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 rise above 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?

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:  Check it out.

What's Up Obey Creek

CHALT Transportation Concerns

CHALT Fiscal Concerns

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Trees Down, Elliott Road

In a letter below, a witness testifies to the demise of the willow oaks along Elliott.

Bye bye Elliott Road TreekJust inside tree protection fence, the leafy willow oaks just taken down.

View without treesEither direction, looks mighty bare. I’ll miss those trees.

Letter from Resident: Ill Advised Cutting Down Town Trees on Elliott Road

May 13, 2015

Mayor and Members of the Town Council & Town Planning Department (Four Photos Attached)

Today when I arrived on Elliott Road to shop at Whole Foods I noticed tree debris in the road.  When I looked up I saw that the tops of two trees along the curb thrashed near their tops.  I knew heavy construction equipment was in use there to expand parking lots–in the wake of tearing down the former Red Hot and Blue building.  I thought the trees had been hit by mistake, and I took photos of the sad state of affairs.  A woman walked across the parking lot to tell me she hoped I would send the pictures to the newspaper, because it is so sad.  But when I returned to my car after shopping, I was shocked to see and hear that power equipment was then being used to purposefully hit and saw down those two trees and more!!!   I honked my horn at the construction workers and one of them came to talk to me.  He said they had a permit to take the trees down.  I said I could not believe that that would be authorized by the Town!   He directed me to the construction “office” in the mall.  I found the “TCR, Trammell Crow Residential Construction Office” which was empty–both downstairs and upstairs.

I then went back outside and called 911; a police officer was despatched to assist.  When officer Ennis (sp?) arrived, we conversed on the very hot asphalt in an area of newly constructed parking spaces where other trees had been removed earlier and a couple of bushes stuck back into the ground.  There was no shade.  The hot sun beat down on us.  He kindly gave me the phone number for Town Hall.  Meanwhile the destruction of yet another tree went on in the adjoining lot, and we heard it hit the ground.  I called Town Hall and left a message on a machine at the Mayor’s Office inquiring as to whether or not a permit had been issued and asked whether the unnecessary tree destruction could be stopped, and promised to send this email.   Next I called Town Hall again and was able to speak to “Jay”, the Planning Officer on Duty.  He stated that two permits had recently been issued which included permission to cut down all the trees to make way for a new driveway.  I could see that a new driveway had already been cut through the curb, but I did not see any reason for additional trees along the curb to be taken down.  I requested he double check and do what he could to stop unnecessary tree destruction.

As a resident of Chapel Hill–a town that is committed to become more energy efficient, a town that has spent a lot of money trying to control water runoff–I find it hard to believe that such a town would issue permits to cut down mature trees.  In particular trees that take years to grow, trees that shade public streets, sidewalks, parking lots, etc., trees that process exhaust fumes, trees that take years to mature, trees that secure the land in place and prevent flooding and landslides,  should not be cut down just to accommodate more pavement!!!  Surely there is some mistake!

I can only hope that thoughtful architects, sensitized construction company engineers, and more enlightened Town officials and staff will do better in the future by taking into consideration the ramifications of cutting down trees like the ones along the curb of Elliott Road, or should I say, like the ones that used to line Elliott Road?!    One hopes shade trees will be planted to replace those so casually destroyed.  But even if they are, there will not be any shade realized for many years to come.

In the meantime, everyone is going to feel the heat—literally.

 Betsy Malpass 908 Woodbine Drive, Chapel Hill, NC 27517

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Smart Shopping

Blog post by Nancy Oates.  As a value shopper, I perked up my ears at economist David Shreve’s message Nancy Oatesthat we should choose new development projects because we want what they will bring to the town, not because we mistakenly think they will bring in additional revenue.

Shreve, president of Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population and a former professor of economic policy at the University of Virginia, spoke at the library last week in a lecture sponsored by the community advocacy group Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT). He lives in the Albemarle County town in Virginia of Charlottesville, a college town about the same size as Chapel Hill that shares many similarities to us. As a member of Albemarle County’s Economic Development Authority, he pays close attention to development issues and has been involved in a major study of the costs of growth.

The study revealed that the only types of land use that bring in more tax revenue than a municipality spends in services are office/retail, light industrial and agriculture, and that assumes that those uses do not increase population. Often businesses relocating to a new town will bring their own people to fill the higher-paying jobs and sometimes have to recruit from surrounding towns to fill their lower-paying positions.

When it comes to residential development, the high-rise, high-rent apartment buildings that Dwight Bassett and Chamber of Commerce representatives believe to be revenue positive actually cost almost twice as much in services for every dollar brought in from property taxes.

The Charlottesville study calculated a break-even point of what a home would have to cost in order to generate enough tax revenue to pay for the services it needs: $668,671. Shreve said Chapel Hill’s break-even point likely would be similar.

Shreve’s numbers show what the technical team hired during the Glen Lennox approval process already presented to Town Council, and what economists, urban planners and the Wake County manager all know to be true: We can’t grow ourselves out of debt.

Every town has an optimal population, and Shreve encouraged Chapel Hill leaders to figure out what that number is and build that optimal size into the town’s planning process.

Because Charlottesville is surrounded by mountains, it has had to plan its growth thoughtfully. It doesn’t have the luxury of sending its citizens to the next town over to shop or shoving its low-wage workers out to commute from another county to find housing. It pays attention to what each development costs in terms of tax dollars and natural resources. All cities depend on places that aren’t cities to get their clean water, clean air and food. Shreve advocated for placing the economy in the natural world, not the other way around.

When it comes to new development, our elected officials need to remember that we are the customers. It’s up to developers to offer us products that meet our needs. Otherwise, we’re not buying.

To view the presentation, go to:
– Nancy Oates

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Council Needs Diversity of Thought

Editorial by Nancy Oates, printed in the Chapel Hill News May 7

Human nature bends us toward surrounding ourselves with people who think like us, look like us or act like us. That played out in last Monday night’s Chapel Hill Town Council meeting in which council members debated whether to appoint someone to fill Matt Czajkowski’s seat or to wait until the election in November when voters will decide.

During the nearly eight years Czajkowski served on the council, his vote frequently was the only one to break the unanimity on the dais. Often his questioning the wisdom of a path the rest of the council seemed predetermined to follow resulted in his colleagues heaping scorn and disdain on him.

How does having a board of insiders who all think alike or who can be persuaded to vote alike work in practice? Just ask the stockholders of Enron or Worldcom. In the years since those two corporations went down in flames, shareholders have embraced the move toward boards with a majority of members from outside the organization. Diversity of thought leads to better decisions.

So when George Cianciolo said having nine voices was better than eight, it sounded good in theory. But in the council’s current state, with eight people all voting the same in almost all instances, what benefit comes from installing a ninth person who votes the same, or appointing one naïve outsider to be the sacrificial lamb?

Six people applied for the seat, four of them men who have skills and viewpoints that would add richness to discussions but who have had no prior experience on town advisory boards or visible advocacy roles on issues before the council. That could lead some sitting council members to eye them with distrust.

Though clearly all four of the political neophytes are accomplished in their fields and passionate about the perspective they could add to discussions about what is best for the town, Town Council members have no way of knowing how the untested might vote on major development proposals to be decided before the November election. And if an unknown were to be appointed who proved to have common sense and be unafraid to speak up, would that make incumbents up for re-election look bad?

The council opted for a two-tiered approach: First, vote on whether to appoint, then if necessary, fill out a ballot on whom to appoint. The first vote will take place at the council’s May 4 work session and will be repeated every council meeting until an appointment is made or voters elect someone in November. That puts pressure on all council members to be present for every meeting to defend their position. In a divided council, one member’s absence one time could change the outcome.

If the council were to make an appointment, the fairest choice would be to select Amy Ryan, the fifth-highest vote-getter in the last election. By going with the voters’ choice, the council would rise above any taint of bias. With 13 years of advisory board experience, Ryan is well-versed in the issues council is poised to vote on and could add an informed voice.

But in the two appointments made in the past six years, the council both times chose an insider over the fifth-highest vote-getter.

Jim Ward made a case for waiting until the November election. All six applicants could campaign for office, and voters could explore candidates’ theories of how to shape our town. With the mayor’s seat and four council seats up for grabs, voters have the chance to put five new council members on the dais. Five new points of view would add breadth and depth to council discussions and provide the diversity of thought for better decisions.

Nancy E. Oates writes the Chapel Hill Watch blog.

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Chapel Hill Council Puts off Appointment

The Town Council chose Monday to wait another week before deciding whether and with whom to fill a vacant seat.

Six residents – Kevin Hicks, Adam Jones, Paul Neebe, Michael Parker, Amy Ryan and Gary Shaw – have applied to fill the seat that Matt Czajkowski left in March.

Czajkowski’s term expires in December, and his replacement, if appointed, would have to run in the November election to continue serving.

Councilwoman Donna Bell was absent Monday, prompting Council members George Cianciolo and Maria Palmer to say they would prefer everyone be present for the vote.

That’s never going to be guaranteed, Councilman Jim Ward said, and isn’t enough to delay a vote. Reversing his stance last week that voters should fill the seat in November, Ward said Monday the council should go ahead and decide.

“Based on the candidates that we have to choose from and their extensive experience and involvement as citizens,” he said, “I think the people I have in mind are well equipped to hit the ground running on the major issues that I see before us.”

He failed to gain support for an immediate vote.

Councilman Lee Storrow announced later that he would miss the May 11 meeting, but it shouldn’t stop the council from voting.

Town rules require the council to consider the vacancy at every meeting until someone is appointed or voters elect a new member. An applicant must receive five council votes to be appointed.

Six citizens spoke Monday – two in favor of Parker and a number for Ryan. (text corrected). Gary Kahn, who unsuccessfully applied to fill a vacancy when former Councilwoman Penny Rich left in 2012 to become a county commissioner, argued for waiting until November and letting the people decide.

Lynn Kane noted there are several qualified candidates, but Parker is “outstanding and knowledgeable.”

“He really has a deep understanding of what would be good for all of Chapel Hill,” she said, “and I have seen him make decisions that really take into account all of Chapel Hill.”

Ryan also could “jump in and go to work” on projects the council could face this year, said Jane Kirsch, who then read from a statement prepared by the citizens group Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town.

“While the council has made appointments in cases when a seat would be vacant for a long time, in this case, there are only four months of actual meetings before the term ends,” she said, reading from the CHALT statement. “In the event the council decides to appoint, it should appoint Amy Ryan, who placed fifth in the 2013 council election and therefore has the support of the citizens of Chapel Hill.”

Grubb: 919-932-8746

What’s next?

The Town Council will consider whether to appoint someone to fill the remainder of Matt Czajkowski’s term on Monday, May 11. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Town Hall, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

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