The Chapel Hill Town Council indicated that it would likely delay a vote scheduled for March 24 on the controversial Ephesus-Fordham proposed renewal plan during a special work session Thursday night. Council members agreed that there were still many questions that needed to be answered, and more time should be taken to factor in the public’s growing concerns.
In an unusual move, the Council hosted a work session during which public comment was taken twice during the meeting. Residents who oppose the proposed redevelopment sounded off, and some Council members were apprehensive about the plan to redevelop the area surrounding the Ephesus-Fordham Boulevard intersection.
The plan calls for the rezoning of 190 acres to encourage new commercial and residential development, as well as $10 million worth of roadway improvements to one of Chapel Hill’s most congested and confusing intersections.Town staffers said the plan would improve the area’s traffic flow and stormwater problems while increasing the town’s commercial tax base.
However, some residents are concerned that a zoning tool new to the Town, called form-based code, will limit the Council and the public’s say in the development review process.
Area resident Karen Trout told the Council that she shopped in Rams Plaza often and was worried that the redevelopment would hurt local businesses and allow developers to retain too much power.
“With any development, there will be problems that cannot be foreseen from the original plan. The developers and subcontractors are naturally going to take care of their needs before they take care of the Town or individual citizens,” Trout said.
Using form-based code, the Council will set parameters for development, including building height, setbacks and parking guidelines for each zone, but once these are in place, individual developers will not need to bring their projects before the council if they meet the established criteria.
Landscape architect Scott Murray was one of a few residents who shared that he was in favor of the form-based code. He said he had studied the code and what it would entail for his clients.
“Is it a good code? Yes. Is it a great code? I think it is. Is it perfect? Well, it doesn’t have to be, but it does work in the real world, and I think it is time to get on with it,” Murray said.
Former council member Julie McClintock echoed other residents’ anxieties, stating that the process was moving much too fast. She asked the council to delay the vote so the issues surrounding the plan could be fully discussed.
“Once this has been granted, there is kind of no turning back. Once the permit ability for the right to do these things [has been issued], and we, in fact, find that it is not working, that it is washed away, or attracting gridlock, there isn’t much we can do,” McClintock said.
Consultant Lee Einsweiler of Code Studio, the firm brought on board to write coding for the area, explained the benefits of the zoning tool. He said it offered developers “certainty” in challenging circumstances.
As to the approval process, he said it was a more “streamlined” and efficient process.
Einsweiler also pointed out that revisions had been made to the code, and that those changes reflected feedback from the council and residents. He said modifications could still be made.
An area of concern voiced by council member Donna Bell was that under the current plan, affordable housing would have to be a public project. Steps should be taken to find partners to provide affordable housing in the area, she said.
Council member Matt Czajkowski said he feared that residential buildings would overrun the area and retail businesses wouldn’t come until years later, if at all.
“This conceptually seems wonderful, but if the implementation doesn’t work out the way you say it will, then we end up with a mammoth apartment complex,” Czajkowski said. “We end up with a retail plaza that doesn’t really change very much, and what have we actually accomplished?”
Einsweiler responded to Czajkowski, explaining that residential developers would likely come first, but retail and others would follow.
“I think you are setting the tone. You are setting the quality. Admittedly, you are taking on some of the developer’s risk by putting in infrastructure yourselves, but that is attractive in its own right,” Einsweiler said. “If we look at examples around the country, I think we see the response to that.”
The Ephesus-Fordham plan is projected to be a revenue-positive venture for the Town. Council member George Cianciolo said he wanted to understand how this projection was calculated, but noted his support for the project was not dependent on the immediate return results. He said he saw it as “an investment in the future.”
Council member Lee Storrow said that he wanted the community to be aware that a vote on the plan would not be taken on the originally schedule date due to the remaining items still to be discussed.
Council member Jim Ward also asked to delay the vote for several reasons. He said the financial pressures and demands currently being placed on Chapel Hill Transit should be attended to first. He requested that staff investigate ways to incentivize developers to build energy-efficient structures. He also wished to wait until the Ephesus-Fordham stormwater report was presented to the Council later this month.
Ward and Czajkowski agreed that the strain that would likely be placed on the school district with the addition of a a large number of new residential buildings should be considered as well. Town staff said the Chapel Hill Hill Carrboro City Schools will make a presentation regarding Schools Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (SAPFO) in April.
Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said the Council needed time to “stew” on the worries raised by the residents and for members to have their own questions answered. He asked for more feedback from the public and welcomed emails to the Council.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chtc/
The Chapel Hill Town Council will delve in the details of the proposed Ephesus-Fordham renewal plan at a special work session Monday night.
The plan calls for rezoning 190 acres to encourage new commercial and residential development, as well as $10 million dollars worth of roadway improvements to one of Chapel Hill’s most congested intersections.
Town staffers say the plan will improve the area’s traffic flow and stormwater problems while increasing the town’s commercial tax base.
However, some residents are concerned that the council’s plan to try a new type of zoning, called form-based code, will cut the council and the public out of the development review process.
The council will examine the proposal in-depth at Monday’s work session. Although public comment is not typically welcome at council work sessions, that rule will be waived to allow feedback both before and after the staff presentation.
The council meets at 6 o’clock at the Chapel Hill Public Library. You can read the full agenda here.
Chapel Hill Town Council member Ed Harrison says the Federal Transportation Administration’s approval of the Durham-Orange Light Rail plan clears a major hurdle for the project.
“It’s an initial vote of confidence,” he says. “If Triangle Transit and the region were a [political] candidate, it would be like getting through the primary.”
Harrison is also vice chair of the Triangle Transit Board of Trustees.
Back in 2005, a News & Observer reporter called him a “transportation wonk,” and Harrison says he’ll take that.
Harrison lives on Newton Drive, on the Chapel Hill side of Durham County. He happily mentions that he’s surrounded by future station areas for the 17-mile light rail system, which would run from UNC to Alston Avenue in Durham, near North Carolina Central University.
He’s also happy to mention that, in addition to Tuesday’s letter of approval from the FTA, it has granted Triangle Transit “pre-award authority.”
“What that means is that we are now eligible, as Triangle Transit carries out the project and the planning, for reimbursement of millions and millions of dollars,” says Harrison.
In 2012, construction cost for the light-rail line was estimated at $1.34 billion, as reported in Wednesday’s News & Observer.
Harrison says Orange and Durham residents should be prepared for a lengthy process that involves the construction of an exclusive right-of-way.
“That’s an expensive proposition,” he says, “and that would be the case if it were a bus as well.”
But the potential for cost savings over the long run is significant, he adds.
“There are a lot of buses carrying people into Orange County’s major employment center, the UNC campus, every day,” he says. “Over six thousand people. All those buses are replaced by one single train line. And the buses can then be moved elsewhere in Chapel Hill and Carrboro for use.”
While Harrison gets a lot of positive feedback from citizens about light rail between the neighboring counties, he sometimes has to defend the plan.
When he does, he points out that studies over the last 10 years show that public transportation has made areas around UNC a lot less congested with traffic than before, even with all the development that’s occurred there during that time.
“If you want to maintain that trend, we’re running out of the ability to do it with buses,” he says.
He goes on to say that a train would potentially carry 450 people, whereas a double bus only carries 90. That means one-fifth the number of drivers would be needed for the same number of commuters.
But it takes more than just facts and solid projections to get the go-ahead from the Federal Transit Administration. It also takes showing them some money. That’s why a planned 28-mile train line between Durham and Raleigh failed to get FTA approval back in 2006.
“It could not show the Federal Transit Administration that there was a source of local funding,” he says. “In that case, the voters of Orange County and Durham County made sure, this time around, that we do have that.”
He’s talking about a half-cent sales tax in Orange and Durham Counties to pay toward the light rail project, thanks to voter approval.
Not surprisingly, Harrison anticipates a struggle for state funding. He says that’s the reason that some Transit board members and other rail proponents are going to the The East Coast P3 Infrastructure Conference in Charlotte next week — to discuss alternative financing methods and public-private partnerships.http://chapelboro.com/news/development/ch-town-council-wonk-praises-federal-light-rail-approval/
The Chapel Hill Town Council is urging North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory and the General Assembly to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid in the state to those who are uninsured. This coming after the Republican-controlled state legislature decided last year to reject the federally-funded extension offered under the Affordable Care Act.
Bill Murray, of the nonprofit group Health Care for all NC, brought the resolution before the Council Monday night, asking them for support. He said it was his mission to publicize the need for expanding Medicaid.
“I believe that health care is a right. We have come to the point in our nation’s history where I think most people see it as a right, but we do not have that in existence. What we have in reality is inequality. Health care for those who can afford, very little for those who can’t,” Murray said.
The Council unanimously adopted the resolution at Monday evening’s meeting. Council members Lee Storrow and Matt Czajkowski were not present for the vote.
Council member Maria Palmer urged Murray and others advocating for health care expansion to keep their efforts going.
“I think that personally, I am offended, deeply offended that our representatives in Raleigh think so little of the health of the folks they serve,” Palmer said.
Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the law would have provided federal funding to expand Medicaid to all North Carolinians earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. It places the burden of cost on the federal government for the first three years. After that, the state would pay 10 percent of the cost.
The N.C. Department of Health & Human Services estimated that accepting Medicaid expansion would have extended insurance coverage to more than 500,000 North Carolinians and saved the state approximately $65 million over 10 years.
“Nothing that our State Legislature has put up as an excuse for turning down the Medicaid expansion holds water. It really doesn’t,” Murray said.
McCrory has stated that Medicaid reform is one of his top priorities for 2014, but also argued that it is flawed system and shouldn’t be expanded until changes have been implemented.
Dr. Gustavo Montana, a professor of Radiation Oncology at Duke University, joined Murray Monday to back for the expansion of Medicaid in North Carolina.
Montana said has met many suffering people who cannot access health care because of financial difficulties.
“There is no logical, no reason whatsoever, for the state to refuse to accept funds to expand Medicaid,” he said.
Chapel Hill resident Bert Gurganus said to the Council that the less fortunate are often forgotten in our area due to the predominantly affluent demographic in Orange County.
“These people don’t make much money. The threshold for having a single person get on Medicaid is $14,500. If you think about it, a person who is working at $7.00 an hour part-time would have to work over two thousand hours. That is 40 hours a week and 50 weeks a year in order to be eligible for Medicaid. I think that is a shame,” Gurganus said.
The N.C Institute of Medicine estimated that more than 16 percent of Orange County residents under age 65, or more than 22,000 people, were uninsured as of 2010-11, as cited in the resolution.
Carol Edmonds, who also spoke to the Council, is a documentary filmmaker currently producing a piece on state lawmaker’s decision not to expand Medicaid. She said she has encountered many North Carolinians who living without health care or are struggling to pay for it.
“The people who I have interviewed are selling their homes to pay their medical bills,” she said. “They are moving into shelters so that they can get meds and access to doctors. They are delaying treatments and are risking infections because they have the “High Risk” plan through the state, which requires a $5,000 deductible. These people cannot afford to pay for the treatments that they need.”
Murray shared that in November of 2013, Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich proposed a similar resolution advocating for expansive access to health care, which was adopted by the Board of Commissioners.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/ch-town-medicaid/
A petition is circulating among UNC students and town residents this week that seeks to overturn a Chapel Hill ordinance which bans more than four unrelated individuals from living in the same residence.
Outgoing UNC Student Body President Christy Lambden, who is advocating for people to sign the petition on Facebook, said that many students have never heard of this ordinance. He said many are being fined high fees, and some have been evicted.
Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said a discussion concerning the ordinance is not on the Council’s agenda at this time, but added that a petition is one way to get it on the agenda.
“What I would like, though, is to use it as an opportunity to have a broader conversation around student housing and student experience in our neighborhoods,” Kleinschmidt said.
Kleinschmidt said he has heard that petitioners will likely bring the matter before the Council during Monday’s business meeting, at which point it will be referred to town staff.
“The Council I think will hesitate to repeal this ordinance unless they can be assured that these unneighborly kinds of behaviors can be addressed effectively another way,” he said.
In December, town officials said they were stepping up enforcement of the policy in response to complaints from residents.
The ordinance was enacted years ago to address noise complaints, trash issues and vehicles parking illegally in the street, clogging the roads.
“About 10 years ago, I asked the Council to think about how effective this policy was,” Kleinschmidt said. “I actually asked the Council to repeal it back when I was a Council Member. I did that so it would force a conversation.”
The ordinance imposes a $100-per-day fine for the first offense, with penalties going up to $500 per day for subsequent violations. Those fines are actually imposed on the owner of the house, but students have complained that the burden is falling on the renters.
Kleinschmidt said landlords are supposed to help educate their tenants about the ordinance and its penalties, though it doesn’t always happen.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/unc-students-petition-ch-housing-ordinance/
CHAPEL HILL- The Rogers Road remediation plan has been in the works for nearly two years, but recently Chapel Hill and Orange County each took steps to move the plan forward.
On Tuesday night, Orange County Commissioners unanimously signed off on an operating agreement for the yet-to-be-built Rogers Road Community Center.
Once completed, the facility will be operated by the Rogers Eubanks Neighborhood Association, or RENA. Minister Robert Campbell is the president of RENA. He told the board this is an important step forward for the neighborhood.
“We have an opportunity to bring our community into the future,” said Campbell. “Our children in the summertime have nowhere to go. But now we have the opportunity to help shape and mold them right here in the community.”
Commissioners committed $650,000 back in January of 2013 to build the center on land leased from Habitat for Humanity, but the project was delayed last fall when constructions bids came in over budget. County staffers say the building has been redesigned and the rebidding process should be complete by April.
The community center is part of a remediation plan agreed on by representatives from RENA, Orange County, Chapel Hill and Carrboro, to help make amends to the neighborhood that bore the burden of the county and municipal landfill for forty years.
The plan also includes extending sewer service to 86 parcels in the Rogers Road neighborhood, at an estimated cost of approximately $5.8 million dollars.
Carrboro has already set aside its portion of the total, about $900,000. Chapel Hill, however, is struggling to find a way to pay its share, as the area is outside of town limits. Town staffers are currently investigating the possibility of creating a new utility district or extending the town’s extraterritorial jurisdiction to include Rogers Road.
In the meantime, the Chapel Hill Town Council voted last week to spend up to $77,400 on preliminary engineering studies and community outreach to determine exactly where sewer lines should go.
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said this is work that will need to be done no matter what.
“What this does is, this moves the ball even though Commissioners and Council members just keep talking,” Kleinschmidt told the Council.
The engineering studies and outreach are expected to take up to 10 months to complete. The Chapel Hill Town Council will revisit the question of the extraterritorial jurisdiction on June 16.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/local-leaders-make-progress-rogers-road-remediation-plan/
CHAPEL HILL- The third time might be the charm for developers looking to build a new subdivision on nearly 18 acres at 2209 Homestead Road across from Weaver Dairy Road Extension.
“We are proposing to create what we believe are America’s best ‘Boomer Homes,’” said Bacome.
In 2010 and again in 2011, developers made a pitch to bring student housing to the site, but each time met with stiff resistance from neighbors and the Town Council, who worried the projects would be too dense and too loud for the largely residential area.
This new plan, called Courtyards of Homestead, was warmly received by the council, as members commended the developer for offering moderately-priced homes to the town’s aging population.
“It’s to me, very refreshing to have a developer here who’s not pitching us on dense student housing plopped down next to a neighborhood where nobody can argue that the two could ever really coexist,” said Council member Matt Czajkowski.
The main sticking point for Council members was the developers’ initial reluctance to commit to building affordable housing on the site, instead offering payment-in-lieu to subsidize affordable housing elsewhere. Council member Lee Storrow told Bacome that’s not what the town needs.
“I would be challenged to think of a payment-in-lieu that would large enough that I would find compelling,” said Storrow.
Council members also pushed for greater connectivity to make sure residents could walk to nearby facilities like the Seymour Senior Center and the Homestead Road Aquatic Center.
However, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt challenged the idea that the homes would be sold to retirees rather than families with school-aged children.
“I don’t see how you’re able to get these sold to people of 50, 55 or older, if you don’t actually have an age restriction” said Kleinschmidt.
No formal plan has been submitted to the town yet. The developer will review the Council’s comments before deciding whether to move ahead with the project.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/town-council-warms-senior-housing-plan-homestead/
CHAPEL HILL-Adam Golden is the vice president of development for Northwood Ravin, the company that’s been planning the Edge project for more than a year. He came before the Chapel Hill Town Council this week to ask the town to help pay for the $3.5 million dollars worth of road improvements needed to widen Eubanks Road.
“Please consider participating in these road improvements to fix an existing condition that is already in trouble,” said Golden. “Enable the Edge to move forward. Open the northern edge of town for economic development opportunity.”
The Edge is a 54-acre site on Eubanks Road next to the town’s Park and Ride lot. Golden says the proposed project would be pedestrian and transit-oriented, with a mix of retail, residential and office space. But he told the council it can’t happen without help.
“Our firm can absorb some of the costs associated with The Edge, but we cannot absorb all of the costs associated with some of this background improvement that’s required,” said Golden.
Town officials and representatives from NC DOT agree that to support the proposed development, Eubanks Road needs to be widened with new turn lanes and bike lanes.
The developer is planning to submit a formal application soon, but council members said they couldn’t offer any guarantees that the town would contribute to the road improvements. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said the council would be willing to listen but could not make a commitment.
“There is no way that the Council can provide you assurance today or this week that the end of those discussions is going to be affirmative and that you’re going to have that level of participation that you seek,” said Kleinschmidt.
Golden said his company would likely abandon the project if the town decides not to chip in. “If we can’t get help with the improvements, we may be left with a project that’s not feasible.”
Council members agreed to refer the matter to staff for a report, but warned Golden they would not likely have a reply any time soon.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/edge-developers-seek-help-road-improvements/
CHAPEL HILL- Town Council members say it might be time to hand over a Chapel Hill landmark to a new owner.
“We can’t just hold on to things for nostalgia’s sake,” said Maria Palmer, talking about the building at 523 East Franklin that formerly housed the Chapel Hill Public Library.
Although it’s a striking example of modernist architecture and a repository of town history, the main floor of the building has been largely empty since 2010, as the town lacks the funds needed to perform extensive maintenance on the aging structure.
With that in mind, the Council voted unanimously last night to partner with Preservation North Carolina to identify potential buyers for the site.
The property at 523 East Franklin is under a conservation easement, meaning any new owner would be prohibited from demolishing the building or altering its appearance. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said the right buyer would respect the property’s unique history.
“I think the value there is that the building itself stays, we preserve its architecture and its place, and we find someone that can take care of it,” said Kleinschmidt.
Council members were less comfortable with the concept of selling the Old Town Hall building at the corner of Columbia and West Rosemary streets.
“For that building I think I’m going to have a really hard time, even with a preservation easement, even with working with Preservation North Carolina, in giving up a public building like that smack-dab in the middle of our downtown,” said Lee Storrow.
The Old Town Hall was constructed in 1938 and has been listed on the National Register for Historic Places since 1990. It is currently occupied by the IFC for use as a Men’s Shelter and a Community Kitchen. Once the IFC relocates to a new building on Homestead Road, the town must decide what to do with the property. Staffers estimate it would cost at least $2.5 million to renovate the space for municipal use.
But Council members balked at the idea of selling it, instead suggesting a range of possible uses including a grocery store, an innovation hub or a non-profit center.
By a unanimous vote, the Council asked the town manager to explore all possible options for the Old Town Hall building. Mayor Kleinschmidt stressed that neither property would be changing hands right away.
“I hope everybody knows, that’s not a commitment to sell. That’s authorization to talk.”http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/sale-one-chapel-hill-library-slightly-used/
Council members agreed on the need for more affordable housing, new youth initiatives, a sustainable funding model for Chapel Hill Transit and a long-term solid waste solution.
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said within 18 months the Council will be ready to decide what to do with the town’s trash.
“The staff really wants this decision made,” said Kleinschmidt. “There are on-going conversations with Orange County, with Carrboro and with the City of Durham about how we can cooperate. Now, maybe all those jurisdictions don’t come together, but there’s some secret match of jurisdictions that can come together to provide those solutions. We don’t know what that’s going to be yet.”
Currently the town pays to haul trash to Durham since the Orange County landfill has closed, but staffers say the town should explore the possibility of building and operating a waste transfer station on town-owned land, a project that could cost $5.1 million.
One of the biggest challenges facing the town is the need to replace or upgrade town facilities and infrastructure.
Business Management Director Ken Pennoyer laid out more than $100 million dollars in capital needs to be financed over the next two decades, including a new police station, four fire stations and completion of the parks master plan.
“We have a fairly significant wish list and needs list of projects that we need to accomplish within the next twenty years, so balancing that is a difficult challenge,” said Pennoyer.
The Council will consider planning for a $20 million bond referendum to go on the ballot in 2017.
In addition, Council members discussed the need for increased economic development, enhanced code enforcement and a town-wide stormwater master plan.
The new policy goals will guide the Town Manager as he crafts next year’s spending plan. Budget negotiations will begin later this spring.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chtc-sets-priorities-2014-beyond/