Downtown Development Initiative: Search for Wholesome Goodness Continues…

Friday, December 1st, 2006

I believed the Town’s web site covering the Downtown Development Initiative would be updated after Nov. 20th’s public forum. After ten days, I finally sent in a formal request.

Here is Town Manager Stancil’s response:

Dear Mr. Raymond:

Thank you for our email message at 10:49 am on Dec. 1 to the Manager, Mayor and Town Council in which you requested that we “publish the remaining reports, discussions notes, comments, etc. that went into forming the “new deal” over the Summer”.

To the extent that there are documents related to the negotiations that took place this past summer which are public records under North Carolina law, we will be pleased to make them available for copying.

We are in the process of reviewing the staff files to determine what materials are public records and can now be released. However, it will not be possible to complete this work and determine what documents can be provided until next week.

Your message also states that “the final deal is set and the public still doesn’t have those details.” As the Agenda materials for the Council’s Dec. 4 meeting indicate, the Council is being asked to consider whether to authorize the completion of a Development Agreement to be brought back for the Council’s consideration in early 2007.

If you have any questions, please let me know.

Roger Stancil

Town Manager

Thank you Roger for getting back before close of business.

CitizenWill readers, I apologize for not moving more quickly on my request for further information.

Downtown Development Initiative: Where’s the beef?

Friday, December 1st, 2006

[UPDATE]

How could the negotiations team done a better job informing the public throughout the process?

Here’s two examples from Greensboro’s District 5 Council member Sandy Carmany covering their coliseum issues, this one from a year ago and this one from November.

Sure, she wasn’t hampered by reporting on material potentially shielded under NC’s open meetings laws, but, then again, not every decision or thought process going into RAM’s “new” deal was by necessity shielded.

The only Council member directly involved in the negotiations, Sally Greene, has done the best informing the public of her thinking process on Lot 5 though nothing I read prepared me for such a right turn.

Original post:

Council had an excellent opportunity over the last week to answer the critics of the new Downtown Development Initiative Lot #5 deal.

Over the Summer, the public’s investment in the deal ballooned 15-fold, from $500K to north of $7.2M (with additional revenue hits, etc.). The Wallace Deck portion excised. Public space diminished. Boutique shops up, affordable commercial space missing. $385-$415 per square foot property, slated, as one critic pointed out, probably for affluent student housing.

What, over the Summer, caused the deal to change so radically for what I, other downtown business folks, two Kenan-Flager business school professors and many other concerned citizens consider the worse?

Council could’ve released more information – to provide a solid foundation for the public’s understanding of “the deal”. I’ve followed this deal quite closely. I agreed to “bite my tongue”. to not criticize the problematic elements of the original deal, to wait on the “new deal” which would correct the more egregious of the public’s concerns.

I’ve spent hours trying to pull together all the whispers, hints, etc. that incidentally wafted the public’s direction over the course of the Summer. But what I have is not enough.

The Council has the responsibility and obligation to fully disclose the details, to the fullest extent
allowed by law, of this deal.

Mr. Manager, Mayor and Town Council,

Thank you for being more timely this week and publishing the RAM development agenda item before close of business. Unfortunately, the agenda item is fairly light on the background of the “new deal”.

Would you please publish the remaining reports, discussions notes, comments, etc. that went into forming the “new deal” over the Summer?

I know that there’s some legal issues involved in releasing all of the notes – legal issues that will become moot after you sign the deal – so I’m not asking for ALL the information now (though I will be exercising a citizen’s FOIA prerogative ASAP).

I’m asking that you release everything you can prior to the meeting, including information not protected under the confidentially agreement but also not,to date, publicly disseminated.

For instance, would you please provide details of your consultations with the Local Government Commission (LGC) on financing?

This would include notes, reports, detailed analysis, etc. Please be thorough in your disclosures.

I’m interested in the LGC’s take on leveraging the secured debt, effect on our town’s debt ratings, thoughts on the quoted interest rate, etc. Essentially, I imagine, the same kind of financial analysis that a private business uses in evaluating the risk-rewards of taking on debt.

Finally, the main conduit for publishing this data has been the DDI website which hasn’t been updated since Spring. I’ve asked the Council to update the information on the RAM deal in a timely fashion. Several folks told me to “hold my horses”, that I needed to wait until the “final” deal was set.

Well, the final deal is set and the public still doesn’t have those details. I was hoping that this issue would be addressed over the last 9 days but it hasn’t.

The public has one weekend to review these critical additional details.

Please, if you can’t update the website, then submit them to the citizenry directly. If emailing or providing paper copies is easier, that’s fine.

I’ll make sure they get into the public domain over the weekend.

Thank you for your prompt attention,

Will Raymond

Downtown Development Initiative: Culbreth and the Domino Effect

Monday, November 27th, 2006

Chris Culbreth, a second term member of the Town’s Community Design Commission (CDC), stayed late Monday, Nov. 20th, to comment to Council on the proposed revisions for the Process for Revision of the Comprehensive Plan

Interestingly enough, he spent more of his limited time counseling Council on the Downtown Development Initiative (DDI) juggernaut than the process revisions – including this digression on how developers are already factoring in Council’s temperament:

[Lot #5] is going to be a key building because the people who see that are going to come and build things following – and some of those people were here tonight – all the guys who bring us their plans of what their going to develop were sitting in the audience tonight to see what Lot 5 went over – so they can figure out “what we can get approved next”…

He then held up another RAM Development proposal, 425 Hillsborough St., of which I’ve been somewhat critical of for a few reasons, as an example of a kind of urban density at odds with our Town’s stated goals of walkability, livability and sustainability before turning back to the Lot #5 precedent:

…this building, Lot 5, and how it’s going to be built, and how it looks, will be a precedent for these others that will be developed. And I don’t want it to turn out to be like Rosemary Village, for example, it was built and it’s all students and sold in less than a year. No professional is going to want to live there. And the way it was built – it doesn;t even communicate to the neighborhood [Northside] behind it..that’s a transitional neighborhood…we want those neighborhoods to come into Town…

The other developments that come into place, they’re going to use that [Lot #5 density and design] as an example and our concern is the massing of these buildings and how it’s going to function…

[Movie]

As Chris pointed out, the CDC reviews development projects and provides feedback to developers prior to Council. Chris has long familiarity with many of the projects coming before this Council – projects the Council has generally been satisfied with, at least as far as general design goals.

Council should weigh this members counsel in light of that experience.

The Community Design Commission is charged with the following:

To initiate, promote and assist in the implementation of programs of general community beautification in Chapel Hill and its environs;

To seek to coordinate the activities of individuals, agencies, organizations and groups, public and private, whose plans, activities and programs bear upon the appearance of Chapel Hill and its environs;

To provide leadership and guidance in matters of design and appearance to individuals, organizations and groups, public and private;

To make studies of the visual assets and liabilities of the community, including surveys and inventories of an appropriate nature, and to suggest standards and policies of design for the entire community, or any individual project to be undertaken therein;

To prepare both general and specific plans for the improved appearance of the Town of Chapel Hill and its environs…

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