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CHTC Green Lights Ephesus-Fordham Road Plan

The Chapel Hill Town Council on Monday gave town planners the green light to move forward with a revamp of the Fordham Boulevard-Ephesus ChurchRoad intersection.

The first phase of the project will cost $2.4 million, but the NC Department of Transportation will reimburse the town for the majority of the costs.

The project will widen Ephesus Church Road near Rams Plaza and add a new westbound left-turn lane as well as pedestrian crossings, medians and missing sidewalk connections.

Officials say construction to redesign one of Chapel Hill’s busiest intersections will take place during off-hours and during the summer months.

Council members voted unanimously to authorize roadway design, negotiation with property owners for public right-of-way and easement agreements, and bidding the projects for construction.


Town Council Talks Development(s) Monday

Monday night, the Chapel Hill Town Council will consider approving a new apartment building downtown, as well as a new sub-division on Homestead Road.

View the Council’s full agenda here.

The owners of the Franklin Hotel want to build on the lot behind the hotel that straddles Kenan and Mallette Streets.

The project, known as The Graduate, would consist of six stories of apartments above a two-story parking deck. The 97 apartments would be aimed at graduate students and young professionals.

Read our past coverage of the Graduate project here.

If approved, the Courtyards at Homestead would bring 63 single-family homes along with a clubhouse and pool to 18 acres across from Weaver Dairy Road Extension.

Read our past coverage of the Courtyards project here.

The Council meets at 7 o’clock in Council Chambers at Town Hall.


Obey Creek Plans Raise Environmental Concerns

Some Chapel Hill residents are questioning whether the Town Council has adequate information about the environmental impact of the proposed Obey Creek development project.

“There are species that depend on these interior forest habitat patches for their survival, for their food, shelter, rearing and so forth,” said Kevin Nunnery. He is a senior ecologist for Biohabitats, a conservation planning company.

During Wednesday night’s Town Council work session at Chapel Hill Public Library, Nunnery presented an environmental report that compares the impact of building 79 single family homes to the impact of a mixed-use development at the site of the proposed Obey Creek development project.

East West Partners wants to build a 1.5 million square foot mixed-use development on 15-501, across from Southern Village.

The report finds that building single-family homes would disrupt the forest habitat more than a mixed use development.

Chapel Hill resident Betsy Smith, a research ecologist and program director at the EPA, said during public comments that the environmental report is flawed and inadequate.

She said the report does not consider water quality and air quality impacts, both of which are crucial issues for this type of development.

Councilwoman Maria Palmer said she read the report while she was in Peru.

“To be reading about preserving trees, it was balm for my spirit – so thank you for doing this,” said Palmer. “And to think of you going in there and looking at 65-year-old trees that my grandchildren are going to be able to look at . . . Reading this just made it more clear to me why we don’t want those big homes disturbing this forest.”

The Chapel Hill Town Council will hold a business meeting on October 15th at 7pm.


Council Hears Plans For Graduate Housing Downtown

Jay Patel, one of the co-owners of the Franklin Hotel, wants to build a six story, 105-unit apartment building and parking deck behind the hotel between Kenan and Mallette streets. He told the Town Council the project is unlike anything else being built in Chapel Hill.

“Our project is going to be focused specifically on graduate students and working professionals and we don’t think there’s anything like that available in the immediate downtown on a rental basis,” said Patel.

At a public hearing before the Council on Monday night, Patel said the project, known as The Graduate, represents a $20 million dollar investment that would generate more than $200,000 in property tax revenue each year.

An earlier concept plan called for student rentals aimed at undergraduates, but that plan has since been revised to target graduate students and young professionals, with no per-bedroom rentals.

The proposal also promises 15 percent of the units will be maintained as affordable workforce rentals for 30 years, in return for increased density. Project engineer John McAdams says size is key to the project’s success.

“This is urban infill and indeed, the proposed building is large,” said McAdams. “In order to be financially feasible the building simply has to be this large.”

However, neighbors said the scale of the building and the traffic it might generate are major sticking points.

“Our big issues with this are twofold,” said Kurt Ribisl, president of the Cameron-McCauley Neighborhood Association. “It’s the massing of the building on the Mallette Street eastern side that is really too big, and number two, a lot of the traffic dumps out just on one side, to Mallette Street.”

The Graduate proposal will return to the Council for a vote on October 27.


Petitioners Question Chapel Hill Town Manager’s Spending

Chapel Hill resident Tom Henkel delivered a petition to the Town Council on Monday asking the Council to review what he calls “apparent fiscal mismanagement” by Town Manager Roger Stancil and town staffers.

Henkel says he’s seen a pattern of over-reliance on outside consultants and a failure to rein in costs for their services. He cites the Central West Small Area planning process as a recent example.

“In the case of Central West, the original contract was for $90,000, but the price kept going up and going up,” says Henkel. “It finally got up to $230,000 before the manager basically cut off the funds and said enough is enough. In our opinion it never should have even gotten that high.”

Henkel says the town should consult with experts from UNC instead.

“In general, we have a lot of professional talent at UNC-Chapel Hill. They have an outstanding city planning program and it just seems to me and others that we ought to try to get help from these experts and save the town a lot of money.”

Henkel also notes that the Town Manager’s administrative budget increased by 45 percent over the past five years, while spending for street repair and new vehicles dropped by 25 percent.

The eleven signers of the petition are asking the Council to hold Stancil accountable for these and other spending decisions during his upcoming annual performance review. While those usually take place behind closed doors, Henckel says the spending review should be made public.

“I think the review and at least some of the things we’ve asked for- the explanations- should certainly be made public.”

The group of petitioners, which includes former Planning Board chair Del Snow and former Town Council member Julie McClintock, has been critical of the town’s recent planning efforts for the Central West and Ephesus-Fordham focus areas, but Henkel says that they are more than mere naysayers.

“If we don’t offer constructive alternatives, I don’t think just being critical is worth very much. We have been offering constructive criticism and made very constructive suggestions for improving the process of approving development projects in this town.”

In the 2013 municipal election, Henkel was drafted as a write-in candidate as a protest against Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, who was running unopposed. He garnered 244 votes, slightly more than 5 percent of the 4,675 votes cast.

Henkel’s petition was accepted by the Council on Monday and referred to town staffers and Council members for review. You can read the full text below:

Thomas Henkel, Ph.D

3 Mount Bolus Rd.

Chapel Hill, NC 27514


Petition to the Chapel Hill Town Council, September 8, 2014


Good Evening Members of the Council:

I am Tom Henkel, and tonight I wish to bring to your attention several recent instances of apparent fiscal mismanagement by Town staff, and to ask that you exercise your oversight authority to ensure that our tax money is used wisely and not wasted.

In our opinion, the recent instances of fiscal mismanagement include:

1.     Consultant cost overruns, such as during the Central West Small Area planning process.  The consultant contract for $90,000 was allowed to balloon to $230,000 before the Manager acknowledged the problem and cut off the funds.  

2.     Use of public funds to promote a private development project, as occurred in the case of Obey Creek;

3.     Use of projected Ephesus-Fordham district related fees to fund affordable housing initiatives for the FY 2014/2015 budget, when these funds were clearly designated during the Ephesus-Fordham rezoning deliberations as necessary to pay off the bond debt financing scheme.

4.     Failure to allocate funds in recent years to pay for the Town’s unfunded $56 million retiree benefits liability. 

5.     Poor planning to repair the flood-damaged Town Hall. The original estimate of $400,000 to $500,000 for the repairs has more than doubled to $1,200,000, and the bills have not yet been submitted.

6.     Finally, over the past five years, the Town Manager’s administrative staff budget has increased by 45%, while the funds available for street repair and vehicle replacements have both decreased by more than 25%. More generally, as you can see in this chart, over the past ten years, the proportion of the Town’s budget allocated to the Town Manager’s office has increased more than any other line item in the budget, while during the same period, the proportion of the Town’s budget allocated to essential services such as fire, police, and public works has been stagnant or declining.

In addition to these examples of actual fiscal mismanagement, there has been at least one instance of potential mismanagement that was averted only thanks to the vigilance of the Town’s citizens and (some) Council members. The $10 million the Town has borrowed to carry out infrastructure improvements in Ephesus-Fordham have never been tied to a specific scope of work with itemized cost estimates. This mismanagement almost led last June to the misappropriation of public funds to benefit private interests. Specifically, the Town Manager recommended spending public funds to build on private property a road that will primarily serve a private housing development.

We therefore petition the Town Council to use the occasion of the Town Manager’s upcoming annual performance review to request that the Manager provide explanations for each of these instances of fiscal mismanagement. We further ask that you direct the Manager to create a performance improvement plan that specifies policies and procedures he will implement to help ensure more prudent and responsible management of public funds in the future. Finally, we ask that the explanations the Manager provides for these lapses and the performance improvement plan be made public.



Thomas Henkel

Fred Lampe

Ken Larsen

Julie McClintock

Will Raymond

David Schwartz

Del Snow

Mickey Jo Sorrell

Terry Vance

Diane Willis

Jean Yarnell





CHTC Down To The Wire On Glen Lennox Plan

Months of negotiation on the Glen Lennox development agreement came down to the wire Monday night as the Chapel Hill Town Council rushed to conclude a four and a half hour meeting before accidentally triggering the automatic alarms at the Southern Human Services Center.

As the clock ticked toward midnight, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt sped the council through a series of straw polls to dispatch the lingering points of contention between town staff and Glen Lennox developer Grubb Properties.

Much of the discussion focused on whether the developer should be required to provide bike lane improvements along N.C. 54, but Clay Grubb argued no amount of lane striping would help.

“The last thing we want is kids to think that they can ride in front of the shopping center and down under the bridge,” Grubb told the Council. “You know, I don’t care what hour it is, it’s a very, very dangerous street.”

The Council also considered, and then abandoned, the idea of asking the developer to extend the Meadowmont bike path from Burning Tree Drive to the eastern edge of the Glen Lennox property. Council member George Cianciolo said he believes that’s the town’s responsibility.

“We’re also talking about a developer who has been working for a couple years now on a very collaborative basis with the town, and I think we need to think very carefully about not trying to extract too much from this developer,” said Cianciolo.

As town staffers gathered papers in preparation for a hasty exit, Grubb Properties representative Rachel Russell told the Council there are still two unresolved matters the developer is looking to settle before signing off on a twenty-year plan to redevelop one of Chapel Hill’s oldest commercial centers and the surrounding neighborhood.

“There are two more issues that we brought to the table with some concern, and I recognize we’ve run out of time, but they are important issues to us that we need to address,” said Russell. “If I can, I’ll reach out to you this week and explain each of them to you.”

The redevelopment project has been in the works since 2004. Town planners and Grubb Properties have been actively engaged in the development agreement process since March 2013.

If approved, the Glen Lennox plan would add new roads, new housing and a greenway in the interior of the 70 acre site, as well as office and retail space along Fordham Boulevard and Raleigh Road.

All parties hoped to have the last few questions answered on Monday, in preparation for a final vote next week. The Council will reconsider the Glen Lennox Development Agreement on Monday, June 23.


Council To Quiz Bidders for Old Chapel Hill Library

With four offers on the table for the former Chapel Hill Public Library at 528 East Franklin Street, Town Council members say they want to make sure the modernist landmark goes to not only the highest bidder, but the buyer who will best fit with the Franklin-Rosemary Historic District.

The town is partnering with Preservation NC to find a buyer who will maintain the character and appearance of the iconic building, but council members say they have questions about who wants to purchase it and why. They also want to see who’s willing to bid higher than the $752,000 asking price.

So far, four serious bidders have come forward.

The first is Chris and Ann Cox, who live across the street from the property and want to see it turned into a Chapel Hill Cultural Center, with rental space for arts groups and private functions.

The second is Jay Miller, who wants the see the building become a nonprofit hub for the area.

Third is Chabad of Chapel Hill, which envisions a community center aimed at students.

Fourth is UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences, which would use the space as the headquarters of the Arts and Sciences Foundation.

The lowest bid is the $752,000 minimum from Jay Miller; the highest bid, from UNC, is $1,025,000.

For those offers from tax-exempt nonprofits, Council members say they want the bidders to consider sweetening the deal with payments-in-lieu to make up for lost property tax revenue.

The Council meets with the bidders at a special meeting Monday at 5:30 pm at the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road. A final decision on the sale will be made by June 23.



Chapel Hill Approves Budget With 1-Cent Tax Rate Hike

The Chapel Hill Town Council unanimously adopted a $96 million dollar budget on Monday night which includes the second property tax rate increase in two years.

“The budget is balanced with a 1-cent tax increase, restoring the debt fund capacity almost to where it was before the recession started,” said Town Manager Roger Stancil.

With Monday’s vote, the town’s property tax rate rises to 52.4 cents per hundred dollars of assessed value.

Council members decided last week the added penny is needed to help replenish the town’s debt management fund, which will increase the town’s borrowing power by about $10 million before 2017.

Supporters say that will help the town take on big projects like bikeways, parks, and new police and fire stations sooner rather than later. The 2014-2015 budget also includes increased funding for road resurfacing, $400,000 to help finance new buses, and money to hire a youth services coordinator.

In addition, the Council also allocated nearly $700,000 to fund affordable housing initiatives, a move applauded by housing advocates including Habitat for Humanity Director Susan Levy.

“I think all of that who are involved in affordable housing and have been over the years are really heartened by this commitment on your part,” said Levy. “I think it was a bold and a brave thing to do and I just want to say how much we appreciate it.”

Though the budget was approved in just six minutes, Council members assured the public the plan had been fully vetted at a pair of work sessions last week.

“We are not just rubber-stamping a budget here,” said Mayor pro Tem Sally Greene. “We’ve really given this a lot of consideration.”

Chapel Hill has set its tax rate for the next year, but Orange County Commissioners have not yet finalized their budget, which could include an increase in the county-wide property tax rate, or a hike in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools special district tax.

The board will discuss the county budget at a work session Tuesday at 7 o’clock at the Link Government Center in Hillsborough.


County Commissioners Reverse Course On Rural Recycling Vote

County Commissioners did an abrupt about-face Thursday night, reversing a vote on rural recycling funding in response to criticism from the Chapel Hill Town Council.

“The message that we need to send to the towns tonight is that, in fact, we do want to be their partners, we do want to work with them,” said Commissioner Alice Gordon.

On Tuesday, the board voted to spend $728,000 from the solid waste reserve fund to pay for rural recycling pick-up for the next fiscal year.

But on Wednesday, Chapel Hill Town Council members argued the majority of the money in the solid waste reserve fund was contributed by the towns, making it unfair to subsidize recycling pick-up for county residents while asking the towns to levy a $59 dollar fee on urban households for the same service.

In a rare move, the board revisited the issue at a work session Thursday and voted unanimously to fund both rural and urban programs from the solid waste fund, a move that will cost the county more than $2 million.

The solid waste reserve fund is set aside to pay for post-closure costs at the Orange County Landfill. The county is legally responsible for the site for the next three decades.

Commissioner Penny Rich said she’d like to see the towns find a way to help replenish that fund now that the county is no longer collecting landfill tipping fees.

“If we are going to take the $2 million dollars out of the reserves, we include the towns in the conversation about how we can build that back up, because right now we don’t have a way of doing that,” said Rich.

To figure out a funding plan for the future and solve ongoing questions about how to deal with solid waste and recycling, the board voted Tuesday to create a multi-jurisdictional task force chaired by a County Commissioner.

The board will appoint its representatives to the Solid Waste Advisory Group on June 17.


Chapel Hill Balks At BoCC Funding Plan For Recycling Pick-Up

At a budget work session on Wednesday, Chapel Hill Town Council members sounded off about a vote the night before by Orange County Commissioners to fund rural curbside recycling out of reserve funds, while asking the towns to levy a $59 per household fee for the same service.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said the move jeopardizes future collaboration with the county on solid waste and recycling.

“You know, we made a decision two or three months ago that we were all in it together,” said Kleinschmidt. “I think we did that with the hope that, by this point, we were actually going to be in lockstep, that we were going to have a county-wide plan to move forward. But we don’t.”

Council members argued the majority of the money in the solid waste reserve fund was contributed by the towns, making it particularly unfair to subsidize recycling pick-up for county residents while charging urban households.

In light of Tuesday’s vote, some Council members said they won’t agree to levy the town recycling fee when the budget comes up for approval next week.

Instead, the Council is asking Commissioners to consider funding both rural and urban recycling pick-up for next year from the solid waste reserve fund.

While this would drop the county’s $3 million dollar post- closure landfill contingency fund down to $1 million, Town Manager Roger Stancil told the Council that’s not their problem.

“At this point it’s totally the county’s issue,” said Stancil. “So they would have to find a way to pay for that liability.”

Chapel Hill officials last year investigated the costs of hiring private contractors to handle trash and recycling pick-up, but Council members agreed to try to maintain a fifteen-year partnership with the county in hopes of furthering the community’s solid waste reduction goals.

Town and county officials were drafting an interlocal agreement to spell out how that might work, but Stancil told the Council that process ground to a halt recently, as county leaders threw their support behind a task force instead.

Commissioners voted to create that task force on Tuesday, stipulating that a Commissioner would act as chair and inviting Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough and UNC to participate, along with five residents.

Council member Jim Ward has worked with Orange County on solid waste issues in the past, but this time, he called the process flawed.

“This committee that I’m just hearing about, we had no input on that. This is totally unacceptable to me, the process and the outcome,” said Ward. “The outcome isn’t any surprise because of the process that they’re using.”

In response to lobbying from town leaders, County Commissioners will reopen the issue at Thursday’s work session, and likely vote on a new funding plan.