Town off to Slow Start on Connectivity and Mobility Project

Post by Joan Guilkey                         Take the Survey

About three weeks ago, Staff announced a Town-wide project to improve our ability to walk, bike and ride a bus to travel all over Chapel Hill. The Town’s objectives are to reduce vehicle traffic by enhancing safety for pedestrians. Stewart Inc., a consultant with offices in Charlotte, Durham and Raleigh, has been retained to conduct the project under the leadership of David Bonk, the town’s Transportation Planning Manager.

zebra_crossing_630pxAs a first step in the study, one or two members of each Town advisory board was asked to provide input about where each person currently travels and by what method. These participants were named to a project Steering Committee, but it remains unclear what exactly will be expected of this Committee. Each person completed a survey and the information was mapped. About a week later, all Chapel Hill residents were encouraged to do the same at two sessions in the public library.

Several who attended these public meetings left feeling very frustrated because the consultants did not adequately explain the process they will use. Surely, town staff does not believe that a few small and poorly-publicized sessions where citizens write on maps and complete a survey are sufficient to provide the information needed to get the necessary input do this project well.

The maps the consultant provided were disjointed, and hard to use and did little to clarify our transportation and connectivity needs.  For example, participants eager to be helpful spent wasted time putting dots on maps located far apart from each other.  It would have been helpful to show all bus routes on the maps, and maybe even proposed rail stops.

While we are fully supportive of the need for this mobility study, we are concerned about the validity of the results of the first phase of the study if good input is not received.  There does not seem to be a systematic plan to reach out to hundreds, if not thousands, of walkers, bikers, and bus riders needed if Stewart is to obtain enough detailed information to determine Town connectivity priorities.

Stewart says they will utilize the town’s Greenways Master Plan and the Bicycle Plan, bus routes and projected light rail, but they were unaware of the Bus Rapid Transit Study now underway.  Our own staff is far more knowledgeable about the pedestrian and connectivity needs, but Stewart was hired we are told because their workload is too heavy to get to the job done in a timely manner.

For this reason, it is critically important that citizens provide lots of trip information so there can be no doubts as to the most used and most needed pedestrian routes.  We encourage everyone to take the survey.  This data collection effort will continue throughout the summer. www.surveymonkey.com/r/chmobility.

In addition to taking the survey, you could consider writing the consultant representative Randi Gates, at rgates@stewartinc.com or David Bonk, dbonk@townofchapelhill.org, the project director stating where you wish to travel safely by bike, bus or walking.

Be sure to say where your trips typically begin, each route you take now, and where each trip ends. The most used and desired routes and destinations will take top priority when the analysis of data starts. List each route you currently take and indicate where you see problem spots. Also list routes you would take if you could do so safely. Ask your friends to do the same. Thank you for helping make our needs known.

If you have questions, call or email David Bonk at 919-969-5064, dbonk@townofchapelhill.org

Share Button

On Transparency

Post by Rachel Conerly

transparencyCHALT grew out of residents’ frustration with elected officials who repeatedly made land use decisions that were at odds with the desires of local citizens and that were detrimental to Chapel Hill’s future. CHALT seeks a future for Chapel Hill that is fiscally sound, maintains diversity, protects our environment, and is respectful of Chapel Hill’s distinctive character.

Of particular concern is the lack of transparency that allowed flawed decision-making to take hold and persist despite citizen efforts.  Out of state consultants with scant knowledge of the Town were chosen over highly qualified local talent. Instructions given to the writer of our form-based code were never made public. Small area plans are routinely ignored with no justification. Decisions to sell Town assets are made out of the public eye. Out-of-state investors and developers, who profit handsomely from town government decisions, make political contributions that are not reported until after the election. And the list goes on.

A course correction is in order. CHALT believes that the work of our town council and local government should be aligned with the needs and wishes of the citizens who live here, and that the creation of a more transparent, representative approach to governing our town can help better align the desires of citizens with the work of town government. Chapel Hill elected officials and public servants are susceptible to the same conflicts of interest affecting governance at the state and national level. Greater transparency can help improve the behavior of elected officials and enhance confidence and trust in our local leaders.

Rachel Conerly
www.thecos.org
rachel@thecos.org

Share Button

CHALT High Technology Forum

Click on link for Hurdles, Strategies for Growing High-Tech Business Chapel Hill the Chapel Hill News article by Tammy Grubb.

biotech9On June 7, CHALT sponsored a public forum entitled “Nurturing High Technology Businesses in Chapel Hill’. The forum explored whether the Town of Chapel Hill should more actively support the growth of local information technology and biotechnology businesses and how the Town might support them effectively. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill generates many small high technology companies. As the successful ones grow and mature, however, they tend to leave Chapel Hill for other nearby or out-of-state locations. In contrast, other university towns, such as Boulder, Co and Ann Arbor, MI, have retained more of their homegrown high tech businesses.

Three invited speakers and two CHALT members made presentations. The invited speakers included Michelle Bolas representing UNC’s Vice Chancellor for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and two scientist-entrepreneurs. Natalia Mitin, Ph.D is President of Healthspan Dx, a UNC ‘spin-off’ company that left Chapel Hill for premises in RTP. Jude Samulski, Ph.D. is the co-founder of Bamboo Therapeutics, a Chapel Hill-based biotech company. Fred Lampe and David Schwartz of CHALT presented information on high tech development in Ann Arbor, MI and Boulder, CO, respectively.

Approximately 50 people attended the forum, including Mayor Hemminger and several members of the Chapel Hill Town Council. Representatives of the local media and several local entrepreneurs, both active and retired, also attended. A discussion period followed the presentations.  CHALT member Rudy Juliano, Ph.D., moderated the forum, where these themes emerged.

  1. High tech businesses provide both good jobs and net positive tax revenues;
  2. Tech entrepreneurs prefer to locate their operations close to the university;
  3. Quality of life issues are important to high tech companies;
  4. Biotech and info-tech companies have very different space and facilities requirements;
  5. Compared to other college towns, such as Ann Arbor, Chapel Hill has done little to recruit or retain high tech businesses;
  6. Impediments to high tech business growth in Chapel Hill include lack of suitable rental space, especially for biotech companies, and lack of convenient parking. For example, Ms. Bolas noted that UNC-related startups need around 200,000 square feet of work space, but only 26,000 square feet are available on campus;
  7. These impediments cause companies that would prefer to remain in Chapel Hill for access and quality of life reasons to look elsewhere.

Rosalin Franklin Opening 151012

CHALT members are currently studying in detail the issues raised at the forum, and we look forward to working with the Town on ways to more effectively nurture and retain our homegrown high tech businesses.

Share Button

How Do Developments Help Chapel Hill?

Share Button

150 Gather in Carrboro for Orlando Vigil

Share Button

Nurturing Technology in Chapel Hill

We’ve all wondered what kind of economic development would really grow Chapel Hill’s net revenues — we’ve learned that expensive apartments buildings grow our tax base but won’t help our bottom line (more money going out in service costs than is brought in by revenues.)

Is high tech the solution? Join us on Tuesday, June 7th for a discussion by experts: “Nurturing High Technology Businesses in Chapel Hill”.  This free event will be held at Extraordinary Ventures, at Elliott Road,  from 6:00 – 8:00 pm.

Microsoft Word - CHALTForumAnnouncementFlier.docx

Share Button

Public Shortchanged When Public Can’t Follow the Developer Money

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.

Share Button

Hemminger Spurs Food for Kids Summer Program

Mayor Pam Hemminger announced a program for serving lunches to school age children during the summer after her election.

From left, Wendy Rosenstock, Mary Anne Pilcher, Terry Oxendine and Debra Ross pack strawberries for distribution to local students through TABLE’s Weekend Meal Backpack program. TABLE will join local governments, schools, UNC and community groups this summer to launch Food for the Summer, a daily meals program that could serve up to 1,600 children. Tammy Grubb tgrubb@newsobserver.com

From left, Wendy Rosenstock, Mary Anne Pilcher, Terry Oxendine and Debra Ross pack strawberries for distribution to local students through TABLE’s Weekend Meal Backpack program. TABLE will join local governments, schools, UNC and community groups this summer to launch Food for the Summer, a daily meals program that could serve up to 1,600 children.

 Key facts:
  • 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.

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.

Read entire article here.

Share Button

The Story of Chapel Hill High’s Cross Country Team and Course

Tiger Mascot, Chapel Hill High School

Tiger Mascot,
Chapel Hill High School

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.

teamxcountryConsider 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.

This news story describes the controversy. The most recent story from the Chapel Hill News suggests the current resolution on the table offers a compromise to all parties, which is NOT the case.

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.

1B route intersecting with cross country cours

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.

Alternate Route

Alternate Route

Share Button

Town Resources Mismanaged

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?

Share Button