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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What to do about Silent Sam? UNC is at an impasse

Read more here: http://www.heraldsun.com/news/local/counties/orange-county/article168973032.html?#emlnl=Morning_Newsletter#storylink=cpy
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Mayors Take Action Post Charlottesville

Mayors taking swift action to avoid becoming the next Charlottesville

Washington Post, Aug 16 2017

City officials across the country are nervously trying to figure out how to avoid becoming the next Charlottesville as alt-right leaders and white nationalist groups vow to stage more rallies in coming days.

A group claiming it is advocating free speech has planned a rally for Saturday on the historic Boston Common, with a group advocating racial justice planning its conditions, including no sticks, weapons or backpacks.

“Make no mistake: We do not welcome any hate groups to Boston, and we reject their message,” Mayor Marty Walsh (D) said Wednesday.

Read more here.

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Summer in Chapel Hill!

Many of my neighbors and I have begun their own flock of chickens.  The wooded part of a residential lot is an ideal place to locate a chicken hutch, away from direct summer sun. Both Carrboro and Chapel Hill ordinances allow hens, but not roosters. Here are my neighbors’ kids selling eggs last Saturday. What a delight to buy fresh eggs on our street corner!

Henning, Benigno and Pilar selling eggs in our neighborhood

Our neighborhood, Coker Hills West,  has turned over and younger families are moving in. It’s a place where kids can discover the woods and a stream – a Booker Creek tributary winds its way through the middle of the neighborhood on its way to Eastwood Lake.  And kids can lend a hand in raising chickens!

A wooded lots makes a perfect place to raise chickens and for kids to play. Brand new in 1971, our neighborhood has become older now with a mix of post modern and traditional homes, aging gracefully.  The old trees shield the roofs of our homes from the heat of summer and when the leaves fall, winter sunlight provides passive solar heat. Leaves don’t need to be  raked and fall into the woods feeding the trees and a understory of native plants such as Viburnum and Buckeye.  These natives provide food for  a variety of wildlife:  birds, squirrels, hawks, owls, possum, racoon and yes, deer.

Keeping chickens can be compatible with our wildlife but you must offer them protection from predators. Hawks can carry off a young chicken during the day and without a secure hen house, raccoons will find out and carry off a chicken or two at night.  You can build your own coop or go with a ready made model such as an excellent self composing model from Carolina Coops. Different breeds will lay different color eggs. Backyard Chickens is a good source of information if you want to get started.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kids and chickens are a great mix for a neighborhood!

Submitted by Julie McClintock

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Proposal for apartments, parking deck and retail for busy Estes Drive/MLK intersection

The Community Design Commission will discuss a proposed concept plan for a development on the north east corner of MLK and Estes in the Town Hall Council Chamber this Tues evening (May 23) at 6:30 pm.  The link to the concept plan is here.

The plan calls to construct 327,380 sq ft which is essentially the same size as University Place (previously University Mall) including a 65,000 sq ft hotel, 40,000 sq ft of office, 20,000 sq ft of retail, 20,000 sq ft of commercial space and 175 apartments for a total of 670 parking spots.

The site is presently wooded and is rather narrow, the longest portion along Estes Drive.  Access roads into the project so near a busy intersection will certainly not do anything good for Estes Drive traffic. The developer is proposing an entrance on MLK nearer the intersection with Piney Mountain Rd which looks like it would add to congestion in the area and reduce safety for folks crossing Shadowwood to catch the bus to UNC.

The public is invited to attend the meeting, listen to the developer’s presentation and to offer comment. The project may or may not be compatible with the Central West Small Area Plan — but it must be noted that a large number of area residents were not at all pleased with the CWSAP that the committee approved. The project is also on the Horace Williams  flight path and it’s not clear how it would be safe to put buildings in the flight path with the airport open. This project is likely to add to the storm runoff into Booker Creek.

Listen to the audio of the Community Design meeting here.

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More Apartments for Ephesus-Fordham District

Hillstone. On April 25th, the Community Design Commission (CDC) approved a Certificate of Appropriateness for two new apartment buildings on a 6.5 acre site located at 1736 Fordham Blvd (the former Volvo dealership).

Hillstone is a new development subject to the Ephesus Fordham Form Based Code, a zone which calls for the Town Manager to issue the permit rather than the Town Council. Form based code is a new form of zoning to Chapel Hill and bars opportunities for public input.  Former Mayor Kleinschmidt and the former Council passed the new zoning code in 2014 to “spur economic activity” to an area that was referred to by the Chamber as a blighted area. More later on whether this has yielded a net positive revenue for the town.

Because this project lies in the Ephesus-Fordham (E-F) district, it will be reviewed only by the CDC and by town staff. There is no other opportunity for public input or for review by elected officials. Following review by town staff, Manager Stancil must issue a permit for the project before June 6, 2017. See Town webpage.  

Also troublesome is the fact that modifications to the already generous form based code are also dealt with by the Manager.  It would make sense for Council and the community to weigh in on parameters that go beyond the limits of the code.

Town Manager Stancil reported to the Council in a recent memo that the staff is discussing the number of travel lanes needed for the connector street – a new street between the service road and Legion Road.

Unfortunate consequences

While we think it’s appropriate for technical staff to review the project, it’s a darn shame the public is cut out of this sort of review.  Neighbors living near-by, as well as commuters passing through, are more apt to make sensible suggestions because they will suffer if these plans are not well implemented.

Many of us loved our vintage shopping centers in Eastgate and Village Plaza that housed our favorite retailers.  Higher rents have forced many of them to leave. No one thought Rams Plaza did not need to be improved.

The great irony of this application is that the Volvo site is where the E-F redevelopment district started.  Former Mayor Kleinschmidt was upset that the dealership where he purchased his car had gone out of business and voiced his concern to the Council. An interest in encouraging redevelopment through a new fast track form of zoning was born.  If the area had stayed small it might have succeeded.  Instead the concept grew by leaps and bounds into a 200 acre district that no one loves.

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Commissioners Vote “YES” on the Transit Plan, 5-2

Despite widespread objections to the plan throughout Orange County, the County Commissioners voted 5 – 2 to move forward with the light rail plan.

Those of us in Affordable Transit for All studied the issues and did our homework. Unfortunately for all or us, a Board majority did not address the financial and structural deficiencies that had been raised by their own consultant as well as hundreds of citizens.

Orange County Commissioners Earl McKee and Renee Price deserve our thanks for providing a strong voice for Orange County’s citizens. We are proud of them and believe they will be ultimately proved correct in their assessment that the Commission majority voted for a plan that does not serve the transit needs of Orange County and will cost us dearly.

We are also proud that through our efforts and others, you wrote, listened and spoke out for public transportation, social justice, and a fiscally responsible plan. Our commissioners received hundreds of personal and impassioned letters, and more than 200 people from every corner of Orange County signed the letter from Affordable Transit for All within 12 hours! Here’s the archive of emails to the commissioners – they are inspiring! Read the letter that summarizes the deficiencies in the plan with over 200 signatures.

The most immediate price for this ill-advised decision is that both Chapel Hill and Orange County taxpayers spend more of their budgets on bus service not provided by the transit tax. The two drivers in this increased burden for the taxpayer are: (1) the minimal support for additional bus service specified in the agreements just approved by the County Commission, and (2) the diminishing federal support for local transit. We need look no further that the Town budget just presented by Chapel Hill Town Manager Stancil to the Town Council which will require more tax payer support for Chapel Hill Transit. Read news article here.

What’s next? 

  • The Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) will receive and evaluate the Durham-Orange Light Rail proposal over the next 30-60 days. During that time, the FTA will decide whether or not GoTriangle can proceed with spending $70 million of local funds for the engineering phase of the project.
  • In 2018, the project might or might not receive up to 10% of state funding. According to Assistant County Manager Travis Myren, the light rail project plan would be difficult to implement lacking state support.
  • The FTA will not decide whether to fund the project until 2020. If they fail to do so, Orange and Durham Counties are out the $100 million spent. That  federal decision could be influenced by many factors including the ones reported in this article. Here’s that report.

We anticipate many more discussions about the future of transit as the process unfolds. Affordable Transit for All is committed to continue to advocate for a rational transit plan for our county residents and businesses.

Thank you for your support!

Chapel Hill News Article


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The Consequences of Adopting a Risky Plan

If Moody’s more pessimistic  assumptions are used, Orange County will not have enough transit tax revenue to cover commitments.

The updated Orange County Transit Plan adds nearly $2 billion for the light rail project between UNC and Durham but does not add needed funds for bus service or bus rapid transit. As a result, bus hours have been cut by over 20% and the planned Bus Rapid Transit system from Eubanks to Southern Village along MLK, Columbia and 15-501 is not adequately funded and may not get built. The current transit plan adds nearly a billion dollars in debt and over $900 million in interest to build the project, and most recently additional debt was added for maintenance after being omitted.

If the Commissioners were to adopt the current proposal, they would assume that Orange County’s sales taxes will grow compounded and uninterrupted by recession at 3-6% every year for the next 45 years. Yet the county’s consultant told the commissioners on April 4th that the plan is very, very risky for Orange County.

If there’s an overage due to construction costs or interest rates, or if there’s a funding shortfall in sales tax, then the county will need to make up the difference, most likely via the general fund (which is used for schools and essential services). The current estimated portion of project cost for Orange County is about $300 million. No amount of County Board reassurance on this point has helped because the scenarios of increasing revenues every year with no recessions is unrealistic and foolish. We know the County budgets or property tax will take the hit for the revenue shortfalls.

April 20th County Board work session. No public comment allowed. To our surprise county staff and Davenport did not present the requested realistic scenario (intentionally labeled) “Moodys Pessimistic” that they had requested on April 4th. The graph above illustrates this scenario  and shows what will happen to Orange County cash reserves using these more realistic assumptions. This is not good news for Orange County because even the Moodys Pessimistic forecast is well above Orange County’s historical sales tax growth rate from 1996 to 2016.

It’s discouraging to observe that in the well attended April 4th public session the Commissioners expressed great concern about the risky revenue assumptions. None of this concern was evident at the April 20th work session and no one asked what would happen if the sales taxes don’t grow as expected.  It is also discouraging that Commissioners Mark Dorosin, Mia Burroughs, Mark Marcoplos, and Penny Rich found the more favorable and unrealistic scenarios presented at the work session “workable”.

Commissioner Barry Jacobs made an impassioned call for fiscal responsibility and for the Board to sign an agreement that will protect the County from undue risk.  That’s a position the entire Board needs to take.  So far only Commissioner Earl Mckee and Renee Price have found this plan to be fiscally irresponsible.

Consequences of a Risky Plan.  In addition to the revenue and cost risks, knowledgeable government officials are saying that the chances of federal and state monies needed to fund the project are diminished.

  • In 2019 the NC legislature will decide whether to fund any portion of the project (not more than 10%). Without any state support the total local share will go to x %.  The shortfall is likely to be financed through additional loans.
  • In 2020, Orange County will learn if the project is funded.  If it is not funded, the County will lose the entire 100M + investment.
  • On April 20th Assistant Orange County Manager Travis Myren said that the project will be impossible to build without Federal funds and difficult without state funds.
The Trump administration just rejected an overhaul of a major transit line in California where thousands of riders are moved each day.
Additional information:
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What’s Next for American Legion Property?

CHALT campaigned tirelessly along with many community members for ensuring that at least a portion of this beautiful 36 acre tract of land would be a park.  See CHALT petition from Sept 2016. The Council approved the purchase of the land in a December 5th, 2016 resolution.

Members of the Chapel Hill community are invited to a charrette – a public design and planning activity — on Saturday, April 8, to share their ideas about the future use of the American Legion Post 6 property. The charrette will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Legion Hut at 1714 Legion Road. A report-out will be held at 3:30 p.m. to provide a recap of the day. The April 8 charrette is a first step in community dialogue about future land use for the property.

AMERICAN LEGION PROPERTY

The charrette is the first step in a public engagement process initiated by the Chapel Hill Town Council, following its December 2016 decision to purchase the 36-acre American Legion property. Coulter Jewell Thames has been engaged as a consultant to gather public input, identify common themes, and create conceptual options for programming the site. These options will be further explored by a task force made up of Town Council, advisory board, and community representatives. A community report is expected in May, followed by a report to the Town Council later that month. Read more here.

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Energetic Discussions at Transit Forum

A crowd of about 125 people attended the Learn, Discuss, Take Action Forum at Extraordinary Ventures on March 14th.

See helpful transportation links here.

In Part I, Craig Benedict (Orange County Planning and Inspections Director) reviewed County demographics and transit needs, and Theo Letman (Orange County Transit Director) shared present and future routes for transit in the county, followed by a number of clarifying questions.

In Part II, Alex Cabanes (Smart Transit Future) and Bonnie Hauser  (Orange County Voice) compared the light rail, bus rapid transit and feeder bus service,  discussing costs, implementation, and ridership. In Part III,  Sheila Creth moderated a lively discussion. The video segments are in three sections following this program agenda. 

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