Parks Impact Fee: How Many (More) Goodies Do High Density Developers Need?

Monday, October 18th, 2010

I spoke before Council this evening on the proposed changes to Section 5.5 (Recreation) of the Town’s Land Use Management Ordinances (LUMO). The changes, which were discussed over a decade ago, approved by the NC Legislature July 10, 2008, essentially amount to an impact fee paid by developers to support parks and recreation.

To quote, the impact fee “could provide a new funding source for Parks and Recreation capital improvements in situations where payments are made in lieu of providing recreation space on site.”

Unlike other development fees, the Planning Board, Parks Commission and Town staff worked to hammer out an assessment that roughly tracked the number of new users of parks and recreation services these new developments add to the overall system. Given that, you would think that a high density development adding 5 times as many folks as a R5 zone development would pay more.

Crazily enough, that isn’t the case.

If you develop a high impact, high density development you can look forward to paying 1/2 what other developers pay and, as a bonus, get the rest of Chapel Hill’s residents to underwrite new recreation services on your behalf. Inequitable – but then again Chapel Hill’s residents have taken on burdens – including subsidizing the West140 development at $10+ million in cash and $15-25+ million in property – for other recent projects.

Since much of Town is built out and the number of low density residential opportunities shrink, the only strong near term revenue source will come from new high density developments. With a number of such new developments/redevelopments in the pipeline you would think staff and the advisory boards would urge Council to move fast – to strike while the iron is hot so to speak. The reality? A provision to delay while all these projects work themselves out of the pipeline.

Just doesn’t seem fair to either Chapel Hill’s existing taxpayers or folks developing less dense options.

From tonight’s staff memo [PDF]:

The following chart illustrates the effect of the proposed change for high density residential projects. The first column shows the required Recreation Space for a residential development using the current system. The second column shows the Recreation Space that would be required if the applicant develops the maximum allowable floor area under the proposed floor area based system, but without a reduction. The following columns show various reductions by percentage. The highlighted column is the recommended 50% reduction.

Proposed Reduction High Density Development Recreation Impact Fee

Here’s the remarks I made this evening (as usual – I edit on the fly so they reflect what I meant to say):

A few of you might recall that I have asked Council to provide a family friendly park, pocket parks along with other amenities Downtown these last 6 years. With that in mind, I’ve been following and commenting on the evolution of the proposed ordinance since it was first suggested. While the overall framework looks solid, tonight I’d like to highlight a glaring problem with that ordinance.

Higher density development Downtown has been promoted by calls for the need for more residents Downtown. More residents means more demand for high quality recreational opportunities.

The higher cost of development also applies to creating suitable recreational opportunities for these folks within or near their high density residences Downtown and elsewhere.

The proposed ratio of residential recreation space for TC1-3, RSSC, MUV and OI districts has been reduced – as the Parks Commission memo states – because “this provision may be necessary in order to encourage high density development in appropriate areas and to address the higher costs related to building high density development.” Note, no supporting material for that contention is given.

This ordinance has been in the pipeline since 2008 and the parameters for calculating much higher in lieu payments discussed since early this year. That hasn’t stopped proposals – like tonight’s Courtyard redevelopment project – from coming forward.

The proposed %50 reduction in the required ratio means that the burden of providing these facilities is shifted off the shoulders of the developers who are profiting from this type development squarely onto the rest of us residents in Chapel Hill.

As we’ve seen from the new crop of high density developments – East54 and Greenbridge, for instance – the community has invested significantly in infrastructure upgrades . These projects were granted substantial and beneficial variances above and beyond those allowed by the underlying zones. In one case a new zone – TC3 – was created to make the project work. In other words, we – the Chapel Hill community – have already supported this type of development with greater height limits, floor area ratios, reduced setbacks, reduced buffer, etc.

At least Greenbridge stepped up and accepted, as a condition of their SUP, a required payment to support the Hargraves Center.

Now the community is being asked to subsidize recreational opportunities for these high density developers who have already received the community’s largesse.

What do we know then? We know that there has been no evidence provided that supports the contention that having high density developers pay their fair share will impede the submission or approval of these type projects.

We know that reducing the required ratio will shift the cost of providing quality recreational opportunities onto the shoulders of the folks living outside these projects. This includes folks that have been waiting years, sometimes decades, for key unmet improvements they have already paid for with their taxes.

With projects like the University Square redevelopment, Courtyard and Obeys Creek, we know that delaying the implementation of this ordinance means with there is a good chance the best opportunities for developers to share the cost of providing public recreational facilities for the residents of their projects and nearby neighborhoods will be missed.

Please rethink the reductions in the high density requirements in light of the costs, the opportunities on the horizon and a common matter of fairness to the rest of Chapel Hill’s taxpaying public.

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…)

Orange County Voice Pushes Plan B

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Orange County Voice, another Orange County organization working on the trash transfer site issue along side Preserve Rural Orange, has picked up on the Plan B options I have posted on as recently as last Fall (Trash Talk:Commissioner Gordon “No Plan B”).

Bonnie Hauser, Tony Blake, Susan Walser (recent editorial) and other members have done their homework, presented their cases both for cost effectively using existing local transfer services (one of the options I proposed to the Orange County Commissioners starting several years ago) to partnering with UNC on Waste To Energy facilities [OCV research].

Feb. 11th they renewed their call as reported by Mark Schultz in the Chapel Hill News.

The report says vendors charge $40 to $50 per ton to dispose of waste using existing facilities. Two vendors run waste transfer facilities in Durham and are willing to take Orange County’s waste on a monthly or yearly basis, the report says.

By contrast, the report says Orange County estimates it would cost $47 to $62 per ton to dispose of waste using a new county transfer station. The difference comes in the county’s spending too much to buy property, spending too much to build the facility and locating it in a rural area that lacks water and sewer services, according to Orange County Voice.

The Commissioner’s have opted to research (Herald Sun, Jan. 27th, 2009) alternatives to siting and building a new facility in the particularly troublesome proposed Hwy 54 locale. The race is on to see if common sense and a keen eye towards the future will win out over the current course of events.

Trash Talk: Will We Stand United?

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

A Lion used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.

Aesop, 6th Century BC

Had an opportunity tonight to listen in on a group of concerned Hillsborough and southwest Orange County citizens discuss the potential siting of the trash transfer facility in their neighborhoods (Eno River Economic Zone – 2 sites and Hwy. 54 corridor – 3 sites).

A number of issues were raised at the meeting: apparent bias in site selection, the “surprise” announcement of the sites on Hwy. 54 and the Hillsborough zone, weighting of access to water and sewer hookups sans cost of making those connections, inadequate traffic studies, confusing or misapplied scoring of technical criteria, whether the BOCC would implement the more costly enclosed transfer site design previously proposed for Eubanks or shave some costs by going with an open pavilion, concern that Chapel Hill’s/Carrboro’s increased transportation costs were improperly used to justify removing Durham County’s transfer site from consideration, underestimation of water use (500 gals. a day!), possible “hidden” reasons for acquiring 82 acres ($7.5 million the current asking price) instead of a smaller tract, if incineration and ultimate in-county disposal got due attention and a slew of others which I’m sure the Rogers Road community are well acquainted with.

Nathan Robinson, the environmental engineer I wrote about Sept. 16th, a founding member of Orange County Community Awareness, gave the clearest deconstruction of the current solid waste transfer site selection mess that I’ve seen. Orange County’s consultant, Olver, should review his presentation to improve their own dog-n-pony show.

Nathan quickly out-lined the dimensions of the issue, discussing what a solid waste transfer site does, how it is laid out, managed and maintained before launching into an analysis, from his professional viewpoint as an environmental engineer, of the problems associated with the current siting process.

Nathan’s concerns mirror a number of mine, especially in terms of the weighting of the selection criteria, the incredibly confusing community criteria feedback procedure, biased scoring of the technical criteria, analysis of environmental consequences and the evaluation of Orange County’s waste creation “center of gravity” (my Mar. 9th, 2007 post on that issue: 2035 Orange County’s Garbage Center of Gravity? ).

As folks that have read my ‘blog know (or have heard me whinge on about local issues elsewhere), I promote reality-based decision-making using measurable criteria. Not all issues are amenable to this approach. Sometimes you have to make a subjective call – say as to the weighting of the importance of environmental justice in the current transfer site process. As I noted a couple years ago, the previous decision by Orange County’s Solid Waste Advisory Board to plop this new facility back on Eubanks sorely lacked rigor, objectivity and transparency.

I questioned SWAB’s ability to make a sound decision because they didn’t generally use objective, understandable, measurable criteria – technical or otherwise – and what criteria they did use were inequitably evaluated differently depending on context and perceived necessity.

Because of that disconnect, I lobbied the Board of Commissioners (BOCC) to create a more thoughtful process grounded by sound engineering principles, guided by community standards. I was encouraged by the process they adopted, but, just as the BOCC themselves admitted on return from their summer break, greatly concerned by Olver’s implementation.

The folks of Rogers Road shared my concerns and expressed their uneasiness at the BOCC’s Sept. 16th meeting.

Of the concerns expressed and the comments made at the meeting, two need serious highlighting.

First is the statements by Hillsborough’s elective folks – like Mayor Stevens and Commissioner Gering – to this community that “they didn’t know” about the process or potential siting of the solid waste facility near Hillsborough. I attended several Assembly of Orange County Governments meetings where these issues got a thorough airing. As a quick Google of minutes of these meetings document, Hillsborough’s reps had to know that these sites were in-play.

Second, and really the most encouraging of all the comments, was Nathan’s call to adopt a united and collaborative approach in dealing with these outstanding issues.

He said, clearly, that he has come to understand the depth of Rogers Roads concerns, their 36 year struggle to simply have promises made – promises completed. He said, clearly, that equitable environmental justice was a relevant criteria and that this was not a battle between neighbors. When a few comments from the folks assembled veered into the “us versus them” realm, Nathan and some of the other organizers rose to say that their emphasis was on the overall process – their focus to get an reliably objective analysis within the established criteria and remove the confusion around the more subjective components of Olver’s mission.

Finally, and the most heartening of all, Nathan said he was meeting with Rogers Road resident (and champion) Rev. Campbell today to see how they could work together. I well remember the landfill expansion fight – which pitted neighbor against neighbor. An attempt to avoid that rancor from the outset gives hope the community won’t fracture. Interestingly, the folks around the county starting to deal with UNC’s new airport authority, already recognize that a united approach is a better approach.

My hope? That the BOCC improves the process. That they realize that the solid waste transfer decision is a beginning. And they work knowing how these issues are resolved will set the template for the new landfill selection process.

If you’re just stumbling upon my site and want some background, here’s a few posts and links to get you up to speed:

Additional posts on the issue are available by doing a search on “trash” from the sidebar.

Trash Transfer Site: And then there were seven?

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Quick reminder about tonight’s Board of Commissioner’s working session on siting the Orange County trash transfer station – 5:30PM at the Southern Human Services Center [MAP] (agenda).

I continue to be concerned about the process – including the criteria – but hold out hope that a good result will eventually be crafted. More on tonight’s meeting here (OC), here (DTH), here (HS – registration still required!!!) and here (CHN).

From Neloa Jones and Sharon Cook:

Dear Friends,

Our Orange County Commissioners are getting closer to selecting a site to build a county-wide trash transfer station. Please support the Eubanks-Rogers Road neighborhood in their effort to remove Eubanks Road as a potential site for this new facility. Eleven potential sites have been identified. Most of the other sites are west of White Cross Road along Highway 54 or off of the I-40 and Old 86 intersection.

This attachment shows all of the potential sites [SEE GRAPHIC]. Every current and future garbage truck in the county will travel the selected route to the waste transfer station. From there all the trash will be dumped and loaded onto extended semi-tractor trailers for shipment out of the county.

Please show your support by attending the Orange County Commissioners’ Work Session on Tuesday, September 16th at 5:30 p.m at the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road (back behind the new Senior Center.) Please come, even if you will arrive late.

There are so many reasons why Eubanks Road is NOT the best place for this new facility, including:

– the opening of Morris Grove Elementary School and the school buses and families who now use this route on a daily basis;

– the future middle school and county park near Morris Grove;

– the continuing residential and business developments along Eubanks Road;

– and most importantly, the fact that the Eubanks-Rogers Road neighborhood has hosted our county’s trash facilities for the past 35 years!

If there is simply no way that you can attend the meeting on Tuesday, September 16th, please send an email to our county clerk at dbaker@co.orange.nc.us and ask her to forward your comments to each of the County Commissioners, and to include your comments in the public record.

Many of your neighbors in the Eubanks-Rogers Road have been working very hard to prevent our area from becoming the permanent trash center for the county. Please give them your support at this critical time in the decision making process. For more info about the issue, google Orange County, NC Waste Transfer Station.

I have carved out more time for civic activities of late. As part of that, I’ve thought about applying for Chapel Hill’s open position on Orange County’s Solid Waste Advisory Board. A recent shift in that Board’s leadership holds out some hope for not only a reasonable outcome on the trash transfer site but a new look at managing our county’s future waste stream in an ecological and economically sustainable fashion.

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