‘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.


Orange, Carrboro Leaders Discuss Process of Changes in Rural Buffer

Possible changes in the Rural Buffer sparked some lively conversation between Orange County Commissioners and Carrboro Alderpersons on Thursday night.

“Originally, any development in the rural buffer had to be approved by all three governments,” recalled Orange County Board of Commissioners Chair Barry Jacobs. “And that was not going to work. Just imagine. So, I don’t think he want to re-live those kinds of discussions.”

Jacobs recalled how the brand-new Joint Planning Agreement between Orange County, Carrboro and Chapel Hill almost fell apart back in 1987.

Orange County recently proposed amendments to the agreement that would allow “appropriate agricultural support uses” in the Rural Buffer, a low-density residential area comprised of 38,000 acres. It includes the New Hope Creek Basin, the University Lake Watershed, and the Southern Triangle area.

The goal is to generate more farm-related income.

One example cited during Thursday’s meeting at the Southern Human Services Center was the success of Maple View Ice Cream County Store in Hillsborough. Commissioner Earl McKee pointed out that the opening of the store in 2001 has become a boon to neighboring dairy farm business.

But some Carrboro Alderpersons are concerned that too many changes too soon could open the door to more intense development in the area.

“Are we really opening up a can of worms – making more uses that will be competing with farms?” asked Alderperson Sammy Slade.

McKee and fellow Commissioner Bernadette Pelessier said they were unclear about what harm would come to the farming community from the existence of more supporting commercial enterprises.

“I’m just struggling with people’s definitions of ‘commercial,’ for example,” said Pelessier, “because I see farms as commercial. It’s a business. And a lot of the things here are to help support farmers and agri-tours, which, I think, a lot of people in this community have said they do want to have.”

Jacobs suggested that all three staffs and attorneys from each governing body meet to hash things out, rather than the three jurisdictions trying to move separately on the issues.

He offered that perhaps that could be accomplished in time for the Assembly of Governments meeting on Nov. 19.

The Chapel Hill Town Council has yet to discuss proposed changes. That will likely happen at its Nov 10 meeting.


Kinnaird: Carrboro Could Be More ‘Business-Friendly’

Retired state Senator and former Carrboro Mayor Ellie Kinnaird said she’d like to see a more business-friendly Carrboro – as well as a post office that recognizes the town’s actual boundaries.

“I would like you to ask the post office to draw the boundaries of Carrboro where they actually are,” Kinnaird told the Board of Aldermen last Tuesday night, to applause.

Kinnaird said it’s something she’s been working on since she was mayor. She held the office from 1987 to 1996, when she was elected to the N.C. Senate.

Kinnaird retired in 2013. She still owns property, including two cemetery plots, in Carrboro.

One reason for her brief appearance in front of the Board of Aldermen last Tuesday was to request that the town manager’s office look into making the Old Carrboro Cemetery a green burial site. The board unaninimously approved that request.

And she had other issues in mind. Some Carrboro residents still have a Chapel Hill address, and the last time the Town of Carrboro inquired about changing that, the postal service conducted a survey of those residents’ preferences.

Carrboro lost that round. Kinnaird said said she realizes that it’s a lot of trouble to change addresses.

“Some people like the cachet, they think, of Chapel Hill,” said Kinnaird. “So what I would ask is that if you do ask the post office to do that, that you ask them not to take a survey, but to just make what is actually on the ground the actual change.”

Kinnaird brought up another sleeping issue from the past: a street that was once planned to connect Lloyd Street to Greensboro Street.

“Lloyd Street is a dead end,” said Kinnaird. “There are quite a few businesses there right now, and the Piedmont Health center.”

Speaking of business, she praised ongoing development at 300 East Main Street, including the new hotel, and called the new parking deck a “lifesaver.”

But she also lamented the recent loss of some businesses around town – Phydeaux and DSI to Chapel Hill; and Miel Bon Bons Fine Chocolate & Artisan Bake Shop and Caktus Consulting Group to Durham.

She said that Carrboro needs to set aside more open office space, and that the town could probably take some tips – but not too many – from Wake County.

Kinnaird said she’s read positive comments recently from businesspeople about Garner, in particular.

“Garner is agile and easy to work with,” said Kinnaird. “These are the businesspeople talking about that. We know that Carrboro and Chapel Hill are not agile and easy to work with.”

She said she hoped that Carrboro could take a more business-friendly attitude, and mentioned Durham’s Innovation District as an example.

Mayor Lydia Lavelle thanked Kinnaird for her comments, and said she would look into the post office matter.

Members of the board said they’d also look into improving the traffic light situation at 300 East Main, as Kinnaird requested.

Alderperson Jacquie Gist mentioned to Kinnaird that there are some business-friendly Carrboro events coming up over the next few weeks, perhaps a reference to the Think Local business campaign that kicks off Oct 2, with a Happy Hour at Venable’s new B-Side Lounge at Carr Mill Mall.

And she offered a not-so-subtle hint to Kinnaird that there are still a lot of vacancies that need to be filled on Carrboro’s advisory boards.


Carrboro Aldermen Give Go-Ahead for Traffic Calming on Tallyho Trail

If you live in a neighborhood where cars zoom through way too fast, but you’re not thrilled with the idea of speed bumps and speed tables, then you can probably sympathize with the residents of Carrboro’s Fox Meadow subdivision.

“This is not just a Fox Meadow neighborhood issue,” said resident Laura Wenzel to the Carrboro Board of Aldermen Tuesday night, “because there are a lot of people from the Rogers Road neighborhoods, like the Habitat houses, and Sylvan Way houses who walk on the road.”

Back in 2012, neighbors submitted a traffic calming request for Tallyho Trail, a narrow road about a mile long. It has only one way in-and-out off Rogers Road.

“This was a street that was constructed when this was still part of Orange County’s jurisdiction that we then annexed,” said Planning Administrator Tina Moon, “and then the town took over the street. I think the pavement’s only about 20 feet wide.”

A year later, Fox Meadow neighborhood representatives submitted a related petition signed by nearly 160 people.

They said they were concerned about unsafe conditions for pedestrians, as well as a lack of walking paths in a area where vehicles often zip through at unsafe speeds, despite the posted 25 MPH limit.

Town staff conducted traffic studies at four points along Tallyho Trail, and on Tuesday night, the Board of Aldermen heard some recommendations from the Transportation Advisory Board.

Based on the framework established by the town’s Residential Traffic Management Plan, there are two stages for dealing with dangerous speeding.

Stage One measures include educational and outreach efforts, such as going door-to-door, and holding neighborhood meetings.

In this case, said Moon, residents also need to be educated about which side of the street is safest for walking, and for kids to ride bikes.

In Stage Two, physical controls such as speed bumps and speed tables are introduced. In her remarks, Wenzel mentioned that many residents aren’t fans of that option.

Moon told the Board that the town has already taken some small measures. Public Works put up a couple more speed limit signs, and a radar sign was tested over two days this summer.

The planning administrator said this is a case where Stage One should be implemented, but the town needs to study the problem further.

“It’s a long road,” said Moon. “Putting in speed bumps might pose some challenges, either because they would be too far-spaced, or there would be so many, with over a mile, that it might not be the best way to go.”

The Board voted unanimously to give town staff permission to move forward on Stage One, with the stipulation that some version of Stage Two would be implemented immediately, if the first stage is deemed insufficient.


Carrboro Town Historian Considered by Board of Aldermen

Carrboro Aldermen will consider creating the position of Town Historian when the Board meets Tuesday night.

If the Board approves the position, the town would put out a call for applicants, and alderpersons would appoint a historian to serve for a four-year term.

The Board will also consider signing an interlocal agreement with Chapel Hill and Orange County to reimburse the county for preliminary engineering and community outreach efforts related to the effort bring sewer service to the Rogers Road neighborhood.

Carrboro’s share totals $25,200.

The Board of Aldermen meets at 7:30 at Carrboro Town Hall.

You can view the agenda here.


Carrboro Considering More Chicken-Friendly Ordinance

If you live in Carrboro, and you’d like to keep your own chickens for non-commercial purposes, you can rest assured that the Board of Aldermen is considering ways to make that easier for you.

“I mean, a lot of people do not live on 10,000-square-foot lots in this town,” said Carrboro Alderperson Damon Seils at Tuesday night’s Board of Aldermen work session, “but can very humanely and safely keep chickens.”

For several years, 10.000 square feet has been the required lot size for keeping chickens within Carrboro town limits.

Recently, the Animal Control Board of Appeals considered two requests for keeping chickens on residential property.

The applicants learned that their lots are not big enough. So the Board of Appeals brought the matter to Town Hall Tuesday night.

One thing the Alderpersons and Mayor Lydia Lavelle seemed to agree on early in the discussion is that the 10,000-square-foot lot requirement seemed arbitrary, and Town Attorney Michael Brough later confirmed that.

So the question was: How to re-regulate the housing of chickens on residential lots.

“One of the concepts that’s used in other local governments is that there is actually some square-footage requirement per chicken, and that’s one of the things that the Animal Control Board of Appeals discussed,” said Carrboro Planning Director Trish McGuire.

Alderperson Sammy Slade said he’d done some research into the humane care and keeping of chickens, and found that 10 square feet per chicken for the run, and four square feet of space per chicken in the coop are considered reasonable.

Alderperson Michelle Johnson said that during a recent meeting on the subject, Police Chief Walter Horton had recommended a cap on the number of chickens allowed on a lot.

“I know Chapel Hill’s maximum is 10,” said Johnson, “but they don’t have a square footage requirement.”

Alderperson Jacquie Gist warned against possible unintended consequences for setting caps. She spoke up for a large local property that is home to many chickens. The owners, she said, even rescue fowl.

So Slade offered that a revised ordinance should simply ensure that each space is appropriate for the number of fowl a property owner wishes to keep.

Seils said he favors regulated setbacks over lot-size requirements. He added that he also liked the idea of only requiring permits for people who want to keep more than three-or-four chickens.

“I’m kind of for not having a lot of rules here,” he said.

While other alderpersons concurred, there were also concerns expressed about neighborhood chicken farming, Chickens could attract unwanted attention from predators – domestic outdoor cats, and, even worse, rabid foxes, or coyotes.

Alderperson Bethany Chaney said that it would probably be wise for the town to keep track of how many chickens were living in Carrboro. And she cracked herself up by the way she phrased that:

“I think we want to be able to gauge, you know – is there some kind of critical mass of chickens in town?”

Despite those concerns, the Board voted unanimously to direct town staff to draft a new version of the ordinance that would strike the requirement on lot size. Instead, they want to come up with a square-footage-per-chicken requirement. The Board will also seek advice from the Planning Department on setbacks.

An old requirement that eggs laid by chickens on a lot within town limits could only be consumed by people living on that lot will also be tweaked, to allow chicken owners to give away eggs for free, if they wish.