Welcome to Chapel Hill, Our Town!

In the News.  East West Partners has submitted a proposal to Town Planners to build a massive 90-ft. tall building on South Elliott Road. The project will include 266 apartments, 15,600 sq. ft. of retail and an attached parking deck. Manager Roger Stancil has only 45 days to determine whether the proposal satisfies the new form-based code checklist adopted by Town Council in May. This new code enacted for the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment district permits and encourages the creation of highly dense living conditions in a suburban part of town that lacks the public open space and mass transit infrastructure needed to comfortably support such a large number of people residing in so small an area.

Proposed Village Plaza

It didn’t have to be this way. If Town Council had adopted the well-researched recommendations that citizens and advisory boards proposed, the developer’s plans for Elliott Road might look very different—in fact, they might look more like this imaginary streetscape that Town staff used to promote adoption of the new code.

Staff photo from EF public hearing

The streetscape above is more appealing than the building East West Partners Continue reading

Welcome to the World of Closed Door Meetings

In the August 20th Chapel Hill News in the Roses and Raspberries section of the Opinion page, editor Mark Schultz chastises the Mayors Innovation Project for barring the local media from attending the conference being held this week in Chapel Hill. He also criticizes the Chapel Hill Chamber of Commerce, who, under its current leader Aaron Nelson, has introduced the practice of closed-door meetings.

An excerpt:  “It wasn’t long ago, under former chamber leader Joel Harper, that reporters from the local newspapers and radio station frequently attended the chamber of commerce’s board meetings, which are now off limits as well.”

“The closed door nature of these meetings flies in the face of the Chapel Hill community’s tradition of robust, transparent debate. When the media and the general public are shut out it only raises suspicion about what is being said, and even more, left unsaid. We thought this community was better than that.”

How do we get Chapel Hill back on track and reassert the values of transparency and openness in our public affairs? As editor Mark Schultz says, our town is better, and deserves better, than what we are seeing.

Our Town is maintained by volunteers from Chapel Hill neighborhoods and is dedicated to the Chapel Hill values that drew us to live in this community:  our tree lined neighborhoods, locally owned businesses, lively musical and arts scene, and our history as the home one of the oldest universities in the nation.  Recognizing that growth is inevitable, we want to grow in a way that respects the unique characteristics and history of our Town. We want a town government that governs with integrity, uses our tax money prudently, and earns the confidence of its citizens.

What happened to E-F rezoning?

What happened with the Ephesus – Fordham rezoning?

On May 12, the Mayor and five Town Council members voted for the Ephesus-Fordham Redevelopment Plan. Only three Council members opposed it.  Matt Czakowski, Ed Harrison and Jim Ward agreed with community members who felt the plan needed much improvement.  Taxpayers, not the developer,  are footing the bill for additional roads and stormwater, with no promise of real congestion relief or diminished flooding in the future. The new zone delivers far less to the community than our own town requires now for public review, transparency and affordable housing.

What was  adopted? A new zone which permits owners to rebuild 90 feet or 7 stories in a major commercial area of town including Park Apartments, Rams’ Plaza (Food Lion), Eastgate (Trader Joes), and Village Plaza (Whole Foods etc). The new zone does not allow Council or public review now the zone is approved. Redevelopment plans will be worked out between the developer and the Town staff.

If you want to know more why so many community members are unhappy with this Council vote, read Bruce Henshel’s letter to the Chapel Hill news here.

Town Shouldn’t Pay for Perry’s Road

Guest Commentary, Bruce Henschel, Chapel Hill News, July 11

Barely one month after the rezoning of the Ephesus-Fordham (EF) redevelopment district, we already see an example of the questionable decision-making that many citizens feared might occur. At the Town Council’s public hearing on June 16, town staff presented the preliminary designs for the initial taxpayer-funded EF road improvements. The need to reduce traffic congestion had been presented from the outset as one of the key objectives of the EF redevelopment.

At this hearing, the public learned for the first time that one of the four priority projects to relieve the congestion around EF on Fordham and Franklin is a short road across the Village Plaza parking lot, extending from Elliott Road to the vacant former movie theater site and curving around the rear of that site. This road across the Village Plaza lot will primarily serve East West Partners, the developer who plans to build a parking deck on the old theater site and a high-rise mixed-use building on the current parking lot in front of it, facing Elliott. The proposed road will cross currently private property, delivering traffic to the front and rear of the developer’s parking deck, and to parking spaces beside the high-rise. The deck will serve primarily the developer’s tenants, with some spaces allotted to Whole Foods.

When, in any previous development in Chapel Hill, has the town ever paid to make improvements benefitting a developer’s private property? Historically, the opposite has been true: developers are commonly required to pay for improvements that will benefit the Town. Roads crossing private property for the benefit of the property owner have always been the developer’s responsibility. It is inappropriate and unprecedented for taxpayers to cover these costs.

We are told that the developer will donate to the town the land on which the road is built, as if that were some sort of compensation. Why would the town want that? This donation means that the town would become responsible for maintaining what should be a private road serving the developer, and that the land on which the road is built – in becoming publicly owned – would thus be taken off the tax rolls.

The mayor and town staff argue that public funding for this road is justified because we cannot expect individual developers to bear the cost of a broad public benefit, namely, converting “suburban sprawl” (which they consider Village Plaza to be) into the “connected urban grid” that they feel EF should become. That argument doesn’t hold water. The presumptive first block in the “grid” will be created, not by this road per se, but by the developer’s construction of a 7-story tower in the middle of the 1-story mall’s parking lot. The road is required by the developer to support that tower – not by the town – and is totally consistent with developer-funded site improvements for other developments of this size.

And it is unclear whether the town has the money to pay for this road. Staff say that this road has always been included in the $8.8 million that the town plans to borrow to cover EF road improvements. But the road has never been explicitly listed as town-funded in any prior publicly available document, including the engineering contractor’s report that generated the $8.8 million estimate. On the contrary, there have been at least two town presentations over the past eight months indicating that this road would be paid for “by others,” not from the $8.8 million. Adding to the uncertainty, the town staff have stated that they do not know how much this road will cost. So how can they claim that the costs of this road can be covered without impacting more important projects?

Let the developer cover the cost of his own road.

Bruce Henschel lives in Chapel Hill.


Lack of True Citizen Involvement


After 42 years in Chapel Hill, I agree with Linda Haac’s commentary that the Town has never seemed so polarized. The heart of the problem is the fundamental difference between intelligent growth that maintains Chapel Hill’s character (favored by the majority of residents), and, on the other hand, the massive, high-rise urbanization favored by the Mayor, majority of Council, Town Manager, and business interests. The modus operandi of the Mayor and Town Manager also play a role.

The generally positive experience with the Glen Lennox redevelopment, which had true community involvement, shows that polarization does not HAVE to accompany large development projects. But the Town’s approach in planning the

Ephesus-Fordham (EF) redevelopment made the EF process divisive.

Had the Town worked constructively with all stakeholders in planning EF, including the community, a mutually acceptable approach for EF could have been developed. Instead, the Town seems to have worked seriously only with the business interests, with a focus on enticing them to build in EF. The result was an out-of-character building height of 7 stories and the most business-friendly version of form-based code, allowing the Town Manager to approve even the largest projects, based largely on a simple checklist, without Council or public input.

Here’s how the process looked from the citizen’s standpoint. At a mid-2010 “visioning workshop”, the public recommended a 2- to 3-story building height, with a focus around Rams Plaza and the vacant auto dealership. This recommendation morphed into: 1 to 5 stories in the February 2011 EF “Small Area Plan”; then 3-5 stories in the January 2013 “Form-Based Code Guide”; and finally, to the public’s surprise, 7 stories over most of EF’s 169 acres in the Fall 2013 release of the draft code. Requests that this 7-story density be reduced were made by the Town’s Planning Board in February 2014, and by a group of concerned citizens in early May 2014; these were essentially ignored.

There can be no surprise that the Mayor detects a “public mistrust of Town leaders”.


Bruce Henschel

Chapel Hill




What happened at the May 12 meeting?

On May 12th  the Town Council voted to upzone most of the Ephesus-Fordham tracts making up Eastgate, Village Plaza, the Park Apartments, and Rams Plaza to a brand new zone, a Form Based Code, with the stated  goals of spurring redevelopment to increase Town revenues, and solving traffic and stormwater problems. We believe none of these goals were met.

During the Monday hearing, the Town Council barely discussed and chose not to adopt the many well-researched recommendations presented by a team of citizens and experts to improve the Form Based Code that applies to the Ephesus – Fordham area. A number of speakers called for a more robust walkable and vibrant Form Based Code that included affordable housing and energy efficiency, one that would yield a net positive revenue for the Town and one that would incorporate public review of projects. Second, speakers asked the Council to apply the new zone only to those sites where we want to encourage redevelopment, in other words limiting the number of properties that would receive the zone so as to give time to improve the Code. Thirdly, speakers asked the Council not to upzone properties in the floodplain until a future conditions flood map is complete, and not to rezone the Park Apartments until the Town replaces this stock of workforce housing. Finally, a petition was presented signed by 857 area residents to ask the Town to address these issues. See link to our key requests and the petition.

Despite the objections and concerns expressed by speakers, the Town Council majority voted to go ahead anyway, 6 – 3. (Affirmative: Mark Kleinschmidt, Maria Palmer, Donna Bell, Sally Greene, George Cianciolo and Lee Storrow) with the notable exceptions of NO votes from Council members Ed Harrison, Jim Ward, and Matt Czajkowski. A big thank you to Ed, Jim and Matt for taking to heart our concerns.

If you attended or watched last night’s Council meeting, please share your observations. Video of the proceedings is found here.

May 12 memo to Council

May 12, 2014

The Ephesus-Fordham package is not ready to be approved. Here are some fixes the Council can make to improve it.

Fix the Form-Based Code:

  1. The Code disenfranchises its citizens in favor of decisions made only by the Town Manager: Incorporate tiered review related to the size of a project.
  1. The present Code lacks sufficient detail regarding design, public open space, and energy efficiency: Set a process and a date certain to fix it.
  1. Most properties in the district are neither ready for nor interested in redevelopment: Apply zoning only to those sites where we want to encourage redevelopment; rezoning prematurely will mean not being able to go back and fix it.
  1. FBC is a tool that is cannot mandate affordable housing. Before proceeding with rezonings, pursue development agreements to ensure that affordable housing will be provided.


  1. Some properties are in designated floodplain yet zoned for 7-story buildings: Before rezoning any properties that lie in floodplains, produce future conditions floodplain maps for the Booker Creek Watershed.
  1. The Council is assessing taxpayers for the cost of the new infrastructure, including affordable housing, roads, and up stream stormwater facilities: Re-evaluate who pays the costs. Don’t rezone Park Apartments until the community gets the affordable housing and amenities it wants.
  1. The Town staff has erroneously concluded that residential and mixed use construction will solve our fiscal problems: Appoint a blue ribbon team of community experts to advise the town on the type of economic development that would yield the greatest benefit for the town.
  1. The Council has not addressed traffic congestion on 15-501. Do not authorize any major road improvements until the results from the traffic impacts of E-F, Glen Lennox, Obey Creek, and Chatham Park are evaluated as part of the 15-501 corridor and the DOT Feasibility Study.

Friends of Bolin Creek expert testifies

April 28, 2014

Dear Mayor and Council Members of the Town of Chapel Hill:

Since my remarks and recommendations on April 23 were limited by your 3 minute speaking rule, I am sending to you again this report, on behalf of Friends of Bolin Creek. See 2 attachments. The location of the Ephesus-Fordham proposal in the Booker Creek watershed requires special attention to minimize risks for flood damages to businesses and homes. Contained in my report, are specific recommendations to mitigate this serious threat.

Ephesus – Fordham Stormwater Report

Little Creek Watershed

I am a registered Professional Engineer in North Carolina and a Certified Floodplain Manager with over 35 years of experience working for engineering firms and local governments, including many projects involving assessing flood threats to communities and devising ways to guide development to reduce these threats. I will speak to the main points at the meeting on April 21, 2014.

I appreciate this opportunity and thank you for considering this information in your deliberations.



Kenneth A. Carper, PE, CFM
Water Resources Team Lead, Stantec Consulting Services Inc

Chapelboro report of April 23rd public hearing

Below:  Meeting Video and two press reports

Video of April 23 public hearing.          Click on link


Council members Jim Ward, Matt Czajkowski, George Cianciolo and Ed Harrison said the plan for a “form-based code” that would remove the council from future projects’ approval process needs more work.

“What we’re talking about doing here, to me, has a much less predictable outcome and therefore deserves every bit of input and thought that we can possibly provide to it,” Czajkowski said. “I don’t think we’re anywhere close to being ready to vote for this.”

The 190-acre Ephesus-Fordham district is one of six smaller areas identified in the town’s 2020 plan as ripe for future projects.

The town is considering a new type of zoning called form-based code to guide developers and create predictability in how buildings are built, how they look and how they fit into the landscape. Once established, most projects could be approved by town staff, instead of the council, with some Community Design Commission review.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and council members Sally Greene, Donna Bell and Lee Storrow did not signal their intent Wednesday, but council member Maria Palmer said it’s time to vote.

“I ran part of my campaign on Ephesus-Fordham, and I’ve been ready to see something change in this area for 15 years,” she said.

The council continued the public hearing to its May 5 work session, but not before hearing from more than three dozen people who signed up but didn’t get to speak at Monday’s public hearing. Roughly a dozen more people who signed up to speak did not return Wednesday.

More than 100 residents showed up for each meeting.

Resident Diane Willis said everyone wants to see improvements in stormwater and flooding, traffic and other district issues. The council should move forward cautiously by applying the code to a few initial projects, she said.

“It’s time to remove the rose-colored glasses and actually examine what would be delivered,” she said. “In its present form, the form-based code has no teeth, no incentives and no oversight by the council or the public, just the town manager, who is not elected, and a minimal amount now from the Community Design Commission.”

Residents David Schwartz and Julie McClintock advocated for a code with more reviews and incentives, similar to one the town’s consultant – Lee Einsweiler of Code Studio – helped write for Asheville’s Haywood Road area. McClintock said nearly 800 residents have signed a petition asking the council to address residents’ concerns before approving the form-based code.

Many neighbors who support the district don’t go to meetings, resident Matt Bailey said, but they speak their minds by driving to Durham.

“The outdated suburban sprawl and the aging strip malls on our side of town don’t offer the kind of shopping they need, the restaurants they like or the places they want to spend their time,” he said. “They make their voices heard every time they move to Chapel Hill just in time for kindergarten and move out just after high school, because our side of town doesn’t offer the kind of housing people in all stages of life desire.”

Holly Fraccaro, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Durham, Orange and Chatham Counties, agreed with his assessment. Chapel Hill has “a really good plan” that will do what is needed, she said.

The town learned from Ephesus-Fordham district property owners that more than half the potential projects could be residential. Bassett has said the town could expect roughly 900,000 square feet of commercial space and about 1,495 residents.

The district’s road network is the “largest detriment” to development, transportation planner David Bonk said. The needs are greater than one property owner could correct. The town plans to spend roughly $8.8 million on two phases of road improvements and another million improving stormwater issues upstream.

Cianciolo said the community will have to subsidize affordable housing, if that’s what residents want. The form-based code carries risk, but it’s also risky to do nothing, he said. Greene said one way is working with nonprofit housing partners, because market-rate developers usually aren’t interested.

Ward suggested setting a two-story limit, with bonus height for developers who include affordable home and business space, energy-efficient features and other amenities.

John Richardson, the town’s sustainability officer, said the proposed code now incentivizes rooftop solar equipment and sets stricter stormwater and residential buffer standards. A district pilot program could reward developers with fee rebates for energy-efficient features, he said.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

Chapel Hill News is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what’s in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.


Chapelboro.com report.  This account focuses on some of the issues about which conflicting interpretations exist, particularly the cost-benefit estimates for the project, how to approach affordable housing, and whether the current version of the form-based code for Ephesus-Fordham is ready for a vote by the Counc

Still No Vote on Ephesus-Fordham Plan, But Lots of Public Input
By Danny HooleyPosted April 24, 2014 at 4:17 am
ephesus fordham plan
Members of the public brought slide presentations, personal stories and some impressive knowledge and research into Wednesday night’s marathon meeting of the Chapel Hill Town Council.

The subject was the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment plan; and at the end of five-plus hours, the Council was not yet ready to vote.

There were some testy exchanges, such as this one between Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Council Member Matt Czajkowski.

“It’s kind of like when I want to sell my house, and they’re going to put a value on it, I go look at the last three or four houses in my neighborhood, and that’s the market value,” said Kleinschmidt.

“I’ll tell you what it’s like, Mr. Mayor,” Czajkowski replied. “It’s like when you get the answer you don’t like, you do it yourself, and use a different set of comparables. That’s what it’s like, OK?”

They argued about whether the Town Staff’s market value projections for development spurred by the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment plan were realistic.

Czajkowski is a well-known critic of the plan to rezone 190 acres near the intersection of Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard to attract developers.

If rezoning for the plan was approved, it would be the first time form-based code was used in Chapel Hill. Projects would be approved by staff, with input from the Community Design Commission, based on parameters set by the Town Council.

Later in the meeting, Czajkowski was shut down by Kleinschmidt and Council members Sally Greene and Donna Bell for twice questioning the motives of Greg Warren, president of DHIC, a non-profit housing organization. Warren spoke in favor of form-based code during public comments at the meeting.

The DHIC plans to build 84 affordable housing units on a portion of Legion Road donated by the Town of Chapel Hill. Czajkowski supports that.

But one of Czajkowski’s concerns about the Ephesus-Fordham plan is that rather than incentivizing affordable housing, it would do the opposite –for instance, to the detriment of The Park apartments on Ephesus Church Road.

“Why would you endorse having those workforce apartments knocked down, and those people driven out of Chapel Hill, sooner then it has to happen?” Czajkowski asked Warren.

“I did not endorse that,” answered Warren, as council members spoke up to admonish Czajkowski.

“That is not a question that anybody should be asked,” said Greene. “This is not an interrogation.”

During the public comments that lasted two hours, some citizens expressed similar concerns about the potential for the loss of affordable housing. Some brought slide presentations to illustrate concerns about stormwater runoff and more potential for flooding.

Some speakers said the plan didn’t do enough to enhance walkability and bike transit.

Most of the comments were in opposition to the plan. But there were a few that spoke strongly in favor, arguing that money is being siphoned out of Chapel Hill every time its residents drive to neighboring Durham to meet shopping needs.

Aaron Nelson, president of The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, endorses the Ephesus-Fordham plan.

“The plan comports with our community’s shared values,” said Nelson. “We want to build more affordable housing. We want to improve water quality. We want to grow the commercial tax base. We want to develop intensely along our transit corridors. We want to grow local work opportunity.”

As the clock ticked toward the drop-dead ending time for the meeting at 11:15 p.m., half the council said they still weren’t ready to vote yet.

Here’s Council member Jim Ward:

“I’m not against form-based code,” he said. “I’m not against doing it in this area. I don’t think the product we could vote on tonight is as good as we can do. I think it’s far from that.”

The Council ran out of time for discussion, so the meeting was scheduled to be continued on May 5 at 6 p.m., at the same place, the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road.

That’s for the rezoning item. The discussion of the stormwater plan that was scheduled for Wednesday’s meeting was put off until May 28.


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April 21 “public hearing” Ephesus-Fordham

Chapelboro synopsis of the Ephesus – Fordham meeting last night.  Scores of people could not get seating and went home early in the evening. Those lucky enough to get a seat in the crowded room, listened to 2 1/2 hours of staff presentation and Council discussion about the proposed code with remarkable patience — but with no opportunity to give prepared remarks. With the clock run out at 11:15 pm, we went home frustrated. Meeting recessed until 7 pm this Wednesday.

Ephesus-Fordham Vote Delayed Again
By Elizabeth Friend
The plan calls for buildings between three and seven stories, as well as new roadways. The plan calls for buildings between three and seven stories, as well as new roadways.
Despite a four-hour meeting and a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100, the Chapel Hill Town Council had no time for public comment at Monday night’s public hearing on the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment plan.

The meeting ran long, forcing the Council to delay public comment on the plan until later this week. Though Council member Maria Palmer urged the crowd to stay for the remainder of the lengthy staff presentation on the topic, some audience members reacted with angry shouts and many walked out after waiting more than three hours to have their say.

“You might get really, really important information,” Palmer said to the crowd. “You’re saying you’re not interested. If you leave you are saying you’re not interested in the details. I know we need to hear from the public, but there’s also the purpose of informing the public and ourselves.”

The Ephesus-Fordham renewal plan proposes rezoning 190 acres near the intersection of Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard in a bid to spur development.

If approved, the plan would be the town’s first experiment in form-based code, in which the Council sets parameters for development, then individual projects are approved at a staff level with the input of the Community Design Commission.

Council member Matt Czajkowski is a vocal skeptic of the plan. He protested what he said was bias on the part of Lee Einswieler, a consultant hired by the town to create the form-based code.

“To a lot of us, it feels like we’re being sort of sold,” said Czajkowski. “We didn’t hire you to sell us, we hired you to give us the alternatives in an objective manner.”

Czajkowski called for scaling back the plan to include just a handful of commercial properties, a concept Einsweiler rejected.

“Objectively, I personally believe you’ll lose planning objectives of consistency throughout the district,” replied Einsweiler. “Unless you include some of the smaller properties in here, you’ll lose the leveling benefit of the form-based code, which allow the smallest guy to do just as much with his property as the biggest guy.”

The Ephesus-Fordham renewal plan would use Chapel Hill Town Hall as collateral for $10 million dollars worth of storm water and roadway improvements to try to address the longstanding flooding and traffic issues in the area.

While town staffers provided detailed presentations on revised storm water proposals and the criteria for project approval, the Council ran out of time before reviewing the transportation improvements, affordable housing and the financing of the plan.

The Council will reconvene at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, an hour earlier than usual, in an effort to get through a full agenda. The remainder of the staff presentation on Ephesus-Fordham plan will begin at 7:00 p.m., with public comment scheduled after that.

Looking ahead to Wednesday’s meeting, Council members pleaded with the public to have patience as they sort through the plan.

“There’s just a lot of stuff here to work through, and I think we all have to be patient with each other while we do that,” said Mayor pro Tem Sally Greene. “You know, can’t go over it, can’t go under it; we’ve just got to go through it.”

The Council could choose to vote on the rezoning on Wednesday, or decide to wait until April 28.




Chapel Releases Stormwater Master Plan

 The Town staff of Chapel Hill has released a draft of the Stormwater Management Program Master Plan. The plan has been under development for a number of years and offers goals and a strategy for attaining them.  It does not come with the additional funding needed to implement the plan.

Town staff is inviting comment at these times:

  • Wednesday, April 16 – 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., with a brief presentation at 11:45 a.m.
  • Thursday, May 1 – 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., with a brief presentation at 4:45 p.m. that will be repeated at 5:45 p.m.

The meetings will be held in Meeting Room B at the Chapel Hill Library, 100 Library Drive.
 The draft Stormwater Master Plan is posted in three sections on the Town’s website here. There are several links because of the large size of the files:  Phase I, Phase II, and Phase II Appendices.
Town staff contact:        Sue Burke, Stormwater Engineer
                    919-969-7266 or sburke@townofchapelhill.org