Category Archives: Affordable Housing

Form Based Code is Hurting Our Town

Form Based Code (FBC) is the zoning code that covers the Ephesus Fordham District, just renamed “Blue Hill” which targets 180 acres for high density redevelopment, from South Elliott Road and East Franklin Street, to Legion Road and Ephesus Church Road.

Tammy Grubb writes here in the Durham Herald about the Town and property owners re-branding the district to “Blue Hill”.  To us, this business marketing effort by the property owners to improve the rental rates of the high priced apartments draws attention away from the need to fix the many flaws in the underlying code. 

We wish the Town’s Economic Director had sponsored a competition to name the district and consulted retail owners and affected residents.  The only “Blue Hill” we know of is a well-known small seaside town in Maine that many here in the Triangle frequent in the summer for its quaintness, theater, music, cool weather, and antiques.

We want the Town to redirect its resources toward clarifying an overall vision and addressing the height and massing standards, as well as the lack of shared parking, reasonably priced housing and pleasant places to hang out or stroll.

Why is so much of the community unhappy with how the district is developing?

  • The community plan was not followed.  In 2010, the Town invited residents to participate in the renewal strategy  and asked them to vision a redevelopment plan for the area.  The Council approved this community consensus plan in 2011.  But what happened next is that the Manager hired a consultant who recommended  a zoning code that was approved quickly by the Town Council.  This code is a land speculator’s dream: few standards, no public hearings and a quick approval process. It does not resemble the citizens’ plan.
  • Benefits all accrue to the developer, not the community. The final code threw out all the things that Chapel Hill considers valuable: public hearings, in scale attractive buildings, trees and wide sidewalks, storm water volume control, and development that would serve the community such as modestly priced housing, improved bus service, and pocket parks.
  • The retail we want and need is disappearing fast due to escalating rents replaced by high end apartments, chain stores, and expensive restaurants. Gone or going soon are the dry cleaners, the yarn store, the copy shop, the barber shop, the men’s clothing store – the kind of services we depend on for everyday living.  
  • We will need to drive to Durham to find what we need. Replacing needed office and retail with the new glitzy stuff will mean even more traffic on a congested 15-501.
  • The Town is spending tax money to market a bad product instead of fixing the underlying problems.  We want the FBC improved or replaced with code that allows the kind of development we want and need. We are not excited about spending $24,000 of Town funds to help the property owners market their rental units.
  • Lower standards has led to more real estate speculation and the rapid flipping of properties.  The Alexan recently sold for $72 million.
  • The FBC is not promoting transit friendly development. Each apartment owner is building a parking deck which will keep people in their cars. The town is short on funds to expand our bus service.   A consultant has just been hired to design sidewalks and bikelanes for the district well after the approval of the zone.
  • Flooding will continue.  The Town has several watershed studies underway to recommend expensive remedies, but it it far less expensive to reverse the trend by not building pavement and buildings on natural surfaces.
  • 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 attached parking deck make it more difficult to reach other businesses in the same shopping center. Each large apartment building will supply their own parking and walking to other locations is discouraged.
  • We are losing our town’s character.  The tree lined streets are being replaced with pavement and concrete that take up every square inch of property, just like large cities everywhere.  After all the Town investment of taxpayer funds, the Form Based Code has caused the ordinary things people need to live to disappear, along with the look and feel of our college town.

We invite our readers to respond to the article.  These newspaper quotes particularly stand out:

 “The desire was to become a thriving, walkable district with an urban character attractive to younger generations that work and live in the Chapel Hill area,”
Regency Centers also plans to remodel part of Village Plaza’s Whole Foods-anchored shopping center, which has lost several smaller tenants in recent years, Kanik said. Those losses can cause “a lot of heartache and grief,” he said, but the company also has a duty to its investors and to help other tenants thrive.

The district “is going to bring a lot more of this kind of entertainment lifestyle and activity,” Kanik said. “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.

Write your opinion in the comment section just below.

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Closed Meeting Raises Questions

In November 2015, the Town Council decided in closed session to forego a 2005 council resolution that allowed the town the “right of first refusal” for the American Legion Post 6 property located on Legion Road. While real estate transactions are allowed to occur in closed session, the Town Council went far beyond that constraint.

On January 7, the Town manager  Stancil released this account of the events surrounding the two closed sessions.  See this page to see the closed meeting minutes and the summary document.

During closed session, they authorized the Town Manager to sign a contract with a potential developer of this land, Woodfield Acquisitions LLC, that says when the permitting decision is made the developer will provide trails and a road through town park property emptying onto Ephesus Church Road between the ball field and tennis courts next to one of the school playgrounds. These are negotiations that should be public and held during a public hearing process.

 We believe these actions taken in closed session are unethical and are likely illegal as well, and they deserve public discussion and scrutiny. If illegal, the actions are a violation of the North Carolina Open Meetings Law.

The American Legion’s letter alerting the Town of its right of first refusal was dated September 30, 2015. The election was on November 3, and then Council apparently rushed this action on November 9 in closed session – before the swearing in of the new Mayor and Council members.

The North Carolina Open Meetings Law permits closed meetings only for limited specific purposes. There is no justifiable reason that the actions taken should not have been discussed in an open public session. By choosing to meet in closed session, the previous Council circumvented an important public policy discussion about whether 600 more apartments should be considered, especially in light of the fact that Chapel Hill already has more than 5500 apartment units approved and in the development pipeline.

Brief History. Back in 2005, the owner of the property (the American Legion Post 6) was concerned that the Town might designate the property a future school site, which might have complicated the owner’s ability to sell the property in the future. In exchange for not exercising its right to designate the property a school site, the town received the right of first refusal to purchase the property if and when it was offered for sale.

The property is currently appraised at $2.4 million. At some point before June 15th the property owner entered into negotiations with a Raleigh developer with the assistance of the Town’s economic development officer, Dwight Bassett. The potential devloper, Woodfield Acquisitons LLC, had not yet made any offer to the American Legion. Sometime during the discussions, between the June meeting where the Manager was authorized to negotiate with Woodfield and September 30, when the Town was notified of Woodfield’s offer, Woodfield became confident enough to make an offer to  the American Legion of $9 million for the property.  This offer to the Legion is contingent on *IF* the town rezones the property to allow at least 400 dwelling units to be built on the site. The owner then offered it to the Town for $9 million. The Town declined to purchase it for that amount.

 

The developer, who does not own the property, then entered into negotiations with the Town and agreed to build a road and a trail on the property *IF* the Town permits it to build at least 600 units. See a concept map found on the last page of the September 2015 letter to Stancil. The new agreement is memorialized in this 11-20-2015 Agreement Manager Roger Stancil signed.

Any negotiations between the Town and a developer about public benefits to be provided as a condition of rezoning should be conducted out in the open as part of the open Special Use Permit process with opportunity for public input, not in private between staff and developer. There would have been specific objections made, for example, to a road being placed between the ball field and tennis courts,  to one of the school playgrounds, and on town park property.

The open public process could also have begun a discussion about the best use for the town of the American Legion property if any zoning change is to be made. Possibilities would include public amenities such as parks, new retail, or permanently affordable housing for public employees. We do not need more market rate housing.

Council members who signed off on the contract should be asked to explain why they considered it appropriate to authorize staff to negotiate concessions with the developer without any public notice or input.

Learn more about the proposal and let the Town Council know what you think. The developer is marketing his concept at an upcoming meeting to persuade the Town to permit construction of 400 – 600 units on the site. A community meeting is scheduled for January 13th, 6 – 8 pm, at the American Legion, 1714 Legion Rd, and it will hosted by John R. McAdams Company, representing Woodfield Acquisitions, the potential developer.

Please put this date on your calendar! Sign up for the latest blog posts on this and other town issues.

Documents released from closed session:

September 2015 letter to Stancil
2005 Right of First Refusal
11-20-2015 Agreement To Forego Right of First Refusal
Chapel Hill News Story, December 25, 2014,  Tammy Grubb

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CHALT Calls for Form Based Code Overhaul

On April 20, 2015, the Town Council asked for comment on how to improve the Ephesus Fordham Formed Based Code.  The staff memo called for numerous apparently minor changes.  CHALT asked for an overhaul of the Code and made the following comments to the Town Council.  The public hearing has been continued to September.

Affordable Housing Needs   Nancy Oates

Fiscal Analysis for EF            John Morris

Transportation and EF          Bruce Henschel

What’s Really Needed?          Jane Kirsch

Flooding and EF                      Jean Yarnell

Overhaul the Code                  Julie McClintock

Admit Mistakes and Change Terry Vance

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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.

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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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