Category Archives: CHALT

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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Downtown Chapel Hill Needs Good Design

Ned Crankshaw Event

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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.

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150 Gather in Carrboro for Orlando Vigil

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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

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American Legion Property Summary

Tonight:  Jan 13th 6:00 – 8:00 pm public meeting  about potential development of the American Legion property.

On January 13 at 6pm at the Legion Hall on Legion Road where the possible developers of the American Legion parcel, Woodfield LLC, will be describing their plans for the property (if they acquire it).  The public is invited. Here is a simple list of what has happened.

1.  The American Legion Post 6, owner of this 36.2-acre parcel on Legion Road, has decided for various reasons that they need to sell this property.  They have every right to do so.

2.  In 2005, the Legion and the Town (through manager Cal Horton) had agreed that, whenever that unique parcel of fields and woodlands were sold, the Town would be given the right of first refusal to buy the land.

3.  In the Spring of 2015, the Legion advised the Town of their plans to sell.  The Town then appraised the parcel and, as it stands today — with its current zoning — it was appraised at $2.4 million.

4.  The Legion then solicited offers from private developers.  Woodfield responded with a bid of $9 million if the Town allows them to build a 400-unit upscale apartment complex on the land, and $10 million if the Town allows 600 apartments.  (Since about 5,500 upscale apartments have already been approved in other locations — Ephesus Fordham, Obey Creek, and many others — which is probably enough to satisfy demand for a couple decades, one might legitimately ask how the Town would benefit from another 600.)

5.  Woodfield’s offer to the Legion is contingent upon several Town concessions.  First, the Town must re-zone the parcel to enable them to build 400 or 600 apartments on the property.  (That would not be allowed under current zoning.)  Second, the Town must give the developer access to adjoining Town property so that the developer could build trails and a road from the Legion property to Ephesus Road, immediately beside Ephesus School and the tennis courts/park beside the school.  This road (and a bike trail) is promoted as a “public amenity” donated to the Town by the developer, although the only beneficiary would be the developer.  Many think these “concessions” are inadequate compensation for the additional traffic and service costs to the town caused by a high density development.

6.  In other words, it would be concessions from the Town that would increase the value of the parcel from its current $2.4 million to as much as $10 million.  At a price of $9 to $10 million, the Town feels that it could not afford to buy the parcel (e.g., for a park) — despite the Parks and Rec bond that was passed in November — and accordingly, Council voted (in closed session in November 2015) to forego its right of first refusal.

7.  The next step would be for the developer to approach the Town and Council requesting the required re-zoning of the parcel and the necessary access to build the road on Town property, probably as part of a Special Use Permit process.  Council hearings on this process would be open to the public.  If the Town refused these things, Woodfield’s offer would be voided, and the $9- to $10 million deal would be off.

The meeting at the Legion Hall tonight will be the public’s first opportunity to learn first-hand the envisioned details regarding this proposed development.  If you are concerned about this proposed project, you would benefit by attending this meeting, becoming educated about the project, and perhaps offering comments that could influence the developer’s design.

Among the concerns that we might want to explore are the traffic impacts of 600 new apartments on Legion and Ephesus Roads, and on Fordham.  Also, is there any potential that the Legion property — which abuts Colony Woods — would have a connecting road to CW that would send traffic through that neighborhood?

Your primary opportunity for input on a an actual application will come later, when this project comes before Council for review.  But the time to start learning about what’s been happening behind closed doors is now.

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John Quinterno Debunks Myth that Chapel Hill is Slow Growth

In a fascinating free talk sponsored by C.H.A.L.T. on October 12, John Quinterno of South by North Strategies Ltd., a local consulting firm specializing in economic and social policy, debunked the popular myth that Chapel Hill is a town that doesn’t grow. Both the town’s population and its housing stock grew by almost 50 percent from 1990 to 2010, and both are projected to keep growing. By any objective measure, Chapel Hill has grown tremendously, but the town’s growth has occurred in a more deliberate manner than in many other parts of the Triangle.

Understanding the reality of past growth in Chapel Hill is essential for understanding the context of the upcoming municipal elections. Many incumbent council members believe that Chapel Hill needs to grow at a much faster rate to make up for lost time and to keep pace with neighboring communities. To that end, the council has championed a trajectory of faster growth led by high-end, high-rise residential construction. While this new trajectory may be more financially lucrative for certain vested interests, it can impose significant costs on current residents and businesses in such forms as higher future taxes, congestion, environmental degradation, household and business displacement, and neighborhood destabilization.

“By any objective standard, Chapel Hill has grown rapidly, if more deliberately than other parts of the Triangle,” said Quinterno. “The decision to change course, then, is a political one that has little to do with growth and everything to do with power: the power to govern, the power to decide whose interests matter, the power to spend public dollars, and the power to require the public to subsidize the profits of favored private interests.”

The Daily Tarheel live tweeted the event, and the Storify collection is here.

Attached are John Quinterno’s slides from the event.

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Lots of Interest in First Candidate Forum

Town Council Forum Video:
Mayoral Forum Video:

Last Tuesday evening (9/15) the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT) sponsored the first in a series of public forums for candidates running for Chapel Hill mayor and town council. Not surprisingly, given a groundswell of public concern about recent council decisions, the house was packed. More than 150 people crowded into the theater at the Seymour Senior Center on Homestead Road, and CHALT volunteers scrambled to bring in more chairs.

The two-part forum began with an invitation to all nine of the town council candidates to give short prepared statements on why they are running. (All appeared onstage except Paul Neebe, who was out of the country.) Moderator Theresa Raphael Grimm limited each speaker to a minute and a half. It was a challenging task for the incumbents struggling with an even more extreme version of the Council’s three-minute rule for public comment. Moderator Theresa Raphael Grimm led the candidates through a full agenda beginning with open ended statements about motivations for running to targeted questions for each candidate.  See forum questions

The moderator followed up the candidates’ introductory comments with questions about some of CHALT’s key concerns, such as council decision-making, town fiscal management, and the need for commercial development. Each candidate had 90 seconds to reply. After that, the moderator read questions from index cards submitted by audience members. That session ended at roughly 8:30.

Everyone stayed through a two-minute break to hear the three mayoral candidates, who then took the stage: Pam Hemminger, a former Orange County commissioner and school board member; incumbent Mark Kleinschmidt; and Gary Kahn. Kahn ran unsuccessfully for town council two years ago.

Pam Hemminger, who supports many of CHALT’s positions, spoke about her wide ranging experience (positions in environmental groups, school board and the Orange County Commission.) and her collaborative skills of bringing people with different agendas together. It was a spirited exchange, punctuated by some moments of humor. Asked by the moderator to pose a question to his fellow candidates, Kleinschmidt got a big audience laugh by asking Pam Hemminger, “Why do you want my job?

To hear the answer to that question, Chapelboro readers are encouraged to watch a full video of the event by clicking the links posted above.

The election is November 3, 2015, and early voting at selected locations begins October 22, 2015.


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Political Season Begins with C.H.A.L.T. Community Forum

All members of the public are invited to attend a Community Forum on Tuesday, September 15, at the Seymour Senior Center, 2551 Homestead Road in Chapel Hill, from 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. Theresa Raphael Grimm, Ph.D. will serve as moderator. The candidates for Chapel Hill mayor and town council will explain why they are running and what they hope to accomplish if elected. The moderator and audience members will then pose additional questions.

As the first major forum of the campaign season, the CHALT Forum provides an opportunity to hear and learn about the views of both incumbents and challengers running in the election on November 3, 2015. The Forum will focus on the fiscal and development issues that face Chapel Hill, a university town of 60,000, and how the management of our continuing growth can influence positive and negative changes in the livability of our town.

C.H.A.L.T. has organized a number of educational events this year featuring aspects of a “livable town” ranging from green building to affordable housing, to the healthy benefits of providing safe biking facilities. In one presentation David Shreve, University of Virginia, brought compelling evidence about why residential growth typically costs more in town services then the revenue it brings in. See events page.

The Community Forum will give prospective voters the information they need, at this critical juncture in the town’s history, to make an informed choice on November 3, 2015.  Join us!

The event is sponsored by CHALT in partnership with the Orange County Council on Aging.

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Is Obey Creek Proposal Ready for a Vote?

The Council will consider whether the Obey Creek Development Agreement draft is ready to approve on June 15. So much new information arrived on June 8, that the Council decided not to vote that night.

When approved,  East West Partners’ or other developers will be allowed to build 1.6 million square feet of housing, office, retail and hotel at Obey Creek, along with an additional 840,000 – 1 million square feet in parking garages.  Commuters along 15-501 south will see 4 – 8 story buildings (exceeding the size of Southpoint Mall) replace the trees. When built out, Obey Creek could add 16,500 auto trips a day to existing traffic and cause terrible congestion at key 15-501 intersections including Market St, Culbreth Rd. and Mt Carmel Church Rd., as well as on the Fordham By-pass at peak travel times.

Let’s see if our Town Council will carefully address the transportation issues before voting. In a recent Chapel Hill News article, Tammy Grubb points out that the DOT’s release of a transportation assessment of the traffic problems have been discounted by Roger Perry, the Developer’s representative. In a companion piece, Jeanne Brown writes convincingly of the difficult transportation choices needed in a June 7 editorial. She writes,  “Fortunately, by encouraging the town to consider both sides of the road as opposed to a lone development, NCDOT has opened up the opportunity for Town Council to address long-term corridor planning before signing an agreement for Obey Creek.”

What Happened at the May 18 Town Council Public Hearing?  More than 100 people turned out for the Town Council public hearing, and many speakers expressed concern about the impacts on the Town of such a large project. See Chapel Hill News article, “Residents Ask Council to Adjust Plans”.
Planning Commission Recommendations Not Followed:
  • The Town should hire a specialized legal counsel to review the Development Agreement with an eye toward protecting Town residents’ interests.
  • The amount of onsite residential should be limited to conform to the American Planning Association recommendations for mixed use (20%-60%).
  • The Town should analyze the benefits & impacts of a smaller development (e.g., 1.1 million square feet) instead of only analyzing the 1.6 million square foot project the developer has proposed.

The Town Council has thus far declined to act on any of these recommendations. Moreover, when a Planning Commission member asked town staff whether they had conducted any analysis of various alternative Obey Creek development scenarios in order to optimize the benefit to the town, staff admitted that they didn’t independently plan or analyze any alternatives beyond what developers proposed.

Here’s what people are saying about the Obey Creek proposal:

Can We Endure the Traffic? 

We can expect gridlock at peak travel times in southern Chapel Hill, according to an April 2015 traffic study submitted to NCDOT.  On it’s own, Obey Creek would add 16,500 new vehicle trips and 2,500 additional transit trips (300% increase) per day and failing area intersections functioning at level “E” and “F” in 2022.

The town has just received a memo from NCDOT outlining 28 conditions for driveway permits at Obey Creek and further work is necessary to hammer out road and transit decisions before an agreement is signed.  As currently laid out by NCDOT, S15-501 will be 8 lanes wide at Market Street and Sumac Roads and the site plan that is being negotiated will need to be altered.  Transit stops have not been established, despite projections for 2,500 new transit trips per day, a 300% Increase over current ridership.

  • Al Baldwin, former history teacher at Chapel Hill High School, writes about the anticipated traffic
    gridlock and loss of another natural area in this May 17 editorial, in the Chapel Hill News.
  • A local business owner, Terry Vance, says in a letter to the Mayor and Council: “I shudder to think how long it will take to get to work if Obey Creek is not reduced in size by half… [the commute] getting from my house to work and back will be dreadful…Please don’t make Chapel Hill a place that drives small businesses out of business while promoting developers who won’t consider what is best for Chapel Hill but instead what is best for their bottom line.”
  • Amy Ryan, Vice Chair of the Planning Commission, said in testimony to the Mayor and Council that it was essential to “right size” Obey Creek. “Right sizing is about how much building our road capacity can bear, so we avoid situations like the real possibility that cars will back up Market Street past the Weaver Street Market as they wait to get onto 15-501 at morning rush hour.” See full statement here.

Why Not Fiscal Responsibility?

Citizens are asking why the Council would approve an agreement that would cause traffic gridlock in return for little or no financial benefit.  Obey Creek was initially promoted as a way to improve the Town’s finances by generating net positive revenue. Because of the high number of residences allowed by the agreement, Obey Creek may not make any money at all for the Town according to CHALT’s financial analysis in this statement to the Council from Chapel Hill resident Rudy Juliano.

  • David Schwartz presented an analysis to Council on May 18 showing that each 10% increase in the amount of housing at Obey Creek will cost the town $400,000 per year, and that by reducing the amount of residential construction, the town can substantially reduce the overall size of the project with no loss in the amount of annual net revenue.
  • In an open letter to the Mayor and Council, John Weathers, resident of Southern Village asks:

Mayor and Council:  If you don’t have a good estimate of the external costs of this development, how do you know there’s any net financial benefit to the community?  You obviously don’t.  And that’s no lie or misleading statement, just common sense.” See his full letter here.

Where’s the Plan?

Sharon Epstein, in a memo to the Mayor and Council, wrote “Numerous commercial and residential developments are either in the works or have been proposed over the next few years.  But I haven’t been able to locate a current short-, medium- or long-term plan, backed up by professional impact analyses that provide data on the relationships among the planned developments and the combined effects of the developments on area resources such as traffic and transportation and other elements that contribute to quality of life and that affect property and income.”

Conclusion: A Better, not Bigger, Obey Creek

The Town Council has failed to ask for even the simplest things that would put the community in a better position to evaluate and negotiate the Obey Creek development proposal.

  • They won’t hire outside legal counsel to review the agreement.
  • They won’t analyze the value of the new land entitlements vs. the value of the concessions the developer has offered to see if the Town is getting a good deal.
  • They won’t study alternative sizes for the development even though they’ve had over 3 years to do so.
  • They won’t do a Town-wide traffic analysis to understand the combined traffic impact of Ephesus-Fordham, Glen Lennox and Obey Creek on 15-501 traffic.
  • They won’t follow the American Planning Association’s recommended ranges for successful mixed use developments.

Obey Creek is one of many recent examples where the Town has failed to protect community interests.

Sign the petition, write a letter to mayorandtowncouncil, and/or come to the Town Council public hearing June 8th to the Town Council members know what you think!

See this blog to see the data supporting these comments here:

See full CHALT newsletter here.

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