Category Archives: Ephesus Fordham

What’s Happening at Elliott Road?

September Update

Alexan Apartments was the first project permitted under the new fast track approval process, i.e., form-based code, that the Town adopted in May, 2014.  As the project nears completion, let’s assess how well the Ephesus-Fordham (E-F)  redevelopment plan is measuring up to expectations.  Originally billed as “mixed-use” the zone is fast becoming apartments (7 story) that crowd the 2 lane Elliott Road marketed to students.

Alexan ApartmentsNew projects in E-F are not creating a walkable, pedestrian friendly experience.  Since the Alexan provides no pedestrian pass-through, the route from businesses on the east side of the building to those on the west side—e.g., from Thimble Pleasures to Whole Foods—is a long, unpleasant experience, especially on a hot summer day. The block size of this structure is about 400 feet – too large for good pedestrian mobility. Curbs with narrow sidewalks along the street front of Elliott Road crowd pedestrian travel and the enjoyment of a pleasant walk.

Willow Oaks along ElliottTree canopy replaced by concrete and glass. Beautiful mature willow oaks, such as these on the south side of Elliott Road, were cut down on t he north side of the road to make way for the more “urban” streetscape of the Alexan building. The form-based code (FBC) encourages loss of tree cover during redevelopment by permitting construction right up to the property line. How will redevelopment in E-F deliver the tree-lined pedestrian streetscape that residents want if the FBC does not require building setbacks to make that possible?

greenwayA missed opportunity to enhance the Booker Creek greenway.  A replacement greenway pictured here skirts Booker Creek, located just to the left. On the right side of the greenway path will be a new connecting road and the garage and garbage bays of the 90-foot tall Alexan apartments. Those additions will turn what was once a pleasant walk through natural surroundings into an uninspired sidewalk route surrounded by pavement. Booker Creek and the adjacent wooded landscape would have provided a perfect backdrop for a park and an enjoyable public space.

Major problems yet to be tackled. These are just a few of the changes we’ve observed on the ground since the Town Council approved the FBC and applied it to the nearly 200 acre E-F district.  The pictures illustrate only a few of the problems that need to be fixed in the FBC.  Other problem that need to be addressed include the lack of affordable housing requirements, lack of incentives for energy efficient construction, and building densities and heights that threaten to overwhelm our infrastructure.

Summary August 22nd Public Meeting

The public session was billed as a chance to give input to improve “walkability and open space” in the Ephesus-Fordham district, which is regulated by the FBC. We came to this meeting thinking we would be asked to offer ideas about how to integrate green space, mini parks, sidewalks and connections in the FBC, but we didn’t get the chance.

Most discouraging, the meeting leaders did not acknowledge the fact that we are not at the beginning of a collaborative process, but are instead trying to improve a poor, hastily-adopted code that is already in place.  New projects could be submitted any day and the Town Manager would need to approve them if they satisfy the minimal criteria of the deficient existing FBC.

We learned that the Town intends to attack the problems in the FBC by hiring four consultants:

TOPIC                       CONTRACTOR                  SCHEDULE

Urban Design                Tony Sease                          fall

Mobility Study              Stewart Consulting            fall

Design Guidelines       Winter Consulting              fall

Affordable housing      David Paul Rosen Assoc   ???

Here is the schedule the town will use to bring the final text recommendations to public hearing.

We see at least three barriers to success for improving the FBC.

  • The fragmentation of property ownership in the district restricts opportunities for green space and large scale storm water planning
  • Need for parking coordination across parcels: If every property owner provides exclusive on-site parking, this will cause additional auto congestion and undermine “walkability”
  • Increased heioght and density, currently allowed “by right,” must be made contingent on provision of affordable housing, energy efficiency and other community benefits.

Central Questions

Will the Council adopt any of the significant changes suggested by the participants, e.g. lower building height (50 ft vs 90 ft), reasonable setbacks, adequate publicly accessible green space in every development, pedestrian/bicycle connectivity (other than street-based sidewalks) between developments, energy efficient construction, stormwater controls, and incentives for affordable housing units?

What happens between now and when the FBC is “fixed?“ We worry every second of every day that yet another “Alexan” will be approved, or that The Park Apts. will submit their redevelopment application. In fact, some of us have heard that the new owner of the property adjacent to the Alexan wants to construct another building just like it!

Will the minor fixes the Town intends make enough difference for community members feel it worthwhile to engage in this process?  Will the Town Manager and the Project Managers allow the hired experts to make an honest assessment about what needs to be done to really fix the code, so the town staff can begin to rebuild that trust with community members?

Sept 12 Staff update to Town Council

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A Chance to Fix Ephesus-Fordham Zoning Code

Public Meeting:
Walkability and Open Space Standards in Ephesus/Fordham Area

TODAY      Date: 08/22/2016 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Location: Chapel Hill Public Library, Meeting Room B
100 Library Drive
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514

As many have heard, more properties are changing hands in the Ephesus Fordham District.  If the Code is not fixed, the Town will be required to approve the sort of project we see now on Elliott Road in nearby areas in the district in our Town.

Please try to attend this meeting tonight at some point.   Note that you can go early at 6 pm or later at 7 and still hear a presentation.

The Town Council is asking for ideas on who to improve the Ephesus/Fordham
development rules to create open space opportunities and new and improved streets and pedestrian-bicycle path connections.

Click here for a full list of the Town’s plans for this area.  See a full list of the scheduled hearings for these improvements here.  Staff contact is John Richardson, project manager.  jrichardson@townofchapelhill.org or call 919 969-5075

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How Do Developments Help Chapel Hill?

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Chapel Hill’s Hope for Legion Park a Challenge but Not a New Idea

This article appears in the Chapel Hill News April 20
by Tammy Grubb

CHAPEL HILL
The idea of using American Legion land to build a bigger neighborhood park has been around for years, unofficially and in the town’s 2013 Comprehensive Parks Plan.

The plan suggested leasing or buying part of the land from American Legion Post 6 to expand Ephesus Park, a 10-acre town-owned tract on Ephesus Church Road that backs up to the post, into a community park.

Neighbors have long viewed the 36 acres at 1714 Legion Road as a local resource, walking its trails, exploring the creek and letting their children use it as a safe route to Ephesus Elementary School.

Woodfield Investment’s $10 million bid for the land and plans for an office building and up to 600 apartments has some residents asking the Town Council to step in. The previous council had first crack at buying the land, but passed on it in November, saying there wasn’t money.

But the new council, at a March meeting, explored the possibilities. Only 20 acres can be developed, a consultant said, because a stream and floodplains cross the property.

The town could use $8 million in parks and recreation bonds approved last fall, council members said. Planning for how to use that money is in the very early stages, Parks and Recreation director Jim Orr said.

The parks plan calls Ephesus one of two parks with “the greatest need for major renovation and expansion.” It calls for creating a master study of the needs and lists more than $900,000 in critical improvements, including new tennis courts, restrooms, a park shelter and baseball field. There’s no money available yet for that work.

The Parks, Greenways and Recreation Commission also gave the town a “wish list” recently for future negotiations with Woodfield, Orr said. Among the suggestions, more parking for Ephesus Park and a dog park.

“It’s all just conjecture at this point,” he said.

Town Manager Roger Stancil said the council may have considered the parks plan in negotiating trails to Ephesus Park last year as part of Woodfield’s potential redevelopment.

“The idea was if the developer built trails and if they connected (to) Ephesus Park, it’s kind of like extending the town’s recreation area without the town spending any money to do that,” he said.

He wants to talk with the council again before June, Stancil said, but is waiting for the developer’s concept plan.

“The message was clear from the council, I think pretty unanimously, that anything that was 600 residential units was not going to get much favorable response,” he said. “If I were a developer, I’d rather try to put something together that might fly.”

Woodfield developer Scott Underwood said in an email last week they are continuing work “to find an equitable path to move forward.”

“We will not be submitting a formal application in April as we continue to work through our plan,” he said. “Woodfield is committed to working with the town and the community to develop a fantastic project.”

Any project submitted would require rezoning the land and face multiple hearings.

A vote against rezoning would stop the plan, but the town must give it fair hearing or it could appear as an illegal attempt to thwart the deal.

Legion officials won’t say if the town could get another shot at the land. It’s not an option they will address while under contract with Woodfield, Post Commander Bill Munsee has said.

Money, in any case, is the issue, Stancil said. The town has leveraged Town Hall to finance road construction and stormwater measures in the Ephesus-Fordham district and other projects and is taking on $40.3 million in bond debt over the next decade for parks, greenways, streets, sidewalks, solid waste and stormwater improvements.

There’s also a pressing need to replace aging fire departments and the Chapel Hill Police Department.

Using bond money to buy the land won’t leave enough to build facilities, Stancil said. No one has asked the town about a public-private partnership, meanwhile, and they need more details before asking the county for help.

Using bond money also delays priorities that residents and the town’s advisory boards spent years debating.

“It’s kind of similar to what you hear from the schools,” Stancil said. “We really need to invest our money in fixing up what we have rather than expanding that.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

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Possible Modifications to the Ephesus/Fordham Zoning Code

The Town of Chapel Hill will hold a Public Information Meeting about possible modifications to the Ephesus/Fordham Zoning Code from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 1, in the Council Chamber of Town Hall, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

In response to recent petitions and feedback from advisory boards regarding the Ephesus-Fordham Form District, Town staff members are developing a list of short-term zoning code modifications for Council consideration. In addition to these modifications, the staff will continue to work with the advisory boards to evaluate other interests that require further review and possible technical support.

At the public information meeting, Town staff will present information about advisory board interests for the Ephesus-Fordham District and a list of modifications to the zoning code that could help meet those interests. The staff will also record public comments about the proposed modifications.

The Planning Commission will consider and discuss these same modifications at its meeting scheduled to occur after the public information meeting at 7 p.m. in the same location.

The meeting will be aired on Chapel Hill Gov-TV (townofchapelhill.org/GovTV) and also live streamed. The live streaming link will be available at http://www.townofchapelhill.org/town-hall/departments-services/communications-public-affairs/streaming-media-archive.

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Concerns about Ephesus Fordham Financing

This letter was presented to the Town Council February 15., 2016

Mayor Hemminger and Council Members:

Many citizens who are following the development of the transportation improvements related to development in the Ephesus Fordham area are very concerned about $900,000 for the Phase 2 Elliott Rd Extension design work and right of way purchase including in the installment financing “package”. Having followed this project closely for several years, many of us believe that this intersection requires more planning before the town hires a consultant to do this design work.

Why do we think so?  Take a look at the rudimentary map that Lance Norris sent to Manager Stancil in the memo below. Note that there is no traffic circle on Ephesus Road (this feature had been identified in earlier documents) and that the roads shown in red are highly conceptual. The map below it with road routes superimposed on an elevation map shows that building this road in a floodplain will require especially careful planning.  Without the solid foundation of a transportation plan for Ephesus Fordham that the Community Design Commission and the Transportation Board have called for, and without the Booker Creek Watershed study results in hand, the consultant the town proposes to hire will not have the information needed to perform quality design work or to handle the special challenges of this flood prone area.

Here are the essential items that are needed before the Elliott Road Extension work begins:

•    Adequate public understanding and input. Hold a public forum on the transportation plan for the district so the public can ask questions of town staff and understand what is proposed for the use of our bond funds. The town should also provide an up to date review of the financing plan for the roads, including assumptions about county contribution of tax revenues.

•    Adequate understanding of stormwater management needs and options. The on-going Booker Creek subwatershed study by W.K. Dickson is examining flooding and water volumes in the area. No new design in or near the floodplain should be approved until that study is complete. For example, stormwater volumes may require a bridge, not a culvert.  We do not want the information obtained from WK Dickson at considerable expense not to be available for this purpose.

•    A detailed transportation plan needs to replace the rudimentary road map provided with this agenda item before town funds are expended on contracts for design and property acquisition at the intersection of Elliot Road extension and Fordham Boulevard.

•    The CDC and Transportation Boards have strongly recommended creating, before further projects are approved, a complete transportation plan for the district to guide current and future redevelopment activity in the district.

Starting design work on Phase 2 of the transportation improvements before holding a public information meeting to get citizen comments, before completion of the area transportation plan called for by the CDC and the Transportation Board, and without the essential hydrologic information to be developed by WK Dickson is like starting to build a house before the foundation is laid. The result is likely to be serious planning errors and waste of taxpayer money.

Thank you for considering these comments.

Sincerely,

Julie McClintock, Rich Leber, John Morris, Joan Guilkey, Tom Henkel, Bruce Henschel, Del Snow, Diane Willis

Conceptual.roads

Projected new roads on flood plain map

Projected new roads on flood plain map

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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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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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New Poll Highlights Concerns with Incumbents

A poll released Wednesday by Public Policy Polling found that more Chapel Hill voters disapprove of the job the Town Council has been doing than approve of the board’s actions.

And the poll had some very bad news for incumbents seeking re-election in the town’s Nov. 3 municipal elections – only one in four poll respondents said they intend to vote for the incumbents, a further indication that Chapel Hill residents are unhappy with the current council.

“It’s interesting but not surprising that the council’s approval rating is as low as 35%” said CHALT spokesperson Tom Henkel. “There are so many people who engaged in the big development proposals who left feeling frustrated and unheard after none of their suggestions were adopted by the current Council.”

The survey was conducted by telephone Sept. 17-20 and tallied the opinions of 245 registered voters.

PPP, based in Raleigh, found that 40 percent of respondents disapprove of the council’s job performance.

The poll also found that less than half of respondents felt that Chapel Hill was on the right track. Topping the list of reasons to fault the council was the current Town Council’s decision to approve Obey Creek, a 1.6 million square foot retail housing project planned for a site across Us 15-501 from Southern Village. Only ¼ of those surveyed felt that Obey Creek was the right choice for Chapel Hill.

“It’s no wonder that 40% say they’re more inclined to vote for the challengers than the council incumbents. If we can get our message that the nature and pace of development needs a course correction, then I think the voters will elect Pam Hemminger for Mayor, and Oates, Schwartz and Anderson for Council”, concluded Henkel.

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Elliott Road Project Update

2015-07-30Elliott Rd               Looking eastward toward ABC store from Whole Foods parking lot

July 31, Update:

  • Parking pavement on site of old movie theatre has been removed and the foundations of the parking deck are in.   Final height of tower will be 90 feet on Elliott Road and will house high end rental apartments.

IMG_1563In May,  construction workers removed the healthy living trees along Elliott and the back of the property along greenway. See article “Trees Down” here.

 

  • Portions of Booker Creek Linear Park Greenway behind the project have been removed and replacement sections built closer to Booker Creek to accommodate plans for an interior circulating road.  (This unfortunate plan could have been avoided if a regular permit process with citizen input had been followed.) 

Stormwater problems addressedAfter a complaint that rainwater was carrying sediment from construction site down storm drain, stormwater division staff found storm water controls were out of compliance and problem was fixed. 

March 31, Update: Construction has begun on the Perry Towers, the first project in the Town Council experiment into form based code.

The Town Manager approved the application in January 2015, and work has begun.  Large construction trucks are removing the asphalt parking lot paving between the ABC Store and the Whole Foods Shopping Center. Soon the sizable willow oaks along Elliot Rd will be gone, making way for a 90 foot building pulled all the way out to the street.

At the back of the property, construction trucks have also removed the Federally funded Greenway path previously built by the Town as part of the Booker Creek Linear Park.  The developer will reconstruct it later, further down the hill nearer the creek.  Instead of the previous pleasant walk, the new path will skirt a parking deck and a new road.

A dramatic glitch:  Construction workers hit a water main which sent OWASA water 80 feet into the air for several hours before it was capped.

Contractor hit water main

Nov 12 Update:  Is there anything one can do to stop or improve Perry’s Village Plaza Apartments?

No, because the Council gave away its review authority when they approved the Form Based Code for the Ephesus Fordham District in May, 2014.  Therefore strong public concerns and comment will make no difference at all to the final product.  The Community Design Commission met several times to review this first project under the Form Based Code District.  Design Commission members were cautioned by  Town staff to comment only on design elements.  However, Citizen Tom Henkel wrote to the Town Attorney and pointed out to the Commissioners that state law gives them the authority to regulate height. {See his letter to the Chapel Hill News here.}  While the Manager extended the deadline for approval until December 3, the application will be approved by the Manager, and construction will begin as early as January.

On Nov 24, the Council decided to proceed with a public hearing to rezone 4 parcels on the south side of Elliott Rd. These parcels were removed from the Ephesus Fordham District at the last minute when the District was approved by the Town Council. It makes little sense for the Town to create separate standards for these parcels on Elliott Rd. because incentives work best when they apply to a large area, not to a small subset of an area. Why not apply the same standards to the entire district as citizens encouraged the Council to do during the EF public hearings? Better still why is the Town not requiring developers to do sustainable, green building as a matter of course?

The existing Form based Code is highly deficient and badly needs to be fixed. The most sensible course of action is for the Council to acknowledge the problems in the Code and overhaul it.  Why spend Town resources and staff time to fix only a small portion of the District? The February public hearing should encompass the Form Based Code for the entire District of nearly 200 acres so that the Town employs a comprehensive strategy for affordable housing and the many other elements that this Form Based Code lacks!

September Update: What we learned during the September 22 “walk about”:

  • There will be 266 rental units costing $1200 – $1600 for one-bedroom, 900 sq ft units, and $1600-$2000 for two-bedroom units.
  • The project provides 463 parking spaces, including a parking deck and on-street parking.  However, 70 of the 463 spaces will be reserved for workers at Whole Foods, leaving just 393 for Village Plaza residents, retail workers, and retail customers.
  • The project will cover the asphalt parking lot between the old Red, Hot and Blue restaurant and the ABC liquor store, and will cover the grassy area behind the chain linked fence.
  • The massive 87-foot building will be pulled up to Elliott Rd., similar to the East 54 development, and all existing street trees will be removed.
  • The Red Hot and Blue building will be removed and used for temporary parking, and a new building will replace it.
  • A new road at the rear of the property will require the Town’s Booker Creek Greenway to be relocated toward Booker Creek; the Greenway trees will  be removed to accommodate the new road,  marring the ambiance of this recreational amenity that was planned and paid for by the Town of Chapel Hill.

More details about the project here.

Background on this project. In May 2014, the Chapel Hill Town Council rezoned 190 acres in the Ephesus- Fordham district to a new zone. At the same time, they adopted a form-based code for the district that eliminates almost all public review of new development applications for this area. The Town Council approved the zone with 3 dissenting council members: Matt Czajkowski, Jim Ward, and Ed Harrison. Despite hundreds of letters and constructive recommendations from the public, the Council made few improvements to the code. Everyone agrees that the outcome of this project will reveal much about the strengths and weaknesses of the new code. Construction starts in January.

Below are links with lots more information:

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