140West: RAM Development’s Money Tree, Chapel Hill Taxpayers Moneypit

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:

June 2010
21: 2010 Final Spring Meeting Chapel Hill Council
12: Downtown Development Framework: Compact, Connected, Anchored and Green
10: Radical Shift in Vision For Downtown
March 2010
09: Sustainability Task Force: The Whole or The Sum of the Parts?
February 2010
03: Chapel Hill’s First Budget Meeting of 2010
01: WCHL Commentary: Library Expansion Next Year or Lot #5 Project, Not Both
January 2010
25: Library or Lot #5?
October 2009
28: Unfunded Liabilities
03: 2009 Sierra Club Chapel Hill Candidate Forum
03: 2009 NRG Chapel Hill Candidate Forum
November 2008
19: Community Oversight of the Planning Board
17: Southern Village: So Long Six Stories
13: East 54’s Virtual Chapel Hill
12: A middle finger to Northside
04: Dec. 10th: The Density Discussion
October 2008
27: Affordable Housing: I Can’t Live In Lieu
September 2008
18: Twisting the Zoning Pretzel
June 2008
25: Council “Off the Rails”
November 2007
14: Chapel Hill’s Resegregation?
10: Closing the Door on Diversity
08: Election 2007: Incumbents Strategy Disservice to Our Community
October 2007
23: Election 2007: Money on the Street
15: Election 2007: Friends of Affordable Housing Questionnaire
13: Election 2007: Chapel Hill News Candidate Questionnaire
13: Election 2007: Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth
12: Election 2007: Chapel Hill’s Diminished Environmental Credibility
11: Election 2007: Chapel Hill Sierra Club Forum
06: Election 2007: Carrboro’s League of Women Voters Forum
02: Election 2007: League of Women Voters Forum Unplugged
01: Election 2007: League Of Women Voters Forum
August 2007
01: Election 2007: Keeping it Simple
July 2007
19: Not Just Real-Estate: Chapel Hill’s Economic Strategy “Chained” Down?
19: Not Just Real-Estate: Chapel Hill’s Draft Economic Development Report
June 2007
04: June 6th’s Closed Council Session
May 2007
04: Another $460,000 for Lot $5: Will Rising Costs Mean Raising Taxes?
03: Carrot or Stick: House Approves Chapel Hill’s Energy Reduction Incentives
April 2007
27: Two years later, Town hires Economic Development Officer
05: Hazardous Consequences: Mystery of the Vault Contest
04: Hazardous Consequences: A Report, a Rushed Decision, a Regrettable Day for Chapel Hill
March 2007
29: Hazardous Consequences: No Official Word, Yet, On Lot #5’s Hazardous Waste Issue
28: Dad
25: Lot #5’s Silver Lining
23: A Matter of Process: Greenbridge and Council’s Devolving Standard of Public Review
21: Raleigh’s Carlton Place: A Downtown Affordable Housing Commitment Worth Emulating
20: Lot #5 Development: “…up through the ground come a bubbling crude…”
19: Lot #5 Development: Two Pictures 1,000 Words Apart
19: The HeraldSun Turns A Corner: Trouble on the horizon at lot 5
16: Lot #5 Downtown Development: Do you smell gas?
14: Municipal Networking: St. Cloud Soars Above Chapel Hill
07: Chapel Hill 2035
07: Giving Kiosk Out, Panhandling Meters In?
February 2007
23: Parking Downtown: Water, Water Everywhere, Nary a Drop to Drink
19: Chapel Hill News: Crushed by Council’s Jagganath
14: Downtown Development: Feb. 12th Council Debate
14: Downtown Development: The LEEDs Trade-Off, AIA 2030 Up Next
14: Downtown Development: Feb. 12th Citizen Comment
12: Godzilla vs. Bambi:RAM Development and Chapel Hill
12: RAM’s VP Casey Cummings – The Sixth Beatle?
12: Downtown Development Intiative: Thank you Sir, May I Have Another?
12: Downtown Development Intiative: Easthom, Ward on Hazardous Waste Liability
12: Downtown Development Intiative: Feb. 12th’s Comments
12: The Sad Story of Council’s Downtown Development Initiative
12: Confidential Lot 5 Memorandum and Notes: Update I
12: Downtown Development Initiative: Listen and Learn How Negotiations Went Awry
08: Confidential Lot 5 Memorandum and Notes
December 2006
06: Downtown Development: RAM’s VP Cummings’ Smackdown
05: The Chickens Have Roosted: Council’s Environmental Credibility Gap
04: Downtown Development: Steamrolled by Jagannath
04: Out-Foxed Chapel Hill Style
04: Downtown Development: Easthom’s questions, questions, questions…
02: Downtown Development Initiative: A Few New Perspectives
01: Downtown Development Initiative: Our Fair City Before Lot #5
01: Downtown Development Initiative: Search for Wholesome Goodness Continues…
01: GoogleEarth Experiment: RAM Development Flybys
01: Downtown Development Initiative: Where’s the beef?
November 2006
29: …water fountains, bathrooms and benches….
28: Chapel Hill Downtown Development Initiative: The Debate
28: Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership: Nov. 28th State of the Union
27: Downtown Development Initiative: Stanford on a Sea of Asphalt
27: Downtown Development Initiative: Culbreth and the Domino Effect
20: Downtown Initiative: $500,000 here, $7.3 Million there, pretty soon we’re talking real money…
September 2006
22: Hillsborough425: Yes, it is interactive!
22: Hillsborough425: Google Earth Fly-By, Alpha Quality
20: Hillsborough425: Daily Tar Heel Says “Scrap the Plan”
17: Hillsborough425 aka “The Residences at Grove Park”
07: Greenwashing?
August 2006
09: This grass is not greener…
06: What Price Downtown? Possibly more than you might think…
06: What Price Downtown? The Mayor Responds.
06: What Price Downtown
July 2006
31: You can’t squeeze orange juice from a turnip….
June 2006
20: Haven’t we heard that before?
19: Session closed under North Carolina General Statute 143-318.11(a)(6)
19: 7:30am Wake Up Call for Downtown Partnership Members
17: Council’s Conflict of Interest? Maybe just a slight edge….
16: Council’s Conflict of Interest?
April 2006
27: Tapping into our community’s aggregate wisdom
March 2006
01: Castles in the Clouds


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