Wishing you Happy Holidays and Looking Back at 2016

                                             Carolina Inn – Chapel Hill’s Christmas Centerpiece

Happy Holidays to our family of supporters and all those who want to make Chapel Hill an even better place to live.  This Our Town website is chock full of interesting local news, articles, and opinion about our home town, Chapel Hill.   Learn about the goals of Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT) by reading our past newsletters, blog posts, or by attending our educational events.

CHALT advocates for a livable Chapel Hill by educating and promoting a future that will honor and protect Chapel Hill’s small town character, and our longstanding values of inclusion, environmental stewardship and education. Detailed mission and goals can be found here.

  A Look Back at 2016……

The New Mayor and Council

The election of Pam Hemminger as Mayor of Chapel Hill has brought practical economic policies and a kinder gentler tone to Town governance.  Many citizens feel more welcome at Council meetings.  Petitions are now handled expeditiously instead of lost in an abyss, and upcoming public hearings are listed on a town webpage. The Mayor initiated a Food for the Summer progam that was an enormous success. Her energy and boundless interest in all aspects of the Town are astounding.

The election of CHALT – endorsed Council members Jessica Andersen and Nancy Oates has meant that citizens whose views were not previously represented on the Council, now have a voice.  Nancy and Jessica’s  presence has sharpened the Council’s oversight role of the management of the town by their insightful questioning of Council direction and town policies. We appreciate their service!

American Legion Sale: a Big Win for the Town! 

We celebrate the Town Council’s new support for a more enlightened use of the American Legion property, rather than the unimaginative and fiscally draining luxury apartments previously proposed. The sale of this land to the town means the Town will add an additional park with other opportunities that will benefit everyone.  Kudos to the entire Town Council and especially to Mayor Hemminger for leading the negotiations!  We look forward to having public participation in the strategic planning process to create our newest park.

Sancar Turkish Cultural Center

On November 21, The Town Council unanimously approved a local Nobel laureate’s plan to create a Turkish cultural center on East Franklin Street. The Council approved a special use permit for 1609 E. Franklin St, formerly the site of a contentious hotel proposal that was not approved.

Named for UNC scientists Aziz and Gwen Sancar, the center will feature net-zero energy buildings, which means that the roof-mounted solar energy systems will produce sufficient energy to offset any energy taken from the electrical grid to run the buildings’ energy systems.  This building design will set the standard for future sustainable development in Chapel Hill.

Transportation Planning Upgrades

After years of thinking and talking about it, it appears the Town is finally on track to improve transportation planning by implementing a traffic model for Ephesus Fordham that can be utilized for the entire town. In addition, CHALT’s Fred Lampe petitioned the Transit Partners to evaluate electric buses who requested that Chapel Hill Transit hire a consultant to study how much an electric bus costs over the useful lifetime of the vehicle.

Ephesus Fordham District (E-F)

We know that many Town Council members agree with us that the Form Based Code (FBC) that governs the Ephesus Fordham District needs to be fixed.  The zone encompasses nearly 200 acres and was intended as an initiative to spur more vibrant and interesting growth. Most agree that the FBC did not achieve these intentions and that progress toward repairing this new zone has been too slow. In June 2016, the Town Council made an amendment requiring  a designed break or pass through in the otherwise monolithic building form, but until the remaining problems with the FBC are fixed, developers are free to propose buildings that meet but few restrictions.

Consultants hired. In addition to making modest design changes to the FBC, the Council directed the Town Manager to hire a number of consultants to address “walkability”, transportation and design guideline elements that were not included in the original FBC approved in May of 2014. See town webpage of scheduled code improvements.

New zone replaces Town ordinances.  It is worth remembering that in approving the FBC, the Town Council abandoned some of the finest aspects of our Land Use Management Ordinance, specifically height restrictions, setbacks, and buffers, as well as requirements for affordable housing, and stormwater management.  The resulting projects so far, show what happens when public hearings are removed from the review process. Few people appreciate the monstrous new high rise luxury apartments on South Elliott Road that have eliminated the large trees we previously enjoyed along the road and those along the greenway bordering Booker Creek. The one story buildings in Rams Plaza are not objectionable (they could have been 2- 3 stories)  but the FBC failed to solve the entry and exit problems. And there is general concern about building large new buildings in what was formerly the Resource Conservation District in the flood plain.

Touted transportation improvements. The jury is out as to whether the highly touted Ephesus Rd – 15-501 intersection improvements or the planned extension of Elliott Rd will actually relieve traffic congestion and be worth the taxpayer contribution.

Current E-F strategy may not be working.  Everyone is concerned about the RAM proposal for large new monolithic buildings to be built in the Resource Conservation District and the flood plain from Elliott along Fordham Blvd which could be approved 45 days after the application is submitted. That proposal conflicts with the Town’s own proposal to build a stormwater storage pond there that would also create needed green space and park space. As is the case for all potential projects in the Ephesus Fordham District, the Town Manager has exclusive decision-making authority, since the FBC requires no public hearings.  The only other oversight allowed by the FBC is comment by the Community Design Commission on building facades.

The Consultants’ work is not yet complete but progress is not encouraging.  The walkability recommendations recently presented to the Council ignored the public pleas for green spaces, and safe biking and walking, and instead promoted changes the land owners preferred.

Perhaps more worrisome, while the Town Council professes commitment to fixing the FBC, they do not appear in a hurry to do so before more bad projects are approved.  See Chapel Hill news story about more apartments on 15-501 and Elliott built in a low lying flood zone. We are losing faith that the FBC can be fixed and wonder whether moving back to the previous rules for approving proposals would not be a better approach.

Light Rail Price Tag Out of Sight 

Orange County’s transportation plan includes a robust bus service to outlying areas, bus rapid transit, and light rail.  The immediate funding problem will come to a head in April when the County Commissioners will be asked to pay the extra costs for the light rail price tag which has gone through the roof due to the diminishing chances of state funding. GoTriangle is looking to the local counties (Durham ad Orange Counties) to make up the difference to the tune of 250 million dollars and more.

CHALT is concerned that the price will preclude the development of the more flexible portions of the plan as well as impact County responsibilities for schools and social services.  We believe that the extraordinary costs of the light rail proposed plan makes this a good time for Orange County Commissioners to reevaluate the County’s participation in a plan that does not appear to benefit anyone but UNC Health Care.

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Thank you for your interest and support!

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