A Plaza for All? Looking for Chapel Hill’s Public Commons

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Last night I made a few remarks to Council before they codified a series of restrictions on the use of Peace and Justice Plaza Downtown by organized and disorganized activist.

We renamed the small patch of ground outside the Downtown post office to Peace and Justice Plaza to honor its central place in Chapel Hill’s progressive history. Before the Town acquired the property in the 70’s, its unique status as a slice of Federal land front-n-center in our community made it an invaluable refuge for local civil rights activist who wanted folks to see what others didn’t want to be seen – that even educated Chapel Hill bore the stain of racial inequality.

Why did Council slide these changes altering a historical dynamic through, undermining the meaning of Peace & Justice, without reaching out to the community? Why the desperate speed?

It appears because the Town couldn’t figure out how to evict one remaining protester who by most descriptions was a homeless man using the Occupy movement as an excuse for staying. Rather than address that specific issue, Council chose to hastily adopt a potentially very chilling approach.

Until we see specific guidelines, drafted out of sight of the community – chiefly by the Town Manager – we will not know.

For at least 50 years, a small patch of ground outside Downtown’s Post Office has served as our Town commons. This historical precedent was set by local civil rights activists who sought to circumvent Town and State attempts to shutter the voices raised against racial inequality.

They sought refuge on that small piece of Federal land because efforts to evict would become – literally- a “Federal case”. Sadly, they expected Federal courts would be more sympathetic in supporting their Constitutional right to assemble, to speak, to petition and to ask for redress of grievances than our local community.

Over time, protection of those fundamental rights has shifted towards local governments. Chapel Hill citizens, some at great costs, have stood up and fought to maintain and expand key civic values including equality in their recognition of same-sex partners.

I was reminded of how unique our community is during a 2003 anti-war protest in Raleigh.
While his supporters got a front-row seat, protesters were herded into a chain link enclosure well away from President Bush’s cavalcade. Out of sight, out of mind. By then, the Federal courts had decided that a bureaucratically proscribed “designated free speech zone” was acceptable.

Tonight you are being asked to make what appears to be a few “minor” changes to Town ordinances. That is not the case.

The suggested changes allow the Manager to dictate what neatly fits into a particular idea of reasonable discourse. Times, locations and extent of exercise of Rights will be determined by the somewhat vague guidelines he as his staff deem necessary.

I’m disappointed that the recent occupation of the one place in our community reserved and cherished for free assembly didn’t serve as a lesson in how to preserve and even promote more civic discourse. Rather it seems to have served as a call to arms to cordon off what makes some folks uncomfortable.

In a free and democratic society we must err on the side of openness and access to the public commons. We must tolerate a process that can be a bit unsettling and untidy.

There are vanishingly few public spaces left for assembly of citizens. If not Peace & Justice, where?

During the Chapel Hill 2020 process Downtown has been touted as the place for the community to come to meet with many proposals for an enhanced public square.

Now is the time to ask – “How public?”

Please put off further amendments constraining our public commons until our community has fully weighed in.

I got into a bit of a discussion with Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt about a loaded equivalence described in the Town legal brief.

The memo describes a scenario where two groups at polar extremes want to occupy the plaza. The examples used: Nazis and Jewish community, KKK and NAACP members, Anarchist and peace officers.

Of course, the hatred expressed by the Nazi and KKK members against the Jewish and African-American communities is well-documented and exemplified by horrendous acts.

I learned a little about Anarchism in university 30+ years ago and have since endeavored to learn more after the recent Yate’s Motor occupation and police raid. From what I’ve read and learned from some of the local adherents, Anarchism is not a political movement but, rather, a political philosophy with many avenues of expression.

There is nothing intrinsic to that political philosophy requiring vilification, especially at the level suggested by using the KKK and Nazis, of the police.

It was inappropriate of staff, and surprising of the majority of Council, to endorse such an equivalence.

Festifall 2011: Welcome to Willville

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

By all accounts, yesterday’s Festifall was a resounding success. Carolina Blue skies, comfortable temperatures and a diverse program of activities beyond vendor-provided art brought folks out.

This is the second year I helped organize the event as a member of the Town’s Festifall planning committee. Starting Spring, the committee’s duties revolve around brainstorming activities and entertainments, providing logistical support to Parks and Recreation and working on the big day.

Last year, I arrived at 5:30am and left at 8:00pm. This year I only made it to 5:30pm. While quite fun, it can be a long day of lugging equipment, setting up venues, marking booth locations (my specialty), cycling around booths to help folks, and, essentially, being an adjunct gofer for regular staff.

My duties the last two years have been fairly broad but my main portfolio has been soliciting and managing the community group area – Willville as last year’s committee dubbed it.

Why Willville?

When I joined the committee in 2010, there was a serious discussion of removing the community element entirely from the event. Some art vendors had apparently complained about sharing a wall with peace protestors, environmentalist, mental health advocates and other “pedestrian” community groups. A few attendees complained that they didn’t come to Festifall to have broader community-oriented issues thrust upon them.

This was an art event, by god, and whatever might detract from sales should be eliminated!

Festifall, with the cancellation of Apple Chill, is the sole remaining Town-sponsored multipurpose event. Carrboro, who we often look to for community participation inspiration, routinely makes room for community organizations – often putting them front and center – at their events.

This is a community-sponsored event – an excellent opportunity to showcase Chapel Hill’s diverse community interests and creativity – why wouldn’t we want to be more like Carrboro in our emphasis?

In 2010, in a bit of a Pyrrhic victory, we maintained the community program at the cost of segregating the majority from the main thoroughfare. Like the displaced of Hoover’s 1920s, pushed back along the fence line, not quite out-of-sight, these groups access to Festifall’s visitors is greatly diminished.

I was a bit of a bear of the subject in 2010, to the point that the committee started to joke that the ghettoization was akin to creating a new Hooverville which they dubbed “Willville”.

That joke carried over this year as I continued to vigorously lobby on behalf of expanding the presence of our local community groups.

For all the good-natured joshing, I’m happy to be associated with “Willville”.

With that in mind, I have a few after-the-event suggestions for next year’s committee:

  • Mix community groups in with the rest of the crowd. We found room for sponsors, the local fire and police departments, a few Town programs – let’s make these groups first class citizens of the event.
  • If it’s deemed too much of a hurdle to integrate the groups into the broad milieu, at least let them setup on the curb instead of being pushed to the rear.
  • Reduce the fee for these groups. $100, $85 or even $65 can be a real obstacle to some organizations. $50, at the most, seems reasonable. Yes, that means revenue will be down as prime spaces which could rent for $100 (or more, given the nasty budget mess Chapel Hill has) but the event has been cash positive the last few years. A few lost bucks to support our community is a good trade-off
  • Remove logistical impediments which make setup and teardown more difficult for these groups than everyone else.

I have really enjoyed working with local residents, Town staff and community groups on this event. The committee, working with a very receptive events planning staff, has down an excellent job diversifying the event – showcasing Chapel Hill’s interest in dance, music and the culinary arts.

In a couple weeks, we’ll have a debrief of the day and work to build on our successes. If you attended the event and have suggestions, please leave a comment.

Kudos to all the great volunteers, the staff and committee of Festifall.

Density, 2008

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

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.



Northside Memories

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

A couple excellent student driven articles on Northside appeared this week.

Carrboro Commons’ Megan Gassaway published this article which reviews the history of the Northside community through long time resident Ms. Keith Edwards eyes.

Too often local media focuses narrowly on the business of carving up the community rather than providing a broader context – injecting the human dimension into the story – which better informs the wider community on why folks living in Northside mourn its passing.

Courtesy ReeseNews

Reese News,UNC School of Journalism & Mass Communication’s Digital Newsroom, leverages the power of the multimedia ‘net to give voice to 10 community members’ concerns in their story The struggle for a neighborhood.

It’s no secret that Northside isn’t the neighborhood it used to be.

The change is visible in the increased diversity of its residents and the ten-story high-end condominiums that tower across from the traditionally working class neighborhood, where massive duplexes are replacing single-family homes. Change is also evident in  the growing tension and frustration of residents in a neighborhood plagued by the effects of gentrification.

The pressure for development is taking its toll on the historically black neighborhood, and the town is struggling to balance the need to grow with the needs of neighborhoods like Northside.

Since 2010, the town has been working with the Raleigh-based consultant KlingStubbins to develop a Downtown Framework and Action Plan, which could revise and redevelop parts of downtown Chapel Hill and the surrounding areas.

The downtown proposal could have significant effects on Northside. In its current draft, the framework suggests building new road connections and parking decks in areas where homes currently stand. It also underscores certain areas of Northside as prime for redevelopment.

Well done folks!

Want a bit of additional perspective on the development pressures facing Northside?

IndyWeek reporter (and former Daily Tar Heel editor) Joe Schwartz put together another excellent overview last June (2010): Greenbridge: A new chapter in a tense history .

Greenbridge, as reported by the Chapel Hill News, faces its first foreclosure hearing next Tuesday. This Sunday they promise a further exploration of not only Greenbridge’s problems but other Downtown developments putting pressure on Northside, Cameron Ave. and Pine Knolls neighborhoods.

Change is going to happen. The question is how the whole of our community can benefit from that change. Articles like these help create a broader perspective, one that has been missing so far, in the discussions over development policy Downtown.

It is critical that the nearby neighborhoods play a vital role in determining their own fates. Until their voices are heard and their neighborhoods are treated like living, breathing communities rather than convenient parcels of land for future development, our development policy is as broken as Greenbridge’s financing.

Snobarista

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

I haven’t been a big coffee drinker since my days on the engineering mezzanine at Northern Telecom (I never met a bunch of folks that could guzzle joe like Northern’s engineers).

The last decade, though, I easily go a month without drinking some form of coffee; a double bang cappuccino with extra foamy milk being my current favorite.

Chapel Hill/Carrboro/Hillsborough are blessed with an abundance of decent cafes serving the best in fair-trade brews. When it comes to choosing a place to get my occasional cupped lightning, the three key differentiators, at least for me, are price, quality and service.

Price, with the exception of 3-Cups , is roughly the same between the locally-owned and operated places I’m willing to go.

Quality varies but having grown up on road warrior jitter juice I’m willing to tolerate a broad spectrum of results. As long as the raw bean comes from socially just source, is not priced out-of-line with its ingestability, is reasonably hot and is prepared somewhat hygienically, down it goes.

Which leaves level of service.

Coffee, though I know some folks feel differently, is a discretionary purchase. While I sometimes need, like many of us, an energy boost, I’m not so dependent a draught of “rocket fuel” that I’m willing to forgo courtesy at the cash register.

When I belly up to the bar, I’m happy to get the most minimal of attention and courtesy – a short grunt of acknowledgement and a reasonably fast turn around is all I’m looking for.

I’m not willing to settle for near contempt.

As the local market for good coffee has grown, so, it appears has the spread of boorish baristas.

Look guys, I’m not going to apologize for not seeming hip enough, not slangily ordering the trendiest drink or not paying slavish attention to your choice of clothes/music/politics – I’m here for a simple drink delivered as professionally as possible.

Which is why I most often go to Timberlyne’s Cup o’Joe, Carrboro’s Looking Glass, Estes/Franklin’s Carribou Cafe and University Mall’s Southern Season’s Weathervane.

From all of these (plus Lex’s 3-Cups), I have reliably received top tier courteous service from clean and well-kept breweries at a price point that my family is comfortable paying.

There is a reason I don’t go to Driade, Open Eye or a handful of other highly touted caffeine distribution centers anymore.

When I’m shelling out 2+ bucks for cooked bean shards soaked in hot water, I don’t relish the risk of having even one brutish encounter.

When it happens, again and again, I always wonder why owner/operators are willing to put up with such behavior. Are they so disconnected from their business they don’t realize that its harder to acquire a new customer than cultivate and retain a loyal customer?

To be clear, in my experience even the worst of the bunch have employees that care, that deliver the level of quality and service I’m looking for.

But why play the odds, sometimes quite long, that a you will stumble on one of the happy few?

Maybe there is a natural evolution to coffee joints: care and attention slowly giving way to complacency and antagonism followed by a fall only buffered by new customers ignorance, cushioned only by previous credibility before a slide into inevitable failure.

Or maybe there is a cycle of birth and rebirth – even the worst returning from the ashes to the heights they once enjoyed.

Whatever the trajectory, I have no doubt that the rise and tolerance of the snobarista signals the end of the ride.

Another Splash in Lake Jordan

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Quick update on last week’s post Easthom: Let’s Revisit Lake Jordan.

Several weeks ago Chapel Hill approved an amendment to language of the 2001 Water and Sewer Management, Planning and Agreement (WSMPBA) which gave OWASA much more leeway in tapping OWASA’s 5 million gallon per day (5Mg/d) allocation from Lake Jordan. At that time there wasn’t much sustained discussion of the long-term impacts or broader dimensions before adopting the amendment.

After midnight last Monday the Council decided to revisit the issue which creates an opportunity for more nuanced analysis and broader community input. That opportunity hasn’t been scheduled as of yet.

Easthom: Let’s Revisit Lake Jordan

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

Tomorrow Council member Laurin Easthom is petitioning her colleagues to sharpen up their decision to allow Orange Water and Sewer (OWASA) tap Lake Jordan for less than dire and near catastrophic need.

Several weeks ago Chapel Hill approved an amendment to language of the 2001 Water and Sewer Management, Planning and Agreement (WSMPBA) which gave OWASA much more leeway in tapping OWASA’s 5 million gallon per day (5Mg/d) allocation from Lake Jordan. At that time there wasn’t much sustained discussion of the long-term impacts or broader dimensions before adopting the amendment.

I attended the Jan. 27th OWASA Board meeting where the proposed loosening of the reins was first discussed and then approved [MINUTES].

In selling the need for the modification to his fellow board members, Gordon Merklein, the Chair of OWASA’s Board and UNC’s Executive Director Real Estate Development related a conversation he had with his colleague Carolyn Elfland, UNC’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Services. He said that Carolyn expressed concern that UNC wouldn’t have access to that 5Mg/d allocation and desired an agreement that solidified UNC’s future ability, through OWASA, to get at Lake Jordan’s supplies.

That was a bit disconcerting as local policymakers had fairly consistently rejected tapping Lake Jordan for anything other than the most extreme of needs.

Not only have elected folks the last two decades worked hard to secure and protect the watersheds OWASA claimed were sufficient to supply our needs for the next 100 years but adopted land-use and building ordinances that conserve the resources we already have.

Of course, as I said at the time (Water,Water,Everywhere…), at the base of this discussion is a decision, which the community has supported, to live within our local footprint. Time after time the community has been in the forefront of protecting that valuable asset – most recently challenging the County’s siting of a trash transfer station in a critical watershed area and questioning OWASA’s proposed timbering operations.

The loose language of the adopted amendment puts that community-supported principle at risk.

Luckily Carrboro, a party to the agreement, stepped in and rejected the current proposal (Water, Water, Everywhere? Carrboro Holds The Line).

In light of their rejection and the continued concerns of local environmentalist, I applaud Laurin’s effort to put this decision back before her colleagues for closer inspection.

Council Member Laurin Easthom petitions the Council to place the Water and Sewer Management, Planning, and Boundary Agreement resolution (2011-02-28/R-5) recently passed by the Council back on the agenda for further Council discussion.

SWABbing Together

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

[UPDATE] Valerie said she was “appalled” not “ashamed”. Turns out so is the Chapel Hill News.

Tomorrow night Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt will petition his colleagues to appoint a representative to participate in discussions with the County’s Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) on the future of the Interlocal Agreement on Solid Waste Management.

That agreement, coordinating waste management between each municipality and the County, needs to either evolve to meet the changes in our collective waste management plans or face dissolution.

For the good of our wider community, evolution is the better alternative.

Folks might recall that I asked Council several times over the last 6 years to fill the seat set aside on the SWAB for an elected representative from Chapel Hill – even offering to fill that position myself if appointed or elected to Council. Mayor Pro Tem Jim Ward took up that task, finally, less than a year ago.

Last year the Board of Commissioners (BOCC) agreed to ship our waste to Durham’s trash transfer station (which will subsequently ship it elsewhere). Even though this decision laid the groundwork for what I hope is a temporary solution to our garbage disposal needs, the time that decision bought hasn’t been used effectively by the SWAB to plan for the longer term.

There has been no real effort, to date, to find a local or regional solution that aligns more closely to our community’s fiscal and environmental policy objectives. Instead, the County contracted a new waste management consultancy that “discovered” three increased capacity options. Last week the County proposed extending the landfills life, again, irrespective of the commitments made to the Rogers Road community.

Commissioner Valerie Foushee, reviewing her inaction in tasking County staff to work the issue over the last 6 years, said she was “appalled” by the lack of progress – a sentiment echoed by all her colleagues.

Resisting expediency, taking that deceptively easy path of delaying the inevitable yet again, the BOCC finally took the bull by the horns and agreed to forge a solution themselves (Trash Talk: The Neverending Story…Ends?).

As the BOCC and County Manager noted, their partners in the Interlocal agreement have been MIA during the last few years, and though the County preferred a collaborative accommodation, they could no longer delay.

Tomorrow night, Mark moves Chapel Hill one-step closer to being part of the solution rather than the source of the problem:

This petition responds to a request from the Orange County Board of Commissioners for Towns to consider establishing a working group to address and resolve solid waste management issues. The Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) recommends that this working group be comprised of elected officials and senior staff, and that the process should begin as soon as possible.

I wholeheartedly agree and expect the Council to expeditiously move the process forward.

My first suggested action – take advantage of the provision built into the 1997 landfill extension agreement, as County Manager Frank Clifton highlighted last Tuesday, and start setting aside part of the tipping fees for eventual mitigation of landfill related problems.

Charterwood Proposal: A Forest without Trees

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Del said in her guest editorial:

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

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

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

Trash Talk: The Neverending Story…Ends?

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

[UPDATE:] WCHL’s Elizabeth Friend has a great summation here.

Over a decade ago, just as I was beginning to get involved in local issues, I heard then local NAACP President Fred Black and Roger Road resident Rev. Robert Campbell brief Council on the fairly extensive list of negative impacts our landfill was having on the Rogers Road neighborhood: rats, buzzards, landfill leachate spilling across lawns, tainted water, debilitating odors, broken sewers, dangerous roads, among others, plaguing the area for decades.

They referenced a 1972 unrecorded pledge (since disputed by local governments) by then Chapel Hill Mayor Howard Lee that the small community would get new services for taking on, at the time, Chapel Hill’s garbage burden. Further, they stated Lee claimed the landfill would only operate 10 years (1982) and that he promised obvious negative impacts would be mitigated over the whole lifespan of the project.

As of early 2000, after several extensions of the landfill’s lifespan, the small Rogers Road community still waited on those new services, necessary remediation and a time-certain for closure. Fred and Robert made a convincing case that given the dearth of leadership from the County that Chapel Hill should lead the way in finally addressing these issues. The Council wrung their hands but did little more than pass the buck back to Orange County claiming impotence in discharging that long held obligation.

The struggle to get some kind of reckoning has been long. Its been tough. There have been setbacks ( background).

Tonight, though, with unanimity the current Orange County Board of Commissioners vowed to finally make good on that 40 year old debt. What started out as a discussion of a proposal to extend the landfill’s life, again (through 2017), became a solid consensus to delay any further action contingent on the formulation of a firm, specific plan of remedying the Rogers Road community’s problems.

It started out with more than a dozen folks, including Rev. Campbell, standing before the Commissioners highlighting environmental problems like air and water pollution, describing the 42 illegal waste dumps surrounding the landfill, reporting on the 2+ tons of litter recently removed by volunteers from the nearby roadsides.

I focused on the process. Why, I asked, hadn’t the County included a specific mitigation plan in tonight’s proposal? A call Commissioner Valerie Foushee echoed minutes later. Where would the funds come from given the County hadn’t been setting aside funds as per the 1997 landfill extension agreement? Why hadn’t, given the breathing room last year’s decision to ship waste to Durham’s trash transfer facility, the Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) taken on the task of capping of the landfill in a socially responsible fashion? What would the Rogers Road community get from yet another extension of their problems?

As I put it – irrespective of whatever promises made or not by Chapel Hill Mayor Lee in 1972, the County and the Commissioners now owned the problem.

The Commissioners, after taking in these comments, each took a turn explaining why they couldn’t endorse an extension that didn’t include a specific plan of action for mitigating the decades of harm caused by the landfill.

Relatively new County Manager Frank Clifton said as someone who hadn’t been involved in all the discussions, hadn’t heard decades of problems, as an outsider, he was mystified that the County Commissioners hadn’t taken advantage of the 1997 stipulations to fund mitigation. He said he and his staff had long been ready to take all the studies, advisory board reports, commission results, etc. and formulate a plan of action. He also said – clearly – that this had to be a County staff driven effort and that the County’s partners – Chapel Hill and Carrboro – would be advised but not counted on in moving forward (the municipalities have been missing in action for decades though the Council finally did appoint Jim Ward as liaison to the SWAB).

Brief summary: the BOCC accepts full responsibility for what should be an obligation borne by all the local leadership. They have instructed staff to create a specific plan of action and to seek funding for it. That plan will identify mitigation strategies the County can legally carry out. The municipalities will be advised but not relied upon (a sorry comment on current affairs) in moving forward.

Quiet elation – a strange feeling – and a reasonable outcome after a long, long haul. More than ten year’s in the making the final chapter, hopefully, is being written on the Rogers Road landfill story.

No Green For Greenbridge

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Looks like the rumors I’ve been hearing for the last few months are true, the much touted Greenbridge project is in deep financial trouble. The high-density development (which has saved Downtown according to the local Chamber of Commerce director Aaron Nelson) hasn’t been able to sell units and pay its construction bills according to today’s N&O.

Most of the “successful” sales have been the moderately priced affordable units. Those are the same units Mayor Pro Tem Jim Ward wanted a report from staff on to verify that they were serving the broader community instead of housing well connected community members or graduate students. Most of the current sitting Council enthusiastically endorsed Greenbridge, creating a new Downtown zoning district and then granting variances on density and height above and beyond the new zones limits, because they bought into this new model of development.

With the Town’s similar joint project with RAM Development (West140) just underway, now would be a good time to reflect on the lessons that can be learned from Greenbridge’s difficulties.

High Speed Internet: We’re on Our Own…

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Google has chosen Kansas City, Kansas as their partner in deploying 1 gigabyte/second network services to the community. Chapel Hill applied with some gusto several years ago for the “honor”. At the time I argued that while it would be nice to have the financial backing of Google, Google’s reticence in discussing privacy, security and local control made a possible deal problematic.

The Town continues to limp along with its joint fiber optic deployment project with NC-DOT. What is missing, still, is any real effort by the Council to form a community-based advisory group for leveraging that public investment in high speed networking to attract economic development or increase access throughout our Town’s neighborhoods.

Maybe with Google off-the-table we will finally put the attention into the fiber project I called for over 9 years ago when I started pushing for municipal broadband.

Zoned Out

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Spent a tad more than 5 hours discussing zoning and zoning related issues today.

Had an incredible work session with UNC’s Counter-Cartographies Collective (www.countercartographies.org), who “seek to create collaborations for engaged research and cartography — transforming the conditions of how we think, write and map and the conditions about which we think, write and map.”

Got a quick refresher on ArcGIS and then got some excellent practical advice on how to work with our local GIS (geographical information) to tease out socio-economic trends within our community. The technical know-how of the UNC students is impressive, the commitment to rethink cartography’s role in shaping our world view even moreso.

Maps, as one of the CCC members noted, are presented as fact. We habitually consume their content without due consideration, assuming the scientific trappings they come bundled with convey a solid certainty.

But maps can lie. They are often stripped of social context and employed to force a particular narrative. The CCC is interested in expanding the capabilities of maps – integrating a wider community-based context – exposing a richer variety of stories within our community.

After the work session, I sped off to the Southern Human Services building for a review of the County’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).
(more…)

Clark/Bigelow: Fateful Due Process

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

As Anita Badrock kept reminding us this evening, the Personnel Appeals Committee doesn’t operate like a court – loose evidentiary rules, committee questions and witnesses, multiple cross-examinations, commentary from both parties.

If tonight’s hearing was cast as a made-for-television movie, the writers had a ready made character in Chapel Hill government’s own Voldemort. “He who must not be named” was not only responsible for starting the cascade of events leading to Clark/Bigelow’s termination but also stifling attempts to intervene before catastrophe struck.

The man in the shadows is a convenient trope but not a likely explanation for the evident failures in the Town’s disciplinary process.

As much as it has been discussed, the fate of the workers doesn’t hinge on whether race played a role in their termination or possible union busting efforts by the Town or documented poor performance or complaints by citizens over debris handling or offhanded remarks or “flinging arms” or rude remarks or angry calls for water or almost any of the other points/counterpoints flung about the last few months.

Their fates, I think, hinge on whether the P.A.C. thinks the two were afforded proper due process.
(more…)

Personnel Appeals Hearing Clyde Clark: Evidence and Process

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Tonight’s Personnel Appeals hearing for Clyde Clark is more sparsely attended than last week’s for Kerry Bigelow (Personnel Appeals Hearing Kerry Bigelow: Evidence and Process). Roughly 40 folks in attendance, 5 from the local press (Elizabeth [WCHL], Katelyn [Chapel Hill News], Greg [HeraldSun], Don and Nancy [Chapel Hill Watch]). About 2/3rd’s are clearly supporters of Mr. Clark.

Unlike last week, I’ll be posting more abbreviated comments about testimony, tenor and process as the hearing progresses.

Anita Badrock has once again been chosen as the Chair. She reminds the audience that the committee is “not to replace the judgement of management” as per the Town’s ordinance (here).

(a) Conduct grievance and appeal hearings and render advisory opinions to the manager.
(b) Develop and maintain adequate records of all its proceedings, findings, and recommendations.
(c) Inform the employee(s) and the manager in writing of its findings and recommendations in all cases referred to it.

Clyde Clark is here tonight to ask to be reinstated, to get the safety and racism problems in Public Works fixed.
(more…)

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