Carrboro BOA The Latest To Tackle Towing

CARRBORO – At a meeting earlier this month, the Board had harsh words for the increase in towing efforts at Carr Mill Mall. On Tuesday night, representatives from the Mall gave their side of the story.

Here’s Nick Robinson, an attorney for Carr Mill Mall.

“The town needs to acknowledge that Carrboro does not actually have a towing problem, and that Carr Mill Mall is not the problem,” says Robinson. “It’s now time to acknowledge the real problem and call it what it is: Carrboro’s municipal parking shortage. The town, through its ordinances, policies and permits, has created a parking shortage of its own making.” 

The issue was not originally on the June 11 agenda, but was brought up when a representative from Southern Rail had some scathing words for the management of Carr Mill Mall—which the board agreed with.

Cindy McMahan, the owner of Elmo’s Diner, also signed up to speak at Tuesday night’s public hearing. McMahan has owned Elmo’s Diner and operated in Carr Mill Mall for nearly 22 years, and says listening to a replay of the June 11 meeting left her feeling disheartened.

“My business has probably generated $35 million for the Town of Carrboro and I feel forgotten,” says McMahan. “It hurts my feelings, for my staff, for my customers and for the other tenants in the mall. I’m not afraid to work hard, but it’s just not fair how you are treating Carr Mill Mall.”

McMahan added that just hours before the meeting, she encountered visitors who illegally parked in the Carr Mill Mall parking lot. Although she verbally warned them they could be towed and fined, she says they still elected to leave their car in the lot while eating at a restaurant across the street.

The Board had mixed feelings about the words from Robinson and McMahan.  Alderman Jacquelyn Gist says she feels the town owes some loyalty to local businesses such as Elmo’s.

“We have a Carrboro business that helped build Carrboro whose being negatively impacted by the lack of parking, and that’s not fair,” says Gist. “I think there is right and wrong on both sides. I’d be really happy if the signage was good and people could read it, but we also need to protect existing businesses as new ones come in.”

But Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton took issue with some of the words spoken against the Aldermen, especially from the mall’s attorney.

“I feel like the letter that we received shortly after our June 11 meeting, I guess it just feels a bit disingenuous to say for me to hear a bunch of complains about what happened at the June 11 meeting or what happened at previous meetings before that, and then be told that those things are water under a bridge,” says Chilton. “If they were water under a bridge, you wouldn’t be up here complaining about them.”

Chilton specifically mentioned the new garage at 300 East Main and the purchase of the lot at 203 S Greensboro St of examples of the town’s recent actions to help alleviate the issue.

It wasn’t just store owners and legal advisers who spoke against the recent towing stipulations. Barnes Towing, Talbert’s Towing and T Roy Towing all agreed to speak with town staff regarding their issues with the ordinance in its current state.

Although enforcement has recently increased at Carr Mill Mall, the town’s updated towing ordinance has been in place since 2011. The ordinance is very similar to Chapel Hill’s— it requires companies to accept credit and debit cards, places limits on the corresponding fine to $100, and mandates proper signage at all lots.

Tuesday’s meeting was the last official Board of Aldermen meeting before the Board’s summer recess. The Aldermen are scheduled to hold their annual retreat this Sunday afternoon, after which they will further discuss the possibly of allowing residential space in the 300 East Main Street property. Stay tuned to WCHL and for the latest developments.

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.

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.

Carrboro BOA Discusses Parking

CARRBORO – The Carrboro Board of Aldermen began their discussion on the future of parking in the town with a work session largely focusing on how to handle the potential influx to the town’s municipal lots.

“People like to joke when they learn that I’m the Mayor of Carrboro by asking whether I can fix their parking tickets,” says Mayor Mark Chilton. “The answer is, if you mess up so bad that you get a parking ticket in the Town of Carrboro, there is nothing that I can do to help you.”

The abuse of the town’s free lots was one of the largest concerns raised by the Board. Chilton says UNC’s decision to charge $250 for park and ride lots to the University beginning in the fall could cause students, faculty and staff to try and park in one of Carrboro’s lots.

A 2008 study on parking in the town found that around 20 percent of those parking in the municipal lots were parking for more than three hours despite the fact that most town lots have a two hour limit.

But what should the town do to deter people from not using the lots as intended?

One option to help curb illicit use of the town’s free lots is to increase enforcement with the hiring of an on-site attendant. But Aldermen Damon Seils says any enforcement or payment plan must make sense for the town.

“We know that parking and provision of parking costs money,” says Seils. “We know that enforcing parking costs, and especially enforcing copious free parking, costs. It seems to me that the direction that we are going in is actually the costliest way about doing this and it doesn’t come with any of the benefits that we would acquire from another approach.”

Seils specifically cited private towing companies and the Town of Chapel Hill as potential partners in an enforcement plan—neither of which he is particularly fond of.

Another suggested option was for the town to charge for parking. But Aldermen Jacquelyn Gist says that would only make it tougher for local businesses downtown.

I’ll give you a study—just walk down Main Street and talk to the people that own the businesses and ask them if they want you to charge for parking,” says Gist. “Then walk down Franklin Street and ask people why their restaurant is going under, and that will be one of the top two reasons.”

Aldermen Randee Haven O’Donnell adds that free parking also encourages those from the outskirts of town to enjoy some of the restaurants and shops located more centrally in the downtown

“I really support free parking,” says O’Donnell. “For folks who are further out, this is their town too. When we had the Open Streets, a lot of folks came in from north of Homestead [Rd]. How did they get there? They drove—they drove to be on an open street. Check that out.”

Aldermen Sammy Slade introduced a motion which stipulated that the town would formulate a “downtown parking plan” with the town’s stated values as well as the monetary and staff resources that enacting the plan would entail.

Shelton Station Stalls

CARRBORO – The Carrboro Board of Aldermen did not vote to approve the Conditional Use Permit, or C.U.P., for Shelton Station Thursday night, instead choosing to recess the public hearing while the developer and town staff fine-tune the plan.

Here’s appraiser Rich Kirkland speaking in support of the developer.

“Recently, I’ve done a new project proposed for Hillsborough Street in Raleigh that is going do a very similar thing: with a property that is going to join residential units to the back,” Kirkland says. “Anticipation for that project is it is going to help the whole area—the added retail there is going to serve the homes nearby.”

The recessed public hearing is currently scheduled to resume April 2, which is the Board’s next scheduled meeting.

The current plan for Shelton Station is for two residential units and two vacant lots totaling 2.6 acres to be converted into a mixed-use development. with 94 residential units and 119,000 square-feet of commercial space to be located just off of N. Greensboro Street near Shelton and Parker Streets. The proposal also received the LEED silver equivalent standard.

After much discussion, the Board had five recommendations for the Shelton Station developers to modify the proposal with assistance from town staff. They included how to manage the construction issues at the site, specific details about the affordable housing allotment, the potential for a solar panel on the roof and access to compost.

But town attorney Michael Brough says the details on the payment-in-lieu provision in the Town’s Land Use Ordinance for urban amenities leaves room for discussion.

“There is language in there that they have to spend money on the site, unless the Board concludes that it’s not practical to do so. Then they can make a payment-in-lieu,” says Brough. “There is some discretion, but obviously the ordinance is expressing a preference for the expenditure on site.”

The developers are currently planning an artistic play structure to fulfill the requirement, but have to expand the structure or pay the town the monetary difference to satisfy that section of the ordinance.

Although much of the meeting was discussion between the board and the developers, there was time allotted for public comment.

Arne Grey co-owns several lots near the proposed site with his wife. He says the plan does not fit in that part of town.

“It’s not part of Carrboro’s nature—it’s not moderate,” says Grey. “It’s not for people with moderate incomes or interests. It is a different sort of structure, therefore I object to it. It doesn’t fit and it’s not appropriate.”

The board and other local residents had some concern about the scope of the project being too extravagant for the area, but PTA Thrift Shop Executive Director Barbara Jessie-Black says the development will bring needed pedestrians to Carrboro.

“As a large retailer in downtown Carrboro, we appreciate that this particular project is going to bring more foot traffic,” says Jessie-Black. “With our redevelopment in-process, once we get our building up and running, we hope that we get more customers. This project would help us do that.”

The Board narrowly approved the re-zoning of the land for the project in January of last year by a 4-3 margin, which allowed a project of this magnitude to be proposed.

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.

Aldermen Again Turn Attention To Future Of Rogers Road

CARRBORO – With the Rogers Road Task Force set to resume meeting, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen discussed their recommendations for the future of the area, including a section called Greene Tract.

Here’s Aldermen Sammy Slade

“The fact that this is a jointly owned public property represents an opportunity for us to really find creative ways to encourage affordable housing on those spaces, to provide green space for folks who already live there, and expand more affordable housing in an area in both of our town where things are getting really expensive and a lot of people can’t afford to be here,” says Slade.

The Greene Tract is adjacent to the Rogers Road Study area and the Town of Chapel Hill city limits. The 2006-2009 Rogers Road Small Area Plan Draft called for 86 acres of open space in the area, with 18 acres also earmarked for affordable housing.

Slade says the affordable housing aspect is an important one for the continued development of both the Rogers Road community and the town of Carrboro.

“It’s one way in which to guarantee that we have and maintain a diverse community,” says Slade. “Carrboro used to be the other side of the tracks and in a way; we have been a victim of our own success. Prices have pushed people out and we’ve essentially become gentrified, so we have to be very proactive in ensuring that it doesn’t get worse and that we try to maintain that diversity.”

Slade says localized commercial development is another potential option for the area.

Rogers Road is a historically African-American neighborhood located north of downtown Carrboro and Chapel Hill. The area has long not only been neglected but also the source of broken promises from local government.

The Orange County Landfill has been located near Rogers Road since 1972. The Board of Aldermen also passed a resolution Tuesday night allowing Town Manager David Andrews to negotiate with either Waste Industries or the City of Durham to send their trash across county lines.

The Orange County Board of County Commissioners voted last month to extend the Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood Task Force an additional six months with the condition that they report to the commissioners on or before September 17 of this year. Slade and fellow Aldermen Michelle Johnson serve on the committee as representatives of the Town of Carrboro.

Other plans for the area could involve a Chapel Hill-Carrboro City school. But Slade says a new school may not be the best use of the land.

“One of the challenges when we talk about a public school is that public schools are not so far from there,” says Slade. “There’s this question of using public property to build another public school or taking the opportunity to use that property to build affordable housing.”

The school would be in addition to two proposed community centers serving the area–one a public center jointly financed by local governments and one owned by St. Paul A.M.E Church which plans to relocate to the neighborhood in the near future.

CVS Project Paused As Developers Pull Permit To Rezone

CARRBORO – The developers for the proposed CVS on N. Greensboro Street withdrew their conditional use permit Tuesday night, meaning that the current version of the project will need to be drastically altered if it comes in front of the Board of Aldermen at a later date.

“They pulled their request for a public hearing on the conditional use permit and rezoning because I think it was clear to them that they were not going to be able to get the rezoning,” says Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton. “The conditional use permit that was proposed could not have been approved without the rezoning being approved. I think it was clear to them that this was going nowhere tonight.”

The project required a conditional use permit, or C.U.P., because the scope of the project necessitated the rezoning of three lots whose current zoning did not allow the proposed development.

The lots that the developers were originally requesting to be rezoned were planned as parking lots to help alleviate the transition from high-density commercial to the residential lots on Center Street. But Carrboro Planning Director Trish McGuire says the rezoning was still needed on those lots since the parking would have been associated with the development.

“If parking is needed for high-volume use, it is like a high-volume retail use from a use classification perspective,” says McGuire, “so it cannot go into a zoning district that does not support that use.”

While the most recent plan is all but dead, a CVS-based development at a smaller scale could still be proposed assuming it meets the zoning requirements at the same location, or potentially in another part of town. Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton says he expects the developers to have a new proposal soon.

“The board has decided to not consider any type of rezoning there,” says Chilton. “It might be possible for them to put forward an application for a drug store—several of those lots are currently zoned for commercial development—but it will have to be considerably different application than they have so far.”

But Carrboro resident Michele Rivest says that the main issues residents have with the project are not related to scale as much the impact of a CVS in that neighborhood.

“All of the issues of CVS’s business model, the 24/7 nature, and the traffic, noise and light pollution, they’re still going to be there. I don’t know where the smaller scale is going to matter. Most of what was going to happen on Center Street was the parking lot.”

The developers of the project, Kimley-Horn and Associatesasked the Board of Aldermen late Friday afternoon to postpone the hearing until April. That request was ultimately denied by the board, and the developers chose instead to not go through with the public hearing.

Carrboro Town Hall was packed for the meeting, with the entire main chamber full with several seated on the floor. The audience also filled the lobby while others watched the meeting on a television across the hall. Chilton says he wasn’t surprised by the turnout.

“One of the things I love about Carrboro is that we have a very active and involved citizenry—people are engaged with their local government,” says Chilton. “I think it’s great that so many people came to speak tonight.”

Chilton also cited the importance of the building’s location as another motivating factor for the increased participation.