Not enough parking spaces, and why didn’t the Town Council listen?

Today’s Commentator is Ken Larsen

FBC or Form Based Code is a tool that Chapel Hill leaders have adopted to expedite the development approval process.  I’m all for expediting that process, but in their haste to approve FBC, serious errors were made.  One lies with parking.  They introduced a formula that lowballs the number of parking spaces that developers are required to provide.

The Chapel Hill FBC specifies that a developer be required to provide only 1 parking space per one bedroom apartment and only 1.25 spaces for a two bedroom apartment.  To me, that’s too low and will result in fights over parking.  Like it or not, people own cars, and apartments will often be shared by multiple car-owning people.

This and other FBC issues were presented to the Town Council in 2014, but they chose to ignore such feedback.

Unfortunately, the results of a flawed decision are not immediately apparent.  If you permit a developer to skimp on parking spaces, it may be several years before a development is built, gets fully occupied, and parking problems surface.  This is all the more reason to proceed with caution.

Problems such as this FBC parking issue can be avoided if a Town Council actively listens to citizen and planning board feedback.  However, that hasn’t been happening.  The hubris of the current Town Council has resulted in many flawed decisions.  If they could put their egos aside and place serious value on citizen feedback, problems can be avoided.

Please vote in the November 3rd election.

— Ken Larsen.

CHTC Weighs Pros And Cons of B&Bs

The Town Council is pondering how bed and breakfasts might change the character of Chapel Hill’s historic neighborhoods.

In some tourist towns like Asheville, bed and breakfasts have been hailed as a way to revitalize historic neighborhoods, but Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said he’s not convinced that’s needed in Chapel Hill.

“Somebody earlier tonight said, ‘What problem is this solving?’, and I think for many of our neighborhoods it’s not solving any problem. It’s just potentially creating them,” said Kleinschmidt.

The council heard from residents on the issue Monday night. Many, including Boundary Street homeowner Sally Sather, were opposed to the concept.

“No one I have talked to in my neighborhood is in favor of allowing bed and breakfasts to start buying up our houses,” said Sather. “Allowing this kind of creeping commercialism would be a terrible precedent for this council to set.”

Town planners told the council they don’t recommend wide-spread permitting of B&Bs either, but the council could consider allowing some neighborhoods to opt in.

One example might be the Cameron-McCauley Historic District, where long-time residents say student rentals have taken over, destabilizing the neighborhood. Kurt Ribisl is the president of the Westside Neighborhood Association. He told the council new bed and breakfasts sound better than more of what his neighbors call “student-stuffers.”

“Between having a rental property or a B&B, people would think that a B&B would be a more desirable option in our neighborhood,” said Ribisl.

Laurie Paolicelli, head of the Orange County Community Relations and Tourism Department, warned the council the growth of short-term rentals like Airbnb means Chapel Hill leaders may have missed the opportunity to oversee the process.

“If you look at Airbnb and you google 27514 or 27516, there are so many options that I fear we’re already in the B&B business, but not regulated and not in a healthy way and that really concerns me,” said Paolicelli.

The question of whether to allow bed and breakfasts in Chapel Hill has been debated off and on since 1984. The B&B debate will continue October 26.

Poll Shows Tight Race Ahead for Chapel Hill Municipal Election

Undecided voters will likely determine the Chapel Hill Town Council and Mayoral leadership this November, according to new polling numbers.

With a heated campaign season well underway, Public Policy Polling commissioned a Chapel Hill-specific survey and exclusively shared the results with WCHL-Chapelboro.

PPP Director Tom Jensen says, with more than a month to go before Election Day, a lot could change between now and November 3. But as it stands, incumbent Mark Kleinschmidt is leading the Mayoral candidates with 37 percent of respondents favoring a fourth term for Kleinschmidt. Challenger Pam Hemminger checked in with 25 percent of respondents and Gary Kahn is polling at five percent. Kleinschmidt also boasts a 48/27 approval rating. Jensen says it would be “pretty unusual” to lose when a candidate’s numbers are “that solid,” but 33 percent of those surveyed say they are still undecided on who they will vote for in the ballot box in the coming weeks.

Listen to Tom Jensen’s full interview with WCHL’s Aaron Keck below:


Meanwhile, 42 percent of respondents say they are undecided on their first choice for Town Council and 52 percent say they have no clear second choice. 22 percent of those surveyed say they support challenger Nancy Oates as their first or second choice among CHTC candidates, followed by incumbents Jim Ward, 19 percent, Donna Bell, 18 percent, and Lee Storrow, 13 percent. Challengers David Schwartz, 11 percent, Jessica Anderson, nine percent, Michael Parker, eight percent, Adam Jones, five percent, and Paul Neebe, three percent, round out the crowded field.

Jensen says another way to look at the numbers shows incumbents – Bell, Storrow and Ward – totaling 50 percent of the support, and CHALT-backed candidates – Oates, Schwartz and Anderson – receiving 42 percent of the support. Hemminger has been endorsed by CHALT in the race for Mayor.

There is one open seat on the Town Council after Matt Czajkowski resigned to work for a non-profit in Rwanda earlier this year.

Jensen points out endorsements in the next month from the Sierra Club and the Indy Week have the potential to greatly shuffle the deck of hopefuls.

The polling shows that Chapel Hillians are as divided on issues in the town as they are the candidates hoping to make decisions on those issues in the future; 43 percent of voters think the town is headed in the right direction, while 39 percent think it’s on the wrong track; 50 percent of voters think the town is growing at the right pace, 33 percent think it’s growing too fast and eight percent answered Chapel Hill is growing too slow.

One area that received more support was the Orange-Durham Light Rail project, with 69 percent of those surveyed supporting the plan.

66 percent of voters say they’re inclined to support proposed bonds.

Meanwhile, 27 percent of voters support the Obey Creek project with 44 percent saying they are opposed to the development.

Jensen says the poll was commissioned because of interest, not because of a candidate had requested or paid for it. He cites the fact that he lives in Chapel Hill helped decide to go forward with the survey.

You can read over the entire results here, ChapelHillPoll2015

Chapel Hill Town Council and Mayoral Forum on WCHL Thursday Night

Candidates in the races for Chapel Hill Mayor and the Town Council will face off Thursday night in a two hour debate hosted by WCHL, the Sierra Club, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, the  Greater Chapel Hill Association of REALTORS® and the Home Builders Association of Durham, Orange & Chatham Counties.

Nine people are vying for four seats on the Chapel Hill Town Council this November. The three incumbents, Jim Ward, Donna Bell and Lee Storrow, face Adam Jones, David Schwartz, Jessica Anderson, Nancy Oates, Paul Neebe and Michael Parker.

There’s also one open seat on the council that’s been vacant since Matt Czajkowski resigned in March.

Incumbent Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt faces two challengers, Pam Hemminger and Gary Kahn.

Kleinschmidt has served as mayor since 2009, and two terms on the council prior to that. Hemminger previously served on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board and the Orange County Board of Commissioners. Gary Kahn has run for office twice in the past, both times unsuccessfully.

Aaron Keck will moderate the discussion, exploring issues of development, growth, affordability and more. Bring your questions for candidates or submit them to us using Facebook or Twitter.

You can join us live in the Council Chamber at Chapel Hill Town Hall, or tune in on the radio at 7 o’clock. The forum will be simultaneously broadcast on Chapel Hill Gov-TV and streamed on the Town’s website as well as

Housing Nonprofit Awarded Tax Credits For Legion Road Project

Local housing nonprofit DHIC has been awarded state tax credits that will pave the way to build affordable apartments on Legion Road.

Gregg Warren, president of DHIC, says there’s a demonstrated need for affordable rentals in Chapel Hill.

“There are over than 3,000 families in need of such housing in the market area in Chapel Hill,” says Warren. “We’ll do our part to try to at least scratch the surface of that need with the Greenfield development.”

Once completed, Greenfield Place will offer 80 apartments for working families. A second phase will set aside 60 apartments for low-income seniors.

The development will consist of four buildings on nine acres next to the Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery. That land was donated to DHIC by the Town of Chapel Hill.

Town officials have been planning the project in collaboration with DHIC for more than two years. Warren says the tax credits from the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency are vital to keeping the apartments affordable.

“Those tax credits allow us to raise equity, and that equity reduces the mortgage that we need to secure, thus allowing us to lower the rents for the residents who will live in Greenfield Place.”

DHIC’s design team will begin working with the town to craft a development proposal. Warren says he hopes to have residents moving in by December 2017.

Ballots Crowding Up In Chapel Hill, Hillsborough

With one day left in the filing period for local office, three more candidates added their names to the ballot.

There are two new candidates in the race for Chapel Hill Town Council: incumbent Jim Ward and challenger Adam Jones. Jones is a realtor; earlier this year he applied to be appointed to the Council to fill the seat left vacant by Matt Czajkowski when he stepped down to move to Africa. (The Council elected not to fill that seat.)

Ward and Jones are among eight candidates – so far – for four open seats. Incumbent Lee Storrow has also filed to run, as have challengers Michael Parker, Paul Neebe, Nancy Oates, Jessica Anderson, and David Schwartz. One more incumbent, Donna Bell, has not announced her intentions yet.

There’s also another candidate in the race for Hillsborough Board of Commissioners. Cindy Lee Talisman filed to run on Thursday; on Facebook she said she was running in response to the Board’s decision this week to take down the words “Confederate Memorial” from a public building downtown.

Talisman is the fifth candidate in the race for three open seats. Also on the ballot: incumbents Brian Lowen and Evelyn Lloyd, and challengers Mark Bell and Ashley DeSena.

See the full list of candidates for local office in Orange County.

The filing period ends on Friday at noon.

Schwartz, Samuels Throw Their Hats In The Ring

There’s another candidate in the race for Chapel Hill Town Council: David Alan Schwartz filed to run for office on Monday.

Schwartz has been recently active with the group Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town, or CHALT. He’s the sixth candidate to file to run for Town Council – joining Michael Parker, Paul Neebe, Nancy Oates, Jessica Anderson, and incumbent Lee Storrow.

There are four seats up for election on the Council this year – one of which is vacant, following Matt Czajkowski’s departure earlier this year. In addition to Storrow, the other two incumbents are Donna Bell and Jim Ward; they haven’t announced their intentions publicly yet.

Elsewhere, there are now four candidates in the race for a seat on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board.

The terms of Mike Kelley, Jamezetta Bedford, Annetta Streater and David Saussy expire this fall. To date, Streater is the only incumbent who’s filed to run for re-election.

The challengers are Rani Dasi, Theresa Watson, and now Margaret Samuels. Samuels is president of OE Enterprises, which provides job training services for people with disabilities.

Dasi is a business analysis manager at Lord Corporation, as well as a board member for The Walking Classroom.

Theresa Watson has worked for years as a youth mentor. She ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Carrboro Board of Aldermen in May 2014.

See the full list of candidates in Orange County.

The filing period continues through Friday for those seeking office on the Chapel Hill Town Council, Carrboro Board of Aldermen, Hillsborough Town Board and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board.

Town Approves Obey Creek

Developer Roger Perry has been waiting on approval for Obey Creek for six years. And Monday night, he finally got his payday. The Town Council voted seven to one in favor of an agreement that would allow a 1.5 million-square-foot development to be built across from Southern Village.

The development will include housing, retail and commercial space, and it’s been a point of contention at town council meetings over the past several years. That tension was palpable Monday night as resident Arthur Finn spoke during the public hearing before the vote.

“How can a person who makes a living putting up 90-foot buildings talk about what’s good for Chapel Hill?” Finn asked.

The town has been working with an independent consulting firm and a council-appointed compass committee to vet the development agreement. But despite these efforts, many citizens at the meeting, like Esther Miller, shared lingering concerns about size, building heights and traffic mitigation.

“Traffic is bad, and it’s going to get a lot worse,” Miller warned.

The council members who voted for the agreement expressed a shared belief that Obey Creek had been thoroughly vetted and would provide needed housing and retail.

“I believe that the balance has been struck between a really dynamic wonderful, new area of Chapel Hill that supports many of our goals that have been mentioned, including new housing,” Councilwoman Sally Greene said.

Councilman Ed Harrison was the only member voting against. He said Obey Creek was a well-designed development, but still had concerns about traffic and size. He also felt several changes to the document made during the meeting had not been sufficiently reviewed.

“Even if I don’t agree with every point they’ve made,” Harrison said, “I would like someone to represent the folks who have had concerns about this that haven’t been alleviated. And I’m willing to do that. If that means I vote tonight then I do. In that case, I can’t vote for this. I certainly can’t vote for it if I haven’t seen the whole contract.”

While Harrison did not vote in favor of the development agreement, he did vote in favor of other provisions that allow Obey Creek to go forward—namely, the creation of a zoning amendment that allows for a development agreement to be used, the actual rezoning of the Obey Creek site and a land-swap between the town and the developer.

Several other council members shared a desire to see the final draft of the agreement, but were comfortable adding an article that would give the town until July 1 to make minor changes.

Perry says he isn’t certain when construction will begin, but it probably won’t be this year.

Chapel Hill Town Council Delays Obey Creek Vote

The Chapel Hill Town Council chose not to vote on the approval last night of the 120-acre Obey Creek development near Southern Village. Instead, the council used the meeting to hear further public comment and pushed the vote until next Monday.

The council’s decision not to vote seemed to come as a shock to Obey Creek’s developer Roger Perry.

“Damn! I got all dressed up,” Perry said.

Town staff had recommended the council approve the rezoning and development agreement, which would clear the way for construction to begin. But at the meeting, the council said it needed more time to review recent information from the North Carolina Department of Transportation. The town spent last week in negotiations with the DOT over Obey Creek’s impact on traffic.

“There’s been a lot of questions from all of you, back and forth with the staff, getting and  seeking clarity,” Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said. “And so I think that having worked with these folks for a while, I think that they need to stew. And I think it’s reasonable because, much of what some of us have heard and learned, and the clarity we’ve sought on some issues, was hours ago.”

Despite successful negotiations with the DOT, some residents who spoke at the meeting expressed concern that the development agreement doesn’t ensure adequate traffic calming measures for south Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill resident Susan Lindsay said she wanted a stronger commitment to such measures for her area.

“You can’t get much more direct than the impact that Dogwood Acres Drive will feel from this development,” she said.

A few residents at the meeting also reiterated concerns about design, the amount of retail space, and a desire for an overall smaller footprint. Monte Brown was one proponent of a scaled-down development.

“To me it’s clear: You either value the life of the southern Chapel hill residents and your various boards, or you value the bunch of investors from Maryland,” Brown told the council.

Several council members signaled their support of the project at its largest scale: 1.5 million square feet. Councilwoman Maria Palmer said she supports a larger footprint because it means more housing for more people.

“We actually need housing in Chapel Hill. We need places for people to live. We have thousands of people commuting to Chapel Hill because there is no adequate housing for them. We have a lack of certain types of apartments, of housing for older residents, of affordable housing, of everything that is going into this development,” Palmer said.

The council plans to resume discussion and come to a vote on Obey Creek at its meeting next Monday night.

No Appointment to the Chapel Hill Town Council…Yet

Candidates hoping to be appointed to the vacant seat on the Chapel Hill Town Council will have to wait another week before any decision might be made.

A vote on whether or not the council would vote to appoint another candidate to the Town Council failed to pass by a vote of four to three at the council meeting on Monday night.

Chapel Hill resident Nancy Oates petitioned the Town Council to put off any consideration of appointing a new member until a full council was present.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says, regardless of council population, any candidate would need to hit a certain mark in order to receive an appointment.

“The Town Council has to have five people voting the same way in order for that to happen,” Kleinschmidt says. “Even if there are only five council members here, all five of them would have to [vote] in the same direction.

“So it doesn’t really matter whether we have everyone here or not.”

Council member Lee Storrow was out of town for business and,therefore, was not in attendance for the meeting.

The appointment will appear on every agenda until the Town Council appoints a new member or residents elect a representative.