EconomicDevelopment


Not a great day for local tech companies in RTP. Nortel (Northern Telecom) is shedding another 1,300 jobs in an effort to stay afloat.

I worked at Northern for nearly seven years (I started at Team10 for any old-timers out there). Back then it was an incredibly vibrant can-do company with a really nice and committed workforce.

In the late ’80’s, early ’90’s Northern had a lock on digital telephone switching equipment. Profits bulged as management got fat and sassy. Profligate spending on some rather ridiculous ego-driven projects became the norm.

Unfortunately, upper management’s vision couldn’t keep up with that of the folks cranking out telco gear. Their top-of-the-heap attitude blinded them to what could and eventually would happen. I remember meeting with the top-dogs in RTP in ’91 trying to convince them that one of Nortel’s bread-n-butter products, the DMS-10, would be replaced within years by cheap, rack-mounted computers using commodity components.

That day eventually came to pass finding Nortel poorly prepared. By that time, I had moved on to help bootstrap a couple startups.

The lessons of Nortel – especially what missteps to avoid – have stayed with me all these years. Those lessons aren’t particularly grounded in Nortel’s culture but are more reflective of common attitudes found in many institutions (“too big to fail” for one).

If the Council does follow up on my call for a Citizen’s Budget Board, I will volunteer and apply the lessons of Nortel, my successful entrepreneurial experience and my diligent efforts to help set the Town’s finances on a firm grounding to bear.

To any remaining Nortel folks that stumble on this entry – good luck and god-speed.

Here is my formal application to fill Bill’s seat.

I agree with recent Council comments that their new colleague must be “ready to hit the road running”. To do so, an applicant should be prepared, involved and experienced.

Council already has a demanding workload. Over the next 7 months two major challenges – troubled finances and the Carolina North development agreement – along with a number of demanding development,technology and operational issues will strain Council’s capacity to deliberate and decide with the due diligence Chapel Hill’s citizens expect.

I am prepared to take on both the substance of issues – mundane or otherwise – and the time demands (280 hours alone over the next 7 months) necessary to do the job at a level our community deserves. On many issues I’m prepared and already up to speed with no steep learning curve to climb.

Over the last 7 years Council has become familiar with my work ethic: creative, hard-working, dedicated.

I have been an entrepreneur, a consultant, a manager, an executive officer of successful startups. My experience balancing budgets, managing employees, collaborating with customers, finding pragmatic solutions and meeting tough time constraints will assist me in fulfilling Council’s requirement that an applicant be ready – day-one – to serve.

I’m involved with a broad spectrum of local issues: protecting the environment, community outreach, increasing diversity, Town finances and fiscal responsibility, economic development, Downtown revitalization, UNC growth on main campus and Carolina North, civil liberties, affordable housing, treatment of the homeless, building a framework for mutually beneficial negotiation between Town and Gown, hands-on arts, infrastructure enhancements, election reforms, solid waste management, airport relocation and more.

I’ve attended hundreds of meetings, researched deeply, developed informed opinions and offered innovative improvements on many of the issues a new Council member will face.

I have also fought, irrespective of concerns of popularity and political consequence, to bring the best policy to the table. My allegiance is to my conscience. I have no hidden agenda and will continue to fight for solutions that are fair and just for all residents.

Tapping Chapel Hill’s creativity is a cornerstone of my activism these last seven years. I will continue my efforts to draw in the wisest public counsel, to temper Council desires with wide-ranging public input. Without a seat on Council I have helped folks shape this Town for the better. With a seat – tapping staff resources, liaising with advisory boards, shaping Council decisions – my effectiveness serving will only improve.

My experience with UNC and the Carolina North plan, my advocacy on improving the Town’s financial condition and my record of promoting the broadest community outreach meshes well with the leadership requirements of the next 13 months.

I will focus on non-controversial goals: setting Chapel Hill on a firm financial foundation, preserving those Chapel Hill qualities we cherish, creating new economic opportunities and promoting the broadest of public participation.

There are many ways to serve ones community. I’ve done quite a few – hands-on volunteering, advisory board member, community organizer, activist. Like Flicka with her neighborhood sewer problem, I started out with a small issue and now, like her, find myself asking Council to let me serve our fine community as their colleague.

Finally, I can’t fill Bill’s shoes, but I will honor his memory by working-hard to improve Chapel Hill for all our diverse residents.

That is my pledge.

Further background: what I’ve done lately, where I would serve and what I would do.

I submitted my formal application to fill Bill’s seat (not his shoes) this afternoon. Along with my application, I provided some examples of my recent activism, a list of advisory boards I would like to represent Council on and some suggestions covering a few of the issues that Chapel Hill faces next year.

The additional material is representative but by no means exhaustive (I tried to keep it somewhat brief).

Here’s some supporting material listing some of the contributions I made these last few years. I listed proposals I made, proposals I assisted on and proposals created in collaboration with the advisory boards I served on. On other issues I’ve flown solo, like requesting that the process of siting a new landfill begin and on others I’ve been one among many pushing for change.

  • UNC

    • Main Campus development

      • OI4 creation – mainly concerned about creation process and time
        limits.
      • Attended most UNC outreach and progress reviews
      • Provided feedback on modifications

        • Noted disappearance of residence halls
    • Carolina North

      • Lobbied for a new negotiation dynamic. Endorsed LAC negotiation framework.
      • Attended every Carolina North meeting.

        • Posted online video of many meetings for broader community review.
        • Feedback on process and proposals.

          • Many suggestions, to numerous to list, representative examples:

            • Shift CN focus to “green”, treat new campus as
              “green” laboratory
            • Parking ratios, metrics on “greenness” building
              heights
            • Development agreement, traffic management, Bolin Creek
      • Attended many Carolina North Leadership Advisory Committee meetings

        • Lobbied for environmental assay, continued environmental monitoring
    • Innovation Center

      • Design review sessions.
      • Feedback on detachment from Carolina North plan.
    • Methane gas project

      • Asked Chapel Hill and OC BOCC to team on LFG recovery for TOC
      • Attended LFG proposal meeting and provided feedback

        • Constant environmental monitoring as per Cameron Power Plant
        • Noise abatement
        • Impact on Mens Shelter project
    • Horace-Williams Citizens Committee member under Julie McClintock’s leadership

      • Drafted HWCC response to Chancellor Moeser’s letter
      • Environmental Sub-group

        • Pushed for process to use “best in class” metrics and
          continuous environmental monitoring of site
        • Help draft environmental guidelines and proposed specific criteria
      • Draft of new work proposal fleshing out the HWCC principles adopted 2004
  • Finance

    • Technology Board recommendation saving $50K yearly
    • As citizen, contributed to Citizen Budget Committee efforts
    • Suggested specific improvements 2003-2007
    • Multi-year budget horizons
    • Lobbied for permanent Citizen Budget board
  • Downtown

    • Called for decent bathrooms, water fountains, sidewalk handicap accessibility,
      family-friendly pocket park, WIFI, comprehensive policing plan, way-signs
    • Downtown Parking Task Force

      • Pushed for new parking study – Downtown Partnership commissioned
        one
      • Use of new customer friendly technology
      • Re-balance parking allotments – lease remote, preserve prime
        spaces
      • Implementation team proposal with Aaron Nelson
      • Better signs, less signs
  • Town Operations

    • Technology

      • Comprehensive evaluation of technology use

        • Council commissioned technology assessment report
      • Operational efficiencies

        • Got $50K yearly savings on leases
        • Proposed $100K+ license fee reduction plan
        • Proposed trouble ticket with online access so citizens could track staff
          activity/responses and management could measure proficiency
      • Website overhaul

        • Non-proprietary design with eye towards permanent presence
        • ADA usability standards
        • Privacy provisions
        • On-line payments
        • On-line access to Council and public communications

          • Council and other relevant email posted
          • On-line video of Council, Planning Board and other meetings
          • Audio of all advisory board proceedings
          • Seven day deadline for Council agendas
          • Pushed adoption of David Lawrence list-serv/’blog process for advisory board
            communications
        • Planning/Inspections tracking system
        • Trouble ticket process for residents to ask for and track issues

          • Streetlights out
          • Waste removal
          • Inspections
      • Open documentation and open source systems initiatives

        • Ensure Town documentation is openly available irrespective of computer
        • Use free and open-source software to reduce cost and promote open documentation
          initiative
      • Communications upgrades/deployments

        • WIFI
        • Fiber optic collaboration with DOT
      • Emergency Operations review

        • Suggested consolidations at TOC
    • Resource use

      • 2004 Green fleet modifications
      • Bio-fuel use – Public Works subsequently purchase 1,000 gals.
      • Proposed targeted reductions and staff reward process
      • Requested fuel/energy/water records to be posted on-line for citizen analysis
    • Staff training/development

      • Proposed “spot award” program
      • Merit-based raises
      • Turnover problem with up-and-coming staff
  • Arts

    • Promote more community arts opportunities

      • Founding member of Friends of Lincoln Center Arts Program

        • Expand Chapel Hill’s hands-on arts program
      • Locate new community arts center at Community Park or other central location
      • %1 Art Program – more funds for local artists
    • Reform Arts Commission
  • Development Process

    • Greater community outreach

      • “Bang the drum loudly” – neighborhood presentations
      • Use of 3D models and other on-line tools to show scale/placement
    • Comprehensive plan reform

      • Evergreen process so new ideas/standards can be incorporated more frequently
      • Discuss metrics for measuring compliance with goals
  • Orange County issues

    • Waste management

      • Siting of the transfer station
      • Request that the process for siting new landfill or incinerator begin
    • UNC Airport – volunteered to be the Orange County representative on
      the Airport Authority

The Chapel Hill News’ Jesse DeConto’s posts over on OrangeChat a discussion of tonight’s request by Orange Community Housing and Land Trust Executive Director Robert Dowling’s renewed request to take in lieu payments over affordable housing stock.

I’ve been troubled by his and others calls to take money over square footage for some time. Whatever problems the Town faces financing, managing or maintaining the program, sacrificing square footage of actual housing doesn’t make sense. If the kind of housing stock offered by a developer falls outside the Town’s desired mix, we need to put more flexibility into the program not rigidly insist on “it’s cash or nothing”.

At the end of the day, housing built now is less costly and will be available sooner than units that might (money is fungible) be built in the future.

And, of course, you can’t live “in lieu”.

Here’s the staff recommendation from tonight’s agenda.

Below is my comment left on OrangeChat.

For the last 4 years, during two election cycles, I’ve said that our escalating acceptance of in lieu payments over building actual square footage is a problem with our affordable housing process.

If we can’t fund the affordable housing program adequately without large infusions of in lieu monies, we have to reform the program, the way we underwrite it. If we can’t manage a larger portfolio of housing stock, we have to, again, look at reforming management of the program. If we think that the character of the housing, condos (of which the Town itself is investing in at Lot #5) is inappropriate for the population, we have to rework our approach to be more flexible.

I’m struck by Delores Bailey’s statement “”Everbody doesn’t want to live in a condo. Imagine the homes we could build for $500,000” for two reasons. One, the developers of Greenbridge floated an idea to build affordable units off-site – a plan that was rejected. And, two, she subsequently endorsed the creation of more affordable housing units – all condos – at Lot #5.

At the time, I asked Council to consider more flexibility in the kind of housing offered by the Greenbridge developers. All the supporters of the project based their endorsements, to some extent, on the extraordinary qualities this project offered. The Council even created a special Downtown development zone, allowing the projects looming height and increased density, by justifying the unusual public good the project presented. Yet, when it came to having the flexibility to accept off-site housing – housing built now instead of possibly later, as was the case in the in lieu monies argument – they couldn’t bridge the ideological gap.

Clearly it is time to rethink our approach to affordable housing. Inclusionary zoning will only increase the need to deal with the “in lieu” versus “square footage” dilemma.

To me, it’s pretty straight forward. Housing built now is less costly. A program that can’t manage a larger, more diverse portfolio of housing stock is not acceptable. Financing of the maintenance and management of the affordable housing program has to shift from in lieu monies.

Julie McClintock presented the following comments on behalf of Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth (NRG) to Council during Oct. 15th’s public hearing.

I had to chuckle when NRG’s request for an online progress tracking system stirred Council’s interest. Why? I proposed a work tracking system for Planning when I first got involved in local government 8 years ago (it was part of the “technology manifesto” I used to flog as old-timers might remember). The now defunct Technology Board not only endorsed this type of system several years ago but stirred Council to tentatively approve a move forward. In spite of an outside technology assessment that echoed that endorsement, there has been no substantive progress.

Over the last 8 years I’ve seen so many constructive, creative community suggestions bite the dust through inaction. I’ve also seen good ideas resurrected through repetition. I hope that NRG’s boost we’ll stir action this time around.

NRG’s comments:

I’m speaking tonight on behalf of Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth.

NRG is pleased that the Town Council and UNC are taking a broad look at all the options in regard to the development of the Horace Williams tract and Carolina North. Considering the size, scope, and potential impact of this development, we feel it is extremely important to consider it in full context and to be willing to consider creative approaches. We look forward to the discussion, and would like to make a few comments for your consideration.

Community involvement and information will be critical during this process. Many in our community do not yet understand the importance of what you are considering tonight – potentially implementing a Development Agreement with UNC. To most, it is simply the latest of many processes involving the 900 acre Horace Williams tract. The most recent of these produced two useful products: The Horace Williams Citizen Advisory Committee Report and the Leadership Advisory Committee report. UNC presented a concept plan several times to the Town Council but no action was taken.

The Development Agreement approach offers both benefits and disadvantages. The chief element of this approach is that you will be settling on a framework which will contain specifics about the new campus, such as density, building types, placement, design and public facilities. While this approach offers many potential benefits, the main disadvantage is that once the agreement is adopted, it becomes impossible to modify or amend the plan without the agreement of both parties.

We are also concerned that the over-all process and schedule as recommended by the Joint Staff Working Group will be very confusing to the public. As we understand the proposal, we see two processes underway at the same time – one going on with the Trustee and Council meetings drafting an over-all agreement, and at the same time a series of text amendments working their way through Town Advisory committees and Council review.

Everyone is fully aware, especially in these uncertain times, of the need to get this Development Agreement right the first time. We are deeply concerned that the schedule may be too demanding and intricate for the public to follow and give meaningful input. It is clear that the schedule is currently being driven by a June 09 change in membership of the UNC Board of Trustees. However, Roger Perry stated at the September 25 meeting that the UNC Board of Trustees has already given him and Robert Winston the authority to represent the UNC Trustees in this matter. Additional new members are unlikely to depart from this approach.

Therefore, we would like to offer these recommendations to improve the process, should you decide to move ahead with a Development Agreement with the University of Carolina for Carolina North.

1. Input from public. During the next year, we recommend that the Council develop a specific and robust schedule for public input to your framework meetings. We suggest at least two public hearings on the progress to date on the UNC-Town discussions in order to provide greater feedback from the community.

2. If you decide to go forward with an Development Agreement, we request a longer timeline so citizens will understand what is on the table for public input. We urge you to delay text and zoning amendments until you and UNC are satisfied with the outlines of the plan. In past negotiations we have seen the staff undertake much work which was later not used.

3. Place on the town website a tracking and notification mechanism that will allow citizens to remain informed and in the loop as the process moves forward. This would be in addition to a notification and tracking system regarding ongoing development projects in general.

We look forward to sharing specific suggestions and recommendations as the process unfolds.

The agenda just went online (a full 5 1/2 hours before the meeting 😉 ). The good news is that the various foundational studies are nearing completion.

The Council and Trustees have concurred that the current Carolina North discussion should build upon rather than replicate this prior community, Town, and University work. The additional background data and analysis requested in these prior discussions is now complete or nearing completion. The ecological foundation studies are complete and will be formally submitted by the University next week. The University has revised its long range development plan and will also submit that next week. The consultant reports on fiscal impacts and transportation are nearing completion and will be submitted over the next six to eight weeks.

Two major areas of discussion tonight: schedule and scope of work.

Now that the schedule is laid out, my concern on both managing the workload and dealing with community outreach effectively has grown. For instance, both the tardy fiscal and transportation studies are slated to be delivered November 26th and December 8th respectively, which doesn’t jibe with the 6 to 8 weeks quoted above.

If these studies are as comprehensive as Council, the BOT and community requested then time needs to be built into the process to evaluate their contents. These studies haven’t been characterized as “foundational” on a whim.

The schedule references “public comment” periods but no community outreach events. I’ve asked the Carolina North Joint Working Group to go beyond the normal “invite and we’ll listen” approach to community involvement. If we are going to serve the public well, we need to get out in the streets and bang the drums loudly. Time needs to be allocated to make this extraordinary effort.

The first public hearing is scheduled for May 11th, 2009, really late in the process. We shouldn’t backload a public information dump but feed a steady stream of updates – via the website, community outreach, roundtables, charrettes – as the particulars of the development agreement come together.

It isn’t clear if the informational meetings scheduled Nov. 20th (before the studies are submitted), Jan. 29th, March and April 1st are one way affairs or if the public will be able to participate actively. Mayor Foy did suggest “workshop” type events.

As far as scope of work, there is high level outline that needs to be further fleshed out. Big bullets like “traffic”, “parking”, “sustainability” have to broken down into workable subcomponents.

The biggest omission? The new “base” zone. Dr. Owens, our UNC mentor, suggested that the “base” zone could be simply constructed – basically saying that this zone’s requirements are controlled by the development agreement and any secondary legal obligations the development agreement is contingent on.

I respectfully disagree.

We need a “base” zone that acts as a safety net. Unlike traditional land use management, where property can be rezoned to tighten or loosen restrictions at nearly any point in the development approval process, the Carolina North development agreement will lock the Town into a particular set of requirements that cannot be modified.

The most prudent course is to design a catch-all zone that establishes baseline conditions for developing Carolina North. This way any issues not anticipated by the development agreement will be managed successfully using the “base” zone safety net. While UNC’s master campus OI-4 zone should inform the development of this new “base” zone, I don’t believe it is an appropriate model for the new “base”. OI-4 was developed to manage growth on a nearly mature, well-encapsulated campus going through its last major building throes.

The new zone needs to manage piecemeal growth spanning decades. Not an equivalent task.

There is a lesson to be taken from OI-4 – we must avoid the mistakes made in its creation process. If Council decides to create a new zone that will act as a safety net, it will have to do so fairly rapidly. As I suggested at last weeks meeting, the zone should be sketched out independent of but in cooperation with the existing Planning Board. A new task force – hopefully with a few members of the Horace-Williams Citizens Committee who helped develop the Carolina North guiding principles – should work concurrently to establish this “base”.

The other night I found out that while I was the only citizen to speak, I wasn’t the only community member at the first development agreement meeting. Bob Henshaw, Cindy Henshaw’s husband, a resident of Piney Mountain Road – the neighborhood first affected by Carolina North development – came in a little late.

I’m hoping that more folks join us this evening.

Quick reminder that there is another joint meeting between Council and UNC’s BOT representatives tonight (Oct. 22nd) from 7 – 9:30 pm at the Chapel Hill Public Library (no agenda online – boo!).

Tonight’s meeting continues to flesh out the policy surrounding use of a development agreement for Carolina North (previous posts here and here).

More on the nuances of development agreements here: Exactions, Dedications and Development Agreements Nationally and in California: When and How Do the Dolan/Nollan Rules Apply [PDF] and Development Agreements: Bargained for Zoning That is Neither Illegal Contract or Conditional Zoning [PDF]. Description of some possible legal pitfalls here:

  1. NJ Supreme Court Holds that a Development Company Cannot be Required to Pay More than its Fair Share of Off-Site Improvements, Irrespective of Development Agreement
  2. Zoning Requires Uniformity and CA Appeals Court Says Developer Agreement is Not a Substitute for Rezoning
  3. DURAND V. IDC BELLINGHAM, LLC:TOWNS FORSALE?

The Durand case is interesting. The development agreement between Bellingham and a developer was set aside by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court because “rezoning action was tainted and improperly influenced by the presence of a large cash gift from a developer”. In that case, an $8 million payment to the municipality for “general use” in return for zoning consideration was considered improper.

Here’s a brief outline of my comments to Council at the Oct. 15th Public Hearing on Guiding Development at Carolina North (video of the meeting here).

Tonight you are being asked to approve a resolution that does three things: start the development agreement process, create a base zone for Carolina North and agree to a timetable.

I endorse moving forward with this resolution
  - flexibility and predictability
    - caution: flexibility is a double-edge sword - make sure requests comply with:
        + LUMO, comprehensive plan 
    - exactions outside normal zoning law
    - secondary agreements - lease, easement, contract extending reach of 
    - mechanism to extend beyond term of team members
      - process must live outside of tenure of negotiators 
         + not an agreement between Mayor Foy and Chairman Perry but current
           and future Councils/UNC BOTs
      - "escape hatch" - resolution doesn't bind us to development
         agreement

CONCERNS

-- process
   - transparency
     - ex parte communications - no side comments like Barry Jacobs/UNC airport
   - evidentiary process 
     - apply to some part of the process
     - establish factual basis for agreement within a couple quasi-judicial proceedings
   - public hearings/outreach
     - multiple checkpoints in process - let public know of progress
     - website FAQ/all questions asked by public, answers online
     - "bang drum loudly" - seek out neighborhoods, don't expect folks at public 
       hearings

-- other questions
   - impact fees not normally assessed elsewhere, how does this
     fit with fiscal equity
   - "freeze" rules, most examples compatible underlying zone
      new zone - explain flexibility
   - application of general development philosophy, requirements to out-parcels...
     - Airport Dr.
     - Duke Energy parcel
     - method to incorporate other parcels under guiding philosophy

-- schedule - aggressive - huge undertaking - lots of moving parts
   - number of concerns need to be resolved ASAP
     - clear list of UNC "will and will nots"
       + LAC process has already high-lighted a few/formalize

-- new zone
   - developed outside of but in cooperation with planning board, highly public
   - OI-4 controls a built-out footprint, new zone more open ended
   - new zone needs to go beyond "base"
     + zone will act as safety net
     + effectively manage unanticipated edge cases, etc.

-- fiscal, transportation, other studies not ready
   - need to merge their schedules into dev. agreement schedule

-- requirements complimenting/exceeding zone and LUMO guidelines
   - new task force
     - HWCC environmental elements - light pollution, air particulate
       + measurable goals parking ratios, noise, particulates, light, etc.

-- specific metrics - "best in class"
   - Arizona/Hawaii light pollution
   - air particulates 
     - energy budget/carbon footprint
     - AIA 2030

-- enforcement provisions - look at "best practice"
   - loose enough to manage mistakes, tight enough to control growth

-- secondary legal agreements 
   - usually implement elements outside zoning requirements
   - who will develop - lawyers from Town or UNC or both?
   - who pays?

-- multi-governmental negotiations/agreements
   -  Is there adequate time for multi-governmental cooperation?

-- cost management
  - defray costs to Town
    - building permit fees won't cover upfront planning dept. costs
     + chip away good idea 

Even though local environmentalist have talked about our county’s responsibility to manage its waste stream responsibly – not dumping the problem on another community – I couldn’t find a recent request to the Board of Commissioners by either a organization or an individual to start the process of developing either a new landfill or a sound alternative. With the missteps selecting the trash transfer site fresh in our community’s mind, I thought that starting that search now would give our community plenty of time to come to terms with what I think is a civic responsibility.

Why? Simply because it will take years to build community consensus on, one, whether we do have an obligation to manage our waste locally and two, what kind of facility is most appropriate.

Earlier this year, the Board of Commissioners did direct the Solid Waste Advisory Board to research alternative waste management technologies with an eye to the future. Their Oct. 7th report on Solid Waste Process Technology Assessment [PDF-huge] and September minutes [PDF] sketches out both the advantages and pitfalls of existing technologies.

Their comments also reveal that the greatest hurdle is political, not technical.

For instance, one promising, though expensive, alternative is to use of waste to produce energy. The only financially feasible way to implement incineration, at least at Orange County’s current level of waste production, is to develop a regional approach in cooperation with surrounding counties and the University (one concern is that there is a “secret plan” to build this type of a facility or a new landfill on the excess acres purchased for the new transfer site).

Incineration can be done in an environmentally friendly fashion and appears, at least using state of the art techniques, not to have as large of a carbon footprint as transporting waste 90 miles to a landfill that doesn’t capture its methane by-products.

Incineration, of course, is even less politically popular than landfills.

In either case, the search for a reasonable and supported solution will take time. Selling the public, probably years. Developing the political will (and backbone) probably even longer.

Shipping waste out-of-county was NEVER going to be a longterm solution (unless fuel cost stay constant and other communities willingness to host our garbage continues ad infinitum). Recognizing the built-in limitation of the transfer process now and acting accordingly is the responsible course to take.

After this evening’s solid waste transfer site meeting, I took a second to ask Alice why she said delaying the final site selection would lead to “garbage piling up”. She had made that statement earlier, in an effort to encourage her colleagues to make a decision by mid-November.

Orange County’s landfill is slated to close in 2011 (Trash Talk: The Ticking Clock). Our solid waste management folks say it’ll take 18 months to get the new transfer site up and running. The BOCC has to figure out the financial impacts, find the revenue and let the contracts sometime early next year to make that date.

But if the County doesn’t make that date, will trash really pile up?

No, as Alice should know. Even though the local municipalities supposedly balked at shipping their waste to Durham’s transfer station ($42/ton + fuel), I’m fairly sure that Orange County can negotiate a temporary use of that facility while a new one in Orange County is built. If a delay of a few months buys community consensus and confidence, the temporary financial inconvenience will be well worth it.

The Orange County Board of Commissioner’s narrowed the possible trash transfer sites to three – 779, 759 and 056 – this evening during their special working session [agenda].
All three are along Hwy 54.

While I’m quite happy that the Rogers Road community is off the hook, at least for now, I’m troubled by the process used in narrowing the field.

As I said to the BOCC several months ago, the process must be more than seem to be fair, it must be measurably fair. This reiterated my March 2007 call (Trash Talk: Systematic is the New Watchword) to junk Orange County’s Solid Waste Advisory Board’s subjective analysis and replace it with the more objective decision-matrix process.

Beyond objective metrics, I added that the criteria used must be understandable and equitably applied in order to build confidence within our community that the end-result – placing an unwelcome solid waste transfer facility in someones backyard – was fair.

I was quite pleased that the BOCC did adopt a matrix approach and had their consultant, Olver [Orange County site], rank sites based on three broad sets of criteria: exclusionary – which removed sites, technical – which ranked sites by their suitability and community – which introduced community values, like environmental justice, into the process.

The rub is in applying the criteria correctly, objectively and equitably. As once again demonstrated this evening, the BOCC and their consultant still are having difficulties with application.

I’m fairly sure that a number of citizens attending this evening – including those who dodged the bullet – were concerned that necessary criterion – cost, transportation, environmental, infrastructure – were either missing or not applied correctly.

For instance, in re-checking my Mar. 9th, 2007 analysis of the county’s projected “centroid of waste production” (2035 Orange County’s Garbage Center of Gravity?) – incorporating additional data from Mebane, Durham County and extrapolating growth at the newly approved developments like Buckhorn – I’m remain convinced that Olver’s calculations are off. This is critical as sites are excluded if they lie 12 miles or more beyond the center of waste production. I informally suggested the County have UNC’s relevant academic departments do a quick review – there’s still time.

I attended the meeting this evening to reiterate my concern that the public outreach portion of the process is “designed for failure”.

As I cautioned the BOCC before, this cannot become a matter of “Us and Them” – neighbor against neighbor. So far, building bridges between folks has been left to the community – with the Rogers Road coalition leading the way.

In spite of professing their desire for community input, there has been a failure to incorporate citizen contributions from previous meetings. Worse Barry Jacobs confusing behavior this evening – “running out the clock” to limit community comments – left more than a few citizens new to this issue dismayed (I spoke to several after the meeting – they all thought Barry did it deliberately).

Considering the problems in applying the technical and exclusionary principles, Olver’s confusing “draft” community input document, the severe self-imposed time-line and other similar issues, I’m worried that the BOCC will arrive at a decision that doesn’t account for community concerns.

[UPDATE] Herald-Sun story (sorry, they still don’t get it – registration required).

Councilmember Laurin Easthom sketches out the scope of work required to diligently discharge a Council member’s civic responsibilities.

As she notes, agendas can weigh in at 11 lbs. Meetings are more frequently going until 1am. Preparation takes hours and hours. And the work expands well beyond what most folks usually see – liaising with other community groups and governmental entities, special sessions, representing the Town in all sorts of contexts, meetings with concerned citizens – much of which can be scheduled at most inopportune times.

Laurin has done a great service not only outlining the amount of work, but also how prepared a new member must be, as Mayor Foy has said the Council wants, to “hit the ground running”.

Beyond that, she suggests a new member must be ready to forge ahead with their own agenda:

Decide what you want to do in a proactive way on the council. It would be easy to sit up there and just vote on things as they come along in reactive mode, but most council members have areas that they really want to work on making changes and spend extra time on those issues that are important to them. These are not always items on the agenda and things the public might see every day.

Laurin is right. Not all the issues our community faces appear on the Council’s agenda. Serving the community as a qualified Council member requires more than a passive approval of the status quo. Active engagement is a necessity – an applicant should consider if they have the fortitude to take the lead where none is currently offered.

That said, Council is appointing a new member for six months. If I’m appointed, I expect the lion-share of my effort going towards reducing our Town’s financial exposure, supporting and improving the on-going Carolina North negotiation process and a handful of issues I’ve contributed to over the years like economic development, environmental metrics, Downtown’s revitalization, human services and teaming up with our existing internal technology team to rework our Town’s Internet strategy. There are also Town and County boards I wish to serve on (more on that in my formal application).

Realistically, though, there is a mountain of work to be done in a very short time. An applicant wishing to excel needs to understand that. I also hope that an applicant is willing to put aside their near-term political ambitions and concentrate exclusively on the tasks at hand.

In any case, I well understand and respect the amount of work – those many hours it takes – to discharge ones Council duties at a level that our community deserves.

I spend upwards of 30 or more hours a week reading and researching UNC, Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County agenda items. I attend board meetings, UNC community outreach events and other community functions to better understand the context in which policy is formed. My opinion on many issues evolves as input from our talented community pours in, as time reveals nuances not immediately obvious, as debate (yes, some issues get public debate) deepens my understanding.

I also try to engage our community, here on CitizenWill and elsewhere, by providing not only a particular, hopefully informed, opinion but links to or copies of the primary source materials I used to arrive at a particular policy endorsement.

I applied for the position knowing that I’ll miss dinners, start early and go late, in order to perform my civic duty at a level our community deserves. Luckily, I have a very, very understanding family, a flexible work schedule (as a full-time software engineer working Downtown) and nearly a decade of practice wedging civic activities into a pretty full life.

Laurin, I wish you posted more often. Providing an insiders viewpoint is a great assist to any citizen thinking about applying.

A Lion used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.

Aesop, 6th Century BC

Had an opportunity tonight to listen in on a group of concerned Hillsborough and southwest Orange County citizens discuss the potential siting of the trash transfer facility in their neighborhoods (Eno River Economic Zone – 2 sites and Hwy. 54 corridor – 3 sites).

A number of issues were raised at the meeting: apparent bias in site selection, the “surprise” announcement of the sites on Hwy. 54 and the Hillsborough zone, weighting of access to water and sewer hookups sans cost of making those connections, inadequate traffic studies, confusing or misapplied scoring of technical criteria, whether the BOCC would implement the more costly enclosed transfer site design previously proposed for Eubanks or shave some costs by going with an open pavilion, concern that Chapel Hill’s/Carrboro’s increased transportation costs were improperly used to justify removing Durham County’s transfer site from consideration, underestimation of water use (500 gals. a day!), possible “hidden” reasons for acquiring 82 acres ($7.5 million the current asking price) instead of a smaller tract, if incineration and ultimate in-county disposal got due attention and a slew of others which I’m sure the Rogers Road community are well acquainted with.

Nathan Robinson, the environmental engineer I wrote about Sept. 16th, a founding member of Orange County Community Awareness, gave the clearest deconstruction of the current solid waste transfer site selection mess that I’ve seen. Orange County’s consultant, Olver, should review his presentation to improve their own dog-n-pony show.

Nathan quickly out-lined the dimensions of the issue, discussing what a solid waste transfer site does, how it is laid out, managed and maintained before launching into an analysis, from his professional viewpoint as an environmental engineer, of the problems associated with the current siting process.

Nathan’s concerns mirror a number of mine, especially in terms of the weighting of the selection criteria, the incredibly confusing community criteria feedback procedure, biased scoring of the technical criteria, analysis of environmental consequences and the evaluation of Orange County’s waste creation “center of gravity” (my Mar. 9th, 2007 post on that issue: 2035 Orange County’s Garbage Center of Gravity? ).

As folks that have read my ‘blog know (or have heard me whinge on about local issues elsewhere), I promote reality-based decision-making using measurable criteria. Not all issues are amenable to this approach. Sometimes you have to make a subjective call – say as to the weighting of the importance of environmental justice in the current transfer site process. As I noted a couple years ago, the previous decision by Orange County’s Solid Waste Advisory Board to plop this new facility back on Eubanks sorely lacked rigor, objectivity and transparency.

I questioned SWAB’s ability to make a sound decision because they didn’t generally use objective, understandable, measurable criteria – technical or otherwise – and what criteria they did use were inequitably evaluated differently depending on context and perceived necessity.

Because of that disconnect, I lobbied the Board of Commissioners (BOCC) to create a more thoughtful process grounded by sound engineering principles, guided by community standards. I was encouraged by the process they adopted, but, just as the BOCC themselves admitted on return from their summer break, greatly concerned by Olver’s implementation.

The folks of Rogers Road shared my concerns and expressed their uneasiness at the BOCC’s Sept. 16th meeting.

Of the concerns expressed and the comments made at the meeting, two need serious highlighting.

First is the statements by Hillsborough’s elective folks – like Mayor Stevens and Commissioner Gering – to this community that “they didn’t know” about the process or potential siting of the solid waste facility near Hillsborough. I attended several Assembly of Orange County Governments meetings where these issues got a thorough airing. As a quick Google of minutes of these meetings document, Hillsborough’s reps had to know that these sites were in-play.

Second, and really the most encouraging of all the comments, was Nathan’s call to adopt a united and collaborative approach in dealing with these outstanding issues.

He said, clearly, that he has come to understand the depth of Rogers Roads concerns, their 36 year struggle to simply have promises made – promises completed. He said, clearly, that equitable environmental justice was a relevant criteria and that this was not a battle between neighbors. When a few comments from the folks assembled veered into the “us versus them” realm, Nathan and some of the other organizers rose to say that their emphasis was on the overall process – their focus to get an reliably objective analysis within the established criteria and remove the confusion around the more subjective components of Olver’s mission.

Finally, and the most heartening of all, Nathan said he was meeting with Rogers Road resident (and champion) Rev. Campbell today to see how they could work together. I well remember the landfill expansion fight – which pitted neighbor against neighbor. An attempt to avoid that rancor from the outset gives hope the community won’t fracture. Interestingly, the folks around the county starting to deal with UNC’s new airport authority, already recognize that a united approach is a better approach.

My hope? That the BOCC improves the process. That they realize that the solid waste transfer decision is a beginning. And they work knowing how these issues are resolved will set the template for the new landfill selection process.

If you’re just stumbling upon my site and want some background, here’s a few posts and links to get you up to speed:

Additional posts on the issue are available by doing a search on “trash” from the sidebar.

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.

I write my ‘blog knowing full well that there are many folks more eloquent, more on-point than I will ever be. Jim Protzman, former Chapel Hill Councilmember, BlueNC’r sent this simple request to Representative David Price about the Bush Administration’s $700 billion long con.

Dear Congressman Price

We were told last week that the world would end if the bail-out didn’t pass immediately. It didn’t pass, and the world didn’t end. Then we were told we had a few days. Then we were told next Monday would be okay. Some even say a few weeks would be okay.

The truth is, no one in Congress has any freakin’ idea what you’re dealing with here. The $700 billion figure was pulled out of Paulson’s ass. It has no grounding in reality whatsoever. It’s not even clear that a bail out is absolutely necessary…..

Dead on. Thanks Jim for articulating, if even a little freakin’ off-color, what I want David to do – reject the Bushies final grift.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid that David’s efforts, if he should take Jim’s sage advice, will be subverted by his own party’s leadership, ala Salon’s Glenn Greenwald’s recent observation what the Democratic Leadership
(The complete (though ever-changing) elite consensus over the financial collapse) will probably do:

Leave aside for the moment whether this gargantuan nationalization/bailout scheme is “necessary” in some utilitarian sense. One doesn’t have to be an economics expert in order for several facts to be crystal clear:

First, the fact that Democrats are on board with this scheme means absolutely nothing. When it comes to things the Bush administration wants, Congressional Democrats don’t say “no” to anything. They say “yes” to everything. That’s what they’re for.

They say “yes” regardless of whether they understand what they’re endorsing. They say “yes” regardless of whether they’ve been told even the most basic facts about what they’re being told to endorse. They say “yes” anytime doing so is politically less risky than saying “no,” which is essentially always and is certainly the case here. They say “yes” whenever the political establishment — meaning establishment media outlets and the corporate class that funds them — wants them to say “yes,” which is the case here. And they say “yes” with particular speed and eagerness when told to do so by the Serious Trans-Partisan Republican Experts like Hank Paulson and Ben Bernake (or Mike McConnell and Robert Gates and, before them, Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell).

So nothing could be less reassuring or more meaningless than the fact that the Democratic leadership has announced that what they heard scared them so much that they are certain all of this is necessary — whatever “all this” might be (and does anyone think that they know what “this” even is?). It may be “necessary” or may not be, but the fact that Congressional Democrats are saying this is irrelevant, since they would not have done anything else — they’re incapable of doing anything else — other than giving their stamp of approval when they’re told to.

This will be the third “big scare” used to justify the most corrosive of public policies. 9/11 led to the hasty adoption of the Orwellian Patriot Act. Fabricated “intelligence” of Iraqii WMDs led to the worst foreign policy and humanitarian disaster of the last few generations. And now, with the implosion of financial institutions whose underpinnings were based on incremental movements of trust in instruments spun from less substance than cotton candy, we have the rush to payoff the indefensible ripoffs on Wall St.

By every and any measure, the American public, prodded by fear and ignorance over 7 years, have emptied their, their childrens’ and grandchildren’s pockets – trillions of dollars – in the largest transfer of public weal to private hands ever.

Never have so many given so much to so few.

And as the Cheney/Bush madministration draws to a close, this third and final act seeks to strip the America’s cupboard bare, dot the final i on the most incompetent Presidency in our Republic’s short history and end, it seems, by drowning the Neo-Con’s favorite whipping boy – a Federal regulatory government – in the bathtub.

Tonight I asked the Council, once again, to reconsider cutting corners in the zoning process to push their “dense” development agenda.

Just as in this Spring’s approval of the new TC-3 zoning district (A Matter of Process: Greenbridge and Council’s Devolving Standard of Public Review), the Council is trying to slide through a far-reaching zoning modification to favor another RAM Development project.

RAM Development is the Council’s development partner in the ill-fated Lot $5 public/private partnership (a partnership where the public literally gets the shaft and RAM gets all the gold [Downtown Initiative: $500,000 here, $7.3 Million there, pretty soon we’re talking real money…]).

TC-3, which doubled the allowable density and increased the height limits by %50 of projects built Downtown was tagged to the popular Greenbridge projects approval but its real raison d’etre was to get Lot $5 over a SUP (special use permit) hurdle. What was clear, then, especially if you review secret negotiations, the Council’s negotiating team (Strom, Hill, Greene) failed to get RAM to commit to all the requirements the Council had asked for whether reasonable or not. The team had painted themselves into a corner, in a sense, because they had publicly stated they would not approve a SUP granting the height, density and other extraordinary specifications that RAM wanted (specifications tailored to enriching their bottom line at taxpayer expense) without a commensurate quid pro quo.

Empty handed, unable to get a deal which would satisfy their already announced SUP requirements, they created a new zoning district, rammed it through without extensive public review and applied to their own pet project – Lot $5 – to close the deal.

Tonight the Council proposed using the same tactic, in this case twisting an existing zone (Residential-Special Standards-Conditional Zoning District) developed in 1999 to promote affordable housing, so that they could apply it to another RAM Development project – The Residences at Grove Park of which I have written about several times.

Over two years ago, in fact, I asked Council to be as Caesar’s wife – beyond reproach – when dealing with other projects from their business partner RAM Development.

Carefully tailoring a zoning ordinance modification that, as our own Planning Board said “appears to be in direct response to the proposed Residences at Grove Park developments and therefore may not be well suited for other areas of town”, doesn’t instill confidence in the integrity of our zoning process.

Why does this project, which wipes out 111 affordable housing units and replaces them with 300+ luxury condos get this particular special treatment?

Here are my prepared remarks (which I tried to consolidate as, once again, the Council collapsed two public hearings into one possible confusing tangle):

What we have tonight with these proposed zoning modifications is a set of vague requirements with no backing metrics. Essentially, you are being asked to loose the “specialness” of the Residential Special Standards zone.

The original intent of RSSC zone was to promote affordable housing.

Tonight’s proposal is all about a 3-fold increase in density to satisfy your development partner’s, RAM Development, desire to maximize their profits in selling more luxury condos at the community’s expense.

But, like the Council’s decision to pass TC-3, modifying the RSSC opens the doors to all developers to follow your business partner’s lead. Without the specific, measurable standards, it will be quite difficult to measure if the promises made in granting a zone are actually carried out.

#1. Promoting affordable housing.

This Council has more and more accepted in lieu payments over actual square footage. How will this project be any different? Is there a commitment to accept 26 units? And based on RAM’s own projections, in no way are these units as affordable as the existing housing stock.

#2. Promote sustainable transportation.

What, specifically, is so much more extraordinarily different in RAM’s 425 Hillsborough proposal than existing transportation conditions? Nothing. Without setting specific goals or guidelines, how will we ever know?

#4. Protection of the natural environment.

RAM’s project, as currently designed, has significant impacts on the health of Bolin Creek. During the buildout and occupancy of these condos, significant changes – changes not accounted for in the current plan – will negatively affect the surrounding and downstream environment. There are already sanitary sewer issues along that part of the system, where’s the request to study the impact of Hillsborough 425 on that system?

#6. Protection of adjacent neighborhoods. [I made an aside to Sally Greene since she had raised concerns about the appearance of UNC’s Innovation Center fronting MLK,Jr.: …this is a big project..it will be the visible entranceway to our Downtown…it will loom above the historic neighborhoods behind… ]

Like TC-3, the proposed modifications are pushing an agenda that will have far-reaching effects on adjacent Downtown neighborhoods. Pass the modifications and you are opening up the flood gates to radical changes at odds with Chapel Hill’s current character. Let’s give the public a full opportunity to understand the breadth of these changes.

#3. “Promotion of a healthy downtown and healthy neighborhood commercial and employment centers;”

Does this mean displacing the hard-working folks from what little remains of privately owned affordable housing stock and replacing them with rich retirees and wealthy student havens? What guarantees do we have that the residents of these 300+ luxury condos represent greater economic reward for Downtown? Like Lot #5, do we expect RAM’s targeted demographic to increase employment Downtown? Or will, given the cost of these units, will the workers commute to RTP – defeating the transportation initiative?

[Another aside in reference to RAM’s point mans statement that only 3 non-student leasees live at Town House] As far as the 100 students you will displace. I’ve known folks living at Town House…students…they work in our community….they have jobs….] (this trivialization of the student population of Town House just shows how RAM Development feels about Chapel Hill – it’s a fattened goat – with a sleepy goatherd – ready for the roasting].

What is so special about this project to justify a modification in the zoning laws to allow not only your business partner but every other developer wishing to cash in on Chapel Hill’s diminishing cachet from making the same vague assertions? Once you open the door, you cannot favor RAM over others – unless you want to invite lawsuits.

Which brings me to my final issue with tonight’s proposal.

This is the second time this Council has been asked to modify zoning regulations to favor their business partner RAM Development.

The first time, with TC-3, the majority of this Council were willing to open the door to long-range negative changes Downtown – radically allowing increased density and heights Downtown – with the costs passed on to us – the taxpayers.

The appearance of favoring RAM, your development partner, once again calls into question the integrity of the Town’s zoning process.

If this project is so special as to require modifications, let it be under the current zone. Make RAM make the case – cross every T and dot every I – and set specific, measurable requirements for granting variances so that the public remains confident that one, they are getting a good deal and two, that favoritism played no part in the final outcome.

Councilmember Mark Kleinschmidt said I was “being mean spirited” highlighting that this is the second time that a proposal was made to modify the law – the zoning ordinance – to favor the Council’s business partner. I wasn’t being mean-spirited, I was being frank.

What would I do differently?

I agree that the RSSC needs to be updated to reflect current density expectations. Would I go from .4 to 1.10, not without an escalating scale of extraordinary requirements and not outside the original intent – to foster affordable housing. For great rewards, go great responsibilities.

What about higher density, transit-oriented developments? I would take another stab at creating a new zone, as the Council failed to do this Spring, that captured the requirements – and as importantly – set specific measurable metrics – for a new zone. I would then invite community input – have outreach events as UNC has done with Carolina North – and then hold extensive public hearings to “sell” this new zone to the public. No more of this under-the-table gamesmanship.

What about adding the six new comprehensive plan related requirements as proposed by staff to this new zone? Great idea if it can be done to foster appropriate in-fill development throughout Chapel Hill.

What I wouldn’t do, and what I really hope our Council stops doing, is to attempt to make far-reaching, potentially harmful modifications to our Town’s zoning ordinances, without informing and educating our public.

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