Ruminations


This Monday (Apr. 11th,2011), the Council will have the first of two hearings on the Charterwood development. This proposed development supposedly aligns with the goals set forth in both the Town’s aged Comprehensive Plan and the problematic Northern Area Plan.

I’ve read well over a hundred of planning proposals the last decade and have seen a steady trend of “cut-n-pasting” language from other successfully approved proposals to justify a new project – usually generic snippets from the Comprehensive Plan characterizing some community benefit (“well being”) which is hard to objectively pin down.

Certain catch-phrases become de riguer as time goes on: “transit-oriented”, “green”,”sustainable”, etc. Each used to suggest qualities the project might or might not have but each having been successful in pushing other projects through the pipeline.

Because of that applications usually have a strange quirk, some strangled logic, used to justify a quality the project doesn’t innately possess. For instance, the developers of Charterwood are seeking a “mix use village” (MUV) zone and claim their project, which calls for clearing acres of 100-year growth forest to make way for 282 parking spots, is “transit-oriented”.

As Del Snow, a tireless advocate for northern Chapel Hill (who I’ve served with on several advisory boards), points out in today’s Chapel Hill News, the price of this project should be carefully weighed against all the costs it incurs.

As proposed, Charterwood barely meets the criteria laid out in the Northern Area plan. This is not a compact, dense development which seeks to maximize a tracts potential while minimizing its impact on local neighborhoods, current infrastructure and environment.

One example: the “transit-oriented” layout calls for carving an acre of impervious surface parking lot out of the existing tract of 100-year growth trees – a tract which sits at the headwaters of several local creeks. Another: the potential environmental risk posed by shifting the responsibility for maintaining the current on-site catch-basins in this sensitive area from NC-DOT to a private commercial entity.

As Del said in her guest editorial:

Land available for development is dwindling in Chapel Hill. As a result, we will be seeing more and more applications from developers that stretch the limits of our ordinances and ask us to re-assess our priorities.

Council will have to decide if the public good is best served by foregoing the principles laid in our current planning framework or by sticking with those community priorities which balance the public price against private reward.

More on Charterwood’s zoning application, design goals and anticipated footprint.

Local commentator and involved citizen Fred Black invited me to do a WCHL1360 Who’s Talking segment last week.

It airs this evening (Tues. Aug. 3rd, 2010) at 6PM.

While the subject was supposed to be the Lot #5/140 West project, which is slated to finally get started later this month, Fred used this opportunity to talk about development Downtown, public engagement, and Council.

As I said then and before, I believe Lot #5 presented an excellent opportunity for redevelopment.

I and others argued for a fiscally prudent, environmentally sustainable, community-oriented development that had workforce housing, affordable commercial opportunities, an integrative tenant – like a grocery store – and real public space.

Instead of getting a signature development that met those goals from the RAM Development/Chapel Hill collaboration we got a $10M+ taxpayer funded luxury condo development with little public utility. Architecturally, the project’s look fits the Atlanta beltway more than Chapel Hill – it says little, if anything, significant about our community.

Not only was the business model flawed but so was the underlying commitment to adhere to measurable energy and environmental targets (the Council, unlike what they’ve pushed UNC to do, did not adopt and has no plan to evaluate energy usage, for instance, using ASHRAE or other quantifiable standards).

Of course, I thought that the scale of this development (which you can get a sense of from the site models I created 4 years ago) didn’t fit the human-scale dimensions of our current Downtown. That human-scale is part of Chapel Hill’s ‘brand’ – evidenced by the Town’s own logo – and shouldn’t have been casually tossed without at least a proper attempt to educate our residents and some informed buy-in from the community.

What now?

The Council had many chances to walk away from the project over the last few years as RAM Development missed contractual obligation after obligation. The majority didn’t.

The Council had 2 years to work with local businesses to minimize the impact of the next 2 years of construction. That collaboration just started and already there is some significant friction between the Town and the Franklin St. commercial district.

The public financial burden begins immediately as the environmental remediation begins though the Town’s finances are stretched to the maximum by the majority of this Council’s decision to issue $20+ M in bonds for the Library expansion among others capital improvements. There’s no plan in place to publish those costs as they mount.

Is it too late to do anything? No.

This is OUR project. WE are investing $30-40M in cash and property and have every right to expect that nearby businesses can still function, that questions of public access be finally laid to rest, that every dollar invested by our residents is accounted for and that we have a solid commitment to measuring the success or failure – in terms of tax and parking revenues, energy efficiency, growth of commercial activity – of the project

I did a quick review of my posts on the Lot $5/140 West project and have collected those from 2006 to 2010 below for further background:
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Quick follow-up to my recent post on NC’s Internet gambling ban (Cognitive Dissonance? NC Legislature Bans Internet Sweepstakes).

WUNC’s reporting treasure Laura Leslie (can you tell I am a fan?), made an informal personal survey of her community’s (Garner) “Parlor Games”.

Ripping a page from the big boys (It’s Not A Spill), one “parlor” (sounds funereal) she visited was

“decorated with pictures of craps tables and roulette wheels, right next to the signs assuring you in capital letters that “YOU ARE NOT GAMBLING.”

It appears that in-spite of evidence to the contrary, as long as you post a sign ALL IN CAPS you’re good to go.

I have been asked by a few folks who I’ll be voting for this primary season. In the most contested race, at-large County commissioner, the three candidates have unique strengths, each of which appeals to some facet of my concern for where the County is going, each of which makes the decision a bit tough.

In the Sheriff’s race, though, there’s only two candidates, one of which, former Hillsborough/Duke University Police Chief Clarence Birkhead, that deserves your wholehearted support.

I met Clarence several months ago and have had the pleasure of getting to know and support his efforts to lead our County forward. I’m convinced he will work for progressive and cost effective policy changes in the Sheriff’s department to overcome the many existing and new challenges before us.

It is certainly a time for change but not just for change sake. Here are some of the key differences I’ve noted between Clarence and the 28 year incumbent Lindy Pendergrass:
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Yonni Chapman, local historian, stalwart civil rights activist, documenter of Chapel Hill’s struggles for peace, justice and equality, after a long struggle with cancer, has passed on.

I last saw Yonni Aug. 28th at the commemoration of Chapel Hill’s new Peace and Justice Plaza. We talked awhile about the possible Board of Commissioner’s decision to site the new trash transfer facility in the Millhouse/Rogers Road community.

Fighting for consideration of social justice in the decision-making process of siting the transfer facility was just one of many local issues that Yonni helped our community address. He reminded us of the historical context, stressed that we cannot move forward if we forget where we’ve been.

From Yonni’s on-line profile

Privileged white child of the sixties. Became a revolutionary in 1969 at Harvard. Moved to Atlanta to do social justice organizing. Attended Atlanta Area Tech and became a Certified Laboratory Technician. Moved to Chapel Hill area. Worked in Hematology at UNC Memorial Hospital. Chair of Employees Forum. Did grassroots organizing in Chapel Hill with Welfare Rights Organization, CH Tenants Organization, hospital and university workers, Rainbow Coalition of Conscience, Jesse Jackson Campaign, Fred Battle Campaign for School Board, African Liberation Support Committee, Medical Aid for Southern Africa, Central America solidarity campaigns, anti-Apartheid movement, etc. Attended graduate school at UNC in history. Thesis, 1995, Second Generation: Black Youth and the Origins of the Chapel Hill Civil Rights Movement, 1937-1963. Dissertation, 2006, Black Freedom and the University of North Carolina, 1793-1960. Expert Witness for UNC Housekeepers Movement lawsuit; organized campaign to abolish Cornelia Phillips Spencer Bell Award at UNC; UNC Campaign for Historical Accuracy and Truth (CHAT); NAACP/Community Church movement to establish a state highway marker to commemorate the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill; Town of Chapel Hill/NAACP commemoration of nine local leaders at Peace and Justice Plaza. Member of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Second Vice Chair, Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP and Chair of History Committee. Cancer survivor. Proud father of Sandra and Joyce. Eagerly expectant grandpa.

UPDATE: Chapel Hill News finally weighs in here!

The Exchange Pool swim team, the Cyclones, came in first once again in the Chapel Hill Summer Swim League championship. The team also won the League Swim for Smiles Award with the girls taking the dual meet honors.

Ellie and I have been “official” members of the Exchange Pool for over a decade (since she was pregnant with Elijah). I’ve always enjoyed the family friendly atmosphere that is an integral part of this simple facility.

When Elijah swam for the team several years ago there were only a couple dozen kids racing. This year there were about 200!

While the kids, coaches and parents took their swimming seriously, I know there was quite a bit of fun along the way.

Congratulations Cyclones, here’s to next year!

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.
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Ironic that the unfulfilled assertions of two Chapel Hill mayors decades apart have caused so much concern for the Rogers Road community.

The Town released this notification earlier this afternoon:

Proposed Transfer Station Site on Millhouse Road

Mayor Kevin C. Foy has officially informed the Chair of the BOCC that the proposed transfer station site on Millhouse Road will not be considered at the upcoming Business Meeting on Monday, June 22. Given the Town Council’s agenda process there was insufficient time to add this item on the printed agenda and provide the public with an adequate and reasonable amount of time to consider the proposal.

The County has informed the Mayor that, absent official confirmation from the town during the summer, county staff would not invest additional effort or resources into further investigation of the Millhouse Road possibility. However, the County made clear that it will be important for the Town to consider the County Commissioners’ request as soon as possible in the fall, and the Mayor has agreed to add this item to the Sept. 14 business meeting.

There are many reasons, technical and otherwise, that make Millhouse a poor site for the transfer station. If Mayor Foy had spent a few moments reviewing the county’s criteria for selecting candidate sites he could easily have avoided this latest turn of events.

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

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

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

If you use Firefox you might have noticed that Citizen Will has been flagged by Google as a possible “bad site” around 11:26am this morning.

This is an error on Google’s part and they have been notified. It appears an old version of a WordPress (the blogging software I use) plugin triggered the alert. Strangely enough, the code StopBadware.org flagged was actually there to remove possibly malicious comments submitted by others causing problems.

In short, CitizenWill is safe and, hopefully, Google will lift their ban ASAP.

While it has been some time since I posted new content it doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped working those issues – the future of Orange County’s waste management, the Carolina North development agreement, 2009′s Town budget, living within our community’s means, etc. – I believe will have significant forward impacts – good or bad – on the quality of our community’s life.

As usual, I’ve read a ton of development related documents flowing out of Townhall and the University, argued for improvements and changes in policy before Council, attended a variety of meetings, as part of what has become the usual routine.

What I haven’t done is keep those folks that read my ‘blog up to date.

I know you are out there, still checking in, thank you for that. Like many folks these days, carving out time for family, work, civic and social responsibilities – what has to be done – requires more and more effort to balance against what we want to do.

That said, in an effort to provide background for local public policy discussions, an occasional counterpoint to other sites take on local issues and another platform for local groups to get their message out, I’m going to try to be a little more consistent and timely with the updates.

As I was reminded recently, some folks can’t tell the difference between thoughtful disputation and just plain, ornery, contradiction. When I take a position contradictory to the established order, I always try to work from a reasoned basis. I also try to find the humor in what is sometimes a tense process.

Man: An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.
Other Man: No it isn’t!
Man: Yes it is! ’tisn’t just contradiction.
Other Man: Look, if I “argue” with you, I must take up a contrary position!
Man: Yes but it isn’t just saying ‘no it isn’t’.
Other Man: Yes it is!
Man: No it isn’t!
Other Man: Yes it is!
Man: No it isn’t!
Other Man: Yes it is!
Man: No it ISN’T! Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says.

Funny stuff, easily applicable to real world issues. For instance, I’m looking for more reasoned debate on Carolina North and a little less reflexive contradiction.

Hey folks, thank you for reading my ‘blog.

I was getting a ton of comment spam over the last six months,so I had to restrict comments to those folks who registered. The latest WordPress has additional controls that should help throttle that nonsense.

I’m now relaxing CitizenWill’s commenting policy to encourage more reader involvement.

To comment, simply select a name and use a legitimate email address.

If you are new to CitizenWill, your first comment will require approval. After that, your comments will appear directly on the site.

Two posts in two days highlighting Gerry Cohen’s Drafting Musings? Hey, quality posts deserve link love!

Following on the heels of his historical survey of buffalo noses and other NC legislative curiosities is this post on how bills actually wend their way through the legislative process.

Most civics classes focus on how a bill becomes a law. Just as important is how an idea becomes a bill. During the 2007-2008 legislative session, 4,993 bills and resolutions were filed, and 884 (17% of the total) became law.  That wasn’t the whole iceberg, legislative staff received 5,693 bill drafting requests from members. That volume of requests has been steadily rising, from 3,401 in 2001-2002, to 3,533 in 2003-2004, up a staggering amount to 5,367 in 2005-2006 and then up to this past’s session’s total.

Fascinating insight into sausage making North Carolina-style.

We just got a strange burst of flurries falling from a partly cloudy, mostly blue, sky. Starting with a few big flakes, we got about 5 minutes of solid flurries that subsequently tailed off.

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