Government


Ron Stutts and WCHL 1360 invited me to do a commentary on a Chapel Hill issue.

I chose to speak out on the fiscally imprudent idea that we can “have our cake and eat it too”.

Run this and the following four year’s budget numbers, look at anticipated impacts – funding Town retirees’ health-care, fixing Police Headquarters, meeting our clean water responsibilities under the Lake Jordan compact, the doubling in demand on our social services, etc. – and it becomes clear – we can walk away now from the discretionary Lot #5 project – at little additional cost to the taxpayer – or do the Library expansion next year.

We can’t do both.

Thanks to Ron and crew for somehow squeezing 10 pounds of commentary [MP3] into a 5 pound bag. Amazing!

Jan. 25th the Council considered two projects with major financial impacts – the Library expansion and the problematic Lot #5 private/public development project.

After discussing their options at length, they decided to postpone approval of the Library expansion pending a more thorough review of the Town’s spending priorities during the Town’s normal budget process which, by the way, kicks off Wednesday, Feb. 3rd.

This was a reasonable and prudent course of action given the serious fiscal condition of the Town, the weakened economy, continued expectations of poor revenues and Council’s touted commitment to public participation.

Unfortunately, the Lot #5 project didn’t get the same level of concern.

The Town’s debt has doubled to $55M over the last 5 years. It’s been used to fund necessary and discretionary capital improvements like the construction of the new Aquatics Center – which at about $7M was almost on budget – and the Town Operations Center – which at $52M went roughly $10M over-budget.

Supporters claim the typical household will ONLY pay $40 more a year but that $40 only covers the increased cost of operating the Library and not the cost of discharging the $16M bond debt.

The Town Manager says that as we payoff existing obligations we can issue new bonds without increasing taxes. This might be true through 2011, but as the Town’s finance director pointed out, from 2012 on the construction debt pushes our overall debt very close – maybe even exceeding – the level necessary to keep our Town’s AAA bond rating.

At that point a tax increase is certain.

The Town Manager’s analysis is also rather one dimensional – challenges like the Town’s rapidly growing unfunded retirement obligations – projected to be as much as $56M or replacing Police headquarters – $10M if Council had purchased Dawson Hall – were not considered.

So what about Lot #5? Lot #5 requires 8 to 12M taxpayer dollars and represents the Town’s greatest, riskiest discretionary fiscal liability.

Part of the sales pitch for Lot #5 was the supposed need to stimulate development Downtown.

With Greenbridge nearly built and other Downtown projects on the way it’s clear that we didn’t need a stimulus. In fact, directly across Franklin St. the University at University Square is already putting forward a much more interesting, integrative proposal which better fulfills the goals of the Lot #5 project – and at little cost or risk to our taxpayers.

Given that the cost reductions that allowed RAM Development to lower their gold-plated condo prices haven’t been passed on to the taxpayer, that the number of pre-sold units hasn’t grown in-line with those price reductions, and that the Town still doesn’t know how it plans to borrow that $8 to 12M – now is the time to drop Lot #5.

Three years out – three contract extensions granted – no significant improvement in proposal.

What does this have to do with the Library?

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

Contact Council – ask them to pull the plug on the Lot #5 project now so that we can take on projects that are more central to Council’s charter.

More information on my website, CitizenWill.org.

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.

Here’s each of the interested applicants for the current Council vacancy.

That vacancy will be discussed and probably filled at tonight’s special Council meeting.

Over the last 8 years I’ve served this community mainly as a citizen activist and volunteer. Over the last 4 years I ran 3 times for Council in order to serve our community more effectively.

Though I’ve only garnered 5,000+ votes the 3 times I ran, I still felt that those citizens supporting my platform deserved to have a fair airing of their issues and a call for those issues to be addressed by whomever the Council decides to seat.

This election year was marked by polarization of candidates into two clear aggregates (as it appears from Xan Gregg’s excellent analysis), neither of which I was a member.

I was a truly independent candidate raising a different set of issues, addressing a broader range of concerns and bringing a long history of taking on some of the least popular and toughest problems our community faced.

Even though I lost, I do believe I ran the best campaign to-date. I gave my honest appraisal of where the Town is, I didn’t dodge any questions and I always answered as fully and thoughtfully as practical.

The following is a youTube playlist of the presentations made by: Will Raymond, Donna Bell, Aaron Shah, Matt Pohlman, H. Brock Page, Joe Capowski and Jason Baker.



The Town’s video is posted here but is restricted to those platforms supporting Microsoft’s proprietary Silverlight spyware-laden technology.

Following up on last night’s post Unfunded Liabilities, the presentation finance head Ken Pennoyer made is here [MS Powerpoint].

This graph isn’t only a call-to-arms for Chapel Hill but is reflective of why health care reform is critically needed NOW.

If the Town decides to change its plan in response to the OPEB criteria, the escalating cost of health-care and the inherent risk that at some point Chapel Hill’s taxpayers can no long sustainably “pay as you go”, we still must make sure that the end-result is a comprehensive, competitive, yet fiscally prudent, benefits package to continue to attract and retain topnotch staff.

Thanks to Madeline Jefferson, Bob Henshaw, Julie McClintock, Janet Smith, Alan Snavely, Mickey Jo Sorrel and the rest of the membership of Neighborhoods For Responsible Growth (NRG) for both sponsoring the recent Chapel Hill Mayor candidate forum and making the following video available to the wider community.

While Julie did a great job of moving the event along unfortunately the “skip to” feature of this version of the Flash Player doesn’t allow one to move to a later point in the video. The video will start playing and as material is buffered you will be able to move forward.


Upgrade Flash to watch video

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:

(more…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The three categories of concerns driving opposition are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I first met Rev. Robert Campbell, an incredibly dedicated advocate for the Rogers/Millhouse community, over 8 years ago. At the time I was attending one of my first Council meetings.

Fred Battle, then President of the local NAACP (and member of the Hank Anderson Breakfast Club), had presented a compelling case for extending sewer and water to the Rogers Road community on the basis of promises made by Chapel Hill’s Mayor Lee decades before. The community had been told that if they accepted the landfills, the County and the Town would provide mitigations, including proper sanitation and potable water, to offset those burdens.

I was moved by Fred’s and Robert’s words that evening, wished I could lend a helping hand. I introduced myself, apologized that as a longtime resident and part of the problem I had not known of their plight and done more to help. Luckily I’ve since had an opportunity to make amends.

The last 4 years Robert, Neloa Jones and many of other other folks working to lift the burden off of this community have set an example that I strive to follow. It is a true welcoming gift that they’ve invited my service on their behalf.

Unfortunately, eight years on, we are still dealing with some of the same issues. The Council this Spring pledged to form a working group to resolve this long owed debt but that pledge, like Mayor Lee’s of decades ago and Mayor Foy’s of this Spring, remains unkept.

Robert wrote this stirring endorsement of my candidacy which appeared in the Chapel Hill Herald and at the IndyWeek.

Thank you Robert for the very kind words:

Raymond has vision; is the voice town needs

Will Raymond is a person that knows the issues and the effect it has on policies making in local government. Will has been and still will advocate for social and environmental justice. Will is one who sees the importance of citizens’ voices and will be the voice of those that are not at the table where decisions are made that affect them.

We are at a critical point in planning for our future of our town. Construction will soon begin in a Chapel Hill planning district, a waste transfer station is part of the development which must be addressed. Will Raymond knows our roads, schools, housing and right to basic amenities will be on the minds of citizens.

Local and political education, accountability, honesty and democracy are the keys to transparency in government. A vote for Will Raymond is a vote for Green initiative and sustainability. We need new vision on the town board. Make the right decision and vote for Will Raymond, a man that sees from within and not from without, one who has been at the meeting and has seen and heard the voice of the people.

I, Robert Campbell, call for all friends, family members, church members, citizens and veterans to vote for community service and experience. Vote for Will Raymond.

Robert Campbell
Chapel Hill

Beginning to get some of the crime statistics I requested 11 days ago.

I had asked for crime statistics going back 1 year covering Parkside, Northwoods, Vineyard (Weaver Dairy Ext.) and other neighborhoods around the proposed Homestead Rd. IFC men’s shelter. Unfortunately, since I’m not a Council member (as yet) but only a citizen, a bit of patience is required.

Until I get more data, here’s what Roger Stancil, the Town’s manager, has released so far:

…number of incidents involving Freedom House, located on New Stateside Drive…According to our records, there were no individuals arrested using the Freedom House as their home address. It is possible that if there were residents of the Freedom House arrested, they gave officers their permanent addresses, much like students do. Below are some statistics our Police Records Division put together regarding incidents in the New Parkside area that were generated for a recent Community Watch meeting.

Type of Call Jan-Dec 2007 Jan-Dec 2008 Jan- present 2009
Robbery 1 0 2
Aggravated_Assault 0 2 4
Break_&_Enter_Residence 4 6 6
Break_&_Enter_Vehicles 5 18 11
Other_Larcenies 3 5 1
Vehicle_Thefts 0 1 1
Simple_Assaults 3 4 8
Vandalism/Damage_to_Property 5 1 3
Disturbance_calls 14 6 18
All_other_calls 31 62 37
Total_Calls 66 105 91

(more…)

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

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

AUGUST 14, 2009 RESIDENT QUESTIONS AND RESPONSES ABOUT COMMUNITY HOUSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

September 1st, the Orange County Board of Commissioners will once again review the progress of siting a new trash transfer site within the county (agenda here [PDF]).

The good news is that the “Plan B” option I pushed for in 2008 (here and here), utilizing Durham’s transfer site until Orange County sorts the site selection mess out, is firmly established on the agenda.

The bad news is that the Millhouse/Rogers Road community is under new assualt from “Option D” (here).

“Option D”, like Mayor Foy’s poorly considered suggestion to use property adjacent to the Town Operation Center on Millhouse, suggests using county land north of the old landfill on Millhouse.

Where and when was this option introduced?

I’ve asked BoCC Mike Nelson to clarify the genesis and integration of this new last minute twist on the troubled trash transfer site debate.

A big thank you to all the folks who contacted and encouraged me to run.

Below is my formal announcement, more posts to follow:

Will Raymond Announces Run for Chapel Hill Town Council 2009

Chapel Hill, NC – July 17th, 2009

I am taking the next step in my eight year continuum of public service to Chapel Hill by announcing my candidacy for Town Council.

After listening to hundreds of my fellow citizens during the Sustainability Task Force’s nine recent public forums, it is clear that Chapel Hill’s residents want to move forward on a different path for the next decade.

Moving Chapel Hill forward will require common sense leadership that is innovative, experienced, tested and prepared to follow our citizens’ mandate to change course.

Successfully working with a variety of community organizations, advisory boards, the Town Council and Orange County Board of Commissioners in the past, I have taken on some of the thorniest, toughest and, occasionally, most controversial issues facing our community.

Listening to the community, gathering the best advice, with conviction and thoughtful fortitude, I have been unwavering in my support of reasonable growth policies, fiscal prudence, environmental protection and transparent government operations.

As my understanding of these challenges deepened, so has my sense of responsibility for making sure our community thrives when meeting them.
(more…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They can’t but they will.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Made a quick trip to Hillsborough to submit my application for an informal review of my tax revaluation (we took a %35 whack , $327,697 to $442,912 or an $115K increase!).

I definitely wasn’t the only concerned citizen.

A crowd of folks were milling about the assessor’s front desk when I entered at 4:30. From 4:30 on, as I sat downstairs sipping a cup of Femenino coffee (??) at the Weaver St. North, I watched a steady stream of concerned taxpayers – identifiable by the tax forms clutched in their hands – make their way upstairs.

It will be interesting to see how the tax story shakes out this year.

I’ve asked our Town Council numerous times over the last 9 months not to rely on the “automatic” escalation of tax revenues that comes from Chapel Hill’s properties being valued higher more quickly than elsewhere in the county.

A prudent strategy but fiscal prudence hasn’t been a strong suit of the current elective crowd.

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