American Legion Members Growing Restless

American Legion Post 6 commander William Munsee expressed his frustration with the town of Chapel Hill in a letter sent to the town manager.

Munsee said he read a report on a meeting held March 16, during which the Chapel Hill Town Council discussed the possible future of the American Legion property.

“In the report were heartfelt desires from community residents outlining the needs of the community and the town,” he said. “And after all was said and done, there was not one word that had to do with the needs of American Legion members.”

American Legion Post 6

American Legion Post 6 (Photo by Blake Hodge)

After two and a half years of debate, the legion decided to sell the 36-acre property and entered into an agreement with Woodfield Acquisitions for $10 million.

Chapel Hill was given the right of first refusal and waived that right in a closed-session meeting in November.

When the decision was announced publicly, there was public outcry by neighboring residents and other community members for the town to buy the property and turn it into a park.

“I must confess I think it was a discussion that should have taken place after the town purchased the property, which it declined to do when given the opportunity,” Munsee said.

The decision to waive the right of first refusal was made just after the November election, when a new mayor and three new council members were elected, but not yet sworn in.

“When development started around us, the Legion was silent and didn’t protest any of the developments,” Munsee said. “It was the ‘right thing to do.'”

The contract between Woodfield and American Legion is contingent on the developer receiving a Special Use Permit from the town.

“Now that it is our turn to sell our land and move, we expect the same courtesies we extended to our neighbors,” Munsee said. “We do anticipate town oversite, but hope it does not turn into ‘analysis paralysis.'”

He said the American Legion needs to move as soon as they can because the current building is too old to continue serving their needs into the future and he hopes Woodfield will be in a position to submit a proposal within the next two months.

http://chapelboro.com/featured/american-legion-members-growing-restless

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

Town Council Continues To Review American Legion Possibilities

The debate over what to do with the 36-acre property soon to be the former home of the American Legion is far from over.

“We have this opportunity now,” Mayor Pam Hemminger said during the town council’s work session Wednesday night. “I wanted to hear whether the council wanted to look for other options or let it go down the development path that has been proposed at this point in time.”

American Legion entered a contract to sell the property to Woodfield Acquisitions for $10 million.

The Town of Chapel Hill had the option to buy the property for $9 million, but waived its right to first refusal in a closed-session meeting in November.

The decision was made just after the November election, when a new mayor and three new council members were elected.

Councilwoman Maria Palmer was in the closed-session and said the town did not have the money to purchase the property.

“Help me understand how, just because there was an election, all of a sudden we can come up with $10 million,” she said.

Woodfield builds multi-family homes and apartment complexes. Along with these complexes, Woodfield is also considering building office or retail spaces, but their deal is contingent on the developer receiving a special use permit from the town.

Should they not receive an SUP, Hemminger said the town could possibly use bond money to help purchase the property or enter into a partnership with a private business.

“There’s different partnerships that are available if we choose to make those kinds of things a priority,” Hemminger said. “There is a contract on this property, but it hinges on upzoning this property to be more dense and we control if that happens or not.”

Hemminger suggested moving some or all of the $8 million allocated in the recent bond for parks and recreation towards purchasing the property.

“People spent so much time coming up with a list of things on that parks and rec priorities,” said councilwoman Donna Bell. “This was not a priority. This was not listed as one of the things where we’re like ‘let’s put some money away for the American Legion project’ because there were other things that were priorities.”

While no decision was made Wednesday night, the council will continue to discuss possibilities.

Representatives from Woodfield were in attendance, but did not address the council during the meeting.

Scott Underwood, who ran a community forum about the possible development in January, said they would be meeting with council members to help figure out the best way to move forward.

http://chapelboro.com/featured/town-council-continues-to-review-american-legion-possibilities

On Thanksgiving, There are Seats at the Table for Those in Need in Chapel Hill

Thanksgiving is a time for showing kindness to those who are lonely, or less fortunate than some of us.

Here in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area, there are plenty of organizations offering food and companionship to people who could use a break on Thursday.

“While many of us have an awful lot to be thankful for, and are able to supply a holiday meal for our families and our friends, there are a lot of people in the community who just don’t have that option,” said John Dorward, executive director of the Inter-Faith Council.

The IFC has a lot planned for Thanksgiving Day.

“We will have a Thanksgiving meal served, with turkey and all the trimmings at the Community Kitchen,” said Dorward. “The United Church here in Chapel Hill has done that for a number of years, and they’ll be coming back over to the community shelter and doing that again this year.”

The Community Kitchen is located at 100 West Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill. In addition, 350 families will receive a turkey and all the fixin’s needed for a holiday meal from the food pantry on Main Street in Carrboro.

Homeless veterans will benefit from a holiday food drive co-sponsored by the American Legion Post on Legion Raod in Chapel Hill and UNC’s Carolina Veterans Organization.

American Legion Post Commander Lee Heavlin credits the CVO for doing the hard work.

What they’ve done is reached out to students and local people, and small businesses, and large businesses, to provide non-perishable foods that they, in turn, are going to distribute to the TABLE in Carrboro, and to the Carolina Food Bank for Eastern and Central North Carolina.”

The TABLE is a non-profit group that provides food to children in need.

Loneliness can be a hardship around this time of year, too.

For the second year in a row, The Carolina Club is doing something this Thanksgiving for UNC students that can’t make it home that day.

The restaurant is ready to provide hundreds of meals for out-of-state and international students, in partnership with the UNC Office of Student Affairs, the Student Leadership Advisory Committee, and the Educational Foundation.

For more information on that event, call 919-962-9578.

http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-town/thanksgiving-seats-table-need-chapel-hill

American Legion Post 6 Stays Put, At Least For Now

An American Legion post commander said that Chapel Hill residents shouldn’t expect to see a “For Sale” sign in front of the Post 6 building on Legion Road any time soon.

Post Commander Lee Heavlin said that a publicized meeting this past Thursday night allowed members to discuss the future of the 8,378-square-foot building at 1714 Legion Road.

But it was not, he said, even close to being a vote on whether to sell, as some people seem to believe.

“We asked the permission of the members to investigate different kinds of ideas on what we can do to make our post the best post possible in the area for our local veterans,” said Heavlin.

The building is more than 50 years old. The executive members of Post 6 figure that around $500,000 worth of repairs and renovations are needed.

“That post has seen better days,” said Heavlin. “Our question is: OK, in order to fix it up, it’s going to cost at least a quarter of a million dollars. And so, is that the best use of our money?”

Fixing it up is one option. The committee has come up with four others. Post 6 could just decide to do nothing. The post could, perhaps, exist without a physical home.

Thirty-one acres of the property could be sold, and Post 6 could build something new on the remaining four.

Or, the American Legion post could sell the whole thing and move.

Exploring some of those options involves talking to outside sources, and Heavlin said executive members wanted permission from all members first.

Heavlin said that all five options will be researched over the next year. At some point, he said, the committee will come to members with a recommendation to vote on.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools has expressed interest in the property, according to Heavlin.

http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-town/american-legion-post-6-stays-put-least-now

American Legion Post 6 Mulls Relocation, Property Sale

American Legion Post 6 of Chapel Hill is considering a change of location after more than a half-century at its Legion Road address.

Post Commander Lee Heavlin recently announced that a September 18 Special General Membership Meeting will include a discussion and vote on authorization to evaluate five options for 1714 Legion Road.

The five options include:

• continuing to operate the post, but without a physical home;
• selling the property but retaining four acres to build a new post;
• selling the property and relocating the post;
• doing nothing, or
• spending an estimated $500,000 on needed upgrades and repairs to the building.

Post 6 built its current 8,378-square-foot home on 35 acres when it moved from its original building on Rosemary Street.

According to Orange County records, Post 6 purchased the Legion Road property in January of 1961.

The total value of the property is now at $2.4 million, according to a 2013 estimate.

http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-town/american-legion-post-6-mulls-relocation-property-sale

Remembering The Date That Lives In Infamy

CHAPEL HILL – “A date which will live in infamy” as then President of the United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt called it.

It’s been 72 years since the surprise attack by the Japanese on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

American Legion Post 6 Commander Lee Heavlin said the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars gathered Friday night and took a moment to remember the more  than 2,200 Americans who died during the attack.

“It’s important that we as veterans keep what happened alive,” Heavlin said.

Intended to neutralize the US Pacific Fleet, the attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy led to the United States’ entry into World War II.

World War II veteran Major Everett “Bud” Hampton, who served in the Marine Corp, said that though years have passed, the memory of the moment he found out the news of Pearl Harbor remains clear.

“I was at my girlfriend’s house on Sunday afternoon,” Hampton said. “It took everyone by surprise, not even knowing where Pearl Harbor was.”

Hampton said what happened at Pearl Harbor motivated him to enlist. He participated in four major operations while serving in the Pacific Ocean theater.

The air attack on Pearl Harbor came in two waves of Japanese fighters, bombers and torpedo planes. The first wave targeted “Battleship Row,” on the east side of Ford Island. All eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, of which four were sunk.

“I’m in awe. I’m in awe. When you think about all the men on these ships—hundreds and hundreds of people,” Heavlin said. “Each ship is literally a small town. To lose that, in massive numbers in the early morning when everyone was sitting back and relaxing for Sunday—it was tough. It was tough.”

Heavlin said the Veterans of Foreign Wars will commemorate the anniversary of Pearl Harbor while participating in several holiday parades this weekend.

He said it is now up to a new generation to remember and honor those who died in the attack.

“From the older generation, we’ve lost a lot of World War II veterans. Some of the children of World War II veterans are now senior citizens themselves,” Heavlin said.

The attack lasted less than two hours but took a heavy toll on the Pearl Harbor Naval Base. In addition to the four battleships that were sunk, 188 aircraft were destroyed. For its part, Japan lost 64 men and 29 planes, according to Time Magazine.

http://chapelboro.com/news/international/remembering-date-lives-infamy

Take Home Treasures To Support Post 6 on Saturday

CHAPEL HILL- Take home some treasures and support a good cause on Saturday when the American Legion veterans  host a yard sale to benefit Chapel Hill’s Legion Post 6.

Post Commander Lee Heavlin says there’s something for everyone at the sale.

“We’ve got knicks and knacks, a nice high-post bed, bicycles, lawn mulchers, jewelry, collectibles, you name it,” says Heavlin. “And we’ve got in all inside so people can come in, stay cool, look around and pick out their treasures.”

Proceeds go to maintaining and improving the Post, which is used by veterans, Boy Scouts and the wider community.

The event runs from 8 a.m to 1 p.m. Saturday at the American Legion Post 6 on Legion Road. Click here for more information.

http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-town/take-home-treasures-to-support-post-6-on-saturday

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