The Council will consider whether the Obey Creek Development Agreement draft is ready to approve on June 15. So much new information arrived on June 8, that the Council decided not to vote that night.
When approved, East West Partners’ or other developers will be allowed to build 1.6 million square feet of housing, office, retail and hotel at Obey Creek, along with an additional 840,000 – 1 million square feet in parking garages. Commuters along 15-501 south will see 4 – 8 story buildings (exceeding the size of Southpoint Mall) replace the trees. When built out, Obey Creek could add 16,500 auto trips a day to existing traffic and cause terrible congestion at key 15-501 intersections including Market St, Culbreth Rd. and Mt Carmel Church Rd., as well as on the Fordham By-pass at peak travel times.
Let’s see if our Town Council will carefully address the transportation issues before voting. In a recent Chapel Hill News article, Tammy Grubb points out that the DOT’s release of a transportation assessment of the traffic problems have been discounted by Roger Perry, the Developer’s representative. In a companion piece, Jeanne Brown writes convincingly of the difficult transportation choices needed in a June 7 editorial. She writes, “Fortunately, by encouraging the town to consider both sides of the road as opposed to a lone development, NCDOT has opened up the opportunity for Town Council to address long-term corridor planning before signing an agreement for Obey Creek.”
What Happened at the May 18 Town Council Public Hearing?
More than 100 people turned out for the Town Council public hearing, and many speakers expressed concern about the impacts on the Town of such a large project. See Chapel Hill News article, “Residents Ask Council to Adjust Plans
Planning Commission Recommendations Not Followed:
- The Town should hire a specialized legal counsel to review the Development Agreement with an eye toward protecting Town residents’ interests.
- The amount of onsite residential should be limited to conform to the American Planning Association recommendations for mixed use (20%-60%).
- The Town should analyze the benefits & impacts of a smaller development (e.g., 1.1 million square feet) instead of only analyzing the 1.6 million square foot project the developer has proposed.
The Town Council has thus far declined to act on any of these recommendations. Moreover, when a Planning Commission member asked town staff whether they had conducted any analysis of various alternative Obey Creek development scenarios in order to optimize the benefit to the town, staff admitted that they didn’t independently plan or analyze any alternatives beyond what developers proposed.
Here’s what people are saying about the Obey Creek proposal:
Can We Endure the Traffic?
We can expect gridlock at peak travel times in southern Chapel Hill, according to an April 2015 traffic study submitted to NCDOT. On it’s own, Obey Creek would add 16,500 new vehicle trips and 2,500 additional transit trips (300% increase) per day and failing area intersections functioning at level “E” and “F” in 2022.
The town has just received a memo from NCDOT outlining 28 conditions for driveway permits at Obey Creek and further work is necessary to hammer out road and transit decisions before an agreement is signed. As currently laid out by NCDOT, S15-501 will be 8 lanes wide at Market Street and Sumac Roads and the site plan that is being negotiated will need to be altered. Transit stops have not been established, despite projections for 2,500 new transit trips per day, a 300% Increase over current ridership.
- Al Baldwin, former history teacher at Chapel Hill High School, writes about the anticipated traffic
gridlock and loss of another natural area in this May 17 editorial, in the Chapel Hill News.
- A local business owner, Terry Vance, says in a letter to the Mayor and Council: “I shudder to think how long it will take to get to work if Obey Creek is not reduced in size by half… [the commute] getting from my house to work and back will be dreadful…Please don’t make Chapel Hill a place that drives small businesses out of business while promoting developers who won’t consider what is best for Chapel Hill but instead what is best for their bottom line.”
- Amy Ryan, Vice Chair of the Planning Commission, said in testimony to the Mayor and Council that it was essential to “right size” Obey Creek. “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.” See full statement here.
Why Not Fiscal Responsibility?
Citizens are asking why the Council would approve an agreement that would cause traffic gridlock in return for little or no financial benefit. Obey Creek was initially promoted as a way to improve the Town’s finances by generating net positive revenue. Because of the high number of residences allowed by the agreement, Obey Creek may not make any money at all for the Town according to CHALT’s financial analysis in this statement to the Council from Chapel Hill resident Rudy Juliano.
- David Schwartz presented an analysis to Council on May 18 showing that each 10% increase in the amount of housing at Obey Creek will cost the town $400,000 per year, and that by reducing the amount of residential construction, the town can substantially reduce the overall size of the project with no loss in the amount of annual net revenue.
- In an open letter to the Mayor and Council, John Weathers, resident of Southern Village asks:
“Mayor and Council: If you don’t have a good estimate of the external costs of this development, how do you know there’s any net financial benefit to the community? You obviously don’t. And that’s no lie or misleading statement, just common sense.” See his full letter here.
Where’s the Plan?
Sharon Epstein, in a memo to the Mayor and Council, wrote “Numerous commercial and residential developments are either in the works or have been proposed over the next few years. But I haven’t been able to locate a current short-, medium- or long-term plan, backed up by professional impact analyses that provide data on the relationships among the planned developments and the combined effects of the developments on area resources such as traffic and transportation and other elements that contribute to quality of life and that affect property and income.”
Conclusion: A Better, not Bigger, Obey Creek
The Town Council has failed to ask for even the simplest things that would put the community in a better position to evaluate and negotiate the Obey Creek development proposal.
- They won’t hire outside legal counsel to review the agreement.
- They won’t analyze the value of the new land entitlements vs. the value of the concessions the developer has offered to see if the Town is getting a good deal.
- They won’t study alternative sizes for the development even though they’ve had over 3 years to do so.
- They won’t do a Town-wide traffic analysis to understand the combined traffic impact of Ephesus-Fordham, Glen Lennox and Obey Creek on 15-501 traffic.
- They won’t follow the American Planning Association’s recommended ranges for successful mixed use developments.
Obey Creek is one of many recent examples where the Town has failed to protect community interests.
Sign the petition, write a letter to mayorandtowncouncil, and/or come to the Town Council public hearing June 8th to the Town Council members know what you think!
See this blog to see the data supporting these comments here: http://whatsupwithobeycreek.com
See full CHALT newsletter here.