Changes Noted at Town Hall

Those attending the first work session of the new council were surprised to hear Manager Stancil announcing new procedures designed to bring more transparency to local government.  Tammy Grubb summarizes the Council meeting where these changes were discussed in a January 10th Chapel Hill News article here.  Stancil announced these changes and additions:

While we are glad to see these changes, there is still room to improve the transparency of government operations. It’s important that citizens have access to timely minutes, for example. Any effective working group needs to keep written records of discussion points and final decisions, so those discussions can be referenced and understood by all.  Asking citizens with questions to watch a 3 hour video does not ensure that everyone has the same understanding about what has transpired.  While final resolutions are recorded by the Town Clerk,  currently the town’s website as of this date has approved minutes only up to May 4th, 2015.

Additionally, it would be a step forward toward greater disclosure to make readily available the fiscal analyses on each project page. Otherwise, one might conclude from the project description on the Town’s Ephesus Fordham page that the town has successfully created a large economic benefit for the town. {Note:  The town did conduct a  fiscal analysis that concluded that it would take 20 years for the town to gain a net positive revenue stream, but the town left out a number of city costs such as transit, police and fire.}  Another useful piece of information would be to convey an objective count of the businesses gained or lost in the Ephesus Fordham  district as a result of upzoning the property.  So far we’ve seen a net loss.

A more straight forward story for this page on Ephesus Fordham energy efficiency would have included the citizen proposal to gain energy efficiency without cost to the town through incentives. Using incentives would have cost the town nothing, unlike the much touted current voluntary program, which provides development fee rebates in return for a new building design that achieves the National Association of Home Builders National Green Building Standard.

Shifting to transparency and the hot issue of the day, the American Legion property, the past Town Council could have started an important public discussion in April, 2015 about what should happen with one of the last large tract of open land, instead of negotiating with a potential developer in closed sessions.  When frustration boiled over at the January 13th, 2016 meeting hosted by the developer, Mayor Hemminger invited a room of upset people to send their recommendations to the town for what they would like to see on this property.  See story here.

Kudos to Mayor Pam Hemminger for establishing a welcoming tone in her first weeks in office by encouraging more transparency in town government.

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American Legion Community Meeting

“Chapel Hill passes on potential parkland to let developer do his thing.”     This story by David Hudnall appeared in the Independent Weekly.

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Luxury apartment developers are not, generally speaking, deserving of the public’s pity. Still, it was tough not to feel just a tiny bit bad for Scott Underwood last Wednesday evening.

Underwood’s firm, Woodfield Investments, is under contract to purchase, for $10 million, 36 acres of land just east of Fordham Boulevard and Ephesus Church Road in Chapel Hill. Currently owned by the American Legion Post 6, it’s one of the last large chunks of undeveloped property left in the town. Woodfield intends to build somewhere between 400 and 600 high-end apartment units, plus ritzy add-ons like a resort-style swimming pool and a private dog park. The result will be, as the brochure puts it, an “amenity-rich, self-contained environment” with “market-defining interior design.”

IMG_1942In an old, amenity-poor building on the Legion’s property, Underwood stressed his Tar Heel bona fides to a skeptical crowd of more than 100 Orange County baby boomers. He’s lived in the Triangle for 24 years. He earned his MBA from UNC. His parents went to UNC. His grandfather was a professor at UNC.

“There’s Carolina blue running through my blood,” Underwood said.

The baby boomers weren’t moved. When Underwood noted that millennials were moving to Chapel Hill because of its “authentic” feel, loud scoffs rang out inside the wood-paneled room. Reaching for common ground, Underwood asked, “But would you at least agree that Chapel Hill is a great place to live?”

“Not if you build this thing,” a woman snickered, to nods and cheers. Tough crowd.

Underwood may have roots in Chapel Hill’s past, but he was pitching a version of its future that an increasing number of its residents abhor. Last November, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and two* town council incumbents were ousted by challengers backed by the newly formed political action committee Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town. CHALT’s basic premise is that development in Chapel Hill is out of control, and the decisions of the previous mayor and council were enriching elites and developers while squeezing out ordinary, long-time residents.

“Several of us who were voted in during the last election believe that a healthy town has room for development, but also room for the people who work here and keep the town going,” says council member Nancy Oates. “And to make it affordable for them, you need a different approach than just building a bunch of luxury apartments.”

Whether demand exists for 400–600 new luxury apartments in Chapel Hill is debatable. Underwood trotted out a study indicating that Chapel HIll needs to build 2,000 additional residential units by 2020. But an analysis by Del Snow, former chair of the town planning commission, suggests that there are already some 5,500 new residential units in the pipeline—meaning Chapel Hill is doing fine without the Woodfield development.

Blaming a developer for building too many luxury condos, though, is like faulting a fox for lurking around the chicken coop. Ultimately, it’s up to local officials to step in.

In 2010 Chapel Hill passed an inclusionary-zoning ordinance that requires builders to make 15 percent of most new-home developments affordable. But because state law forbids any kind of rent control, this ordinance doesn’t apply to rental developments like Woodfield’s.

There are other—albeit duller—tools in the toolbox, however. And many argue that in the case of the Legion property, the town failed to make use of them.

To back up a bit: Chapel Hill and the American Legion reached an agreement in 2005 giving the town first crack at buying the Legion’s property if it ever decided to sell it. In the ensuing years, the Legion property was identified in at least two public plans as a potential site for future parkland, which is scarce in eastern Chapel Hill.

Last June, town manager Tom Stancil informed the council that a buyer, Woodfield, was interested in the Legion property. The council went into a closed-door session to discuss its options. According to the meeting minutes, Stancil “said Council could consider buying the property or negotiate with the proposed buyer to get the Town’s interest in a park site with a roadway.”

The council voted to authorize Stancil to negotiate with Woodfield on both options. On Sept. 30, Stancil received a letter from the Legion’s attorney indicating that an offer had been made and the town had 60 days to decide whether to buy the Legion property at the slightly discounted price of $9 million. Then, on Nov. 9—six days after the mayor and three council members were voted out of office—the council again went into closed session and voted to waive its right of first refusal.

“All we did was advise that the town didn’t have $9 million—which is half the town’s fund balance—to make an offer,” Stancil tells the INDY. “And we went back to [Woodfield] and said, basically, that the town would like to integrate our public space with any development going forward, and that there’s interest in a roadway that would potentially make land on Ephesus Church Road more accessible. And they said, ‘OK.'”

But a timeline of meetings regarding the Legion property, recently released by the town in response to concerns about the process, indicates that economic development officer Dwight Bassett met with Woodfield as far back as March. This has raised a variety of concerns among CHALT members: Did pro-development town officials such as Bassett play matchmaker between the Legion and Woodfield? If so, why would the town not steer the Legion toward a developer of commercial or office property, which few would dispute the town is in much greater need of? (Bassett did not respond to requests for comment.)

CHALT cofounder David Schwartz also notes that a $40 million bond referendum (approved in the November election) to finance things like parks and sidewalks was being shaped throughout last year—the same time frame in which the council was discussing options regarding the Legion’s land behind closed doors.

The Legion property is “exactly the kind of capital acquisition well suited to this type of bond,” Schwartz says. “By authorizing town staff to negotiate and execute agreements regarding the property in closed session and signing away the town’s right of first refusal, the council denied the public an opportunity to participate in a discussion about the best use of the site and how public acquisition might be financed.”

Parks and recreation director Jim Orr confirms that, despite the town’s interest in the property as parkland being a matter of public record, his department was not informed that the property was for sale or that the town was negotiating with a private developer for it.

Stancil notes that the current memorandum of understanding between the town and Woodfield doesn’t guarantee anything.

“It just says, ‘We sure would like a road to be a part of this development, and we’d like to connect to whatever green space that exists on the development,'” Stancil says. “But if the council doesn’t like that, then it won’t happen.”

The sale is conditional on a rezoning—something the new council would ultimately have to approve. Despite the presentation last Wednesday, Woodfield hasn’t even submitted its application for the project yet.

“I understand why citizens are concerned,” says Mayor Pam Hemminger. “We’re totally out of balance with residential spaces over commercial spaces in town. It’s the Legion’s right to sell to whoever they want to, but I think people wanted a park and were hoping it wouldn’t be a luxury development. We keep allowing luxury apartment after luxury apartment to go up in Chapel Hill. And I don’t think that’s what we should be building.”

This article appeared in print with the headline “Legion of boom.”

Correction: The story originally said that three town council incumbents had lost in last year’s election. In fact, two did.

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American Legion Property Community Meeting

Tonight:  Jan 13th 6:00 – 8:00 pm public meeting  about potential development of the American Legion property.

On January 13 at 6pm at the Legion Hall on Legion Road where the possible developers of the American Legion parcel, Woodfield LLC, will be describing their plans for the property (if they acquire it).  The public is invited. Here is a simple list of what has happened.

1.  The American Legion Post 6, owner of this 36.2-acre parcel on Legion Road, has decided for various reasons that they need to sell this property.  They have every right to do so.

2.  In 2005, the Legion and the Town (through manager Cal Horton) had agreed that, whenever that unique parcel of fields and woodlands were sold, the Town would be given the right of first refusal to buy the land.

3.  In the Spring of 2015, the Legion advised the Town of their plans to sell.  The Town then appraised the parcel and, as it stands today — with its current zoning — it was appraised at $2.4 million.

4.  The Legion then solicited offers from private developers.  Woodfield responded with a bid of $9 million if the Town allows them to build a 400-unit upscale apartment complex on the land, and $10 million if the Town allows 600 apartments.  (Since about 5,500 upscale apartments have already been approved in other locations — Ephesus Fordham, Obey Creek, and many others — which is probably enough to satisfy demand for a couple decades, one might legitimately ask how the Town would benefit from another 600.)

5.  Woodfield’s offer to the Legion is contingent upon several Town concessions.  First, the Town must re-zone the parcel to enable them to build 400 or 600 apartments on the property.  (That would not be allowed under current zoning.)  Second, the Town must give the developer access to adjoining Town property so that the developer could build trails and a road from the Legion property to Ephesus Road, immediately beside Ephesus School and the tennis courts/park beside the school.  This road (and a bike trail) is promoted as a “public amenity” donated to the Town by the developer, although the only beneficiary would be the developer.  Many think these “concessions” are inadequate compensation for the additional traffic and service costs to the town caused by a high density development.

6.  In other words, it would be concessions from the Town that would increase the value of the parcel from its current $2.4 million to as much as $10 million.  At a price of $9 to $10 million, the Town feels that it could not afford to buy the parcel (e.g., for a park) — despite the Parks and Rec bond that was passed in November — and accordingly, Council voted (in closed session in November 2015) to forego its right of first refusal.

7.  The next step would be for the developer to approach the Town and Council requesting the required re-zoning of the parcel and the necessary access to build the road on Town property, probably as part of a Special Use Permit process.  Council hearings on this process would be open to the public.  If the Town refused these things, Woodfield’s offer would be voided, and the $9- to $10 million deal would be off.

The meeting at the Legion Hall tonight will be the public’s first opportunity to learn first-hand the envisioned details regarding this proposed development.  If you are concerned about this proposed project, you would benefit by attending this meeting, becoming educated about the project, and perhaps offering comments that could influence the developer’s design.

Among the concerns that we might want to explore are the traffic impacts of 600 new apartments on Legion and Ephesus Roads, and on Fordham.  Also, is there any potential that the Legion property — which abuts Colony Woods — would have a connecting road to CW that would send traffic through that neighborhood?

Your primary opportunity for input on a an actual application will come later, when this project comes before Council for review.  But the time to start learning about what’s been happening behind closed doors is now.

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Closed Meeting Raises Questions

In November 2015, the Town Council decided in closed session to forego a 2005 council resolution that allowed the town the “right of first refusal” for the American Legion Post 6 property located on Legion Road. While real estate transactions are allowed to occur in closed session, the Town Council went far beyond that constraint.

On January 7, the Town manager  Stancil released this account of the events surrounding the two closed sessions.  See this page to see the closed meeting minutes and the summary document.

During closed session, they authorized the Town Manager to sign a contract with a potential developer of this land, Woodfield Acquisitions LLC, that says when the permitting decision is made the developer will provide trails and a road through town park property emptying onto Ephesus Church Road between the ball field and tennis courts next to one of the school playgrounds. These are negotiations that should be public and held during a public hearing process.

 We believe these actions taken in closed session are unethical and are likely illegal as well, and they deserve public discussion and scrutiny. If illegal, the actions are a violation of the North Carolina Open Meetings Law.

The American Legion’s letter alerting the Town of its right of first refusal was dated September 30, 2015. The election was on November 3, and then Council apparently rushed this action on November 9 in closed session – before the swearing in of the new Mayor and Council members.

The North Carolina Open Meetings Law permits closed meetings only for limited specific purposes. There is no justifiable reason that the actions taken should not have been discussed in an open public session. By choosing to meet in closed session, the previous Council circumvented an important public policy discussion about whether 600 more apartments should be considered, especially in light of the fact that Chapel Hill already has more than 5500 apartment units approved and in the development pipeline.

Brief History. Back in 2005, the owner of the property (the American Legion Post 6) was concerned that the Town might designate the property a future school site, which might have complicated the owner’s ability to sell the property in the future. In exchange for not exercising its right to designate the property a school site, the town received the right of first refusal to purchase the property if and when it was offered for sale.

The property is currently appraised at $2.4 million. At some point before June 15th the property owner entered into negotiations with a Raleigh developer with the assistance of the Town’s economic development officer, Dwight Bassett. The potential devloper, Woodfield Acquisitons LLC, had not yet made any offer to the American Legion. Sometime during the discussions, between the June meeting where the Manager was authorized to negotiate with Woodfield and September 30, when the Town was notified of Woodfield’s offer, Woodfield became confident enough to make an offer to  the American Legion of $9 million for the property.  This offer to the Legion is contingent on *IF* the town rezones the property to allow at least 400 dwelling units to be built on the site. The owner then offered it to the Town for $9 million. The Town declined to purchase it for that amount.

 

The developer, who does not own the property, then entered into negotiations with the Town and agreed to build a road and a trail on the property *IF* the Town permits it to build at least 600 units. See a concept map found on the last page of the September 2015 letter to Stancil. The new agreement is memorialized in this 11-20-2015 Agreement Manager Roger Stancil signed.

Any negotiations between the Town and a developer about public benefits to be provided as a condition of rezoning should be conducted out in the open as part of the open Special Use Permit process with opportunity for public input, not in private between staff and developer. There would have been specific objections made, for example, to a road being placed between the ball field and tennis courts,  to one of the school playgrounds, and on town park property.

The open public process could also have begun a discussion about the best use for the town of the American Legion property if any zoning change is to be made. Possibilities would include public amenities such as parks, new retail, or permanently affordable housing for public employees. We do not need more market rate housing.

Council members who signed off on the contract should be asked to explain why they considered it appropriate to authorize staff to negotiate concessions with the developer without any public notice or input.

Learn more about the proposal and let the Town Council know what you think. The developer is marketing his concept at an upcoming meeting to persuade the Town to permit construction of 400 – 600 units on the site. A community meeting is scheduled for January 13th, 6 – 8 pm, at the American Legion, 1714 Legion Rd, and it will hosted by John R. McAdams Company, representing Woodfield Acquisitions, the potential developer.

Please put this date on your calendar! Sign up for the latest blog posts on this and other town issues.

Documents released from closed session:

September 2015 letter to Stancil
2005 Right of First Refusal
11-20-2015 Agreement To Forego Right of First Refusal
Chapel Hill News Story, December 25, 2014,  Tammy Grubb

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Booker Creek Flood Study

Sonis.bolinThe recent rains remind us that many areas of town can flood.  Areas particularly vulnerable are houses and structures near creeks, and buildings in the lower parts of watersheds.  Bolin Creek jumps the banks in this December 30, 2015 photo.

Town Announcement:  Learn about what the Town hopes to achieve for improving water quality and reducing flooding by studying the Booker Creek Watershed.  Attend the Lower Booker Creek Subwatershed Study Information session hosted by the Town’s consultant W. K. Dickson.

Join us Thursday, January 7th,
11:30 am – 1:30 pm or  5:30 – 7:30 pm
Meeting Room B, Chapel Hill Public Library

For more information and to take the online survey, visit www.lowerbookercreeksws.org.

At this information session, you will be invited to share your observations and concerns about stormwater issues in the Booker Creek Watershed. Each session will begin with an opportunity to hear a short presentation and ask questions and end with a wrap-up session.

Contact Inga Kennedy at inga@peqatl.com for more information.
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The Town’s stormwater studies will make recommendations about how water quality can be improved and flooding can be mitigated.

Background supplied by CHALT:

Leading up to the May 2014 Ephesus-Fordham Zoning District vote, town council meetings attracted the concern of hundreds of citizens who viewed the new form-base zone zone as a give-away to development interests.  The new zone conferred huge density and “fast-track” review but asked nothing on behalf of the community  interest, i.e.,  community space, energy efficient building or affordable housing.

At the urging of the Stormwater Advisory Board and other environmentalists, the town council agreed to require water quality treatment for each project redeveloped or built in the new district. Maintenance of those stormwater facilities will be paid for by a district tax levied on the businesses in the district.

Control over the volume of stormwater,  as omitted from the plans for the new zone.  Much of the nearly 200 acres of the Ephesus-Fordham district (including Eastgate and Whole Foods area) are located  at the bottom of the Booker Creek watershed.  We can expect that as the 3 – 4 million square feet of already approved projects located in the upper parts of the watershed are constructed,  the volume of water flowing through this area will increase and flooding downstream will increase.

For more information on the North Carolina legislative changes to the Town’s development rules and ordinances,  attend the January 14, 5:30 pm briefing at Town Hall. View details here.

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Coal Ash Landfill Found in Chapel Hill

IMG_0942In May 2014, the Town of Chapel Hill informed the public that a coal ash landfill was found to be located on the site of the Chapel Hill Police Building. For more than a decade in the 1960s and ’70s, this property was used as a burial pit for coal ash. The coal ash in this unlined landfill contains known hazardous substances, including heavy metals that have leached out into the environment and will continue to do so.

The discovery of the coal ash deposit was likely made during a 2013-14 town review of assets, that the staff  launched to consider the sale of town assets. The presence of the coal ash waste undoubtedly complicates the  decision to sell the property. Whatever the town decides to do about the location of a new police station, we would expect that our Town would  clean up the site. Chapel Hill residents deserve no less.

In a May 2014 letter to Mayor Kleinschmidt, Friends of Bolin Creek urged the Town to clean up the large coal ash dump and not to allow the coal ash to remain in an unlined pit in the center of town. Here is topographical map showing the location of the coal deposit.

The Town hired a consultant Falcon Engineering to make tests and to report to the North Carolina Department of the Environmental Quality.  Soil samples taken on the site by Falcon in early 2014 identified elevated levels of some coal ash related metals and pollution of ground water.

The Town has posted a Web page called “Chapel Hill Coal Ash Disposal Site Remediation Project”,  containing relevant documents here.

Over the past several years, the Town has installed different sets of monitoring wells to sample the groundwater. The results have been mixed, with some samples showing high levels of dangerous pollutants like arsenic, lead, and thallium. Recently the consultant took filtered samples from a new set of wells without finding high levels of dissolved coal ash pollutants.

Friends of Bolin Creek has raised questions about the procedures used and the choice of location for the tests, and we have communicated our concerns to the Town and DEQ. The Town has not agreed so far to our request that the  creek sediments be tested.

In mid 2015, Friends of Bolin Creek requested help from the Southern Environmental Law Center for legal and support services.

Unlined coal ash waste sites like the one in Chapel Hill are a national problem. WUNC reports that North Carolina has more than 30 such sites in 14 different locations across the state. A pipe running under one of the ponds run by Duke Energy in Eden NC ruptured in February of 2014. The coal ash spilled, largely affecting the Dan River which flows into Virginia. The spill is the third largest of its kind in U.S. history.

 

Other stories about the Chapel Hill coal ash waste dump

“The Silent Threat in Our Back Yards” , Hannah Petersen
Letter to Mayor Kleinschmit, Friends of Bolin Creek, May 2014
“Activists Call for Council Action”, Chapelboro, May 2014

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Orange County Commissioners Race

Did you know we have seven county commissioners in the County of Orange who vote on land use, social service and school issues?  In the upcoming March 15 primary election you can vote your preference for the open seats.

Current Orange County Board of Commissioners

Current Orange County Board of Commissioners

Since the County is divided into districts, in the March 15th primary you can vote for the one available at large seat, as well as for the available district seats depending on where you live in the county.

Confused? Here is a handy map that explains the districts. The following seats are available this election cycle, along with the people who have registered to file.  The asterisk indicates incumbents.

District 1  (2 seats)  *Mark Dorosin   *Penny Rich    Jamezetta Bedford,  Gary Kahn
District 2  (1 seat)    *Renee Price    Bonnie Hauser
At large   (1 seat)        Matt Hughes   Andy Cagle   Mark Marcoplos
(Commissioner Bernadette Pellisier is retiring)

If you know someone you think would like to run for commissioner, please pass on that the deadline for filing is noon December 21st.

Related articles and websites
County Elections Matter,  Bonnie Hauser, Nov 7,  Chapel Hill News
Marcoplos Running for At large Seat,
  Orange Politics
Price to Seek Reelection, Durham Herald

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Local Elections Matter

Chapel Hill Mayor and Town Council Members Top left to right: Nancy Oates, George Cianciolo, Jess Anderson, Michael Parker, Maria Palmer Seated left to right: Ed Harrison, Mayor Pam Hemminger, Donna Bell, Sally Greene

Chapel Hill Mayor and Town Council Members
Top left to right: Nancy Oates, George Cianciolo, Jess Anderson, Michael Parker, Maria Palmer
Seated left to right: Ed Harrison, Mayor Pam Hemminger, Donna Bell, Sally Greene

This election was a significant win because voters chose a new mayor over a popular incumbent, Mark Kleinschmidt. Pam Hemminger became Mayor of Chapel Hill on December 2nd. Jessica Anderson and Nancy Oates, endorsed by C.H.A.L.T., filled two of the four available seats on the Town Council. Congratulations to all who won. To see the video of the ceremony – farewell to the old council and the seating of the new – click here.

C.H.A.L.T. supporters look forward to working together with the mayor and all the council members, including incumbent council member Donna Bell and newly elected council member Michael Parker, and currently serving members Sally Greene, Ed Harrison, George Cianciolo, and Maria Palmer to plan for the future.

Supporters of the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town worked hard in this election to clarify the choices for the voters. We campaigned for a mayor and town council that would insist on transparent fiscal management, responsible environmental stewardship, approvals that respect our college town character and won’t raise Chapel Hill’s cost of living, a town-wide traffic plan, and decisions that take into account the best input from citizens and advisory boards. In the forums and discussions, “supporting leaders who listen” was a theme with which many voters resonated.

We are very grateful to our many volunteers who hand wrote postcards, hosted coffees, canvassed, designed ads and wrote letters. Generous supporters helped us and because we believe in transparent financial reporting we followed state law to the letter forming a North Carolina CHALT political action committee. It takes a tremendous team to run a successful campaign and we are proud to have reignited a high degree of community activism.

Especially when the issues are controversial, local campaigns have tremendous value. More people than ever before became interested in discussing the pros and cons of the direction the town has taken in the last several years. We put forth our point of view on these topics as clearly as we could.

David Schwartz did not win a seat, though he came close, finishing only 295 votes behind Michael Parker. David’s research and analysis of land management were instrumental in forming our ideas, and through his writing and public speaking he has greatly enriched the public debate.

As we have in the past, C.H.A.L.T. will continue the public dialogue by holding talks and presentations on affordable housing, green buildings, stormwater management, safe biking and walking, addressing traffic congestion, and identifying the kinds of economic development that benefit residents. We intend to keep a spotlight on these issues and encourage more people to engage in local matters as the Council decides how to proceed. Of significant interest will be the matter of how the town spends the bond money approved in the referendum.

Please sign up for our newsletter on the upper right hand size of this page if you’d like to stay informed about our take on Town happenings as well as C.H.A.L.T. events.

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The Old Council’s Last Meeting

11.23.15  At a recent council meeting, Council member Maria Palmer encouraged the staff to move as many council decisions as possible to November 23, the last meeting of the current sitting council. Indeed the agenda had  an unusually large number of items.

One might argue that the current council has the right to try to finish the issues they started,  but not if that means giving inadequate consideration or inadequate public review to important decisions. Given the incredibly long agenda,  the sitting council and mayor will need to figure out how to deal with  the overpacked agenda they have planned.

ShowImageSome of the items on which the outgoing council may act are troubling. For example, there have been vacancies on the Planning Commission since the summer, and several applications were submitted in mid-July and early September. Given that the Council apparently saw no urgency to act on filling these vacancies during the past several months, it is curious that they are choosing to do so during the last meeting of the outgoing council, rather than allowing the incoming council to appoint individuals to the boards and commissions that will advise them.

The Planning Commission has recommended that Whit Rummel be appointed to fill one of vacancies reserved for those who have previously served on the Town’s Transportation Board. He is the only applicant with the transportation board experience who has applied.  He also owns 14 acres on Estes Drive that he has been seeking to develop.

A matter of concern is that during the Central West negotiations Mr. Rummel did not recuse himself from a key vote as a member of the Transportation Board, an advisory board that was asked to comment and vote on the Central West small area plan.  Mr Rummel had a direct financial interest in the outcome of the vote and refused to recuse himself. This violates the pledge that all advisory board members agree to support.

“Members of advisory boards and commissions shall not discuss, advocate, or vote on any matter in which they have a conflict of interest or an interest which reasonably might appear to be in conflict with the concept of fairness in dealing with public business. A conflict of interest or a potential conflict occurs if a member has a separate, private, or monetary interest, either direct or indirect, in any issue or transaction under consideration. Any member who violates this provision may be subject to removal from the board or commission.”

Another item of interest on the voluminous agenda are changes to the Town’s Land Use Management Ordinance. One such proposed change would loosen the existing restrictions on the operation of Bed and Breakfast establishments in residential neighborhoods. In response to citizen concerns, the staff have indicated that they recommend adopting an “opt-in” policy whereby at least 85% of the property owners in a given neighborhood must endorse the adoption of looser B&B regulations for their neighborhood. However, the actual language of the proposed new ordinance states:

 “Phase Two [of the process of creating a new “Bed and Breakfast” district]      may be initiated by (i) the Town Council or (ii) by a petition from at least eighty-five (85) percent of property owners in a proposed district, upon submittal and acceptance of said petition by the Town Council.”

This states that the process for designating a given neighborhood a “Bed and Breakfast district” would not necessarily require a petition signed by 85% of the property owners, but, rather, could be initiated by the Council itself, which indicates that, under the new ordinance, the authority to decide whether to loosen B&B restrictions for a given neighborhood would not in fact lie exclusively with the residents and property owners themselves.

One would hope that  a responsive council would not vote to initiate the creation of a B&B district if the majority of the neighborhood residents opposed it, but this proposed language places the burden on the neighborhood residents to remain vigilant and informed about proposed zoning changes that may originate from who knows where, rather than giving the residents themselves the exclusive right to collectively initiate the rezoning process.

On December 2, a new mayor and three new council members will be sworn in. We anticipate better planned agendas with the new council.

11.24.15 Postscript:  The Council appointed Whit Rummel to the Planning Commission.  On the Land Use Management Ordinance proposals, the council approved the water quality and accessory use changes, but no action was taken on the neighborhood character overlay and bed and breakfast ordinances.

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No Buffers, No Birds

This article by naturalist Mary Sonis appeared in the Chapel Hill News on November 23, 2015.

Bolin Creek saw a great turnout of migrating warblers this fall along with a solid showing of many resident species. As the birds move south to their wintering grounds, the creek offers an invitation that is irresistible to wildlife, and especially to our warblers – water.

Every day from 4 to 6 p.m., I headed out with a camera and chair, and set up my viewing station along the creek. The sound of water flowing over rocks produces of soft murmur that can be heard by any passerby. It is this sound that draws the birds. From the safely of the dense undergrowth, birds cautiously make their way down the trees and find a variety of tiny shallow rock pools. It is there that they bathe and drink at the end of the day.

Some tiny pools are so sought after that birds line up to take their turn. The diminutive Northern Parula Warbler might be driven off by a more determined (and larger) Black and White Warbler, while a migrating Chestnut-sided Warbler on its journey from the Northeast, lands without hesitation, and ignores the fray. An entire family of resident American Redstarts appears daily. Two siblings practice their flying skills by chasing each other in and out of the creek zone, often zipping by my head as if to show off their newfound acrobatic skills. The more sedate parents call the youngsters in and make their own cautious forays to a small crevice between the rocks that holds a scant half-inch of water.

What is it about this habitat that is so appealing to wildlife?

A riparian zone is the area of vegetation that borders a creek or stream. It is often a dense, impenetrable area of tangled greenery. It shades the creek, soaks up water after floods, absorbs toxins in the water, prevents erosion, and provides a protection zone for wildlife.

At creek’s edge a beaver family builds a lodge that is nestled only a few feet from the path of high school runners. It is so close a region that the beavers lift their heads when they hear a passing runner or dog walker. Box Turtles forage the moist leaf litter in search of invertebrates, and find their own soaking pools in the ruts and puddles along the main dirt path. Spotted Salamanders spend their lives buried deep beneath rotting logs in the forest and creek border, making their yearly journey to the vernal pools on the path to lay their eggs when soaking spring rains flood the trail in February.

There is only one thing that won’t fit along the Bolin Creek Trail. Pavement.

For warblers, the riparian border offers a perfect habitat. There are plenty of insects to be gleaned from the leaves, hidden sites for nests, water for drinking or bathing and finally, vegetative cover to protect the warblers from predation by the owls and hawks that patrol the creek.

A riparian border is the golden area of any creek.

It is not surprising that this creek trail also draws large numbers of humans to the Carolina North Forest. It is a beautiful trail that local residents have used for years as a peaceful spot to walk their dogs. Our outstanding Chapel Hill High School cross country running team makes their way down the path at 4 o’clock, the same time that the warblers arrive. On sunny fall afternoons, science classes from Smith Middle School can be found studying water ecology at creek’s edge. Mountain bikers join the activity as they negotiate the roots and dips along the trail.

Surprisingly, it all works. Runners, hikers, naturalists, and mountain bikers all share the beauty of this small stretch of land that winds its way from Wilson Park to Chapel Hill High School.

There is only one thing that won’t fit along the Bolin Creek Trail. Pavement. Some groups in Carrboro are advocating for a paved greenway along the creek in Carrboro. In order to meet state Department of Transportation standards, this paved path would require a buffer of 10 feet on either side. Unfortunately, that buffer would cut into the riparian zone.

This is the golden area that we can’t afford to lose. No buffer, no birds. No erosion control, no shade, no carbon absorbing trees, no Box Turtles lingering in a cool patch of muddy water on a sunny day. Is the cost too high to create yet another paved commuting route for bikers? Let the Carrboro Board of Aldermen know what this trail means to our community. Let them know if you’ve taken your children on nature walks along Bolin creek to see our Barred owls. Let them know if you want your teenagers to run that trail with dirt beneath their feet, and warblers calling in the canopy.

Mary Sonis is a naturalist, photographer and writer in Carrboro. You can reach her at msonis@nc.rr.com

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