and remain firmly against NC’s “education” lottery. Like many state lotteries, the promise has far exceeded the benefits while the damage has been more widespread than supporters claimed.

Studies show that lottery per capita revenues tend to come from the poorest parts of the State. It appears folks having difficulty controlling their scratch-off ticket purchases – whose attraction is pernicious – aren’t getting assistance from the service setup to handle that contingency. And, as feared, some school districts have come to imprudently rely on lottery monies for core needs.

Given those problems it makes little sense, moral or otherwise, for the State to be in the gambling business.

So, while I welcome tonight’s ban on video gambling, I’ve got to wonder why the Senate doesn’t apply the same concern to NC’s lottery shakedown.

The Orange County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) opened up discussion this evening of putting a %0.25 increase in local sales tax before voters in November (Levy of a One-Quarter Cent (1/4¢) County Sales and Use Tax [PDF]).

The tax, if approved, will bump our local sales tax to %8 with all the additional proceeds going directly to the county (it seems like it was mentioned several hundred times that the municipalities would get NADA from the increase). Best estimates, and only if a pending state bill is passed, has the county reaping in $500K in 2011 rising to $2.4M in 2012.

I spoke before the BOCC on the issue – raising a few concerns, suggesting a possible course of action.

I acknowledged the Commishes quandary in filling the current $9.4M hole in the County’s budget and the near certainty of dealing with an even deeper one in 2011. I recognized the appeal in making a seemingly small increase in a tax that is spread across a wider arc than property taxpayers. I understood it probably seemed an easier sell especially given the recent turmoil over our hefty property revaluations and the failed attempt to create a land transfer tax.

I also pointed out even though it doesn’t apply to food or medicines that the increase represented an additional burden on those folks living here who can least afford it (the characterization in the press that “what the heck, it’s only a few more bucks week!” really bothers me).

By its nature, it is a regressive tax.

Given that increased burden, I asked the BOCC to commit in as legally a binding way as possible, to dedicating the new revenue to funding the rapidly growing demand on social services. That revenue should bolster the existing commitment and go well beyond this year’s baseline (not to rely on it, as many counties have with the NC lottery and education).

Steve Yuhaz and a few other commissioners suggested throwing this modest amount of money – $2.5M at best – at the schools or pouring it down the current economic development rat-hole.

Spending $2.5M on needed social services would have a much more profound effect than adding to the considerable school system overhead or to funding economic incentives during this downturn. And it’s the right thing to do given the rather dire outlook for next year.

Other than clearly dedicating the use of the funds, I also asked for two additional provisions:

  • that the tax increase be time limited – maybe 3-4 years at most – in order to emphasize that this wasn’t a case of avoiding fiscal discipline but a response to some very difficult circumstances
  • that the public be given plenty of opportunity to weigh in.

At the conclusion of the topic it was clear that public input beforehand will have to come quick – June 15th to be exact.

Some quick observations/comments.

Several counties, like New Hanover, were used as success stories for the referendum. New Hanover, of course, has much lower property taxes and with its tourist draws has much greater outside revenue flows. Orange County’s increase will be borne mostly by Orange County residents.

Comments by several commissioners that this broad 1/4 percent sales tax would bring revenues in from residents not currently “paying their fair share” made very little sense given that a pretty good chunk of the existing %7.75 sales tax paid by all residents ends up in the county coffers.

It was also strange how quickly the discussion settled on two options – raise sales taxes or property taxes. The obvious third option – raise no taxes – didn’t make it onto the table.

My suggestion to time limit the measure didn’t get traction. Long time NC residents probably recall that a fair portion of the existing %7.75 sales tax was supposed to be “temporary”. Like many of the current “usage fees” and other tax burdens, government claims on our income tend to take on a life of their own and rarely get rolled-back (at least on middle and lower income folks). The rates might get adjusted but the real outlays stay the same or increase.

It’s hard to dodge the appearance that raising the sales tax rate has more to do with an inability to prioritize spending than fiscal discipline when the increase has an open-ended expiration date.

Sales tax revenue is sensitive to prevailing economic conditions. Without a dramatic upturn in the economy or a steep expansion in the County’s commercial tax base – both unlikely in the near future – the dependability of this revenue stream is not sufficient to fund core services.

Finally, the oddest arguments of the evening circulated around the reason for raising and the commitment to restrict the expenditure of the funds. Many commissioners argued (and then voted for) a course of action that essentially boiled down to this: put the referendum on the ballot with little public discussion and then invite the community to speculate on what the funds are to be used for and how firm the obligation to spend them accordingly will be.

Strange inversion.

I pushed for public participation first, a clear statement on the use of the new revenues (I lobbied for human services first, debt reduction – as County Manager Clifton pointed out – a good second) and a legally binding obligation to use the funds for that specified reason.

That way the community would have a clear idea early on as to what they would be asked to vote into being.

Feels like, at least at this point (with June 15th weeks away), public participation is an afterthought.

Been awhile, November 2006, since I scrambled around trying to cover all the precincts in Carrboro/Chapel Hill.

Visited all 29 precincts, placed 45 new signs for Sheriff Candidate Clarence Birkhead, repositioned another 40+ so that most folks will have to pass at least 3 signs before voting. Started about 5pm in a light drizzle punctuated with a few down burst, ended around 9:30pm under beautiful clearing skies.

Most years the precincts are ready to roll late afternoon but this year I found visible signs of preparation only at Aldersgate, Friday Center and Scroggs.

Most confusing moment? Carrboro High School. Haven’t been there during an election so I was a bit at a loss figuring out where to put signs (what a industrial size behemoth!).

I’ll be staffing the Library poll early and late, Community Center round noon and floating around between Binkley and ?? mid-afternoon.

Drop by and get a Clarence button if you get a chance.

Went to this afternoon’s Council committee meeting to see how Orange County’s Commissioners would respond to Chapel Hill’s demands to increase Library operational funding NOW rather than later.

A few general observations/comments before my notes.

First, an apology to my loyal readers. I have spent much more time accumulating content than presenting it.

For instance, I went on the recent Town sponsored walk through Northside, led by Empowerment’s Delores Bailey (whose mother lived along the route), to review various NCD (neighborhood conservation district) violations and missteps (which generated these Council concerns the following Monday). Took lots of pictures, made lots of notes, hope to turn it into a post “sometime soon”. Given the huge backlog of content, I’ll try to pick up the pace over the next month.

As far as the Library funding issue, it’s clear that Chapel Hill has been subsidizing access to the %41 of County residents who hold library cards for too long.

The portion of that expense, calculated simplistically as a straight ratio, totes up to almost $7 million over the last decade. Given that there is a huge gap between the level of service our community has demanded and paid for those last 10 years – at a yearly cost now of $3 million dollars – and the level of service offered county residents – funded to the tune of $1 million – one could argue – as Orange County’s Manager Frank Clifton did – that the putative subsidy’s scope is distorted by Chapel Hill’s historical level of extraordinary support. While I agree with Council member Gene Pease, that the whole of the county deserves to have a library system more akin to that of Chapel Hill’s, I also agree with Frank’s analysis – comparing Chapel Hill’s caviar diet to the more modest appetite of County residents is an apples to oranges comparison.

As I’ve noted before (Library or Lot #5?), even though Chapel Hill has been unfairly subsidizing service for years, the demand for more operational funds NOW is being driven by the majority of this Council’s stated desire to imprudently issue $20.1M worth of bonds in June rather than addressing a fundamentally inequitable situation.

Given that the Council will not shed the ridiculous Lot #5/West 140 financial liability in order to deal more effectively with the fiscal strain a Library expansion will place on the budget, their demand to the Board of Commissioners, especially given the deep hole ($6M+) Orange County finds itself in, rings hollow.

Why the emphasis on increasing operational funds then?

To make the case for doing the expansion now irrespective of foreseeable economic conditions arguing otherwise.
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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

According to today’s Chapel Hill News (IFC may delay new shelter), the Inter-Faith Council is looking at a delay while the questions raised by local residents over the last few weeks are resolved.

Inter-Faith Council director Chris Moran said the agency may delay its development permit application amid neighbors’ opposition to a new men’s homeless shelter on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard at Homestead Road.

Despite support from United Church of Chapel Hill, which is adjacent to the site, Moran faced a throng of red-clad protesters as the Town Council reviewed IFC’s concept plan for a 50-bed shelter last week. These neighbors anticipated homeless men loitering, panhandling or causing other mischief around their homes, schools and Homestead Park — basically, the same complaint some downtown merchants and visitors have expressed about the street people downtown.

The council challenged IFC to address these concerns and explain how the agency chose the Homestead site. For example, IFC is seeking detailed crime data from the police department for its Rosemary Street shelter.

That sort of research could disrupt IFC’s initial plan to gain a permit about a year from now and open the doors in January 2012.

“We will probably delay the special-use-permit process,” said Moran. “It would be disrespectful for us to file for an SUP permit if these questions haven’t been answered.”

I asked Police Chief Curran a couple weeks ago for some of the required statistics (here).

I’ve read every email forwarded to the candidates on this issue with an eye towards publishing those questions for inspection by the wider community.

Luckily, Tina Coyne-Smith, one of the concerned citizens that has taken a lead on this issue, prepared a detailed assessment of the neighborhoods’ issues for her presentation to Council last week.

She has also graciously provided a copy (here [PDF]) so that the public, the IFC and other stakeholders can review and respond in a fact-based manner.

The three categories of concerns driving opposition are:

  1. Proximity of the shelter to a park, residential neighborhoods, and daycares, afterschool programs, and schools
  2. Unintended consequences of the shelter that raise safety concerns
  3. Inequitable distribution of human services in NW Chapel Hill incurred by placing the shelter at the proposed site

A few of the underlying issues raised have been answered by Chris Moran in the FAQ he provided earlier here (Q&A IFC Community House).

I also recently asked the Town’s Attorney Ralph Karpinos if the IFC, in cooperation with the police, could rule out who on the list of incidents was not a shelter resident. Anecdotal evidence indicates that folks report their address as the shelter even when they aren’t clients. He responded that this was a question for the IFC.

While I believe there is value in sharpening up the statistics, I also want to protect the privacy of those that IFC serves. Any method the Town uses to get a better grasp of the scope of this potential problem must honor folks right to privacy.

Whatever the outcome of the current discussion, the process used must be transparent, fact-based and use a decision-making framework that incorporates the requirements of the IFC, community-based criteria (as with the waste transfer site selection), the Town’s legal and developmental guidelines along with a strong dose of common sense.

Given the respectful tone established by Tina, Chris and many of the other folks that spoke last Monday, I believe that our community can not only reach a consensus on this particular issue without bitterness but also take this opportunity to work even harder on addressing the problems driving and accompanying homelessness in our local community.

There are a lot of questions about the IFC’s plans to site the new men’s homeless shelter on Homestead Road. As a candidate for Town Council, I have been reading concerned citizens emails and letters – almost 100 or so – on this project.

Executive Chris Moran has prepared the following Q & A based on a number of questions the nearby neighborhoods raised. I’ve converted the first section of the document to HTML and will work to finish that conversion soon. Until then, here is the complete response as a PDF.

AUGUST 14, 2009 RESIDENT QUESTIONS AND RESPONSES ABOUT COMMUNITY HOUSE

  1. It is our understanding that the Town is involved with the development of the IFC Community House project. We know that the community Design Commission met about this issue on June 17, 2009 and that the Town council is scheduled to meet about this matter on September 21, 2009. We also know that there is a file about this project at the Town’s Planning Department. The full extent of the Town’s involvement, however, remains unclear.

    • What has been the formal planning and development process for the IFC Community House project relocation?

    • The Inter-Faith Council for Social Service (IFC) developed a formal partnership with the Town of Chapel Hill in 1985 when the Town Council offered the IFC a no-cost lease in the Old Municipal Building (OMB) to house homeless persons. The program began in congregations, then moved into the basement of the OMB and eventually expanded to the entire OMB after Council members approved a task force recommendation that the OMB be used as a homeless facility.

      The IFC formed another partnership with the Orange County Board of Commissioners in 1994 to plan and develop a new facility for homeless women and children initially called Project Homestart. The Board of Commissioners provided a no-cost 25-year three acre parcel on Homestead Road to the IFC at the Southern Human Services Center. Since HomeStart’s opening there has been no adverse or negative impact on neighboring areas. In fact, new neighborhoods have developed near and around our HomeStart campus. The Church of the Advocate will soon be building a new church in our vicinity.

      Here is some additional information about IFC’s history with shelter facilities:

      • In 1990, after a year-long renovation of the OMB, the IFC co-located the Community Kitchen and Community Shelter at the OMB officially known as Community House;
      • The IFC opened its HomeStart facility, originally known as Project Homestart, on Homestead Road in 1998 for homeless families;
      • After HUD funding ended for HomeStart in 2003, the IFC Board of Directors reorganized the HomeStart program for homeless women and children;
      • The new Homestart—whose model is based on the vision of the Planning Committee—has the mission of “providing a safe, structured home for homeless women and children, helping them to access community resources and offering everyone on-going support to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness” ;
      • And the IFC relocated single women guests from the downtown Community House facility to HomeStart during the same year.
    • There have been myriad community meetings and task forces appointed by Chapel Hill mayors since the year 2000 to find a permanent location for Community House. A formal agreement and special task force was created by Mayor Kevin Foy and IFC’s Board President in 2004 “to address homelessness and new facilities”. The Board of Directors came to three major conclusions based on task force recommendations during this process.

      • The Old Municipal Building was no longer adequate for IFC needs
      • The Town of Chapel Hill decided that the OMB was needed for other town offices
      • New facilities would consist of a men’s shelter and a separate building/location for combining IFC food programs (Community Kitchen and Food Pantry)
    • In May of 2008, after a long search for a permanent location for Community House, the UNC Chancellor, Chapel Hill Mayor and IFC Executive Director announced a new partnership and property location near the United Church of Chapel Hill on Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. The Chancellor announced that the University would lease 1.66 acres to the Town on a long-term basis. “The Town would then make the site available to the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service (IFC) for the construction and operation of a new men’s residential facility.”

    • When will a final determination (i.e., approval or disapproval) be made on this project?

    • The IFC will be applying for a special use permit (SUP) for the Community House project sometime this fall. Final Town approval is expected in the spring or summer of 2010. Timing is dependent on the Town’s planning process.

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.

Orange County Voice, another Orange County organization working on the trash transfer site issue along side Preserve Rural Orange, has picked up on the Plan B options I have posted on as recently as last Fall (Trash Talk:Commissioner Gordon “No Plan B”).

Bonnie Hauser, Tony Blake, Susan Walser (recent editorial) and other members have done their homework, presented their cases both for cost effectively using existing local transfer services (one of the options I proposed to the Orange County Commissioners starting several years ago) to partnering with UNC on Waste To Energy facilities [OCV research].

Feb. 11th they renewed their call as reported by Mark Schultz in the Chapel Hill News.

The report says vendors charge $40 to $50 per ton to dispose of waste using existing facilities. Two vendors run waste transfer facilities in Durham and are willing to take Orange County’s waste on a monthly or yearly basis, the report says.

By contrast, the report says Orange County estimates it would cost $47 to $62 per ton to dispose of waste using a new county transfer station. The difference comes in the county’s spending too much to buy property, spending too much to build the facility and locating it in a rural area that lacks water and sewer services, according to Orange County Voice.

The Commissioner’s have opted to research (Herald Sun, Jan. 27th, 2009) alternatives to siting and building a new facility in the particularly troublesome proposed Hwy 54 locale. The race is on to see if common sense and a keen eye towards the future will win out over the current course of events.

Watching the folks who formed PRO – Preserve Rural Orange – in response to UNC’s foray into airport building and Orange County’s crazy siting of the trash transfer station on Hwy. 54 has been encouraging. From a small group of concerned citizens, they have developed an activist organization that puts the “pro” in PRO.

These are long term issues but, so far, they’ve done a great job rallying other concerned folks from across the county to address these significant issues.

Here’s Laura Streitfeld’s report on yesterday’s visit to Greensboro’s waste transfer facility.

To read and listen to WCHL 1360 AM coverage of Orange County Commissioners’ visit to the Greensboro Waste Transfer
Station, click on the link below: WCHL report.

Visit to the Greensboro Waste Transfer Station

Yesterday morning I visited the City of Greensboro’s Waste Transfer Station, on a trip planned for new Orange County Commissioners. I rode in a van from Hillsborough with commissioners Pam Hemminger, Bernadette Pelissier and Steve Yuhasz, Orange County’s Solid Waste Director Gayle Wilson and Solid Waste Planner Blair Pollock, and reporters from the News and Observer, WCHL 1360 AM, and a student reporter and camera person from UNC. When we arrived at the station we were joined by Bonnie Hauser and Susan Walser of Orange County Voice and Forrest Covington, who is working on a video project with Bonnie Hauser. While at the site I took photos and video, and attached are two photos, one of a truck dumping trash inside the building and the other of trailers parked outside, with petroleum tanks in the background. Steve Yuhasz speaks with Jeri Covington in the second photo.

City of Greensboro Environmental Services Director Jeri Covington talked with us and answered questions about the city’s landfill and waste management history and the transfer station’s financing, construction and operations, then took us for a tour inside on the floor, where operations were slowed down for us to walk around. Like the proposed Orange County station, the two-story Greensboro station is entirely enclosed. Inside there was a thick dust in the air that clouded some of my photos, stirred up by the wind blowing in and by the constant motion of trucks and earthmoving equipment driving in and out, dumping and pushing trash across the floor. The smell was not as strong as I anticipated, but walking through the dusty interior I did get a vivid picture of how traffic, noise and airborne particles from an entire county’s waste would affect the ecosystem and watershed in southwest Orange County.

In selecting a site, Jeri Covington noted that they looked for property close to the interstate and near rail lines in an industrial zone. As we saw on our drive in, the station is close to an I-40 exit and and surrounded in all directions by petroleum tanks which Covington called “tank fields.” When it was built in 2005, the Greensboro facility’s cost of construction was $9 million, and the cost of the ten acre property, which Covington said was too small, was over $800,000. She described the station’s funding as a “hybrid,” explaining that they receive funds from city taxes and from tipping fees for taking trash from outside municipalities and companies. At the Greensboro station, garbage is dropped from the upper floor into tractor-trailers below and hauled to the Uwharrie Regional Landfill in Mt. Gilead, North Carolina.

The visit and the van ride were both informative. On the way to Greensboro I spoke with Pam Hemminger, and learned about her background, school board experience and new role as a commissioner. Riding back, Gayle Wilson and Blair Pollock shared their expertise on a broad array of waste management and recycling issues, answering Steve Yuhasz’s and my questions. Wilson discussed the future of the county’s collection centers on Bradshaw Quarry Road and Ferguson Road, one or both of which could close if a collection center were built on the Howell property near the proposed transfer station.

My purpose in visiting the station with the commissioners was to bring back information that would be useful to county residents. Photos, video and a description of the Greensboro station visit will be posted soon on the Preserve Rural Orange website. At our upcoming meeting on March 1st, I look forward to sharing more with you about recent developments in the waste transfer issue. Please feel free to contact me with questions or comments at: info@preserveruralorange.org

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