An Open Letter to the Mayor and Town Council

This letter was written to the Mayor and Council from a resident of Southern Village.

Dear Mayor Kleinschmidt and Town Council Members:

Thank you for reading and considering these thoughts:

On Tuesday night, I attended the “Panel Discussion about Development in Southern Chapel Hill and Southern Orange County,” sponsored by the Dogwood Acres Precinct of the Democratic Party.  The panelists included Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, Councilman George Cianciolo, and members of several Chapel Hill advisory boards.  The primary topic, not surprisingly, was the proposed Obey Creek development.

After the Q&A, I asked our mayor a simple question about whether all the external costs of the project had been estimated.  He got annoyed, saying that that kind of thing makes him so, so, so very angry and is (wait for it) . . . “Just lies and misleading information”.  In fact, it was just an appropriate question, Mr. Mayor.

This was after the mayor had accused the Planning Commissioner on the panel of a “patent falsehood” when he said that the development agreement allowed residential uses to be as much as 78 percent of Obey Creek’s 1.6 million square feet.  Residential-heavy development, which costs more in services, goes against the town’s stated goal of increasing revenue by expanding our commercial tax base.

After scolding the Planning Commissioner, who was quoting from the latest available version of the development agreement document, Mayor Kleinschmidt pointed out that the developer recently made a verbal promise not to exceed 60 percent residential use in the project, therefore still allowing for majority residential.

This exchange clarified the fact that the proposal, due to go to public hearing on Monday, is an immense moving target.  However, it did not explain why the mayor felt compelled to fall back on the “lies and misleading information” talking point that we often hear, disturbingly, from both our elected officials and the developer’s representatives.  Can we just respect that folks want the best for our community and that involves asking a lot of questions and doing relevant studies?  Cutting off legitimate inquiries with the charge of “lies and misleading information” is dishonest.  I’m personally sick of it.

Mayor Kleinschmidt amazed me again during the evening:  He admitted that he doesn’t have reliable information about external costs and he doesn’t have the town manager working on getting it for him.  Examples of information he still needs are capital costs like three transit buses, fire station expansions, police substations and potential school enrollment impacts.  He and Council have rejected the Planning Commission’s recommendation that they study the costs and benefits of a scaled-down project to compare with the developer’s proposal.  Yet, he’s comfortable insisting that the project must be 1.6 million square feet to benefit the town.

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.

The Mayor offers no hope that the Town Council will seek studies of different-sized developments, despite requests from the committees that he took part in appointing.  Will the market support this influx and type of building?  He wants us to roll the dice, big time.

I’m still shocked when elected officials go totally against public opinion (in this case, the Planning Commission and Compass Committee recommendations) and feel no obligation to explain their decisions, in detail.

The level of review of this major project by elected officials is not acceptable.  I had looked forward to gaining information of real substance last week.  It ain’t there.  As they say, “the fix is in”.

John Weathers
104 Harrington Point
Chapel Hill, NC  27516

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