Transportation


The following letter does an excellent job summing up my reasons for delaying the July’s abbreviated community review process for the ciritical Estes Drive/MLK, Jr. intersection, the two congested transit corridors and the surrounding area which includes UNC’s Carolina North campus.

The current CH2020 proposal calls for us to plan in haste and repent in crisis.

This intersection is a bulls-eye for development activities and lies at the crossroads of competing goals: creating an appropriate gateway to UNC’s Carolina North, managing a critical transition point between Downtown and North Chapel Hill/Carrboro and East Franklin St., supporting the new transit framework for MLK, Jr. and acting as the template for the ring of development around Horace-Williams Airport.

In many ways, it is one of the most critical areas in Town and deserves a thorough, deliberative and broad-based community evaluation before moving forward.

The following letter asks Council to take the time to “get it right”.

June 23, 2012

Dear Mayor and Town Council,

We are residents of Estes Hills, Huntington-Somerset, Coker Hills, Coker Hills West, Mount Bolus and Coker Woods and would be affected if zoning changes are made to the Town’s land use map in our area.

The Estes Neighbors group strongly recommends that the CH2020 Plan expand the scope of the proposed Estes Corridor study to include all or most of the ‘MLK South future focus area’, and develop a robust, deliberative and broadly inclusive community outreach effort to build a consensus for managing development prudently within that focus area. Two hundred and eight of our neighbors have signed on to that vision.

By definition a small area plan needs to include a larger area than the small strip along Estes Drive. The Estes/MLK,Jr. intersection is a critical element of several overlapping concerns: a gateway to Carolina North, a current traffic bottleneck, and a key transition point between downtown and north Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

We recommended a focus area plan that covers Estes Drive Extension to Seawell School Road and MLK from Homestead south to Hillsborough Street, including Carolina North. Further, the focus effort must answer the following open questions:

(1) What land uses in this MLK South focus area are most compatible with the new Carolina North campus, the biggest change in our Town for decades?
(2) How will future development be effectively integrated with the Carolina North MLK transit plans to ensure continued mobility for residents, commuters, and transit access to Carolina North?
(3) How will the anticipated development affect our neighborhoods?

Summer is not the time for this critical planning effort. Many stakeholders are away on vacations, the Council is not in session, no clear process has been described, and not enough time will have passed for residents to have adequately digested the new CH2020 plan. Fall is a better time to start a robust, inclusive and sustained community process,
ensuring both strong participation and one resulting in broad community support. We anticipate several rounds of discussions and community evaluations of draft proposals extending into 2013.

Our recommendation: We request that the language making the Estes Corridor study a priority be removed. See p.45 of the Implementation Chapter in the June 25th DRAFT Comprehensive Plan.

Not only is this narrow strip of land an insufficient basis for planning, we also don’t know of any instance in the 2020 discussions where such a study emerges as a priority. We think it makes good sense to complete an integrated area plan for the MLK and Estes focus area before any changes are contemplated for Estes Drive.

In addition, we ask the Council that the final Comprehensive Plan contain a detailed process to develop area plans for all future focus areas, including:
(1) participation by citizens;
(2) adequate time to do the job;
(3) enough data to support assumptions and justifications; and finally
(4) how area plan recommendations will be turned into changes on the zoning map.

We ask that the area plan process be built in consultation with the affected neighborhoods, the University, property owners, businesses and interested residents. We envision something much more detailed and rigorous than the 15-501 south discussions, but shorter than the Glen Lennox process for all these areas. Development within each of these areas will impact not only the surrounding neighborhoods but all of Chapel Hill.

Thank you for considering these changes.

Sincerely,

David Ambaras, Mary Andersen, Stephen P. Berg, Kim and MaryEllen Biechele, Jill Blackburn, Watson Bowes M.D., Laurie Cousart, Rose Marie D’Silva, Glen H. Elder Jr, Verla Insko, Patty Krebs, Fred Lampe, Ross and Winsome Leadbetter, Emily Lees, Ronald C. and Sue Link, Julie McClintock, Sarah K. McIntee, John Morris, Priscilla Murphy, Nelson and Diane Price, Sandy Turbeville, Pat Lowry,Will Raymond, David Robinson, Steve Rogers, Gretchen Stroemer, Susan Swafford, Misako Toda, Alan Tom, Barrie Trinkle, and Cathy Walker

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.



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

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

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

More information here.

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

The list as it now stands:

[UPDATE:] In researching another post I ran into this kudos from 2006 – Bus 734′s Act of Kindness

A quick kudos to the N/S Express bus #1409 driver.

At 8:32 this evening you waited for a passenger to hustle from roughly Town Hall south down MLK, Jr. 150 yards to catch the bus.

The young man waved to the bus after it had already passed him by at least 40 yards. In the falling twilight it was amazing you saw him.

Over the years I’ve also read my share of complaints about Chapel Hill Transit’s staff and service. That the number of public complaints seems to have far outweighed the number of accolades I see more of a function of our culture than a systemic issue with the folks driving our buses (yes, I know there are exceptions!).

Like many of the services our Town provides, I tend to watch the buses move around town with more than casual curiosity.

I know some of the routes are on tight schedules and a few minutes delay in one spot can compound into a larger and larger delays elsewhere. I also well understand the pressure drivers might feel to move it along at any cost.

You didn’t have to wait. Folks would understand that the “trains must roll” and that you have to meet a schedule. If you hadn’t waited maybe only you, the passenger and I would have ever known – just like we might be the only three that witnessed your simple human courtesy.

It’s said that “Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking” [J. Brown].

I saw and appreciate what you did. Thank you.

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

Chapel Hill has a new tool to track road conditions during adverse conditions, like today’s 3 to 6 inches snowfall.

The GIS map showing roads salted, cleared and relevant services is here.

Good to see this finally in place. The Tech Board discussed just such an application of the GIS system about 6 years ago.

Current weather conditions, courtesy of the Weather Underground, are available here.

The Town’s NextBus service, which usually shows current locations of the buses on their routes is available here.

Big caveat, though (from Chapel Hill Transit):

CHT’s NextBus system estimates the next arrivals for buses in real time, based on each vehicle’s location and average speed. But when many vehicles are off-route or significantly delayed, it cannot make accurate arrival predictions. NextBus can, however, tell you if your line is delayed, or the location of the next vehicle.

Longtime readers might recall that was one of the criticisms (beyond the expense, lack of WIFI and rejection of a local vendor) I had of the NextBus system.

Latest updates on the transit system here.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Fast Facts:

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

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

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

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

More on Summers’ resignation:

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I was appointed as one of the “at large” members of the Town’s Sustainability Task Force several months ago.

One of the first issues we took up was representation on the task force itself. Essentially, did the task force membership represent the reasonably broadest possible diversity of viewpoints and experience we needed to craft a sustainable game plan covering Chapel Hill’s growth these next 10 years?

Along with most of the task force, I agreed it didn’t so we asked the Council to grant us permission to broaden our membership and renew the call for volunteers. I’ve been calling folks I know, sending emails, talking to various organizations that might otherwise be disinclined from participating to try to get new members who will broaden our task forces’ perspective.

As of July 20th I’m pleased to say we’ve had an increase in interest – amounting to 10 new applicants:

  • Anne Eshleman (24, student, new resident)
  • Stacia Cooper (47, insurance regulator, 7+ years)
  • J. Patterson Calhoun (31, business manager, newly returned resident [in Triangle 8 years prior])
  • Lister Delgado (40, investor, 5 years in-town/5 years just outside )
  • Donna Bell (38, social worker, 7 years – Northside resident)
  • Kevin Hicks (44, product engineer, 4 years)
  • Christopher Senior (53, green builder, new resident)
  • Daniel Outen (22, student at Kenan Flagler, 3 1/2 years)
  • Todd Woerner (53, chemist/teacher/lab manager, 18 years)
  • Brian Paulson (23, city management, 11 years)

The task force will resume its work mid-August by adding 6 of these 10 (or more I hope) applicants to the position.

I will be reviewing these and any other applications with an eye towards choosing folks that have a distinctly different vision of where Chapel Hill should be in 10 years. By maximizing diversity of considered opinion we should not only end up with a stronger set of recommendations but also a message that is widely acceptable.

Tonight’s meeting (background) was well attended . Many of the folks attending were there to send the message “No Airport!”. Chapel Hill News reporter Eric Ferriri did a pretty good job covering that part of the meeting over at OrangeChat.

The Chancellor was missing in action. I think that is two of three meetings now.

The Council-Trustee sessions allocate two public comment periods, before and after the main meeting. Jim Ward, responding to tonight’s turnout, suggested doubling the time for public commentary from 10 to 20 minutes. I believe the 8 folks signed up had adequate time to get our points in (though I could easily spend a few hours going through the detail divergences in UNC’s proposals, ways to flesh out the development agreement, setting goals/metrics/methodologies to measure compliance, etc.).

After thanking staff for producing a nearly complete agenda a few days before this meeting (unlike the few hour lead times of the last two meetings), I took a few moments to ask some questions and add some suggestions to my earlier list.
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One problem I’ve had in trying to change the way our Town does business is that the issues I’m trying to address – higher energy costs, revenues drying up, development policy that drives diversity from our community, financial instability – haven’t reached a level of concern for the greater community.

I’m a proactive guy, work in an industry that rewards innovation and leading not trailing the pack, so it just makes sense to me to work an issue before it rises to a level requiring crisis management. Trying to raise folks concerns about %10-20 tax increases two or more years before they are implemented is a tough task – doubly so when tricks are used by our elected officials to postpone the inevitable. Trying to prepare folks for the impact of $4/gallon gasoline on the Town’s budget when gas in $2/gallon is a tough sell – doubly so when Council members publicly discount prudent measures in spite of obvious trends.

In any case, I’m just dumb enough to keep trying to work issues prior to a crisis point – it just makes good financial and social sense.

A case in point. I asked former Town Manager Cal Horton 4 years ago for public records documenting fuel use by Chapel Hill’s staff. About the same time, I asked for information on electricity use at each of the Town’s facilities. My idea was to identify specific problem areas, measure policy changes to see how effective our Town’s “green” goals were being met, to look at rewarding staff for impressive reductions in their energy use and basically get prepared for the anticipated increase in energy costs.

This was four years ago when gas was under $2 a gallon.

Four years later, after numerous requests, a new Town Manager, I still haven’t received any of those records. I’m going to make another run at doing that analysis – now in retrospect – to see not only see how we can pare down the cost of operating our Town but to understand if the policies so far adopted have had any direct effect.

Here’s what I asked for Sept. 26, 2005:

3a(10). Will Raymond, regarding Agenda Item #5b, Fuel Supply, Cost and Budget Issues for the Town’s General Municipal Fleet and Transit Bus Fleet.

Mr. Raymond petitioned the Council regarding Agenda Item #5b, Fuel Supply, Cost and Budget Issues for the Town’s General Municipal Fleet and Transit Bus Fleet. He noted he had sent the Council an email regarding the purchase of bio-diesel fuel, and was pleased that shortly after that the Town had purchased 1,000 gallons. Mr. Raymond said that was a “fantastic” first step and hoped the Town would follow up on that, noting that at the present time bio-diesel fuel was 20 to 30 cents a gallon cheaper than diesel or kerosene.

Mr. Raymond said there appeared to be some confusion in the agenda item, noting there had been some discussion that they could burn bio-diesel fuel in their buses, and now they were saying that maybe they could not. So, he said, he had called Detroit Engine that made the engines for the buses, and they were recommending to their customers that a 20 percent blend was “perfectly suitable” for those engines. Mr. Raymond said that Detroit Engine had indicated they would be happy to work with the Town and could possibly get that blend higher. He encouraged the Town to contact them and take that action.

Mr. Raymond also suggested that since they were running at a deficit within the fuel budget that they today start with targeted reductions in the amount of fuel they were using. He said they still have vehicles that idle wastefully, and that yesterday he had observed a Town vehicle left idling for two hours. Mr. Raymond said with the price of gasoline that was unacceptable behavior. He asked that the Council take immediate action to conserve fuel.

THE COUNCIL AGREED BY CONSENSUS TO REFER MR. RAYMOND’S COMMENTS TO AGENDA ITEM #5b.

Here’s the specific sub-section of Senate Bill 1925 authorizing the creation of the Airport Authority.

The heart-rending bit, at least to me, is 116‑274, “General powers.”

(a) An authority created under this Article has all powers that a city or county has under Articles 1 through 7 of Chapter 63 of the General Statutes and, in regard to financing capital expenditures and operations, shall have such powers as are delegated to or conferred upon the constituent institutions or the University of North Carolina Health Care System. Notwithstanding other provisions of law, both regulations adopted by an authority under this Article and development regulations adopted by a county or municipality under Article 18 of Chapter 153A or Article 19 of Chapter 160A of the General Statutes shall be applicable to land owned by and the approaches to land owned by an authority created under this Article. In the event the regulations conflict, the more restrictive regulation applies.

UNC-CH has been granted sovereign powers normally reserved to municipalities. Setting this precedent, even in what appears to be the constrained case of building an airport to support NC-AHEC, carries terrible portent.

PART IV. ALLOW THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA TO CREATE AN AIRPORT AUTHORITY

The rest after the fold:

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Sponsored by southwest Orange County residents Tony Blake, Walt Lobotsky, Clifford Leath, Deonna Angelillo, and Susan Lombardo, tonight’s community meeting (WEBSITE) discussing the siting of a new UNC airport, was packed. Roughly 270 folks, from all around the county, attended the meeting to find out the latest on UNC’s (and now, as reported, Orange County’s economic development director Broadwell’s) plans to build a general aviation airport.

UNC’s original reason for creating a new airport was to support the NC-AHEC ( North Carolina Area Health Education Centers Program).

UNC’s director for Carolina North Jack Evans reaffirmed during last Thursday’s joint meeting between UNC and Chapel Hill’s Town Council (discussing a framework for approving Carolina North’s development), NC-AHEC’s current base at Horace-Williams airport (HWA) will be closed when the new Innovation Center is complete (2 years or so). Last week, Bruce Runberg, UNC’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Planning and Construction, said that a $2 million contract has been let to build hangars at RDU to “temporarily” house the program. Execution of that contract is contingent on a few factors, money, it appears, isn’t one.

Supporting AHEC, as folks and local media drilled down to the nitty-gritty, seems to have been just a smokescreen as, now, it appears that a much more extensive project – supporting well-heeled alumni, UNC corporate clients, AOPA members, local pilots and some vague mix of commercial interests – with a bigger facility is in the offing. To justify this vast extension, UNC has suggested great public benefit – to the tune of millions. No downside – environmental, community or other – has been mentioned (it’s all roses).

As CitizenWill readers might remember from previous comments, I found UNC’s consultants Talbert & Bright’s 2008 report of an economic impact of $40 million to $53 million a year ridiculous and near insulting to our community’s intelligence.

I’ve asked (letter here) the Orange County Board of Commissioners to appoint me as one of their three community representatives to UNC’s new Airport Authority to help bring objective standards to any decision on building and siting – if necessary – an appropriately sized facility for the originally constrained purpose.

I have a number of reasons, one of which, as the Chapel Hill News recently reported, was the terrible precedent of granting open-ended power of eminent domain to a University:

Will Raymond, a former candidate for Town Council, says the decision to form an airport authority was “a terrible mistake by our legislature.”

“Setting this precedent, for reasons good or bad, will probably make policy interactions with UNC-CH more difficult in days to come,” he said in a letter to the Orange County commissioners. “Essentially, the legislature has issued UNC a huge hammer, with the power of eminent domain, that I believe should be reserved exclusively to elective government.”

Are we to think that this power will be reserved only for UNC-Chapel Hill?

Beyond maintaining due vigilance, as a member of the Authority, in the exercise or threatened exercise of the awesome power of “public taking”, I will do my best to document the Authority’s deliberations, publish as much of the supporting documentation as possible and provide an analysis, of course from my own viewpoint, of the progress being made. More importantly, I will work to be a conduit for the wider community’s concerns about the process, the suitability of sites and other relevant issues. I’m sure that both the appointed elective officials and UNC officials will do the same, but I know I can provide community perspectives that I know will be distinct from theirs.

Here are some notes from this evening’s meeting.

Deonna Angelillo made initial introductions and a few comments, noting “no curtains in our neighborhood” and she wants it to stay that way. Her house is on the end of the site H runway.

Clifford Leath, whose 40 acre horse farm is on that runway, led off with a quick summary of recent history. While discussing strategy he said “we’re really fighting the state of North Carolina”, not local governments. Expressing incredulity, he outlined the 2005 estimated cost of $35M to develop site ‘H’ – a figure he and others felt underestimated both today’s costs and the required build-out of infrastructure – road-widening, electric, etc. Suggesting that the second Talbert/Bright study was commissioned “by a misguided planning person”, he emphasized that an objective analysis needed to be done.

A sentiment that was shared by others throughout the evening was “there’s certainly a hidden agenda here and it is not AHEC”. He said he had contacted a number of officials with little response though the UNC System’s Erskine Bowles did tell him that “no site was preferred”. He ended up his presentation expressing a lack of confidence in the proposed Authority’s decision-making process as the community will be represented by only 5 of the 15 members (the rest being UNC related).

Tony Blake, a volunteer fireman with an impressive command of both the history and breadth of the airport drama, went over some of the political dimension of the issue. “This all started as a bill introduced by Verla Insko and Bill Faison”. Later in the evening, it was suggested someone run as a write-in against Faison to “get his attention”. Tony got to the crux of his community’s problem – “they have eminent domain – they can set the price and take the land”. Echoing Clifford’s concern, he said “they’ve stacked the board, they have 2/3rd majority”. He went on to show that by creating this Authority our local legislators – Insko, Faison and Hackney, have bypassed the county’s.

“This is not politics, this piracy!” was his call to arms. “They are going to take land here and we have to let them know that it is” not acceptable.

Tony went on to say he thinks there is a window of opportunity to shutdown creation of Authority. Failing that, that the legislature directed the Authority to “find that the airport is critical to the operation” of AHEC. One avenue of defense was to challenge the necessity of building a $35-50 million general aviation airport when a $2 million hangar at RDU would suffice. They “don’t need to reinvent the wheel with a county airport”.

Tactically, he said, “each site needs to tackle its own specifics.” Building on the strength of community, he challenged his gathered neighbors to work with all the affected communities. “If site 9 has a petition, then site H needs to sign it.” Yes, he said, each site needs to build a case – environmental, social, just a bad idea – in order to “convince the university that this [building vs. using RDU] is a bad idea”.

His final strategy? Attack the granting of eminent domain powers. It was a bad idea – “that it is a sword poised above our heads” – “ultimately we need to get this law repealed…..”

Finishing he said “we need to get our message out there” – “not the lipstick on the pig that is their spin on the airport”.

The next speaker, Laura Streitfeld said “the idea that our land would be taken for the benefit of the few” was disturbing but that the fight can’t be just about NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard). “It’s pretty clear that nobody wants it in their backyards, but that isn’t too different than anyone else”, she said but went on to argue that the issues – the grant of eminent domain, multi-county environmental consequences, waste of tax dollars, etc. – went well beyond the local scope of site H. She also said she would “stand in front of the bulldozer” to stop that site from being developed.

Bonnie Hauser, representing a group called “Orange County Voice” (more here) said “our goal is to repeal this eminent domain law.” “We are fighting this as an overarching act” of abuse of eminent domain. And that “We don’t understand why UNC is doing economic development plans for Orange County”.

Neither do I, except as a strategy to get Federal dollars. The utility of this general aviation airport has to be justified with benefit to the wider community in order for Federal grants to be approved.

Judith Wegner, former UNC Law Dean and current member of the Orange County Planning Board, called on the assembled citizenry to ‘write Bill Faison” ( Billf@ncleg.net [ 919-715-3019 ] ) noting “he is running unopposed.” “We should run a write-in candidate” to oppose Faison because “everyone should ask ‘Why are we doing this?””.

She also asked folks to send on specific impacts to the Orange County Planning Board (CONTACT HERE) because “we need to document it…for planning board.”

There were a number of comments and questions from the crowd. A woman stood up waving a copy of a UNC publication (didn’t quite catch the name) pointing out how commercialized Dr. Roper’s UNC Healthcare has become these last few years (here’s what I said about that on the appointment of Rev. Seymour as UNC Healthcare’s ombudsman in 2006).

“UNC has turned into a corporate entity”, she said, reeling off the corporate influence on UNC Healthcare, “How many of the corporate execs have jets?” “How many AHEC doctors”? I don’t know how many are used by corporate execs, but as a neighbor of HWA, I can assure you that jets are not uncommon.

One resident asked about UNC’s research property, which abuts one of the proposed sites. He said that he had heard a “secret lab” with hermetically sealed doors had been buried 80 feet below the surface. He wanted to know if that had anything to do with the proposed airport site.

Fred, a pilot, said he had worked with the former HWA flying club for four years and, in his experience, AHEC “are fools.” He suggested that “there is a lot of undeveloped land that the county could use that doesn’t involve stealing it from people who have lived here for generations.”

A great question concerned the spread of UNC’s airport into the surrounding community.

It had been noted ealier that the language of the bill authorizing the creation of the Authority could be interpreted broadly enough to justify, at least in the Authority’s eyes (and maybe with the rah-rah approval of Orange County’s economic officer), the taking of surrounding property to support commercial activity at the new airport. In that citizen’s words, the powers conferred “to expand as they saw fit.”

This prompted Tony Blake to observe that instead of the hotels and restaurants the Talbert/Bright study envisioned, the outcome would be more akin to Burlington’s experience – “a wasteland”. Trucking companies and other undesirable commercial uses not very complimentary to the rural way of life.

The airport wasn’t the only topic discussed. At the end of the evening, a resident living off Hwy 54 brought up the siting of the new solid waste transfer station. I hope to ‘blog more on my conversations with Hillsborough’s widening opposition – whom are having a meeting Oct. 2nd, 7pm at the Hillsborough United Church of Christ, corner of Old 86/Davis Rd. In his case, he was concerned about the 4 sites west along Hwy 54.

The gentleman next to me, a former manager in Chapel Hill’s public works, pointed out that Chapel Hill’s garbage trucks were geared in such a fashion that long-distance hauls will burn fuel outrageously, thus be prohibitively expensive (I sent an email to Howard Harvey, Chapel Hill’s Solid Waste Superintendent asking about this – I’ll post his response).

There were many other great comments, questions and observations and some very encouraged folks. It was heartening to see a community pull together to challenge UNC, our local legislators and the State of North Carolina to justify, objectively and with clarity, the reasons for moving forward.

As I predicted (“Carolina North: What’s Next?”) last week, the Carrboro Citizen is reporting that UNC is prepared to move the Carolina North Innovation Center north of Estes to sit roughly on the Town’s former municipal services site.

Not a hard guess given UNC’s Jack Evans recent comments.

…one indication that the university is intent on the timetable is a related matter on the trustees agenda — the shift of a proposed site for an 80,000-square-foot Innovation Center from the south side of Estes Drive Extension to an area just off Municipal Drive near the Town of Chapel Hill’s former Public Works facility.

Earlier this month, Jack Evans, Carolina North’s executive director, said that the area would likely be in the very first phases of construction. In addition to being already cleared and served by utilities, the site also avoids a potential conflict over the closing of Horace Williams Airport. University officials have said they’d like to close the airport as soon as a new facility is ready for its Medical Air operations. But that idea has met resistance in the North Carolina General Assembly.

While the first 15-year phase of the Carolina North plans include using sections of the current airport runway near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the site for the innovations center is out of the way of the airport approach.

At the last community outreach session, the reported [PDF] size of the facility was 85,000 square/feet not 80,000 as the CarrboroCitizen reports. I’m not sure if there’s been a shift.



Click to Enlarge


What is the Carolina Innovation Center?

The Triangle Business Journal had this nice overview published May 18, 2007:

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is working with a high-profile West Coast developer to build a business incubator near its proposed Carolina North campus that could put the university back in the market for venture capital.

Preliminary discussions between UNC officials and Pasadena, Calif.-based Alexandria Real Estate Equities have yielded a model for the proposed “Carolina Innovation Center” that would provide more than just office space for university spinoffs.

Alexandria CEO Joel Marcus says the center would round out traditional incubator resources such as office and laboratory space with on-site business and managerial experts and a cadre of investors ranging from local and national venture firms to the university itself.

In short, the Alexandria-owned facility[emph. CW] would act as a one-stop clearinghouse capable of matching top technology prospects flowing out of UNC’s research departments with the financial backing and expertise needed to keep a startup alive.

The UNC center would be modeled in large part on Accelerator Corp., a biotech incubator in Seattle completed by Alexandria in 2003. The private biotech development and investment incubator has attracted nearly $22 million in venture capital from blue chip investors such as Amgen Ventures, MPM Capital and Arch Venture Partners. So far, Accelerator Corp. has invested in five emerging biotech firms.

Mark Crowell, associate vice chancellor for business development and technology transfer at UNC, says the venture capital component of the Carolina Innovation Center could total as much as $25 million and would not be limited to life sciences startups. Pending receipt of a special use permit from the town of Chapel Hill to construct the incubator facility, Crowell says UNC could begin “paying visits” to potential investors as early as this fall.

“At the end of the day, we would like to go to four, five, six institutional investors, as well as make a presentation to (UNC’s endowment) management company” says Crowell. “I can’t imagine we wouldn’t visit every local fund.”

Crowell goes on to say

“This project is going to make a sound and create a smell that is going to be attractive to the venture capitalists,” he says. “It is an incredibly attractive way to introduce Carolina North to the community, and it’s really starting to gain momentum.”

Of course, the sounds and smells nearby neighborhoods are concerned with are not so attractive as the lure of big money is too UNC’s venture capital specialists.

I wonder if getting anywhere on Carolina North seems harder than running a sub 4-minute mile for former world record holder and current UNC vice chancellor for research and economic development Tony Waldrop:

Corporate funds are vital to filling the gap, but, with neither an incubator facility nor a research campus similar to NCSU’s Centennial Campus, those dollars are difficult to come by, says Tony Waldrop, UNC’s vice chancellor for research and economic development.

“Seventy percent of campuses have either a research park campus or an incubator, and here we are without either. It puts us at a disadvantage,” Waldrop says. “In terms of getting federal funding from the corporate sector for research, we have not competed with our peers.”

Centennial Campus envy once again?

Tomorrow’s UNC Board of Trustees’ meeting starts 8am at the Carolina Inn: floor plan and map.

The BOT agenda is here.

The Carolina North draft concept plan is item #8 on the following agenda.
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I’ve heard from two different sources that the “final” design concept for Carolina North is ready to present to UNC’s Board of Trustees (BOT). The BOT, in years past, have happily rejected the efforts of both UNC’s administration and the local community to create a win-win for what is to replace the Horace-Williams Airport.


The Infamous Carolina North C-shaped design concept.

Now that the grand plan for Carolina North has morphed into that of an overflow campus, I wonder what the BOT will be reviewing? And what of the recent resurgence of calls to stem AHEC’s move (more on AHEC’s efforts starting here)? How will that change the complexion of the latest publicly available design [PDF]?

If I was to make a guess (which I guess I am), I’d say that the initial build-out will start mid-way up Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. across from Piney Mountain (Municipal Dr.). Further, considering that building on the existing municipal buildings footprint should be the least controversial of options, one hard to reject on environmental or other grounds based on the Town’s current usage patterns, I imagine that Moeser’s administration will suggest placing the first set of buildings there.

Oh, and coincidentally, this will allow UNC to delay the decommissioning of HWA and moving the AHEC program farther afield.

If this proves to be the case, I plan to ask at the next Carolina North outreach meeting [ Tuesday, July 31, 2007 at 4:00 p.m. (School of Government, room 2603) ] what that means in terms of their commitment to “finish the C”.

For those falling UNC’s bouncing ball of Carolina North intentions, here is their website and a nice list of June 21st’s community feedback comments.

I have some amateur video (to join my other coverage) which I’m still processing. I’ll post that sometime soon.

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