Government


In forming the new Comprehensive Plan initiating committee, the Mayor studiously avoided recruiting members of the Sustainability Visioning Task Force who challenged the narrow approach foisted upon that effort by staff.

The concerns raised by those committee members (Sustainability Task Force: The Whole or The Sum of the Parts? ) are unlikely to be addressed by the currently constituted group.

Without those dissenting voices, the Comprehensive Plan Initiating Committee will most likely craft a process that is targeted towards a particular outcome rather than one that will illuminate and resolve the discrepancies and omissions in our current Comprehensive Plan discovered by that task force.

Those gaps have led to development outcomes which our community has found troubling.

December, 2008 the Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth held a forum on development density which highlighted some of the issues which have to be addressed in the new plan to meet the future needs of this community. It’s a long forum but worth reviewing to get a sense of the rising tide of negative community reaction to the current “rah rah growth at any cost” approach which has failed to yield the advertised results.



A couple excellent student driven articles on Northside appeared this week.

Carrboro Commons’ Megan Gassaway published this article which reviews the history of the Northside community through long time resident Ms. Keith Edwards eyes.

Too often local media focuses narrowly on the business of carving up the community rather than providing a broader context – injecting the human dimension into the story – which better informs the wider community on why folks living in Northside mourn its passing.

Courtesy ReeseNews

Reese News,UNC School of Journalism & Mass Communication’s Digital Newsroom, leverages the power of the multimedia ‘net to give voice to 10 community members’ concerns in their story The struggle for a neighborhood.

It’s no secret that Northside isn’t the neighborhood it used to be.

The change is visible in the increased diversity of its residents and the ten-story high-end condominiums that tower across from the traditionally working class neighborhood, where massive duplexes are replacing single-family homes. Change is also evident in  the growing tension and frustration of residents in a neighborhood plagued by the effects of gentrification.

The pressure for development is taking its toll on the historically black neighborhood, and the town is struggling to balance the need to grow with the needs of neighborhoods like Northside.

Since 2010, the town has been working with the Raleigh-based consultant KlingStubbins to develop a Downtown Framework and Action Plan, which could revise and redevelop parts of downtown Chapel Hill and the surrounding areas.

The downtown proposal could have significant effects on Northside. In its current draft, the framework suggests building new road connections and parking decks in areas where homes currently stand. It also underscores certain areas of Northside as prime for redevelopment.

Well done folks!

Want a bit of additional perspective on the development pressures facing Northside?

IndyWeek reporter (and former Daily Tar Heel editor) Joe Schwartz put together another excellent overview last June (2010): Greenbridge: A new chapter in a tense history .

Greenbridge, as reported by the Chapel Hill News, faces its first foreclosure hearing next Tuesday. This Sunday they promise a further exploration of not only Greenbridge’s problems but other Downtown developments putting pressure on Northside, Cameron Ave. and Pine Knolls neighborhoods.

Change is going to happen. The question is how the whole of our community can benefit from that change. Articles like these help create a broader perspective, one that has been missing so far, in the discussions over development policy Downtown.

It is critical that the nearby neighborhoods play a vital role in determining their own fates. Until their voices are heard and their neighborhoods are treated like living, breathing communities rather than convenient parcels of land for future development, our development policy is as broken as Greenbridge’s financing.

[UPDATE] Valerie said she was “appalled” not “ashamed”. Turns out so is the Chapel Hill News.

Tomorrow night Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt will petition his colleagues to appoint a representative to participate in discussions with the County’s Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) on the future of the Interlocal Agreement on Solid Waste Management.

That agreement, coordinating waste management between each municipality and the County, needs to either evolve to meet the changes in our collective waste management plans or face dissolution.

For the good of our wider community, evolution is the better alternative.

Folks might recall that I asked Council several times over the last 6 years to fill the seat set aside on the SWAB for an elected representative from Chapel Hill – even offering to fill that position myself if appointed or elected to Council. Mayor Pro Tem Jim Ward took up that task, finally, less than a year ago.

Last year the Board of Commissioners (BOCC) agreed to ship our waste to Durham’s trash transfer station (which will subsequently ship it elsewhere). Even though this decision laid the groundwork for what I hope is a temporary solution to our garbage disposal needs, the time that decision bought hasn’t been used effectively by the SWAB to plan for the longer term.

There has been no real effort, to date, to find a local or regional solution that aligns more closely to our community’s fiscal and environmental policy objectives. Instead, the County contracted a new waste management consultancy that “discovered” three increased capacity options. Last week the County proposed extending the landfills life, again, irrespective of the commitments made to the Rogers Road community.

Commissioner Valerie Foushee, reviewing her inaction in tasking County staff to work the issue over the last 6 years, said she was “appalled” by the lack of progress – a sentiment echoed by all her colleagues.

Resisting expediency, taking that deceptively easy path of delaying the inevitable yet again, the BOCC finally took the bull by the horns and agreed to forge a solution themselves (Trash Talk: The Neverending Story…Ends?).

As the BOCC and County Manager noted, their partners in the Interlocal agreement have been MIA during the last few years, and though the County preferred a collaborative accommodation, they could no longer delay.

Tomorrow night, Mark moves Chapel Hill one-step closer to being part of the solution rather than the source of the problem:

This petition responds to a request from the Orange County Board of Commissioners for Towns to consider establishing a working group to address and resolve solid waste management issues. The Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) recommends that this working group be comprised of elected officials and senior staff, and that the process should begin as soon as possible.

I wholeheartedly agree and expect the Council to expeditiously move the process forward.

My first suggested action – take advantage of the provision built into the 1997 landfill extension agreement, as County Manager Frank Clifton highlighted last Tuesday, and start setting aside part of the tipping fees for eventual mitigation of landfill related problems.

Tonight’s Personnel Appeals hearing for Clyde Clark is more sparsely attended than last week’s for Kerry Bigelow (Personnel Appeals Hearing Kerry Bigelow: Evidence and Process). Roughly 40 folks in attendance, 5 from the local press (Elizabeth [WCHL], Katelyn [Chapel Hill News], Greg [HeraldSun], Don and Nancy [Chapel Hill Watch]). About 2/3rd’s are clearly supporters of Mr. Clark.

Unlike last week, I’ll be posting more abbreviated comments about testimony, tenor and process as the hearing progresses.

Anita Badrock has once again been chosen as the Chair. She reminds the audience that the committee is “not to replace the judgement of management” as per the Town’s ordinance (here).

(a) Conduct grievance and appeal hearings and render advisory opinions to the manager.
(b) Develop and maintain adequate records of all its proceedings, findings, and recommendations.
(c) Inform the employee(s) and the manager in writing of its findings and recommendations in all cases referred to it.

Clyde Clark is here tonight to ask to be reinstated, to get the safety and racism problems in Public Works fixed.
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Chapel Hill’s AAA bond rating is noteworthy. The care our elected folks have taken to maintain it over a decade laudable. But is it fair to say, as Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt did yesterday, “it is almost, but not quite, as rare for a town our size to have a AAA rating by Standard & Poor’s and Moody as it is for Clemson to win in the Dean Dome”?

Well…

As one municipal bond specialist noted, today’s ratings aren’t quite the same as a decade ago:

Since early last year [2009], the number of “AAA”-rated localities has more than doubled, according to a newly released Standard & Poor’s report. Over the last 1 ½ years, despite the withering economic downturn, changes in rating criteria combined with a number of first-time rated “gilt edge” communities served to produce an increase of 86 communities now rated in the top “AAA” category.

Of the newly rated “AAAs,” S&P raised 65 from the “AA” category, with the remaining 21 representing communities never previously rated.

Traditionally, rating agencies have been tightfisted in their willingness to assign “AAA” ratings to municipal debt. Now, 169 local governments carry S&P’s top rating, up from 70 in late 2006.

Jay H. Abrams, FMS Bonds, Inc.

Standard & Poor’s (S&P) isn’t the only rating agency to review and relax the conditions for awarding a AAA rating:

In early April 2010, Fitch Ratings overhauled the way it assigns grades to the credit quality of state and local governments, recalibrating ratings on 40 states, the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The move affects some 38,000 municipal bond issues. The rating agency’s wholesale recalibration is in part recognition that municipalities were being held to a higher standard than corporate and sovereign debt. Moody’s Investors Service also started to recalibrate its universe of municipal bond ratings in mid-April 2010, beginning with changes for 34 states and Puerto Rico.

Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association,2010

So, yes, the Town has managed to hold onto its AAA rating another year but the quality, so to speak, of today’s rating is not necessarily equivalent to that of the ratings awarded 2 or more years ago.

As far as municipal bond ratings, recall that there are three dominant rating agencies (CRAs) who manage the market for ratings (little competition), they routinely make huge mistakes (all 3 rated Enron investment grade right up to the collapse, all 3 rated many of the bundled mortgage securities highly right up to their failures), they are slow to adapt and have a poor record of understanding how to value new trading instruments (like the ARRA Build America Bonds [BABs] our Town just issued).

As I noted previously (most recently here) Chapel Hill’s Town Council has maxed out the credit card. The debt ceiling they have adopted is a reflection of previous borrowing decisions – not a prudent fiscal analysis of what is reasonably sustainable with our current tax-base.

One tool a concerned citizen can use is the Municipal Securities Rule-making Board’s (MSRB) relatively new
Electronic Municipal Market Access (EMMA) system – an analogue to the SEC’s EDGAR – to track filings.

Chapel Hill’s recent $20.1 million filing, which includes the $16+ million for the Library expansion, is here.

Last night Mike Collins and George Cianciolo (current and former heads of the Planning Board) laid out an interesting plan of action to move the Town’s planning process forward.

Most importantly, they underlined the need for a more measurable, nuanced plan that works as an adjunct to the current Comprehensive Plan. Their plan also emphasized “consensus from all stakeholders” – a bit difficult if the members of the task force (if there is one) can’t compromise.

Achieving compromise was one of the more difficult things the Sustainable Community Visioning Task Force faced given the wide diversity of interests and motivations expressed by the group. An unfortunate downside of a “consensus only” approach – key issues were not addressed because of vested interest in a particular outcome. Most notably, when a significant portion of the group pushed to make measurable goals and an acknowledgement of constraints to growth a key tenet, a couple of folks were able to derail that effort.

With such a diverse membership and a widely divergent set of agendas, I expected the group to have difficulty coming to some kind of consensus which is why I proposed we first create a framework for discussing development trade-offs. I thought that we should create a decision-matrix that would factor out those things we could objectively measure, those things we could effectively estimate and those subjective things – like the value of natural beauty – which will probably forever be in the eye of the beholder.

How do we measure those impacts (if they are measurable)? Are the consequences localized or not? Given limited local resources, what upper limit exists if we want to live within our own footprint? How much brown-field is available for redevelopment? Are there restrictions on redevelopment is an area based on the Town’s resource conservation or neighborhood conservation districts? If we overlay all the restrictions imposed by conservation and watershed protection ordinances, by the LUMO (land-use management ordinance) and the underlying development zones, what does Chapel Hill look like?

A very select minority of members, along with staff, did not want to create a decision-matrix to help the group find their way. There was some argument, for instance, whether measuring impacts mattered or if resources, like water, were a limiting factor when the community could purchase it from neighboring municipalities or draw if from Jordan Lake.

Matt Czajkowski made the same argument last night when he said that the new effort would succeed if the membership had a way to discuss, evaluate, measure various trade-offs – to decide what course best to chart.

For that, as he pointed out, consensus would be great but not required. Compromise, though, should fully be expected.

Having gone through one recent iteration of this effort with the SCVTF, it is clear we must start from first principles – establish those elements which are measurable, those which aren’t – and create a clear process for working towards a consensus without requiring a consensus.

First big meeting of 2011 and, pre-meeting, an example of how Chapel Hill’s community expresses democracy in one of the purest forms as ten Raging Grannies filed in singing “We will not be moved…”. They and about 20 other supporters are here to remind Council that concerns over the Clark-Bigelow dismissal.

This concerted effort sends a clear message – the underlying tensions still exist because the reasons still exist and they won’t go away without a clear and open review. That could start by supporting the two workers request to have a public review hearing of their case.

Tom Monk steps up to the podium. “The Town generally does a good job with sanitation – things smell good – this doesn’t smell good.” Asks for the men to receive unemployment benefits.

Samuel Monk chimes in – “this is a case where the workers have been discriminated against” because of labor organization efforts.

John Heuer concerned about reports of dismissal calls for unemployment benefits.

Wes Hare steps up – came here when Howard Lee was Mayor – he’s been part of the problem for forty years. It just doesn’t make sense, from what he hears from the folks he trusts this is a mess. Agrees with Monk that “this does stink”.

Michelle Laws – reflects on what Mayor Kleinschmidt said in State of the Town and the reality of town. Believes we are following national trend of two nations – one white, one black. We are moving towards two towns – one minority, one white. One rich, one poor. Heard nothing about the poor, the low wage worker, the two towns. Back to Bigelow/Clark – can’t believe that they were fired during the worst recession since the Depression – left with little financial support. Calls out Town on unemployment benefits – says that inspite of protestations of not intervening the lawyer representing the two has received a pile of documents from the unemployment commission that clearly was aimed at dissuading the commission from granting aid.

Robert Campbell – “I come tonight to call for justice…” I come tonight seeking justice for the two workers – it is about human rights and doing the right thing. “I thought scrooge was dead” but in the middle of the holidays we fire these two because of the outcry of one citizen. Since when do we allow one citizen to start a process that deprives the two of their due process. “I don’t need to remind of what happen yesterday….” in the ’70′s when a black student was killed and Chapel Hill was fire bombed….

Kerry Bigelow – Holds sign up that says “I am a Man”. Thanks for support of the folks that turned out. Disappointed on citizens who aren’t paying attention. They ["the Council"] count on citizens “on the sideline” being asleep. It is time for folks to get off the side-lines. His daughter gets up and asks Council to “get on the right side of history”.

Steve Bader – Emphasizes there is no legal requirement for the Town to send the ESC a pile of documents. Many employers don’t send any documentation. Also asks that the Town doesn’t send any managers or staff to the ESC hearing being held in two days. Says someone in Town has violated rules by signing a contract they shouldn’t of – including 10′s of complaints – no movement on that – but on one citizen’s complaint these two were discharged. “These two brothers were stewards” – they were trying to be good stewards of the Town. If the Town doesn’t show up Thursday then they will get their benefits. Why are we just hearing today about an ombudsman – that’s a crime.

MiriamThompson – “We elected you” – we didn’t hire the Town Manager, you did. A Town Manager that hires a notorious union busting group like CAI – who created a bias report. We didn’t hire a Town Manager that hasn’t let the employees confront their accuser. You were elected to support all of us…let’s not enter the year with a stain on our hearts…..

Clyde Clark – The same discrimination is going on. To him it seems one man is running the Town and the Council is “dropping the ball” and following his lead. [CW:presumably the Town Manager?]

The Raging Grannies file out singing “…we are all in this together….”

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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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.

Summer in Chapel Hill can be somewhat slow as far as community initiatives. Council is on hiatus. UNC downshifts. Most folks have their hands full dealing with the heat, their jobs, kids home from school, vacations.

Summer, though, is not always a time for sluggish vigilance. For instance, I learned many years ago UNC’s favored tactic of launching potentially controversial development initiatives or making, quietly, substantial changes to existing development plans, during the summer doldrums. While UNC’s transparency has improved since the Moeser era, the record is sometimes spotty. For instance, as summer began the sharp contrast between UNC’s commitment to transparency during the Carolina North development agreement process and the quiet introduction of site proposals made June 21st to the Corps of Engineers.

While the cat is away….

UNC, of course, isn’t the only local institution to strategically start or stop potentially unpleasant, at least to the public, initiatives while most residents are off-line. The County, Town and other local groups have counted on a somewhat soporific citizenry ignoring substantial shifts in direction in the heat of the summer. While counter to the many pledges of greater transparency, the trick often works.

Mid-summer policy shifts, though, also happen as staff, freed from pesky community and elected folks intervention, make strides on the pile of work before them.

One good example, the local Municipal Planning Organization’s Hwy. 54-I40 corridor study, has moved forward at an accelerating pace. The MPO, a joint effort by Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham to manage regional growth, is formulating a set of development policies which will have wide ranging impacts on Chapel Hill’s eastern entrance (somewhat marred already by ugly East54, et. al.).

Public comment was to be cultivated during three outreach sessions but that input, at least based on my reading of the current draft, owes more to fitting public commentary to an established agenda than changing course based on valid public concerns. The clock is ticking on this initiative, which simmered during Spring and is reaching full boil now. Council will be asked to review the plan mid-September, and, as of now, hasn’t really set a schedule for Chapel Hill residents to weigh in (in other words, what is before us now might substantially be what is adopted).

While, at first glance, the Hwy 54/I-40 corridor study might seem a bit abstract, of little consequence now, its tenets will come into play quite soon when developer Carol-Ann Zinn pushes Ayden Court v2.0 this Fall. Ayden Court was a proposed development which ran afoul of fowl. Concerns about maintaining a local waterfowl conservation area played a role in v1.0′s demise.

There are many other pots simmering, some of which are beginning to emit steam.

Two meetings, the Glenn Lennox Neighborhood Conservation District which shifted from information gathering to its next phase and the presentation of the latest Campus-to-Campus Connector draft proposal, have already occurred (don’t worry, I made copious notes which I plan to turn into posts …. soon … ).

Here’s is a short list of coming events and meetings which you might want to consider attending as August speeds to an end:

  • Saturday, Aug. 14th, 11:30am-6:30pm. Rogers Road Back to School Bash. More here.
  • Saturday, Aug. 14th, 5:30pm-7:30pm. The People’s Channel Live from Carrboro’s Orange County Social Club. More here and WCHL1360 report here.
  • Monday, Aug. 16th, 5:15pm at Town Hall Council Chambers. Public Information Meeting: IFC Community House Men’s Shelter.
  • Tuesday, Aug. 17th, 5:30pm. 1st floor conference room. Civilian Review Board Council Committee. Controversial citizen review board to monitor Chapel Hill Police Department.
  • Tuesday, Aug. 17th.

    ORANGE COUNTY, NC – The Orange County Board of Commissioners will hold a Public Hearing on Tuesday, August 17, 2010 during its regularly scheduled meeting. The meeting starts at 7:00 p.m. at the Department of Social Services Office, 113 Mayo Street in Hillsborough.

    The Public Hearing during the meeting will provide an opportunity for the public to comment on the potential uses for funds from a possible one-quarter cent (1/4¢) additional sales tax in Orange County, NC.

    During the 2007 legislative session, the North Carolina General Assembly granted county boards of commissioners the authority to levy, subject to voter approval, an additional one-quarter cent county sales and use tax.

    On June 15, 2010, the Board of Commissioners approved a resolution calling for a special advisory referendum on November 2, 2010 on a potential one-quarter cent (1/4¢) additional sales tax in Orange County. The November 2, 2010 ballot question will ask Orange County voters to vote either for or against a local sales and use tax at the rate of one-quarter cent in addition to all other state and local sales and use tax.

    It is projected the one-quarter cent county sales and use tax would generate approximately $2,300,000 for Orange County on an annual basis. If the voters approve the referendum on November 2, 2010, implementation would not start until April 1, 2011 and generate approximately $575,000 during the remainder of current fiscal year (FY 2010-11) that ends on June 30, 2011.

  • Thursday, Aug. 19th, 5:30pm. HR conference room Town Hall.Planning Board Shelter Committee.
  • Monday, Aug. 23rd, 5:15pm. Chapel Hill Town Hall Council Chambers.Ayden Court Development review.

Let me know if I’ve missed anything!

One of the common criticisms of the Inter-Faith Council’s (IFC) proposed Community House site is that the Homestead area of Chapel Hill already hosts more than it’s fair (“a four letter word for responsible growth”) share of social services.

Is that the case?

The IFC and UNC’s School of Social Work put together this map highlighting many of the social services throughout Chapel Hill/Carrboro.

This contrasts with a more local snapshot of services prepared by the folks at A Better Site – an advocacy group asking for a more transparent siting process.

The Community House facility, as currently proposed, will serve two purposes.

The primary goal is to house men as they transition from a state of dependency to independence within a highly structured program. Entrance into this program is selective, adherence to its strictures mandatory, monitoring compliance integral.

The secondary function of the facility is to serve as an emergency men’s shelter. It is this secondary function which has caused, at least from what I can tell, concern within the wider community.

While Orange County is responsible for housing folks in emergencies, that responsibility has been IFC’s to shoulder the last few decades. The IFC currently operates a shelter along with a soup kitchen (and other similar immediate services) in the old Chapel Hill Town Hall on the corner of Rosemary and Columbia streets. The long term plan was to move the soup kitchen down to Carrboro and move the emergency shelter out of the old Town Hall.

As I’ve commented before, while I support the mission of the IFC, find the goals of Community House more than laudable, it is the emergency shelter component of the IFC proposal I find most difficult to accept. The logistical issues surrounding moving folks back and forth from the shelter, managing the access to the shelter, etc. seem to make this site unsustainable. I’d like to see IFC rethink this part of the plan and possibly consider combining, as it is now, the new food service facility in Carrboro with an emergency shelter component. If not that, at least split the emergency shelter out of the current plan.

Of course, meeting the needs of those struggling the most is not and never was the obligation of the IFC. It’s incredible that Chapel Hill has such a caring, committed organization that stepped into the vacuum created by a dearth of governmental attention.

In fact, both Carrboro’s and the County’s elected folks continue to sit on the sidelines, quietly keeping out of these discussions, showing little or no political leadership in meeting this joint community obligation.

We are poised to hear more of folks concerns as the Community House initiative starts to move forward.

Monday, Aug. 16th, 5:15pm at Town Hall, the Town will host a Public Information Meeting: IFC Community House Men’s Shelter followed by a meeting by the Planning Board Shelter Committee Aug. 19th, 5:30pm, HR conference room Town Hall.

The first meeting will provide a current overview of where the Community House proposal is within the Town’s development review process.

The second meeting, which on the face of it, appears tangential to the approval of various stipulations influencing the construction of Community House, might actually be the more important of the two.

The Council, loathe to adopt specific siting criteria prior to the IFC’s request for a special use permit (SUP) asked the Planning Board to create general criteria for siting shelters within Chapel Hill. This bit of maneuvering created a bit of smokescreen which lent nothing to greater transparency (given the rocky start of this project, it’s troubling, even to supporters, that Council missed an opportunity to provide clarity). The Planning Board initially kicked the request back to Council citing the “vagueness” of what they were being asked to do. Tossing the shelter hot potato back, Council suggested a few exploratory paths of consideration.

The sub-text of the discussions between this Planning Board sub-committee and the public, and quite possibly their work product, will influence further the direction the Community House project takes, which makes Aug. 19th the more interesting of the two public meetings to me.

Over the year’s I’ve seen some rather jam packed final spring term Council meetings. This one was about average in length, light on content but big in setting the stage for two broad initiatives – siting an emergency shelter and legally mandating affordable housing – to move forward.

I left prior to Council’s revisiting Laurin Easthom’s reasonable request for further fiscal analysis of Library funding, I’ll report back on that soon…

The first big bang of the evening, Council approved the %15 affordable housing inclusionary zoning ordinance.

Before voting for the zone, Jim Ward brought up the same fiscal equity issue I raised about this ordinance months ago. Downtown developments are only required to provide %10 affordable housing under the logic that it is more expensive to develop Downtown and that development will be driven into other parts of Town to avoid a %15 requirement.

Sally Greene reiterated that the existing density and height bonuses were not sufficient to overcome developers reluctance in meeting a standard %15 requirement. Of course, while property Downtown is more expensive to develop it also demands far greater premiums – something the analysis downplays. Her argument also doesn’t account for the radically increased density/height allowances in TC-3 – the self-serving zone Council created for their Lot $5 disaster.

Mark Kleinschmidt acknowledged that the inclusionary zone wasn’t fully baked and suggested that it be reviewed one year out. The zone, whose goals are laudable, could’ve used a bit more polish before setting in motion. We’ll see if the gaps are filled in 2012 (if the Council is entangled in litigation over the provisions by then).

While I semi-live ‘blogged the discussion of creating guidelines, standards or zones for human service facilities there are a few more observations to add.

First, there was a strange juxtaposition between the discussion of siting human service facilities, including “white flag” emergency shelters, and the approval of the inclusionary zone.

In initial discussions of the inclusionary zone, several of us argued that space should be allocated not just for affordable housing but community-oriented uses like human services facilities. Using a zoning process would be one way the Town could find needed space for these type facilities. We got the same response as when we asked Council to include space for feeding/housing the homeless at East54 or Lot #5 – not interested.

Council continues to reject calls to make this part of our development approval process (if Roger Perry’s Obeys Creek proceeds I’ll be asking Council to set aside some of that mandated square footage or in lieu monies for community-oriented services outside of affordable housing).

Second, the IFC has tried very hard to work within the rules informally suggested for siting the new Community House facility.

One primary requirement was that the property didn’t need rezoning.

I’ve watched Council twist zones, like the RSSC zone meant to encourage %100 affordable housing into a spot zone for hundreds of luxury condos for their business partner RAM Development, to meet their political agenda. Ed Harrison observed the current SUP process is a “crap shoot”. I’ve seen similar Council machinations use the SUP process to meet various goals (many I agree with) so why can’t we roll the dice favorably?

The point being that while the IFC struggled to find a site that doesn’t need rezoning, there are many examples of where a particular zone was little or no impediment to Council approval of a project (look at the creation of TC-3 for Greenbridge, West140 and which will apply to Short Bridge development and University Square redevelopment, look at how East54′s developer Roger Perry got a range of allowances to maximize his profit, etc.).

Of course, this is a main concern of Homestead’s neighborhood activists.

Without binding zoning requirements (well, as binding as Chapel Hill makes them) or standards mandated by ordinance, the Council can twist the current rules to meet their own agenda and reject public concerns.

The IFC continues to jump through what must seem like an endless series of hoops in an effort to provide two services, one – an emergency shelter – of which is squarely the County’s responsibility, the other – a transitional program to move folks from homelessness to established residents – which is commendable on every measurable axes.

After years of marching through the desert, th group submitted their special-use permit (SUP) request this morning – moving the project forward to an eventual yea or nay vote early Fall.

Neighborhood activists have already helped IFC sharpen their proposal. The move to address some of their concerns is what is fueling the drive to create a transparent, somewhat objective, process for evaluating siting services.

As the Community House discussion lurches into the next phase, I anticipate arguments over what guidelines or standards should apply and what decision-making framework – the Planning Board’s findings, SUP process or some kind of intermediate hybrid – will dictate the eventual result.

The residents of Chapel Hill deserve an open discussion on not just siting human services but providing future space for anticipated human service requirements. Not only should the current process yield a set of somewhat binding standards for evaluating particular sites but also provide a framework for measuring the cumulative impact and operational advantages of siting services compactly within the community.

Finally, my hope is that the current process opens up a real discussion on this Town’s obligation to support IFC and other incredible human service groups within this community.

That discussion should be frank and honest.

Council must explain why human services aren’t sited at developments like East54 as part of the SUP process, why it is so easy to twist a zone like RSSC or create a TC-3 zone for their own agenda while making the IFC jump through hoops to find an existing zone and why the newly minted inclusionary zone doesn’t include a mandate to set aside square footage for both affordable housing and human services.

[UPDATE:] According to Chapel Hill News reporter Jesse D. the Council finally agreed to Laurin’s request. Staff will research and report back on the options this Fall, approximately 18 months after her first request.

Quick note from this evening’s Council meeting. Council member Laurin Easthom renewed her reasonable request (reviewed here [THE LIBRARY AND THE FREE LUNCH]) for additional fiscal analysis of the recently approved Library expansion.

Her original April 2009 request to the staff and Town Manager for a range of specific funding scenarios to manage both the transitional and additional operational cost of the Library expansion has been rebuffed successfully over the last year.

Why the delay?

Possible political embarrassment to some of the Council folks who pressed for expansion in-spite of foreseeable negative consequences. A real analysis would reveal the weakness of the current estimates for these costs.

Tonight’s problem, though, is that Laurin is well within her rights as a sitting member of the Council to request staff input and that foot-dragging is not acceptable. Rather than strengthening her call for informed decision making, some of her colleagues have tacitly participated in this delay.

Tonight her re-request for this information spawned a half-hour of meandering Council commentary.

Instead of a clear directive to staff to produce the report, Mayor Kleinschmidt punted the issue to later this evening. Mark, rather than reaffirming his colleagues simple, reasonable request, dispatching it quickly, instead, muttering several times that “folks are waiting” and “we’ll discuss this after 12:30″, pushed it to the Council meeting dead zone.

Anyone that still buys the myth former Mayor Foy touted of a Council grounded in collegiality should take heed how the tactics of the imperial mayoral-ship he fostered impedes respectful dissent even within the Council itself and harms a transparent, reality-based approach to decision-making.

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.

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

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