environment


Last month I took my concerns about the proposed recreation fee structure amendments to Council (Parks Impact Fee: How Many (More) Goodies Do High Density Developers Need?).

Tonight, Council revisits the proposal for possibly the last time.

Unfortunately, the issues I raised Oct. 18th were ignored by staff.

The reason I petition Council at their meetings is too make it more difficult to push problems with policy out of sight. I know that there are not that many folks watching but a public plea is harder to reject directly. It is easier, though,to blithely claim that the issues brought forth were dealt with in a memo – few folks beyond Council really read through the agendas supporting documentation – fewer spend the time to analyze the claims.

I expect that Town Manager Roger Stancil will make some generic statement this evening to the effect that “there’s nothing to worry about, move the ordinance forward” even though his staff has not addressed the concerns I raised.

I won’t be able to make this evening’s meeting so I submitted the following to Council via email (another easy to ignore avenue for public access, when are we going to get a Town sponsored ‘blog?).

Mayor and Town Council,

I’m concerned that the staff did not address some of the comments I made Oct. 18th on the proposed amendment to Section 5.5 (Recreation) of the LUMO.

I raised several broad issues and made three specific critiques, none of which were directly addressed in the staff memo before you.

From a broad perspective, I argued that the new proposed formula would not be equitable, that the majority of cost that should be borne by a developer are shifted onto the community and that delaying implementation for some zones means the Town will miss the best opportunities for equalizing funding of services between the developers and the community.

The staff memo doesn’t directly address these broad concerns.

You might recall that I asked that two contentions, that developers would not pay the fee at parity or that the delay was necessary, be supported by factual detail. A month later, staff has still offered NO SUPPORTING EVIDENCE that a higher fee – say %75 – or immediate implementation will impact proposed or ongoing projects.

This really bothers me. I hope you share my concern and, considering that the recommendations staff has made are based on these key assertions, will ask for documentation supporting their belief.

As far as an equitable allocation of costs for services, I suggest you look at the proposed fee schedule in light of the %1 Arts fee and the requests for %15 affordable housing.

At %80, the Lot #5 project would yield roughly the same amount as the %1 Arts requirement. If we use RAM Development’s figures for the costs of affordable housing (including parking), even at %100, the recreation fee is a fraction of the affordable housing cost.

Council must recognize that the cost of providing recreational opportunities in the TC zones is substantially higher than providing them elsewhere. Council has pledged to increase the number of residents Downtown and has even created the new TC-3 zone to promote higher density development to accommodate those new residents. Beyond creating a new zone, Council continues to be quite generous in stretching existing and new zones to accommodate developers and increase their profit margins, East54 and Greenbridge both being notable examples.

Unless the Council plans to siphon off funds from these zones to subsidize services elsewhere, leaving those new residents high-and-dry, the fees collected from the developers should match to some degree the costs of providing these services within Downtown. Shifting those costs off onto residents, some who are still waiting for new recreational opportunities, is not fair.

Again, there has been no direct evidence – no documented conversations, etc. – that asking developers to pay at a rate comparable to the Arts fee is a show stopper.

As far as delaying the implementation for a select few projects, the Town will miss an opportunity, as with the fee reduction, to equalize funding of needed services between the developers and the community. Projects like the University Square redevelopment are rare. There has to be a firm, factual justification for delay.

Please wait to make a final decision on this amendment until: one, staff documents their underlying assertions; two, a comparison is made between other fees/requirements Council levies on developers and a higher recreation fee allocation; three, an analysis is made to show how much revenue is lost by delaying implementation of the ordinances for projects in the pipeline.

Thank you.

I’ve been highlighting the importance of treating the Bolin Creek watershed as a regional resource suffering from our piecemeal approach establishing adequate policies for its protection.

The whole basin requires, and deserves, a greater level of cooperation between Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Orange County, Orange Water and Sewer Authority(OWASA), the State’s Divisions of Water Quality (DENR-DWQ) and the Corps of Engineers to maintain and enhance its value as natural and vital resource.

Bolin Creek, though impaired from Carrboro to Lake Jordan, still retains many charms.

Andrew Vanderveer has documented a few in the following film (hat tip to The Friends of Bolin Creek).

I spoke before Council this evening on the proposed changes to Section 5.5 (Recreation) of the Town’s Land Use Management Ordinances (LUMO). The changes, which were discussed over a decade ago, approved by the NC Legislature July 10, 2008, essentially amount to an impact fee paid by developers to support parks and recreation.

To quote, the impact fee “could provide a new funding source for Parks and Recreation capital improvements in situations where payments are made in lieu of providing recreation space on site.”

Unlike other development fees, the Planning Board, Parks Commission and Town staff worked to hammer out an assessment that roughly tracked the number of new users of parks and recreation services these new developments add to the overall system. Given that, you would think that a high density development adding 5 times as many folks as a R5 zone development would pay more.

Crazily enough, that isn’t the case.

If you develop a high impact, high density development you can look forward to paying 1/2 what other developers pay and, as a bonus, get the rest of Chapel Hill’s residents to underwrite new recreation services on your behalf. Inequitable – but then again Chapel Hill’s residents have taken on burdens – including subsidizing the West140 development at $10+ million in cash and $15-25+ million in property – for other recent projects.

Since much of Town is built out and the number of low density residential opportunities shrink, the only strong near term revenue source will come from new high density developments. With a number of such new developments/redevelopments in the pipeline you would think staff and the advisory boards would urge Council to move fast – to strike while the iron is hot so to speak. The reality? A provision to delay while all these projects work themselves out of the pipeline.

Just doesn’t seem fair to either Chapel Hill’s existing taxpayers or folks developing less dense options.

From tonight’s staff memo [PDF]:

The following chart illustrates the effect of the proposed change for high density residential projects. The first column shows the required Recreation Space for a residential development using the current system. The second column shows the Recreation Space that would be required if the applicant develops the maximum allowable floor area under the proposed floor area based system, but without a reduction. The following columns show various reductions by percentage. The highlighted column is the recommended 50% reduction.

Proposed Reduction High Density Development Recreation Impact Fee

Here’s the remarks I made this evening (as usual – I edit on the fly so they reflect what I meant to say):

A few of you might recall that I have asked Council to provide a family friendly park, pocket parks along with other amenities Downtown these last 6 years. With that in mind, I’ve been following and commenting on the evolution of the proposed ordinance since it was first suggested. While the overall framework looks solid, tonight I’d like to highlight a glaring problem with that ordinance.

Higher density development Downtown has been promoted by calls for the need for more residents Downtown. More residents means more demand for high quality recreational opportunities.

The higher cost of development also applies to creating suitable recreational opportunities for these folks within or near their high density residences Downtown and elsewhere.

The proposed ratio of residential recreation space for TC1-3, RSSC, MUV and OI districts has been reduced – as the Parks Commission memo states – because “this provision may be necessary in order to encourage high density development in appropriate areas and to address the higher costs related to building high density development.” Note, no supporting material for that contention is given.

This ordinance has been in the pipeline since 2008 and the parameters for calculating much higher in lieu payments discussed since early this year. That hasn’t stopped proposals – like tonight’s Courtyard redevelopment project – from coming forward.

The proposed %50 reduction in the required ratio means that the burden of providing these facilities is shifted off the shoulders of the developers who are profiting from this type development squarely onto the rest of us residents in Chapel Hill.

As we’ve seen from the new crop of high density developments – East54 and Greenbridge, for instance – the community has invested significantly in infrastructure upgrades . These projects were granted substantial and beneficial variances above and beyond those allowed by the underlying zones. In one case a new zone – TC3 – was created to make the project work. In other words, we – the Chapel Hill community – have already supported this type of development with greater height limits, floor area ratios, reduced setbacks, reduced buffer, etc.

At least Greenbridge stepped up and accepted, as a condition of their SUP, a required payment to support the Hargraves Center.

Now the community is being asked to subsidize recreational opportunities for these high density developers who have already received the community’s largesse.

What do we know then? We know that there has been no evidence provided that supports the contention that having high density developers pay their fair share will impede the submission or approval of these type projects.

We know that reducing the required ratio will shift the cost of providing quality recreational opportunities onto the shoulders of the folks living outside these projects. This includes folks that have been waiting years, sometimes decades, for key unmet improvements they have already paid for with their taxes.

With projects like the University Square redevelopment, Courtyard and Obeys Creek, we know that delaying the implementation of this ordinance means with there is a good chance the best opportunities for developers to share the cost of providing public recreational facilities for the residents of their projects and nearby neighborhoods will be missed.

Please rethink the reductions in the high density requirements in light of the costs, the opportunities on the horizon and a common matter of fairness to the rest of Chapel Hill’s taxpaying public.

Some welcome news on the Rogers Road front.

The Rogers-Eubank Neighborhood Association has been awarded a Federal EPA Environmental Justice grant to help address some of the long term environmental issues that neighborhood has faced as a consequence of taking on our trash disposal burden.

Recipient: Roger-Eubanks Neighborhood Association
Project Name: PITCH (Partnerships in Transforming Community Hope)
Project Location: Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Issue:
The Rogers-Eubanks is an African-American, low-income community and has served as the host of the Orange County regional landfill since 1972. The community was promised basic amenities when the landfill site was originally purchased in 1972, however, amenities such as water and sewer service, storm drains, curbs and gutters, sidewalks, a recreation center and greenspace have not been forthcoming.
Summary:
The focus of PITCH is to achieve reductions of waste inputs to landfills and repair household energy and water inefficiencies. This will be achieved by reducing household solid waste, composting kitchen waste, recycling mixed paper, and using compost in a local community garden.

In addition, the project will educate the residents on conserving water and energy through weatherization improvements, repairs of small-scale plumbing and sewage inefficiencies, and replacement of incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent ones. The project will engage Orange Country residents, the broader public, and news media on PITCH-In’s call to action for waste reduction and environmental stewardship.
Project initiation date: July 1, 2010

Partners: University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, School of Public Health, Daniel A. Okun Chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), Coalition to End Environmental Racism

Now the ball is rolling, it is time to fulfill on some of the other promises made on our behalf nearly four decades ago.

More information on the RENA home website.

In listing the roll of important events this coming week, I accidentally left out one that promises to be quite interesting.

Cousins Properties Inc., which is leading the redevelopment of University Square for Chapel Hill Foundation Real Estate Holdings Inc., will host a public meeting Wednesday, Aug. 18, to discuss the long-term vision for the site and the proposed initial phase of the project. Representatives of Elkus Manfredi Architects of Boston will provide an in-depth presentation of the development plans, shaped in part by a previous public meeting on Oct. 15, 2009. The presentation will be followed by a question-and-answer session.

The meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. in Suite 133-G of University Square, next to Ken’s Quickie Mart.

More information here.

Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend this or most of the other events I’ve highlighted and will be relying heavily on our local media and hyper-local media (‘blogs) for updates.

The list as it now stands:

I ended up talking about the troubling aspects of both East54 and the Lot $5 with a native Chapel Hillian after a recent community meeting. While introducing myself they exclaimed “you’re Will Raymond? I saw you speak several years ago about the Town’s Downtown project” but, they went on, I “looked different”, even younger than they recalled.

During the recent WCHL1360 “Who’s Talking” interview (140West: RAM Development’s Money Tree, Chapel Hill Taxpayers Moneypit), I had commented to Fred Black that I was a bit older and a bit grayer but still flogging the same old issues of sustainability, diversity, fiscal responsibility, community input, etc. I started with nearly a decade ago.

Turns out, though, while I might be a bit older (and heavier), I don’t look as gray without the huge beard.

Here’s a sample from Feb. 12th, 2007, the night that version of our Town Council decided to plunge ahead with the broken Lot $5 deal.



My folks used to take us to a pristine stretch of the Florida Panhandle west of Panama City. Back then you traveled through pine barrens on two lane blacktop and strips of red clay to get to some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. Squeaky white quartz sand, partially comprised of the remnants of North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains, still line those beaches.

Of course, the Panhandle has seen it’s share of development with condos and hotels also lining the Gulf from Pensacola to Panama City. Tourism has brought its own style of blight and traffic jams are commonplace when the snowbirds come down to roost. For all that, that magnificent part of the Gulf lures us down at least once a year.

I’ve been talking to my parents who live just east of Destin and it sounds like “all hands on deck” as the coastal communities brace for the slick.

For folks that haven’t visited the Gulf the whole mess might seem a bit abstract.

Luckily the site If It Was My Home has collected some resources to help visualize what the mess would look like in our own neck of the woods.

Centered on Chapel Hill, the current BP mess (their 3rd major disaster in less than 5 years) stretches from Roanoke Rapids nearly to Asheville.

Not so abstract when put in those terms is it?

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

Here is what I meant to say at this evening’s Council meeting.

Like a lot of my remarks, I find myself editing on the fly, so what I managed to get out in less than 3 minutes wasn’t quite what follows but I believe I made the points I needed.

The simple summary?

We can’t do the Lot #5 (140 West) project and the Library expansion together. Lot #5 hasn’t met its goals, the cost/benefit ratio is decidedly out-of-whack, the necessity quite clearly not there anymore.

Further, the Library expansion project needs to be delayed until taxpayers can bear the total cost. Beyond that, we need to request an extension from the North Carolina Local Government Commission to allow issuing bonds beyond the current deadline so when it is fiscally prudent we can move expeditiously.

Finally, public participation, once again, is barely considered.

Tonight’s remarks:

In 2010 you will be making several key budgetary decisions whose impacts will span the next decade – the Lot #5 (West 140) and Library expansion – two examples.

Lot #5 represents the greatest and riskiest fiscal liability going forward that can be safely dispensed with.

Part of the sales pitch made by some on this Council is we needed this project to kick-start development Downtown.

With Greenbridge nearly built, University Square poised for redevelopment, approval of Grove Park – which will displace the affordable Townhouse Apts. on Hillsborough St. with luxury condos – and other Downtown projects on the way it’s clear that we don’t need that supposed stimulus Lot #5 brings anymore.

It’s time to reconsider this troubled project especially given that:

1) the cost reductions that allowed RAM to lower prices haven’t been significantly passed on to the taxpayer,

2) the number of units pre-sold hasn’t grown in-line with price reductions (33 units pre-sold so far, down from the reported 2008 commitment of 35).

3) the open-ended nature of the cost of the environmental cleanup is still being underplayed,

4) the University at University Square has already put forward a much more sound, interesting and integrative proposal (123 West Franklin) for that stretch of Franklin St. than the expensive – at least to the Chapel Hill taxpayer – Lot #5,

5) still up in the air how we will borrow the money – COPs, TIFs, etc. In any case, however we borrow the $9-10M or more it will limit the Town’s ability to prudently respond in funding core needs,

6) and from what I can see in RAM’s recent missive ( RAM Dec. 22nd, 2009 letter [PDF]) no effort has been made to involve the nearby business and residential community in discussing mitigation of the type of construction-related problems that have plagued Greenbridge or even apprise their future neighbors of current developments (let alone present a coherent and consistent story to the local press).

Three years out and no significant improvement in the proposal. Three extensions to the contract granted by Council. Lot #5 should be shelved now so that the Town can take projects that are more central to its charter.

What does this have to do with the Library?

I want to see the Library expanded but now is not the time.

The memos before you [here] paint a fairly rosy picture of the borrowing in terms of adopting new debt but they don’t do a very good job in putting that increased debt in context of our already astonishing – at least by historical Chapel Hill standards – debt load.

Memo #A, in fact, disingenuously characterizes the increase to homeowners using examples of property valuations well below ($200K) the Chapel Hill baseline.

Look at the chart in Memo #A. The rate of increase in the debt load – that rapidly increasing impact on the Town’s flexibility in borrowing – running our debt right up to the debt ceiling for our AAA bond rating – starts in late 2012 and zooms steeply from there.

Of course, besides adding new debt that and anticipated G.O. additions will account for roughly several cents on the current tax rate while the real kicker is the growth in cost of Library operations – which appears to be even more significant.

Worse, the continued structural instability and weakness of our economy gets short shrift.

Now is not the time to take on a large forward liability.

Making a decision based on these figures tonight will be guaranteeing a tax increase or steep cuts or just ignoring basic obligations two years hence.

Here are my suggestions:

1) Shelve Lot #5. We can have a Library expansion – hopefully starting next year – or we can have Lot #5 – we can’t handle both.

2) The Library borrowing should be delayed until prevailing economic conditions show signs of improvement – strengthened sales tax revenues, stable fund markets which will lend money at a more favorable rate – say less than %100 of the 20 year Treasury bond ratio.

3) Have staff prepare a request to NC Local Government Commission to extend Chapel Hill’s time limit for issuing these bonds so the Council and community have adequate time to plan.

4) Use the established public budget process which kicks off next week [2/3/2010 7:00 PM Council Chambers Townhall) to discuss the Library in light of all our Town’s needs – competitive staff wages, affordable housing reserve funds, the growing retirement fund deficit (Unfunded Liabilities: Pay As You Go Not Sustainable) among many others.

Last Fall many of many on Council obligingly participated in a special “emergency” meeting to acquire Dawson Hall for police and other key Town services. That urgent need hasn’t gone away – the police department’s facility still needs attention – why isn’t that part of the rosy projections?

Our citizens deserve a diligent evaluation of the cost of the Library expansion and operations within the context of our total budget and foreseeable needs – not wants.

They also deserve to participate – not just get an agenda item 3 days before a decision is scheduled.

5) Finally, postponing tonight will give you the opportunity to carefully consider this proposal in light of all your priorities, give you time to evaluate the rosy picture drawn by these memos against your own understanding of the economy and think about how to engage the community during this weekend’s Council retreat.

In addition, it buys needed time for the public to review the current proposal, attend the budget sessions, ask their questions, get their answers and finally weigh in in a thoughtful manner.

Thank you.

[UPDATE: Council Postpones Consideration]

From tonight’s Council flash report:

Consideration of Proceeding with the Library Expansion Project: The Council considered the project schedule and associated costs for expansion of the Chapel Hill Public Library. The Council delayed action and indicated its desire to discuss the expansion costs in greater detail and in the context of the entire Town budget. The Council stated it wants to know what level of funding Orange County will provide toward Library services.

Orange County provides no capital support toward the Town’s Library expenses; this includes all past and present Library construction costs, debt service for same, equipment or special project costs. County support toward Library operating expenses has remained at $250,000 since 1995 and represents 11 percent of this year’s Library operating budget. About 12,000 of the Library’s patrons live in Orange County outside Chapel Hill limits. The number of materials borrowed by these patrons was 386,000 items last year. This represents approximately 40 percent of the Library’s annual circulation.

Education and our own private “rabbit-proof” fencing seems to be the extent of Chapel Hill’s plan to deal with its exploding dear population.

The Town is responding to my Mount Bolus neighbor’s Oct. 12th petition this evening with a proposal [PDF] to educate folks on how to deter expansion of the deer population.

Unfortunately, rather than expanding on the petition’s intent – to manage deer population in a safe and humane fashion – some on Council immediately responded negatively to the suggestion of urban archery and acted as if it was the sole proposed solution. Though I know urban archery has been safely and successfully used elsewhere I also can understand how it might not fit here. Surely, though, there are more possibilities than outlined in tonight’s staff memo (I wonder why the Town didn’t reach out to UNC and Duke – who is managing deer populations in Duke Forest – for relevant expertise).

I’m also troubled by some of the assertions made in the report, including the implication that populations are increasing due to increased food supplies made available by urban landscaping.

I’ve lived on Mt. Bolus for over a decade and have seen the steps my neighbors have taken to limit access to food (we’ve put an 8′ high fence around our garden, for instance).

In my Mt. Bolus neighborhood, I believe the problem owes more to limiting natural corridors than increased food supply. I also know that this year we’ve observed that the number of deer has nearly doubled from just last year – something that can’t be explained by the simple assertion that folks yards are providing a greater buffet than before.

Tonight’s recommendation?

Based on the limited portions of Town on which an urban hunt could be safely conducted, combined with the issues outlined above, we do not believe that an urban hunt is a viable option for the Town. We recommend that the Council adopt the attached Resolution, which authorizes the Manager to develop an information packet for residents interested in protecting their landscaping and gardens from deer.

I’m hoping that this isn’t considered an endpoint in the process and that Council will hold the public forum recommended by the Sustainability Committee. Ideally, the forum should be held by late Spring to give adequate time to developing a realistic deer population management plan for Fall (further recommendations from the committee here [PDF].

It appears, though, that tonight’s recommendation is seen as an end-point by at least one commercial organization. Every mailbox I passed this afternoon on Mt. Bolus had the following brochure attached:

Deerbusters? I know we aren’t going to invest in an 8 foot high eyesore and I hope my neighbors don’t either….

Lot’s of discussion about Chapel Hill’s deer problem including these posts on the Chapel Hill News (Hunters Take 86 Deer in Duke Forest,Chapel Hill Rejects Deer Hunt) , Chapel Hill Watch (Passing the Buck), WRAL (Chapel Hill Council to consider ways to reduce deer population)

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Just back from this evening’s Orange County Board of Commissioners’ meeting.

Tonight’s big agenda item, “What to do about the waste transfer station?”

New County Manager Frank Clifton’s extensively reviewed the three proposed options: use the County’s Payfadar property (originally slated for a park) on Millhouse Road, pursue the ill-suited (and ever more expensive) Howell property on Hwy. 54 or “punt” (as Barry Jacobs put it) and temporarily ship our County’s waste to the existing Durham County facility (“Plan B”).

After an excellent set of balanced community presentations from Preserve Rural Orange County (PRO), Orange County Voice and the Rogers Road Coalition (CEER) – many of which covered not just the problems with the proposed sites but posited responsible alternatives – the Board voted 6-1 to not only use “Plan B” but to permanently take the Millhouse-Eubanks-Rogers Road community off the table.

Mal de M.E.R. no more.

I’ve been involved in one way or another on this issue for 5 years. Really pushed to get, and had some success, in creating a transparent community-based process for siting the transfer facility. Proposed using “Plan B” a couple years ago (here and here) to give the Board and community sufficient time to explore a wide range of alternatives.

And, as of this evening, seen the great work from a wide spectrum of County citizens, the thoughtful consideration of our Commissioners finally come to fruition in this decision.

Of course, the work is far from over. I believe that we must eventually managed our waste locally (for instance, like my 2006 suggestion to create an eco-industrial center on the Eno River Economic Development zone to sort, reuse and minimize the waste stream). I also believe that Chapel Hill must step up and bear a greater responsibility in dealing with our contribution to that waste stream. I also believe we must coordinate with our neighboring communities to create an environmentally responsible end-point for our waste.

That work has yet to begin.

Given the time of year and Durham’s recent problems in protecting the Lake Jordan watershed, the fiscal impact of mitigating damage which might well be shared by Chapel Hill’s taxpayers, I was tempted to title this post “Trick or Treat on NC54?”

Even if the “development process is broken in Durham”, as LaDawnna Summers, who resigned from Durham’s Planning Commission over the Lake Jordan mess, it is important that both Chapel Hill’s elected folks and greater community engage directly in the NC54/I-40 corridor planning process.

Thirty years ago, when I first came to Chapel Hill, I drove into town on the scenic two-lane NC54 (I-40 from RDU on was still a set of dotted lines on a map). The beautiful pastured hills to the north are now covered by Meadowmont. The woods and vales to the south, by the Friday Center and office parks. And the majestic hill-side entry to the University? Now obscured by the “anywhere USA belt-line architecture” of the road hugging East54.

The process starts Wednesday, Nov. 18th, 2009 from 5pm to 8pm at the Friday Center [MAP]

What: NC-54/I-40 Corridor Study Public Workshop #1
Who: Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (DCHC MPO), City of Durham, Durham County, and the Town of Chapel Hill
When: Wednesday, November 18, 2009, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education
100 Friday Center Drive Chapel Hill, N.C. 27599-1020

Fast Facts:

  • The Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (DCHC MPO) will host an interactive community workshop on November 18 to obtain guidance on developing a blueprint for mobility and development in the NC-54/I-40 corridor, a critical gateway linking the City of Durham, Town of Chapel Hill, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • The NC-54/I-40 corridor serves as one of the major gateways between Chapel Hill and southwest Durham, with its interchange with I-40 consistently ranking as the top congested location in the region. Development pressures within the corridor coupled with mobility and capacity issues have highlighted that the existing and planned transportation infrastructure is insufficient to accommodate growth and address land use and transportation problems.
  • To develop land use and transportation strategies to preserve this important corridor, the DCHC MPO, the City of Durham, Durham County, and the Town of Chapel Hill have begun a corridor study to analyze short- and long-term land use issues and multi-modal transportation problems, evaluate opportunities and challenges, and recommend short- and long-range land use and transportation solutions and strategies along the corridor.
  • The vision of the DCHC MPO is to develop and implement transportation plans that are multimodal and that fully integrate land use and transportation issues. To achieve this vision this study will:

    • Clearly define a realistic “blueprint” for an integrated growth and mobility strategy for the corridor;
    • Establish a development framework that strengthens multimodal travel options and reduces vehicle miles of travel;
    • Improve operations, safety, and travel time; and
    • Categorize strategies into near, mid-term, and long-term phases.
  • A critical component of this study is public outreach and involvement. Three public
    workshops will be held as a part of this study, which should be completed in June 2010.

    • The first public workshop on November 18 will present the community profile and
      solicit input on issues, opportunities, and trends to guide the development of future
      scenarios.
    • The second public workshop, tentatively scheduled for late winter 2010, will evaluate
      alternatives and seek public input in the selection of the preferred scenario.
    • The third workshop, tentatively scheduled for spring 2010, will give participants an opportunity to review and refine the corridor master plan and provide input on setting priorities for multimodal transportation and land use strategies, implementation strategies, and phasing.
  • Once the study is finished, the final master plan will be presented to the local and regional
    policy boards and used to inform transportation/traffic analysis, land use decisions, project
    planning, and funding priorities.

    • The total cost for the study is $257,432 with 80 percent of the funding coming from federal transportation planning funds and the remaining 20 percent funded jointly by the City of Durham, Durham County, and the Town of Chapel Hill.
    • Residents interested in joining a group of citizen contacts for this study should contact Leta Huntsinger with the DCHC MPO at (919) 560-4366 ext. 30423 or via email at leta.huntsinger@durhamnc.gov. For more information about this study, visit www.nc54-I40corridorstudy.com .

More on Summers’ resignation:

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Council seemed somewhat confused in making the decision to take the Rogers Rd./Millhouse community off the table as far as the new County transfer site. Details on the site selection criteria and an analysis of anticipated municipal fiscal impacts have been available since Spring here.

The community-based, technical and exclusionary criteria were well established prior to Mayor Foy throwing the Town Operations Center site on the table. Both the Mayor and Council have been briefed on the criteria, so the confusion this evening didn’t quite make sense. Further, if the Council was concerned about the objectivity or quality of the criteria, as Councilmember Ed Harrison said he was, they had plenty of opportunities to improve upon the community’s approach. Neither individuals, like Ed, or the Council as a whole took that opportunity.

I chalk up both that lack of participation and tonight’s confusion to institutionalized disengagement on solid waste management issues. Yes, technically the responsibility for managing Chapel Hill’s waste belongs to the County. No, that’s not an excuse for abrogating oversight and participation (if for no other reason than the link between Chapel Hill’s sustainable growth and responsible resource management).

Tonight I tried to get the Council to take both Millhouse sites off the table. The Town’s by having staff apply the community-based criteria. And, subsequently, the County’s site by implication. Along with other concerned citizens we managed to move Council halfway towards that goal.

[UPDATE] WCHL’s Elizabeth Friend’s report.

My remarks to Council:

Tonight Mayor Foy recommends that:

“the Council seek more information…regarding the potential impact each proposed option would have on Town operations….to review the four sites that are currently under consideration and provide the Council with a report detailing the benefit or detriment of each site as it affects Town operations.”

Restricting the evaluation to “effects” and “impacts” on Chapel Hill’s own operations takes a rather narrow view of our community’s responsibility for dealing with our solid waste.

Over two years ago, I and other concerned Chapel Hill and Orange County residents questioned the Solid Waste Advisory Board’s – SWAB – selection of the current landfill for use as a trash transfer site. The SWAB’s criteria for selecting that site seemed arbitrary and capricious – especially given the broken promises and many years of environmental and socioeconomic impacts on the Rogers Road/Millhouse community.

I’m quite familiar with the issue having collaborated with citizens and groups – such as Preserve Rural Orange represented by Laura Streitfeld, Orange County Voice represented by Bonnie Hauser, Orange County Community Awareness represent by Nathan Robinson and our local Rogers-Eubanks Coalition represented by Rev. Campbell ñ to convince the Orange County Board of Commissioners to adopt community-based, objective and measurable criteria for siting the trash transfer facility.

Adopting transparent criteria was critical to building community consensus with the final proposal.

The Commissioners agreed and our County consultant, Olver, began to meet with folks from all over the County. Last year, the culmination of that effort lead to the creation of a set of community-based, technical and exclusionary criteria for determining an appropriate location for the transfer site.

These criteria were well-publicized and in-place well before Mayor Foy recommended the Town Operations site. Further, these criteria had been presented to Council several times during Joint Governmental meetings.

A cursory review of those criteria – even from a laypersons viewpoint – would have immediately led one to understand how inappropriate the Town’s Operation Center site suggested is – violating 6 or more key criteria.

To continue to entertain this site not only flies in the face of the criteria our community developed in cooperation with Olver, the technical consultant, and the Orange County Commissioners but continues to undermine the community’s confidence in a transparent and fair approach in addressing this community’s responsibility for our waste.

I ask the Council to instruct staff to not only review the impacts upon Chapel Hill but to also analyze the Millhouse sites in light of the community-based, technical and exclusionary criteria that our citizens help create.

Once they do that, I believe the Rogers Road/Millhouse community sites will be off the table – once and for all – and that the Town can then turn back its attention to addressing the long standing obligations we have to our neighbors in that community.

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.

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