Members of the public brought slide presentations, personal stories and some impressive knowledge and research into Wednesday night’s marathon meeting of the Chapel Hill Town Council.
The subject was the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment plan; and at the end of five-plus hours, the Council was not yet ready to vote.
There were some testy exchanges, such as this one between Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Council Member Matt Czajkowski.
“It’s kind of like when I want to sell my house, and they’re going to put a value on it, I go look at the last three or four houses in my neighborhood, and that’s the market value,” said Kleinschmidt.
“I’ll tell you what it’s like, Mr. Mayor,” Czajkowski replied. “It’s like when you get the answer you don’t like, you do it yourself, and use a different set of comparables. That’s what it’s like, OK?”
They argued about whether the Town Staff’s market value projections for development spurred by the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment plan were realistic.
Czajkowski is a well-known critic of the plan to rezone 190 acres near the intersection of Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard to attract developers.
If rezoning for the plan was approved, it would be the first time form-based code was used in Chapel Hill. Projects would be approved by staff, with input from the Community Design Commission, based on parameters set by the Town Council.
Later in the meeting, Czajkowski was shut down by Kleinschmidt and Council members Sally Greene and Donna Bell for twice questioning the motives of Greg Warren, president of DHIC, a non-profit housing organization. Warren spoke in favor of form-based code during public comments at the meeting.
The DHIC plans to build 84 affordable housing units on a portion of Legion Road donated by the Town of Chapel Hill. Czajkowski supports that.
But one of Czajkowski’s concerns about the Ephesus-Fordham plan is that rather than incentivizing affordable housing, it would do the opposite –for instance, to the detriment of The Park apartments on Ephesus Church Road.
“Why would you endorse having those workforce apartments knocked down, and those people driven out of Chapel Hill, sooner then it has to happen?” Czajkowski asked Warren.
“I did not endorse that,” answered Warren, as council members spoke up to admonish Czajkowski.
“That is not a question that anybody should be asked,” said Greene. “This is not an interrogation.”
During the public comments that lasted two hours, some citizens expressed similar concerns about the potential for the loss of affordable housing. Some brought slide presentations to illustrate concerns about stormwater runoff and more potential for flooding.
Some speakers said the plan didn’t do enough to enhance walkability and bike transit.
Most of the comments were in opposition to the plan. But there were a few that spoke strongly in favor, arguing that money is being siphoned out of Chapel Hill every time its residents drive to neighboring Durham to meet shopping needs.
Aaron Nelson, president of The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, endorses the Ephesus-Fordham plan.
“The plan comports with our community’s shared values,” said Nelson. “We want to build more affordable housing. We want to improve water quality. We want to grow the commercial tax base. We want to develop intensely along our transit corridors. We want to grow local work opportunity.”
As the clock ticked toward the drop-dead ending time for the meeting at 11:15 p.m., half the council said they still weren’t ready to vote yet.
Here’s Council member Jim Ward:
“I’m not against form-based code,” he said. “I’m not against doing it in this area. I don’t think the product we could vote on tonight is as good as we can do. I think it’s far from that.”
The Council ran out of time for discussion, so the meeting was scheduled to be continued on May 5 at 6 p.m., at the same place, the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road.
That’s for the rezoning item. The discussion of the stormwater plan that was scheduled for Wednesday’s meeting was put off until May 28.