David Shreve on Economic Growth

“Does Growth Really Pay for Itself?” 

David Shreve, former Professor of Economic History, University of Virginia, discusses the myths that shape local economic development policy, including the widely held myth that growth pays for itself and benefits the entire community.

Dr. Shreve will speak at the Chapel Hill Public Library on Wednesday, April 29th, 6:00 – 7:30 pm.

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Michael Nicklas Addresses Climate Change Through Building Design


Want to save money and save the planet, too? Mike Nicklas shared his insights on Sustainable Building design on Tuesday, April 14, 2015  at the Chapel Hill Public Library. The event was sponsored by the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT). See Daily Tarheel Article.

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Two Great Upcoming Events

Join us for these two great community events:

Everyone is invited to an informational Open House sponsored by the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT) on Sunday, April 12, 2015 from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm, at the Larkspur Community Center in Chapel Hill. Worried about this region’s rapid growth, taxes, traffic? Come share your concerns! Interactive exhibits, refreshments, childcare. Information: chalt.org.

Want to save money and save the planet, too? Come hear a free talk by solar building expert Mike Nicklas on Tuesday, April 14, 2015 from 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm, Chapel Hill Public Library, Room B. Refreshments served. Sponsored by the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT). Details: chalt.org

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Transportation Concerns at Obey Creek

This speech was made by a CHALT supporter at the March 16th Council Public Hearing. Martin Feinstein speaks on the trasportation challenges presented by the Obey Creek proposal. See this great graphic from Whatsupwithobeycreek to see the traffic challenges ahead if Obey Creek agreement is approved.

Mayor and Council, I am Martin Feinstein, and I speak to you tonight as a resident of the Westwood neighborhood and member of the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town.

The Obey Creek project you are engineering will have large town-wide transportation impacts, on driving, biking or traveling by bus. If the Town does not ensure that all the transportation components fit together, we could end up with seniors who will avoid walking for fear of being hit by vehicles, bicyclists that can’t commute to work, and drivers using cars just get across the highway.

As things now stand, the parts do not fit together. For example:

  • The land required for the necessary new entrance ramp to southbound 15/501 from Fordham is currently tied up in a SUP in process for a development on the NW corner of the intersection.
  • No attempt has been made to provide bicycle or pedestrian connectivity between Obey Creek and Glenn Lennox and Ephesus-Fordham.DOT has recently widened South Columbia Rd after years of careful negotiation. Now the Town is looking at creating dedicated lanes for the MLK corridor all the way to the James Taylor bridge. Any change to this new road would be costly.
  • The Obey Creek traffic study shows a 90% vehicle increase on 15/501, with rosy assumptions about how many people will take the bus or bicycle. Traffic on 15-501 is bad now at peak travel times. What is the long range plan to mitigate congestion on 15-501? How will we pay for it?
  • The Obey Creek trip generation numbers used in the study are too low, because they don’t include traffic from anticipated new development in Ephesus Fordham, Glen Lennox, and the Edge, which together will produce at least three times as much new traffic as will Obey Creek itself.
  • CH Transit is underfunded. Transit will require at least 3 new buses by 2022 just for Obey Creek. You know already that we will be forced to provide significant tax subsidies just to maintain bus service at current levels.

We desperately need you to determine the total traffic impact that will result from the massive amount of new development you have approved, and that means conducting a Town-wide traffic impact study, something the Town promised to do more than a year ago.

With careful planning that insures all modes of transportation mesh properly and that the solutions are funded and constructed in the proper sequence, Obey Creek can be successfully integrated into the town’s existing urban fabric. Without such planning, you may well end up creating a traffic nightmare that degrades the quality of life for many thousands of present and future town residents.

The data in the following table is sourced from Town Financial Analysis documents, Traffic Impact Analysis or SUP documents.New Vehicle Trips are from the Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) studies or projected(*) from these references. Thus it can be seen that the total new traffic from EF, GL and TE is at least 3 times greater than Obey Creek projections.
ItemDescription ObeyCreek EphesusFordham GlenLennox TheEdge
Build OutSq Ft 1.48 Million 2.13 Million 1.7 Million net new 1.6 Million
ResidentialSq Ft 797,000 1.22 Million 1.0 Millionnet new 700,000
RetailSq Ft 327,000 460,000 130,000net new 140,000
Vehicle Trips 15,858 20,000* 16,557 16,000*

Note: sq ft for residential and retail do not sum to the total build out sq ft because there are various office and hotel components not listed.

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Expected Impacts Obey Creek

Expected Impacts Obey CreekThere’s a new blog in town, http://whatsupwithobeycreek.com  Check it out.

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Elliott Road Project Update

Proposed Village Plaza

March 31, Update: Construction has begun on the Perry Towers, the first project in the Town Council experiment into form based code.

The Town Manager approved the application in January 2015, and work has begun.  Large construction trucks are removing the asphalt parking lot between the ABC Store and the Whole Foods Shopping Center. Soon the sizable willow oaks along Elliot Rd will be gone making way for a 90 foot building pulled all the way out to the street.

At the back of the property, construction trucks have also removed the  Federally funded Greenway path previously built by the Town as part of the Booker Creek Linear Park.  The developer will reconstruct it later, further down the hill nearer the creek.  Instead of the previous pleasant walk, the new path will skirt a parking deck.

Construction workers hit a water main which sent OWASA water 80 feet into the air for several hours before it was capped.

Contractor hit water main

Nov 12 Update:  Is there anything one can do to stop or improve Perry’s Village Plaza Apartments?

No, because the Council gave away its review authority when they approved the Form Based Code for the Ephesus Fordham District in May, 2014.  Therefore strong public concerns and comment will make no difference at all to the final product.  The Community Design Commission met several times to review this first project under the Form Based Code District.  Design Commission members were cautioned by  Town staff to comment only on design elements.  However, Citizen Tom Henkel wrote to the Town Attorney and pointed out to the Commissioners that state law gives them the authority to regulate height. {See his letter to the Chapel Hill News here.}  While the Manager extended the deadline for approval until December 3, the application will be approved by the Manager, and construction will begin as early as January.

On Nov 24, the Council decided to proceed with a public hearing to rezone 4 parcels on the south side of Elliott Rd. These parcels were removed from the Ephesus Fordham District at the last minute when the District was approved by the Town Council. It makes little sense for the Town to create separate standards for these parcels on Elliott Rd. because incentives work best when they apply to a large area, not to a small subset of an area. Why not apply the same standards to the entire district as citizens encouraged the Council to do during the EF public hearings? Better still why is the Town not requiring developers to do sustainable, green building as a matter of course?

The existing Form based Code is highly deficient and badly needs to be fixed. The most sensible course of action is for the Council to acknowledge the problems in the Code and overhaul it.  Why spend Town resources and staff time to fix only a small portion of the District? The February public hearing should encompass the Form Based Code for the entire District of nearly 200 acres so that the Town employs a comprehensive strategy for affordable housing and the many other elements that this Form Based Code lacks!

September Update: What we learned during the September 22 “walk about”:

  • There will be 266 rental units costing $1200 – $1600 for one-bedroom, 900 sq ft units, and $1600-$2000 for two-bedroom units.
  • The project provides 463 parking spaces, including a parking deck and on-street parking.  However, 70 of the 463 spaces will be reserved for workers at Whole Foods, leaving just 393 for Village Plaza residents, retail workers, and retail customers.
  • The project will cover the asphalt parking lot between the old Red, Hot and Blue restaurant and the ABC liquor store, and will cover the grassy area behind the chain linked fence.
  • The massive 87-foot building will be pulled up to Elliott Rd., similar to the East 54 development, and all existing street trees will be removed.
  • The Red Hot and Blue building will be removed and used for temporary parking, and a new building will replace it.
  • A new road at the rear of the property will require the Town’s Booker Creek Greenway to be relocated toward Booker Creek; the Greenway trees will  be removed to accommodate the new road,  marring the ambiance of this recreational amenity that was planned and paid for by the Town of Chapel Hill.

More details about the project here.

Background on this project. In May 2014, the Chapel Hill Town Council rezoned 190 acres in the Ephesus- Fordham district to a new zone. At the same time, they adopted a form-based code for the district that eliminates almost all public review of new development applications for this area. The Town Council approved the zone with 3 dissenting council members: Matt Czajkowski, Jim Ward, and Ed Harrison. Despite hundreds of letters and constructive recommendations from the public, the Council made few improvements to the code. Everyone agrees that the outcome of this project will reveal much about the strengths and weaknesses of the new code. Construction starts in January.

Below are links with lots more information:

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What’s Up With Obey Creek?

There’s a new blog in town, http://whatsupwithobeycreek.com  Check it out.

What's Up Obey Creek

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Important Decisions Remain at Obey Creek

Amy Ryan, Vice Chair of the Planning Board presented these remarks at the March 16th Council Public Hearing.

As the Obey Creek negotiations draw to a conclusion, there are four key issues that remain undecided. If you’ve been saving the best for last, now’s the time to act.

The first decision citizens need you to make is the right size for Obey Creek, both to work with road constraints and meet the placemaking objectives of the 2020 Plan. We know what size the developer thinks is good for them; now we need to decide what size is good for us.

Right sizing is about how much building our road capacity can bear, so we avoid situations like the real possibility that cars will back up Market Street past the Weaver Street Market as they wait to get onto 15-501 at morning rush hour. As you know, you’re still missing some key DOT approvals and traffic study updates. I’d also recommend that you ask for best case/worst case scenarios that show the range of traffic impacts that are possible with the huge flexibility in use and size the developer is asking for.

Right sizing is also about scale. The South 15-501 Discussion Group and Compass Committee favor creating a somewhat more built-up version of Market Street; the developer is promoting a much denser and taller urban development. We need you to resolve the differences between the two visions.

The second decision citizens need you to make is whether the road design should prioritize free movement of traffic along 15-501 or emphasize good pedestrian connectivity between Southern Village and Obey Creek.

The current design of 15-501 privileges car traffic and creates wide intersections that will be difficult to cross on foot. The bridge over 15-501 only provides one safe access point for bikes and pedestrians across a wide frontage.

If instead you want a more urban kind of connectivity, you should follow Victor Dover’s excellent suggestion and work with DOT to approve a narrower urban boulevard design in this area.

The third decision citizens need you to make is what town goals Obey Creek should meet and then adjust the proposed mix of uses accordingly. For example, if your primary goal is retail capture, it would make sense to increase the current minimum of 200,000 SF that’s allowed (which could be as little as 12.5% of the final development).   The amount of each different use you approve at Obey Creek is directly related to the type of benefits Chapel Hill will receive.

The fourth decision citizens need you to make is what level of transit service the town will provide at Obey Creek.

If the town wants the transit-reliant development that is being proposed, it will have to discuss with the developer ways to fund comprehensive service including days, nights, and weekends.

If the town can’t provide this level of service, then the transit ridership figures in the final traffic analysis should be revised downward, car trips revised upward, and parking capacity at Obey Creek increased.

Citizens are waiting for you to make these four big-picture decisions to make sure that Obey Creek is “right sized” for the southern area and that Chapel Hill receives the benefits it wants from this development. We’re asking you to make time to discuss these issues specifically and resolve these questions before you open the public hearings on the Obey Creek development agreement.

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Fiscal Concerns about Obey Creek

This is first in a series of speeches made by CHALT supporters at the March 16th Council Public Hearing. Rudy Juliano speaks on whether or not the Obey Creek proposal makes fiscal sense for the Town of Chapel Hill.

The Council has stated that you are willing to permit high-density development on the Obey Creek parcel—contrary to the 1990 Southern Small Area Plan—in order to achieve two goals:

  • First,  to increase net revenues for the town and;
  • Second,  to provide residents with more retail shopping options. However, the draft agreement thus far does not achieve either of these goals.

The Town commissioned a fiscal analysis. It shows Obey Creek providing a net return of $1 million a year to the Town. This sounds good, but the result is based on some very questionable assumptions.

  • The Town’s model assumes that apartments built at Obey Creek would be much more costly than would the single family homes that could instead be built under existing zoning. Is that really true?
  • The Town’s model also drastically underestimates the operational and capital costs of serving the 2500 new transit riders Obey Creek would generate.

Some computer and accounting savvy members of CHALT ran the same model with different assumptions that we consider more realistic. The details of the CHALT Alternate Model are in the memo sent earlier today. Using our different assumptions, we find that the proposed Obey Creek development will not generate revenue but rather will result in a net loss for the town of $650,000 annually. Thus Chapel Hill residents will need to pay increased taxes to subsidize this new development.

The point here is not to argue details of the models but to demonstrate that small changes in the input assumptions can lead to large changes in the final result. Thus it is important to get things right and not rush through the process and not commit the town to a losing proposition.

In the second goal, Council expects the Obey Creek development to provide a new retail to serve residents in southern Chapel Hill. However, the draft agreement does not seem to provide a commitment to the type of retail that would benefit most citizens of Chapel Hill.

Will there be supermarkets and pharmacies that most people could use or only high-end boutiques that serve the elite? There needs to be clarity about the type and amount of retail that is being considered. {Agreeing on the retail component is key: CHALT estimates that projects with more than one third residential, cause a net loss in revenue for the Town.}

As with Ephesus-Fordham, Council seems to be rushing this agreement process rather than taking the time to get it right. Please pause and listen to well-informed citizen concerns.

Make sure that Obey Creek will benefit the citizens of Chapel Hill and not become yet another give-away to landowners and developers who won’t have to live with the adverse consequences.

Rudy Juliano for CHALT

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Obey Creek: Whose Interests Does the Town put First?

From Today’s Chapel Hill News

Once upon a time, not so long ago, Chapel Hill was widely admired for its enlightened land-use planning and forward-thinking growth management. Our current leaders, however, are turning their backs on this proud legacy, and the community as a whole will suffer the consequences.

In the mid-1980s, a Town Council comprising neighborhood leaders and faculty from the UNC Department of City and Regional Planning put in place a joint land-use plan with Orange County and Carrboro that preserves farmland, minimizes sprawl and habitat-fragmentation, protects water resources and concentrates development in the right places.

In 1989, after having established the “rural buffer” to the north and west of Chapel Hill, town leaders turned their attention to the area south of town. Three years of comprehensive land use planning resulted in the Southern Small Area Plan (SSAP), which the council adopted in 1992. In order to encourage future development on the land best suited to it and to minimize deterioration of the area’s streams and creeks, town planners used a “density swap”: they increased the number of residential units allowed per acre where development would least harm the environment, and they reduced allowable density on the most sensitive parcels.

The land on which allowable density was increased became Southern Village, a neighborhood that provides housing for thousands of town residents and community amenities that include public greenspace, a school and shopping. The hydrologically more sensitive land, on which allowable density was decreased, lay to the east of U.S. 15-501 in the vicinity of Obey Creek.

And there our story might have ended, a tale of virtue rewarded, except that a few years ago a local real estate developer asked the town to toss out the SSAP and allow higher-density development – much higher than in Southern Village – on the Obey Creek land. Our elected officials could have rebuffed this proposal and explained that the Obey Creek land needs to remain low density to offset the higher stormwater runoff that was allowed to occur on the other side of the highway, in Southern Village. But the developer dangled before council members the prospect of increased tax revenue, and they swooned.

And so, this proposal has been allowed to move forward, and speedily, such that the mayor and council are now mere months away from permitting construction of more than 600 new housing units on land that town officials less than 25 years ago deemed unsuitable for such development. The ecological landscape around Obey Creek remains much the same as it was when the town adopted the SSAP, but the political landscape has changed considerably.

If our elected officials are resigned to granting the rezoning request for Obey Creek, they should at least try to negotiate some decent community benefits in exchange. For example, the community expects to receive a donation of land within the development on which to build a new school facility. The particular parcel the developer has proposed to donate, however, is not acceptable. Will council members stand firm and insist that the developer donate land the school district can actually build on, or will they again roll over, as they did when they failed to obtain significant community benefits from the Ephesus-Fordham rezoning or from the special use permit for The Edge?

Developers, of course, are entitled to use all tools at their disposal to try to further their own and their investors’ financial interest in land-use intensification, but our elected officials are supposed to be looking out for the rest of us. Mayor Kleinschmidt and his colleagues on the council must demonstrate the will and the capacity to stand up for the public interest when private landowners or developers come seeking favors. If they can’t, or won’t, they should make way for those who will.

The public has an opportunity to comment on the Obey Creek development agreement process at a Town Council meeting to be held Monday, March 16 at 7 pm.

David Schwartz lives in Chapel Hill.

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