Charterwood Construction Begins After 7 Year Battle

After nearly a decade of debate, the Charterwood development is underway.

Bill Christian is the Chapel Hill-based developer behind Charterwood, one of the most contentious projects to come before the Chapel Hill Town Council in years.

While he’s glad to see the project finally breaking ground, the battle he fought to get to this point has left him bruised and bitter.

“I would not go through it again. There’s no possibility of my group making anything. We will lose money. That’s a foregone conclusion.”

According to Christian, the Charterwood project came before the Town Council 28 times since 2007. It was narrowly approved in 2012. But that wasn’t the end- neighbors filed suit against the developer and the town, and the mediation process that resulted lasted another year.

He says the approval process alone cost him upwards of $2 million dollars.

“It was certainly a poor outcome. My partners don’t blame me- that’s a good thing- because I could not have made up the process that I went through.”

Now, he’s sold a portion of the 15 acre lot to Zimmer Development out of Wilmington. They’ll build the first phase of the mixed-use project – a 154 unit apartment complex on nine acres near the corner of MLK and Weaver Dairy Road Extension. That’s under construction now and should be completed in a year.

“I think they’ll do a good job, and that’s important to me. What’s left to do is either stuff that we may do or future buyers may do, but I hope they also will do a good job. That’s important to me. It was from day one important to me.”

Christian still owns an adjacent five-acre parcel, which is zoned for a four-story mixed-use building plus a bank and a historic farm house he hopes to repurpose.

But he’s not sure he wants to continue to do business in Chapel Hill, given the kind of backlash he’s seen firsthand.

“I have often thought, ‘how did the process get to this point?’ For the whole time I’ve lived here, thirty years, it has surprised me. Why does everyone want to oppose virtually every project that gets proposed? It doesn’t matter the merits.”

He says he is encouraged to see the Council try new approval processes like form-based code.

“Form-based code is definitely a step in the right direction, because the way it’s supposed to work is that it takes the politics out of it, and that’s a good thing. The development review process here is highly political and that’s not a good thing for real estate.”

Chapel Hill’s form-based code is limited to 190 acres in the Ephesus-Fordham area. Since the council enacted the new zoning last spring, the Village Plaza Apartment project has already been approved and a second project application has been submitted.

The Ephesus-Fordham district is a test case to see if new methods of zoning and approval can spur economic development. Currently, there are no plans to extend the code to other parts of town.

Czajkowski To Step Down: Will CHTC Appoint A Replacement?

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt has worked alongside Matt Czajkowski for nearly eight years – and squared off against him in a 2009 race for mayor that was one of the closest Chapel Hill had ever seen.

They’ve had disputes – but with Czajkowski about to step down from his Town Council seat at the end of this month, Kleinschmidt says he will be missed.

RELATED: WCHL’s Elizabeth Friend spoke with Czajkowski about his decision to leave the Chapel Hill Town Council to continue non-profit work in Africa:

“One of the things we say after every election is that with any change, even with one member, the Council becomes a different body,” Kleinschmidt says. “(Czajkowski’s departure) is certainly going to change the way our Council functions and operates and the way in which we have conversations and conduct our deliberations…

“I think Matt has added what he’s promised, which is a different view, an alternative view, and (he’s) helped ensure that our Council’s deliberations were enrichened with varying perspectives – and I think we’re going to miss that.”

Now the question becomes: will the remaining members of the Council appoint someone to fill Czajkowski’s seat until the November election? Following the town charter, Mayor Kleinschmidt will officially announce a vacancy on the Council after Czajkowski steps down, and the town will begin accepting applications for an appointment – but what the Council members do with those applications is up to them.

“Because there is no deadline on when such an appointment has to take place, it really depends on what conversations the Council has and how it responds to the applicant pool,” Kleinschmidt says.

Council members have two options for an appointment: they could choose to appoint a new member who would then run for a full term in November – or they could appoint a member who vows to serve only as a placeholder for eight months and not run in the fall.

Mayor Kleinschmidt says there are advantages and disadvantages either way – but any appointee would have to be experienced.

“There are several people out there who are contemplating Council races in the coming year, and we have to be thoughtful about what it means to appoint someone who’s presented themselves as a potential candidate,” he says. “Another way we could go is to perhaps seat someone who’s committed to not running, someone who’s a placeholder – and I think if we were to go in that direction, we would want someone who could come in and very quickly fill an important role that would involve finalizing our budget for the coming year as well as contributing to the Obey Creek development agreement process.

“Those are very complicated and difficult issues, and if we appoint somebody, they’re going to have to deal with those things immediately.”

There is also a third option: Council members could simply choose not to appoint a new member and leave the seat vacant until the fall.

Kleinschmidt, for his part, says he’s not sold on that option yet. “That would leave the Council with only eight members, and I’m somebody who thinks there’s a purpose behind the fact that the Council is made up of eight members and the mayor,” he says. “It’s been about 40 years since the town made that decision, and I think there’s value in maintaining a full set of officials to help make decisions. In that way, I think we can ensure that a diversity of views is being brought to the table during our deliberations.”

Regardless, the discussion about whether to appoint or not to appoint will not officially begin until after Czajkowski steps down at the end of March. And his term expires in November – so one way or the other, voters will elect a new council member to serve a full term in that seat by the end of the year.

CH Town Council Member Czajkowski Stepping Down For Rwanda Move

Chapel Hill Town Council member Matt Czajkowski announced he’s stepping down at the end of March.

“I apologize to the council and to my supporters for not completing the term to which I was committed, but I hope you’ll understand,” said Czajkowski at Monday’s town council meeting.

Czajkowski said he and his wife will move to Kigali, Rwanda, to work for Jibu to promote clean drinking water and economic development.

“It has not been an easy decision,” said Czajkowski. “My participation in the town governance, and as a council member, has meant a great deal to me and to Jill. But essentially, we either make the decision now or it doesn’t happen.”

He serves as Chief Financial Officer for the company, which provides small-scale financing to launch drinking water franchises.

Czajkowski has served two terms on the Town Council. He was first elected in 2007, unseating incumbent Cam Hill. In 2009, he challenged Mark Kleinschmidt for the mayor’s seat after longtime mayor Kevin Foy retired from local government. The race was one of the closest in recent history.

He won re-election in 2011. That term is set to end later this year. Czajkowski’s resignation leaves an open seat to be filled in the November election.

Town Council Looks For Creative Solutions To Chapel Hill’s Challenges

Chapel Hill leaders are looking for innovative solutions to address some of the major challenges facing the town.

At last weekend’s planning retreat, the Town Council tried a different tactic to brainstorm new ways to tackle transit funding, town infrastructure and the need for affordable housing.

“I think one of the key takeaways from this retreat is that nothing was off the table,” says George Cianciolo, one of the council members who helped plan the event.

The all-day meeting was modeled after the free-ranging discussions that typified the Chapel Hill 2020 process. Council members met in small groups to trade ideas, a departure from the formal presentations that are the hallmark of local government.

Cianciolo says when it comes to the need for more affordable housing, town leaders are looking to balance social goals with market forces.

The plan to partner with the nonprofit DHIC to build affordable rentals on town-owned land is one example of how public-private partnerships can help the town leverage its assets.

“We’re looking at more public-private partnerships,” says Cianciolo. “We’ve been looking at some of our other assets and we talked about potentially that we could buy some land for another public-private partnership. Another [idea] was perhaps trading some of our assets to a developer who would be willing to do affordable housing.”

Chapel Hill Transit is facing a funding crunch even as demand for service continues to rise. One possible solution might be to charge riders for new routes or hours while keeping the core service fare-free.

“What would happen if we were to have fare cards that were used after, say, seven or eight o’clock at night?” asked Cianciolo. “Would that allow us to provide some service to some of the areas that are not served now?”

The need to replace the police station, repave roads and improve infrastructure also loomed large as a challenge for town leaders. Items like a new teen center rank high as priorities.

“Everyone agreed that a teen center downtown would not only be nice to have, but it would be important to have, because that’s a vulnerable population,” says Cianciolo. “And so that’s something that would be high on a list.”

The planning retreat was intended as a way to get a wide range of options on the table for future discussion. Ultimately, Cianciolo says to accomplish the many goals of the 2020 plan, Chapel Hill will need some novel ideas.

“You have a lot of things you’d like to do, and how many we can get to is partly going to be dependent on how creative we can get.”

No formal decisions were made at the retreat, but some of the concepts could be explored further during the upcoming budget negotiations this spring.

Town Council Postpones Vote on Chapel Hill’s Edge

At Monday night’s public hearing, the Chapel Hill Town Council postponed approving the 55-acre mixed-use development proposed for Eubanks Road.

Council member Donna Bell imagined visiting an unpleasant development in the future. She said, “I would hate to go by in ten years and go ‘ohhh, I approved that?’”

Bell and other council members said they welcome the opportunity for economic development, but in this project called The Edge, the applicant has too many requests that would affect the way the project moves forward. So the town is delaying granting a special use permit to Northwood Ravin, the developer, while officials consider the requests.

Northwood Ravin is asking the town to pay $1 million to $1.5 million for improvements to Eubanks Road. And the developer wants permission to build on a space the town has designated for environmental protection.

“Perhaps the biggest way to remove one of the warts on this site, which is visibility, is building a section of the RCD,” said Adam Golden, vice president of development for Northwood Ravin.

Golden is talking about the protected area, a “resource conservation district” or RCD. He said if the town grants permission to expand onto the five acres of RCD where there’s an intermittent steam, Northwood Ravin would build more retail.

“I don’t think we’ve had an RCD question like this,” said Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt. “I mean excuse me. I need to take a deep breath. I’ve never seen that before.”

At a public hearing in December, council members pressed the developer, Northwood Ravin, to increase the amount of commercial space in the proposed development. This became one of the sticking points again in Monday night’s discussion about the development.

If allowed to expand onto the RCD, Golden said, Northwood Ravin could build 270,000 square feet of commercial space including a hotel, 78,000 square feet of office space and 510 residential units.

The council will hold another public hearing on February 23, when it will reopen the topic of granting Northwood Ravin a special use permit. A development agreement comes later in this process.

CHALT Hopes To Shake Up Chapel Hill Town Council

Members of Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town, or CHALT, say they are fighting to “save the town they love, before it’s too late.”

David Schwartz is one of the organizers. He says CHALT grew out of residents’ dissatisfaction with the Town Council’s recent efforts to plan growth in key areas of Chapel Hill.

“A lot of these people came to us because of their participation and concern about some of the decisions the Town Council has made over the past year or two, particularly related to management of finances, comprehensive planning, changes in rezoning for higher density in certain parts of town,” says Schwartz. “People have felt concern both about the outcome of those processes but also about the way in which those decisions were arrived at.”

The Council has been tackling the questions of where and how the town should grow in coming years, but the process for incorporating resident input has some Chapel Hillians feeling left out in the cold.

“A number of people felt like the current Council is not being as responsive or welcoming of citizen input as Chapel Hill elected officials traditionally have been,” says Schwartz.

The planning process for the Central West focus area, negotiations for a development agreement for Obey Creek, and the rezoning of a broad swath of land in the Ephesus-Fordham area each drew criticism from residents who felt the pace and scope of proposed developments were a poor fit. In each instance residents expressed frustration that their concerns were pushed aside.

In response, CHALT supporters have crafted a five-point platform they hope will be the starting point for discussions about Chapel Hill’s future:

  • Protect and improve what we value about our town
  • Solve traffic and transit problems
  • Maintain high standards for new development
  • Promote housing, work, and shopping for residents of all income levels
  • Spend our money wisely

Schwartz says the group’s goal is twofold: first, to educate residents about town issues and second, to change the make-up of the Town Council this November.

“If there are people out there who want to run this platform, who share our vision of the new direction for the town, we would be interested in talking with them and perhaps support them when it comes time to run for office.”

With several hundred supporters, CHALT is a voting bloc in search of a candidate, or two.

The terms of Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and council members Donna Bell, Matt Czajkowski, Lee Storrow and Jim Ward are all coming to an end this year. Filing to run for office doesn’t start until July, and to date, none of the incumbents has signaled his or her intention to run again.

Schwartz says CHALT is not targeting specific council members; rather, they will encourage and endorse candidates who support their platform.

“We’re not determined to oust any particular person. If the people who are incumbents seek re-election and sign on to this platform, then we would have no problem supporting them. It’s really not about people. It’s about this particular platform and this particular vision for the town.”

CHALT organizers will present their platform at a workshop on Sunday titled “What Makes Chapel Hill A Livable Town?,” from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Chapel Hill Public Library in Meeting Room A. Refreshments and childcare will be provided.

You can find out more about CHALT here.

‘What About The Wallace Deck?’

With Kidzu Children’s Museum contemplating a move to Carrboro, some in Chapel Hill are left wondering, ‘What about the Wallace deck?”

Back in 2009, the Chapel Hill Town Council approved a plan to let Kidzu build a 15,000 square foot, multi-story museum atop one half of the Wallace parking deck on East Rosemary Street. The town agreed to lease the site to the museum for 99 years at a cost of $99.

Kidzu Executive Director Pam Wall says that’s still a viable option.

“Our focus has not changed from Wallace Plaza, but when this other option came up that would allow us to be more collaborative with another arts organization and be more resourceful with raising funds, we really needed to consider that option for Kidzu,” says Wall.

The museum has recently floated the idea of partnering with the ArtsCenter to co-locate in a new space in Carrboro. With the two nonprofits splitting the cost with the Town, that plan would cost Kidzu far less than the $11 million dollar price tag to build on the Wallace Deck.

“Certainly when you consider a building option that you will be the only occupant, you’re going to have raise more money than if you are partnering with another one or two other arts organizations, and/or a public funding source as well, to make that building happen,” says Wall.

But the Carrboro Arts and Innovation Center idea is still in its earliest stages, and to make it happen the Town of Carrboro would need to subsidize the project, a concept not all town leaders have embraced.

Meanwhile, Chapel Hill town officials are wondering what to do about a leak in the roof at the Wallace parking deck that will cost the town an estimated $1 million to fix.

The town is still making payments on the 22-year-old parking deck. Last week, Business Management Director Ken Pennoyer warned elected leaders they need to ensure that the property doesn’t lose value before it’s paid for in full.

“The financing on that deck goes out to 2024,” said Pennoyer. “We probably need the most permanent solution available in order to maintain the life of that deck as long as possible.”

He said if Kidzu were to start construction in the near future, that could save the town up to half a million.

“If something is built on top of the deck, it changes the scope of the water infiltration remedy and it actually reduces the costs since their building will be covering part of the roof- up to half it,” said Pennoyer. “So if we knew tomorrow that that building would get build in the next year or two, we could reduce the amount of money that we needed to fix the roof. However, at a certain point we actually need to move forward with that fix because time is not on our side.”

But it’s not likely anything will get built on the Wallace deck in the immediate future. Kidzu is preparing to open an expanded site in University Mall in February and Wall says she expects to be there for at least three years. After that, it’s not exactly clear where the popular children’s museum will find a permanent home.

CH Town Council to Hear Complaint About Tanning Beds in Apartment Complexes

On Monday, the Chapel Hill Town Council will hear a petition against apartment complexes offering free tanning bed use as an incentive to new tenants.

The request comes from UNC School of Public Health Junior Alana Zeitany, whose major is nutrition.

“I was talking with my mom about living situations, and where I wanted to live,” said Zeitany. “When we were looking at the amenities for some of the apartments we were looking into, they had free tanning beds offered as one of their amenities – most of the newer, nicer, more attractive ones for students.

“And my mom made a statement – ‘That should be illegal, that they offer free tanning.’ To me, it’s like giving away cigarettes for free, if you’ll live in our apartment.”

Zeitany said that she and her sister, who is now a medical student at UNC, used to tan a lot as teenagers back home in Wallburg, North Carolina.

She said that when her sister later warned her of the danger of developing skin cancer from tanning, she stopped. She said she’d like others of her generation to be aware of the dangers as well.

“Melanoma can develop in young adults,” said Zeitany, “but it can also develop with time, and more and more sun exposure. So, I think that when our generation gets to be 40, 50, 60, that we’re going to have more instances of melanoma, because of how popular tanning has become.”

Zeitany said she’d like to see apartment complexes regulated as strictly as tanning salons, when offering the same service.

Monday night’s meeting of the Chapel Hill Town Council takes place at 7 at the Town Hall Council Chamber, located at 405 Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.

CH Parking Fund Depleted As 140 West Revenues Lag

Business Management Director Ken Pennoyer told the Chapel Hill Town Council on Monday that the underground parking deck at 140 West is not as popular as town officials had hoped.

“We know it is less than what we had anticipated; it is certainly less than what it was when Lot 5 was a surface parking lot, in terms of occupancy,” said Pennoyer. “We expected that, ultimately, over time, people would return to that area to park, however, the dynamics between parking underground and parking on the surface are apparently different in terms of people’s behavior. So folks have kind of not used it to the same extent.”

The $55 million dollar complex of condos and retail was built atop what used to be a town-owned parking lot at the corner of Franklin, Church and Rosemary streets.

Chapel Hill partnered with Ram Development to build the two-level underground parking deck, with one level owned and operated by the town as public parking.

But since opening in 2013, parking revenues at 140 West have not met expectations, and Pennoyer said this is negatively impacting the town’s parking fund.

“The parking fund had built up a fund balance, so in the past few years we had been eating into that fund balance, however, the revenues have not caught up enough to carry us further than Fiscal Year 2016,” said Pennoyer. “In FY16, basically the fund’s cash reserves will be exhausted and it will need a subsidy.”

Pennoyer recommended shifting the debt from the 140 West project out of the parking fund to be paid using the town’s debt management fund.

“Currently, the parking fund is paying for the debt service that created the parking deck at 140 West. If we were to have the debt fund take over the payments for that debt, it would bring the parking fund back into alignment temporarily. We would kind of use that as a bailout to solidify the fund.”

He noted this would not a permanent fix and doing so would reduce the town’s ability to borrow money by about 10 percent. Pennoyer, along with Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, suggested that in the short-term, lowering the price of parking at 140 West might be a way to draw in more drivers.

The Council will consider how to best balance the parking fund as part of the 2016 budget planning process. The first public budget forum is scheduled for February 23.

You can read the full update on town finances here.

Chapel Hill Town Council To Talk Transit Funding

The Chapel Hill Town Council kicks off 2015 with a meeting on Monday to discuss future funding for the Chapel Hill Transit system.

The bus system that serves Chapel Hill, Carrboro and UNC has seen big growth as ridership increased more than 100 percent in the past decade.

But at the same time, state and federal funding for operations, maintenance and new bus purchases has been dropping, leaving the funding partners in a fiscal crunch.

A consulting firm hired to help evaluate the situation estimates an additional $80 million could be needed in the next ten years to update the aging fleet of buses and keep them on the road.

The Council will receive the report tonight, but delay any decisions until later in the budget planning process.

Council members will also get an economic update from the Town Manager.

The work session starts at 6 o’clock at the Chapel Hill Public Library. You can read the full agenda here.