Carolina North: Two Years of Diminishing Economic Expectations

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Yesterday’s Carolina North outreach, once again, was heavy on promises – the vast possibility of grey goo, the escalating energy efficiencies of blue sky projections – light on details.

As a NC taxpayer, I’ve been waiting for UNC to produce a real, updated business plan reflecting 2007’s economic realities. Hey, we’re plunking down billions at the Carolina North craps table – it would be nice to have a quantitative, verifiable analysis of the project’s risk-reward profile.

Chancellor Moeser, you owe us NC taxpayers a reality-based report on our expected rate of return for our vast collective investment.

And, please, not another self-serving 2004 Market Street Services economic impact analysis report [PDF], which, to be charitable, was a fluffy confection spun from dreams of an enduring legacy, chunks of ad hoc economic observations and community boosterism of the worst calibre.

Your Carolina North quarterback, Jack Evans, reset the economic expectations yesterday (May 29th). Your team, with barely two months left of your self-imposed deadline, will have to drive hard to produce a believable economic impact report.

To give a small bit of perspective on how far we’ve come, here is UNC’s May 25, 2005 PR trumpeting the benefits of Carolina North:

Study shows Carolina North will be catalyst for jobs, tax revenue

CHAPEL HILL – Carolina North, the proposed living and learning campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will generate 7,500 local jobs and about $48 million in annual tax revenues by 2020, according to an economic impact study released today. It also has the potential to position Carolina as a leading national center of research and public-private partnerships, according to Market Street Services of Atlanta, which conducted the study for the university.

“Carolina North will expand Carolina’s multiple missions, boost innovation and redefine our engagement with the region, state and world,” said University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chancellor James Moeser. “The great news from this study is that Carolina, through Carolina North, can continue to be a catalyst for the economic transformation of our state.”

The Carolina North draft conceptual plan outlines concepts for mixed-use development at a 900-plus-acre tract of UNC-owned property one mile north of the main campus off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (formerly Airport Road). The draft plan proposes to develop only about 25 percent of that total site over the next 50 to 70 years. Carolina North would include classrooms, labs, housing, schools, community spaces, offices and limited commercial space in a campus-and-village setting.

Carolina North would attract private companies to Chapel Hill to partner with university faculty to transform faculty research into products and

services to improve quality of life. Public-private partnerships would allow the university mission to grow at a time when state and federal funding are no longer growing at previous rates.

The Market Street study will be presented at Thursday’s (May 26) meeting of the university’s Board of Trustees. The study includes analysis of the projected economic impacts at the end of the project’s second phase (15 years) and at full build-out (50 years).

Other study highlights include:

· In the first two phases alone (15 years), the gains in the local and state economies reflect similar numbers to a medium-sized firm building new headquarters in the area year after year.

· By the end of phase 2 (approximately 2020)

Tax Impact: About $48 million in tax revenue annually
$26 million in state income tax
$14.6 million in state sales tax
$2.8 million in local sales tax
$5 million in property tax

· Employment Impact:

7,500 full-time, ongoing jobs (non construction)
$433 million in annual salary and personal income
8,876 construction-related jobs
$353 million in salary and personal income (construction)

· Business Revenue:

$600 million in annual business revenue (non construction)
$979 million in business revenue (construction)

Plans for Carolina North are still in the conceptual design phase. Before the university can move forward to collaborate with the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro on the plans, it must resolve issues related to the university-owned Horace Williams Airport, which occupies part of the Carolina North tract.

The university announced in April 2002 that it would close Horace Williams Airport. In September 2002, the N.C. General Assembly passed legislation requiring the university to keep the airport open until January 2005. In July 2004, the legislature adopted language requiring the university to keep the airport open until an accessible replacement facility could be found for Medical Air, which serves the university’s Area Health Education Centers program.

The N.C. Senate recently passed a special provision that would allow the university to close the airport, provided that Medical Air operations have access to, or utilize, the Raleigh-Durham International Airport to serve the needs of patients, physicians and passengers associated with AHEC’s statewide programs.

The university’s Board of Trustees also will hear a report at its Thursday meeting about a consultants’ study to help the university identify an alternative site for an airport.


For a copy of the full economic impact study report, please go to:

Interviews with Market Street consultants can be arranged through News Services. In addition, for comment about the economic impact of Carolina North on the local community, reporters may call Aaron Nelson, executive director of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, at 919-967-7075.

I wonder if the Chamber’s Aaron Nelson, today, would give that report a passing grade?

Hard to believe given that today’s paucity of detail, the changing nature and scope presented yesterday and the rather obvious flaws ($5 million in property taxes? Really?) in Market Street’s Carolina North sales brochure.

Carolina North: Crawford-Brown’s Counter-principles

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

Rather than expanding upon the published principles created by Chapel Hill’s (now defunct) Horace-Williams Citizens’ Committee (HWCC) or integrating their newer environmental recommendations (which I championed), UNC’s green representative to the LAC (UNC’s Leadership Advisory Committee) offers a counter-proposal.

Why? Why follow Chancellor Moeser’s lead and continue butting heads?

To: LAC (9-3-06)
From: Doug Crawford-Brown
Re: Environmental Principles for Carolina North

I’ve taken a stab at a few principles at the end of this memo, related to environmental issues we raised in our last meeting. Before giving the wording on those principles, I want to take a moment and explain how I reasoned towards them.

1. I assumed that these should be principles, not goals or strategies. I take a principle to be a statement about a core value we want Carolina North to reflect; a goal to be a measurable characteristic that will let us know whether we have satisfied a particular principle; and a strategy to be a statement of the way in which we will reach that goal.

2. Then I assumed that we are talking here about environmental issues, and not growth per se. There are legitimate reasons to control growth, but if we want the latter, we should just say it rather than couching it in environmental standards. So I have tried to design these principles based solely on their impact on core environmental concerns.

3.Then I assumed that principles need to be applied to all sectors of our community at some time. Still, Carolina North has some unique features: (i) it will be a large change in the infrastructure of our community, giving us an opportunity to affect that infrastructure significantly in one grand step; (ii) it is being built by a university with immense intellectual resources to solve problems of sustainability – the Chancellor has provided us leadership in that regard; (iii) it will be built in part by the State, which has resources to stimulate the market for sustainable designs; and (iv) it can provide a template for what we need eventually from all sectors of the community.

Here is my wording for a broad environmental principle, followed by more specific ones.

First Environmental Principle: Carolina North presents a unique opportunity to meet the mission of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill while providing a model for environmentally sustainable community design reflecting reasonably anticipated environmental goals over the next 50 years. Carolina North will therefore be an examplar of sustainability in the sense that if the entire community of Chapel Hill and Carrboro adopted the design and operational practices embodied in Carolina North, this community would be environmentally sustainable.

Then we need a principle concerning what we mean by “environmentally sustainable”, which can be a vague term. I assume that “environmentally sustainable” communities produce impacts that preserve specific conditions of the environment and public health above some level we would find acceptable as a long-term condition of life.

Second Environmental Principle: When added onto the baseline (2006) environmental conditions of the community, Carolina North will produce sustainable levels of criteria air pollutants and air toxics; emissions of carbon dioxide; carbon absorption capacity of the land; amount of land available as species habitat; amount of open land for human recreation; protection of water bodies; generation of waste; and quantity of water flowing off surfaces as run-off. “Sustainable” here means that each of these conditions and their implications for public health would be acceptable as a permanent feature of life in the community.

The community already is near natural or legal limits for some of these conditions. Important examples are ozone (related to emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds); carbon dioxide emissions (related to climate change and the town-gown Carbon Reduction pledge); run-off of water during storm events (related to impervious surfaces); and watershed protection (related to flow of sediment and nutrients into local streams and rivers). The challenge here is in (i) bringing about these community-wide improvements without placing the burden solely on Carolina North, (ii) considering the “net” impact of campus activities, with improvements elsewhere by the University in part “offsetting” the effect of Carolina North (much as a cap-and-trade program allows), and (iii) ensuring that Carolina North does not consume all of the “buffer” between existing conditions in the community and the natural or legal limit. Fortunately, meeting the CRed pledge will have the follow-on effect of keeping ozone precursors neutral, and current water practices in campus construction will ensure that the storm-water and loading conditions are met at Carolina North.

Third Environmental Principle: Carolina North and related off-setting measures will produce no net increase in emissions of precursors of ozone, no net increase in vulnerability of the community to storm-water events, no net increase in loading of sediment and nutrients into local streams, and a continued ability to meet the carbon dioxide emissions reduction goals established by the university under CRed. “Related off-setting measures” means improvements to the existing campus and/or university support of community-wide programs targeting these four environmental conditions.

Finally, we have the other environmental conditions specified in the Second Environmental Principle. For these conditions, there is some “buffer” left for development, meaning the community is not yet at any of the relevant natural or legal limits on these conditions (although we are approaching them rapidly). For these conditions, the principle adopted should reflect the desire to avoid having Carolina North consume this “buffer”, which would prevent other forms of growth from occurring in town if the community desired.

Fourth Environmental Principle: With respect to all other environmental conditions, Carolina North will leave a “buffer” to accommodate development elsewhere in the community. “Buffer” means that the incremental effect of Carolina North on all relevant environmental conditions, when added onto existing baseline conditions, will allow for reasonably anticipated future development elsewhere in the community without the community exceeding natural and/or legal limits on these conditions.

Where to start?

I appreciate Crawford-Brown’s acknowledgment “that Carolina North presents a unique opportunity to meet the mission of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill while providing a model for environmentally sustainable community design”.

Diluting UNC’s responsibility by lumping in the whole community (“Carolina North will therefore be an examplar of sustainability in the sense that if the entire community of Chapel Hill and Carrboro adopted the design and operational practices embodied in Carolina North” strikes me as a precursor to a good old-style greenwashing.

For instance, what is reasonable and acceptable, as in his call for “reasonably anticipated environmental goals over the next 50 years” and his tautology that the standards applied to Carolina North simply be “acceptable as a long-term condition of life”?

Of course we don’t want a multi-billion dollar, taxpayer-financed, State project that’s inimical to life, do we?

The continuing tenor – his suggestion of applying “pollution reduction credits” accrued elsewhere to balance environmentally questionable development practices or working within a “buffer” that’s measured not by environmental best-practices but by our State’s rather weak legal requirements – makes we wonder if UNC’s current administration has positioned Crawford-Brown as more an apologist/whitewasher than a champion for world class green development.



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