“Reserved enthusiastic support” is how Chair Barry Jacobs characterized the Board of County Commissioners’ approach to helping Chapel Hill finance the Ephesus-Fordham revitalization plan.
“We’re not here to judge the project; the project has been approved,” said Jacobs, speaking at a work session on Thursday. “We’re going to try to address our concerns and hopefully make this a strong partnership.”
The Chapel Hill Town Council approved rezoning for nearly 190 acres last Monday in a bid to spur redevelopment near the Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard intersection. The Council will likely approve a plan later this spring to spend $10 million to build new roads and improve infrastructure in the region.
The debt will be paid using the increased tax revenue from new growth, but in order to pay down the debt sooner, Chapel Hill officials are asking Commissioners to chip in fifty percent of either the annual debt payment or the incremental tax revenue. Payment would be capped at $400,000 a year, for a total of approximately $7 million.
Chapel Hill’s Business Management Director Ken Pennoyer said while the town could finance the project alone, Orange County’s participation would put the project on more sound financial footing.
“If the county does not participate it will certainly make our financing weaker in terms of our funds capacity to pay back,” said Pennoyer. “If the county does not participate, we will try to move forward with it based on what we have.”
While the board expressed interest in the plan, commissioners worried the town had not adequately anticipated the impact new residential growth would have on schools. With 300 to 450 additional students estimated in the area, Jacobs said finding a nearby school site would be key.
“We’re going to be essentially generating enough students to at least populate half an elementary school, and the nearest elementary school is one of the older, smaller elementary schools,” said Jacobs.”So if we’re being realistic, however much it is going to cost, we need a site. If there’s a site it makes it way more feasible for us.”
Commissioners also questioned the affordability of the new housing in the area, as the newly-adopted form-based code prevents the town from mandating developers provide affordable housing options.
Though some on the board sought to debate the merits of the plan, Vice Chair Earl McKee pointed out that as of last Monday’s vote, it’s a done deal.
“The increased expenses to the county are going to be there, the increased revenue to the county is going to be there, regardless of whether we participate,” said McKee. “Whether we participate, for me, will depend on trying to work with our partner towns.”
Jacobs told Chapel Hill representatives that the board will need more information about schools, housing and the district’s stormwater plan. He said board members likely won’t be ready to make a funding commitment after the board’s summer recess.