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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:

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.”

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.

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.

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.