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.

Lot $$$5 Lurches Forward?

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Council has been quite patient with their development partner RAM Development.

The Lot $$$5 project has seen delay after delay, the basic tenets under which is was justified shifted substantially over that time. For instance, developers apparently didn’t need the Lot $$$5 project to whet their appetite for Downtown projects as three are on-going.

Even though Council has had opportunity after opportunity to cancel the project because of RAM’s contractual breaches, they have continued to support the fiscally imprudent project – a project which neglects the changing realities Downtown.

It is a shame that our Town’s leadership didn’t take the time to rework the project – fix its many policy and practical problems – during the long hiatus. Looks like it might be too late as, according to the Town’s PR flack, the clock has started ticking again:

Town gives 140 West go-ahead
Posted Date: 11/22/2010

The Town of Chapel Hill issued a zoning compliance permit on Friday, Nov. 19, for the 140 West project consisting of condominiums, retail and parking on Town-owned Parking Lot 5 at the intersections of Franklin, Church and Rosemary streets in downtown Chapel Hill.

This is the regulatory action that is required for the project to start work.

“Our primary interest in our review of the developer’s submitted plans was safety for all users of the public rights of way, as well as the possible impact on nearby residents and businesses and the safety of the workers on the site,” said Town Manager Roger L. Stancil.

As part of the permit review, Town staff reviewed information submitted by the developer and additional information provided by residents and business owners who were interested in the project. A public meeting was held in July to solicit comments and concerns.

The project includes 140 homes (18 of which are in a trust for affordable housing), 26,000 square feet of ground-level retail space and 337 parking spaces. Ram Development Co. is the project developer, and the general contractor is John Moriarty & Associates Inc. Completion is projected in about two years.

The 140 West Franklin building will stand four stories tall along the street and steps back to eight stories tall at the center. The project includes 140 homes (18 of which will be dedicated to the Community Home Trust), 26,000 square feet of ground-level retail space and 337 parking spaces. There will be a two-level parking deck including a dedicated public parking level which will be owned and operated by the Town of
Chapel Hill. The project also will feature a large outdoor public plaza with art by landscape artist Mikyoung Kim.

The municipal parking lot at the site is expected to close on Jan. 16, 2011. The Town has anticipated a need for replacement spaces downtown and developed a plan to replace all hourly spaces being temporarily
lost due to construction. Please see attached map map.

Parking in Downtown Chapel Hill includes the following:

On-street parking spaces on West Franklin Street: The Town negotiated with the North Carolina Department of Transportation to provide 14 new on-street parking spaces on West Franklin Street.

West Rosemary Street: The West Rosemary Street Lot (formerly Lot 4) is located west of Old Town Hall. The Town has paved and striped the lot, and has installed hourly meters for 17 spaces in that lot.

West Franklin-Basnight Lot: The Town has leased 66 spaces for hourly parking in the West End behind the old University Chrysler building. (These spaces are currently being used as monthly parking. We plan to
convert them to hourly parking as need dictates.)

415 West Franklin Street: The Town has converted 8 leased spaces in this lot to hourly parking.

The developer initially proposed closing Church Street for the duration of the project, or about 24 months. They also proposed closing the sidewalk along the Franklin Street frontage of the project and installing a mid-block crosswalk on Franklin to redirect pedestrian traffic. The SUP stipulations dictated additional sidewalks for the north side of Rosemary Street and the west side of Church Street along the limits of the project. The approved SUP also includes plans that show Church Street being closed during construction.

The approved construction plan anticipates closing Church Street for about 12 to 15 months, including closing the street later and opening one lane of the street earlier than originally proposed. In addition,
the dimensions of the closed area were modified to preserve better visibility of the businesses at the corner of Franklin and Church Streets and we will provide a new, temporary loading area in front of that same building by relocating a bus stop farther west on Franklin Street.

The Franklin Street sidewalk will remain closed to allow trucks entering the site to be segregated from both vehicles and pedestrians along the street. The sidewalk on Church Street will remain open during construction so access to the offices that front on Church Street can be maintained.

The Town has created a new dedicated web page for construction information and timelines at www.townofchapelhill.org/140west

For more information, please contact:

Jon Keener, Ram Development Manager, 919-942-3381 or 888-310-1409
Jay Gibson or Mike Taylor, Town of Chapel Hill Engineering: 919-968-2833
Catherine Lazorko, Town of Chapel Hill Public Information: 919-969-5055

E-mail: 140west@townofchapelhill.org

A Bit Older, Less Grayer

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

I ended up talking about the troubling aspects of both East54 and the Lot $5 with a native Chapel Hillian after a recent community meeting. While introducing myself they exclaimed “you’re Will Raymond? I saw you speak several years ago about the Town’s Downtown project” but, they went on, I “looked different”, even younger than they recalled.

During the recent WCHL1360 “Who’s Talking” interview (140West: RAM Development’s Money Tree, Chapel Hill Taxpayers Moneypit), I had commented to Fred Black that I was a bit older and a bit grayer but still flogging the same old issues of sustainability, diversity, fiscal responsibility, community input, etc. I started with nearly a decade ago.

Turns out, though, while I might be a bit older (and heavier), I don’t look as gray without the huge beard.

Here’s a sample from Feb. 12th, 2007, the night that version of our Town Council decided to plunge ahead with the broken Lot $5 deal.



140West: RAM Development’s Money Tree, Chapel Hill Taxpayers Moneypit

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Local commentator and involved citizen Fred Black invited me to do a WCHL1360 Who’s Talking segment last week.

It airs this evening (Tues. Aug. 3rd, 2010) at 6PM.

While the subject was supposed to be the Lot #5/140 West project, which is slated to finally get started later this month, Fred used this opportunity to talk about development Downtown, public engagement, and Council.

As I said then and before, I believe Lot #5 presented an excellent opportunity for redevelopment.

I and others argued for a fiscally prudent, environmentally sustainable, community-oriented development that had workforce housing, affordable commercial opportunities, an integrative tenant – like a grocery store – and real public space.

Instead of getting a signature development that met those goals from the RAM Development/Chapel Hill collaboration we got a $10M+ taxpayer funded luxury condo development with little public utility. Architecturally, the project’s look fits the Atlanta beltway more than Chapel Hill – it says little, if anything, significant about our community.

Not only was the business model flawed but so was the underlying commitment to adhere to measurable energy and environmental targets (the Council, unlike what they’ve pushed UNC to do, did not adopt and has no plan to evaluate energy usage, for instance, using ASHRAE or other quantifiable standards).

Of course, I thought that the scale of this development (which you can get a sense of from the site models I created 4 years ago) didn’t fit the human-scale dimensions of our current Downtown. That human-scale is part of Chapel Hill’s ‘brand’ – evidenced by the Town’s own logo – and shouldn’t have been casually tossed without at least a proper attempt to educate our residents and some informed buy-in from the community.

What now?

The Council had many chances to walk away from the project over the last few years as RAM Development missed contractual obligation after obligation. The majority didn’t.

The Council had 2 years to work with local businesses to minimize the impact of the next 2 years of construction. That collaboration just started and already there is some significant friction between the Town and the Franklin St. commercial district.

The public financial burden begins immediately as the environmental remediation begins though the Town’s finances are stretched to the maximum by the majority of this Council’s decision to issue $20+ M in bonds for the Library expansion among others capital improvements. There’s no plan in place to publish those costs as they mount.

Is it too late to do anything? No.

This is OUR project. WE are investing $30-40M in cash and property and have every right to expect that nearby businesses can still function, that questions of public access be finally laid to rest, that every dollar invested by our residents is accounted for and that we have a solid commitment to measuring the success or failure – in terms of tax and parking revenues, energy efficiency, growth of commercial activity – of the project

I did a quick review of my posts on the Lot $5/140 West project and have collected those from 2006 to 2010 below for further background:
(more…)

Twisting the Zoning Pretzel

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Tonight I asked the Council, once again, to reconsider cutting corners in the zoning process to push their “dense” development agenda.

Just as in this Spring’s approval of the new TC-3 zoning district (A Matter of Process: Greenbridge and Council’s Devolving Standard of Public Review), the Council is trying to slide through a far-reaching zoning modification to favor another RAM Development project.

RAM Development is the Council’s development partner in the ill-fated Lot $5 public/private partnership (a partnership where the public literally gets the shaft and RAM gets all the gold [Downtown Initiative: $500,000 here, $7.3 Million there, pretty soon we’re talking real money…]).

TC-3, which doubled the allowable density and increased the height limits by %50 of projects built Downtown was tagged to the popular Greenbridge projects approval but its real raison d’etre was to get Lot $5 over a SUP (special use permit) hurdle. What was clear, then, especially if you review secret negotiations, the Council’s negotiating team (Strom, Hill, Greene) failed to get RAM to commit to all the requirements the Council had asked for whether reasonable or not. The team had painted themselves into a corner, in a sense, because they had publicly stated they would not approve a SUP granting the height, density and other extraordinary specifications that RAM wanted (specifications tailored to enriching their bottom line at taxpayer expense) without a commensurate quid pro quo.

Empty handed, unable to get a deal which would satisfy their already announced SUP requirements, they created a new zoning district, rammed it through without extensive public review and applied to their own pet project – Lot $5 – to close the deal.

Tonight the Council proposed using the same tactic, in this case twisting an existing zone (Residential-Special Standards-Conditional Zoning District) developed in 1999 to promote affordable housing, so that they could apply it to another RAM Development project – The Residences at Grove Park of which I have written about several times.

Over two years ago, in fact, I asked Council to be as Caesar’s wife – beyond reproach – when dealing with other projects from their business partner RAM Development.

Carefully tailoring a zoning ordinance modification that, as our own Planning Board said “appears to be in direct response to the proposed Residences at Grove Park developments and therefore may not be well suited for other areas of town”, doesn’t instill confidence in the integrity of our zoning process.

Why does this project, which wipes out 111 affordable housing units and replaces them with 300+ luxury condos get this particular special treatment?

Here are my prepared remarks (which I tried to consolidate as, once again, the Council collapsed two public hearings into one possible confusing tangle):

What we have tonight with these proposed zoning modifications is a set of vague requirements with no backing metrics. Essentially, you are being asked to loose the “specialness” of the Residential Special Standards zone.

The original intent of RSSC zone was to promote affordable housing.

Tonight’s proposal is all about a 3-fold increase in density to satisfy your development partner’s, RAM Development, desire to maximize their profits in selling more luxury condos at the community’s expense.

But, like the Council’s decision to pass TC-3, modifying the RSSC opens the doors to all developers to follow your business partner’s lead. Without the specific, measurable standards, it will be quite difficult to measure if the promises made in granting a zone are actually carried out.

#1. Promoting affordable housing.

This Council has more and more accepted in lieu payments over actual square footage. How will this project be any different? Is there a commitment to accept 26 units? And based on RAM’s own projections, in no way are these units as affordable as the existing housing stock.

#2. Promote sustainable transportation.

What, specifically, is so much more extraordinarily different in RAM’s 425 Hillsborough proposal than existing transportation conditions? Nothing. Without setting specific goals or guidelines, how will we ever know?

#4. Protection of the natural environment.

RAM’s project, as currently designed, has significant impacts on the health of Bolin Creek. During the buildout and occupancy of these condos, significant changes – changes not accounted for in the current plan – will negatively affect the surrounding and downstream environment. There are already sanitary sewer issues along that part of the system, where’s the request to study the impact of Hillsborough 425 on that system?

#6. Protection of adjacent neighborhoods. [I made an aside to Sally Greene since she had raised concerns about the appearance of UNC’s Innovation Center fronting MLK,Jr.: …this is a big project..it will be the visible entranceway to our Downtown…it will loom above the historic neighborhoods behind… ]

Like TC-3, the proposed modifications are pushing an agenda that will have far-reaching effects on adjacent Downtown neighborhoods. Pass the modifications and you are opening up the flood gates to radical changes at odds with Chapel Hill’s current character. Let’s give the public a full opportunity to understand the breadth of these changes.

#3. “Promotion of a healthy downtown and healthy neighborhood commercial and employment centers;”

Does this mean displacing the hard-working folks from what little remains of privately owned affordable housing stock and replacing them with rich retirees and wealthy student havens? What guarantees do we have that the residents of these 300+ luxury condos represent greater economic reward for Downtown? Like Lot #5, do we expect RAM’s targeted demographic to increase employment Downtown? Or will, given the cost of these units, will the workers commute to RTP – defeating the transportation initiative?

[Another aside in reference to RAM’s point mans statement that only 3 non-student leasees live at Town House] As far as the 100 students you will displace. I’ve known folks living at Town House…students…they work in our community….they have jobs….] (this trivialization of the student population of Town House just shows how RAM Development feels about Chapel Hill – it’s a fattened goat – with a sleepy goatherd – ready for the roasting].

What is so special about this project to justify a modification in the zoning laws to allow not only your business partner but every other developer wishing to cash in on Chapel Hill’s diminishing cachet from making the same vague assertions? Once you open the door, you cannot favor RAM over others – unless you want to invite lawsuits.

Which brings me to my final issue with tonight’s proposal.

This is the second time this Council has been asked to modify zoning regulations to favor their business partner RAM Development.

The first time, with TC-3, the majority of this Council were willing to open the door to long-range negative changes Downtown – radically allowing increased density and heights Downtown – with the costs passed on to us – the taxpayers.

The appearance of favoring RAM, your development partner, once again calls into question the integrity of the Town’s zoning process.

If this project is so special as to require modifications, let it be under the current zone. Make RAM make the case – cross every T and dot every I – and set specific, measurable requirements for granting variances so that the public remains confident that one, they are getting a good deal and two, that favoritism played no part in the final outcome.

Councilmember Mark Kleinschmidt said I was “being mean spirited” highlighting that this is the second time that a proposal was made to modify the law – the zoning ordinance – to favor the Council’s business partner. I wasn’t being mean-spirited, I was being frank.

What would I do differently?

I agree that the RSSC needs to be updated to reflect current density expectations. Would I go from .4 to 1.10, not without an escalating scale of extraordinary requirements and not outside the original intent – to foster affordable housing. For great rewards, go great responsibilities.

What about higher density, transit-oriented developments? I would take another stab at creating a new zone, as the Council failed to do this Spring, that captured the requirements – and as importantly – set specific measurable metrics – for a new zone. I would then invite community input – have outreach events as UNC has done with Carolina North – and then hold extensive public hearings to “sell” this new zone to the public. No more of this under-the-table gamesmanship.

What about adding the six new comprehensive plan related requirements as proposed by staff to this new zone? Great idea if it can be done to foster appropriate in-fill development throughout Chapel Hill.

What I wouldn’t do, and what I really hope our Council stops doing, is to attempt to make far-reaching, potentially harmful modifications to our Town’s zoning ordinances, without informing and educating our public.

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 Downtown Development: Do you smell gas?

Friday, March 16th, 2007

As we know, There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns.
That is to say we know there are some things We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

— Donanld Rumsfeld, Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

Well we know that Rumsfeld was is a jackass.

What the majority of our Town Council didn’t want to know when they rushed forward on the Lot #5 juggernaut, was the extent of the hazardous waste remediation required to make the site suitable.

Oh, they knew that there had been at least one former gas station on-site.

And they knew that during a previous assay an environmental tech had taken an unauthorized sniff of the dirt that revealed gas fumes.

But rather than taking the prudent step of testing before committing to the Lot #5 boondoggle – making this all to known unknown known – to use a Rumsfeldian turn of phrase, the majority stuck their heads firmly in the sand and instructed the Town Manager to move ahead.

Kind of like Bush and Rumsfeld in Iraq. Jump first, measure the consequences later. And we know how effective that has been.

What’s the big deal?

Beside making a decision that has already undercut our Town’s moral authority to set the highest caliber of environmental standards it has exposed our taxpayers to a potentially stiff financial penalty.

The “rah rah” growth folks on Council like to say this ridiculously bad Lot #5 deal with RAM Development won’t cost the taxpayers one pretty cent – except for the hundreds of thousands for required consultants, disrupted city services, staff time, etc. – until the Town’s 161 parking spaces are complete.

The problem? Our taxpayers are on the hook for any hazardous waste remediation – remediation that will have to paid for now. The cost, considering the geology, could run into the multi-millions of dollars.

That’s millions of dollars out out of our taxpayers pockets, this year, for one huge mistake. Millions that won’t go to increasing our Town’s commitment to abating chronic homelessness or increasing social services. Millions that might mean the difference between having an aquatics center or losing our quality bond rating.

On a slightly positive note, it looks like some of our Council took my and others concerns to heart.

Most likely too late to squeeze of the deal without some kind of fiscal damage, Town is going ahead with the environmental assay they should’ve done first.

Good news? We’ll find out the broad outlines the environmental damage.

Bad news? We’ll have to start paying millions of dollars this year to cleanup the mess.

Worse news? If this initial assay isn’t done properly or is oriented to quell criticism rather than measure the extent of the true problem – well, the taxpayers of Chapel Hill better be prepared for the “death of a thousand cuts”. Not an unlikely scenario given RAM Development’s halving the scale of the project – keeping the cost roughly the same – and extracting a 15-fold greater financial commitment, $7.5 million so far, from the Town.

This cleanup, if it follows the trajectory of similar projects I’ve been part of, will probably cost quite a bit more than originally anticipated. It will be the gift that keeps on taking.

Hang on to your wallets folks, we’re in for a messy ride.

Parking Lot 5 to Close for Test Borings

The Town of Chapel Hill has hired a contractor to conduct environmental assessments of a site that is selected for a proposed $75 million three-section building complex combining condominiums, retail, and parking on Town-owned Parking Lot 5 in downtown Chapel Hill.

The environmental assessments, to be conducted by Environmental Consulting Services, Ltd. (ECS) will require closing the parking lot located between Franklin and Rosemary Streets at the intersection of Church Street.

Municipal Parking Lot 5 will be closed from 4 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, March 17, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, March 18, and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, March 20. All vehicles must be removed. Accommodations will be made for individuals with leased parking spaces. Call the Town’s Parking Services Coordinator at 968-2835 for more information. Motorists may find available parking at the Rosemary Street Parking Deck, 150 E. Rosemary St., Municipal Lot 2 at 100 E. Rosemary St., or Municipal Lot 3 at 415 W. Franklin St.

The environmental assessment will include a geophysical study to determine if underground tanks are present, as well as up to 30 test borings of the soil. While the Town has conducted previous environmental studies, this week’s assessment will provide a more detailed examination of the soil conditions of the site. Engineers will evaluate and describe site hydrogeological conditions; determine the location, type and concentrations of contaminants; and determine the requirements for remedial action based on the applicable regulatory environmental guidelines.

Negotiations with Ram Development Co. are under way since the Council authorized Manager Roger L. Stancil on Feb. 12 to execute the development agreement. Issues for negotiation have included energy efficiency construction, parking for affordable housing, and environmental considerations. Reflecting its commitment to environmental stewardship, the Town has pursued additional information on the site’s environmental conditions as negotiations continue.

The Town has completed an earlier environmental assessment of the Parking Lot 5 site. Following this phase one study conducted by ECS on Aug. 18, 2004, engineers recommended a ground penetrating radar survey be performed to determine if underground storage tanks are located on the site. Next week’s survey will determine if such tanks are located on the site. ECS also performed work on Oct. 27, 2004, and April 13, 2005, for additional explorations to evaluate the depth to rock in Lot 5 as part of the design analysis for underground parking.

Citizens may review information on the Town website about the Downtown Economic Development Project at http://townhall.townofchapelhill.org/projects/dedi/

I’ll be looking forward to the timely release of these reports and plan to review them in detail.

I also will be calling on Council, as I have before, to stop any further movement on this project pending the results of these tests. To give our residents a chance to catchup and reflect on the consequences of “digging a deeper hole”.

Surely they deserve to know how much the hazardous waste remediation is going to cost before having their Council further the process.

My guess, based on the rushed, imprudent and unfortunate decisions the majority of Council have already made on this project, they won’t stop the juggernaut.

Oh,Oh Walgreen

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

One of RAM Development’s Chapel Hill projects is the poorly sited Walgreen’s on the corner of MLK (Airport Rd.)/Weaver Dairy Rd [MAP]. I’ve commented ( Godzilla vs. Bambi: RAM Development and Chapel Hill) on the problematic expeditious manner this project is taking through “official” channels.

Our Council’s dealings with RAM Development shouldn’t even have the appearance of being preferential.

RAM’s customer, Walgreen Co., seems to be having a bit of trouble involving preferential treatment:

Walgreen Co., the largest U.S. drugstore retailer, was sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over claims the company assigned black managers and denied them promotions based on race.

The retailer, based in Deerfield, Illinois, used race as a reason to send managers, management trainees and pharmacists to low-performing stores and to stores in black communities, the agency claimed in a statement. Walgreen also denied employees promotion opportunities in violation of U.S. law, the EEOC said.

“It is quite serious,” said Andrea Baran, a senior trial attorney for the EEOC, in an interview. “We received charges from around 20 individuals in the Kansas City-St. Louis area,” as well as Florida, Detroit and other regions, she said. “All of the evidence supported these people’s claims.”

The U.S. government lawsuit follows a court victory for the company last month in a case also related to discrimination allegations. Walgreen won a jury verdict in a suit brought by four Texas men who claimed a clerk used a racial slur when they tried to have film developed at a store in Reno, Nevada.

Bloomberg, Mar. 7, 2007

University Station: “Absurd” and “Absolutely Ridiculous”

Monday, February 19th, 2007

The University Station project – a development hugging the South-side of I-40 on Chapel Hill’s North perimeter – is up for review tonight (Feb. 19th).

Local resident John Doyle called Townhall to comment that the proposal was “absurd”, “absolutely ridiculous” and emphasizes that he’ll “make sure” any Council members approving the plan will not serve again.

John, 2007 is an election year 😉

Other citizens chimed in [PDF] on noise, traffic and other relevant issues.

Concern is growing about imprudent growth in our NW corridor – folks are starting to organize.

I’ll be interested to see if the “rah rah” growth wing of Council shows a bit more sensitivity – especially considering the increasing role their buddies at RAM Development are playing to the NW – this evening.

Downtown Development Initiative: Listen and Learn How Negotiations Went Awry

Monday, February 12th, 2007

I worked to elect all three Council members – Cam, Sally, Bill – intimately involved in the RAM negotiations. I’ve found them to be good folks with a keen interest in promoting what they think is best for our community. And that is why listening to these audio recordings was one of the most dispiriting chores I’ve ever undertaken.

Reviewing the documentation on how RAM Development step-by-step backed these folks away from a good initial vision towards the fiscal, social, environmental, aesthetic mess we have today, well, it was quite tough.

It was one of the reasons I’ve been so quiet of late.

I worked on cleaning up some of the audio, but, on the whole, it is really miserable. Where there’s a MP3 version of a WMA (Window’s Media) file, the MP3 is the “cleaner” of the two.

Aug. 1st

Aug. 2nd

Aug. 18th

Sept. 15

Feb. 27

June 19th

Aug. 16th

Sept. 7th

Oct. 23rd

Nov. 11th

I told the Clerk I’d be happy to purchase the town a couple decent digital audio recorders so that critical meetings (and these are probably some of the most critical held in the last decade) will be captured clearly for posterity.

By the way, I think RAM Development did a FANTASTIC job on what they were supposed to do… get the absolutely best deal for their owners.

I’m sure future developers will take a page or two from RAM’s playbook.

They offloaded the risk to the public, secured an asset they can flip for millions (maybe tens of millions) within a few years and will convert public properties to posh million dollar residences with their awesome “frog in the boiling water” technique.

Hillsborough425: Google Earth Fly-By, Alpha Quality

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

Alpha quality?

This is my first release of a “fly-by” created with Google’s mapping tool Google Earth [v4.0291.beta], drawing tool SketchUp and published concept plans to model new development in our community. In this case, modeling RAM Development’s 322 luxury condos visual impact.

The large McMansion-like teardown, unfortunately, is displacing Hillsborough Street’s affordable 111 unit Town House apartments. Town House has been a low cost haven for students for years.

Hillsborough425 aka “The Residences at the Grove” (again, what grove?) will be the largest development of its kind to bless (?) Chapel Hill. Given that and RAM Developments close relationship with Council in the ongoing $100M deconstruction of downtown, the Mayor’s brush-off of greater transparency is troubling.


How did I do it?

Tools:

Input:

Output:

Using Google Earth:

  • 1) “Flew” to the general location of Hillsborough425.
  • 2) Added Hillsborough425: Current Town House Apt. layout [JPG] as an overlay, changed its opacity to %50, then stretched and rotated it until the roads and features matched up.
  • 3) Set the overlay to be drawing priority #1.
  • 4) Added Hillsborough425: Sept. 2006 Concept Plan [GIF] also as an overlay and adjusted it in a similar manner using both the underlying GoogleEarth features and the current layout overlay.
  • 5) Toggled off the Town House Apt. overlay leaving just the concept plan.
  • 6) Saved the result safely to disk.

Using Google Sketchup:

  • 1) Imported the current view from GoogleEarth (the Hillsborough425 concept plan overlaid on the current topography)
  • 2) Toggled Google->Terrain OFF
  • 3) Outlined the buildings using the flattened concept plan imported from Google Earth and tracing with the LINE tool.
  • 4) Using the Hillsborough425: Concept plan descriptions and other documents as references for each buildings height, used the PUSH/PULL tool to extrude a volume roughly the same height.
  • 5) Toggled Google->Terrain ON
  • 6) Using the SELECTION tool to select an element in one building, right clicked and selected all connected components. Once selected, used the MOVE tool to place the building roughly at grade.
  • 7) Exported the finished product to GoogleEarth.

Once exported to GoogleEarth, I finished by exporting my alpha-quality project as a KML suitable for GoogleEarth v4.0291.beta.

If I get some time this weekend (ha!), I’ll add in the existing two and four story apartments for scale.

Here’s the Sketchup files ( [1] and [2]) of the Hillsborough425 buildings, please feel free to build upon my initial effort.

My only request is you publish the results for the wider community.

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