by Joe Buonfiglio, Chapel Hill News, May 22
Mark Zimmerman’s pro-development propaganda loosely veiled as commentary (“Developing a Better Attitude in Chapel Hill,” CHN, May 1) cannot go unchallenged.
He says our mistrust of developers’ motivations creates unwarranted suspicions when developers donate to specific candidates who appear to favor a pro-development agenda. He maligns news-media reporting of those suggesting a link to potential “influence-peddling or providing payback for decisions.”
To his eyes, the community doesn’t understand that big developers aren’t bad guys, but simply help our community grow while being its wealth-creators along the way. Reading Zimmerman’s explanation of it all, one could conclude that the huge profits big developers such as Roger Perry and his East West Partners reap off of Chapel Hill are the farthest thing from their minds. It’s as if the out-of-place monstrosity being built on Elliot Road and the prison-wall ambience of East 54 are there to solely sprinkle happy economic fairy dust on Chapel Hill without any thought to shoving big bucks into the developer’s pocket.
Mayor Pam Hemminger announced a program for serving lunches to school age children during the summer after her election.
- Food for the Summer aims to feed up to 1,600 children from June to August
- Partnership needs volunteers to deliver, serve meals at about 20 sites
- Volunteers also could provide children with books, other fun activities
- Hundreds of volunteers will unite this summer to serve up to 1,600 local children with fresh meals five days a week.
Food for the Summer meals will be prepared at McDougle Middle School from June 13 to Aug. 12 and handed out to volunteers, who will deliver it to about 20 Chapel Hill and Carrboro locations. Some locations would serve neighborhoods, while others would be reserved for children attending specific programs, including the YMCA and Hargraves Center in Chapel Hill.
The goal is to make sure children aren’t going hungry while they are out on summer break, organizers said, but also for volunteers to spend time with them, whether through arts and crafts, tutoring, sports or another activity. The Food for the Summer program grew out of a campaign promise that Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger made last fall. It’s modeled on an existing program that the city schools, Varsity Church of Chapel Hill, No Kid Hungry NC and TABLE have offered for the last four years.
Hemminger worked with those groups this year to expand the program, bringing in town officials and other agencies, including the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service, PORCH, UNC, the YMCA and Book Harvest.
Many knew about Carrboro’s 1B Multi-Use route (from Claremont to Homestead Road and then east to Chapel Hill High School. What almost no on knew until a few weeks ago was that the route would intersect with the High School’s Cross Country Course three times. The Carrboro Board of Aldemen will meet again this Tuesday, May 17, at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall to discuss the topic.
The team. Chapel Hill High sports a winning Cross Country team. The girls’ team won the 3A state championship in 2015 and the boys’ cross-country team got second place in the 3A state championship in 2015 this past fall. The girls’ indoor track team won the 3A state championship in 2016. Now, the girls’ (outdoor) track team just won 3A regionals this past Saturday and are favored to win the 3A state championship this coming Friday; the boys got third in the 3A regionals this past Saturday.
The course. Since the Town announced construction would commence a few weeks ago, hundreds of concerned members of the public, including high school students, have attended three Carrboro Town meetings – most of them asking for a route adjustment.
Despite the conflicts with the cross country course, contracts for receiving the money and hiring contractors have already been completed. Can anything be done at this late date to minimize damage to the cross country course while honoring current agreements?
A quick look back. The recent controversy erupted because:
- Until several weeks ago, everyone was unaware there was a conflict between cross country facility and new multi-use trail – including the Board of Aldermen, the Greenways Commission and the Transportation Advisory Board, Friends of Bolin Creek, the high school principal, and the cross country team and coaches.
- This project concept was approved in 2010 but subsequent details of the route were not shared with key stakeholders before the contracts were signed. The Greenways Commission determined that the “green route” was preferable at the Homestead Road and Bolin Creek crossing, but that concept plan did not locate a route through school property.
- The Board of Aldermen apparently delegated review of plans to staff and the Greenways Advisory Commission whose members say they don’t recall seeing a final project map showing the routes through school property – they meet only 4 times a year.
- The staff has recently produced a list of outreach efforts, but the bottom line is that the stakeholders, Board of Aldermen, members of the Greenways Advisory Commission were all surprised by the fact that the final plan route conflicts with the High School Cross Country Course.
- A wonderful championship cross country course that has been lovingly tended for years by a championship team is to be significantly damaged by a “paved multi-use” roadway cutting through and along side the trail that will require at least 20 – 30 feet of clearing where ever it is located.
Mayor Lydia Lavelle stated that she did not know about the multi-use conflict with the course, nor did members of the Board of Aldermen. Friends of Bolin Creek representatives toured the school property in 2010, and assumed, wrongly, that additional pavement would not be needed in addition to the existing asphalt paths already present on the school site.
Clearly it was upsetting for the many runners and walkers who use this cross county trails to learn a contractor hired by the Town of Carrboro was to start construction in the next few weeks on a multi-use 12-foot hard surface roadway that would cross the wooded cross-country trail facility three times.
Consider the incredible history of this remarkable cross country championship team. The running times of cross country runners going back to the 1980’s are listed just outside the entrance to the track. The recent recommendation to remove part of the cross course course diminishes the history of this extraordinary athletic program, especially when there are are modifications the Cross Country team and the elected leaders could support.
Three of the Town meetings held recently:
- Cross-country team members turned out at the Board of Aldermen meeting the previous Tuesday, May 3, to express their objections to the planned route. Members of the public, including students, and concerned citizens and Friends of Bolin Creek, requested an alternate route that would refrain from impacting the cross-country course. The BOA asked the Town Manager and Attorney to respond with some options. Video here.
- A preconstruction meeting was held on Thursday, May 5, for interested parties that included Carrboro Town staff and the engineering firm, Kimley-Horn.
- On Tuesday, May 11th, the Town attorney returned with a list of financial impacts if the project were abandoned or modified. An option presented by the town staff would require relocating part of the cross country course in order to reduce the crossings from three to one, and would put a portion of the multi- use pavement running for several hundred feet along the woodland trail. Video here.
The question remains: what can be done at this late date to preserve this wonderful community and school facility without delaying the project?
View map #1 showing the 1B route intersecting with the High School Cross Country course. The most recent proposal would eliminate several of the crossings but would require part of the course to be removed.
The alternate route was proposed at the May 3rd Board of Aldermen meeting. It would remove fewer trees, mean less disturbance of the forest, and less construction cost. It would be safer as there would be less conflict between be runners and bikers.
At a recent work session, the Town Manager Roger Stancil and Executive Director Mary Jane Nirdlinger said the Town lacked sufficient staff resources to handle all the priorities the Council had identified.
This suggests that town staff resources perhaps need to be reallocated in order to achieve the goals that our elected officials have set.
Beginning in 2009, under Stancil’s leadership and with encouragement from elected officials, the Town government began to shift resources toward public relations and the external communications department. Citizens active in the negotiations concerning the future of UNC’s Horace Williams airport property had petitioned the Town Council for more citizen engagement. In response, the Manager hired a Communications Director and subsequently additional communications staff.
The expansion of the Town’s communications staff, however, has not led to more meaningful citizen engagement in town planning processes. For example, in the Ephesus-Fordham and Obey Creek planning processes, communication too often took the form of mere promotion or public relations, with staff resources used not to elicit citizen input but, rather, simply to inform the public about the town’s plans and portray them in a positive light. This trend toward devoting staff resources to creation of newsletters, reports, and posts to online media such as Facebook,and Twitter has continued and expanded in recent years.
During the March 21st Town Council budget work session, David Schwartz presented data showing how, between 2004-2014, the percentage of the town budget allocated to the Town Manger’s office—which includes the Communications Department — increased while the percentage allocated to core functions such as public safety, building inspections, and public works has decreased (see slide above).
Over the period in question, 2004-2014, the total General Fund budget increased from $42.7 million to $54.7 million, an increase of 28%. Over the same period, the Town Manager’s budget line, which includes the Communications and Public Affairs Dept., increased from $1.06 million to $2.4 million, an increase of 125%
The Town’s expanded Communications Dept. has been recognized for the high quality of its work (click here for list of most recent awards). However, at a time when we are facing multimillion-dollar annual revenue shortfalls, is this a wise way to spend our tax money?
This article appears in the Chapel Hill News April 20
by Tammy Grubb
The idea of using American Legion land to build a bigger neighborhood park has been around for years, unofficially and in the town’s 2013 Comprehensive Parks Plan.
The plan suggested leasing or buying part of the land from American Legion Post 6 to expand Ephesus Park, a 10-acre town-owned tract on Ephesus Church Road that backs up to the post, into a community park.
Neighbors have long viewed the 36 acres at 1714 Legion Road as a local resource, walking its trails, exploring the creek and letting their children use it as a safe route to Ephesus Elementary School.
Woodfield Investment’s $10 million bid for the land and plans for an office building and up to 600 apartments has some residents asking the Town Council to step in. The previous council had first crack at buying the land, but passed on it in November, saying there wasn’t money.
But the new council, at a March meeting, explored the possibilities. Only 20 acres can be developed, a consultant said, because a stream and floodplains cross the property.
The town could use $8 million in parks and recreation bonds approved last fall, council members said. Planning for how to use that money is in the very early stages, Parks and Recreation director Jim Orr said.
The parks plan calls Ephesus one of two parks with “the greatest need for major renovation and expansion.” It calls for creating a master study of the needs and lists more than $900,000 in critical improvements, including new tennis courts, restrooms, a park shelter and baseball field. There’s no money available yet for that work.
The Parks, Greenways and Recreation Commission also gave the town a “wish list” recently for future negotiations with Woodfield, Orr said. Among the suggestions, more parking for Ephesus Park and a dog park.
“It’s all just conjecture at this point,” he said.
Town Manager Roger Stancil said the council may have considered the parks plan in negotiating trails to Ephesus Park last year as part of Woodfield’s potential redevelopment.
“The idea was if the developer built trails and if they connected (to) Ephesus Park, it’s kind of like extending the town’s recreation area without the town spending any money to do that,” he said.
He wants to talk with the council again before June, Stancil said, but is waiting for the developer’s concept plan.
“The message was clear from the council, I think pretty unanimously, that anything that was 600 residential units was not going to get much favorable response,” he said. “If I were a developer, I’d rather try to put something together that might fly.”
Woodfield developer Scott Underwood said in an email last week they are continuing work “to find an equitable path to move forward.”
“We will not be submitting a formal application in April as we continue to work through our plan,” he said. “Woodfield is committed to working with the town and the community to develop a fantastic project.”
Any project submitted would require rezoning the land and face multiple hearings.
A vote against rezoning would stop the plan, but the town must give it fair hearing or it could appear as an illegal attempt to thwart the deal.
Legion officials won’t say if the town could get another shot at the land. It’s not an option they will address while under contract with Woodfield, Post Commander Bill Munsee has said.
Money, in any case, is the issue, Stancil said. The town has leveraged Town Hall to finance road construction and stormwater measures in the Ephesus-Fordham district and other projects and is taking on $40.3 million in bond debt over the next decade for parks, greenways, streets, sidewalks, solid waste and stormwater improvements.
There’s also a pressing need to replace aging fire departments and the Chapel Hill Police Department.
Using bond money to buy the land won’t leave enough to build facilities, Stancil said. No one has asked the town about a public-private partnership, meanwhile, and they need more details before asking the county for help.
Using bond money also delays priorities that residents and the town’s advisory boards spent years debating.
“It’s kind of similar to what you hear from the schools,” Stancil said. “We really need to invest our money in fixing up what we have rather than expanding that.”
Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb
This Petition was presented to the Mayor and Town Council on April 11, 2016
From: Del Snow and CHALT co signers listed below.
Town Sale of Assets
We petition the Council to review your policy of selling Town assets and to conduct a public hearing so you can hear from community members. The sale of assets can adversely affect residents, and the current process needs to be more transparent and more open to public review.
The idea of selling off Town assets gathered force at an October 17, 2012 council work session when some Council Members “suggested that staff seek the assistance of local real estate professionals on thinking about the highest and best use for some of the Town’s properties based on the condition and value of existing assets, the asset needs of the Town, and the goals of Chapel Hill 2020.”
At that time, interest was focused only on the old Chapel Hill Public Library, Old Town Hall, and the Homestead Road Sport-Arts Building. At the Manager’s suggestion, the charge was later amended to include:
- Collecting additional information on each of the three buildings above
- Collecting information on all other Town-owned buildings and land
- A staff assessment of which properties could be considered for immediate disposal and those that have certain restrictions, which will be identified, that could potentially complicate immediate disposal
- Collecting information on condition of existing space and future space needs for the Police Department and Parks and Recreation Department
- Collecting information on the condition of the Town’s fire stations
- Exploring other space needs for the future
The Manager convened and sought advice from a group of local real estate professionals (some suggested by individual Town Council members). The final report was created by the Real Property Asset Review Group Participants group,
made up of seven commercial real estate property representatives plus Robert Dowling of the Community Home Trust.
However, no advisory board members, citizens, or Town staff were part of these deliberations.
Over time, the Manager and Council’s original focus has grown to include Fire Stations 3 & 4 and Parks and the Recreation building on Plant Road. The Manager and staff reported periodically to the council in information reports.
It is time for the council to evaluate the concept of selling town assets, to review its purpose, and to address citizen concerns about whether these decisions are transparent and fiscally wise.
We ask the Mayor and Town Council to schedule a public forum to revisit the policy to sell town assets before the discussion begins of the most recent proposal from SECU for the Weaver Dairy Road Fired Station property. The long term consequences of selling off Town-owned land at bargain prices neglects to consider that we will need land for public purposes in the future and the Town will not be able to afford the market rate land at that time.
As it stands now, the SECU current proposal proposes revenue of $1.4 million from selling the fire station and costs of $2.9 million plus land purchase for a new fire station. Additional costs will be incurred towards the construction of a
regional training center. It appears on the basis of the information provided that there is no fiscal benefit from this transaction.
We would like to include the current policy of winding down Chapel Hill cemetery operations to the public forum.
We value and respect the interest of the SECU in expanding their presence in Northern Chapel Hill and hope that the conversation with them can continue at a later date, but it is imperative that the Town first establish its priorities and hear from the public on this important public policy approach.
Petition Signers: Del Snow, Eunice Brock, Lottie Chorman, Shauna Farmer,
Joey Ware-Furlow, Jeff Furlow, Joan Guilkey, Suzanne Haff, Tom Henkel, Bruce Henschel, Fred Lampe, Ann Jamison Loftin, Rudy Juliano, Scott Madry, Barry Malawski, Julie McClintock, Martha Petty, Phyllis Pomerantz, John Quinterno, Alan Snavely, Mark Weisburd, and Neva Whybark
Letter to Town Council, Amey Miller
Letter to Town Council, James Merkel
Council Weighs Options, Chapel Hill News
At the Monday April 11th Town Council meeting, the Town staff is asking the council to approve and authorize a contract with Gillig to purchase of up to 53 new Gillig diesel buses.
Here is what has happened so far:
- At the Feb 10, 2016 Transportation and Connectivity Board meeting, the Transit Department Director presented the department plan to replace up to half of 42 “old” buses with new diesel buses.
- At the March 7, 2016 council meeting, a petition signed by 18 Town Citizens asking Council to request staff to analyze the life-cycle cost of using electric buses instead of diesel buses was presented. As of March 15th, this petition was assigned to the Transit Department for response. No response to citizens or status update has occurred to date.
- The agenda for the April 11, 2016 council meeting lists item 11 as a request from the Transit Department Director for Council to authorize the Town Manager to “Execute a Contract with Gillig to Purchase (up to 53) New Buses.
We ask these questions of the Town Council and staff:
- According to the Citizens Petition, other cities have tested electric buses and begun ordering electric buses to replace their entire fleets. How do we here in Chapel Hill get the process started to get federal approval for similar electric bus procurement?
- The purchase authorization requested by the Transit Department of almost $25 million represents a huge investment for the Town equal to one quarter of the Town budget if made as a single payment. Should not the Town exercise due diligence, per the Citizens’ petition, before making such a large commitment of local, state (UNC) and federal funds?
- Given that dozens of cities around the world have already committed to replacing their diesel bus fleet with electric buses, why should Council authorize the purchase of up to 53 diesel buses instead of the much smaller quantity required to replace the dozen or so old Chapel Hill buses facing imminent failure?
- In an article in the March 23 issue of “The Daily Tarheel”, it is noted that “Complete Coach Works”, which has previously refurbished Chapel Hill buses, now offers to convert existing diesel buses to electric for essentially the same price as a new diesel bus. Why has the Town and its Transit Partners not considered this option?
Good questions! We hope we get some answers Monday night.
See Tarheel article here for background on the petition.
This full article by Katie Jansen appeared in the Durham Herald Apr 2, 2016
CHAPEL HILL — Recently filed campaign expense reports show Chapel Hill council member and mayor pro tem Donna Bell received more than $10,000 from developers associated with the real estate development sector, many of whom also donated to former mayor Mark Kleinschmidt.
Bell’s year-end report shows that $10,294 in contributions came from developers or their family members. Some of the developers were local, such as Chapel Hill-based East West Partners, and some were from out of state, such as Maryland-based Caves Valley Partners.
The developer contributions represent nearly 75 percent of the total $13,743 listed on Bell’s year-end report. Bell’s year-end report closely follows several patterns found in Kleinschmidt’s year-end report: (1) A file date after the deadline of Jan. 31; (2) A large number of developer contributions that weren’t listed on the pre-election report despite being dated before Oct. 19, when the pre-election report ended; and (3) A large number of donations for $336, the maximum donation allowed from an individual.
Read full article at Durham Herald here for $1…
Katie Jansen: firstname.lastname@example.org, 919-419-6675. She blogs about Orange County at Orange Pulp: http://bit.ly/OrangePulp
We attach a summary of Bell’s contributions from developers:
- $3,360 from developers or family members representing Maryland-based Caves Valley Partners
- $2,552 from developers or family members representing East West Partners, the developer of several Chapel Hill projects, including Meadowmont and the recently contested Obey Creek
- $2,030 from developers or family members representing Trammell Crow Residential, a real estate developer working on the Alexan Chapel Hill complex on Elliott Road
- $672 from Eller Capital Partners, a firm that owns several Chapel Hill apartment complexes
- $336 from an employee of Resolute Building, a contractor that has been involved in several Chapel Hill projects, including East 54 5000
- $672 from individuals representing GHK Developments, Inc., the firm behind two Walgreens locations in Chapel Hill — the one on the corner of Franklin Street and Estes Drive and the one on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Weaver Dairy Road.
- $336 from an employee of Scott Murray Land Planning Inc., a firm that has helped with many development projects in Chapel Hill
- $336 from an employee of Markel Eagle Partners, a real estate asset manager
This April 3 article reprinted with permission from Nancy Oates on Chapel Hill Watch.
Years ago, Chapel Hill adopted a campaign contribution policy to encourage voter-owned elections and make it harder for donors to “buy” elections. Individual campaign donations were limited to $336, a sharp contrast to the $5,100 limit for county commissioner, U.S. president and other partisan elections. Given the recent news about campaign finances of council member Donna Bell and former mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, it appears that developers, many of them not voters, own Chapel Hill elections.
A story in the April 3 edition of the Chapel Hill Herald looked at Bell’s end-of-year campaign finance report that was due Jan. 31 but which Bell filed March 11, and noted that of the $13,743 Bell raised in her 2015 Town Council re-election campaign, $10,294 came from developers or their family members. Many of those developer-related contributions were from out-of-state firms that had projects in Chapel Hill approved by council in the months before the election. George Cianciolo and County Commissioner Barry Jacobs took this approach, too, in their campaigns.
Campaign contributions by themselves don’t mean an elected official is bought and paid for. Political influence is rarely so crude as to ask for a favor in exchange for a donation. People and organizations donate to candidates who are most likely to represent the donors’ interests. What troubles me is that Bell did not report the contributions when they came in, instead waiting until after the election to make them public; that the out-of-state donors benefited financially from Bell’s votes; and that Bell has voted in favor of projects by some of her big donors in at least two instances since she was re-elected (East-West Partners’ The Station and Scott Murray’s Stancill Drive Car Wash).
In the Herald article, Bell stated that she raised so much money because the “dynamics of the campaign changed my tactics.” Developers from all over lent a hand, and the principle of voter-owned elections fell by the wayside.
The editor in me has nits to pick about Bell’s disbursements, too. Her financial forms leave blank a box that requires her to explain why she paid $2,000 to Mark McCurry, her campaign manager. The $1,184 paid to Gephart Marketing perhaps covers signs that appeared late in the campaign promoting a block of incumbents and Michael Parker (the cost for those signs did not appear on the financial reports of any of the other candidates). And the $6,638 to Targeted Persuasion for single-color campaign signs seems quite high. Maybe it covered her direct mail and phone bank as well, as neither was disclosed in her financial reports.
In the campaign, all of the candidates came out in favor of transparency, and Bell espoused voter-owned elections. How can the Board of Elections and our own town policies ensure we achieve our goals of transparency and integrity?
– Nancy Oates