Election 2007: The Chamber’s Yes, No and Unsure Questionnaire

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

X-Posted from my 2007 Campaign web site.

Even though the Chamber made it clear that extended replies where not welcomed in the 2007 questionnaire ( Election 2007: The Chamber’s Yes, No, Unsure – Again!), I took the opportunity to answer each of their questions beyond the constraints of “yes, no, unsure”.

The questions are broad, open to interpretation and, on occasion, leading. How would you answer the Chamber’s questions?

In case the Director omits my business background, as he did in 2005, I worked for Northern Telecom for many years, winning a couple President’s Awards and a Chairman’s Award for Innovation (the first IT person to do so). I have been a CIO/CTO of a couple successful startups, including Reged.com which sold to FiServ for millions. As an entrepreneur I was part of the crew that guided those companies to multi-million dollar revenues. I currently work for Tibco, an enterprise application integration company, specializing in XML technology and distributed Java application architectures.

Here is the questionnaire and my extended answers. You’ll note I wasn’t unsure at all:

4. Is increasing the commercial tax base in Chapel Hill an important priority for you?

YES

Even before my run for office in 2005 I was agitating for a Economic Development Officer to help develop strategic and tactical approaches to increasing our commercial tax base. Council finally hired an officer, now we need leadership with business acumen to make the best use of his services.

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Rogers Road Community: A Unified Front

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007


Rev. Campbell

David Richter

Tracy Coleman

Jeff Kingman

Jeanne Stroud

Nancy Ignia

Sharon Cook

The Rogers-Eubanks Coalition to End Environmental Racism, a coalition of the

  • Chapel Hill -Carrboro Branch of the NAACP
  • Environmental Justice Network
  • West End Revitalization Association
  • Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom
  • Orange County Progressive Democrats
  • and members of UNC-CH Faculty, Students, and Staff

are calling for folks to turn out at the Thursday, Sept. 20th Joint Assembly of Governments Meeting, 7:30pm at the Southern Human Services Center [MAP]

Support the Residents of the Landfill Neighborhoods*

at the Joint Assembly of Governments Meeting (Orange Co., Hillsborough, Carrboro and Chapel Hill)

• No to the proposed transfer station
• Shut down the stinking landfills
• Safe water hookups
• Safe and cheap sewer services

Improve the quality of life for Landfill Neighborhoods.*

Thursday, September 20, 2007 at 7:30 p.m.
Southern Human Services Center
2501 Homestead Road, Chapel Hill

*The predominantly Black neighborhoods along Rogers Road and parts of Eubanks Road were seen as politically impotent to stop the placement of stinking landfills and other waste products of the more powerful white residents in the recent past. This is called Environmental Racism.

For more information: camko@bellsouth.net

What issues does the Rogers Road community want addressed?

Here’s a quick overview from some of my posts covering our neighbors continuing plight:

Hat tip to OrangePolitics.

National Conversation on Climate Action: A Local Perspective

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

As I mentioned in my post “The Climate Heats Up AND The Mayor Has A Website?”, the Town is hosting an all day “conversation” on climate change (as part of our Town’s ongoing commitment to sustainability).

The program is sponsored by ICLEI US (Local Governments For Sustainability) and the local Chamber of Commerce’s “green” coordinating arm, Foundation for a Sustainable Community.

The advertisement on the Mayor’s (www.chapelhillmayorsoffice.com) website says the program is FREE but the link takes you to this Chamber of Commerce signup page that only lists an October 4th Sustainability Workshop costing $30 for non-members.

I’ve sent an email to Director Aaron Nelson asking for a clarification.

Here’s the program:

Speakers:

Part I:

  • Lyle Estill, Piedmont Biofuels (biodiesel, sustainable community design, sustainability movement)
  • David Lee, Bland Landscaping
  • Tobin Freid, Triangle Clean Cities Program
  • Eric Henry, T.S. Designs
  • Greg Overbeck, Chapel HIll Restaurant Group

Part II:

  • Kevin Foy, Mayor of the Town of Chapel Hill
  • Anne Waple, National Climatic Data Center, NESDIS
  • Cindy Pollock Shea, Director of UNC Sustainability of Office
  • Tom Jensen, North Carolina Sierra Club

Program:

Part I:

2007 Sustainability Workshop

Location: Town of Chapel Hill Public Library, 12:00 pm – 4 :00 pm

To register and see the Part I Workshop schedule click here

Part II:

2007 National Conversation on Climate Change

6:00-7:30 pm National Conversation on Climate Change Workshop

Program Agenda: TBA

This program is free and open to the public.

For additional information about this event please email the Mayor’s Office, crobustelli@townofchapelhill.org.

An interesting program, though it’s not clear from the schedule when or how the “conversation” will occur. We’ve had some great local success using an unconference format to stimulate, educate and inform the public on technical issues.

Maybe the evening program could be reserved for a “conversation” built around and directed by the attendees?

UNC BOT Chairman Perry: Carolina North “…before it’s too late”

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

They say history has a way of repeating itself.

The trustees, led by new chairman and Chapel Hill developer Roger Perry, are full steam ahead on the project. Final trustee approval is expected in September, with a plan to be submitted to the town by the end of October.

“The time of talking about Carolina North is over,” Perry said. “It is time to do something. It is time to get it on the ground before it is too late.”

N&O report from today’s UNC Board of Trustees meeting..

No more “time for talking”. Does that mean that the July 31st Carolina North community outreach meeting is just for show?

[UPDATE:]

As some of you know, I try to attend many of the local meetings that influence public policy. To date, I’ve been to most every Carolina North community outreach stretching back to 2005. I attended several of the UNC-LAC meetings and have watched those and the ones I missed. Arguably, UNC’s BOT meetings are as important to setting local policy – a shame that they don’t release a video or audio record of their deliberations.

I have had an opportunity to hear a little bit more about this morning’s BOT meeting and it seems that the N&O missed a little nuance.

It appears Roger Perry was asking the UNC staff to stop talking and start moving. I don’t know if that makes much of a difference in how that negatively affects community input – same effect, twice removed – but at least it is more polite than telling the community to shut up and go away.

Again, I wish I could’ve attended to hear the BOT for myself. I wish UNC would make a timely online record – including publishing minutes – available so folks like myself don’t have to wade through others interpretations.

[ORIGINAL]

Two years ago, when I proposed a framework for a more collaborative process between UNC and our community to work through Carolina North’s issues, several local political insiders told me I was naive and acting the fool.

Sure, I knew the history of our Town’s interactions with the University – that any discussion would have to involve five distinct parties – our local elected leadership, UNC’s Moeser administration, UNC’s Board of Trustees, local activists and Carolina North’s promoters. No doubt, that’s a lot of folks to corral.

A few months after the 2005 election, UNC did create a new framework – the UNC Leadership Advisory Committee (UNC LAC) – comprised of many, not all, of the community elements I had proposed. At that time I threw what little political capital I had behind the new UNC LAC process calling on our elected leadership to leave history behind and begin anew.

Enthusiasm didn’t equal abandonment of common sense. I was quick to point out (“Chafing: Prevention and Treatment”) when UNC started to fall back on old habits.

One of those old habits was UNC’s Board of Trustees proclivity derailing, at the last minute, the careful negotiations between UNC’s administration and our local governments.

Over the last year, the BOT did show a few symptoms of using the LAC process more as a public relations smokescreen than a new start on a truly collaborative process. For instance, when they introduced a surprising and disappointing fixed timeline before the LAC had completed their primary discussions.

Concern about the BOT was not limited to those longtime citizen watchdogs who have been participating in UNC’s new community outreach process. Jack Evans, UNC’s leader on Carolina North, has expressed his frustration with the BOT commenting one time that the Board wasn’t interested in reading a 15 page summary of the projects guiding principles.

UNC’s Board of Trustees was definitely a wild-card but the inclusion of BOT member Roger Perry was supposed to make sure there would be no surprises.

Then again, Roger Perry has tried to shut down discussion before, as I noted last September after this HeraldSun 09/27/06 report

UNC trustee and local developer Roger Perry said his sense was that UW-Madison officials essentially tell the community that the university’s mission requires it to do a certain project, and then everyone goes to work on preventing negative impacts, without trying to stop the project in general.

He said he’d like to get to that point in Chapel Hill, and that it can be somewhat “insulting” when someone not connected to UNC says they really aren’t convinced the university needs to do what it says it needs to do.

I said then

Roger Perry and the rest of UNC’s Board of Trustees absolutely must address the glaring absence of any reasonable, documented, calculable return on investment before I, a single North Carolina citizen taxpayer, will be convinced of the soundness of their plans.

So, as of today, UNC has approved a building design without producing solid documentation on the taxpaying publics return on their investment. We have a firm start date but little firm understanding of the local fiscal, environmental and transit impacts.

And, as some suspected, we have evidence that UNC’s Board of Trustees are not, possibly never were, interested in working through these key issues with community participation.

[UPDATE:]

Carolina North, when fully developed, will rival today’s Hillsborough in size. I believe it will loom larger in environmental, social and economic terms.

Finally, as far as Roger, from what I’ve observed he is a patient man. Developers often are. If he’s frustrated with the pace, well, that’s forgivable. To use his new role to make haste, though, to an endpoint yet determined, well, that is neither prudent or supportable.

Rogers Road: Unify the Community with a Back To School Bash

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

There’s a thread over on OrangePolitics (“Historic Rogers Road Community Enhancement Plan Development and Monitoring Task Force “) covering the historic ills and vexations of the Rogers Road community.

I plan to discuss some of the comments in a future post but couldn’t pass up this request by Rev. Robert Campbell (who, thankfully, has recently joined that forum to bring his 34 years of Rogers Road experience to the local ‘blog-o-spheres attention).

The Faith Tabernacle Church will have its Back to School Bash on 08-11-07. We give out school supplies to school age children on this date. Drop off your donations at 8005 Rogers Road to show your support to unify this community as well as Orange County for this back to [school] bash is for [all] no matter where you are from.

Love can go far.

Robert Campbell
919-933-6210

As this recent Carrboro Citizen article (” Be it further resolved”) by Taylor Sisk reveals, Rev. Campbell is neither a stranger to the Rogers Road community

The sanctuary of the Faith Tabernacle Oasis of Love Church is certainly no refuge for Robert Campbell. Outreach is his calling. For 34 years, Rev. Campbell has been ministering to the needs of a finely knit community on and around Rogers Road of, as Campbell observes, “many faces, many skills.”

or a weak advocate for their cause

Campbell quickly became active in the community. He recalls that things “really escalated in the latter part of the ‘80s, right on into the middle part of the ‘90s, when they really began to start searching for another place to put a landfill, and we spent countless hours negotiating with the politicians—right here in this sanctuary. We had it set up where you had community members that were part of a fact-finding group that came up with ideas, that came up with things that the neighborhood wanted done.”

Tonight, responding to a series of comments, Rev. Campbell provided some context and then suggested how the Chapel Hill/Carrboro community can pitch in to help their neighbors (Rev. Campbell is new to this, I edited his comments slightly for clarity):

We do many things out on Rogers Road promoting the good will of this community. We do not sit back and do nothing.

The good neighbor program has not worked for this part of Chapel Hill. Rather all government agents have over looked this area when it comes to enhancement. Took pave roads some twenty plus years to come to this community. Municipal water – I will go as far as to say the municipality dropped the ball when Robert’s Assocation did the first development in this community.

Someone looked the other way – no water, no sewage, no sidewalks, no real insight for the future. And we are still making excuses. Let us do the right thing now. Let us help make Orange County a better place.

We are to be our brother keeper. Let us look one another in deed, let us be doers of the word and not just hearers and talkers. Let us work together.

With this said, the Faith Tabernacle Church will have its Back to School Bash on 08-11-07. We give out school supplies to school age children on this date. Drop off your donations at 8005 Rogers Road to show your support to unify this community as well as Orange County for this back to [school] bash is for [all] no matter where you are from.

Love can go far.

Robert Campbell
919 -933-6210
1711 Purefoy Dr.
Chapel Hill N.C. ,27516

Simple. Straightforward. Practical. I like it and, after a quick check with Robert to see what is needed most (the results I’ll post here), will be dropping some supplies by soon.

Unedited version follows:
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Summer’s Bloom

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

No telling how brilliant this Summer’s harvest will be…



Time will tell.

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.

-30-

For a copy of the full economic impact study report, please go to: http://cn.unc.edu/economic_impact.pdf

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.

Carrot or Stick: House Approves Chapel Hill’s Energy Reduction Incentives

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

Via Council member Mark Kleinschmidt’s ‘blog, it appears we’re well on the way to Chapel Hill getting a carrot to entice developers to adhere to better environmental standards.

The new law :

Sec. 5.19. Ordinances permitting density bonuses and other land‑use development incentives for development projects agreeing to meet energy conservation carbon reduction standards.

For the purpose of reducing the amount of energy consumption by new development, and thereby promoting the public health, safety, and welfare, the Town of Chapel Hill may grant a density bonus, make adjustments to otherwise applicable development requirements, or provide other incentives to a developer within the Town and its extraterritorial planning jurisdiction if the developer agrees to construct new development or reconstruct existing development in a manner that the Town determines, based on generally recognized standards established for such purposes, makes a significant contribution to the reduction of energy consumption.

When Council first proposed this quid pro quo type approach I was excited.

Sure, smart developers would already be pursuing state-of-the-art strategies to lessen energy consumption. Savvy business folks recognize that reducing the energy footprint of a building is now a key market differentiator – that many environmentally-sound design practices actually are inexpensive. Nothing like building a premium into ones property with no negligible impact on the bottom line.

For those developers not quite as sold on the economic and ecological benefits, Chapel Hill would have this new carrot.

My excitement, though, has been tempered by recent history. With poor Council leadership, this law could allow for greater abuses in land management. Look how Strom and company forced through a new planning zone – TC-3 – allowing more than double the density and %33 more height in the Downtown area. They used Greenbridge, a development adhering to the highest environmental standards, as cover for their sleight-of-hand approval of a new policy that, I believe, many in Chapel Hill would not agree with.

In the hands of the “rah rah” growth crowd,this energy miser ordinance could be used as a bludgeon to hammer our Town into rough conformity with their “density at any cost” vision.

To protect against abuse, it is key that a mechanism be created to adopt the highest objective standards for measuring energy reductions and to design in future flexibility for adopting other “best in class” metrics to keep our local ordinance “evergreen”.

Further, there should be NO in lieu provision (something which has been greatly abused in the affordable housing arena). A developer either adheres to these objective standards to get their “carrot” of increased density or not get a variance.

Without these additional provisions, we’re facing the great possibility of more poor public policy “greenwashed” and cloaked in the rhetoric of environmental remediation.

Hazardous Consequences: A Report, a Rushed Decision, a Regrettable Day for Chapel Hill

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

The Chapel Hill News’ ‘blog OrangeChat first alerted me to the Town’s completion of the Lot #5 negotiations with RAM Development (more to come in the N&O).

The Town’s April 3rd news release celebrates what I believe will eventually be seen to be a rushed decision foisting a counter-productive, fiscally irresponsible obligation to construct expensive rental properties for out-of-town landlords on our citizen’s dime:

04/03/07 — The $75 million residential and retail complex to be constructed on Town-owned Parking Lot 5 in downtown Chapel Hill moves a step closer to reality. Town Manager Roger L. Stancil today concluded final negotiations and executed the development agreement with Ram Development Co.

April 3rd, 2007, a regrettable day in our Town’s history.

Why? According to our Town’s legal counsel, the only way now to back out of this troubled deal is to default. Default means difficult to defend lawsuits against our Town. Default means probable expensive judgments against our community. Default, after today, puts all our residents firmly on the hook for millions of dollars of expenditures.

The Council last month authorized the Manager to finalize negotiations and execute the agreement. The project will now follow the Town’s normal regulatory process for a Special Use Permit, including review by the Town’s advisory boards and commissions and a public hearing before the Council.

While they did authorize the Town Manager to proceed with negotiations, the Council also directed Roger Stancil to achieve certain goals – like a firm commitment to improve energy efficiency as per ASHRAE 90.1 20% efficiency standards and an increase on-site affordable housing parking.

Without the final modified agreement (not available this evening), it is not clear our Town Manager achieved these goals. Further, for the partial success reported – 5 additional on-site parking – the trade-offs required by RAM to get those spaces remains unknown.

Final negotiations centered on energy efficiency construction. Recognizing the importance of reducing the energy demand of buildings and dependence on energy from fossil fuels, the Council directed that the agreement require the design and construction of the project to meet a minimum 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency (as measured against standards established by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers – ASHRAE).

Again, the language of the announcement leaves it somewhat unclear, at least to me, if the commitment to the ASHRAE 90.1 %20 energy efficiency standard is measurably firm.

[UPDATE] From today’s N&O

As part of the final contract, Ram agreed to achieve an energy efficiency level 20 percent better than standards established by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

It appears the LEEDs trade-off discussed here was the key to ASHRAE acceptance. Of course, without the final contract before us it’s difficult to ascertain how compliance with ASHRAE or LEEDs will be measured.

The project will incorporate sustainable, “green” features that will result in at least 26 points under Leadership in Environment and Energy Design (LEED) standards, the equivalent minimum number of points for basic certification under the LEED system. The Council has established a Town-wide goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60 percent by 2050 through the Carbon Reduction Program.

Councilmember Sally Greene suggested trading the potentially expensive formal LEEDs review for simple compliance with the LEEDs basic certification goals. Councilmember Jim Ward countered that RAM Development’s assertion of compliance was insufficient – that the review process was a necessary element to achieving those goals. I lean more towards Sally on this with the proviso that a specific, standards-based methodology for measuring compliance outside of the LEEDs process be agreed upon prior to a final commitment (would’ve been nice to also pursue some of the AIA’s 2030 sustainability goals). Again, sans the modified agreement, it’s unclear whether any process for measuring LEEDs compliance is in place.

To the Town’s credit, the environmental reports I asked for in my Mar. 27 petition were provided as part of the announcement.

The completed environmental assessment report will be on the Town’s website.  The assessment detected no underground gasoline tanks, only limited sections of petroleum-impacted soil that will require remediation.

Timed too late for our talented citizens with expertise in geology and environmental remediation to influence Stancil’s decision, this coincident release demonstrates, once again, the ascendancy of clever political gamesmanship over good public policy.

This bit of Town PR vastly downplays the caveats and disclaimers the authors used:

The report’s findings are based on conditions that existed on the dates of ECS’s site visits and should not be relied upon to precisely represent conditions at any other time. ECS did not assess areas other than those discussed in the report.

The conclusions included in this report are based on: ECS’s observation of existing site conditions; our interpretation of site history and site usage information; and the results of a limited program of subsurface assessment, sample screening, and chemical testing. The concentration of contaminants ECS measured may not be representative of conditions between locations sampled. Be aware that conditions may change at any sampled or unsampled location as a function of time in response to natural conditions, chemical reactions, and/or other events.

Conclusions about site conditions under no circumstances comprise a warranty that conditions in all areas within the site and beneath structures are of the same quality as those sampled. Recognize, too, that contamination might exist in forms not indicated by the assessment ECS conducted.

April 2nd’s letter from ECS Carolinas, LLP concerning the “Phase II ESA and Limited Soil Delineation Report”, p. 2

Based on approximate measurements of the property boundary and sample locations, ECS estimates that approximately 8,600 cubic yards (~13,000 tons assuming 1.5 tons per cubic yard) of petroleum-impacted soil may be present at the site. This is a preliminary estimate only; the actual quantity of potentially impacted soils may vary based on conditions observed during soil excavation. [CW: EMPHASIS by ECS]

April 2nd’s letter from ECS Carolinas, LLP concerning the “Phase II ESA and Limited Soil Delineation Report”, p. 6

The concerns of the report’s authors are clear. What is left unsupported is the Town’s cost estimate.

The estimated cost of the clean-up will be $232,000. The Town will assume the costs for remediation, and the developer will fund the excavation.

So, RAM Development will pick up the tab for excavating 13,000 tons/8600 cubic yards of hazardous material and the Town will pay, I assume, to haul it safely off-site and dispose of it in an acceptable manner. Given the author’s caveats and the lack of discussion of hazardous material intrusions into the underlying bedrock, I’d like to see the analysis behind the $232,000 cost estimate.

Is it as solid as RAM Development’s Spring 2006 claim of a total $500,000 in public outlays? I hope not since a 15-fold increase in the environmental costs, similar to the 10 month increase from $500,000 to $7,425,000 for those 161 buried parking spaces, would be in the neighborhood of $3.5 million!

One notable improvement in our Town’s communications is a savvy ability to propagandize, making a gold-filled silk purse out of the hazardous waste sows ear by now trumpeting development on “brownfields”.

“Developing a project in downtown reflects Chapel Hill’s commitment to build on brownfields rather than greenfields in order to preserve our environment,” said Manager Roger L. Stancil. “Brownfields are properties where redevelopment or reuse can be complicated by the presence or potential presence of pollutants or contaminants from past use. Developing on greenfields is to build on undeveloped properties on the urban fringe, often farmland. Chapel Hill intends to keep the greenfields green.”

A month ago we weren’t supposed to worry about hazardous waste on Lot #5. Today it’s an asset.

There’s a lot of fertile “brown” in the “fields” lay bare by this announcement. Once again, the liabilities are down-played, the potential fiscal “surprises” ignored, the value of the project over-stated while the obligations continue to be heaped upon our citizens.

April 3rd, 2007, a regrettable day in Chapel Hill’s history.

Hazardous Consequences: No Official Word, Yet, On Lot #5’s Hazardous Waste Issue

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

[UPDATE] As of April 3rd, the Town has provided part of what I asked for in the following petition, the environmental report [PDF]. In the Town’s announcement of a conclusion to negotiations, the figure of $232,000 for a remediation was thrown out. This figure, of which I haven’t found a full justification, would supposedly include removal of 13,000 tons of material to either a hazardous waste landfill or some other remediation facility.

More to come.

[ORIGINAL POST]

A quick follow up on my previous post Lot #5 Development: “…up through the ground come a bubbling crude…”.

I’ve sent Chapel Hill’s Town Council a petition (Mar. 29th) asking for a postponement of any further approvals for Special Use Permits, extending or adding new consultancies, preparing the lot for construction, etc. until the financial liabilities attendant to environmental remediation are fully and timely disclosed.

Further, to avoid the recent mess involving the Rogers Road community, siting a trash transfer station on Eubanks and the Orange County Board of Commissioner’s apparent lack of any discernible specific, detailed and publicly revealed process for making their analysis and decision, that the methodology, data and assumptions are published by Council fully seven (7) business days prior to any approval.

A call from the Daily Tar Heel spurred me to take this action. I was hoping the environmental report, which, from my experience, should’ve taken a short time to prepare, would be published for public review by now. According to the DTH’s reporter, it hasn’t.

My concern is that the “clock” would be “run out” on the hazardous waste remediation issue – that Council would move ahead amassing further public (taxpayer) obligations without adequate background.

To help encourage a full, timely, open and responsible discussion of the hazardous waste issue, I’ve submitted the following petition:

Mayor and Town Council,

I’m petitioning Council to postpone ANY further approvals for the Lot #5 Downtown Development Initiative:

1) until the environmental assay of Lot #5 is 100% completed. This would include any recommended
follow up tests, such as monitoring wells, further core sampling, ground-radar location of
tanks or other structures, etc.

2) until the results of the environmental assay have been independently reviewed.

3) until the results, the independent review, the methodology, data, assumptions, geologic maps
and any other factors used to derive the results have been published 7 days prior to the
approval meeting.

4) until an initial estimate and plan for the environmental remediation, if necessary, has been
developed.

5) until the estimate, the methodology, data and assumptions going into that cost estimate have
been published 7 business days prior to the approval meeting.

6) until a financial impact statement, including additional costs, borrowings and wider effects
on the Town’s financial well-being has been developed.

7) until the estimated financial impact and methodology, data and assumptions going into that
evaluation have been published 7 business days prior to the approval meeting.

It also appears that the underlying geology of Lot #5 might be rockier than expected. If this is so,
Council should also postpone further approvals pending an evaluation of increased costs to the
developer and taxpayers of Chapel Hill.

Considering that an expensive environmental remediation might significantly and adversely impact our
Town’s finances, and, in combination with Lot #5’s current taxpayer obligations, possibly necessitate
either a substantial tax increase or reduction in services or both, the fiscally prudent course of
action is to wait until the facts are reported and the conclusions reviewed by the wider public.

Finally, I would like to highlight the importance of giving the public at least 7 business days of
notice. Our citizens are already concerned about the trajectory this project has so far taken.
Some of the greatest concern has come from financial, urban planning, environmental, energy and
commercial real-estate experts.

Let’s give our talented citizenry the opportunity for a careful, measured evaluation of the
Town’s reports and extend the courtesy of providing a reasonable amount of time to draft a
response.

Rushing the project forward without disclosing further anticipated financial obligations does
our citizenry a disservice.

Thank you,

Will Raymond

I’ll post the response as it comes in.

Raleigh LEDs the Way

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

Comparison in life, I guess, is inevitable.

Hey, even if there’s a tiny bit of vanity bragging about Chapel Hill – “look how smart I am to live in the Southern slice of Heaven” – I probably indulge in it as much as anyone else. Folks brag about how progressive, sensitive to civil liberties, environmentally conscious our Town is in spite of examples to the contrary.

For instance, not too long ago Council member Kleinschmidt suggested Wilson and Rocky Mount were not quite up to Chapel Hill standards yet those communities underwrite more than a hundred hands-on arts programs and have built facilities to support the arts in general. On the other hand, progressive Chapel Hill’s one hands-on arts program teeters on the brink of extinction.

Civil liberties? Chapel Hill leads the way much of the time with the occasional incredible lapse.

Environmentally conscious? Many times with, again, some unfortunate glaring exceptions.

Besides noting Council’s leadership faux pas, Jim Ward recently pointed that even the simplest of energy saving efforts – using efficient light fixtures at Town Hall – never get very far.

Raleigh, though, is making a bold commitment to reduce energy and save some bucks in the process

Last week, the City of Raleigh announced a plan to possibly use light emitting diodes (LED’s) to light city streets throughout Raleigh.

Although more expensive initially, compared with regular lights, LED’s last much longer and use much less electricity. According to city, some LED’s may last as much as 20 times longer than regular incandescent lights.

At a city hall news conference on Friday, Mayor Meeker and the CEO of Triangle-based LED maker Cree, Inc. announced a partnership to perform a cost-benefit analysis to possibly replace as many city lights as possible with LED’s.

The city says that the mayor hopes that the “LED City” initiative will serve as a model for other cities that are considering implementing energy-efficient measures.

“The City of Raleigh is willing to set the pace and invite other municipalities to join in developing energy-efficient civic centers,” Cree CEO Swoboda said. “This leading edge effort is undoubtedly an important driver in LED adoption within the United States.”

Raleigh Chronicle, February 19, 2007

I own shares in Cree. That said, they have a great product that, at least I think, will shake up the world one day.

Raleigh Mayor Meeker said that it is “sound fiscal and environmental stewardship” to investigate the application of LED’s “as broadly as possible.”

The analysis on how LED’s can be used will be performed over the next 18 months, says the city.

In his comments, Mayor Meeker said that there may be “substantial potential savings from converting the City’s more than 33,000 streetlights to LEDs.”

According to the city, Raleigh spends more than $4.2 million annually for electricity to power the streetlights and estimates that 30 percent of its energy costs are for lighting.

According to the city, Raleigh electric provider Progress Energy says the floor equipped with LED lights will use over 40 percent less energy than the standard lighting system and will actually provide better lighting.

Raleigh Chronicle, February 19, 2007

Fixing Chapel Hill’s policy of using inefficient, poorly sited, streetlight fixtures kick started my life as a local concerned citizen. Six years ago, and occasionally since, I’ve asked Council to revise our current lighting policies, direct Duke Power to install more efficient fixtures and adopt the standards developed by light pollution experts for the International Dark-Sky Association.

Better, longer lasting lighting that operates much more efficiently at a cheaper cost when amortized over its extended lifetime.

Seems like an easy decision to me. We should take Raleigh’s invitation to participate.

Lot #5 Development: “…up through the ground come a bubbling crude…”

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

Well, not quite “black gold” or “Texas tea” but it appears that more “refined trouble” is brewing under Lot #5 (MAP).

Chapel Hill’s taxpayers will have to wait for next week’s official lab confirmation but, as of today (Mar. 20th, 2007), initial field tests of some of the nearly 30 core samples show “interesting” signs of contamination.

Hazardous waste remediation involving the fractured geology below the lot could prove to be quite expensive – launching the total taxpayer commitment to just south of the $12.5 million of equity that RAM Development, the Town’s private partner, is contractually obliged to contribute.

Of course, RAM will easily recover their equity and make millions on the deal. The fine folks of Chapel Hill will get an expensive hole in the ground.


Folks started calling on the Council to pull their heads out of the sand and do this environmental assay over a year ago, well before entering final negotiations with RAM Development. Council members Jim Ward and Laurin Easthom, before voting against the Lot #5 proposal, strongly argued that the “known unknown” of contamination deserved evaluation before signing the deal.

Unfortunately, caution, that night, was overridden by the zeal for the deal.

Another expensive “known unknown” lurking in the wings has been the cost of digging two stories below Lot #5’s current grade. I work across Church St. and recall the difficulty the developers of my building had with “the ROCK”. “The ROCK” underneath Chapel Hill’s Downtown has been the bane of many a stalwart developer. UNC has spent millions over the last few years tussling with “the ROCK”.

An incidental consequence of the technician’s drilling cores during this current environmental assay is a better understanding of the parking lot’s underlying geology. The optimism the Town showed – expecting to escape the vicissitudes of other Downtown developers – needs to be tempered by the measured reality of the last few days. It appears, again pending a final report, that “the ROCK” on the Franklin St. side of the lot is roughly 10′ below current grade tapering to 20′ on the Rosemary side.

If you live near Downtown, I suggest an early run to the store for ear plugs before blasting begins 😉

Lot #5 Development: Two Pictures 1,000 Words Apart

Monday, March 19th, 2007

Looks like this will be the last Spring I watch these trees bloom…





and the last year I’ll see Chapel Hill’s Downtown signature church steeple from the second floor roost of where I work.



Cline Associates Concept Plan Drawing for Lot #5



Corner of Church St. and Frankin St., Chapel Hill, NC – Mar. 18th, 2007 [MAP]


Not quite “Where’s Waldo?” but, to twist a phrase from Sesame Street, one of these things is not like “reality”.






I remember when many of these trees were planted, have watched them develop over the years. I wonder how long I’ll remember their flowering? The memory of those wonderful gateway trees to University Square and along Franklin, since replaced by the green poles of the Church St. signal lights, are still firmly rooted in my mind, maybe these too will persist.

The HeraldSun Turns A Corner: Trouble on the horizon at lot 5

Monday, March 19th, 2007

The HeraldSun’s editorial stance on Chapel Hill’s Lot #5 project has always been somewhat “peppy”.

Tom Jensen’s Chapel Hill Herald (CHH) columns have been singularly reflective of the papers ebullient attitude towards this troubled development. In spite of the narrowing scope – halving the size of the project – and escalating taxpayer commitments – keeping the cost the same, increasing the public outlay 15-fold, ignoring the potentially expensive hazardous waste remediation, discounting further cost increases – the message continued to be move forward at a reckless rate and let the details be damned.

Tom,a recent graduate of UNC, political insider, Sierra staffer and Chapel Hill Planning Board member looks forward to the day he can live Downtown:

On a personal note, one of the reasons I love this project is that I would like to live in it myself.

I don’t own a car and I commute by TTA to work in Raleigh every day. Lot 5 is about two minutes away from where I pick up the bus. It would be great to be able to walk right out of my house, catch the bus, and then come home at night and meet my daily needs within walking distance of my condo.

Right now there’s nowhere that meets both the niceness and affordability criteria I would need to see to live on Franklin or Rosemary Street.

Affordability, Tom, considering the $385-$415 per square foot price of the condos, is reserved for those qualifying for the affordable housing component. It might be tough to qualify if Councilmember Strom makes good on his statement that the bulk of these roughly 600 square foot affordable units will be used for families.

Today’s HeraldSun editorial takes a different, more cautionary tack.

Let’s hope they don’t find anything. Let’s hope the environmental assessment, being undertaken this weekend, on downtown parking lot 5 shows no problems at all.

Because if it doesn’t, there are very serious consequences.

Yes, it would be nice to think there is no hazardous material to remove, but with at least one known gas station sited on that lot, it isn’t likely. Serious? The price tag could run into the millions.

And from what I observed this weekend, digging a deep parking deck just got a lot more expensive.

The editorial continues with this interesting assertion:

It is the linchpin for the town’s attempt to reinvigorate downtown, to bring more people to live by the community’s historic core, to create a market for downtown businesses and to make sure the area remains the vital, throbbing heart of Chapel Hill.

As I’ve mentioned before, this project lacks a “communal” center – something like a grocery store – to both serve the residents of the complex and to draw in the thousands of walking distance residents noted in recent cautionary testimony before Council. The commercial component seems oriented towards boutique shopping – Sunglass Huts and Jumba Juice – over sustaining, locally-owned concerns.

Because that goal is so important, the town has been willing to accept a far-less beneficial deal to develop lot 5. What once was an arrangement last year with the private developer that would have cost the town under $1 million, now may cost more than $7 million — and that price could be going up.

We have noted in the past in this space that on balance, the increased financial liability for the town still was worth it. The ultimate benefit — to downtown and the entire community — would offset the increased cost.

It is nice to see a bit of concern about the value returned being somewhat in the ballpark of the value given – even if the editorials numbers are off by a factor of 2 on the low-end. The original investment was $500,000 with a more restrictive land deal – increasing to today’s $7.3 million with a real-estate giveaway. And, of course, the $7.3M figure doesn’t incorporate the true value of the property – commercial real-estate folks have quoted $5-$13 million conservatively, the probable high costs of environmental remediation, the slew of new expensive consultants to manage our Town’s end of the deal and another round of predictable increases (like having to deal with a huge rock under the lot).

But if the consultants conducting the assessment this weekend find evidence of possible environmental contamination at the site — and previous consultants had, in fact, found that kind of evidence — the town, as the owner of the property, would have to pay for any cleanup needed.

There’s no telling, at this point, how much that could cost, but the price tag could be significant, in the millions. If it is, that could jeopardize the entire project. If it is, that probably should jeopardize the entire project.

The town cannot afford — either literally or figuratively — to put excessive sums down the deep hole being bored this weekend at lot 5. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, but if it does, the town should be ready to cut its losses and head in a different direction.

Absolutely correct. On the cusp of expanding the Lot #5 moneypit I hope the majority of our Council reassess our citizen’s liability – drops the current deal – totes up the “lessons well-learned” and starts again.

Trash Talk: I Like Vinegar on My BBQ

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

The old Southern saying goes “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

Then again, there’s nothing like a little vinegar or Tabasco to cut though the cloying fat of smoked BBQ.

An open e:mail to the Orange County Board of Commissioners:

On Tuesday evening, at the Orange County BOC meeting in Hillsborough it became glaringly apparent there was a complete failure of do diligence in the Waste Transfer Station site selection process. In fact there was no real process at all. Chairman Carey, 2 years of talking is not a process, it was just 2 years of talking and no basis for a decision.

Unfortunately if this failure is allowed to stand the people who will most directly carry the consequences and burden will be the working class African American community on Rogers Road, the same people who have carried the burden of the county’s landfill for 34 years. There is absolutely no way to deny that this failure to act professionally is in itself an act of environmental injustice. There is much irony in that Orange County is considered the most progressive county in North Carolina, and home to Senator Edwards and his Presidential Campaign which is centered around helping the “Other America”.

My anger was apparent at the meeting and still apparent in this e-mail, I make no apologies. I am not a politician or a policy wonk. Nor do I make a pretense of tactful persuasion. My wife’s parents lived their lives in north central Philadelphia and were 50 plus year members of the Zion Baptist Church which was led for many years my the late Reverend Leon Sullivan. When visiting my in-laws they would bring us to the church even though I am not a Christian. Listening to Reverend Sullivan was always an education and an inspiration. In my early twenties I remember Reverend Sullivan talking about personal integrity and professional integrity and that both were tied hand in hand. He told us that we can not claim to have one without the other. He was relating this concept from his involvement with American and international business executives and political leaders.

It became obvious in Tuesday’s meeting that the Waste Transfer siting process had , no professional integrity, no intellectual integrity, no moral or ethical integrity and formed no solid basis for any decision. Chairman Cary, in your e-mail response of 2/17/07 to my request of all the leaders of this community to take as stand on this issue, you said to quote:

“… it would be premature and unethical in my opinion for any elected official to respond to you as you have requested prior to considering all information which must be considered to make an informed decision on this matter.”

With all due respect, by calling for a vote on this issue on Tuesday you were violating your own stated ethical standard. It is clear The Orange County BOC nor anyone else for that matter has all the facts needed to make an informed decision. It is now in the open that the Orange County BOC has never directed anyone or any group to get all the facts.

It is also misleading that the BOC can only start “mitigation talks” to compensate the Rogers Road community after a site is chosen. The Rogers Road community has already earned that compensation through their 34 years of sacrifice. Why should they have to acquiesce to a Waste Transfer Station to receive compensation? Discussions can start whenever the BOC decides to do so.

It was also clear that Commissioner Foushee, Commissioner Jacobs and Commissioner Gordon were struggling with what they witnessed Tuesday night. Commissioner Foushee was the first to speak with eloquence and concern, articulating her distress on the deficiencies of the process to date. She expressed the desire to get this right. If an academic study were to be conducted on the right and wrong ways to site a waste facility as things currently stand Greensboro would be the case study of the right way and Orange County would be the contrasting case study on how get it all wrong. I am asking all the commissioners: Are you proud of where we are on this issue? Are you proud of how we got here? Is this an example of good governance?

If each of you abide the principle of tying personal and professional integrity together then you have no choice but to vote against siting the Waste Transfer Station on Eubanks Road. You have no choice but to restart the siting process.

David Richter

I published David’s earlier correspondence with Commissioner Moses Carey highlighting the lack of a systematic approach in selecting a waste transfer site. Since then, even knowing of this troubling deficit, Carey pushed for an immediate vote to solidify the choice of the Eubanks Road site.

But some sense prevailed during last week’s Orange County Board of Commissioner’s meeting as the other BOCC members responded to both the illogic of the current situation and to the many folks that showed up to ask for more prudence. They directed staff not only to do a more exhaustive evaluation but to incorporate a more multi-dimensional approach like the one I’ve previously suggested.

I’ve heard a few comments from folks that David is coming on a little too strong. I understand his passion.

The calculated lack of process was destined to produce one answer – an answer BOCC member Carey is obviously comfortable with – an answer extending the 34 years of ills the Rogers Road community has borne by decades.

That deficit is so glaring, the troubling consequences to the Rogers Road community so apparent, it is an injustice crying for redress.

And when the redress comes slowly, grudgingly, even a bit bitterly from our elected folk, well, a little bit of vinegar is quite excusable.

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