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.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chalt-hopes-shake-chapel-hill-town-council/

‘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.

http://chapelboro.com/news/non-profit-news/wallace-deck/

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.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/ch-town-council-hear-complaint-tanning-beds-apartment-complexes/

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.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/ch-parking-fund-depleted-140-west-revenues-lag/

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.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chapel-hill-town-council-talk-transit-funding/

UNC’s Quick Lane Loss Means Town Council Will See Red

True story: we do not have a photo in our archives of Mark Kleinschmidt wearing anything red. This is as close as it gets.

When next the Chapel Hill Town Council meets, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt will be seeing red.

That’s because he’s agreed to wear a jersey from Rutgers University, paying up on a bet he made with Piscataway, NJ, mayor Brian Wahler.

The two mayors made a friendly wager on which of their teams would win the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit on Friday: the Tar Heels of Chapel Hill or the Rutgers Scarlet Knights of Piscataway. Rutgers got the win easily, 40-21, dropping Carolina to 6-7 on the year.

The Chapel Hill Town Council next meets in a work session on Monday, January 5.

http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/uncs-quick-lane-loss-means-town-council-will-see-red/

Chapel Hill Officials Discuss Light Rail Plan

At Monday’s meeting, Chapel Hill Town Council members discussed the proposed 17-mile light rail line extending from UNC Hospitals to east Durham. The project’s price tag is $1.8 billion in year of expenditure costs.

Patrick McDonough, a planning manager from Triangle Transit, presented key questions for elected officials before Triangle Transit can solidify the light rail plan.

Here’s McDonough’s first question: “Build or no build. Do we build or not build the project, a very cut and dry decision.”

Council member Matt Czajkowski questioned the cost-effectiveness of building a light rail system in comparison to other transit solutions like bus service improvements.

“When mammoth public capital projects get started they have a way of building momentum which makes it difficult to, pardon the term, derail,” said Czajkowski.

The proposed line would be partially funded by a ½ cent sales tax approved by county voters in 2012. The Triangle Transit plan lists state and federal agencies as paying for more than half of the $1.8 billion. But Triangle Transit needs to bring a solid plan to the agencies and get their approval before it secures the funds, which could take years. This uncertainty worries Czajkowski.

Other council members and residents expressed support for light rail, and they gave feedback on possible routes for sections of the line.

Phil Purcell, a resident of the Cedars of Chapel Hill, a retirement community in Meadowmont, expressed support for a route called the C2 alignment, which does not divide the retirement community. Council member Lee Storrow also supports this route.

“I voted to support the C2 alignment at Little Creek, and I maintain that that’s the best, both for the logistics of the line and because of environmental impact,” said Storrow.

Others said more analysis is needed before making a routing decision.

Triangle Transit held a series of meetings in November to gather input from residents on the light rail plan. Council member Maria Palmer said some people at the meetings were spreading misinformation about light rail, and staff did not effectively correct that misinformation. McDonough said Triangle Transit will take that feedback into consideration when planning future public meetings.

A Triangle Transit website says the line “could start (operation) in 2025/2026.” You can find out more information and send comments through the website: http://ourtransitfuture.com/

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chapel-hill-officials-discuss-light-rail-plan/

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.”

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/busy-government/

Residents Raise Concerns About Affordable Housing At ‘The Edge’

More than 140 people attended Monday night’s meeting at the Chapel Hill Town Hall Council Chamber. The Town Council heard public comments on a proposed mixed-use development in north Chapel Hill called The Edge.

The 600-to-900-thousand square foot development is planned for 53 acres on Eubanks Road. Though it’s not required, development company Northwood Ravin is willing to provide at least 50 rental units as affordable housing.

The company Crosland LLC, which used to work with Northwood Ravin, owns a couple low-income developments in Orange County. Candace Lowndes said she lived in one of these complexes in Carrboro, The Landings at Winmore Apartments, where her upstairs neighbor had a leak.

“The ceiling sheetrock in both the master bedroom and laundry room of my apartment were saturated with laundry water,” Lowndes told the Council.

Lowndes said the management did not deal with the issue adequately, and mold grew in her apartment.

The grassroots organization Justice United called on community members to speak at the meeting. Several people expressed distress at mismanagement of the two low-income rental complexes.

Michael Birch, a land use attorney at the Morningstar Law Group, spoke on behalf of Northwood Ravin. Birch said Northwood was connected with Crosland, but that association ended in April 2011.

“We want to be clear that Northwood Ravin has no connection, no current connection with Crosland that still owns those two affordable housing communities,” said Birch. “Again, Northwood Ravin also has no connection with WRH Reality, the property management company for those two housing communities.”

Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle also expressed her concerns.

“We know that Northwood Ravin does have former, high-ranking Crosland LLC employees from the residential division working now with their company. My goal in speaking to you about this is really to give Chapel Hill the opportunity to avoid facing the same issues that Carrboro staff and elected officials have been dealing with for the last few years.”

Lavelle said Carrboro has had recurring issues with the The Landings, which opened in 2009.

“In 2011, the town of Carrboro was made aware of a string of policies and actions by the property manager that were disturbing to residents and discriminatory in nature,” said Lavelle.

Council members asked the developer to address concerns about property management and concerns about too little retail space at the next meeting on December 3.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/residents-raise-concerns-affordable-housing-edge/

Chapel Hill Revisits ‘The Edge’ On Monday

A large mixed use development proposed for the northern end of Chapel Hill is up for public comment when the Chapel Hill Town Council meets on Monday.

The Edge, as it is known, is planned for 54 acres on Eubanks Road adjacent to the Town’s Park and Ride lot.

Developer Northwood Ravin proposes 23 buildings ranging from one to seven stories. The site will include a mix of retail and commercial space with between 400 and 700 residential units. Up to 50 of those could be affordable rentals subsidized using tax credits.

The site has been earmarked for economic development since 2008. The current plan proposes more square footage on a smaller parcel than the original Edge concept put forward by another developer in 2011.

The public hearing starts at 7 o’clock in Council Chamber at Town Hall. You can read the full agenda here.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chapel-hill-revisits-edge-monday/