Superintendent Search 2016

Strong Schools Make Strong Communities

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education is searching for a new superintendent. The members of the board are seeking your input in this process. Please help out by taking this survey by September 7, 2016.

Note:  No one will know who submitted a particular comment, but the results will eventually be released to the public, without any references to specific individuals. Click on link to take survey.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Community Survey.

CHALT aims to sustain and enhance the qualities and institutions that make Chapel Hill a wonderful place to live, including our schools.

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What’s Up at Elliott Road?

August update

Alexan Apartments was the first project permitted under the new fast track approval process, i.e., form-based code, that the Town adopted in May, 2014.  As the project nears completion, let’s assess how well the Ephesus-Fordham (E-F)  redevelopment plan is measuring up to expectations. (Originally billed as “mixed-use” the zone is fast becoming apartments (7 story) that crowd the 2 lane Elliott Rd.)

Alexan ApartmentsNew projects in E-F are not creating a walkable, pedestrian friendly experience.  Since the Alexan provides no pedestrian pass-through, the route from businesses on the east side of the building to those on the wrest side—e.g., from Thimble Pleasures to Whole Foods—is a long, unpleasant experience, especially ona hot summer day. The block size of this structure is about 400 feet – too large for good pedestrian mobility. Curbs with narrow sidewalks along the street front of Elliott Road crowd pedestrian travel and the enjoyment of a pleasant walk.

Willow Oaks along ElliottTree canopy replaced by concrete and glass. Beautiful mature willow oaks, such as these on the south side of Elliott Road, were cut down on t he north side of the road to make way for the more “urban” streetscape of the Alexan building. The form-based code (FBC) encourages loss of tree cover during redevelopment by permitting construction right up to the property line. How will redevelopment in E-F deliver the tree-lined pedestrian streetscape that residents want if the FBC does not require building setbacks to make that possible?

greenwayA missed opportunity to enhance the Booker Creek greenway.  A replacement greenway pictured here skirts Booker Creek, located just to the left. On the right side of the greenway path will be a new connecting road and the garage and garbage bays of the 90-foot tall Alexan apartments. Those additions will turn what was once a pleasant walk through natural surroundings into an uninspired sidewalk route surrounded by pavement. Booker Creek and the adjacent wooded landscape would have provided a perfect backdrop for a park and an enjoyable public space.

Major problems yet to be tackled. These are just a few of the changes we’ve observed on the ground since the Town Council approved the FBC and applied it to the nearly 200 acre E-F district.  The pictures illustrate only a few of the problems that need to be fixed in the FBC.  Other problem that need to be addressed include the lack of affordable housing requirements, lack of incentives for energy efficient construction, and building densities and heights that threaten to overwhelm our infrastructure.

Summary August 22nd Public Meeting

The public session was billed as a chance to give input to improve “walkability and open space” in the Ephesus-Fordham district, which is regulated by the FBC. We came to this meeting thinking we would be asked to offer ideas about how to integrate green space, mini parks, sidewalks and connections in the FBC, but we didn’t get the chance.

Most discouraging, the meeting leaders did not acknowledge the fact that we are not at the beginning of a collaborative process, but are instead trying to improve a poor, hastily-adopted code that is already in place.  New projects could be submitted any day and the Town Manager would need to approve them if they satisfy the minimal criteria of the deficient existing FBC.

We learned that the Town intends to attack the problems in the FBC by hiring four consultants:

TOPIC                       CONTRACTOR                  SCHEDULE

Urban Design                Tony Sease                          fall

Mobility Study              Stewart Consulting            fall

Design Guidelines       Winter Consulting              fall

Affordable housing      David Paul Rosen Assoc   ???

Here is the schedule the town will use to bring the final text recommendations to public hearing.

We see at least three barriers to success for improving the FBC.

  • The fragmentation of property ownership in the district restricts opportunities for green space and large scale storm water planning
  • Need for parking coordination across parcels: If every property owner provides exclusive on-site parking, this will cause additional auto congestion and undermine “walkability”
  • Increased heioght and density, currently allowed “by right,” must be made contingent on provision of affordable housing, energy efficiency and other community benefits.

Central Questions

Will the Council adopt any of the significant changes suggested by the participants, e.g. lower building height (50 ft vs 90 ft), reasonable setbacks, adequate publicly accessible green space in every development, pedestrian/bicycle connectivity (other than street-based sidewalks) between developments, energy efficient construction, stormwater controls, and incentives for affordable housing units?

Of paramount importance to all citizens is this question: what happens between now and when the FBC is “fixed?“ We worry every second of every day that yet another “Alexan” will be approved, or that The Park Apts. will submit their redevelopment application. In fact, some of us have heard that the new owner of the property adjacent to the Alexan wants to construct another building just like it!

Will the minor fixes the Town intends make enough difference for community members feel it worthwhile to engage in this process?  Will the Town Manager and the Project Managers allow the hired experts to make an honest assessment about what needs to be done to really fix the code, so the town staff can begin to rebuild that trust with community members?

Next mobility meeting is Wednesday, September 6.  4 – 7 pm at library

Next E-F meeting is Thursday, September 7th, 6 – 9 pm at library


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A Chance to Fix Ephesus-Fordham Zoning Code

Public Meeting:
Walkability and Open Space Standards in Ephesus/Fordham Area

TODAY      Date: 08/22/2016 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Location: Chapel Hill Public Library, Meeting Room B
100 Library Drive
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514

As many have heard, more properties are changing hands in the Ephesus Fordham District.  If the Code is not fixed, the Town will be required to approve the sort of project we see now on Elliott Road in nearby areas in the district in our Town.

Please try to attend this meeting tonight at some point.   Note that you can go early at 6 pm or later at 7 and still hear a presentation.

The Town Council is asking for ideas on who to improve the Ephesus/Fordham
development rules to create open space opportunities and new and improved streets and pedestrian-bicycle path connections.

Click here for a full list of the Town’s plans for this area.  See a full list of the scheduled hearings for these improvements here.  Staff contact is John Richardson, project manager. or call 919 969-5075

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Paperhand Puppet Intervention is Back!


                          THE BEAUTIFUL BEAST

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 8.36.33 PMSEE US THIS WEEKEND!    Outdoor Forest Theatre, UNC Campus
7 pm, FRI AUG 12, SAT AUG 13 & SUN AUG 14.  Tickets at door, suggested contribution for adult is $15.  All ages welcome                  Photo by Lee Capps

  • Fri Aug 19: 7pm with a 6:20 Pre-show with The Bucket Brothers
  • Sat Aug 20: 7pm with a 6:20 Pre-show with Shabutaso
  • Sun Aug 21: 3pm with a 2:20 Pre-show with Matt Brockman (Up-Close magic) & 7pm with a 6:20 Pre-show with TBA

“Paperhand Puppet Intervention’s latest show is amazing – great music, gorgeous puppets – how do they get better every year!?” – Blaise Kielar

“Awesome performance and creativity! So much imagination and love goes into these performances!” -Chrystal Kelly

“Mommy I need you to check under my bed. Are there any beautiful beasts?!” -Henry Holden age 5.

“Breathtaking beauty.” -Kathy Violette

“Amazing! Pushing the envelope yet again my friends!” -Chris Johnson


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A New Plan for American Legion or an Old One?

Woodfield Llc has submitted to the Town of Chapel Hill a concept plan for the American Legion property.

Background. Woodfield signed a contract with the American Legion property owners last year to build 600 apartments and negotiated with the Town Council behind closed doors thus denying the public a chance to weigh in at the earliest stage for input on a community vision to meet Town needs.  In January the developer presented a development concept to a full house at the American Legion for 600 apartments.  The concept was opposed by neighbors and many living throughout town.  Read the Indy for a comprehensive report of the meeting and our background report here.

Mayor Hemminger asked her colleagues earlier this spring to supply their ideas about how to plan for the future of this important piece of property.  The council approved principles for the goals they would like future development to meet.

Woodfield site planWhat’s new?  This week Woodfield proposed a modified concept to build a development with a mix of uses to potentially include 400 apartments, a 50,000 sf office building and a second 50,000 sf office, civic or flex space building. In order to redevelop the site, the two existing buildings would be demolished and the pond removed and replaced with a stormwater facility that would be built to current standards. Woodfield has also agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding with the Town to build a road connection, alignment to be worked out with the Town, to Ephesus Church Road along with a trail system to enhance the current park facilities adjacent to this site. See the Town webpage.

CHALT finds that Woodfield’s slightly altered proposal to build 200 fewer apartments on the American Legion property is still not a good fit for the town’s needs nor does it meet the principles outlined by the Council.  Specifically it does not meet the principle of serving a variety of housing needs nor protecting the quality of life of surrounding neighborhoods.  Roads in the area are already over capacity and Chapel Hill transit is financially unable to increase service routes.

Most important, Chapel Hill has a more than adequate supply of new market rate housing units—over 6,000 at last count—already approved or in the development pipeline.

Conversely, Chapel Hill has a shortage of public park land and recreational facilities, particularly in the part of town where the American Legion property is located.  We feel confident that the Town government, the land owners and third party developers together will be able to craft a plan for the property that better meets both the financial needs of the American Legion membership and the Town’s need for expanded parkland and recreation opportunities.

Before that can happen, however, the Town Council needs to communicate clearly to Woodfield during the concept plan review process that proposals to build apartments on the American Legion property are not likely to be approved.

The town’s Parks, Greenways and Recreation Commission has unanimously recommended that the town acquire some or all of the American Legion property to expand Ephesus Park. The action taken by the previous Council in closed session removed the opportunity to include a town park in the recent bond issue. But a future plan could provide for a much needed park.

The proposed site plan shows that much of the site will be transformed into paved parking lots and stormwater retention ponds. Far from expanding the amount of public parkland in the vicinity, the plan envisions reducing the amount of parkland because a paved road would be built through the existing 10-acre Ephesus Park.

The concept plan put a new road on the town-owned park land for the convenience of the developer which would greatly inconvenience the neighborhoods adjacent to the school by cutting off walking routes to the school and dumping even more congestion onto Ephesus Church Rd. The plan changes
the location of the retention pond which would require cutting down large sections of forest.

The Community Design Commission members, appointed volunteers chosen by the Town Council, will discuss the concept proposal on August 23rd at 6:30 pm at Town Hall.  The meeting is open to the public and citizens can address comments to the Commission at that time.

August 14 Chapel Hill News article
American Legion Process, 
Michael Parker

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Town off to Slow Start on Connectivity and Mobility Project

Post by Joan Guilkey                         Take the Survey

About three weeks ago, Staff announced a Town-wide project to improve our ability to walk, bike and ride a bus to travel all over Chapel Hill. The Town’s objectives are to reduce vehicle traffic by enhancing safety for pedestrians. Stewart Inc., a consultant with offices in Charlotte, Durham and Raleigh, has been retained to conduct the project under the leadership of David Bonk, the town’s Transportation Planning Manager.

zebra_crossing_630pxAs a first step in the study, one or two members of each Town advisory board was asked to provide input about where each person currently travels and by what method. These participants were named to a project Steering Committee, but it remains unclear what exactly will be expected of this Committee. Each person completed a survey and the information was mapped. About a week later, all Chapel Hill residents were encouraged to do the same at two sessions in the public library.

Several who attended these public meetings left feeling very frustrated because the consultants did not adequately explain the process they will use. Surely, town staff does not believe that a few small and poorly-publicized sessions where citizens write on maps and complete a survey are sufficient to provide the information needed to get the necessary input do this project well.

The maps the consultant provided were disjointed, and hard to use and did little to clarify our transportation and connectivity needs.  For example, participants eager to be helpful spent wasted time putting dots on maps located far apart from each other.  It would have been helpful to show all bus routes on the maps, and maybe even proposed rail stops.

While we are fully supportive of the need for this mobility study, we are concerned about the validity of the results of the first phase of the study if good input is not received.  There does not seem to be a systematic plan to reach out to hundreds, if not thousands, of walkers, bikers, and bus riders needed if Stewart is to obtain enough detailed information to determine Town connectivity priorities.

Stewart says they will utilize the town’s Greenways Master Plan and the Bicycle Plan, bus routes and projected light rail, but they were unaware of the Bus Rapid Transit Study now underway.  Our own staff is far more knowledgeable about the pedestrian and connectivity needs, but Stewart was hired we are told because their workload is too heavy to get to the job done in a timely manner.

For this reason, it is critically important that citizens provide lots of trip information so there can be no doubts as to the most used and most needed pedestrian routes.  We encourage everyone to take the survey.  This data collection effort will continue throughout the summer.

In addition to taking the survey, you could consider writing the consultant representative Randi Gates, at or David Bonk,, the project director stating where you wish to travel safely by bike, bus or walking.

Be sure to say where your trips typically begin, each route you take now, and where each trip ends. The most used and desired routes and destinations will take top priority when the analysis of data starts. List each route you currently take and indicate where you see problem spots. Also list routes you would take if you could do so safely. Ask your friends to do the same. Thank you for helping make our needs known.

If you have questions, call or email David Bonk at 919-969-5064,

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On Transparency

Post by Rachel Conerly

transparencyCHALT grew out of residents’ frustration with elected officials who repeatedly made land use decisions that were at odds with the desires of local citizens and that were detrimental to Chapel Hill’s future. CHALT seeks a future for Chapel Hill that is fiscally sound, maintains diversity, protects our environment, and is respectful of Chapel Hill’s distinctive character.

Of particular concern is the lack of transparency that allowed flawed decision-making to take hold and persist despite citizen efforts.  Out of state consultants with scant knowledge of the Town were chosen over highly qualified local talent. Instructions given to the writer of our form-based code were never made public. Small area plans are routinely ignored with no justification. Decisions to sell Town assets are made out of the public eye. Out-of-state investors and developers, who profit handsomely from town government decisions, make political contributions that are not reported until after the election. And the list goes on.

A course correction is in order. CHALT believes that the work of our town council and local government should be aligned with the needs and wishes of the citizens who live here, and that the creation of a more transparent, representative approach to governing our town can help better align the desires of citizens with the work of town government. Chapel Hill elected officials and public servants are susceptible to the same conflicts of interest affecting governance at the state and national level. Greater transparency can help improve the behavior of elected officials and enhance confidence and trust in our local leaders.

Rachel Conerly

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CHALT High Technology Forum

Click on link for Hurdles, Strategies for Growing High-Tech Business Chapel Hill the Chapel Hill News article by Tammy Grubb.

biotech9On June 7, CHALT sponsored a public forum entitled “Nurturing High Technology Businesses in Chapel Hill’. The forum explored whether the Town of Chapel Hill should more actively support the growth of local information technology and biotechnology businesses and how the Town might support them effectively. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill generates many small high technology companies. As the successful ones grow and mature, however, they tend to leave Chapel Hill for other nearby or out-of-state locations. In contrast, other university towns, such as Boulder, Co and Ann Arbor, MI, have retained more of their homegrown high tech businesses.

Three invited speakers and two CHALT members made presentations. The invited speakers included Michelle Bolas representing UNC’s Vice Chancellor for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and two scientist-entrepreneurs. Natalia Mitin, Ph.D is President of Healthspan Dx, a UNC ‘spin-off’ company that left Chapel Hill for premises in RTP. Jude Samulski, Ph.D. is the co-founder of Bamboo Therapeutics, a Chapel Hill-based biotech company. Fred Lampe and David Schwartz of CHALT presented information on high tech development in Ann Arbor, MI and Boulder, CO, respectively.

Approximately 50 people attended the forum, including Mayor Hemminger and several members of the Chapel Hill Town Council. Representatives of the local media and several local entrepreneurs, both active and retired, also attended. A discussion period followed the presentations.  CHALT member Rudy Juliano, Ph.D., moderated the forum, where these themes emerged.

  1. High tech businesses provide both good jobs and net positive tax revenues;
  2. Tech entrepreneurs prefer to locate their operations close to the university;
  3. Quality of life issues are important to high tech companies;
  4. Biotech and info-tech companies have very different space and facilities requirements;
  5. Compared to other college towns, such as Ann Arbor, Chapel Hill has done little to recruit or retain high tech businesses;
  6. Impediments to high tech business growth in Chapel Hill include lack of suitable rental space, especially for biotech companies, and lack of convenient parking. For example, Ms. Bolas noted that UNC-related startups need around 200,000 square feet of work space, but only 26,000 square feet are available on campus;
  7. These impediments cause companies that would prefer to remain in Chapel Hill for access and quality of life reasons to look elsewhere.

Rosalin Franklin Opening 151012

CHALT members are currently studying in detail the issues raised at the forum, and we look forward to working with the Town on ways to more effectively nurture and retain our homegrown high tech businesses.

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How Do Developments Help Chapel Hill?

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150 Gather in Carrboro for Orlando Vigil

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