Wishing you Happy Holidays and Looking Back at 2016

                                             Carolina Inn – Chapel Hill’s Christmas Centerpiece

Happy Holidays to our family of supporters and all those who want to make Chapel Hill an even better place to live.  This Our Town website is chock full of interesting local news, articles, and opinion about our home town, Chapel Hill.   Learn about the goals of Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT) by reading our past newsletters, blog posts, or by attending our educational events.

CHALT advocates for a livable Chapel Hill by educating and promoting a future that will honor and protect Chapel Hill’s small town character, and our longstanding values of inclusion, environmental stewardship and education. Detailed mission and goals can be found here.

  A Look Back at 2016……

The New Mayor and Council

The election of Pam Hemminger as Mayor of Chapel Hill has brought practical economic policies and a kinder gentler tone to Town governance.  Many citizens feel more welcome at Council meetings.  Petitions are now handled expeditiously instead of lost in an abyss, and upcoming public hearings are listed on a town webpage. The Mayor initiated a Food for the Summer progam that was an enormous success. Her energy and boundless interest in all aspects of the Town are astounding.

The election of CHALT – endorsed Council members Jessica Andersen and Nancy Oates has meant that citizens whose views were not previously represented on the Council, now have a voice.  Nancy and Jessica’s  presence has sharpened the Council’s oversight role of the management of the town by their insightful questioning of Council direction and town policies. We appreciate their service!

American Legion Sale: a Big Win for the Town! 

We celebrate the Town Council’s new support for a more enlightened use of the American Legion property, rather than the unimaginative and fiscally draining luxury apartments previously proposed. The sale of this land to the town means the Town will add an additional park with other opportunities that will benefit everyone.  Kudos to the entire Town Council and especially to Mayor Hemminger for leading the negotiations!  We look forward to having public participation in the strategic planning process to create our newest park.

Sancar Turkish Cultural Center

On November 21, The Town Council unanimously approved a local Nobel laureate’s plan to create a Turkish cultural center on East Franklin Street. The Council approved a special use permit for 1609 E. Franklin St, formerly the site of a contentious hotel proposal that was not approved.

Named for UNC scientists Aziz and Gwen Sancar, the center will feature net-zero energy buildings, which means that the roof-mounted solar energy systems will produce sufficient energy to offset any energy taken from the electrical grid to run the buildings’ energy systems.  This building design will set the standard for future sustainable development in Chapel Hill.

Transportation Planning Upgrades

After years of thinking and talking about it, it appears the Town is finally on track to improve transportation planning by implementing a traffic model for Ephesus Fordham that can be utilized for the entire town. In addition, CHALT’s Fred Lampe petitioned the Transit Partners to evaluate electric buses who requested that Chapel Hill Transit hire a consultant to study how much an electric bus costs over the useful lifetime of the vehicle.

Ephesus Fordham District (E-F)

We know that many Town Council members agree with us that the Form Based Code (FBC) that governs the Ephesus Fordham District needs to be fixed.  The zone encompasses nearly 200 acres and was intended as an initiative to spur more vibrant and interesting growth. Most agree that the FBC did not achieve these intentions and that progress toward repairing this new zone has been too slow. In June 2016, the Town Council made an amendment requiring  a designed break or pass through in the otherwise monolithic building form, but until the remaining problems with the FBC are fixed, developers are free to propose buildings that meet but few restrictions.

Consultants hired. In addition to making modest design changes to the FBC, the Council directed the Town Manager to hire a number of consultants to address “walkability”, transportation and design guideline elements that were not included in the original FBC approved in May of 2014. See town webpage of scheduled code improvements.

New zone replaces Town ordinances.  It is worth remembering that in approving the FBC, the Town Council abandoned some of the finest aspects of our Land Use Management Ordinance, specifically height restrictions, setbacks, and buffers, as well as requirements for affordable housing, and stormwater management.  The resulting projects so far, show what happens when public hearings are removed from the review process. Few people appreciate the monstrous new high rise luxury apartments on South Elliott Road that have eliminated the large trees we previously enjoyed along the road and those along the greenway bordering Booker Creek. The one story buildings in Rams Plaza are not objectionable (they could have been 2- 3 stories)  but the FBC failed to solve the entry and exit problems. And there is general concern about building large new buildings in what was formerly the Resource Conservation District in the flood plain.

Touted transportation improvements. The jury is out as to whether the highly touted Ephesus Rd – 15-501 intersection improvements or the planned extension of Elliott Rd will actually relieve traffic congestion and be worth the taxpayer contribution.

Current E-F strategy may not be working.  Everyone is concerned about the RAM proposal for large new monolithic buildings to be built in the Resource Conservation District and the flood plain from Elliott along Fordham Blvd which could be approved 45 days after the application is submitted. That proposal conflicts with the Town’s own proposal to build a stormwater storage pond there that would also create needed green space and park space. As is the case for all potential projects in the Ephesus Fordham District, the Town Manager has exclusive decision-making authority, since the FBC requires no public hearings.  The only other oversight allowed by the FBC is comment by the Community Design Commission on building facades.

The Consultants’ work is not yet complete but progress is not encouraging.  The walkability recommendations recently presented to the Council ignored the public pleas for green spaces, and safe biking and walking, and instead promoted changes the land owners preferred.

Perhaps more worrisome, while the Town Council professes commitment to fixing the FBC, they do not appear in a hurry to do so before more bad projects are approved.  See Chapel Hill news story about more apartments on 15-501 and Elliott built in a low lying flood zone. We are losing faith that the FBC can be fixed and wonder whether moving back to the previous rules for approving proposals would not be a better approach.

Light Rail Price Tag Out of Sight 

Orange County’s transportation plan includes a robust bus service to outlying areas, bus rapid transit, and light rail.  The immediate funding problem will come to a head in April when the County Commissioners will be asked to pay the extra costs for the light rail price tag which has gone through the roof due to the diminishing chances of state funding. GoTriangle is looking to the local counties (Durham ad Orange Counties) to make up the difference to the tune of 250 million dollars and more.

CHALT is concerned that the price will preclude the development of the more flexible portions of the plan as well as impact County responsibilities for schools and social services.  We believe that the extraordinary costs of the light rail proposed plan makes this a good time for Orange County Commissioners to reevaluate the County’s participation in a plan that does not appear to benefit anyone but UNC Health Care.

Support our Educational Efforts

Finally, please support our excellent Speakers Series by making a donation today.  Press the Donate Button to the right and support our work.

Thank you for your interest and support!

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Our State: North Carolina GOP to strip some of Democratic Governor’s power

Durham Herald Dec 17, 2016

Repubicans Undermine Eletion Results

RALEIGH — North Carolina Republicans stripped the incoming Democratic governor of some of his authority on Friday and they were on the cusp of an even greater power grab, an extraordinary move that critics said flies in the face of voters.

Just last week, it appeared Republicans were ready to finally accept Democrats’ narrow win in a contentious governor’s race. As it turns out, they weren’t done fighting. In a surprise special session in the dying days of the old administration, some say the Republican-dominated legislature has thrown the government into total disarray, approving two bills aimed at emasculating incoming Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration. One of them was signed into law by the current governor.

Cooper, the current attorney general, has threatened to sue. And many in the state are accusing Republicans of letting sour grapes over losing the governor’s mansion turn into a legislative coup.

“This was a pure power grab,” said retired school librarian Carolyn White, 62, a long-time demonstrator who was arrested as part of the “Moral Monday” protests against GOP-led legislative policies. “I got arrested two years ago. Did it make any difference? No. But just like the civil rights movement, it’s forward together. You just have to keep going forward.”

The protesters were so loud that Senate and House cleared the galleries — a highly unusual move. More than 50 people were arrested this week, and as demonstrators were led away from the Legislative Building, some chanted “all political power comes from the people.” Those that remained behind could only watch the debate through glass windows or listen to it online.

Hundreds stomped their feet and yelled outside the gallery, causing several Republican lawmakers to note they were having trouble hearing during the debate. Democrats repeatedly stated their objections.

“The kindergartners are getting rowdy,” said Republican Rep. Dana Bumgardner.

He said Democrats were “creating out of thin air a talking point for the next election.”

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who lost to Cooper by about 10,000 votes, quickly signed into law a bill that merges the State Board of Elections and State Ethics Commission into one board comprised equally of Democrats and Republicans. The previous state elections board law would have allowed Cooper to put a majority of Democrats on the elections panel.

The law would also make elections for appellate court judgeships officially partisan again.

Another bill that received final legislative approval would force Cooper’s Cabinet choices to be subject to Senate confirmation. Before adjourning, lawmakers confirmed a salaried appointment to the state Industrial Commission for the wife of McCrory’s chief of staff. McCrory nominated her.

McCrory must decide whether to sign the second law passed by the General Assembly, a body that has repeatedly tugged him to the right even though he campaigned as a moderate in 2012 as Charlotte’s former mayor.

Republicans insist the legislation is simply adjusting the constitutional powers already granted to the General Assembly. Many provisions had been debated for years but had either gotten blocked or the Democratic viewpoint previously won out.

Read more here.

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American Legion Post 6 Signs off on Chapel Hill Land deal

CHAPEL HILL — The general membership and executive committee of American Legion Post 6 have signed off on a deal with the Town of Chapel Hill, finalizing a contract for the town to purchase the post’s 36-acre property.

The veterans organization’s general membership voted unanimously to accept the town’s offer to purchase the property for $7.9 million during a meeting Thursday night after the local post’s executive committee on Wednesday voted unanimously to recommend it. The town is expected to close on the property in early 2017.

“We are elated,” Post 6 Commander Bill Munsee said. “We couldn’t be happier. Now we are ready to begin closing the book on Post 6 in Chapel Hill and getting into a new building and moving on.”

The Chapel Hill Town Council voted earlier this month for Town Manager Roger Stancil to sign a contract to purchase the 1714 Legion Road property, with an installment purchase plan with three payments. At the time of closing, the town would make the first payment of $3.6 million from its fund balance or savings with two equal payments of $2.15 million to follow in 2018 and 2019. According to a presentation made to the Chapel Hill Town Council, the town ended the fiscal year $3.6 million over its fund balance target.

The American Legion will continue to occupy the clubhouse, dance studio and surrounding land for at least three years for $1 per year to give the organization time to find another space.

“We’ll be looking for land and probably be building a new building,” Munsee said.

In 2015, the property appraised for $4.8 million, but the value jumped up to $10.3 million if the land was rezoned to allow 500 apartments, 30 townhomes and 50,000 square feet of office space. Raleigh-based Woodfield Acquisitions offered $9 million for the property and proposed a similar project. The town council decided against purchasing the property then, but members said Chapel Hill was in better financial shape to purchase the property now.

Once the town has officially closed on the property, a multi-month strategic planning process will begin to best decide how to develop the property.

“The council affirms its intent that the American Legion property be used for a mix of purposes, both public and private, consistent with the guiding principles approved by council in June 2016 and that council expects the town will recoup a portion of the purchase price by making some portions of the American legion property available for private development,” according to a resolution that was approved in an 8-to-1 vote by the town council.

There’s an assumption, according to the council presentation, that a portion of that land will be used as a park as it neighbors Ephesus Park.

Contact Anna Johnson: ajohnson@heraldsun.com, 919-419-6675.

http://www.heraldsun.com/business/american-legion-post-signs-off-on-chapel-hill-land-deal/article_4c5c1c3e-c3e7-11e6-a27a-8f2f512b3885.html

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It’s Time to Stop, Look and Listen on Light Rail Project

dolrrouteMap of proposed light rail project that serves only a tiny corner of Orange County. The developable  land served by the light rail line is almost all in Durham County. Light Rail will steer investment away from Orange County, hurting our tax base and employment opportunities.

It’s time to stop, look and listen because Orange County’s bill for the light rail project connecting Duke with UNC hospitals has just doubled — resulting in increased property taxes — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Our County budget will be on the hook for cost overruns into the future putting our schools and social services at risk.

♦  On Monday, December 5th the Orange County Commissioners will meet in the Richard Whitted Building in Hillsborough to discuss the GoTriangle funding request.  If you wish to ask the Commissioners to delay any commitment to additional funding for this project until a proper cost benefit evaluation, scroll to the bottom of this article to sign the petition. ♦

GoTriangle has finally recognized that this regional transit authority will need more funding and that it’s not coming from the state of North Carolina. GoTriangle is asking Durham and Orange counties to makde up the difference!  For a start they are asking the Orange County Board of County Commissioners for an additional $40 million in funding, raising the local contribution from 25% to 40% of the overall project cost.

All this assumes that the state legislature grants full funding of 10% and that the project, which is only 30% engineered, will come in on budget- it’s aready gone up and they have not even started the design work.

In addition, GoTriangle has requested that an additional $20 million be diverted from sidewalk/greenway projects to the Light Rail project.

GoTriangle representatives explained that the increase in funding is intended to cover a $250 million funding gap created by a decrease in state contributions from 25% to “up to 10%”, as well as interest costs associated with a mismatch between the timing of funds from the Federal Transportation Authority and construction.

Unfortunately, missing from GoTriangle’s presentation was information about a number of other important financial factors which will, very likely, mean that the project cost (and Orange County’s share) will rise even further. These include:

  • Rising interest rates
  • Rising constriction labor costs
  • Uncertainties about federal contributions
  • Lower sales tax revenues than expected
  • Possibility of less than 10% state contribution
  • Amount of cost overruns the county must absorb

Note: Assuming the revised budget is $1.87B, then there is already an increase of $520M (+38%) over the earlier 2012 estimate of $1.35B … and they haven’t even finished designing the project!

See article by Tammy Grubb in Chapel Hill News, Orange, Durham asked to spend $175 milllion more for light transit and Commentary by Orange County Chairman Earl McKee, http://bit.ly/2fT8BRI

Everyone wants better transit, and Orange County voters approved a local tax in 2015 for improved transit.  But the money raised is going overwhelmingly to funding light rail studies, while shortchanging investment in the practical public transportation that we need here in Orange County.

Why should County elected officials reevaluate the light rail project now?  The cost of the project may have exceeded any perceived benefit and would reduce funding for important Orange County priorities:

  1. A viable Chapel Hill transit system which better serves Chapel Hill and which can be expanded into rural areas where UNC workers live;
  2. Future funding for Bus Rapid Transit, sidewalks, and bikeways;
  3. Maintaining excellence in our public schools which have been hit hard by state cutbacks; and
  4. Moderating tax increases to keep living in Orange County affordable.

The County Commission have not said where they would find the funds for the additional funding for light rail, but most likely it would come from new property taxes –  estimated to rise by 10 cents if the carrying costs of the bonds just passed are factored in.


When we raise taxes we make it more and more difficult to make living in Orange County affordable. Taking on this heavy light rail commitment for the next ten years would squeeze our public school budgets just when the state has cut funding for public schools,  forcing our county to make up the difference with property tax revenue.

Before the Commissioners commit to any more County money they must:

  • Understand how the additional commitments would impact future Orange County school budgets and other priorities for housing, affordability and transportation.
  • Do an evaluation by an independent auditor of the figures GoTriangle presents, as well as the benefits and costs of the light rail project in the light of the cost increases.

♦    Sign the petition asking the County Commissioners to hit the “pause button”  http://bit.ly/DOLRT_OC

signpetition
You can send an individual emails to the Board members to reinforce concern and/or opposition to county dollars being spent on the Light Rail project here:  ocbocc@orangecountync.gov.

You can see all letters in the Commissioner public record here.

Resources:

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Downtown Chapel Hill Needs Good Design

Ned Crankshaw Event

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Chapel Hill Celebrates Arbor Day – Are We Still a Tree City?

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Chapel Hill Celebrates Arbor Day on Nov. 18

Despite a thoughtful tree ordinance, the practical impact of recent town decisions has brought down many of our trees.  Now when former residents return they notice higher buildings and fewer trees.  Is the Town loosing the most iconic signature image that has made our Town remembered as a nice place to be?

Here is the Town’s Press Announcement      Post Date:11/07/2016 11:29 AM

“The Town of Chapel Hill’s annual Arbor Day celebration will be held at 10:15 a.m. Friday, Nov. 18, at Southern Community Park, 100 Sumac Road.

Sarada Dudley Brown and Shelby White’s second grade class from Scroggs Elementary School will participate and help plant an ‘Happidaze’ Fruitless Sweetgum.

Mayor Pam Hemminger will read the Arbor Day Proclamation and accept the 2015 Tree City USA Award from a the County Assistant Forest Ranger of the North Carolina Forest Service’s Orange County Office. 2015 was Chapel Hill’s 17th consecutive year as a Tree City.

To be named a Tree City, a town or city must meet four core standards set by the National Arbor Day Foundation: maintaining a tree board or department, having a community tree ordinance, spending at least $2 per capita on urban forestry and celebrating Arbor Day….

Arbor Day was set by the Chapel Hill Town Council in 2000 as the first Friday after Nov. 15. Each year the Town celebrates trees at its Arbor Day ceremony by planting one or more trees at a Town-owned facility such as a park or entryway. Last year a Red Maple tree was planted next to the Town’s Housing Department offices where Tanyard Branch Trail crosses Caldwell Street.

Chapel Hill contains a diversity and abundance of trees. Its residents have had a long love affair with trees dating back to 1889, when cutting down a tree in town was punishable as a misdemeanor and carried a $20 fine.”

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What’s Your Vision for Chapel Hill?

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People have often expressed criticism of the new style of development in Chapel Hill and the questions often asked are: “Why is Chapel Hill approving such huge monolithic buildings?”and “Why aren’t we building new projects that fit into the college character we love about Chapel Hill?”

At Festifall, we conducted an informal visual preference survey. We presented two images, the first a rendering of what the adopted form-based code is actually producing in Ephesus-Fordham, namely the 90-ft Alexan apartment building on Elliott Road.  The second image is a streetscape rendering from the Ephesus-Fordham small area plan that shows what the district might look like after redevelopment.

We asked viewers to place a sticker next to the image that better matched their vision of the kind of new development they would like to see in Chapel Hill.

Image #2, featuring wide sidewalks with canopy trees and 2-3 story buildings that reveal a broad expanse of sky and abundant natural light, was overwhelmingly preferred to the much larger, fortress-like structure in image #1.

The Form Based Code District governs nearly 200 acres including Whole Foods, O2 Fitness, Eastgate and Rams Plaza.

CHALT will continue to advocate for making changes to the Code that will make our town livable.

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Town Council and County Approve $4M Subsidy for Wegmans

C.H.A.L.T. is glad to see retail coming to Chapel Hill instead of more luxury apartments. However, what caught the public by surprise at the recent public hearing was the size of the incentive package that the Town Council and Orange County Commissioners had negotiated.  The incentives proposal came to the council with just a few days of notice to the public and the terms of the deal were negotiated in closed session.

To understand more of the details and how the subsidy offer came about, view the video presentation to the County Commissioners by County Economic Development Director Steve Brantley.

The Council approved the incentives package unanimously but Council members Jess Andersen and Nancy Oates raised a number of hard questions about the $4M price tag.

John Quinterno wrote  about the economics of the move in this letter to the Editor of the Chapel Hill News.

The Durham Herald writes about this new approach to economic development in this October 30th article, Chapel Hill Changes Strategy To Retail.

 Two earlier articles in the Chapel Hill News follow.

 #1 Chapel Hill leaders sign on with county for $4M Wegmans incentive,

The Town Council voted unanimously Monday to endorse a $4 million tax incentive partnership with Orange County to land Wegmans Food Market. A concept plan is online now.  Read entire article here.

#2 Orange Co. board supports $4M incentive for Chapel Hill Wegmans, Chapel Hill News, Tammy Grubb

The Orange County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to move ahead with a $4 million incentive for Wegmans Food Market. The incentive would be paid to Wegmans using its future property and sales tax revenues, starting in the second year. The county would pay up to $800,000 a year for five years.

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Ephesus Church Road Closure Leads to Significant Detour in Chapel Hill Starting Nov. 1

eph-church-detourNorth Carolina Department of Transportation officials will be closing part of Ephesus Church Road in November to address flooding issues – but the closure is frustrating nearby residents.

The closure will be near the intersection with Tinkerbell Road, close to Ephesus Elementary School.

Town public works director Lance Norris said the plan is to “replace an existing undersized and dilapidated pipe” to address “the flooding issues that have been occurring on Ephesus Church Road”.

But the plan was announced on short notice, and that’s frustrated both residents and officials.

Mayor Pam Hemminger said the work has been delayed in an effort to establish an alternate traffic plan.

“It’s great that they want to do it, but they didn’t give us a heads up and just closed the road down,” Hemminger said. “That’s not really going to work until we know how to detour. So we’ve delayed it just for a few days while we can get some detours.”

Town officials said they did not receive any prior notice regarding the DOT’s decision. Council Member Ed Harrrison said when he raised the issue in a meeting, he was told the DOT “assumed their staff had told the town”.

Hemminger said despite the short notice and the inconvenience, the work will take place.

“We’re working with [the DOT], there will be some rerouting, but its going to be inconvenient for a lot of people until about the end of December.”

With the slight delay, construction is now expected to begin on November 1and will last until December 22, weather permitting.

Read the original article on Chapelboro here.

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The Story of Charlotte’s Little Sugar Creek

In 2014, the previous Mayor and Council adopted a new zoning code that governs real estate development in the 200-acre Ephesus-Fordham district. Among the flaws in this code is the lack of any vision for creating a central community amenity that will attract people to the district and help spur commercial revitalization at the Franklin Street and 15 -501 gateway to Chapel Hill.

The new Mayor and Council are seeking ways to fix the Code.  One aspect which has not yet been tackled is the concept of a community amenity.  The city of Charlotte’s recent restoration of Little Sugar Creek inspires us to create these public spaces which draw people to our town.

Join us 5:30 pm, Wednesday October 26, to learn how Charlotte, North Carolina, turned an eyesore into a community treasure.

Microsoft Word - LittleSugarCreekEventFlier.docx

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