Filing Date for Local Offices Coming Up

On this Fourth of July, we note with pride that the mainstay of our democracy are the elections by which we choose officials to represent us and make decisions that affect us all. The filing date for local offices begins next Monday, July 6 at 8 am.  Orange County has released the formal filing announcement below.

In Chapel Hill, Council members serve four year terms, so half of the eight council seats will be contested this fall.  The terms of Donna Bell, Jim Ward, and Lee Storrow are up at the end of the year.  A fourth seat was vacated when Matt Czajkowski resigned before the end of his term.  Bell and Storrow have announced plans to compete for another term. Harrison, Greene, Cianciolo, and Palmer will serve an additional two years.  For a complete list of current office holders and term limits, click here.

The electorate also chooses a Mayor every two years.  Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt has completed his third term and has not announced whether he will run for a fourth term.

Over the last 3 – 4 years the Town Council  has made a number of big decisions that many people did not think are in the town’s best interest.  Town Council votes on Central West, the Edge, Ephesus Fordham, and most recently Obey Creek, did not incorporate the recommendations of the town’s advisory boards or represent the informed views from Chapel Hill citizens.

Read Nancy Oates column “What we Need in Chapel Hill Town Candidates” in the July 5 Chapel Hill News.

CHALT wants to know what you want to see in a Council candidate.  Please write a comment here in response to this blog post.

—   —– —  —-

Media Contact, Tracy Reams, Director
Board of Elections
Phone: 919.245.2350
treams@orangecountync.gov

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ORANGE COUNTY OPENS FILING PERIOD: MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS AND CHAPEL HILL-CARRBORO BOARD OF EDUCATION

ORANGE COUNTY, NC (July 2, 2015)—The Orange County Board of Elections is announcing the filing period in which candidates must file their notice of candidacy for their name to appear on the ballot for the November 3, 2015, Elections. The filing period begins at 8:00 a.m. on Monday, July 6, and closes at noon on Friday, July 17.

The notice of candidacy must be filed with the Board of Elections office in which the voter is a resident and registered to vote. Notice of candidacy forms, along with the appropriate filing fee for Orange County residents must be received at the Orange County Board of Elections office no later than 12:00 p.m. on Friday, July 17.

The Orange County Board of Elections office is located at 208 S. Cameron Street, in downtown Hillsborough. The offices up for election and filing fees are as follows:

Town of Carrboro: Mayor – (1) Seat, Filing fee – $15;
Town Alderman – (3) Seats, Filing fee – $10
Town of Chapel Hill: Mayor – (1) Seat, Filing fee – $5;
Town Council – (4) Seats, Filing fee – $5
Town of Hillsborough: Mayor – (1) Seat, Filing fee – $10;
Town Commissioners – (3) Seats, Filing fee – $10
City of Mebane – Mayor – (1) Seat, Filing fee – $6;
City Council – (2) Seats, Filing fee – $6
Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education – (4) Seats, Filing fee $5

For more information or to obtain the filing forms and the daily posting of candidate filings, please visit http://www.orangecountync.gov/elect/ or call the Orange County Board of Elections at 919.245.2350.

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Response to Sally Greene’s “Why I voted for Obey Creek”

Julie McClintock sent this open letter to the Chapel Hill Newspaper which was printed July 5 in response to Council Member Sally Greene’s “Why I voted for Obey Creek”.

An open letter to Town Council member Sally Greene,

Thank you Sally Greene for your response about why you voted for Obey Creek. While I know you strongly believe that the council has done something good for the town, its approval of Obey Creek will stress our town’s road capacity irreparably and harm the character of our college town.

I will address only three of your assertions: that the Obey Creek project is sustainable, that traffic will be manageable, and the benefits outweigh the costs.

Sustainability. Let’s not forget that this greenfield site was intended to be the environmental offset for the density in Southern Village. The fact is no land is protected from development by building 1.6 M square feet with 95 percent impervious surface on the outskirts of town unless the town had a system of credits such as Davis, California, where land is conserved when urban densities are increased. Fully half of the “preserve” is in the flood plain, and when the ridge on higher ground is full of buildings, as much as 75 percent more rainwater will travel downward to Wilson and Morgan Creeks increasing flooding in downstream neighborhoods.

Urban planners forget dense development increases air pollution by adding thousands of points of combustion to a localized area. The biggest source of air pollution will be the 8,000 autos entering and exiting, raising ozone and particulate matter levels and making it more unpleasant and unhealthy to breathe outside air. Finally, tall buildings are not good candidates for renewable energy.

Traffic and Comprehensive Planning. The size and scale of this project will overwhelm our road system because there are only two entrances on a busy highway. While the pedestrian bridge could serve walkers, the council has failed to perform due diligence to address the predicted traffic problems. We expect our elected officials to make the tough decisions but not to do harm. “Not that much more traffic” is not a responsible stance, given the impacts of this development.

This council planned to increase development densities all along, but neglected to assess the cumulative impacts of traffic throughout town. An additional 16,800 trips per day near the James Taylor Bridge is not an insignificant additional burden to the traffic in southern Chapel Hill.

To say that Obey Creek can be solved by a modest developer cash contribution, and by restriping some lanes is ludicrous. Worst of all, the process itself made the developer the “expert” on transit matters. Our own town staff was drowned out by Roger Perry’s superior negotiating ability.

Furthermore, Obey Creek is not a transit-friendly development by any stretch of the imagination. To make it one, the town would have limited on-site parking to force people out of their automobiles and committed to real transit capacity and frequency (i.e. more buses, more hours). But the reality is that our bus system will limp along at present service levels.

The council resolution passed along with the development agreement “to work on the traffic problems in southern Chapel Hill” is yet another paper exercise. What happened to the 2013 Central West Small Plan Resolution to commission a town wide traffic study to measure cumulative impacts of planned growth?

A council decades ago planned the bypass expansion to four lanes with great care, installing a grassy median with trees and putting over $1 million (in old dollars) into plantings and trees. It is a beautiful road because the sitting elected leaders cared deeply about the ambience and beauty of our town.

For Obey Creek, this council left those types of decisions up to NCDOT and the developer. How do eight lane roadways and intersections or another superstreet align with your long-term vision of Chapel Hill?

I weep …

Julie McClintock is a former member of the Chapel Hill Town Council. She can be reached at mcclintock.julie@gmail.com

Julie McClintock

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“Chagrin and Bear It”

Terri Buckner wrote this commentary printed in the Chapel Hill News June 28th.

On June 15, the Chapel Hill Town Council followed their collective dream and approved the creation of Obey Creek, a 1.6 million square foot mixed-use development with another 800,000 square feet of parking. Despite the overwhelming objections to the scale of the project by local residents, council members have defined this project as a win for the community.

Over the six years the project was debated, developers and town staff claimed it would help solve the community’s affordability problem by increasing the town’s retail square footage, drawing shoppers from around the region.

Two years ago, the developer began hinting that it would finally bring southern Orange County its first big-box store, much to the chagrin of surrounding residents.

With dollar signs in their eyes the developers and town staff fought off the critics, building some degree of support for the project through promises of increased town revenues.

But sometime this past winter or spring, the announcement was made that there is no financing available for retail. But not to worry, instead of a big box store and associate sales tax revenues, the developer was voluntarily providing more than the required affordable housing.

Council members didn’t blink an eye at this change. In fact, Donna Bell and Maria Palmer proudly announced they would vote for the development months before the negotiations and public hearings had concluded.

Why? Because Chapel Hill desperately needs more affordable housing, especially affordable rentals. However, the development agreement doesn’t specify what percentage of the projected 700 residential units must be rental. And if all 700 are built for sale, under the current inclusionary zoning requirements only 105 of them would be designated as affordable. Certainly, 105 affordable units is better than nothing, but just barely.

The development agreement was touted as a process that would allow the Town Council to pursue a two-way dialogue with the community while in negotiations with the developer. In reality the community spoke, sharing ideas, pointing out flaws or omissions in the work of the consultants, and applying their creativity to help design a project they wanted to live with. All they asked was that the project be scaled down to a size more aligned with Southern Village. And while the council allowed the public to speak, they chose not to listen to the concerns. Instead they signed off on the proposed design without reviewing any of the smaller options.

Ethan Kent of the Project for Public Spaces recently wrote: “In creating self-sustaining places, Placemaking needs to be a community-based process, not just a strategy or solution that has been imposed and implemented by city leaders or planners. Further, community members must not only feel like they belong there, but that they can play an active part in its creation and continued success. When approached in this way, Placemaking can be an essential factor in building a community’s social capital as well as a sense of belonging amongst its residents.”

A collaborative placemaking process would have looked more like the Glen Lennox project. But instead we got a field of what many fear will be traffic nightmares. Let’s hope the final project is more widely embraced than East 54 has been.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/community/chapel-hill-news/chn-opinion/article25611493.html#storylink=cpy
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Another Response to Sally Greene’s “Why I Voted for Obey Creek”

David Schwartz submitted this response to Sally’s explanation of her vote to approve the Obey Creek development agreement.

All the reasons Sally Greene offers for approving the draft Obey Creek Development Agreement—that the proposal “honors” the Southern Small Area Plan and reflects an evolving community understanding of the benefits of density, that it supports retail and transit, that it provides some community amenities and affordable housing, that we have a responsibility to accept our “fair share” of regional growth and that the increased traffic is a small percentage of the total expected increased traffic—would apply equally well to a development proposal two or three times as large as the one she approved, as well as to one half the size.

Thus, these reasons provide no principled basis for choosing any particular development scenario. Could all of the same benefits have been achieved with a smaller project that imposed fewer environmental, fiscal, and traffic costs? A project that honored the community’s preference for a development of the Obey Creek land similar in scale to the Southern Village mixed use area? We’ll never know, because all the staff work was devoted to supporting the developer’s proposal rather than toward coming up with a plan for southern Chapel Hill as a whole that optimizes the benefit to the town.

These are some of the questions left unanswered:

  • What are the characteristics of a development proposal that, in Sally Greene’s judgment, would “not” honor the Southern Small Area Plan? Is anything short of siting a coal ash dump in the middle of Wilson Creek fair game?
  • How is the community’s current understanding of the benefits of density any different today than it was 30 years ago when the rural buffer was established to encourage compact, dense development?
  • How does one determine what constitutes Chapel Hill’s “fair share” of regional growth? Is it simply that each city’s rate of growth should match the average rate of growth for the region as a whole? Or should it be proportional to the amount of fiscal and environmental resources (e.g., commercial tax base and water supply) it can draw on to support local growth? If neighboring cities grow at an unsustainable rate, are we obligated to do likewise?
  • How much worse would the traffic impact need to be, or how meager would the affordable housing proffer need to be, in order for the author to decide a developer’s proposal is not a good deal for the town?
  • Why would town residents be willing in the future to devote their time and effort to helping craft comprehensive or area plans or to serve on advisory boards now that council members have repeatedly shown they are willing to toss aside such plans and advisory board recommendations in favor of council members’ own beliefs about what serves the town interest or in favor of whatever private landowners and developers want to do?
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CHALT Charges Betrayal of Citizen Interests

Press Release, Chapel Hill
June 18, 2015

Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT) charged the Town Council with betraying the best interests of citizens after it approved the massive Obey Creek project south of Chapel Hill.

The council vote on the project, which allows construction of 1.6 million square feet of housing, office, retail and hotel space and 1 million square feet of parking garages across U.S. 15-501 from the Southern Village community, came despite numerous objections and questions from residents, who packed the council meeting chamber on Monday night.

“Council members seemed disturbingly indifferent to citizen concerns about worsened traffic congestion and other negative impacts the construction of Obey Creek may have on their quality of life,” said David Schwartz, a spokesperson for CHALT. “If they had been willing to negotiate harder on behalf of the town residents’ own vision for Obey Creek, we might have ended up with a development agreement that better serves the public interest. Now we’ll never know.”

In advance of council discussion, citizens had raised critical questions about the plan, such as why it grew from 1.4 million square feet to 1.6 million square feet during the course of negotiations despite town staff analysis that showed smaller, alternative plans would have been more beneficial to the town.

Town staff estimated the project will add 16,800 vehicle trips a day and Schwartz observed that no provisions were made for changes if trip projections were wrong.

In another surprise, only over the weekend did the council learn the agreement would allow building heights of anywhere between 70 and 200 feet, a revelation that added to frustration over the project’s approval.

According to CHALT, the adopted agreement is at odds with the human more modest scale development called for in the town’s 2020 Comprehensive Plan and the Compass Committee Report, the latter prepared by a council-appointed committee that met for more than a year.

The town’s own Planning Commission recommended evaluating smaller-scale projects, and more than 600 Chapel Hill residents signed a petition urging this. All of this was ignored by the Town Council.

CHALT and numerous residents had called for a better, not bigger, Obey Creek and pointed out to the council that smaller versions of the project, such as a 900,000-square-foot plan, would have brought in the same amount of revenue to the town while requiring less town services and thus reducing the project’s tax burden and traffic congestion.

“It’s a shame that the mayor and council shot down all opportunities for public discussion of practical alternatives by never directing the staff to bring forward smaller proposals,” said Nancy Oates, who reports on Town Council actions for Chapel Hill Watch. “Council members could have fought for a plan that would have made everyone happy, but they instead chose to short-change town residents. Chapel Hill taxpayers will have to foot the bill for the council’s irresponsible action.”

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After the Obey Creek Vote

Tammy Grubb, Chapel Hill News, tells the outlines of the June 15 vote in favor of Obey Creek in this article. The self congratulatory, data-averse Town Council, voted to approve it,  7 – 1, with Council Member Ed Harrison as the lone dissenter. This lopsided outcome despite an outpouring of calls from the public  for a “Better not Bigger Obey Creek”.

Ed Harrison was the most level headed realistic council member in the bunch.  He cited uncertainty with transportation, and a desire to see both the final agreement and a “more robust analysis and discussion of different options for sizes.  I think the third reason is … even if I don’t agree with every point they made, someone here needs to represent the folks who had concerns about this that were not alleviated,” he said. “If it has to be me, I’m willing to do that.”

The Obey Creek Development Agreement will allow construction of 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.

At odds with citizen concerns. The adopted agreement is at odds with the 2020 Comprehensive Plan (which calls for much lower scale development), the Compass Committee Report, the Planning Commission recommendations to look at smaller scale projects, and the wishes of 600 petitioners to do the same.

Faith-based planning. During the discussion, Council members showed a remarkable ability to ignore established facts: the difficult access to the site, and the existing and future traffic congestion on 15-501 and nearby intersections {Projections will add 20,000 additional vehicles per day if the adjacent property is included}.  Instead, Donna Bell, Maria Palmer, Lee Storrow, George Cianciolo, Sally Greene, Jim Ward, and the Mayor by his vote expressed their faith that their bold decision to put a small city in a difficult location would bring prosperity and vitality to the Town — and somehow the traffic will just work itself out.

Faith-based transportation. Sally Greene said she had been worried about the traffic, but said she felt better because Roger was contributing $250,000 to minor mitigations, and after all, the traffic was not Obey Creek’s “fault,” as much as the future congestion would be caused by other projects.  She expressed the belief that someone will come forward to bail out the traffic nightmare — this despite the fact that the Town has zero funds to increase bus transit to this new enclave.

Faith- based economics. Jim Ward was the great disappointment of the evening.  He expressed total confidence in the agreement, and felt that by approving this project we would be making up for past lost opportunities for retail and commercial tax revenues that had escaped to Durham County. This, despite the fact that he expressed doubt growth would pay for itself after attending a talk a few weeks ago by economist Dave Shreve.  See info on talk. CHALT’s own analysis projects a loss for the Chapel Hill taxpayer with the kind of development mix just approved at Obey Creek. Orange County staff has found Chapel Hill’s projections for Ephesus Fordham too rosy for the County to support.

It will be sad but instructive to compare the reality of what gets built at Obey Creek to the unrealistic faith-based expectations expressed by council members on June 15, 2015.  We must hold them accountable for their decision.

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An Open Letter to the Town Council

June 13. 2015

Dear Mayor and Town Council Members:

On June 15, you may vote whether to approve the Obey Creek Development Agreement, which would allow construction of 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. If approved, residents and visitors will soon notice a marked change in the character of our Town’s southern entrance; in place of trees and human scale development we will see towering structures of concrete and glass. The total project would exceed the square footage of Southpoint Mall.

CHALT recognizes that good development can enhance the Town’s vitality and quality of life, and that smaller development scenarios for Obey Creek can be both economically beneficial and more compatible with Southern Village and other adjacent communities. According to staff estimates, alternative scenarios that include fewer residential units could markedly reduce the amount of traffic with essentially no loss in net tax revenue. The current proposed development agreement, now being negotiated between the Town and the developer, is at odds with the 2020 Comprehensive Plan, the Compass Committee Report, the Planning Commission recommendations, and the wishes of 600 petitioners.

CHALT opposes the proposed Development Agreement for Obey Creek for five reasons:

  • The Agreement is not consistent with the Town’s adopted 2020 Comprehensive Plan; it is five times the recommended size and scale recommended by the Mayor-appointed Southern Area Task Force during 2020 and contains no energy efficiency commitments;
  • It does not incorporate Planning Commission recommendations and community advice to develop and evaluate smaller site plans;
  • By setting aside the Southern Small Area Plan, focusing on the Obey Creek parcels and failing to evaluate scenarios, the plan favors a single landowner’s interests;
  • It does not mitigate the traffic congestion that will result from 16,500 additional trips; and finally
  • The contract language has many holes which, if left unaddressed, could yield undesirable consequences that would be difficult to remedy; for example, the current draft of the Design Guidelines shows that building heights could reach 200 feet (see figure 1 below).

 We ask the Council to reject this agreement and develop an improved version that addresses the following key issues.

{1} Identify realistic transportation solutions that will ensure mobility on neighboring highways and intersections.  The excuse that traffic will be worse anyway from other causes shirks the Council’s responsibility to address public health and transportation problems from each focus area individually and cumulatively.

  • Include a mechanism for adjusting the number of vehicular trips by monitoring neighboring highways and roads and providing the means to make adjustments in the permitted level of development as project construction proceeds. Otherwise terrible congestion will result 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. Few people seem to be aware that this proposed level of density will require DOT to turn a well functioning highway into a sea of 7 – 8 lanes of traffic.
  • Specify acceptable outcomes for continued discussions between NCDOT and the developer. NC DOT requirements contain a series of future actions that could affect bike and pedestrian mobility. Town engineers have not explained that the multiple-lane DOT solutions could discourage bicycle and pedestrian travel, not increase it. For example, the new area intersections will be similar to the intersection of N 86 and Weaver Dairy Rd, which does not support bicycle and pedestrian travel. Looming over all is the lack of funding to provide adequate bus service to the proposed development.
  • Conduct a Town-wide traffic analysis to understand the combined traffic impact of Ephesus-Fordham, Glen Lennox and Obey Creek on Fordham Blvd. and 15-501 traffic. Without understanding the projected cumulative impacts of all this development, approving the Obey Creek Agreement threatens Town-wide mobility.

(2) Conduct a serious study of alternative development scenarios, including smaller scale development, as recommended by 600 petitioners (90% are town residents) and your Planning Commission.  No one on the Council to date has asked the staff to follow up on the recent cursory analysis that showed that a 1 million square foot scenario comprising about 360 fewer apartments would generate 50% less traffic and essentially no loss of annual net revenue as compared to the larger 1.6 million square foot proposal.

(3) Heed your appointed Planning Commission’s advice.  For example, the Commission recommended hiring outside legal counsel to review the Agreement to protect the public interest.  Why have you not done so?

(4) Ensure that the project will provide net positive revenue for the Town by limiting the residential component to no more than 35% of the built-out project, excluding affordable housing. Any residential percentage beyond that will cost the Town and taxpayers years into the future.

(5) Analyze the value of the new land entitlements vs. the value of the concessions the developer has offered to ascertain whether the Town is getting a fair share of the new value it has created.

 (6) Ensure that future ordinance changes will apply to the Agreement. Include a contractual provision in the Development Agreement that “specifically provides for the application of subsequently enacted laws.” This language comes from the governing law G.S. 160A-400.26, and it will allow the Town to pass ordinances in the future that may affect the Development Agreement without infringing on the vested rights of the developer.

An Agreement that fails to satisfy these conditions does not fulfill the Mayor’s and Council’s responsibility to ensure that new development promotes the common good. Rather than balancing the interests of individual landowners and the larger community, the proposed Development Agreement improperly benefits a single landowner at public expense. Alternative, smaller development scenarios would produce as much or more public benefit with fewer adverse impacts and still yield substantial profit for the landowner.

The proposed Agreement thus does not merit approval and Council should reject it.

Figure 1

Section 3 Heights

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Is Obey Creek Proposal Ready for a Vote?

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.

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Unintended Consequences

We are sad to report the closing of Plaza Dry Cleaners.  This local, family-owned business has served Chapel Hill residents from its location in Village Plaza shopping center on Elliot Rd for over 30 years.  Several years ago, it was one of the first dry cleaners in North Carolina to adopt the GreenEarth cleaning system, which eliminates the use of environmentally harmful chemical solvents.

Customers at Plaza Cleaners the last week they are open

Customers at Plaza Cleaners the last week they are open

For decades, the owner, Brenda Honeycutt, and members of her family worked alongside their employees; Chapel Hill residents greatly valued Ms. Honeycutt’s and her employees’ knowledge and expertise in matters of fabric cleaning.

The business is not closing for lack of revenue; it remained profitable right up until the end. Rather, it is closing because the shopping center’s new corporate owner, Regency Centers, has declined to renew Ms. Honeycutt’s lease, and the cost of relocating her dry cleaning equipment is prohibitive. Regency’s purchase of the shopping center, and the subsequent termination of Ms. Honeycutt’s lease, is a direct result of the Ephesus-Fordham rezoning that Town Council adopted a year ago.

When I visited this week, the man behind the counter said that 17 employees would lose their jobs, and they had not time to think what they would do next. He said he doubted that Town Council members were aware that their rezoning action would result in the closing of this business. This story could have had a better ending.   If only Mayor Kleinschmidt and his colleagues on Town Council had not viewed our neighborhood shopping center as a blighted area, if they had not encouraged interest from big outside money by upzoning the entire area for 7 story buildings,  and if only they had listened to area residents or talked to the local business owners.   See this CHALT article that tells the story of the business.

–Julie McClintock
Long time Customer

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Council Considers Obey Creek

Al Baldwin, former history teacher at Chapel Hill High School, wrote this extraordinary editorial May 17, in the Chapel Hill News.  He lists two things each Council Member should consider before voting: drive 15-501 and walk the woods near Solar Strata.

Get ready for the biggest Chapel Hill approved construction project yet! If the Chapel Hill Town Council approves East West Partners’ request to build 1.6 million square feet of housing and retail at Obey Creek, you will see 4 – 8 story buildings will replace the trees along 15-501, that will exceed the square foot of Southpoint Mall. Obey Creek could add 16,000 auto trips a day to existing traffic 15-501 and  causing failing intersections and tie ups for commuters and families on adjacent South Columbia and the By pass.

What happened at the Town Council May 18 public hearing?  More that 100 people turned out for the Town Council public hearing and many speakers expressed concern about the impacts of such a large project on the Town. See Chapel Hill News article, Residents Ask Council to Readjust Plans.

What is the traffic impact of approving Obey Creek? Southern Village residents wrote to the Council: “The current Development Agreement allows up to 15,858 daily trips, which represents a 90% increase in traffic to the area.   The back up on the 15-501 going to Southern Village/UNC is already bottlenecked from Columbia to Hwy 54 at certain times of the day. ..  Are appropriate protections in place to make sure that traffic generated by Obey Creek will not significantly impact the safety and functionality of Southern Village side streets?”

What is the financial impact? Obey Creek may not make any money at all for the Town according to CHALT’s financial analysis.  See link. Citizens are asking why the Council would approve an agreement that would cause traffic gridlock in return for insignificant or non existing financial benefits.

In an open letter to the Mayor and Council John Weathers 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.

Better not Bigger.  A “Better not Bigger Obey Creek” would be a project that brings no more additional cars than our roads or bus system can handle, is sized to get the best stormwater mitigation, and is a project that is a net positive gain for the town.  Yet the Council has refused to evaluate any other size than this 1.6 million square foot gigantic proposal.

Sign the petition, write a letter, and/or come to the Town Council public hearing June 8th  to the Town Council members know what you think!

See Chapel Hill News story and all the facts on this blog:   http://whatsupwithobeycreek.com  Check it out.

What's Up Obey Creek

CHALT Transportation Concerns

CHALT Fiscal Concerns

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