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.
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: