Carrboro Residents Request Conditions for Development Permit

Three to four commercial buildings may be coming to 501 South Greensboro Street in Carrboro.

As the Carrboro Board of Aldermen considers rezoning and granting a permit to Woodhill LLC for building the restaurant and retail development on six acres, neighbors want the town to make sure certain conditions are met.

Resident Rob Joyner spoke on behalf of the Roberson Place Home Owners Association at Tuesday’s meeting, asking “that the establishments that play outdoor music be restricted to playing 10 am to 8 pm.”

The Roberson Place HOA also requests that the connection between the Roberson Place Subdivision and South Greensboro remain as a bike and pedestrian connection, and not be developed into a road; that waste pickup and deliveries to businesses be restricted to 9 am to 5 pm on weekdays; and that commercial properties use directional lighting which would not shine onto residential properties.

“I do have significant concerns that, no matter what we do, we’re going to be looking at a neon sign illuminating a business,” said Tommy Koonce, who lives with his wife Robin Koonce in a house adjacent to the proposed development.

Koonce asked the town to codify a requirement to screen bright signs from his house windows, not only for aesthetics, but also to protect property value.

Runyon Woods, a partner at Woodhill LLC, feels the council should not regulate certain things, like when a business can receive deliveries.

“A restaurant comes in. They want fresh seafood for Saturday night,” said Woods. “So they want a small seafood truck to come deliver Saturday morning. That condition would make that illegal.”

Instead of following a hard rule, Woods said his team would work with individual residents to meet their needs.

Alderman Damon Seils stressed the importance of building specific conditions into the permit.

“If we put a condition on the permit, that’s what allows the town to engage in an enforcement activity,” said Seils. “And so if it becomes a problem, then the town has the authority in that circumstance to actually start enforcing the rules.”

In addition to the residents’ concerns, the aldermen discussed many others, including the development’s potential to intensify flooding. And the aldermen said a proposed roundabout at the intersection of South Greensboro Street and Pittsboro Road should not be built on private land.

The public hearing will continue on May 26. At this point the board may decide to approve “conditional use rezoning” and a “conditional use permit” for this project.

Carrboro Alderpersons Ask CAIC Partners to Start Over

“Reset, not reject.”

That was the catchphrase of the night at Thursday’s Board of Aldermen meeting. All board members confirmed that they did, indeed, reject the financing proposal for a new Arts & Innovation Center downtown.

Alderperson Jacquie Gist explained why she would not support putting the town into $4.5 million of debt to help build the CAIC near Armadillo Grill.

“Even though I have a lot of problems with the project as a whole, as proposed,” said Gist, “for me, it comes down to my feeling of fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers of Carrboro.

“And I just overwhelmingly heard from the citizens of Carrboro that they did not want us to put them in that position.”

The CAIC would house non-profit businesses Kidzu Children’s Museum and ArtsCenter. The latter would offer the site of its current building for a second hotel to be built at 300 East Main.

Thursday night’s work session followed a series of public forums and hearings on the proposal. Alderperson Michelle Johnson said she shared Gist’s concern about Carrboro taking on the CAIC debt, as the largest amount in its Capital Improvements Program.

She said she was also skeptical that development partners can raise $7.5 million for the project in 16 months, as promised. The quick timeline of the project was another concern raised by board members.

“And then there’s another $3 million,” said Johnson. “And it’s been implied that the county should be involved, and perhaps they will give that $3 million. But, no discussions have happened with the county about that.”

Alderpersons Sammy Slade and Damon Seils both said they ran the numbers on assumptions that revenue from the hotel would prevent the Arts & Innovation Center from creating a new tax burden for citizens.

Both said those numbers come up short — by around $400,000 a year, according to Slade.

Alderperson Bethany Chaney said she’d like to see the ArtsCenter proposal decoupled from the hotel.

“I think there may be merit in pushing the reset button and not the eject button on this proposal,” said Chaney, before “eject” got changed to “reject” in later comments from the board. “There are other ways to finance something like this. There are other places to put something like this. There is a whole lot more private money out there than was included in this particular proposal.”

She later presented a “Proposed Path for a New Proposal.” She suggested “taking everything off the table,” so that a new proposal with “a generous timeline” and “time-bound benchmarks” can be crafted by the partners and the public sector.

Chaney also suggested that an outside consultant be hired to help ArtsCenter conduct a business planning process.

Mayor Lydia Lavelle said she agreed with points made by other board members, and added that she’s not opposed to the idea of a second hotel in Carrboro. She called the existing Hampton Inn hotel a “hallmark.”

“We don’t have a huge commercial tax base,” said Lavelle. “But one of the things we do have is, we have a really cool town that people like to come and visit… And that 67 percent occupancy rate at our hotel, within a year-and-a-half of opening, is really pretty incredible.”

The board voted unanimously for Lavelle and Town Manager David Andrews to discuss next steps with the development partners.

There was also unanimous approval to direct Andrews to get an update from Orange County government, regarding a branch library proposed for 300 East Main.

And by unanimous consent, the board voted to ask county government about resources for helping local businesses, such as the Cat’s Cradle. Working to keep the iconic music club in Carrboro, while it’s seemingly outgrown its current space at 300 East Main, remains an important issue in public discussions about the CAIC proposal.

Carrboro Weighs Green Burial Idea

Carrboro has a reputation for being an environmentally-friendly place. So it’s not surprising that town leaders are considering a plan to give citizens the opportunity to abide by their green-living principles, even after their lives have ended.

“I am Ellie Kinnaird. I own a cemetery plot – actually, two of them – in the old cemetery in Carrboro. And I have gotten an interest in green burial. And this is something that is coming to the forefront in a lot of places, because of the environmental concerns.”

Back in September, the former Carrboro Mayor and retired state senator appeared before the Board of Adlermen with a request for the town to look into making the Old Carrboro Cemetery a green burial site.

In a green burial, the body of the deceased is not embalmed. The body is placed directly into the ground – there’s no burial vault.

And the burial container is biodegradable – a wooden box, a shroud, or perhaps something made of cardboard.

The board approved Kinnaird’s request that night.

Nearly five months later, at Tuesday night’s Aldermen meeting, Assistant to the Town Manager Julie Eckenrode presented the board with some findings on how green burials would work in both of the town-owned cemeteries.

Eckenrode said that there are 30 green burial cemeteries in the U.S., and three are in North Carolina. She called one of the state cemeteries during her research.

“Just for example, in Forest Law Memorial Park in Candler, which is near Asheville,” said Eckenrode. “They started performing green burials in 2010. They created a specific section of their cemetery that was a more wooded and natural area.

“And they also decided to pick a separate area, because there are differing maintenance needs for a traditional cemetery versus a green burial cemetery.”

The number of increased staff hours it might take to service a green burial site was one concern raised at the meeting. Maintenance would include dealing with sinking land, due to the lack of a concrete or steel vault.

Public Works Director George Seiz told the board that the department currently works about 1,000 hours a year mowing and trimming Westwood Cemetery and the Old Carrboro Cemetery.

More space would be needed between plots in a green burial site. Allowing green burials in Carrboro would likely lower the number of available graves, so that would need to be taken into account.

Despite the challenges that come with green burial practices, Alderperson Sammy Slade offered some reasons to further pursue the idea.

He cited some national statistics.

“We dump, every year, 827,000 gallons of embalming fluid, which is formaldehyde; 90,000 tons of steel for the caskets; 2,700 tons of copper and bronze, also for the caskets; 1,000, 600 tons of concrete, for the vaults; 14,000 tons of steel for the vaults; and then 30-plus million board feet of hardwood for the caskets.”

Slade said that green burial is “very appropriate for Carrboro.” He added that the idea of more affordable burials should be considered as well.

At the meeting’s conclusion, Mayor Lydia Lavelle said she was hearing “cautious support” among the alderpersons. After further study, the issue will come before the board again, at some unspecified time.

Carrboro BoA to Take Public Comments on 2015-16 Budget

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen will hear comments from the public tonight regarding community needs and priorities for fiscal year 2015-16.

At last week’s meeting, Finance Director Arche McAdoo walked the mayor and alderpersons through the town’s Capital Improvements Program through fiscal year 2020-21.

According to Town manager David Andrews, the program is not a budget appropriation – it’s a tool for developing a long-term plan to identify both immediate and long-term needs.

The total estimated cost for the CIP through fiscal 2020-21 is $49.3 million. Fifty-seven percent of the proposed funding comes from debt.

In a recent conversation with WCHL, Lavelle said that the first public budget hearing of the year is generally a low-key affair, with lots of familiar faces.

“If anyone has issues or questions or thoughts about the budget, that’s our first public hearing,” said Lavelle.

By law, there will be another public hearing after Town Manger David Andrews presents the budget, which he’s scheduled to do on May 5.

Another public hearing will follow on May 26, and perhaps another hearing afterward, if needed.

The Board of Alderman plans to adopt the final budget on June 16.

Tonight’s Board of Aldermen meeting is at 7:30 p.m. at Carrboro’s Town Hall, located at 301 West Main Street.

Carrboro residents can send written suggestions for the Town Clerk at that address. The zip code is 27510.

Or fax them to 919-918-4456.

Board of Aldermen to Hear More Public Comments About CAIC

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen will hold a second public hearing tonight on the proposed Carrboro Arts & Innovation Center that would be home to the ArtsCenter and Kidzu Children’s Museum.

In exchange for the property on Main and Roberson, East Main Partners would get to use the current ArtsCenter space at 300 East Main for a second hotel.

The topic drew around 60 folks to the first meeting on January 20th, and only about two-thirds got to speak.

Mayor Lydia Lavelle spoke to WCHL recently about tonight’s meeting, and the process going forward.

“We’re going to continue to get more information, and start to chat with the partners about the proposal and where it might be going,” she said.

At the last hearing, some people said they were skeptical of the notion that any new tax revenue needed for the CAIC would be raised by the new hotel. Partners in the deal are also asking the town to finance nearly half of the $13 million project over 25 years.

The subject of The Cat’s Cradle music club and its owner, Frank Heath, came up. People want to know where the Cradle stands if its landlords at Main Street Properties get the second hotel they want.

“Part of our meeting on Feb.3, I think, will be to have some folks, hopefully from Main Street Partners, to come and kind of explain that – and probably have, you know, the folks from The Cradle and the hotel there, in case we need to go a little further,” said Lavelle.

She added that, even if the project gets the green light, she doubts that the proposed start time for the project – June 2016 – will be feasible.

“We don’t want to rush it,” said Lavelle. “Yet, I know, speaking for myself, I think it’s too good an opportunity to not continue to inquire about, and follow up on.”

The public hearing begins at 7:30 tonight at Town Hall. As mentioned earlier, the last Aldermen hearing about the CAIC was packed, so be sure to get there early.

‘Carrboro Arts And Innovation’ Plan Raises Hopes and Questions

Carrboro Alderwoman Bethany Chaney says the idea of co-locating Kidzu Children’s Museum and the ArtsCenter is intriguing: “It’s a great concept.”

But she’s got some concerns about the plan.

“We potentially could be looking at a $4.5 million dollar investment in this property and that’s a lot of money for a building that’s essentially custom-built for two organizations that haven’t yet proven long-term sustainability,” says Chaney. “It’s a big risk so we need to hear from the public as to whether they think the potential benefits are worth that risk.”

Here’s how the deal might work: the ArtsCenter owns its building in the middle of the 300 East Main development. The Center is proposing a land swap with East Main Partners that would allow the Hampton Inn to build a second hotel on the site of the current ArtsCenter.

In return, the gravel lot at the corner of Main and Roberson would be donated to the Town by East Main Partners. Carrboro would construct an $11 million dollar facility to be leased to Kidzu and the ArtsCenter, with the town and the nonprofits splitting the cost.

You can read the full proposal here.

Phil Szostak is an architect, ArtsCenter board member and a leading proponent of the plan.

“We’re trying to put a project together for downtown Carrboro that will not require any additional taxes or use of any new city funds to fund the project,” says Szostak. “The project now is proposed to be 50-50 public-private partnership where our partnership would require The ArtsCenter and Kidzu and other partners to raise half the money before the project is started.”

Szostak is also the developer of the Durham Performing Arts Center. He says the Arts and Innovation Center can do for Carrboro what the DPAC has done for downtown Durham.

But Chaney notes Carrboro is a long way from the Bull City.

“I think it’s an entirely different scenario and Durham’s a much larger municipality, so that building can support a lot of different kinds of programming and at a higher price-point that what this building could support.”

Both Kidzu and the ArtsCenter are popular nonprofits looking to expand.

Kidzu has operated at a series of locations in Chapel Hill since opening in 2006. It is temporarily located at University Mall, where the museum expects to serve more than 100,000 visitors in the next year.

Last year more than 93,000 people participated in programs at The ArtsCenter but Szostak says the aging facility can’t support the growth of the organization.

“It’s very hard for us to expand. That building was originally done in 1987. We were meeting a demand then and we didn’t really have a lot of space to meet future demand. Now, 25 to 30 years later, we have a huge demand that we cannot meet. To go up in place would be almost impossible for us without shutting the ArtsCenter down for a year.”

And both groups say the Arts and Innovation Center would be a great fit for Carrboro.

“What we would really like the citizens of Carrboro to understand is there won’t be one penny that comes out of their personal pocket to make this center happen,” says Kidzu Executive Director Pam Wall. “It will generate a good deal of economic development and money coming into the Town of Carrboro because the folks that visit this center will go out to eat, they will be shopping and purchasing gifts and things like that. There’s a good amount of economic development that this center will create.”

But Alderwoman Chaney worries the plan wraps up too many complicated issues into one package.

“The proposal itself that we’ve been asked to consider bundles two really big decisions that need to be separated. Those are whether there should be a second hotel in downtown Carrboro and whether the town should invest in a building that would accommodate the ArtsCenter and Kidzu and potentially other nonprofit arts organizations.”

That second hotel is a key part of the co-location plan, as it’s envisioned to be the source of new revenues for the town.

“It’s really hard to separate the two, if in fact we are looking at the taxes generated by the hotel to be one of the funding sources,” says Szostac. “We don’t have to do that, but we can certainly make the case that if the ArtsCenter does not move, that hotel does not get built.”

Szostak estimates it could bring in as much as $550,000 in taxes to Orange County each year, enough to cover the debt service the town would need to pay to finance construction.

The question of whether Carrboro needs a second hotel is just one aspect Chaney would like to see fully explored when the concept comes up for a public hearing later this month.

“What I do worry about is whether the business model that’s being proposed is really the most appropriate one,” says Chaney. “Is it the most appropriate way to leverage public funding? I think that’s the big question.”

Read Chaney’s full statement on the plan here.

All parties agree that the upcoming public hearing is merely the starting point for discussion.

“Every project should be scrutinized. This is public money and the town fathers really need to take a look at this and get the input from the public,” says Szostac. “Certainly I wouldn’t even suggest doing it without that.”

Kidzu and the ArtsCenter will host a series of public information sessions this week. Carrboro business owners are invited to a session on Tuesday, January 13, from 5:30-7 pm at the ArtsCenter. A session for the general public will be held on Wednesday, January 14, from 5:30-7 pm at the ArtsCenter.

A public hearing on the plan is schedueled for 7:30 on January 20 before the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. You can also submit comments to town leaders online here.

Nonprofits Want Carrboro To Collaborate On Arts Center

A trio of nonprofits wants to partner with Carrboro to build a four-story “Arts & Innovation Center” downtown.

The ArtsCenter and Kidzu are asking the Town of Carrboro to build a 55,000 square foot building across the street from Armadillo Grill to be known as the Carrboro Arts & Innovation Center.

The proposal calls for the lot at the corner of Robeson and Main Streets to be donated to the town, which currently leases the property for parking.

Carrboro would contribute $4.5 million of the $12.1 million construction cost for the building. Some of that money would be generated by a new hotel proposed for the site of the current ArtsCenter. The nonprofits would raise the rest through donations, foundations and grants.

Under the current plan the town would own the building and lease it to the three groups in partnership.

The Board of Aldermen voted 6-1 on Tuesday to hold a public hearing on the plan when meetings resume in January. The hearing is scheduled for January 20, 2015.You can find out more here.

Local Governments Ending 2014 With Much on Their Plates

This past week was a busy one for people working in local governments all across Orange County.

It’s that time of year elected officials take a fresh look at interlocal agreements. But pressing development issues are crowding agendas as well.

“We’re kind of at this sweet spot in time, where different agreements we have with other governments are coming up for renewal,” said Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt.

That’s Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt. By his own account, he logged about 50 hours of mayor time last week, in what is counted as his part-time job. He’s also an attorney with Tin, Fulton, Walker & Owen.

Elected officials and Chapel Hill’s town staff still have a lot of issues to iron out when it comes to development plans for Ephesus-Fordham, Obey Creek and The Edge.

“The development pressures on town are as high as they’ve ever been,” said Kleinschmidt, “so there’s a lot of stuff for the Council to be reviewing.”

And Chapel Hill can look forward to some serious renegotiations between the town and county early next year, regarding county contributions to the Chapel Hill Library.

Those have more than doubled over the past couple of years, in an effort to reflect the high number of county users of Chapel Hill’s library.

Right now, the county is kicking in around $580,000, and the mayor said he hopes that contributions will remain close to that level.

Residents of Orange County are in the unusual position of having two separate library systems. The county is set to open a library branch under its auspices in Carrboro in 2017, and as Kleinschmidt told WCHL earlier this week: “There’s the rub.”

This past Wednesday, The Chapel Hill Town Council joined The Carrboro Board of Aldermen and the Hillsborough Board of Commissioners for an Assembly of Governments meeting in Hillsborough.

Proposed changes to the 37,000-acre Rural buffer surrounding Chapel Hill and Carrboro inspired a lot of discussion at that meeting.

Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle has also been unusually busy in her second job lately.

In addition to chairing her own Board meeting on Tuesday and attending the Assembly of Governments meeting the next night, she began with week by speaking to the Chapel Hill Town Council at that meeting on Monday.

Lavelle said it’s just that time of year.

“Over the last several years, it just seems that way,” she said. “September, October, early November – they’re just crazy.”

Carrboro Votes To Welcome Refugee Children From Central America

The Board of Aldermen voted unanimously on Tuesday to welcome child refugees and their sponsor families to Carrboro.

Sarah Preston, policy director with the ACLU of North Carolina, thanked the board for passing the resolution, which is the first of its kind in the state.

“In doing so you have recognized that these children risk so much to come here to be reunited with their family or to be placed with caregivers, add that we should protect them from the conditions that they’re fleeing,” said Preston.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection estimates that as many as 69,000 unaccompanied minors have sought to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in the past year and a half, fleeing violence in Central America.

Children who are apprehended at the border are often placed with relatives or sponsor families while awaiting deportation hearings. More than 1,400 children have been relocated to North Carolina since July, but in some cases they’ve met with harsh community opposition.

In response, Carrboro leaders authorized the town manger to identify resources to welcome immigrant children to the area and support them once they’re here.

They also called on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system to provide access to public education regardless of a child’s immigration status.

George Eppsteiner is a staff attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. He emphasized that access to education is guaranteed by law.

“There is a U.S Supreme Court Case, Plyler v. Doe, that expressly says that immigration status has no bearing for a child’s right to education in the United States,” Eppsteiner told the board. “There has been, unfortunately, a negative conversation started by other local governments that have been discouraging these children from coming to their counties and saying that they would be a burden on their schools. But the truth is, these children have a right to be in the school system.”

The Board will forward the resolution on to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education and receive a report on the manager’s efforts by the end of January.

Carrboro To Consider Extending Permits For 2 Development Projects

Carrboro Aldermen will consider extending the deadline for a pair of previously approved developments when the board meets Tuesday.

The Butler is a commercial and residential project planned for 120 Brewer Lane. It was approved in 2008, but developers are asking for an extension of the Condition Use Permit while they negotiate with Orange County on the location of a new branch library.

The Shoppes at Jones Ferry was approved in 2007. Developers for that project want to bring retail and possible a grocery store to Jones Ferry Road near Barnes Street, but say the economic downturn has made it hard to move forward.

If the board grants the extensions, the Conditional Use Permits would be valid for another year.

Aldermen will also receive an update on the public forum on community policing held last month.

The meeting gets underway at 7:30 in Carrboro Town Hall. You can read the full agenda here.