A Plaza for All? Looking for Chapel Hill’s Public Commons

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Last night I made a few remarks to Council before they codified a series of restrictions on the use of Peace and Justice Plaza Downtown by organized and disorganized activist.

We renamed the small patch of ground outside the Downtown post office to Peace and Justice Plaza to honor its central place in Chapel Hill’s progressive history. Before the Town acquired the property in the 70’s, its unique status as a slice of Federal land front-n-center in our community made it an invaluable refuge for local civil rights activist who wanted folks to see what others didn’t want to be seen – that even educated Chapel Hill bore the stain of racial inequality.

Why did Council slide these changes altering a historical dynamic through, undermining the meaning of Peace & Justice, without reaching out to the community? Why the desperate speed?

It appears because the Town couldn’t figure out how to evict one remaining protester who by most descriptions was a homeless man using the Occupy movement as an excuse for staying. Rather than address that specific issue, Council chose to hastily adopt a potentially very chilling approach.

Until we see specific guidelines, drafted out of sight of the community – chiefly by the Town Manager – we will not know.

For at least 50 years, a small patch of ground outside Downtown’s Post Office has served as our Town commons. This historical precedent was set by local civil rights activists who sought to circumvent Town and State attempts to shutter the voices raised against racial inequality.

They sought refuge on that small piece of Federal land because efforts to evict would become – literally- a “Federal case”. Sadly, they expected Federal courts would be more sympathetic in supporting their Constitutional right to assemble, to speak, to petition and to ask for redress of grievances than our local community.

Over time, protection of those fundamental rights has shifted towards local governments. Chapel Hill citizens, some at great costs, have stood up and fought to maintain and expand key civic values including equality in their recognition of same-sex partners.

I was reminded of how unique our community is during a 2003 anti-war protest in Raleigh.
While his supporters got a front-row seat, protesters were herded into a chain link enclosure well away from President Bush’s cavalcade. Out of sight, out of mind. By then, the Federal courts had decided that a bureaucratically proscribed “designated free speech zone” was acceptable.

Tonight you are being asked to make what appears to be a few “minor” changes to Town ordinances. That is not the case.

The suggested changes allow the Manager to dictate what neatly fits into a particular idea of reasonable discourse. Times, locations and extent of exercise of Rights will be determined by the somewhat vague guidelines he as his staff deem necessary.

I’m disappointed that the recent occupation of the one place in our community reserved and cherished for free assembly didn’t serve as a lesson in how to preserve and even promote more civic discourse. Rather it seems to have served as a call to arms to cordon off what makes some folks uncomfortable.

In a free and democratic society we must err on the side of openness and access to the public commons. We must tolerate a process that can be a bit unsettling and untidy.

There are vanishingly few public spaces left for assembly of citizens. If not Peace & Justice, where?

During the Chapel Hill 2020 process Downtown has been touted as the place for the community to come to meet with many proposals for an enhanced public square.

Now is the time to ask – “How public?”

Please put off further amendments constraining our public commons until our community has fully weighed in.

I got into a bit of a discussion with Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt about a loaded equivalence described in the Town legal brief.

The memo describes a scenario where two groups at polar extremes want to occupy the plaza. The examples used: Nazis and Jewish community, KKK and NAACP members, Anarchist and peace officers.

Of course, the hatred expressed by the Nazi and KKK members against the Jewish and African-American communities is well-documented and exemplified by horrendous acts.

I learned a little about Anarchism in university 30+ years ago and have since endeavored to learn more after the recent Yate’s Motor occupation and police raid. From what I’ve read and learned from some of the local adherents, Anarchism is not a political movement but, rather, a political philosophy with many avenues of expression.

There is nothing intrinsic to that political philosophy requiring vilification, especially at the level suggested by using the KKK and Nazis, of the police.

It was inappropriate of staff, and surprising of the majority of Council, to endorse such an equivalence.

Easthom: Let’s Revisit Lake Jordan

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

Tomorrow Council member Laurin Easthom is petitioning her colleagues to sharpen up their decision to allow Orange Water and Sewer (OWASA) tap Lake Jordan for less than dire and near catastrophic need.

Several weeks ago Chapel Hill approved an amendment to language of the 2001 Water and Sewer Management, Planning and Agreement (WSMPBA) which gave OWASA much more leeway in tapping OWASA’s 5 million gallon per day (5Mg/d) allocation from Lake Jordan. At that time there wasn’t much sustained discussion of the long-term impacts or broader dimensions before adopting the amendment.

I attended the Jan. 27th OWASA Board meeting where the proposed loosening of the reins was first discussed and then approved [MINUTES].

In selling the need for the modification to his fellow board members, Gordon Merklein, the Chair of OWASA’s Board and UNC’s Executive Director Real Estate Development related a conversation he had with his colleague Carolyn Elfland, UNC’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Services. He said that Carolyn expressed concern that UNC wouldn’t have access to that 5Mg/d allocation and desired an agreement that solidified UNC’s future ability, through OWASA, to get at Lake Jordan’s supplies.

That was a bit disconcerting as local policymakers had fairly consistently rejected tapping Lake Jordan for anything other than the most extreme of needs.

Not only have elected folks the last two decades worked hard to secure and protect the watersheds OWASA claimed were sufficient to supply our needs for the next 100 years but adopted land-use and building ordinances that conserve the resources we already have.

Of course, as I said at the time (Water,Water,Everywhere…), at the base of this discussion is a decision, which the community has supported, to live within our local footprint. Time after time the community has been in the forefront of protecting that valuable asset – most recently challenging the County’s siting of a trash transfer station in a critical watershed area and questioning OWASA’s proposed timbering operations.

The loose language of the adopted amendment puts that community-supported principle at risk.

Luckily Carrboro, a party to the agreement, stepped in and rejected the current proposal (Water, Water, Everywhere? Carrboro Holds The Line).

In light of their rejection and the continued concerns of local environmentalist, I applaud Laurin’s effort to put this decision back before her colleagues for closer inspection.

Council Member Laurin Easthom petitions the Council to place the Water and Sewer Management, Planning, and Boundary Agreement resolution (2011-02-28/R-5) recently passed by the Council back on the agenda for further Council discussion.

Radical Shift in Vision For Downtown

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

Just got back from another presentation/planning charrette covering the Town’s new Downtown Development Action Plan and Framework.

The plan, created with input from UNC, the Downtown Partnership, Downtown businesses and local citizens, is supposed to look at economic, cultural and social development opportunities over the next 5 to 8 years and layout a fairly structured framework for encouraging change that meets both these goals and those encapsulated in the Town’s 2000 Downtown Small-Area Plan, Comprehensive Plan and other relevant guidelines created over the last decade.

Today was the first opportunity the public has had to review Kling-Stubbins’, a Raleigh planning consultancy, realization of that input into an initial proposal.

First reaction? Wow!

Back in April I attended both public input sessions to lobby for my vision of Downtown. I made a number of practical and visionary suggestions (as CitizenWill readers might expect) of how we could improve Downtown including using ongoing development initiatives like the University Square project to catalyze action. Today I saw quite a few of my and other folks suggestions captured and integrated into the proposed framework. Very encouraging.

The framework sketches out a series of evolutions that go far beyond a 5 to 8 year horizon: a new grid of east-west/north-south roads, linear parks stretching along Pritchard and Roberson creating several north-south axes through Town, creation of smaller human-scale city blocks to encourage greater pedestrian access, a multi-model transit station along a corridor running on the east margin of Parking Lot #5 (folks might remember my lobbying for such a corridor and its rejection by Council and RAM Development), an emphasis on work-force/mixed income housing OVER luxury condos, more parking especially along the margins to build up capacity, along with a slew of transformative elements to make Downtown physically and psychologically more productive.

On the planning side, Kling-Stubbins recognized that the overlapping jurisdictions between Downtown’s TC-2 zone and the Northside NCD (neighborhood conservation district) presented some serious challenges both for the neighborhoods and managing controlled growth along the Rosemary St. corridor (principally to the north). Addressing the incompatibility between the currently approved Downtown development projects and the maintenance of Northside, Cameron and Pine Knoll neighborhoods’ integrity is a key issue facing our Town. The framework presented this afternoon didn’t shy away from this issue but, instead, made solving the clash of competing objectives a priority.

In the “everything old is new again”, a few elements, like recreating the informal alley that ran through Fowler’s parking lot to connect Rosemary St. and Franklin St. to offload some traffic and add additional intersection corners (which attract and support high rent business), were rolled out. When I asked the consultants why they resurrected historical components of Downtown that I thought had worked, they admitted they were not aware of the history but had derived these proposed changes from first principles.

Another encouraging aspect of today’s presentation was how data-driven the process Kling-Stubbins used.

Analysis showed that, in spite of Council’s rhetoric in selling the ridiculous Lot #5 project, there are actually quite a few “eyes on the street”. Peak pedestrian traffic at Columbia and Franklin was over 10,000 folks. Consultants remarked that the high pedestrian counts throughout Downtown indicated quite healthy and enviable conditions especially in comparison to other benchmark college towns (Athens, Austin, State College).

Market evaluations show a need for Downtown work-force housing in lieu of more luxury condos. Again, contrary to recent Council policy.

For all my glee there are some sticking points – including incorporating wider public input, making Downtown neighborhoods partners and using TIFs (tax incremental financing, a problematic form of tax transfer payments) to pay for required infrastructure.

The Downtown Partnership will be posting the slide presentation, backing analysis and other materials used today on their website tomorrow (DownTownChapelHill.com).

I plan to whinge on more about the positives and negatives once those materials are available.

So, executive summary: framework is shaping up, has integrated public input, presents a revolutionary vision of Downtown the implementation of which will take decades.

Can The Carolina North Process Apply To UNC’s Bingham Research Facility?

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Another issue on tonight’s Orange County Board of Commissioner’s (BOCC) agenda involved UNC’s Bingham Research Facility ( report on UNC’s response to environmental violations and plans for expanding the facility [PDF]).

There’s been a number of recent (Chapel Hill News) stories (INDY) outlining the numerous environmental and policy missteps [PDF] made over the last few years.

Local community group Preserve Rural Orange (PRO) has done a great job keeping public attention on UNC’s problems at the facility. They have also provided a slew of good suggestions to address the growing concerns.

Recently appointed Associate Vice Chancellor Bob Lowman, who has the unenviable task of straightening out years of shoddy operations, spoke on behalf of the facility this evening. He pointed out that 8 of 10 key issues PRO raised earlier this year have already been addressed, not because, as he said “they were working on them” but because “they did the right thing”.

He related his new management approach – air problems quickly, address key concerns expeditiously and keep the community in the loop.

Folks from PRO responded well to the tenor of his comments (there was a bit of a gasp when he revealed the plan to build an on-site 500,000 gallon water tank)

After his presentation I felt that UNC was back on track by picking Bob to lead the effort.

That said, I did ask the BOCC to consider jointly creating a framework with UNC for managing the growth of UNC’s Orange County facilities. This new framework would resemble the one Chapel Hill elective officials, staff and community members used to create the Carolina North development agreement.

While I don’t believe all aspects of the Carolina North process apply to this new expansion, key lessons involving fiscal equity, transportation infrastructure, environmental monitoring and remediation and public participation could certainly be applied in addressing some of the issues arising from this project.

For instance, one citizen mentioned that the White Cross Volunteer Fire Department was scrambling to get $900 to cover expenses dealing with protecting the existing Bingham Facility (which it appears doesn’t even have rudimentary safety gear like a sprinkler system). The $14.5M NIH grant recently awarded UNC for expanding the Bingham Facility will spur the creation of $60+million worth of facilities. $900 a year won’t cover it.

Bob Lowman immediately offered to redress this financial inequity, which is fantastic, but depending on an ad hoc approach when we have four years experience in creating a structured, transparent and fairly thorough framework for highlighting and negotiating solutions to these type of problems makes little sense.

Hopefully the BOCC will consider using those hard-earned lessons to manage UNC’s migration into rural Orange.

Library or Lot #5?

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Here is what I meant to say at this evening’s Council meeting.

Like a lot of my remarks, I find myself editing on the fly, so what I managed to get out in less than 3 minutes wasn’t quite what follows but I believe I made the points I needed.

The simple summary?

We can’t do the Lot #5 (140 West) project and the Library expansion together. Lot #5 hasn’t met its goals, the cost/benefit ratio is decidedly out-of-whack, the necessity quite clearly not there anymore.

Further, the Library expansion project needs to be delayed until taxpayers can bear the total cost. Beyond that, we need to request an extension from the North Carolina Local Government Commission to allow issuing bonds beyond the current deadline so when it is fiscally prudent we can move expeditiously.

Finally, public participation, once again, is barely considered.

Tonight’s remarks:

In 2010 you will be making several key budgetary decisions whose impacts will span the next decade – the Lot #5 (West 140) and Library expansion – two examples.

Lot #5 represents the greatest and riskiest fiscal liability going forward that can be safely dispensed with.

Part of the sales pitch made by some on this Council is we needed this project to kick-start development Downtown.

With Greenbridge nearly built, University Square poised for redevelopment, approval of Grove Park – which will displace the affordable Townhouse Apts. on Hillsborough St. with luxury condos – and other Downtown projects on the way it’s clear that we don’t need that supposed stimulus Lot #5 brings anymore.

It’s time to reconsider this troubled project especially given that:

1) the cost reductions that allowed RAM to lower prices haven’t been significantly passed on to the taxpayer,

2) the number of units pre-sold hasn’t grown in-line with price reductions (33 units pre-sold so far, down from the reported 2008 commitment of 35).

3) the open-ended nature of the cost of the environmental cleanup is still being underplayed,

4) the University at University Square has already put forward a much more sound, interesting and integrative proposal (123 West Franklin) for that stretch of Franklin St. than the expensive – at least to the Chapel Hill taxpayer – Lot #5,

5) still up in the air how we will borrow the money – COPs, TIFs, etc. In any case, however we borrow the $9-10M or more it will limit the Town’s ability to prudently respond in funding core needs,

6) and from what I can see in RAM’s recent missive ( RAM Dec. 22nd, 2009 letter [PDF]) no effort has been made to involve the nearby business and residential community in discussing mitigation of the type of construction-related problems that have plagued Greenbridge or even apprise their future neighbors of current developments (let alone present a coherent and consistent story to the local press).

Three years out and no significant improvement in the proposal. Three extensions to the contract granted by Council. Lot #5 should be shelved now so that the Town can take projects that are more central to its charter.

What does this have to do with the Library?

I want to see the Library expanded but now is not the time.

The memos before you [here] paint a fairly rosy picture of the borrowing in terms of adopting new debt but they don’t do a very good job in putting that increased debt in context of our already astonishing – at least by historical Chapel Hill standards – debt load.

Memo #A, in fact, disingenuously characterizes the increase to homeowners using examples of property valuations well below ($200K) the Chapel Hill baseline.

Look at the chart in Memo #A. The rate of increase in the debt load – that rapidly increasing impact on the Town’s flexibility in borrowing – running our debt right up to the debt ceiling for our AAA bond rating – starts in late 2012 and zooms steeply from there.

Of course, besides adding new debt that and anticipated G.O. additions will account for roughly several cents on the current tax rate while the real kicker is the growth in cost of Library operations – which appears to be even more significant.

Worse, the continued structural instability and weakness of our economy gets short shrift.

Now is not the time to take on a large forward liability.

Making a decision based on these figures tonight will be guaranteeing a tax increase or steep cuts or just ignoring basic obligations two years hence.

Here are my suggestions:

1) Shelve Lot #5. We can have a Library expansion – hopefully starting next year – or we can have Lot #5 – we can’t handle both.

2) The Library borrowing should be delayed until prevailing economic conditions show signs of improvement – strengthened sales tax revenues, stable fund markets which will lend money at a more favorable rate – say less than %100 of the 20 year Treasury bond ratio.

3) Have staff prepare a request to NC Local Government Commission to extend Chapel Hill’s time limit for issuing these bonds so the Council and community have adequate time to plan.

4) Use the established public budget process which kicks off next week [2/3/2010 7:00 PM Council Chambers Townhall) to discuss the Library in light of all our Town’s needs – competitive staff wages, affordable housing reserve funds, the growing retirement fund deficit (Unfunded Liabilities: Pay As You Go Not Sustainable) among many others.

Last Fall many of many on Council obligingly participated in a special “emergency” meeting to acquire Dawson Hall for police and other key Town services. That urgent need hasn’t gone away – the police department’s facility still needs attention – why isn’t that part of the rosy projections?

Our citizens deserve a diligent evaluation of the cost of the Library expansion and operations within the context of our total budget and foreseeable needs – not wants.

They also deserve to participate – not just get an agenda item 3 days before a decision is scheduled.

5) Finally, postponing tonight will give you the opportunity to carefully consider this proposal in light of all your priorities, give you time to evaluate the rosy picture drawn by these memos against your own understanding of the economy and think about how to engage the community during this weekend’s Council retreat.

In addition, it buys needed time for the public to review the current proposal, attend the budget sessions, ask their questions, get their answers and finally weigh in in a thoughtful manner.

Thank you.

[UPDATE: Council Postpones Consideration]

From tonight’s Council flash report:

Consideration of Proceeding with the Library Expansion Project: The Council considered the project schedule and associated costs for expansion of the Chapel Hill Public Library. The Council delayed action and indicated its desire to discuss the expansion costs in greater detail and in the context of the entire Town budget. The Council stated it wants to know what level of funding Orange County will provide toward Library services.

Orange County provides no capital support toward the Town’s Library expenses; this includes all past and present Library construction costs, debt service for same, equipment or special project costs. County support toward Library operating expenses has remained at $250,000 since 1995 and represents 11 percent of this year’s Library operating budget. About 12,000 of the Library’s patrons live in Orange County outside Chapel Hill limits. The number of materials borrowed by these patrons was 386,000 items last year. This represents approximately 40 percent of the Library’s annual circulation.

Carolina North: June 15th’s Missing Documents

Monday, June 15th, 2009

Quick note, the Town, this morning, has fixed the links and added the missing Carolina North material.

Obviously well less than 24 hours prior to the “public hearing”. Certainly undercuts claims of transparency and support of public review.

In any case, here is tonight’s agenda with the missing supporting material:

Carolina North: All UNC Students to Pay Parking Fees?

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Councilmember Jim Ward and Mayor Kevin Foy just floated the idea in tonight’s Carolina North work session of charging all UNC students, in conjunction with the University, a fee for bringing their cars to Chapel Hill.

This Council already floated the idea of charging more for Downtown parking, an idea not only at odds with both the Downtown Parking task force recommendations [PDF] (of which I was a member) but also the Friends of Downtown, a group of Chapel Hill business owners and other concerned citizens who want to improve the Downtown experience for visitors and residents alike.

It is clear that Carolina North will shove roughly $800,000 to $2.4 million costs per year (spiking to much more 6-7 years out) onto Chapel Hill’s citizens’ shoulders, but creating a new fee based on your reason for living here doesn’t make sense.

Tar Heel Basketball, Proven Excellence

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Though I wished UNC had clinched the ACC championship, tonight’s 89-72 stomping of Michigan State provided a conclusive and satisfying end to UNC’s great 2009 basketball season.

In case you haven’t heard the rumble rolling forth from Downtown, UNC fans are as jubilant as the players.

I’ve had the uncanny luck to have seen the 1982, 1993, 2005 and, now, the 2009 national championship celebrations and this one, at least as of 1:35am, seemed to be one of the best managed – no burning cars, major fires or parking lots full of triaged injured fans. Kudos to Town staff, UNC/Chapel Hill/State and local law enforcement, our fire and rescue personnel (who, I presume, missed most of the game prepping for the turnout) and all the other folks that made this year’s celebration a reasonably safe affair.

Congratulations to Roy Williams, the team and the University for an exciting demonstration of excellence.

Who needs an argument?

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

As I was reminded recently, some folks can’t tell the difference between thoughtful disputation and just plain, ornery, contradiction. When I take a position contradictory to the established order, I always try to work from a reasoned basis. I also try to find the humor in what is sometimes a tense process.

Man: An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.
Other Man: No it isn’t!
Man: Yes it is! ’tisn’t just contradiction.
Other Man: Look, if I “argue” with you, I must take up a contrary position!
Man: Yes but it isn’t just saying ‘no it isn’t’.
Other Man: Yes it is!
Man: No it isn’t!
Other Man: Yes it is!
Man: No it isn’t!
Other Man: Yes it is!
Man: No it ISN’T! Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says.

Funny stuff, easily applicable to real world issues. For instance, I’m looking for more reasoned debate on Carolina North and a little less reflexive contradiction.

Carolina North: Community needs to wake up and show up!

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

[UPDATE]

The Daily Tar Heel’s Emily Stephenson chimes in here (DTH ‘blogs). A story on yesterday’s poor turnout here.

[ORIGINAL]

Earlier today (Nov. 19th), UNC’s Board of Trustees approved the draft Carolina North design guidelines making the proposal official UNC policy.

This evening, the first in a series of informational/public feedback sessions on Carolina North was held. With the creation of the Carolina North development agreement well on its way, the Council’s explicit call to advisory boards to attend, if possible, and the aggressive schedule to meet next July’s commitment, I expected a fairly full house.

Crowded house? Not the case.

The meeting started with roughly two dozen citizens in attendance. By the time Jack wrapped his presentation covering UNC’s design intent the group of interested citizenry was down to 19. At the end of the Dr. Owen’s presentation, covering the development agreement process, only 17 non-staff/non-press folks remained. Of those, eleven were drawn from the “usual suspects” ( Fred Black, Joyce Brown, Fred Stang, David Godschalk, George Cianciolo, Lynne Kane, Mike Collins, Loren Hintz, Ed Harrison, Bob Henshaw, me).

Disappointing! As Carolina North’s development director Jack Evans noted this evening, the formal process for approval has begun. The first phase of Carolina North is on its way.

Chapel Hill residents need to wake up and show up.

Every resident will eventually be affected by Carolina North’s development. At least 5 advisory boards will be consulted on both the outline and details of the development agreement. Community groups like the Friends of Bolin Creek and Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth (well represented this evening) could play key roles in shaping the discussion.

There is quite a bit of work before the community. If we follow Pal Alto’s trajectory, the development agreement – which is, as Dr. Owens pointed out again this evening, essentially a binding legal contract – could swell to 200+ pages over the next 8 months (that’s 25 or more pages of detailed legal requirements per month – a heavy responsibility). Those pages will dictate development over a long period. Once set, unlike zoning ordinances, the ability to tweak conditions requires mutual agreement. Mistakes could be difficult to correct.

The community has a tremendous opportunity to shape the outcome at Carolina North. Both UNC and Chapel Hill’s Town Council agreed to involve the public at every point in the process. But, so far, Chapel Hill’s citizens have not turned out.

The negotiations between UNC and the Town will continue to accelerate. The momentum is building rapidly. My concern is that by the time citizens go into reactive-mode – recognizing missing elements in the plan, trying to wedge in protections beyond those outlined – the inertia will be too great and the time too short to significantly change course.

Now is the time for public concern. Now is the time for community involvement.

Because of the extensive impacts Carolina North will have on this community over the next several decades, I’ve asked Council to “bang the drum loudly”, to go beyond simply inviting the public into the process. We need to seek out folks, develop multiple avenues of engagement and draw them into the discussion. That said, at some point it comes down to whether our citizens want to shoulder their part of the burden and work on behalf of folks that will live here decades hence.

Chancellor Thorp on HWA Closure: Not until we have to…

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

UNC’s Chancellor Holden Thorp takes a postion (“Carolina North: A Glass Half-Full Perspective”) on Horace-William Airport’s closure.

One of the most vexing issues, though, has been the future of Horace Williams Airport. As you know, it occupies the heart of the Carolina North acreage. It’s the flattest part of the tract and, therefore, the best place to build Carolina North. So we have to close it.

Now, I realize it doesn’t take a lot of analysis to figure out that closing the airport is important for the future of Carolina North. But figuring out HOW to close the airport . . . that’s another story.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to this. The AHEC program is an extremely important asset to this University and to our state. Our doctors, nurses, other health professionals, and our MedAir pilots are as committed public servants as you will find. The work they do and the service they provide are fundamental to who we are as a university. And we are telling them that we have to close their airport to build Carolina North.

I have analyzed all the options, and I’m convinced that we really do have to close the airport to make Carolina North all that it must be. I’m equally convinced that we should fully support the airport authority authorized by the General Assembly as the best way to pursue creation of an airport in Orange County. It gives the county zoning authority, and it turns over the siting and development to a public body with greater expertise than we have.

For AHEC and MedAir, I think a move to RDU for the short-term is workable. But for the long-term, we owe it to our doctors to appoint the airport authority to see if there’s a better alternative.

We have said all along that we wouldn’t close Horace Williams Airport until we had to. With today’s challenging economic climate, we anticipate that funding for initial Carolina North construction likely will be delayed. Our state appropriation for planning and infrastructure for the Law School relocation to Carolina North is frozen, at least for now. And Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc., our partner for the Innovation Center, has put new projects on hold, although they have affirmed their interest in our project.

So, as I posted last night, the University maintains their stance that closure is contingent on Carolina North’s building projects moving forward.

I am disappointed that Holden continues to maintain that the only path to serving AHEC’s needs involves a new general aviation facility. This fixation makes no sense at this point and counters UNC’s own consultant’s recommendations to move AHEC to RDU.

Holden is “convinced that we should fully support the airport authority authorized by the General Assembly as the best way to pursue creation of an airport in Orange County. ”

Sure, the airport authority, with the sovereign powers the State granted it, is probably the best way to get an airport built in Orange County over local residents’ objections.

Where, though, is his concern for the Authority’s other duty – to factually justify the necessity of a general aviation facility? The Authority’s duty to “support the missions of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or the University of North Carolina Health Care System” has to balance against the significant local impacts, the $60-100 million price tag, the infrastructure costs shoved onto local residents.

I applaud Holden’s willingness to engage the community in the discussion via his ‘blog. I wish other local officials took a lesson from him.

I already left him a comment on his post. I hope folks weigh in with their thoughtful and considered input.

Hat tip to Fred Black for highlighting Holden’s comments.

Carolina North: Nov. 18th Meeting Notes

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Tonight’s meeting (background) was well attended . Many of the folks attending were there to send the message “No Airport!”. Chapel Hill News reporter Eric Ferriri did a pretty good job covering that part of the meeting over at OrangeChat.

The Chancellor was missing in action. I think that is two of three meetings now.

The Council-Trustee sessions allocate two public comment periods, before and after the main meeting. Jim Ward, responding to tonight’s turnout, suggested doubling the time for public commentary from 10 to 20 minutes. I believe the 8 folks signed up had adequate time to get our points in (though I could easily spend a few hours going through the detail divergences in UNC’s proposals, ways to flesh out the development agreement, setting goals/metrics/methodologies to measure compliance, etc.).

After thanking staff for producing a nearly complete agenda a few days before this meeting (unlike the few hour lead times of the last two meetings), I took a few moments to ask some questions and add some suggestions to my earlier list.
(more…)

12:13AM Jet Set

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

[UPDATE] As Fred notes, this was a Cessna 550 probably configured like the photo below:

These type planes are used both for charter and commercial commuter purposes.

[ORIGINAL]

I have lived near Horace-Williams Airport for about 16 years. During the recent uproar over siting a new UNC-sponsored general aviation facility somewhere in the OC, I’ve had a few folks ask what kind of traffic to expect.

There’s the early morning cacophony of AHEC cranking up their prop-driven fleet. The mid-day buzz of single engine vehicles. And, on a game night like this evening, the late-night roar of corporate jets.

By the way, here’s a nice chronology of UNC’s back-tracking on their “no jets” policy. Required reading for anyone interested in possible outcomes at the proposed new facility.

Carolina North: Oct. 15th Development Agreement Hearing

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

Quick reminder that there is another joint meeting between Council and UNC’s BOT representatives tonight (Oct. 22nd) from 7 – 9:30 pm at the Chapel Hill Public Library (no agenda online – boo!).

Tonight’s meeting continues to flesh out the policy surrounding use of a development agreement for Carolina North (previous posts here and here).

More on the nuances of development agreements here: Exactions, Dedications and Development Agreements Nationally and in California: When and How Do the Dolan/Nollan Rules Apply [PDF] and Development Agreements: Bargained for Zoning That is Neither Illegal Contract or Conditional Zoning [PDF]. Description of some possible legal pitfalls here:

  1. NJ Supreme Court Holds that a Development Company Cannot be Required to Pay More than its Fair Share of Off-Site Improvements, Irrespective of Development Agreement
  2. Zoning Requires Uniformity and CA Appeals Court Says Developer Agreement is Not a Substitute for Rezoning
  3. DURAND V. IDC BELLINGHAM, LLC:TOWNS FORSALE?

The Durand case is interesting. The development agreement between Bellingham and a developer was set aside by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court because “rezoning action was tainted and improperly influenced by the presence of a large cash gift from a developer”. In that case, an $8 million payment to the municipality for “general use” in return for zoning consideration was considered improper.

Here’s a brief outline of my comments to Council at the Oct. 15th Public Hearing on Guiding Development at Carolina North (video of the meeting here).

Tonight you are being asked to approve a resolution that does three things: start the development agreement process, create a base zone for Carolina North and agree to a timetable.

I endorse moving forward with this resolution
  - flexibility and predictability
    - caution: flexibility is a double-edge sword - make sure requests comply with:
        + LUMO, comprehensive plan 
    - exactions outside normal zoning law
    - secondary agreements - lease, easement, contract extending reach of 
    - mechanism to extend beyond term of team members
      - process must live outside of tenure of negotiators 
         + not an agreement between Mayor Foy and Chairman Perry but current
           and future Councils/UNC BOTs
      - "escape hatch" - resolution doesn't bind us to development
         agreement

CONCERNS

-- process
   - transparency
     - ex parte communications - no side comments like Barry Jacobs/UNC airport
   - evidentiary process 
     - apply to some part of the process
     - establish factual basis for agreement within a couple quasi-judicial proceedings
   - public hearings/outreach
     - multiple checkpoints in process - let public know of progress
     - website FAQ/all questions asked by public, answers online
     - "bang drum loudly" - seek out neighborhoods, don't expect folks at public 
       hearings

-- other questions
   - impact fees not normally assessed elsewhere, how does this
     fit with fiscal equity
   - "freeze" rules, most examples compatible underlying zone
      new zone - explain flexibility
   - application of general development philosophy, requirements to out-parcels...
     - Airport Dr.
     - Duke Energy parcel
     - method to incorporate other parcels under guiding philosophy

-- schedule - aggressive - huge undertaking - lots of moving parts
   - number of concerns need to be resolved ASAP
     - clear list of UNC "will and will nots"
       + LAC process has already high-lighted a few/formalize

-- new zone
   - developed outside of but in cooperation with planning board, highly public
   - OI-4 controls a built-out footprint, new zone more open ended
   - new zone needs to go beyond "base"
     + zone will act as safety net
     + effectively manage unanticipated edge cases, etc.

-- fiscal, transportation, other studies not ready
   - need to merge their schedules into dev. agreement schedule

-- requirements complimenting/exceeding zone and LUMO guidelines
   - new task force
     - HWCC environmental elements - light pollution, air particulate
       + measurable goals parking ratios, noise, particulates, light, etc.

-- specific metrics - "best in class"
   - Arizona/Hawaii light pollution
   - air particulates 
     - energy budget/carbon footprint
     - AIA 2030

-- enforcement provisions - look at "best practice"
   - loose enough to manage mistakes, tight enough to control growth

-- secondary legal agreements 
   - usually implement elements outside zoning requirements
   - who will develop - lawyers from Town or UNC or both?
   - who pays?

-- multi-governmental negotiations/agreements
   -  Is there adequate time for multi-governmental cooperation?

-- cost management
  - defray costs to Town
    - building permit fees won't cover upfront planning dept. costs
     + chip away good idea 

Airport Authority: They Did What?

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Here’s the specific sub-section of Senate Bill 1925 authorizing the creation of the Airport Authority.

The heart-rending bit, at least to me, is 116‑274, “General powers.”

(a) An authority created under this Article has all powers that a city or county has under Articles 1 through 7 of Chapter 63 of the General Statutes and, in regard to financing capital expenditures and operations, shall have such powers as are delegated to or conferred upon the constituent institutions or the University of North Carolina Health Care System. Notwithstanding other provisions of law, both regulations adopted by an authority under this Article and development regulations adopted by a county or municipality under Article 18 of Chapter 153A or Article 19 of Chapter 160A of the General Statutes shall be applicable to land owned by and the approaches to land owned by an authority created under this Article. In the event the regulations conflict, the more restrictive regulation applies.

UNC-CH has been granted sovereign powers normally reserved to municipalities. Setting this precedent, even in what appears to be the constrained case of building an airport to support NC-AHEC, carries terrible portent.

PART IV. ALLOW THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA TO CREATE AN AIRPORT AUTHORITY

The rest after the fold:

(more…)

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