Aldermen Push For Action On Rogers Road Plan

CHAPEL HILL- Carrboro Aldermen on Thursday pushed Orange County Commissioners to move forward on a plan to bring sewer service to the Rogers Road community, despite an on-going EPA investigation that has dragged the process to a halt.

Alderman Michelle Johnson said she’d like to see commissioners take a stance on the issue, even if the board is hesitant to take action.

“I hope the county will get some clarity from their attorney, I hope you all will discuss it soon, and discussing is different from voting,” said Johnson.

A task force of elected officials and neighborhood representatives has recommended that Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Orange County share the $5.8 million dollar cost to extend sewer service to the area, as part of a remediation plan for the community that’s lived with the landfill for four decades.

But this summer, just as the three local governments were poised to sign off on a funding plan, the EPA launched an investigation into claims that the county discriminated against the largely African-American community by not applying for federal grant money to fund infrastructure improvements.

Since then, the county attorney advised commissioners not to take any action on the plan until the investigation is complete, but after three months and no word from the EPA, county officials sent a letter asking the agency to either speed up the process or drop the complaint.

Orange County Board Chair Barry Jacobs summed it up: “We haven’t heard anything in three months from the EPA, how about just letting us move forward and accepting that we have reached an agreement?”

Commissioner Mark Dorosin sided with the Aldermen, urging his fellow board members to discuss the two possible funding scenarios laid out by the task force and make their intentions more clearly known to federal investigators.

“I think if we could provide some more specifics to the EPA as to what our intentions would be, were this complaint resolved, that might go much more expeditiously than saying ‘dismiss the complaint, we generally assure you that we’re going to possibly implement the task force recommendations,’” said Dorosin.

Although some commissioners signaled they’d be open to more discussion, Jacobs reiterated the board won’t likely be taking action on the plan any time soon.

“It bothers all of us that the EPA complaint is delaying taking any action,” said Jacobs, “We’re not doing this happily, readily or even willingly. We’re doing it because this is the advice of our attorney.”

In the meantime, both boards are waiting to see if the Chapel Hill Town Council will extend its extraterritorial jurisdiction to Rogers Road, in order to fund the town’s portion of the sewer project.

The town council will hold a public hearing on the ETJ plan on Monday.

BoCC Looks At Brewer Lane For Branch Library

CHAPEL HILL- As Orange County officials continue the search for a site to build the southwest branch of the Orange County library, commissioners say they want to explore the possibility of putting the library in a yet-to-be-built mixed-use development at 120 Brewer Lane in Carrboro.

Board Chair Barry Jacobs said the collaboration could have economic advantages for the town and county.

“If we bring people to Brewer Lane, it will enhance the economic development in downtown Carrboro, which benefits Orange County,” said Jacobs. “It’s a destination site. They will go there, park their car or get off the bus, and they will walk around.”

County staffers said the Brewer Lane site was preferable to other downtown Carrboro locations suggested by the Board of Aldermen, because a town-owned parking lot at 203 South Greensboro would likely pose access and parking challenges, while space in the 300 East Main development would be too expensive.

A suggestion from the aldermen that the county look into buying the property at 201 North Greensboro currently owned by CVS was quickly shot down.

“The main issue here for us is, number one, the property is not for sale, and number two, we believe the cost to procure the property will be extreme,” Planner Michael Harvey told the board. “Quite honestly we believe the money could be better spent in other forms and fashions.”

In addition to the Brewer Lane location, the board also expressed interest in a site on Hillsborough Road adjacent to the Martin Luther King Jr Park, and a site on Fidelity Street next to the Westwood Cemetery.

All three locations would need to be vetted by planners, engineers and technical consultants. The in-depth analysis could cost as much as $15,000 per site.

The board agreed that if technical analysis ruled out one of the three, county staffers should reconsider the parking lot at 203 South Greensboro as an alternate site.

No matter where the branch ends up, commissioners say they want to be clear that it won’t be a duplicate of the Chapel Hill Public Library or the Main Library in Hillsborough.

“Because the Chapel Hill library already exists so close, we want to be clear we’re not going to duplicate services,” said Jacobs. “We’re not doing a 20,000 square foot library. We’re doing a library that serves the southwestern part of the county.”

Officials say the public will have a chance to weigh in after the analysis of each site has been completed.

10 Candidates File As 2013 Election Season Gears Up

HILLSBOROUGH- The filing period for the 2013 municipal elections opened at noon on Friday, but already some familiar faces have come forward to run for office.

Mark Kleinschmidt is seeking his third term as mayor of Chapel Hill. He says he’s seen the town change for the better since the economic crisis of 2008.

“I think during the last few years we were able to come through those times successfully with minimal disruption to services,” says Kleinschmidt. “We’ve come out on the other side now with a much more healthy fiscal perspective and a much more clearly defined set of goals and ambitions for our community.”

Now that the first phase of the town’s new comprehensive plan is complete, Kleinschmidt hopes to focus on the implementation of the community’s vision as detailed in the Chapel Hill 2020 process.

“Its time to now focus in on the needs of smaller segments of our community and what they’re going to be moving forward,” says Kleinschmidt. “Not every block or street in Chapel Hill will require the same kind of treatment.”

Town Council member Sally Greene has also filed to run for re-election. Greene served two terms as a council member before stepping away from public office for a year. In January she returned to the council when she was appointed to fill Penny Rich’s vacant seat.

Educator Maria Palmer and Southern Village resident Gary Kahn also applied for that vacancy. They’re each making another bid for office by putting their names in the hat to run for a council seat.

Kahn says he’s concerned about a number of pending development plans, as well as the town’s budget crunch.

“Basically I think the issues are affordable housing, development, where our budget is going to go in terms of taxes and things,” says Kahn. “I think those are the major concerns right now.”

In Carrboro, Alderwoman Lydia Lavelle has filed to run for mayor. She made her plans known after current mayor Mark Chilton announced he would not be seeking another term.

Lavelle says Carrboro faces the challenge of integrating new development into an already busy downtown.

“Development is always a challenge,” says Lavelle. “It’s a good thing, but it always brings with it accompanying concerns like traffic and parking and the pros and cons of commercial versus residential versus mixed use.”

Looking ahead, Lavelle wants to focus on the question of how to provide affordable housing. A recently convened taskforce has developed a series of recommendations for the board to consider in the future.

“We’re looking at ways to examine our land use ordinance in a way we’re not thinking about that may be able to help up increase our housing stock,” says Lavelle. “Beyond what we do with the Community Home Trust, which is wonderful, maybe looking at other ways we can increase our housing stock.”

Alderwomen Randee Haven-O’Donnell and Jacquelyn Gist also signed on to run for re-election. Haven-O’Donnell was first elected in 2005, while Gist has served on the board since 1989.

James Barrett is the first Chapel Hill-Carrboro City school board member to file to run. He was elected to a two-year term in 2011.

Barrett says he’s excited about helping Superintendent Tom Forcella implement his plan for improving the school system.

“It touches on a lot of areas that I think we need to do a better job at; great instruction in every single classroom, better use of technology, better use of data in looking at student growth in particular,” says Barrett. “These are all things that I want to see through to being implemented very well.”

In Hillsborough, Tom Stevens has filed to run for his fifth term as mayor, while newcomer Jenn Weaver is the first to file for a seat on the town board.

The filing period runs through July 19, and many more candidates are expected to enter the race. With a slew of incumbents in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough and on the school board who have announced they will not seek re-election, there will be new faces on each board come November.

Aldermen To Encourage Fleet Feet To Stay

CARRBORO – When the Carrboro Aldermen meet Tuesday, the board will consider an economic development agreement to encourage Fleet Feet Sports to keep its corporate headquarters and flagship store in Carrboro.

As Fleet Feet looks to consolidate its office and retail space, Carrboro leaders are hoping to keep the shoe retailer in town by negotiating a four-way deal with Fleet Feet, the Jesse Kalisher Gallery and management at the 300 East Main Street development.

If approved, Fleet Feet would move into a new building at 300 East Main which would include both office and retail space. The Kalisher Gallery would move into Fleet Feet’s space at 406 East Main Street and the Town of Carrboro would subsidize parking for the Gallery in the 300 East Main parking deck. The town would also purchase Fleet Feet’s current office space above Acme Restaurant at a cost of $568,000.

The board will also discuss possible change to the town’s towing ordinance and consider limiting the places where more than four unrelated individuals can live.

The Carrboro Aldermen meet at 7:30 p.m. at Carrboro Town Hall.


BOA Continues Discussion On Parking

CARRBORO – The Carrboro Board of Aldermen continued to discuss the future of downtown parking Tuesday night, with the Board focusing on overnight parking and unbundling near the center of town.

“Ultimately, I think we have to base this on the reality of our parking situation and be guided by the vision we have for the ideal,” says Alderman Sammy Slade,” while also balancing the economic development reality of the fact that most businesses do depend on cars.

The meeting was an extension of a meeting last month where the Aldermen mostly focused on town-owned lots.

Although the second and fourth meetings of each month are typically designated as workshops without public comment, the Board allowed Chip Hoppin to speak as a representative of Southern Rail, a restaurant located right at the entrance to the Carr Mill Mall parking lot.

He reiterated talking points from a letter written to the Board, including that shop owners are displeased with how the management of Carr Mill Mall handles their lot.

“They feel that management at Carr Mill Mall specifically has been failing all the store owners in the area,” says Hoppin. “The bar owners specifically—the people who create an atmosphere, bring people into Carrboro and make Carrboro fun.”

Alderman Damon Seils says he thought the joint letter from members of the business community was a wise gesture.

“I just want to thank you and your colleagues for writing the letter,” says Seils. “In particular, in relation to the values that were expressed in the letter around the idea of a collaborative approach to parking in downtown. A really smart and thoughtful letter and I really appreciated it.”

Alderman Slade says he also isn’t happy with the actions of Carr Mill Mall’s management.

“I’ve been shocked at how the manager of Carr Mill Mall misrepresents himself when he says he’d rather not tow, but that he has to in order to guarantee that there is parking, knowing full well that they’re towing in the middle of the night when there are no Carr Mill shops open,” says Slade. “It’s really a disservice to Carrboro, and I know that’s his right to do it, but I think this is wrong.”

Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton adds that it’s possible that people who illegally park their cars overnight are actually making a responsible decision.

“If you think about the people who leave business establishments downtown at 2 a.m., when they choose to walk home instead of driving home, that is a good thing. They give you a parking ticket for leaving your car in downtown Chapel Hill overnight. What are the incentivizing there? It isn’t necessarily the best policy.”

The Board began to discuss scenarios regarding the unbundling of parking, but after several minutes of discussion, members of town staff were unable to say for sure if the town’s land use ordinance would have to be changed for unbundling to occur.

Unbundling occurs when residences do not require each dwelling to be assigned a parking space. That way, those who choose to drive are paying for the right to do so instead of the cost being passed onto all occupants and encouraging alternative transportation.

The Board instructed town staff to relay their findings on the matter at a later meeting.

BOA Sifts Through Solid Waste

CARRBORO – The Carrboro Board of Aldermen unanimously passed a motion Tuesday night suggesting the Board of County Commissioners create a Tax District to fund solid waste and recycling in Orange County.

Here’s Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton

“I think that given that our costs are going to spike upward very significantly with the closure of the land fill because of this hauling stuff, that it is time to do this now,” says Chilton. “Right now. Our County Commissioners need to move forward with this.”

In an April email, County staff recommended four options to the County Commissioners: the creation of a Solid Waste Management Authority similar to OWASA, the implementation of either a full or limited County Solid Waste Tax District to raise funds for services, or simply leaving each town to decide on their own recycling program.

The Aldermen ultimately decided on the third option, wherein only those in the service area would pay a tax to help fund the program.

As far as service in Town of Carrboro is concerned, there is little difference between the second or third options. But members of the Board agreed that it would be inequitable for county residents not receiving the service to be forced to fund it.

Although the Board was generally against the creation of a Solid Waste Management Authority, one aspect of that proposal did intrigue the Aldermen—the creation of a local transfer station—which was of particular interest to Aldermen Randee Haven O’Donnell.

“The local transfer station would keep us from having to transfer to another county, which I really disapprove of,” says O’Donnell. “I think when we start to take care of the waste in our county, we’ll be better stewards. I really feel unclean sending my stuff to south Durham.”

The Board passed a motion instructing the County to bypass the creation of an authority and to simply look into the possibility a disposal station in Orange County.

The Board also agreed to participate in a Town of Chapel Hill study evaluating the viability of a local transfer station.

Other discussion revolved around some of the technological innovations the new program could implement, such as an RFID (radio frequency identification) chip in each bin as explained by Carrboro Public Works Director George Seiz.

“In essence, there is a chip in the cart that then can be read by radio frequencies,” says Seiz. “When the truck lifts it, it weighs it and that information, address and so forth, then is sent back to a central location so that you can generate information—billing and those types of things.”

Aldermen Sammy Slade also pointed out that other municipalities have used the RFID card to encourage recycling.

“What is allows for is there are communities that have used it and instituted creative programs that incentives people to recycle more by rewarding them,” says Slade, “for example by how much their recycling bin weighs.”

But despite the optimism surrounding the various options, Mayor Chilton says that until he sees politicians willing to make tough decisions on the matter, all of these ideas could be for naught.

“I’ve seen us do study after study, probably adding up to hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last 22 years through different levels of local government on looking into these various technologies,” says Chilton. “All of it was for naught because we didn’t have elected officials who were committed to doing it. And I don’t know if we ever will.”

Chilton specifically mentioned studies on waste-to-energy       facilities, as well as potential landfill and transfer station sites as some of the largest expenditures.

Carrboro Aldermen Pan OC Library Plan

CARRBORO- Carrboro Aldermen reviewed the first draft of the Orange County Library Strategic Plan last week, but they made it clear they weren’t impressed.

“I don’t see any point in any way rejecting what is stated here in this plan or this needs assessment, but that’s mostly because I don’t see anything at all in this needs assessment,” said Mayor Mark Chilton.

“It’s like a Hallmark card,” replied Alderwoman Jacquie Gist.

The aldermen were looking for concrete details that would aid in the planning of the Southern Branch Library. The county is currently working with the town to find a site near downtown Carrboro, and both boards are wrestling with questions about how big the branch should be and what services it should offer.

Instead, Carrboro board members said the draft plan offered only vague descriptions and obvious conclusions.

Chilton in particular took umbrage at the document, detailing his criticisms in a ten minute speech to the board. He said the plan lacked specificity and more importantly, did not seem to reflect the values that Carrboro holds dear.

“It sets off all sorts of alarm bells in my mind to hear people talk about doing data-mining and the use of big data with respect to my library usage in order to determine what kinds of services would be provided,” said Chilton. “I’m assuming that probably doesn’t mean what I’m afraid it means, but there’s something about the way the entire statement is made that makes me question did Dr. Chow get who we are as a community at all?”

The strategic plan was part of a state-sponsored initiative. When county commissioners reviewed the plan earlier in the month, they also called on library staff to return with more details.

Carrboro aldermen were asked to provide feedback on the plan, but Chilton and others agreed there was little of substance to respond to.

“We didn’t need to pay somebody- or the the state didn’t need to pick somebody on our behalf to pay to come to what are frankly the most obvious sorts of conclusions about our community. I’m really disappointed with this needs assessment because I just don’t think it means much of anything,” said Chilton. “And that’s sugar-coated.”

The board voted to receive the document, but refrained from officially commenting on it, beyond voicing opposition to any data-mining of library users.

The plan is still in its early stages. Orange County Library staffers will spend the summer fleshing out the strategic plan. It will return to the county commissioners for review later this fall.

You can read the full library report here.

BOA Hosts Public Hearing On Budget

CARRBORO – The Carrboro Board of Aldermen held their annual budgetary public hearing Tuesday night, with the public supporting the proposed budget for fiscal year 2013-2014.

“The town budget for 2013-14 is $28.3 million, $20.7 million is for the general fund and we have a very robust $6.9 million capital projects funds,” says Carrboro Town Manager David Andrews. The number of positions is even at 156.5, and we are recommending a 1.9% cost of living adjustment for town employees.”

This is Andrews’ second budget proposal since becoming the Town Manager of Carrboro last year.

Andrews says the town had three goals in mind when constructing the budget—and was able to fulfill all three.

“One was to implement the Board’s strategic priorities, control our costs while improving services, as well as developing a balanced budget with no property tax rate increase,” says Andrews. “We are very happy to report that for the fifth consecutive year, no property tax increase. I think that is a reflection on town staff as well as the Board of Aldermen.”

Although the number of town employees remained the same, there was some turnover on the town’s staff. The closing of the County landfill mandated the hiring of a Solid Waste Equipment Operator, but the Animal Control Officer position was removed because of a county takeover of the services.

One of the most substantial short-term changes to the budget was a nearly 400% increase in spending on capital projects.

Carrboro Public Works Director George Seiz says the Rogers Road sidewalk is the most costly capital project.

“We’re in the preliminary design stages at this point,” says Seiz, “but in essence the sidewalk will be mostly located behind the existing drainage ditch. We are trying to keep it all on public right of way, but we’ll need to get construction easements from just about every property owner as we go up and make this fit.”

The sidewalk is planned to run along Rogers Road from Homestead Road to Meadow Run Court—a distance of about a mile. Seiz estimates the cost of construction alone would cost upwards of $700,000 without accounting for easements. The project has around a half of million dollars in federal funding with the town responsible for the remaining balance.

Local historian Richard Taylor says he would prefer the Town hire a local concrete company for the project if possible.

“A few weeks ago, it was voted on by the Board to emphasize local suppliers,” says Taylor. “I don’t know if you can do it or not, but there is a concrete company in Carrboro, Ready Mix Concrete, so if you could do anything to use that local supplier to supply the concrete, it would be less wear and tear on the roads and give a local business some business for a very large project.”

Other increases to the Town’s budget include additional funding for Chapel Hill Transit, the NCNGN Fiber Optic Network and Greenways.

The town also increased its funding to the Community Home Trust from $34,000 to $35,000. Executive Director Robert Dowling says he is appreciative of the continued support from the Board.

“I’m here to say thank you for your support of the work of the Home Trust for these many, many years,” says Dowling.  “This year, the manager found a little bit extra—there is $35,000 in the proposed budget. If you are able to make the $1,000 increase, it would be much appreciated and well used I can assure you.”

According to Dowling, the annual budget for the Home Trust is about $700,000.

Aldermen To Receive 2013-14 Budget Tuesday

CARRBORO – Carrboro Aldermen will receive the town manager’s budget recommendations when the board meets Tuesday.

The proposed budget does not call for any property tax rate increase, marking the fifth year in a row that Carrboro has maintained the same tax rate. The board will schedule a public hearing on the budget for May 21.

The board will also consider making a loan of $50,000 to Cameron’s, a retail specialty shop relocating from University Mall to the new 300 East Main development. The money will come from the town’s revolving loan fund.

Last but not least the board will review possible sites for the Southern Branch library. New locations under consideration include 300 East Main, the town-owned parking lot on South Greensboro, the Butler development on Brewer Lane, and the corner of North Greensboro and Weaver Street.

That last site is owned by CVS, where developers are in the midst of a long and controversial fight to build a 24 hour pharmacy. Town staff say its possible the town and county could plan the library in conjunction with CVS.

The aldermen meet at 7:30 p.m. in CarrboroTown Hall.


Aldermen Not Pleased With BoCC Actions On Recycling

CARRBORO – The Carrboro Board of Aldermen had stern words for the Orange County Board of County Commissioners just days after the Commissioners voted to take the next step in potentially privatizing the Orange County Recycling Program.

“The impact to the changes to the recycling program for Carrboro residents would be the elimination of Orange County’s curbside recycling as of July 1, 2014,” says Town Manager David Andrews. “The economic impact if Carrboro tax payers had to assume that cost would be about $300,000.”

The Commissioners voted last Thursday to put into action the possibility of privatizing trash and recycling pickup in Orange County. Assistant County Manager Michael Talbert said at the meeting that there will be multiple opportunities for the Commissioners to provide input or make changes.

Under the current system, residents in unincorporated Orange County pay a fee for access to county trash and recycling services. The proposal suggested would privatize future collection, resulting in a standardized fee for rural residents.

But Aldermen comment at Tuesday’s meeting was against that proposal. The Commissioners’ vote did not formally approve any decision on the matter, but Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton says the County Commissioners need to find a different solution.

“This is highly valued by people in our community,” says Chilton. “County Commissioners: there are a number of possibilities. Please find a solution and have that solution be that we are all going to continue to get this important service.”

Chilton says he would prefer to see recycling in Orange County go the other way.

“Some of our current recycling program is contracted out to private companies, and some of it is done in house by our county government,” says Chilton. “If anything, we need to be moving in the other direction. When it comes to solid waste management, it aught to be about having county employees perform the roles.”

Town Manager David Andrews says he sees at least one other potential solution.

“There’s a really simple solution to it all,” says Andrews. “That would be for the town to advocate that Orange County continue to fund the recycling program as it is and raise their property taxes. That way, nothing changes—it’s that simple.”

Alderman Jacquelyn Gist also brought up the potential impacts on those the current system employs.

“What about the staff,” says Gist. “There are people who’s entire careers have spent building this amazing recycling program. Maybe some of them are ready to retire and this is why this is happening—I don’t know.”

Other issues discussed by the Aldermen included the equipment currently used to collect trash and recycling as well as the time, effort and money already invested in the County’s robust recycling effort.

The County Commissioners are scheduled to further discuss the issue at a workshop meeting April 9, with a public hearing on the subject currently planned for April 23.