Expected Impacts Obey Creek

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

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What’s Up With Obey Creek?

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

What's Up Obey Creek

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Important Decisions Remain at Obey Creek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fiscal Concerns about Obey Creek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rudy Juliano for CHALT

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Transportation Concerns at Obey Creek

This is second in a series of speeches made by CHALT supporters at the March 16th Council Public Hearing. Martin Feinstein speaks on the trasportation challenges presented by the Obey Creek proposal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obey Creek: Whose Interests Does the Town put First?

From Today’s Chapel Hill News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Schwartz lives in Chapel Hill.

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Own Up to Tax Hike

Written for Chapel Hill Watch by Nancy Oates and reprinted here
Get ready for a tax hike, a one-two punch of county and town both wanting Nancy Oatesmore from taxpayers.

Talk of money hung heavy in the air last week, with the county commissioners continuing discussion (kudos to board chair Earl McKee for dissuading his colleagues from rubberstamping approval) of a $125 million bond in 2016, and Town Council holding a work session last Monday in which town staff bandied about the possibility of a $40 million bond in the November 2015 election, plus another $50 million financed in TIF-style installments.

Elected officials for both county and town have the authority to raise taxes without putting a bond referendum on the ballot for voters to approve or vote down. But politicians prefer to raise taxes through a bond because it puts the onus for an unpopular decision (paying higher taxes) on the voters, not the elected officials. When a bond referendum passes, politicians have the excuse that the tax hike came about because voters demanded it.

Instead, elected officials tend to exercise their spending authority on projects that they know voters wouldn’t necessarily spring for. Commissioners spent more than $1 million renovating a lovely meeting room for themselves and others, mainly adults with cars. But wouldn’t it be nice if schoolchildren could wake up every day knowing that they had a similarly beautiful spot in which to learn? Or at least one with adequate heating and without mold.

Town Council members also approved a pricey renovation of its space that included a secret emergency exit, exclusively for council members’ use, and a bullet-proof dais. And look at the exquisite town manager’s suite — oh, right, we can’t because it requires cardkey access. But it must be nice because its budget was three times that of the equivalent space for the permitting center open to the public on the ground floor.

Those expenditures likely would not have met with voter approval. So, being politically savvy, our commissioners position their bond as money for schools, and council members make theirs for new greenways, sidewalks and unspecified stormwater improvements, all of which appeal to voters.

Council members seem to have no compunction against asking taxpayers to pay more for what we value, but they won’t ask developers to contribute.

We have a noisy group of “Not in My Checkbook” businessmen who want residential property taxpayers to subsidize their development projects as a hedge against their risk, most recently The Edge and Village Plaza Apartments, which produced no affordable housing or energy efficiency or stormwater mitigation that would reduce flooding in modest neighborhoods nearby.

Those businessmen are big contributors to the election campaigns of many of our council members and at least one commissioner.

We need elected officials willing to make decisions about what’s best for the community, even the community members who don’t contribute to election campaigns.

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Changes Proposed for Rural Buffer

The Town Council will consider amendments to the Joint Land Use Planning Agreement on Monday, March 9 at a regular Town Council business meeting.  According to a Chapel Hill News story, Carrboro Alderman Sammy Slade says that “proposed changes to open new business opportunities for farmers in the rural buffer are moving forward, but there’s still time to weigh in.” See link for entire story.

On March 2, the Sierra Club hosted a panel discussion on the Rural Buffer and the proposed modifications to the Joint Planning Land Use Agreement to allow Agricultural Support Enterprises in the Rural Buffer area.

The panelists were Alice Gordon, former Orange County Commissioner, Sammy Slade, current Carrboro Alderman, and Brian Wittmayer, current Chapel Hill Planning Commissioner. Earl McKee, the current Chair of the Orange County Commissioners also attended and participated in the discussions. The session was well attended by about 25 community members in the Town’s Library.

The discussion started off with an overview provided by Carrboro Alderman Sammy Slade of the history of the rural buffer and the rationale for including Agricultural Support Enterprises within the Rural Buffer. The Orange County Planner was unable to attend.

The rural buffer is an element of the Joint Planning Land Use Plan adopted in 1986  and the Joint Planning Agreement in 1987 by Orange County, Carrboro and Chapel Hill. It resolved complex water quality and territorial issues which were memorialized in these agreements on the boundary lines for the towns, county, extra-territorial jurisdiction, and the rural buffer.

Brian Wittmayer summarized the primary benefits of the rural buffer, one element of the Joint Land Use Plan:

  • The rural buffer has, since 1987, been an effective tool in containing sprawl – without it Orange County might look much like Southern Wake County (Cary & Apex) – because of it we are unique and distinct from much of the rest of the Triangle region;
  • We have the opportunity to drive 5-10 minutes in almost any direction and be in the countryside surrounded by working farms;
  • The low density uses allowed have preserved tree canopy and natural habitat, and;
  • The rural buffer coupled with the University Lake watershed regulations have protected our water supply.

Orange County Commissioner and Chair Earl McKee attended the session and advocated that the Agricultural Support Enterprise uses would serve to reduce or delay the economic incentive for farmers to sell out to low density residential subdivision developers. Currently, residential development of 1 home/2 acres is allowed in the buffer because that is the carrying capacity of the land for groundwater and septic systems.

Panel members Sammy Slade and Alice Gordon focused on the details of the proposal, primarily discussing the various uses allowed and the implementation of the plan:

Allowable Uses: the concern was to make sure allowable uses were not too intensive thus creating too much traffic, impervious cover, or a need for public water/sewer services. Carrboro has already removed four uses and Commissioner Earl McKee supported the exclusion of three more of those, including major event uses within the buffer.

Implementation: there has been some discussion regarding making the introduction of Agricultural Support Enterprises more incremental so that we can see how it’s working before opening up the buffer to these uses. Ideas have included a sunset clause, limiting the uses or permits available per year or by acreage, however there has been no consensus on any of these phased implementation ideas. It was noted that approval of the proposed changes to the Joint Planning Agreement will not inevitably result in a “free-for all” of unregulated development since most of the new uses will still require review and approval by the Orange County Commissioners during a new conditional use zoning process.

Proponents say that if done carefully, the inclusion of Agricultural Support Enterprises could serve to protect the benefits we all receive from a strong rural buffer protections. The details are important, however, so that unintended consequences do not diminish the rural buffer protection.

Some worry that if a public health emergency were to occur as a result of a use that caused a non municipal water or sewer system to fail, it might be necessary to serve the enterprise with public water and/or sewer. If this happened then it would take three governments and a utility to solve the problem in a way that would not jeopardize the Joint Planning Agreement or the Water & Sewer Management and Planning Boundary Agreement.

Last year, Orange County approved the Agricultural Support Enterprises outside the rural buffer in the County Land Use Plan and Unified Development Ordinance. The Commissioners did not approve these enterprises within the buffer.  That is because both the Joint Planning Agreement and the Joint Planning Land Use Plan must be changed before the county can consider and approve the Comprehensive Plan and Unified Development Ordinance amendments necessary to implement Agricultural Support Enterprises within the rural buffer. The Orange County Commissioners will not vote on the proposed changes for the County Plan until after Carrboro and Chapel Hill deliberate.

The Carrboro Board has already approved the proposed modifications to the Joint Planning Agreement and the Joint Planning Land Use Plan which allow agricultural support enterprises within the rural buffer but the Aldermen eliminated events from the approved use table. Chapel Hill and Orange County still have to vote on this.  The four uses, recommended for deletion by Carrboro, were Agricultural Processing Facility, Microbrewery with Major Events, Winery with Major Events, and Assembly Facility Greater than 300 Occupants.

Any changes to the Joint Planning Land Use Plan and Agreement must be approved by all three governments to take effect. After proposed changes are approved, the Orange County Commission will consider and adopt the agreements on April 7 or early May into the Orange County Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

Sammy Slade and others at the Forum thought it was not too late to comment or propose changes.  Alice Gordon suggested removing a catch-all “agricultural services” category that she said leaves a lot to interpretation. Sierra Club member Melissa McCullough said, “a critical issue is being able to trust the proposed changes won’t harm the rural buffer.” She suggested adding more guidelines for intensive uses, such as agricultural processing facilities.

The Chapel Hill Town Council will consider these proposed modification to the Joint Land Use Plan Monday, March 9th.

Submitted by Julie McClintock; reviewed by Brian Wittmayer and Alice Gordon

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Council Discusses Possible Fall Bond Referendum

Citizens may get the opportunity to vote on a bond issue this fall during the council elections. If the Council approves a $40 million referendum, as well as $50 million in debt financing, the total would be $90 million of additional debt for the Town of Chapel Hill. The amount this debt would add to a property owner’s bill is not yet known.

Before the Council work session began on Monday, March 2nd, the Mayor and Council  thanked Town employees that performed various duties related to the snow emergency of the past week.

Then Ken Pennoyer Town budget director explained how various capital projects had been chosen for the bond issue proposed or the November 5 election and how he proposes they be financed. There was some pretty fancy footwork going on since the majority of the $90 million total funds to be borrowed will be kept out of the bond package, and financed through other borrowing methods.

taxes$50 million would be financed via various different installment methods which use the properties to be built or items to be financed as collateral, in the same fashion as the Town is using for the Ephesus-Fordham infrastructure by using Town Hall as collateral. For example 42 old buses are to be replaced at $500,000 each and financed over 12 years using the buses themselves as loan collateral. Thus at the end of 12 years the buses will be paid off but will also be in immediate need of replacement again.

There were a number of items placed on the list for the $40 million general obligation bond package. These items appear to have been selected primarily for their voter appeal, and include new greenways and extensions to existing greenways, sidewalks all over town, downtown streetscape enhancements, as well as $5.9 million for stormwater improvements.

In addition to the purchase of new buses, the new police Headquarter, three new fire stations, and a training facility are part of the “mortgage” style package and therefore would not be subject to voter approval.

When Mr Penoyer finally got to the bottom line numbers, he proposed that $34.4 million be funded by the bond package and $29.5 million be installment financed using the new structures as collateral. This would not include the $21 million for the 42 buses because he hopes to find funds from “other” governmental entities to help with this item.

There are also a couple other items not included which he hopes to fund separately so these 3 do not total the $90 million being discussed.

The challenge, according to the Budget Director, is that the Town only has the ability to finance $50 million available via the 8.5¢/$100 portion of property tax that is dedicated to the “Debt Service” fund. The $63.9 million that needs to be financed thus will require 1-2 additional “pennies” from the property tax.

Thus the Town property tax will increase if the Town pursues the program recommended by the Budget Director — and approval of the selected items appeared likely based on comments and questions from Council members.

Council Member George Cianciolo pointed out that due to the delay in time between approval of the $16 million library expansion bond and the construction of the project, the actual library expansion was downsized and had only the equivalent value of $12 million due to inflation of costs between passage of the bond and construction years later. He wanted to know if Budget Director Pennoyer had accounted for cost inflation in the various projects that would be built between now and 2021. The answer he received was no.

The conclusion is the size of the bond package will either increase, along with the size of the tax increase between now and March 23, when the Town Council must agree on the items to be financed, or the list of items in the package will be trimmed. Stay tuned!

Report submitted by Fred Lampe

Recommended reading: Nancy Oates,  “Own Up to Tax Hike”,  from Chapel Hill Watch.

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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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