American Legion Rd Task Force Update

Chapel Hill nearly lost the beautiful American Legion tract to a development full of high end apartments.  It is a testament to Mayor Hemminger’s leadership that the Town was able to revisit the use of this property, whose use had seemed to be determined by closed meeting proceedings in 2015. After hundreds of letters and much community input, the Chapel Hill Town Council agreed to purchase the 36.2-acre American Legion Property on Legion Road.

The driving reason for the Town’s purchase of the American Legion property was the need for a park in rapidly growing northeast Chapel Hill as described in the Town’s own 2013 Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Plan.

At its last business meeting of the year on November 29, the Town Council received a report from the consultant to the American Legion Task Force – the council-appointed citizen task force charged with giving recommendations to the council about what to do with the 36-acre American Legion property.

The Task Force, which was chaired by newly elected Council Member Rachel Schaevitz, met for the past eight months and their report reflects much work with citizens, town staff, and paid consultants to gather information, discuss options, and prepare recommendations.  An update on their work is here.

After hearing a presentation from staff liaison Corey Lyles and task force consultant Dan Jewell, the council also received comments from numerous individuals who advocated for the property to be used for affordable housing.  They also heard from the Orange County Visitor’s Board about an idea to construct a pickleball facility on the property.

During their discussion of the report, the council and members of the community acknowledged that work remains to be done to plan for the future of the property.

Council members also advocated for establishing a plan for making remaining payments.

During the meeting and in letters sent beforehand, citizens have expressed strong interest in allowing the existing Task Force to continue their work.  A number of citizens have followed the task force meetings and are familiar with the property and the interests of the adjacent neighborhoods in this northeastern section of town. Read about the events leading up to the purchase of the American Legion property.

Given that over the next few years, over 1,000 new residential units will be added to the Ephesus-Fordham (a.k.a. “Blue Hill”) District, which adjoins the American Legion tract, providing public recreation amenities in this under-served part of town takes on ever greater importance.

It will be up to the new council to set direction for how this property will be used to meet the needs of our town and to establish next steps for moving forward.

We encourage the incoming Council members to take the time to review these facts and the good work of the task force as they deliberate about the future of the American Legion site.

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Grimball Jewelers

Yet another longstanding local small business has fallen victim to the ill-considered Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment plan. We learned this week that Grimball Jewelers, despite its profitability, is leaving its Elliot Rd. location and going out of businesses because its landlord, Regency Centers, declined to renew its lease. Read this article from the Durham Herald-Sun about the closing of Grimball’s Jewelers.

Residents are losing the businesses that serve their everyday needs.  The form-based code was intended to stimulate new interest in building and investing here. That has certainly happened as out of town investors have moved in to take advantage of the relaxed standards and the quick permitting the new code affords. Since the zoning change, three parcels in the district have changed hands at least once. The first project the Alexan sold for 72 million.

The new zoning, which reduces standards and increases the amount that can be built on a piece of land in the district, has spurred commercial gentrification and caused rents to rise dramatically.  The Regency Center landlord is seeking more rental income by trying to attract high end businesses.

The Durham Herald article contains a choice quote:  According to Regency Centers representative Jay Kanik, the Blue Hill District “is going to bring a lot more of this kind of entertainment lifestyle and activity. The PTA Thrift Shop, the Print Shop and the old dry cleaner that was there for generations, it’s all legacy stuff and there’s a time and place for that, but with this evolution there’s going to be a lot more energy.”

Chapel Hill doesn’t lack for energy, and it certainly doesn’t lack for pricey restaurants and upscale entertainment venues. What we need instead are places to buy food staples and obtain the array of services that satisfy ordinary everyday living!  Now we will drive a few more miles to find them!

The Town Council’s announced purpose to rezone the Ephesus Fordham district was to: (1) improve the local revenues, (2) bring renewed vitality to an aging shopping center, and (3) create a transit friendly area.  The new council can evaluate whether those goals have been met and recalibrate.

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We did it!

We are absolutely thrilled at the November 7th election results!
You can’t do better than 100%!CHALT is so grateful for our talented candidates who are willing to dedicate their time to serve our town.

We truly appreciate our many poll workers, pavement stompers, voters, and supporters who helped elect all five of our endorsed candidates.

Chapel Hill has a better future because of your efforts and we thank you!

Now the governing begins! Our new town council will need our help. Upcoming topics of interest are the new proposed conditional use zone, addressing the major flaws in the Ephesus – Fordham Code, and plans for dealing with congestion on our major highways. An active citizenry will continue to make our town livable for everyone. We look forward to your continued involvement and support.

Durham Herald article

Daily Tarheel

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CDC Issues Certificate for More Apartments on 15-501

Another enormous, luxury apartment development is coming under the form based code; it is located along Fordham Boulevard (Highway 15-501) and the corner of  Elliott Road.

Who approves new projects in the Ephesus Fordham District?

In 2014 the Town Council gave away all public review of projects in the new Ephesus – Fordham District and gave sole final say to the Town Manager. However, one advisory board, the Community Design Commission (CDC) , makes design recommendations.

What are the details of the Fordham Apartments application?  Link to Town Webpage

The existing Days Inn hotel is proposed to be demolished and replaced by one building 521 foot long housing new 273-unit apartments at the corner of Fordham Boulevard and South Elliott Road.

The southern portion of building, closer to S. Elliott Road is proposed to be six stories. The northern portion of the building, near the existing Days Inn hotel is proposed to be five stories and wrap the parking deck on three sides.

The property is entirely within the 100-year regulatory floodplain and is partly within the regulatory floodway and Jordan Watershed Riparian Buffer.

Before the CDC met, Council member Jess Anderson asked the Town Manager why the town staff continued to negotiate details for 6 months on an application that fails to meet the Town’s newly adopted maximum block size of 450 feet within the Ephesus-Fordham (Blue Hill) District. The Manager replied that the Council allowed exceptions to be considered and granted if certain conditions were met. This issue became the central question at the CDC’s October 24th meeting; Did the proposed alternative (sent to the CDC a few days before the meeting) meet the standards for an exception?

Following is a summary of the October 24th meeting where the Community Design Commission decided to grant a certificate of appropriateness.

  1.  Charles Humble asked the Community Design Commission to adhere to the FBC block standards. Specifically he asked the Commission to deny RAM’s request to exempt the project from the FBC’s maximum block size standard on the grounds that it does not meet any of the conditions enumerated in the code under which an exemption can be granted. See his letter here.
  2. Council very deliberately adjusted the block size to address massing and connectivity concerns. The outcome of the CDC deliberations Tuesday night was at odds with those council policies and the code.
  3. Only five commissioners attended the meeting. Four were absent. The chair pushed the Commission to a final vote despite unanswered legal and technical questions, missing members, and a motion to table the vote until questions could be answered and the other members were present.
  4. The developer argued that the plan warranted an exemption to the 450 foot. maximum block length due to site constraints;  however two commissioners argued that the problem lay with the design of the building as opposed to the site itself.
  5. In addition, one commissioner said the applicant’s plan is not consistent with the Town’s goal of redeveloping the Ephesus Fordham district as  a connected mixed-use area that supports all modes of transportation.
  6. Commissioners posed legal questions that staff could not answer. Commissioner Dancy asked whether a pedestrian easement qualifies as a “thoroughfare.” (If a pedestrian easement does not qualify, then we assume the staff can deny the compliance certificate.) Other questions included:  (1) the legal definition of a “block,” and (2) the implications on connectivity within the Ephesus Fordham/Blue Hill District of not requiring RAM to provide a bona fide street within the site.
  7. The motion to table failed by a 2-3 vote. The motion to grant a design alternative passed 3 – 2. The motion approving a Certificate of Appropriateness passed 4 – 1.

At some point the Town staff and the Town Council must acknowledge that the form based zoning code in its current form is not delivering what the citizens wanted. The proof lies in the discontinuity between the zoning code and the Ephesus Fordham Small Area Plan. It is scandalous to us that the new development occurring under the code does not resemble the Town’s own adopted plan that was endorsed by both the Council and the community.



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Indy Endorses Four Council Candidates

The INDY Endorses Ed Harrison, Hongbin Gu, Rachel Schaevitz, and Karen Stegman for Chapel Hill Town Council

Read article here.

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CHALT Endorsements for 2017 Municipal Election

CHALT Endorses Hemminger for Mayor, Buansi, Gu, Schaevitz & Stegman for Council

On October 5, the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT) announced their endorsements for the November 7, 2017 Chapel Hill municipal election. They are Pam Hemminger for Mayor and Allen Buansi, Hongbin Gu, Rachel Schaevitz, and Karen Stegman for Town Council.

“CHALT’s endorsements are based on individual interviews and rigorous evaluation of candidates based on specific criteria,” said Julie McClintock, former member of the Chapel Hill Town Council and member of CHALT’s selection committee. “These criteria include a candidate’s commitment to making steady progress toward community goals; an ability to offer practical suggestions about how each goal can be addressed; listening skills, respect for dissenting views, critical thinking and personal qualities that will allow for effective collaboration with the community; and an understanding of the need for a comprehensive approach to town planning.”

Listen to the CHALT candidate forum here.

Summaries from individual interviews here.

Hemminger, 57, is the incumbent mayor of Chapel Hill. Since being elected, she has brought a new tone of collaboration to town hall and has achieved remarkable progress in the challenging areas of downtown parking, tech sector jobs, regional planning for water quality protection and development review.

Buansi, 30, is a civil rights attorney who was raised in Chapel Hill. He also served as the legal redress chair for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP and policy and field director for current North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein’s campaign.

Gu, 49, is a quantitative researcher at the UNC School of Medicine who has lived in Chapel Hill for 22 years. Gu serves on Chapel Hill’s Environmental Stewardship and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools District Asian American Parents Advisory Boards. She organized the Chapel Hill LIGHTUP 2017, the first town-wide celebration of the Chinese New Year, which took place at University Place.

Schaevitz, 37, is a social justice filmmaker and postdoctoral fellow in the Public Humanities program at UNC. She currently serves as the chair of the town’s task force dedicated to development of the American Legion Property, a 36-acre parcel recently purchased by Chapel Hill. She also serves as a Town of Chapel Hill Cultural Arts Commissioner.

Stegman, 48, a Chapel Hill native, is director of business development for IntraHealth International, a Chapel Hill based non-profit organization. She has also served on the Chapel Hill Housing Advisory Board and as her neighborhood’s PORCH coordinator.

“We believe that the four council candidates we’ve endorsed will bring new voices and fresh perspectives to the Chapel Hill Town Council,” said McClintock. “Along with our mayor, they will provide the strong leadership and values we should expect from those who serve in town government.”


The Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT) was founded in 2015 by former members of Chapel Hill town governance, UNC faculty members and other community leaders. Its goals are to apply evidence and data to maintaining high standards for development, solving traffic problems, keeping Chapel Hill’s schools strong and making the town affordable for individuals of all income levels. You can find out more at

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“A Place Called Home: Making Housing Available for All Income Levels”

A Place to Call Home: Housing Available for All Income Levels

Monday, October 2, 2017
7:00 pm – 8:45 pm, Chapel Hill Town Hall

I. Welcome and Introduction: Julie McClintock CHALT

II. Framing the Issue: Nancy Oates, Member Chapel Hill Town Council

  • Different Types of Housing for All Income levels & ages
  • Trends in Chapel Hill affecting Housing (rental/ownership)
  • Council policies

III. Success Stories: Private and Non-profit Initiatives

  • Redevelopment Glen Lennox: Tim Jezisek, Vice President for Development/Grubb Properties
    • Economic Challenges & Benefits in incorporating accessible housing
    • Into Redevelopment of Glen Lennox
  • Partnership between UNC and Northside: Hudson Vaughn, Senior
    Director, Marian Check Jackson Center

    • Preserving Varied Housing in a Historic Chapel Hill Neighborhood

IV. Affordability Gaps and New Approaches

  • Mai Thi Nguyen, Associate Professor, Department of City & Regional Planning, UNC Chapel Hill
    • The challenges and opportunities to preserving and developing affordable housing.

V. Question/Answer/Discussion Moderator: Sheila Creth

  • Questions for Speakers and Open Discussion

VI. What Next?

  • What is needed to successfully address creating accessible housing for all income levels in Chapel Hill?
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Blue Hill District and Flooding

If you think that development in the Ephesus – Fordham, a.k.a. Blue Hill District, is not increasing the risk of flooding, think again.

The tragic events in Houston are a worrisome wake up call to Chapel Hill – especially in the Blue Hill district which is already prone to flooding. Already approved upstream projects and changing weather conditions will increase flooding in this low lying area.

Our editorial on the Lessons of Houston elicited a response from Molly DeMarco and Sue Hunter which lauded Chapel Hill’s land use planning but incorrectly referenced the district’s “superior flood control requirements.” (Read their opinion editorial posted in the Durham Herald here).

CHALT readers know that the Council did apply water quality treatment standards in 2014 to the District, but flooding mitigation actions have yet to be taken.

Read more here…


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Let’s Avoid the Mistakes of Houston

By Julie McClintock

In the wake of the calamity in Houston, we are learning – yet again – how dangerous and harmful flooding can be. What happened in Houston can happen here. We, too, are overbuilding and allowing construction in low-lying areas just as Houston did.

With seeming indifference to the constraints posed by Chapel Hill’s geography, the Chapel Hill Town Council in 2014 endorsed and encouraged an intensification of development in the Booker Creek flood plain, an area already prone to flooding. Because “paved-over swamp” doesn’t quite convey the image of hip urbanity necessary to entice affluent twenty-somethings to the district’s shopping centers, the town spent $24,000 in public funds to hire a branding consultant, who, with no trace of irony, recently rechristened the low-lying area “Blue Hill.”

Branding exercises and other efforts to shape public perception cannot obscure the substantive, ongoing problems with the redevelopment that is occurring in the district formerly known as Ephesus-Fordham. To produce a better outcome than we are currently getting, the town needs to rewrite the underlying zoning code or start over.

The town would be well served to first affirm the overall vision for the district that the community supported years ago. That means reducing maximum building size to more human-scale dimensions and providing shared parking, reasonably priced housing and pleasant places to hang out or stroll.

The main problems that need to be fixed include:

  • The current zoning disregards the community-endorsed plan. In 2010, the town invited residents to participate in a public planning process to devise a redevelopment plan for the area. The council approved this community consensus plan in 2011. However, the code adopted in 2014 deviates markedly from the residents’ vision. It is instead a land speculator’s dream: few standards, no public hearings and a quick approval process.
  • Benefits all accrue to the developer, not the community. The adopted code threw out all the things that Chapel Hill residents value: public input in development review, attractive, human-scale buildings, trees and wide sidewalks, storm water volume control, modestly priced housing, improved bus service, and public parks.

To produce a better outcome than we are currently getting, the town needs to rewrite the underlying zoning code or start over.

  • Commercial gentrification is driving out valued local retail and services. The small businesses we want and need are disappearing fast due to escalating rents and are being replaced by chain stores, expensive restaurants and unneeded luxury apartments. Gone or going soon are the dry cleaners, the yarn store, the copy shop, the barber shop – the kind of services we depend on for everyday living.
  • Lowered building standards have encouraged real estate speculation and the rapid flipping of properties. The Alexan recently sold for $72 million but many units are still vacant.
  • The area is not walkable. The first project approved under the new zone is the “beached cruise ship” sitting awkwardly on Elliott Road. The building and its attached parking deck make it more difficult to reach other businesses in the same shopping center. Each large new building will supply its own parking, thus discouraging people from walking to other locations within the district.
  • We are losing our town’s character. Tree-lined streets are being replaced with pavement and concrete that take up every square inch of property, just as in Houston and large cities everywhere. As a result of this poorly devised new building code, the town’s investment of taxpayer funds is sadly harming the very qualities that make our town livable and is changing the look and feel of our college town for the worse.

But the most severe adverse impact caused by fast-tracked development in the “Blue Hill” district will be more flooding, as more buildings are approved within an already overbuilt floodplain. The town has several watershed studies underway that will recommend expensive remedies, but as the devastation in Houston has shown us, it’s far more prudent to prevent problems by not constructing pavement and buildings on what little absorptive natural surface remains in the district.

This article printed on line in the Durham Herald Sun on September 1, 2017.

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Community Forum for Town Council Candidates

Make an informed decision November 7!

WCHL interview about the forum


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