The Big Little Secret About the Legion Road Site

When Chapel Hill’s American Legion Post 6 announced they were selling their land on Legion Road to Woodfield Properties, who plans to build apartment homes and offices for young professionals on the site, the same gaggle of people who have invested decades in opposing changes to Chapel Hill’s landscape predictably rose up to protest this one.

Matt Bailey

Matt Bailey

As a part of their campaign to block the project, they’ve been drumming up support for the idea that if we simply get the town council to refuse to rezone the property, Chapel Hill can itself buy the American Legion and build a new park on the site instead. Better still, they argue, the town can buy the land from the American Legion for less than half of the $10-million that Woodfield Properties has agreed to pay for it, since denying the rezoning would make the property worth less money.

There are two details opponents of the Legion Road project conveniently are failing to tell you when they pitch the idea of a park.

First, Woodfield has already agreed to build a park on the eastern portion of the property that the entire community could use.  So, it’s not a choice between “luxury apartments” or a park.  It’s a chance to have homes for young professionals and a great new park, a park that would come at no cost to Chapel Hill taxpayers.

But there’s an even bigger little secret Chapel Hill’s anti-growth advocates don’t want you to discover: The American Legion’s property is already zoned for residential construction of 144 single family homes.  That means if the American Legion gets tired of town leaders dragging their feet on Woodfield’ proposal and simply want to cash out now, they could sell their land to a different developer to build 144 single family homes on the site, no rezoning required.

Do you think that new developer is going to build cute little starter homes for us working families?  Don’t count on it.  They’ll build 144 McMansions, homes that could easily cost half a million dollars each given the dynamics of the Chapel Hill housing market.

Unlike the apartments and offices Woodfield has in mind, those 144 McMansions won’t pay commercial property tax.  In fact, single-family suburban homes are the most expensive style of homes a town can have with the least value in return.  Sustainable Prosperity estimates each single family home costs a city two and a half times more in services such as water and sewer, roads and public transportation, police and fire services, libraries and schools, than do the city-styled multi-family homes Woodfield has in mind.

Unlike the young professionals Woodfield’s homes and office space would bring back to Chapel Hill, those 144 McMansions would attract wealthy families, probably right before their kids start kindergarten.  Good luck finding room for all those new trailers at Ephesus Elementary. (For the record, the school system prefers to call them “cabins.”)

Worst of all, for my neighbors who are genuinely excited by the prospect of a new park on Legion Road, town leaders won’t have the leverage to demand the public park that Woodfield has already said they’d give us for free, since those 144 McMansions won’t require rezoning.

For the record, I am neither for nor against Woodfield Property’s proposed project for the American Legion site.  Given that they haven’t submitted an application to the town at the time, there’s not yet a proposal to support or oppose. What I do oppose are efforts to mislead my neighbors about the best way we can get a new park simply because being “pro-park” sounds better than being “anti-apartment.” The fact is, our best shot at getting more park space on our side of town is to encourage town leaders to work collaboratively with Woodfield Properties to create the park they’ve already promised to create.

When someone tells you we have a choice between “luxury apartments” or a new public park, remember the real choice Chapel Hill faces:  We could have much needed homes and offices for young professionals and a great new park, or we could have 144 Luxury McMansions and no park at all.

The choice is yours, Chapel Hill.

 

— Matt Bailey

http://chapelboro.com/columns/the-commentators/the-big-little-secret-about-the-legion-road-site

Parks Provide Many Economic Benefits

How do public parks economically benefit a growing town?

Let us count the ways:

First, residences near high-quality, well-maintained parks increase in value relative to similar properties located farther away, with the added value typically being around 15% for the properties closest to the park. This increased home value translates into increased property tax revenue for the municipality.

David Schwartz

David Schwartz

Second, high-quality parks attract not only local users but also visitors from out-of-town who spend money on food and other purchases, which yield sales tax revenue to the municipality.

Parks also provide residents with various kinds of direct savings. For example, residents’ use of free public parkland and free or low-cost recreational opportunities saves residents’ from having to pay for these amenities in the private marketplace.

A harder to measure, but equally important, form of savings is the increased community cohesion parks and other public gathering places support. This increased community cohesion helps ward off antisocial problems associated with urbanization that otherwise would cost the city more in police and fire protection, prisons, counseling, and rehabilitation.

Finally, parks provide ecological services that generate environmental savings, such as retention of rainfall by the park’s vegetation and soil, which reduces the need for costly stormwater management infrastructure.

Given the many and substantial economic benefits associated with parks, it is unfortunate that the previous Mayor and Town Council last fall passed up the opportunity to purchase the 36-acre American Legion property and that they instead sanctioned Town staff’s efforts to interest a developer of luxury apartments in acquiring the site.

The new Mayor and Town Council now have an opportunity to remedy the situation. They and Town staff should work with the Legion Post members to come up with a plan for the property that meets both the Post’s need for a larger, more modern facility and the Town’s need for expanded parkland and recreation opportunities. The developer with whom the Legion has signed a contract builds only market rate apartments, which the town does not need, so it is not the ideal partner for this collaboration. Fortunately there are other, more suitable developers waiting in the wings who will happy to step up if given a chance.

 

— David Schwartz

 

Have a comment or opinion you would like to share? Submit your commentary or column for the Commentators, on WCHL 97.9FM and Chapelboro.com.

http://chapelboro.com/columns/the-commentators/parks-provide-many-economic-benefits

Memorial Day Celebrations at American Legion

The veterans and members of the community gathered at the American Legion Post 6 in Chapel Hill on Monday to commemorate local soldiers who gave their lives in service of their country.

The Memorial Day ceremonies in Chapel Hill began on Saturday, as members of the American Legion, the VFW, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts placed flags on the graves of veterans at the Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery.

Robert Medred, opened a ceremony at the American Legion building on Monday, reminding everyone the reason behind the holiday.

“Today, we remember and honor those active duty military who died in the service of their country during all American wars and conflicts or while on active duty,” said Medred.

The event also featured music, food and showcased artifacts from military history, including papers from the Pearl Harbor attacks and military equipment.

The American Legion is an organization that works to help unite veterans and support military members leaving the service.

Wreath honoring veterans (Photo by Chris Grunert)

Wreath honoring veterans (Photo by Chris Grunert)

There are 790,000 vets in North Carolina, according to Carolina Demography, which represents about 9.8 percent of the state’s adult population.

Pearl Maynor read the poem, “In Flander’s Field “, a popular military poem in honor of her son. She said even after her son’s passing she still help support the American Legion.

“My faith in God hasn’t weakened one minute, because I know there are many, many more boys and girls out there, fighting for us, for our lives and for our safety,” said Maynor.

Memorial Day began as a dedication day after the Civil War, where graves of soldiers would be honored. The first official Memorial Day was observed in 1971.

The event concluded with a two bell ceremony, a navy tradition, to honor local soldiers who passed away.

Veterans are especially important to our state; North Carolina has the fourth largest military population in the country.

Military vehicles on display (Photo by Chris Grunert)

Military vehicles on display (Photo by Chris Grunert)

The American Legion property is for sale, which has been the focus of recent debate. An offer from Woodfield has been made for the $10 million property. Town residents have voiced concern about development on the property but the town passed on an opportunity to purchase the property.

http://chapelboro.com/featured/american-legions-honors-veterans

On Memorial Day, American Legion Remembers Fallen Vets

This Monday, the American Legion Post 6 in Chapel Hill will commemorate local soldiers who gave their lives in service of their country.

Memorial Day ceremonies in Chapel Hill began on Saturday, as members of the American Legion, the VFW, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts placed flags on the graves of veterans at the Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery. On Monday at 8 am, the Legion will hold a short ceremony at the cemetery, followed by a memorial service at 11 am at Post 6 on Legion Road. After the service, the Legion will hold an open house, featuring live music at 12:30 by the Chapel Hill Village Band.

Lee Heavlin of the American Legion spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck about the ceremonies, the Legion’s work, and the larger meaning of Memorial Day.

 

For more information about the American Legion, visit ChapelHillPost6.com.

http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-town/on-memorial-day-american-legion-remembers-fallen-vets

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