Living on the Edge

Town Council Gambles with Northernmost Chapel Hill

The Edge

The Edge

“The Edge” is another missed opportunity for Chapel Hill and another bailout for developers.

On the evening of February 23rd, the Mayor and Town Council resoundingly answered “yes”.  After expressing their dislike for various aspects of the proposed project, the Council members all held their collective noses and voted to approve it. By doing so without first nailing down key elements of the project, such as provision of affordable housing and how much subsidy the Town will deliver, our elected officials have again given away all the leverage they had to get community benefits for the Town.

Perhaps this capitulation might be forgiven if the Edge were going to create something truly special for Chapel Hill, but that doesn’t appear to be in the offing. The design guidelines for the project include some schematic illustrations of possible development scenarios. The overwhelming sense one gets from looking at these illustrations is that the Edge is basically going to be a giant parking lot.

For more than a year Council members, staff, and others have lectured us on how unattractive, wasteful, and passé this form of development is, and that it was therefore necessary to transform the “ocean” of parking lots in Ephesus-Fordham into a more dense, walkable urban environment. It appears, however, that last night our elected officials, at staff’s urging, voted to create in Northern Chapel Hill exactly the kind of auto-centric suburban development that they found so abhorrent in Ephesus-Fordham. A big disappointment all around.

Costs to taxpayers ignored.  The Town Council has not yet learned the hard lesson that approving large amounts of residential in “mixed use” developments costs the Town more in services than the taxes brought in by the increased tax base.  With residential growth comes also the significant cost to Orange County of building new schools to serve the children who live in them.

See the video of the Council meeting here.

Below is the “Living on the Edge” article that appeared in the CHALT January-February newsletter.

Will “The Edge” be another missed opportunity for Chapel Hill and another bailout for developers? It’s starting to look that way.

In late January the Town Council resumed its discussion of a project that has been trying to get off the ground for eight years now. The 53-acre site under consideration, on Eubanks Road just off Martin Luther King Blvd. and I-40, has always been regarded as a prime location for increasing the commercial tax base. And as everyone knows, the town needs more commercial tax revenue. Yet even a commerce-friendly council couldn’t help noticing the flaws in the most recent proposal by developer Northwood Ravin.

For starters, Northwood Ravin appears to be trying to craft its own definition of a special use permit (SUP). By definition, a SUP includes a site plan that gives predictability to what will be built. But Northwood Ravin says it needs 33 zoning variances for “flexibility” to make The Edge up to 75 percent residential – that’s a third more residential than the current ordinance would permit. Northwood Ravin’s spokesman also declined to commit to any particular styles or types of building, saying the company would need to wait and see what kinds of tenants they could attract.

As for affordable housing, a pressing need in Chapel Hill, the company said it could not guarantee any affordable housing, but would set aside land for five years or more, for as many as 50 units of affordable housing, and apply for state grant funding. If during the specified time period the funding failed to materialize, neither would affordable units, nor any payments-in-lieu.

Here’s another serious problem: On the eastern half of the property, an intermittent stream and a perennial stream fall inside the Resource Conservation District. The RCD provides critical environmental protection for our water supply. Northwood Ravin wants permission to regrade this site, locate storm-water facilities alongside the stream, and reserve the area for future commercial development. Setting this precedent would likely encourage other applicants to demand equal treatment.

To their credit, council members have greeted Northwood Ravin’s various excuses and complaints with skepticism. To the claim that it would be hard to attract a big-box retailer because the site is not visible from I-40, at least one council member pointed out that neither is Southpoint – and that hasn’t stopped shoppers from beating a path to the popular mall. Other shopping areas, Cary Town Center, Crossroads, and Crabtree Mall all are similarly “challenged,” yet their success has not been affected.

Northwood Ravin also complained that it would be hard to attract big chains because they’ve already gone elsewhere and don’t want to cannibalize their other stores. The Planning Commission heard the same reasoning from the developers of Weaver Crossing just down the road.

So what about recreation and green space, also high on the town’s list of priorities? Northwood Ravin’s offer to reserve 10,000 square feet for open space, from a total of 2.3 million square feet, should fail to inspire confidence.

In an ominous late development, the town staff is now recommending using a development agreement (DA) for the Edge, in addition to the SUP, to negotiate significant issues, including a request that Chapel Hill contribute over $1 million for planned road improvements. Council members must bear in mind that if they approve a SUP before this issue and others are settled, their negotiating power will be lost.

The Edge does not deliver what Chapel Hill says it needs or wants – significant commercial development just off of the I-40 corridor. Northwood Ravin is asking for major concessions with no guarantees of success if they get them. It’s not a winning hand for the council – unless they refuse to play cards.

Del Snow, the former two-term chair of the town’s advisory Planning Board, lives in Chapel Hill.

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“What Makes Us a Livable Town?” Safe Places to Bike and Walk

As part of our Livable Town Speaker Series, we invited world famous biking expert,  Dr. John Pucher to speak on “Making Chapel Hill a Sustainable Community: Improving, Walking, Cycling and Transit”.

Dr. Pucher spoke energetically to an audience of about 40 on a wintry February 19th afternoon at the Chapel Hill Public Library. Slides for his presentation can be found here.


John PucherOne of the keys of a livable town is to provide safe places to bike and walk and is included as one of CHALT’s goals.  Read all of our goals here. 
Questions? Contact

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Parking Hassles Caused by FBC

Parking will likely become a nasty problem for Chapel Hill as new developments are built under the Ephesus-Fordham form-based code (FBC). The Ephesus-Fordham area is the guinea pig for the first FBC rollout, and it will be the first to suffer. Ground Zero will be the shopping center in the vicinity of Whole Foods on Elliott Road.  Look for trouble to arise once the Village Plaza Apartments developers fence off their land and begin construction.

Residents brought this issue to the attention of the Town Council and town staff in 2014 prior to FBC approval, but residents’ concerns were ignored.

The details are simple and easy to fix. It’s all about a few formulas in the math used to calculate the required number of parking spaces. If the formulas are correct, then adequate parking can be provided. However, Chapel Hill adopted a formula for Ephesus-Fordham that skimps on parking.

For example, the formula specifies that a maximum of 1.25 parking spaces per one-bedroom apartment be provided and 1.75 spaces for a two-bedroom apartment. No number is used for guest parking.

By contrast, in Flagstaff, Ariz., the numbers used are 1.5 and 2.0 respectively. Guest parking is calculated at 0.25 spaces per two-bedroom apartment.

A quarter of a parking space sounds like a frivolous amount to quibble about, but when you multiply that by a large development (e.g. the Village Plaza Apartments will comprise 266 units), the parking shortfall can have nasty consequences – particularly when you consider the proximity to the heavy traffic already present in the adjacent parking lot for Whole Foods. Things will get ugly.

Why are the smaller Chapel Hill FBC numbers wrong? To me, allocating just 1.25 spaces for a one-bedroom apartment, 1.75 spaces for a two-bedroom unit, and nothing for guest parking says that the development will be mostly occupied by people who live one per bedroom and don’t have any friends. How realistic is that? Not much.

Elsewhere in Chapel Hill residents are battling landlords who allow four or more students (with their cars and cars of friends) in rental houses. As much as we’d like to hope that car use can be curtailed, the reality is different. We live in an era of cars, and adequate parking must be provided.

Bottom line: Fix the inadequate FBC parking formula ASAP and avert future parking problems.

K. Larsen, February 4, 2015

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Town Council Delays Vote on “The Edge”

Chapelboro.  At Monday night’s public hearing, the Chapel Hill Town Council postponed approving the 55-acre mixed-use development proposed for Eubanks Road.

Council member Donna Bell imagined visiting an unpleasant development in the future. She said, “I would hate to go by in ten years and go ‘ohhh, I approved that?’”

Bell and other council members said they welcome the opportunity for economic development, but in this project called The Edge, the applicant has too many requests that would affect the way the project moves forward. So the town is delaying granting a special use permit to Northwood Ravin, the developer, while officials consider the requests.

Northwood Raven is asking the town to pay $1 million to $1.5 million for improvements to Eubanks Road. And the developer wants permission to build on a space the town has designated for environmental protection.

Read more here.

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CHALT Announcement

Chapel Hill, NC – A group of Chapel Hill citizens say they are mobilizing to try and save the town they love, before it’s too late.

The Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT) is a grassroots organization founded by residents who wish to honor and protect Chapel Hill’s celebrated small-town character, its longstanding values of inclusion and environmental stewardship, and its commitment to public education and quality of life. CHALT represents a diverse group – lifelong Chapel Hill residents and relative newcomers, both old and young, united by their belief that the Town Council urgently needs new leadership. To support that goal, the group has developed a five-point campaign platform and will vigorously support candidates to run for mayor and council seats this November.

Everyone is encouraged to attend CHALT’s inaugural program “What Makes Chapel Hill a Livable Town?” at the town library on Sunday, January 25, from 1 to 3 p.m., in Meeting Room A. Exhibits will invite viewers to help craft a new direction for our town. Refreshments and childcare will be provided.

The Livability Platform

Chapel Hill residents have long prized our town’s vitality, diversity, good public schools, natural beauty, town-gown synergy, and comfortable human scale. Chapel Hill remains a good place to learn, raise a family, and be in business. But unless town government changes direction, Chapel Hill will soon confront paralyzing traffic congestion, overcrowded schools, unaffordable housing, escalating taxes, and few opportunities to shop other than in chain stores. This town is losing its local character at an alarming rate. Small businesses are locating elsewhere. The so-called “revitalization” of downtown, for example, translates into lots of expensive high-rise apartments buildings, but not a single full-service grocery store!

CHALT will support mayor and council candidates who show the willingness and ability to govern responsibly and responsively. CHALT’s five-point platform outlines the following specific recommendations for better town governance.

  1. Protect and improve what we value about our town.
  2. Solve traffic and transit problems.
  3. Maintain high standards for new development.
  4. Promote housing, work and shopping for residents of all income levels.
  5. Spend taxpayers’ money wisely.

What’s Next?

In the fall of 2014 CHALT launched a web site ( and a monthly newsletter. Over the next several months, CHALT will expand its membership and outreach by hosting a series of events to gather ideas from the community and discuss more inclusive and sustainable ways of planning for the future. CHALT aims to cultivate and promote candidates who share the group’s determination to sustain and enhance the qualities that keep Chapel Hill livable.

For more information about the CHALT platform, upcoming events, and opportunities to get involved, go to

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CHALT Announces Platform


CHALT aims to protect and improve what we love about our town, and serve as an unbiased resource for information on issues of importance to our community. We advocate for policies and leadership that will sustain and enhance the qualities that make Chapel Hill a wonderful place to live.

Chapel Hill residents enjoy our town’s vitality, diversity, good schools, natural beauty, college town character, and livable scale. It’s a good place to live, raise a family, and be in business. But Chapel Hill’s good qualities are threatened by new development that is not being managed to benefit the whole community.

Unless town government improves its guidance of development, we will be at risk for paralyzing traffic congestion, overcrowded schools, loss of affordable housing and shopping, and escalating taxes. We need a new direction to assure the livability of our town. CHALT invites you to work toward a better future for Chapel Hill as outlined by this platform.

Protect and Improve What We Value About Our Town

1. Support the high quality of Chapel Hill schools, among the town’s most important assets. Assure that growth does not outpace the availability of quality school buildings and teachers.

2. Protect and enhance the quality of our streams, natural landscapes, parks, recreational trails and wildlife habitats.

3. Protect the quality of life in Chapel Hill’s residential neighborhoods, where we live and raise our children.

4. Make it easier for citizens to get information about town government. Heed the considered advice of town-appointed boards and advisory groups.

5. Keep faithful to our character as a tree-lined university town with a diversity of residents, locally owned businesses and buildings at a comfortable human scale.

Solve Traffic and Transit Problems

1. Ensure that new development does not worsen traffic congestion.

2. Look at the big picture by using traffic models to project the town-wide traffic impacts of development, instead of piecemeal planning.

3. Provide safe routes to bike and walk.

4. Include the cost of associated traffic and transit improvements in the benefit-cost evaluation of proposed developments.

5. Improve access to parking and bus transit to make Chapel Hill more convenient for residents and more economically attractive.

Maintain High Standards for New Development

1. Require new development to pay its own way. Favor development that strengthens town finances by generating more tax revenues than taxpayer costs. Use an economic model to estimate the costs new development will impose on the town and the new tax revenues it will generate.

2. Require new development to follow principles of good urban design in order to create a coherent, attractive, and vital public realm. Solicit design guidelines from local experts and advisory boards.

3. Conduct future-conditions floodplain mapping as practiced by other N.C. cities to assure that new development does not make flooding problems worse.

Promote Housing, Work, and Shopping for Residents of All Income Levels

1. Create effective incentives and requirements to maintain and increase the town’s stock of housing for those who work in Chapel Hill and for those with moderate incomes.

2. Change current policies and zoning, which are causing rapid elimination of housing for moderate income families.

3. Recruit commercial, research and light industrial enterprises that can provide a range of employment opportunities and new tax revenues greater than the accompanying increases in town costs.

4. Assure that the town’s retail mix includes stores that provide everyday necessities at moderate prices, rather than the current trend toward upscale retail.

5. Protect thriving, locally owned businesses from being driven out.

Spend Our Money Wisely

1. Make provision of basic services and maintenance of infrastructure the highest town spending priority.

2. Begin annual funding for town obligations and necessary services, such as retired employee health costs and replacement of old buses, rather than pushing these costs off into the future.

3. Re-examine and reverse town funding of expensive and open-ended consultant contracts and of costly new administrative positions.

4. Work with UNC to minimize further removal of property from the town’s tax base and to maintain an appropriate level of in-lieu-of tax payments for town services to the university.

5. Hold budget workshops to improve citizen understanding of and participation in budget decisions.

Note: The CHALT platform was developed by interested citizens in numerous meetings which reached a consensus. The platform will evolve as issues arise and new people join our cause.

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Meadowmont Friends of Little Creek

A group of residents of Meadowmont Village gathered at the Little Creek Trailhead on January 15 to begin participation in Clean Jordan Lake’s Adopt-A-Feeder Stream Program. Bolin Creek and Booker Creek join together in Chapel Hill to form Little Creek that flows along the northern edge of Meadowmont Village before turning south to Jordan Lake.

Ready to start the trash pick up

Ready to start the trash pick up

The Little Creek trail runs along low lying land managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Jordan Lake. Meadowmont resident, Eric Teagarden, has led an effort to improve the trail. He said “When I heard about Clean Jordan Lake’s new program, I knew this would be a good match for us.

We see lots of trash washed down to the creek after rainfalls. ”

The Little Creek adoption is the second in Clean Jordan Lake’s new initiative to stop trash from reaching the lake. The first adoption was along the Town of Apex’s Beaver Creek Greenway. Fran DiGiano, President of Clean Jordan Lake, said “Our long-term goal is trash prevention in the entire watershed of Jordan Lake. We soon hope to move even further in that direction with a public education campaign to sensitize watershed citizens to the fact anything thrown on the ground will eventually be flushed to the lake by rainfall events.”

Bill Ferrell, manager of Meadowmont, was on hand for installation of the adoption sign and noted “this should make our residents more aware of their connection to Jordan Lake.” Afterwards, the Meadowmont volunteers forged into the woodlands for their first cleanup. They filled 14 trash bags full of glass and plastic bottles, assorted playground balls, car parts, and other junk. Teagarden added “We plan to tackle another area of the trail on February 8th and probably fill 20-30 more bags.”

DiGiano added “I’m especially pleased to see the growth in our Adopt-A-Shoreline Program, the forerunner to the Adopt-A-Feeder Stream Program, as well as the increase in community service days by various groups throughout the year. Since we incorporated Clean Jordan Lake in 2009, over 3,400 volunteers have participated in about 140 cleanups, large and small. They’ve removed 9,500 bags of trash and an astounding 3,500 tires.”

More details about ways to participate are at

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Does the Chapel Hill Town Council Want Citizen Input on Obey Creek?

The January 12 Council meeting agenda said that the Town was seeking citizen input on Obey Creek. If you have missed what’s happening with Obey Creek, the Town is in the midst of negotiations with developer Roger Perry to forge a development agreement for a large mixed use project on 15-501 opposite Southern Village. The final size of the project is as yet unknown but could be as large as 1.6 million square feet, which excludes the necessary 500,000 square feet of parking.

Amy Ryan, member of the Chapel Hill Planning Commission, pointed out the need for council to “right-size” the project in order to align future development with the community’s vision which was laid out in the Compass Committee report. She also made a strong statement asking the Town Council to request a formal recommendation from each citizen advisory board.

A similar request came from Polly Vandevelde of the Community Design Commission. Surprisingly, given the likely traffic, storm water, and planning implications of such a large development, the Council has so far declined to ask for advice from its Advisory Boards.

Betsy Smith, a 30 year expert on land use and water quality, pointed out that the Town is proceeding with plans for this development without benefit of any environmental studies. She recommended a number of technical storm water studies and encouraged council to include appropriate protections in the agreement to protect the town’s financial interests should a failure in the system occur. Unfortunately, she was interrupted by the 3 minute buzzer.

Council Member Jim Ward interjected that he wished he could hear more, and if he were Mayor he would have granted an exception. But the Mayor and buzzer master Lee Storrow reminded Ward that the Council had bought into the 3 minute rule at a previous retreat.

Several citizens spoke about safe biking and walking. One person spoke about the value of town-owned land that bisects the development site – a revenue source for the town, depending upon how council chooses to leverage it during negotiations.

Developments Agreements are a different kind of planning tool – really a contract between the Town and the developer. The agreement need not follow Town ordinances and standards. Therefore public participation is essential to forge an agreement that meet the community’s approval as well as the Council’s.

In the town’s two previously negotiated Development Agreements, there have been two important mechanisms for public input: involvement of the advisory boards and opportunities for public comment before and after negotiation sessions and special meetings. (See detail below on Glen Lennox Development Agreement process.)

In the case of Carolina North one could see the impact of comments from the public and advisory boards as the agreement drafts were developed.

This mini hearing on Obey Creek raises some important questions about how our Town Council views citizen and Advisory Board comment.

Is the Council really interested in hearing counsel and advice from its Advisory Boards? If so, they why doesn’t the Mayor and Council make a formal request?

Do Council members already have a picture of what they want, so data and citizen input are irrelevant? If not, then why not discuss a protocol for an exception to the 3 minute rule when experts testify?

The size and particular plans for Obey Creek remain unknown for now.  Anyone who plans to drive into and out of the southern gateway to Chapel Hill needs to pay attention to the meetings scheduled for later in January and February.

Post by Julie McClintock

Note:  For Glen Lennox, the review was part of the 2 year NCD process that preceeded negotiations. It is described in the Glen Lennox Development Agreement as follows: Page 6, Section 3.17 “The Development as contemplated in this Agreement was recommended by the Town’s Advisory Boards pursuant to extensive review of the NCDP.”

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Flawed Development Policies Costing Town Needed Revenue

This remarkable editorial by Brian Wittmayer was printed in the Chapel Hill News on December 17th.

Earlier this year, the Town of Chapel Hill “sold the farm for a song” in the Ephesus-Fordham District to spur redevelopment. Before Thanksgiving they gave away even more by instituting an energy and water efficiency incentive program that rebates permit fees if developers achieve certain efficiency ratings.

The town estimates that $600,000 in rebates could be given out over the next four years. This equates to 35 percent of the total permit fees anticipated during this time. These fees are supposed to fund the town services required to support new development and to partially repay the $10 million loan that the town has taken out for related infrastructure projects.

This fee rebate approach might make sense if there were no other way to achieve energy efficiency; however, every other significant development application in the last six months voluntarily included an energy-efficient design in exchange for increased density and/or other concessions.

Why, then, are we giving away needed revenues in exchange for something we would obtain for free if the town’s new land development ordinance (i.e. Form-Based Code) were structured properly?

The affordable housing strategy in the Ephesus-Fordham District is similarly flawed. Everywhere else in town, developers voluntarily offer, or are required, to make 10 to 15 percent of new housing units affordable or provide a commensurate payment in lieu.

In the Ephesus-Fordham District however, the town purposely left out affordable housing incentives and requirements. Thus, in the 266 unit Village Plaza Apartments we might normally obtain 25 to 40 affordable units, but instead we will get none.

Ironically, the town trumpets the economic benefits, the sustainability, and the affordable housing in the Ephesus-Fordham District as remarkable achievements. Instead of promoting empty claims, let’s formulate and implement some thoughtful plans to create a long-term sustainable Town budget and to preserve and improve our high quality of life.

Here are three ideas:

First, the town needs to manage expenses better, instead of primarily striving to increase revenues through growth and by raising tax rates. The town has recently increased non-essential town communications staff and expenses, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on out-of-state consultants, and built unnecessary upgrades to Town Hall. Instead, we should be focusing on improving the efficiency of delivering essential services, leveraging our local community’s talent base, and cooperating with adjacent governments to reduce costs.

Second, our development review process is too long, inconsistent, and uncertain. The process takes years, every aspect of our development ordinances are negotiated by Town Council and developers, and vast resources are wasted. As a result, we achieve suboptimal outcomes. Let’s figure out a way to simplify and shorten the process without lowering our high standards. By streamlining the process and applying consistent and high standards, we will be more likely to receive excellent development proposals and the amount of profit and public goods to be shared by developers and the community will be increased.

Finally, we must do a better job of planning for and utilizing growth and development to obtain the community goods we desire, such as increased revenues, sustainable design, affordable housing, open/natural space, and transportation connectivity (pedestrian, bicycle, auto, and transit). Let’s take advantage of our town’s desirability by permitting appropriate development in exchange for tangible public goods, instead of lowering our current development standards to achieve dubious net economic benefits. Furthermore, since residential property costs more to service than it brings in additional revenue, growth needs to be more carefully balanced.

Chapel Hill is a remarkable place, with a talented and engaged community. Let’s work together to make sure our town remains an extraordinary place to live, work and play!

Brian Wittmayer is a member of the Town of Chapel Hill Planning Commission and the former chair of the town’s Sustainability Committee.

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Whole Foods Can Stay, But….

This article first appeared in the CHALT newsletter in December, 2014

Plaza Dry Cleaners opened more than half a century ago, in the small neighborhood shopping center now dominated by Whole Foods. Brenda Honeycutt’s mother, one of the new employees, proved a very smart hire; she rose to become a partner and owner.

Brenda, who started by working for her mother, also showed the knack. She took over a thriving business, where customers are greeted by name and dogs get movie star treatment along with a biscuit.  Her grown daughter, Sherry, now works there with her.

Brenda and her daughter enjoy knowing their customers.

Brenda and her daughter Sherry enjoy knowing their customers.

So do 15 skilled employees, some of whom have been with Brenda Honeycutt for 20 years. It’s a marvel to watch them, working in unison in the cleaning plant only a wall away from the front counter, folding, boxing, spot cleaning, carefully arranging shirts or trousers in the various pressing machines. Here’s a rainbow coalition of the young and old, men and women who grew up in North Carolina, Mexico, Central America, and as far away as Bangladesh.

Brenda’s management style combines every quality you could wish for. She’s warmhearted, honest, funny, efficient, and completely hands-on. She even treats the cleaning equipment like an old friend. “I call him R2D2, there he is, just steamin’ away,” she says fondly of the vaporizer that sits out back. Brenda expects good work (“Mama always said quality, not quantity”) and she gets it, because, as she says, “I’m not going to ask anyone to do something I won’t do.”

She rewards loyalty; one employee now drives a car on permanent loan from Brenda, after her own car got totaled. She fires people who slack off and sass back (“this gal raised immortal hell, there’s no other way to say it”).

The business does well but not obscenely well, because Brenda has made expensive investments in new equipment and Clean Green technology, costs she does not want to pass along to loyal customers. She’s known some of these folks since she was a girl. One old-timer, who likes a firm crease in his trousers, told her that this whole shopping center used to be a dairy farm.

Brenda Honeycutt is 65 years old. Her husband, Dan, who used to fix all the machinery, and who built her a squirrel-sized office between the cleaning floor and the front counter, died suddenly two years ago. Now she lives with a five-year-old great-grandson who needed a home so she took legal custody.  She’s up with her boy before dawn, and rushes home to Chatham County to be with him every afternoon. Lots of baby pictures in her office, and a ceramic cross, imprinted with the words to the Serenity Prayer.

Shortly after Brenda’s husband died, the barbecue restaurant across from Plaza Dry Cleaners was forced to close. Brenda enclosed a note to the landlord with her rent check, saying she was glad her place was safe. She was hoping to sell the business in a few years and retire to a small place in the mountains.

Instead, her new landlord told her to vacate by the end of next year (i.e. 2015.) Her old landlord, Steve Ginn, a commercial real estate investor from Ohio, had owned the mall for many years, and because he kept the rents reasonable, many small businesses opened and grew roots in the community, joining in Plaza Dry Cleaners’ success.

But two years ago, seeing the winds of change blowing into Chapel Hill, Steve Ginn took an offer he couldn’t refuse. He sold out to Regency Centers, a huge, Florida-based commercial real estate company, for $16.7 million. Regency owns high-end malls in 17 cities, targeting consumers with upwards of  $100,000 a year to spend, according to its web site. Regency even produced a short video for one of its favorite tenants, the women’s designer-clothing store Lilly Pulitzer.

Regency told Brenda they want to put an “upscale restaurant” in her space. They told Brenda they might consider letting her keep a “drop store” somewhere on their property, but they definitely didn’t want actual people cleaning actual clothes on the premises, despite obvious advantages in terms of cost, efficiency, employee morale, and quality control. Brenda says it would cost $150,000 just to move the equipment, and then where would she find an affordable space?

Cheerful and optimistic by nature, she can’t help feeling crushed by the weight of it all. And she knows that her skilled employees aren’t likely to get hired by the upscale restaurant expected to take their place.

So, after 60 years of doing business successfully and well, Plaza Dry Cleaners will earn the only kind of historic designation Chapel Hill seems to be handing out these days: First Mom-and-Pop business destroyed by redevelopment in the so-called Ephesus-Fordham focus area.

Earlier this year Steve Ginn told the Chapel Hill News he tried to protect his former tenants, but that “change is inevitable.” Regency’s leasing agent, Paul Muñana, was quoted as saying that small businesses “are the heart and soul of our shopping center.” He must have liked the sound of that phrase, and one has to wonder what would happen if Village Plaza’s customers held him to his word.

One thing’s sure: Unless customers push back, Regency will “re-tenant” (the company’s nicely antiseptic phrase) all but Whole Foods’ space, in very short order.

And sadly Brenda Honeycutt’s dry-cleaning business will be just an old timer’s memory, like that dairy farm.

Ann J. Loftin, a former newspaper and magazine editor, now edits scholarly articles and monographs. She lives in Chapel Hill.

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