Chapel Hill Debates Weaver Dairy Extension Speed Limit

After receiving a petition from an advisory board, the town council considered raising the speed limit on Weaver Dairy Road Extension from 25 miles per hour to 35. The Chapel Hill Town Council ultimately chose not to raise the speed limit, due to a number of citizens who expressed concerns about pedestrian safety.

“There are a lot of pedestrians who walk around this area of Weaver Dairy,” said Kali Xu. “Raising the speed limit from 25 to 35 greatly increases the risk to pedestrians.”

Traffic engineer Kumar Nappalli said the town originally designed the road to have a 40-mile-per-hour speed limit

“The average speed is 33.5 miles per hour, the 50th percentile speed is 34 miles per hour,” he said. “What it means is 50 percent of the vehicles are going 34 or higher on that street.”

But the issue of raising the speed limit on Weaver Dairy Extension is not a new one.

Councilwoman Donna Bell said this is her seventh year on the council and this is the third time she has addressed the issue.

“One of the reasons we keep having this conversation is we don’t say what happens,” she said. “Our traffic engineer says the road is engineered for speed limit of 35 miles per hour, which would support the idea of raising the speed limit, but there is strong dissent from the neighbors and thus we don’t raise the speed limit.”

Bell suggested the council write down why they voted against raising the speed limit in an attempt to prevent the issue coming up again.

“That we do give a strong explaination as to why we’re not doing this,” she said. “So the next time this comes up there will be a basis for having the conversation, as opposed to an assumption that this is a new issue.”

The council approved Bell’s motion and included an explanation for why they chose not to raise the speed limit.

Nappalli said the town would work with the neighborhoods to help mitigate the speeding issues on the road.

Chapel Hill Town Council Receives Recommended Budget

With a lot of market uncertainty, Chapel Hill town manager Roger Stancil said his staff took a conservative approach to the town’s 2016-2017 fiscal budget.

“I’ve heard from different sources, different economics that although we might have a weak recovery, it’s perfectly feasible to think that within another year we could have the beginning of another recession,” he said.

Stancil presented a budget that was balanced, featured no tax increases and no increases in stormwater fees.

It also includes an almost $100,000 increase for affordable housing and human service agency funding.

“There is a 19 percent increase in funding for performance agreements and human services,” Stancil said. “Throughout the recession this town did not decrease funding for non-profits and human service agencies.”

He said Chapel Hill was unique in this way because many towns cut related funding in order to balance their budgets.

Nearly one million dollars has been put aside to purchase new buses for the Chapel Hill Transit system.

Overall the system will get a 1.9 percent decrease due to what Stancil called an unexpected receipt of $934,000  in state grants. The transit system is currently trying to replace 42 of its older buses.

“There’s still many more buses to replace,” he said. “Still conversation to have about what those buses should be, what technology should be used for those buses, how much it will cost the town.”

Stancil said the town learned from Winter Storm Jonas, which iced roads and caused school and work cancellations.

The budget will include an additional $30,000 for improved communications and staffing deployment during storm events.

“We’d put out information and we’d immediately get interactive communication with people who live in the community,” Stancil said. “We could say ‘we’re going to be on your street tomorrow’ and we’d get a tweet or a message back saying ‘when are you going to be at my house.'”

Stancil said the increase in staffing should help the town communicate better during these kinds of weather events.

The town also has multiple unfunded projects that the council could act on, should they decide to.

Those projects could include a possible development on the American Legion property and 415 W. Franklin St.

The council will hold four work sessions before approving the budget June 13.

Chapel Hill Planning Ceremony For New Cemetery Marker

Chapel Hill is getting a second chance at honoring the memory of 361 slaves and free people of color that are known to be buried in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery.

In a meeting held Tuesday night, members of the town council and local community members discussed early plans for a September ceremony that could feature community leaders, speeches and music.

“It’s the mission of the NAACP to actually pass the traditions of African Americans in this community to the younger generations,” said local NAACP member Jesse Gibson. “One of the ways of doing that is to make sure they understand the history.”

A commemorative marker was installed in February, but was taken down after community members criticized the wording of the marker, which read “Here Rest in Honored Glory 361 American Persons of Color Known But to God.”

Allen Buansi explained why he thought they should change the wording of the marker.

“The people that were buried there, we don’t know they were all African American,” he said. “There were Native Americans around and other people of color.”

Community members were also upset because there was no ceremony celebrating the marker.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP president Robert Campbell said he thinks the ceremony the town is planning will be a learning experience, especially for local students.

“When there were some games here at UNC, people actually parked on the graveyard,” he said. “The crew went out to clean up, and they saw these odd shaped rocks and they decided they would take all the rocks away, but they were actually markers of graves.”

The committee will meet again May 15 to try to narrow down the options for the wording on the new marker.

Campbell said he was happy with the way the meeting turned out Tuesday and hopes for more community input moving forward.

“We’ll try to get more people to voice their opinion, at least about the service,” Campbell said. “I think we’ve got enough information to shape some wording on the marker itself, so I think we’re in a good place.”

Mayor Pam Hemminger said the tentative timeline has the town council formally hearing about the project plans in June.

Chapel Hill Considering Adding Bus-Only Lane On MLK

The Chapel Hill Town Council approved a study that could be the first step to major changes along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The study will look at a travel corridor for buses between MLK, South Columbia Street and portions of 15-501.

“Things don’t always work well in that corridor,” said transit director Brian Litchfield. “Accidents occur, people try to make strange turning movements and what happens to our 19 buses is they get stacked up behind each other.”

Photo via Town of Chapel Hill

Photo via Town of Chapel Hill

To help solve this problem, the transit department offered three suggestions. Each suggestion includes having one traffic lane dedicated solely to bus use.

The least expensive option, estimated at $96.6 million is to convert one existing lane into this bus lane.

The other two options, both estimated around $105 million, will involve creating a new lane. One plan places the lane in the center of the road and the other places it on the outside.

“When we get down to the peak-hour traffic delay, you’ll see the first alternative results in slightly higher delays,” said Julia Suprock from AECOM Technology Corporation. “If you convert lanes that tends to result in slightly higher traffic congestion, whereas if you construct a lane you’re not affecting existing capacities.”

The new route would have a bus come up approximately every seven minutes.

Chapel Hill would also add 12 new buses to their fleet, something that has become a concern in recent years.

Photo via Town of Chapel Hill

Photo via Town of Chapel Hill

“We’re talking about providing service that’s arriving every seven minutes or better,” Litchfield said. “It changes who’s using that system. Anyone that’s traveling within that corridor can say ‘wow I can go out and use this bus and I don’t have to think about where it’s going or whether it’s going to be on time.”

Litchfield said if everything goes smoothly, between the report and the engineering, the town could move towards construction of the project in four to five years.

“That’s a perfect time frame,” he said. “That assumes that while we’re doing the project development and engineering, we’ve also arranged for all of the local funds and we’ve also arranged for all of the federal funds. Most of that we have no control over.”

Litchfield said he expects the majority of the funding for the project to be from the federal government.

Depending on the plan chosen, the town is looking to get between $77 million and $85 million from the federal government, with some other money possibly coming from the state as well.

Town Council Considers Franklin Street Development

After issuing a request for proposals, Chapel Hill will investigate the financial impact of a proposed six-story development on Franklin Street.

“It’s about 95,000 square feet,” said town manager Roger Stancil. “With the first floor being a retail, music venue-type use, the second floor being office space and music venue-type use, the third floor being office space.”

Floors four, five and six will be dedicated for affordable housing. Each floor will have 13 affordable housing units.

Still in the early stages, the potential development would be at 415 W. Franklin St., which is the current location of a public parking lot.

“To make this project work requires a parking deck to be built to add parking capacity to downtown,” Stancil said. “The proposal is to build a 450-space parking deck to replace approximately 150 existing surface spaces.”

The town currently owns the space where the building would be, but mayor Pam Hemminger said the town does not own the space where the proposed parking deck would be.

She said there was still a lot the council needed to know before making a decision on the property.

“There are property tax implications, which will be part of the financial model,” she said. “There’s also parking income versus leasing versus how it all shakes out whether the town ends up owning the lot or whether the developer ends up owning the lot.”

The town council unanimously approved a motion to allow Stancil and the town staff to continue learning about and discussing the possible development.

Stancil said in June he would present the council with his findings.

At that point the council would decide whether or not to proceed with the development.

Chapel Hill Receives Offer To Purchase Fire Station Property

The Town of Chapel Hill has received a 1.4 million dollar offer from the State Employee’s Credit Union to buy the property on Weaver Dairy Road that currently houses Fire Station No. 4.

Town manager Roger Stancil said the station is one of three the town needs to consider replacing.

“This is the opportunity to replace an aging facility,” he said. “It would require us to relocate Fire Staton No. 4.”

The council did not authorize Stancil to move forward with the sale, but did authorize him to come up with a recommendation about how to handle a possible sale and the options for relocating the station.

“If people haven’t been in the fire station, don’t understand the condition we ask our public safety people to live in and work in,” councilman George Cianciolo said. “I think it’ll be an eye-opener.”

But the $1.4 million, which is the town’s estimated value of the property, will not be nearly enough to cover the cost of a new fire facility.

According to Stancil, the cost to relocate the station would be around $2.9 million, excluding the cost of any land leased or purchased.

Fire Station No. 4 is also home to training facilities, which is estimated to cost $7 million to relocate.

“You could decide once we come back that you want to rebuild a fire station on that site,” Stancil said. “What motivates us is that we need to replace this fire station. Is there a way to do that and save the taxpayers money?”

The town will continue to listen to offers for the property, as well as evaluate potential new locations for the station.

Chapel Hill Town Council Approves Merin Road Development

After a lengthy discussion, the Chapel Hill Town Council approved a special use permit for a 62 single-family home development for the Merin Road Communty.

These types of developments are required to have a certain level of recreation space, but sustainability and planning executive director Mary Jane Nirdlinger said the town usually expects 75 percent of the requirement to be on-site, with the other 25 percent given to the town as a payment in-lieu.

The payment helps pay for the town’s current parks.

“The philosophy behind the 25 percent payment in-lieu is that folks who move into a neighborhood in town also take advantage of other things in their neighborhood such as the aquatic center, Homestead Park, our existing greenways and trails,” she said.

Capkov Ventures, the proposed developer, offered to create 115 percent of the required recreation space, but asked to be exempt from the estimated $88,000 payment in-lieu. The payment in-lieu is not legally required, but has become an expectation of the council.

“This has been a fairly consistent requirement,” Nirdlinger said. “But the council has made a couple of exceptions.”

The council became split over whether or not to allow the developer to be exempt from the payment. Councilwoman Sally Greene said she wanted to see the developer make the payment.

“It’s a private amenity you’re providing,” she said. “The fact is, it is not supporting the public park system and I have actually maintained over the years that 25 percent is too low.”

Council members asked Eric Chupp, who represented Capkov Ventures, to consider agreeing to pay in-lieu, but he said he could not do it.

Chupp said part of the reason was because there was no law requiring the payment and that exceptions had been made by the council in the past

“When you’re looking at a $90,000 payment when you’re already providing 115 percent of what the ordinance required at the elevated status of active recreation, typically single-family developments only have to provide passive recreation, I have to draw the line in the sand somewhere,” he said.

Councilwoman Donna Bell said the town needed to go back and clarify their policies regarding the payment in-lieu.

“It’s not staff that’s been wavering, it’s been the council that’s been sitting, that’s been wavering,” Bell said. “I am considering wavering again this evening with the idea that we’ll have something in writing which means we don’t have to waver anymore.”

The special use permit passed by a margin of 6-3, with councilwomen Sally Greene, Jessica Anderson and Nancy Oates as the dissenting voices.

Chapel Hill Ready To Invest In New Buses

Chapel Hill, Carrboro and UNC have agreed on a debt financing plan to add 10 to 15 new buses to start replacing a large portion of the current bus fleet which is past its useful life.

“Forty two of our 99 fixed-route buses are past their useful life,” said Chapel Hill Transit director Brian Litchfield. “The federal government puts 12 years on a fixed-route bus, 42 of our 99 are at least 14 years old, with our oldest around 21.”

The older buses require more time and money to maintain and can also be a safety concern.

Litchfield said some are so old that parts are no longer manufactured, so the town has to keep a few buses no longer in use to raid for parts.

“As our older buses have gotten older we’ve put more and more miles on our newer buses,” he said. “Some of our newest buses have miles on them for buses that are about twice their age.”

In order to help solve the problem, the Chapel Hill Town Council authorized the town manager to enter into an agreement with Gilling LLC, which enables the town to purchase up to 53 new buses, although it does not require the town to purchase any.

“These will generally be used to replace buses that are well beyond their useful life,” Litchfield said. “We’ll start replacing likely the oldest buses first. The only caveat to that would be any bus that has received a new engine or transmission would move down on that list.”

In a separate agreement, also approved by the council Monday, the town will contribute around $235,000 annually to help pay for 10-15 new buses, which Litchfield said will be determined based on the price of the buses. UNC will contribute around $444,000 and Carrboro will add around $83,000.

“We set up a cost-sharing arrangement that is based on the individual’s current contribution to the transit budget,” he said. “The university paying 58 percent, Chapel Hill paying 31 percent and Carrboro paying 11 percent.”

The council is also considering fuel efficiency for its new buses. The last group of buses purchased run on clean diesel, which Litchfield said emits just 5 percent of what the older buses did.

Councilman Ed Harrison said he wanted the town to conduct a study to look into more fuel efficient options.

Chapel Hill Leadership Criticized for Hosting Israeli Delegation

The Chapel Hill Town Council received backlash from community members after hosting Israeli delegates Monday.

The town council received 93 emails and heard four speakers in opposition to the town hosting four members of the Israeli parliament or the Knesset.

Mayor Pam Hemminger defended the decision, saying she wanted to share the town’s values with the delegation.

“We are an inclusive community,” she said. “Although you may not like what someone has to say we welcome them the opportunity to say it.”

The U.S. State Department, along with a group called International Focus, asked the town to host the newly-elected delegates, who Hemminger said wanted to get a better understanding of how American government worked.

“They were in New York City, they were in Washington, D.C., they came over to Chapel Hill,” she said. “They spent the morning with us at the school of journalism and then they spent three hours with us this afternoon having discussion with us.”

Hemminger then took the delegation to see the Botanical Gardens.

Many community members spoke out against the decision to meet with the delegates due to Israel’s treatment of Palestinian citizens.

Part of a chain email sent to council members reads: “By hosting this delegation, you send a message that the town of Chapel Hill supports Israel’s well-documented and unjust human rights abuses as well as its illegal occupation of Palestinian land. The Occupation is brutal, and hinders any path to safety or peace.”

Citizens also expressed their displeasure by attending the meeting with the delegation and speaking at the town council meeting Monday night.

“You have a historical obligation to not allow this kind of greenwashing diplomacy tour to put a human face on an evil, and unhumanitarian and undemocratic regime in Israel,” said Roger Ehrlich, who spoke at the council meeting.

Councilwoman Maria Palmer said she was so upset during the meeting with the delegation that she walked out.

Palmer left after one of the delegates said something she though was inappropriate to a Chapel Hill resident.

The resident told the delegate their family farm was expropriated by the Israeli government and that the family couldn’t breathe.

“And the response was ‘you can’t breathe, but you can stab,” Palmer said. “And that I thought was such a horrible thing to say, that you all are criminals.”

Palmer said she didn’t have a problem walking out because of what was said and the fact that the council did not vote on whether or not to host the delegation.

She said she hoped in the future decisions like this would be made with the consent of the council.

“I know it was distressing to many members of the public that we had them here,” Hemminger said. “But we were asked to host and we wanted to hear what they had to say and we wanted to share our message of inclusivity with them.”

Chapel Hill Joins Fight Against House Bill 2

Following Carrboro’s lead, the Chapel Hill Town Council unanimously approved a resolution calling for the repeal of House Bill 2 in an emergency meeting Monday night.

They also passed a second resolution condemning governor Pat McCrory and every representative that voted for the bill.

“We are going to be the same community we have always been,” said mayor Pam Hemminger. “We have the core values that we have. Of being supportive and inclusive and welcoming and we’re going to continue that.”

The North Carolina General Assembly passed House Bill 2 last week, which would prevent cities from passing laws allowing transgender people to use public restrooms for the gender they identify with.

The law also has implications for local minimum wage laws and issues of discrimination.

The argument made by many voting for the bill that this was done to protect women and children from sexual predators, something councilwoman Donna Bell took issue with.

“As a woman, I do not need to be protected,” she said. “Just like I didn’t need my reproductive rights protected by the state of North Carolina. As a mother, I do not need the state to protect my child. That is the responsibility of me as a parent to make sure of the safety of my child.”

Facts And Myths (That McCrory Forgot) About House Bill 2

After passing the first resolution, the council opened the floor to public comment. Michelle Doss was one of three people who said they identified as transgender to address the council.

“This was going to be my month to come out completely, even though I’ve been a woman for two and a half years legally,” she said. “I was going to come out because things were better after Charlotte. I was like ‘this is my time to be okay and feel a citizen’ but it looks like I’m coming out now because things are getting worse.”

Doss said she is from Hillsborough and frequently visits Chapel Hill. She said she has used women’s restrooms in public and has never had an issue.

“For me to go in the men’s bathroom is not a good idea,” she said. “There’s a lot of hatred out there and anger and I think I deserve better.”

A copy of the resolution will be sent to a number of officials, including McCrory and speaker Tim Moore.

The Town will also look into the possibility of joining any lawsuit brought against the bill and will raise the rainbow flag Tuesday to show support for the LGBTQ community.