Open for Business
When I first started writing this column, I sent the Chapelboro honchos a very brief bio. When asked to expand it I added that I chose to cover business from the consumer perspective because, here, business is public policy more than anywhere else I’ve ever lived (and that’s not a few places!).
In my quest to be your fully informed Savvy Spender, I’ve been pestering a few of our local notables to educate me. Two very busy gentlemen made time for me this week and I’d like to thank them: Dwight Bassett, Chapel Hill’s Economic Development Officer and Jim Norton, Executive Director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership.
I started by understanding the tug-of-war this town faces between the downside of the reliance on residential property taxes and the desire to keep the low-key charm of a town not teeming with commercial development. That’s a tension that plays out many places but here; it just seemed… well… more tense.
When I heard or read about Chapel Hill’s so-called resistance to business, I didn’t really understand how that manifested or if it really did. Turns out time and effort = $$ and the town has for years had a permitting process for all commercial development that had a chilling effect on business growth, if not an actual deterrent.
Well, there’s a change afoot! This week the town announced a one night, multi-board review of a proposed development. For those not in the know (me, before the aforementioned education), every proposed commercial development goes before various citizen boards and committees including Planning, Transportation, Bicycle & Pedestrian, Historic District and others. This takes time because each entity will have its own set of questions and concerns and each must then contribute to the overall review process.
By bringing several together on one night to review the development application from Chapel of the Cross Episcopal Church (304 E. Franklin St.), the town could slice as much as one month from the long review process (that eventually leads to building permits). For those who want to know more about this project specifically, that meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday June 29th in the Council Chamber at Town Hall.
If this is successful it could join the newly established permit center (online or one-stop inspections and permitting
), as ways to streamline the development process while still giving the advisory boards and committees the opportunity to review each application.
Of course this is just a piece of that tension I mentioned above. The pushback from residents about their tax bills apparently began long before housing values dropped and budgets for services were squeezed by our economic woes. These developments (really no pun intended) have only increased the importance of the question of how open for business Chapel Hill can be. The step I described above offers a view of a flexible staff trying to ease the way for development while continuing to respect the long tradition of slow and well-managed growth. As Dwight Bassett told me, “Some of the stories [of being difficult for business] date back 30 years.” The times have changed in more than one way and the town is responding.
There are business and development issues all over Chapelboro: construction on Weaver Street and the possible CVS in Carrboro, smart moves like a cooler Hog Day bringing more dollars to Hillsborough, neighboring Mebane seeing an expanding AKG plant and more. Most of these will be covered by Chapelboro’s news team but I’m
nosy curious by nature so please write to me if there’s something you want me to know.
I am in need also of much more education so I will be calling on many more notable folks. If there’s someone you think I should get to know, please send the suggestion to Donnabeth@Chapelboro.com or leave a comment below. And, of course, if you have a comment on the development process in general or the streamlining thereof, please leave it below. All of us at Chapelboro.com would love to know what you think.