Reply to Matt Bailey

Recently, Matt Bailey, a fan of luxury apartments on the American Legion property asked, “Where were all these park lovers before January?”

Charles Humble

Charles Humble

We were all around you, Matt.  Our desire for a park on the Legion property was expressed clearly in the Comprehensive Parks Plan adopted in 2013.  That same year the 2020 Comprehensive Plan was approved with its own reference to a park in this area.  The former Mayor and the current Town Manager should have held an open discussion about creating this park.   Last spring the Legion property had an R-2 zoning and an appraised value of $2.4 million.  That much and even more could have been included in the recently passed bond measure.   This possibility was not raised by town officials.

Instead, town staff met behind closed doors with a developer; then they met behind closed doors with Council. No one talked to the public about the need to move sooner, not later, on any plans for a park.  The resulting proposal from the developer called for up to 600 luxury residential units – in a town that already has an approved 20-year supply of over 5,000 units.  The first the public heard of this was in January and hundreds showed up to express our concerns.

Mr. Bailey also suggested that we “newly minted park advocates” are really more interested in “keeping 600 new neighbors out of Chapel Hill.”  Not true, Matt: we already expect more than 5,000 new neighbors in the next 20 years.  An example of a new luxury development is close by on Elliot Road.  Drop by – you can’t miss it.  Meanwhile, we actually need affordable housing.  And we need ALL future development decisions to be informed by the traffic and storm water studies that will not be finished until late this year.

 

— Charles Humble

How Chapel Hill Can Get a New Park for FREE

http://chapelboro.com/columns/the-commentators/reply-to-matt-bailey

How Chapel Hill Can Get a New Park for FREE

When the American Legion Post 6 announced it was selling its land on Legion Road for $10-million to a company that wants to build 600 apartment homes geared toward young professionals, some Chapel Hillians urged the town to buy the land—for $10-million—to create a new park instead.

American Legion Post 6

American Legion Post 6 (Photo by Blake Hodge)

From New York’s Central Park to Munich’s Englischer Garten, at the heart of the world’s greatest cities you’ll frequently find a grand public park. Undoubtedly, a public park would greatly improve the east side of Chapel Hill.  Currently a collection of disjointed suburban subdivisions, the east side could use a real community gathering space.

Before we talk parks, let’s review the history of this particular potential park site:

  • In 2005, Chapel Hill had their eye on the American Legion’s 36-acre home for a potential new school. The Legion, which didn’t want to move from its home since 1961, struck a deal with the town to take their land off the “Future School Site” list in exchange for first dibs if Post 6 ever did sell it.
  • In 2014, Post 6 announced it was exploring selling. Nationwide, the American Legion has been struggling financially and is seeking ways to adapt to serve today’s new generation of veterans as wonderfully as it has served past generations. Frankly, they need the money.
  • In 2015, Post 6 told the town it was selling its property to Woodfield Acquisitions for $10-million unless the town wanted to match the offer. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools’ superintendent Tom Forcella told town leaders the school district no longer wanted the land and, “we have over $160 million in currently identified projects that are our priority.” After consulting our checkbook and our other priorities, the council voted unanimously not to buy Post 6.

The buyer, Woodfield Acquisitions, wants to build 600 new apartment homes, office space, and retail on the site.  At a community forum hosted by Woodfield in January, Mayor Pam Hemminger urged citizens to not simply say what they don’t want, but instead to say what they do want.

“We want a park,” one resident shouted.

When Mayor Hemminger said the town doesn’t have $10-million dollars, another resident offered 50-bucks. Since then, the town council has received several dozen emails urging the town to find a way—and the $10-million—to buy the land and turn it into a park, an option the town may not legally have.

With that background in mind, there is a fundamental question town leaders need to ask about this particular wave of park advocacy.

Where were all these park lovers before January?

The Legion has been exploring selling their land since 2014. Why weren’t any of these park supporters down at town hall advocating buying the land back then?

The town already owns land on Legion Road worth over $2-million that it’s giving away to DHIC Inc., a Raleigh-based not-for-profit, to build reduced rent apartments for economically challenged residents—a project I wholeheartedly support.  If so many people really want a new park, however, why didn’t anyone suggest Chapel Hill use that land for the park before we gave it away?

As council member Donna Bell noted, “People spent so much time coming up with a list of things on [the list of] parks and rec priorities,” and, “this was not listed as one of [those] priorities.”

I can’t help but notice that this interest in a new park sprung up at the moment someone proposed new apartment homes.  Maybe I’m just too cynical about some Chapel Hillians’ aversion to new neighbors.  Maybe people really have awoken to the great benefit a park could have for our east side community.  As someone who lives within walking distance, I know I’d benefit tremendously from a new park close to home.

If we’re truly excited about a new park for our side of town, here’s how we can get one for FREE:  Let the developer create the style of homes that will attract young professionals on the Legion Road side of the property across from Europa Center’s five-story office building, in exchange for giving us land for a new park on the other side of the land next to Ephesus Park. Such a park would be a great opportunity to create walking trails that connect to existing neighborhoods so the whole area could share the land.  The new park could include a pond where the community could gather around that could also help with storm water in the area.  The east side could finally have our community gathering place—and we could get it for FREE instead of $10-million.

Don’t think a developer will go for it?  Woodfield has stated that they’re open to this idea. In fact, they already agreed to parts of it in exchange for the town not buying the land.  The project will be subject to Chapel Hill’s exhaustively comprehensive and lengthy Special Use Permit (SUP) process, which gives the town tremendous leverage to negotiate public amenities in exchange for approving new homes.

Perhaps I’m Pollyannaish, but just once, couldn’t this town at least try being positive and collaborative before we become negative and combative?

History suggests newly minted park advocates won’t go for the proactive approach.  Let’s be real.  The $10-million of your tax money isn’t about bringing a new park to Chapel Hill. The $10-million is about keeping 600 new neighbors out of Chapel Hill.

I just wish people had enough respect for the community-building power a public park could have for the east side to stop using it as a political pawn.

 

— Matt Bailey

 

 

http://chapelboro.com/columns/the-commentators/how-chapel-hill-can-get-a-new-park-for-free

American Legion Property on Chapel Hill Town Council Wednesday Work Session Agenda

One of the most controversial topics around Chapel Hill will be on the agenda for the Chapel Hill Town Council work session on Wednesday night.

Citizens have continued to voice their opinions regarding the potential development of the American Legion property along Legion Road after news of a potential sale and subsequent development of the land began circulating months ago.

The 36.2 acres of property owned by the American Legion Post No. 6 is one of the largest remaining pieces of undeveloped land in the Chapel Hill area.

Legion leadership agreed to a contract with Raleigh developer Woodfield Acquisitions to purchase all of the privately-owned acreage for $10 million.

The Chapel Hill Town Council then opted to forego its right of first refusal to purchase the property for $9 million in an early-November meeting just before the 60-day window to exercise that right expired.

The reason that has been given by town leadership in the months since that decision has been that the town simply did not and does not have $9 million to purchase the property.

But the potential development of this land to build approximately 600 apartments has drawn concern from many citizens.

Site plan for American Legion property. Photo via Memorandum of Understanding.

Site plan for American Legion property. Photo via Memorandum of Understanding.

As part of the contract between Woodfield and the American Legion, the sale will only be final if Woodfield would receive approval from the Town Council to build no less than 400 units and related amenities.

That approval would require zoning changes to the land and the ultimate approval of town leadership.

A preliminary meeting was held in January by Woodfield. At that meeting, Mayor Pam Hemminger stressed, “Nothing is a done deal.”

That has not seemed to calm the concerns of citizens from nearby neighborhoods and surrounding parts of Chapel Hill.

In an e-mail from Hemminger to other members of the Town Council and town staff on Tuesday, Hemminger says that the council has received 99 e-mails related to the American Legion site as of Monday, March 14.

Hemminger attached a summary of information from those e-mails that detailed 90 percent of the e-mails opposed “luxury apartments.” Also, 75 percent voiced hope for park space – including expanding trails, adding bike paths, preserving green space and making room to accommodate the Chapel Hill Farmer’s Market – and 60 percent supported development of “non-luxury” apartments.

Another concern voiced by neighbors has been traffic, and 51 percent of those who sent e-mails opposed a potential connector road to the Colony Woods neighborhood.

Three petitions asking for the Town Council to rescind the Memorandum of Understanding with Woodfield were also submitted with a total of 91 signatures, according to Hemminger.

The agenda for Wednesday night’s work session includes one hour allotted for “a conversation with the Mayor and Council” regarding the American Legion property. That will be followed by a short public comment period, which does not typically take place at work sessions.

The meeting will be held at seven o’clock Wednesday night in Meeting Room B of the Chapel Hill Public Library.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/american-legion-property-on-chapel-hill-town-council-wednesday-work-session-agenda

Residents Protest Sale Of Legion Road Property

A petition with over 80 signatures was presented to the Chapel Hill Town Council in their meeting Monday night.

Residents were upset with how the town handled the possible purchase of the American Legion property, which Woodfield Acquisitions has agreed to buy.

Woodfield is planning to build approximately 600 apartments, along with retail and office space.

“We petition the mayor and town council to correct the missteps that have been made thus far in the town’s consideration of the uses of the Legion property,” said Isabel Calingaert, who spoke for the petitioners. “Start over with a transparent and participatory community discussion of how this unique property can be developed in a way that would benefit the landowners and also serve the interests of our whole community.”

The town was granted the right of first refusal on the property in 2005. In September of 2015, town manager Roger Stancil was given an offer to purchase the property for 9 million dollars.

The council was given 60 days to decide and in a closed-session meeting in November, the town waived its right of first refusal and agreed to a memorandum of understanding with Woodfield.

In the meeting it is noted that Stancil said the town did not have the money to buy the property.

“The MOU should be rescinded to make clear that the town has not given any commitment to the Woodfield proposal and that any development application submitted will be evaluated without any bias towards approval,” Calingaert said.

The memorandum details that the developer will be responsible for construction of a two-lane road providing access to Ephesus Church Road and construction of a trail that will be open to the public, should it begin construction on the property.

The memorandum does not give Woodfield the ability to start construction. Some residents have called for the town to purchase the property and turn it into a public park.

Lynne Kane, who lives near the property, also spoke at the meeting. She expressed her disagreement with this idea.

“There is always a tendency to say ‘don’t do it, don’t do it, we need a park,'” Kane said. “I think we need to recognize that we have a tremendous amount of green spaces because the dominant voices for so many decades were only interested in green spaces and always opposed development.”

Before construction begins, the developer will have to go through the application process.

 

http://chapelboro.com/featured/residents-protest-sale-of-legion-road-property

American Legion Questions

It has recently become public that the American Legion has decided to sell their property, one of the last, large parcels of undeveloped land in the town.

They have every right to do so.

The Town of Chapel Hill had signed an agreement in 2005 that the town would have the right of first refusal to purchase the land, but we now find that the town manager and outgoing town council held a secret meeting where they decided not to purchase the property, and signed secret legal documents with the developers on November 20th, only 5 working days before the new mayor and town council were sworn in.

This raises serious questions that need to answered publicly. Why was this decision made in secret right before the new mayor and council were to be sworn in?

Why was all this done with no public hearings? I think the people have a right to comment on such major decisions. What was the hurry, if not to ensure yet another massive residential development would be built, even though the people had just voted to slow the pace of this?

All this may (or may not) have been legal, but it was clearly wrong. What other back room, secret agreements were made in the last minutes of the outgoing mayor and council?

Listen to Scott Madry’s commentary

We already have over 5,000 new apartments approved and in the pipeline, and Chapel Hill has now lost the chance to own one of the last large natural tracts of land in the town.

This is a very serious matter and the public deserves a full and open explanation, including the public release of the minutes of this and any other secret decisions made just before they left office.

This type of secretive and ‘behind your back’ dealings are not in the best interest of the town, or the citizens who these people are supposed to represent. I am deeply offended by this, and you should be too.

Who will be held accountable for this?

— Scott Madry

 

 

http://chapelboro.com/columns/the-commentators/american-legion-questions

“Beach Shack Boil” Saturday Will Benefit SKJAJA

You’re invited to American Legion Post 6 in Chapel Hill this Saturday, November 14, from 6:30-10:00 pm for a “Beach Shack Boil” to benefit the SKJAJA Fund.

The event features a traditional lowcountry shrimp boil, beer and wine, plus live music by Lester Fricks and much more.

It’s all to benefit SKJAJA, a local nonprofit founded in 2008 to provide funds for area kids to participate in “social and educational enrichment activities.” Students apply for funding to support an activity or program of their choice; in return, they “pay it forward” with a community service project.

Charlotte White and Sondra Komada joined Aaron Keck on WCHL this week to talk about the Beach Shack Boil and SKJAJA. (Charlotte co-founded the organization seven years ago with her husband Eric.)

 

The American Legion post is located at 1714 Legion Road behind Rams Plaza.

For more information on the Beach Shack Boil, including tickets, visit this page.

http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-town/beach-shack-boil-saturday-will-benefit-skjaja

Memorial Day, “A Hero’s Best Medicine” From Fisher House

This Memorial Day from 3-6 pm, WCHL proudly airs “A Hero’s Best Medicine,” a national radio special (with a Chapel Hill tie) produced by the Fisher House Foundation, an organization that provides a home away from home for the families of hospitalized military veterans.

Founded by Zachary Fisher, the Fisher House Foundation is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Today, there are 65 Fisher Houses located near military and VA hospitals across the country – including one near Fort Bragg.

“A Hero’s Best Medicine” is produced by the Foundation and hosted by Doc Washburn. The first hour of the show (airing Monday at 3 pm on WCHL) will feature a segment on Chapel Hill’s annual “Marathon Jam” – a 12-hour musical jam session organized by John Santa and hosted by the American Legion, with proceeds benefiting the Fisher House. (You’ll hear WCHL’s Aaron Keck on the segment.)

Fisher House Foundation Programs and Community Relations VP Derek Donovan joined Aaron on WCHL this week.

Tune into WCHL on Monday from 3-6 pm to hear “A Hero’s Best Medicine” – and visit FisherHouse.org to hear more about the Fisher House Foundation.

http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-town/memorial-day-a-heros-best-medicine-from-fisher-house

Local Vets Reflect On Memorial Day, Shinseki, And VA Scandal

Following a week of controversy in the wake of revelations surrounding the scandal at VA hospitals nationwide, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki submitted his resignation to President Obama on Friday. But should he have resigned? Should he have had to resign? And will his departure make a difference?

Those questions are still being discussed, even now that Shinseki has stepped down – but those were also the questions at the heart of the conversation all week long.

On Tuesday, WCHL’s Aaron Keck invited Fred Black and Lee Heavlin to the studio to discuss the issues surrounding the VA – not just Shinseki’s role, but also the scandal itself. (Or both scandals, more accurately: what made the news initially was the allegation that VA officials had deliberately covered up long wait times at VA hospitals, but the fact that veterans were waiting so long for treatment is a separate scandal in itself.) Black and Heavlin are both veterans; Heavlin currently serves as post commander at the American Legion Chapel Hill, and he also took the opportunity to reflect on Memorial Day and the commemorative ceremonies that had just taken place in Chapel Hill.

While Black and Heavlin were both concerned about the scandal, both men also observed that veterans do receive good care at VA hospitals – a fact that’s often lost in the current controversy. Black in particular argued that Shinseki’s departure would not make much difference in itself; Black has worked with Shinseki in the past, and vouches for his character as a concerned and dedicated official.

Listen to their conversations below, from the Tuesday Afternoon News with Aaron Keck.

Lee Heavlin:

Fred Black:

http://chapelboro.com/news/national/local-vets-reflect-memorial-day-shinseki-va-scandal

Marathon Jam Aims To Raise Money For Military Families

CHAPEL HILL – Local musicians will play music for 12 straight hours at the tenth annual Marathon Jam this Saturday to help raise money for families of injured military personnel.

Here’s local musician and organizer John Santa.

“The reason I do this charity is because it keeps families together,” says Santa. “All the little kids know is that mom or dad is hurt or mom or dad is away in the hospital. This lets the kids and families stay close. That helps the healing—just having the love and family together. That’s what it’s all about: no politics allowed. It’s just about families and honoring the sacrifice that the families of these soldiers make.”

All proceeds from the event will be donated to the Fisher House at Ft. Bragg in Fayetteville.

The Fisher House hosts families of injured soldiers for free who are admitted at VA hospitals. There are 58 Fisher Houses across the United States and Germany. In just over two decades, the charity has assisted more than 180,000 families.

In previous years, much of the proceeds came from friends, family and local organizations sponsoring the musicians for how long they played. But Santa says this year; the marathon jam will not just be limited to music.

“A cool thing we are doing this year is we are opening it up for some artists, says Santa. “We are going to have some people painting. We call the players that play for the whole 12 hours ‘Iron Pickers.’ We may have our first ‘Iron Painter’ this year. We are going to have two painters with easels up, one sketch artist, and I think two photographers coming in and taking pictures and stuff.”

Santa says a solider that just this week returned from duty in the Middle East will also join in the effort.

“There’s a group called the Baghdad Bad Boys and one of the Bad Guys just got in from Kuwait on Tuesday,” says Santa. “He lives in Sumter, South Carolina and is driving up so that he can come up and play with us after being away from his family and friends for a year. That’s how important this thing is to the soldiers and their families.”

The Baghdad Bad Boys also participated in the 2010 Marathon Jam.

For the fifth straight year, the marathon jam will take place at American Legion Post 6 on Legion Road from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. The event is free and open to the public, but donations are encouraged.

http://chapelboro.com/news/marathon-jam-aims-to-raise-money-for-military-families

Why Do They Do It?

Memorial Day is over and it was well celebrated by many citizens in our community. Lots of work went into the activities and more than a few lent their time and energy to make all of the events a success. Why do they do it, some may wonder. There’s really a pretty simple answer; they do it because they care!

Who’s “they?” They are the members and the auxiliaries of The Veterans of Foreign Wars, C.V. Cummings Chapel Hill Post 9100 and American Legion Post 6 and community volunteers. Each year they work long hours to ensure that Memorial Day is properly celebrated and that those who died in battle are properly remembered.

Planning begins early to make the event a smooth and efficient operation. On the Saturday before Memorial Day, Boy Scouts, veterans and family members gathered early in the morning at Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery to drape flags on more than 500 graves of local service men and women. When they completed the task, they conducted a short, public memorial service in the cemetery with the help of the Boy Scouts.

Later Saturday morning, The Veterans of Foreign Wars distributed poppies at University Mall from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The tradition of handing out poppies goes back almost 100 years and the poppies are now the symbol for the Veterans of Foreign Wars in remembrance of those who have served and died. Made by hospitalized veterans, the VFW believes that handing out the flowers with a simple “please remember” message is very effective.

On Memorial Day, another brief memorial service at the cemetery started the day’s events. The American Legion Post held an open house from 10-11 a.m. and there were tables laden with scrapbooks, military equipment, and memorabilia, all watched over by a variety of uniforms and photos hanging on the walls. The formal program started at 11 a.m.

This year, the Orange County Sheriff’s Color Guard presented the colors. After an opening prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, Ms. Cathy Klein sang the National Anthem. As is their tradition, there was a reading of British Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s 1915 poem, “In Flanders Field.

The guest speaker for this year was Colonel Saul Strauss, U.S. Army (Retired). As a World War II veteran, Colonel Strauss shared his battlefield experiences treating the wounded, irrespective of their uniform; he just treated people, he said. Following his presentation Mr. Markos Simopoulos provided a rendition of “America the Beautiful. The program leaders then dedicated a wreath and conducted a very stirring “Two Bell Ceremony” in tribute to the departed.

After retiring the colors and the closing prayer, guest observed the wreath that was placed at the flagpole. In spite of the heat, people gathered wherever they could find some shade to hear a concert by The Village Band and visit the display tables organizations set up. To satisfy the hungry crowd, Boy Scout Troop 835 prepared hot dogs and served drinks provided by The Chapel Hill Magazine again this year.

Yes, it took a lot of planning to make all of the moving parts come together to properly honor our fallen heroes and heroines, and all of those who made it all come together should be proud, especially VFW Commander, Master Chief Petty Officer Lee Heavlin and Robert Patton, Adjutant, VFW Post 9100.

So why do they do it? They think it is important to do it. They know we must remember and teach the true meaning of Memorial Day. They served. They care.

What do you think?

http://chapelboro.com/columns/fred-said/why-do-they-do-it