Chapel Hill Town Council Meets For First Time In 2016

The Chapel Hill Town Council met in a work session for the first time since Mayor Pam Hemminger, along with four other council members, were sworn in last December.

The meeting was used to get council members up to speed on major projects and procedures they will need in the coming year.

Rae Buckley, assistant to the manager for organizational and strategic initiatives, gave a presentation on five different downtown building projects, including Rosemary Street, Northside and Downtown 2020.

“We feel they’re very connected to one another,” she said. “As we’re working on our projects it’s very important for us to meet on a regular basis and do a better job at when one of these comes forward to you that it’s connected to the others.”

Town manager Roger Stancil gave a presentation about how council meetings work and how different issues become part of a meeting agenda.

“We could really divide what comes to (the council) in three large categories,” he said.

He said those categories were petitions citizens or council members make, the business of the town and development applications. Stancil said the third was most likely to take up the majority of the council’s time.

After presentations were finished, council members discussed what issues they wanted to talk about in future work sessions.

“I think the topic of affordable housing is so manifold that I would like to see us engage on a series of work sessions on affordable housing,” said councilwoman Sally Greene.

Other issues included student housing and public housing.

Hemminger said if there was an issue a member of the public wanted the council to discuss in their work sessions, suggestions could be made to council members via email, which can be found on the town website.

CHTC Member Storrow to Host Town Halls

Chapel Hill Town Council Member Lee Storrow is scheduled to host the first of four town hall events Wednesday evening.

Over the next two weeks, Storrow will host four such events to get input from the residents and business owners of Chapel Hill.

Storrow says each town hall will have a different focus.

Wednesday, February 25, beginning at 5:30 in the evening at DSI Comedy, Storrow will be joined by business owners and leaders from the Chapel Hill Downtown partnership to receive feedback and share goals of the future of Downtown Chapel Hill.

Saturday, February 28, at 1 o’clock in the afternoon, Storrow will host a Town Hall at the Rogers Road Community Center. This event will focus on social and environmental justice.

Thursday, March 5, at 5:30 in the evening from The Siena Hotel, a Town Hall will focus on economic development.

Finally, at 5:30 in the evening of Thursday, March 12, Storrow will host a Town Hall at the Chapel Hill Public Library. This will include leaders from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Orange County Board of County Commissioners and will focus on working together across governmental lines in Orange County.

Storrow says that he is holding these events to receive feedback about what issues are important to residents of Chapel Hill.

When asked if this was the first step in announcing a run for election when his term is up this fall, Storrow says it is still early to make a formal announcement. He adds that an announcement will likely be made next month.

Town Council Seeks County Buy-In For Ephesus-Fordham Plan

When it comes to financing the Ephesus-Fordham renewal plan, Chapel Hill leaders say they have a unique investment opportunity to offer Orange County Commissioners, if they act fast.

“We’re letting you in on a really good thing,” said Council Member Maria Palmer, at Thursday’s joint meeting of the Chapel Hill Town Council and the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

“I’ve heard that before and it doesn’t always work out so good,” replied Commissioner Mark Dorosin.

“What you guys need to keep in mind is the cost of not doing it right,” Palmer countered.

Council members hope Commissioners will sign on to the financing plan for the Ephesus-Fordham revitalization project, which calls for $10 million dollars worth of road and infrastructure improvements to the Ephesus Church-Fordham Boulevard intersection, as well as the rezoning of 190 acres to spur economic development nearby.

The improvements would be financed using Chapel Hill Town Hall as collateral, and paid off with the increased tax revenue expected to come with residential and commercial growth in the area.

But Chapel Hill’s Business Management Director Ken Pennoyer said there’s a lag between the time the town will reap the rewards of the investment and when the bills come due. He said paying down the debt will cost the town an estimated $800,000 each year, but the additional revenue won’t match that until 2030.

“That’s one of the things that we’re trying to solve for, is that gap between the town’s tax increment and our expected debt service cost,” said Pennoyer.

The town is asking the county to chip in by donating a portion of the county’s tax revenue from the redevelopment to help pay that annual debt service, a contribution of up to $400,000 each year.

Although the town has money in its debt management fund that could cover the shortfall, Pennoyer told the board Orange County’s participation in the project is vital.

“Our ability to do it would be marginal. It would be much tighter,” said Pennoyer. “The county’s participation creates the strength of a partnership that basically is a very strong, marketable debt structure. It creates a synergy there that makes it work a whole lot better, but if the town needed to do this on our own, we may be able to squeak by.”

Commissioners questioned the phasing of the plan, which anticipates mostly residential growth in the short-term and commercial development in later years.

County leaders also questioned the impact the project would have on school enrollment. Orange County Interim Manager Michael Talbert said adding 1,000 apartments would cost the county an additional $1 million each year in school funding and likely accelerate the need for new schools.

“That could also put pressure on our building capacity and may move future schools that were maybe five or ten years out up in the schedule,” said Talbert.

Commissioners expressed cautious enthusiasm about the Ephesus-Fordham project, but Chair Barry Jacobs said the board needs to know more before committing to the plan.

“It’s clear that y’all are excited, and as partners, that makes us at least somewhat excited, but I think we need to do our due diligence from our perspective,” said Jacobs.

The Chapel Hill Town Council is looking to vote on the rezoning portion of the plan in mid-April, but the financing would not need to be in place until June.

County Commissioners will discuss the plan at a future work session yet to be scheduled. The Town Council will meet with Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district administrators on April 9 to discuss the project’s impact on enrollment.

CHTC Eyes Town Funding For Affordable Rental Housing Plan

CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill Town Council on Monday unanimously endorsed a new plan to increase the town’s supply of affordable rental housing. While housing advocates applauded the move, they told the council it won’t work without money. Council members agreed, saying it might be time to consider dedicating one cent of the tax rate to fund the plan.

“I would to ask the [Town] Manager, when he brings us his proposed budget for next year, that it has the one cent tax on it,” said George Cianciolo. “Because I think it’s time that we started investing in something that the citizens have said repeatedly that they want to see.”

Approximately 54 percent of all housing units in Chapel Hill are rentals, far more than in surrounding areas. But demand outstrips supply. A 2010 study suggested the town would need to add 1,200 rental units to serve the population, but in the past five years only 539 units have been approved, none of which are priced to serve those needing workforce housing.

About 2,100 people are on the wait list for public housing or voucher programs in Chapel Hill, and wait time can range from one to five years. Compounding the problem, federal funding has been steadily reduced and town staffers say payments into the town’s affordable housing fund from local developers are unpredictable at best.

Mayor pro tem Sally Greene, who co-chaired the Mayor’s Committee on Affordable Rental Housing, said the council could consider several options for creating a dedicated local revenue stream.

“Either carve out a penny on the existing tax rate or add a penny to the tax rate,” said Greene. “There’s also a discussion we could have about whether to have a bond referendum that is connected to affordable housing.”

Adding one penny to the property tax rate would generate approximately $729,000 annually. Lee Storrow said finding that money in next year’s budget could be a challenge. He asked for staff to come up with a plan to incrementally increase the funding over a period of years.

“Is there a three-year plan or a five-year plan for us to build to a designated town-generated revenue source?” asked Storrow. “It’s really important, because when I came on the council and realized the limited amount of funds that the town was spending on affordable housing it did make me feel uncomfortable.”

The majority of the council supported the concept of dedicating tax dollars to affordable housing. The precise timing and amount will be discussed when the town manager presents a budget plan later this spring.

The council voted unanimously to adopt the new affordable rental housing strategy. In addition to identifying sustainable funding, the plan calls for a senior staff member to focus on affordable rentals, encouraging partnerships between private builders and nonprofits, and the creation of a housing advisory board to monitor implementation of the strategy.

CHCCS Asks Town Council To Consider Cost Of Growth

CHAPEL HILL- When the Chapel Hill Town Council and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board met together for the first time last night to discuss shared concerns, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt called for the school board to take a more active role in how the town plans for growth.

“We really need your feedback… to be more engaged in commenting on the impact of growth in our community on how well you’re able to provide your services to it,” said Kleinschmidt.

But long-time school board member Mike Kelley countered that growth is not what the district really needs.

“The best situation for the schools is stability, not to have to build new schools, not to have to redistrict, to move kids from one school from another and change those communities,” said Kelley.

Nonetheless, both council and school board members recognized that the district’s high-performing schools are a significant draw for Chapel Hill, and that school enrollment numbers are likely to continue to grow.

School board member Mia Burroughs has represented the district in the Central West planning process. She told the council the specifics of development aren’t as important to school administrators as the bottom line.

“Within our district, we’re not super-concerned about where the kids are,” said Burroughs. “What we are concerned about is how to do we pay for the schools and the operating costs, and that’s what we want you to be cognizant of, that when there are more kids, there’s a cost.”

Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese told the council the district is already struggling to maintain aging facilities and that the cost of operating new schools continues to rise.

In light of that, Burroughs and others asked the council to examine the economic impact of residential development and consider what can be done to increase the commercial tax base.

At the same time, some are already looking ahead to where the next school will go. Mayor Pro Tem Ed Harrison suggested land-banking potential school sites across the district.

“With the astounding price of land in this district, we really have to pin down that land right now, so that in five or ten years it isn’t simply out of reach,” said Harrison.

This was the first time the two groups have come together to discuss joint planning efforts. The school board and council pledged to continue the collaboration through a series of future meetings and raised the possibility of forming a committee to facilitate communication.

MLK And Estes Drive Residents Pan Central West Plan

CHAPEL HILL- More than 200 people came out Monday night to voice their concerns about the draft plan for the future of the intersection of Estes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

“I am not against development,” Chris Hakkenberg told the council. “I am however stridently opposed to the aggressive and myopic plans that have carried the day thus far in the Central West process.”

“I feel like in some respects, this is a size nine foot going into a size six shoe,” said Elaine Marcus.

“This plan, in short, is not ready for prime time,” said Alan Tom.

The three were among nearly thirty speakers at the public hearing, most of whom criticized the small area plan created by the Central West Steering Committee.

The 17-member committee was convened nearly a year ago, and since them the group has met more than 30 times and hosted 10 public outreach sessions prior to submitting the small area plan.

The plan lays out potential land uses for the 97 acre area, calling for a mix of commercial development and housing in three to five story buildings along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, with the density and building height decreasing along Estes Drive.

The plan also focuses on the need for bike and pedestrian pathways to access the two nearby schools. The committee recommends widening Estes to five lanes at the intersection with Martin Luther King, but tapering down to two lanes for much of the length of the road.

Amy Ryan, Town Council candidate and co-chair of the Central West Committee, said the improvements could mean less traffic at the intersection even with more drivers on the road.

“What they are telling us is that the level of service in morning and evening are not worse than they are today, and in some cases will be improved with some of the mitigations,” said Ryan. “The delay times are generally at a minute or less at peak times.”

The plan was approved by a two-thirds majority vote by the committee, but a small minority rejected the plan, saying it was too dense, with too few details on the possible impacts of growth.

But Ryan argued that’s not what the process was meant to produce.

“Our job was not to produces a specific site design for this area,” said Ryan. “Rather it was our job to have a vision for positive change.”

Residents opposed to the work of the committee have circulated a lower-density citizen’s plan, as well as a petition asking that the council vote to adopt the plan be delayed indefinitely.

And some on the council, including Mayor Pro Tem Ed Harrison, seemed inclined to consider the request.

“If it does take longer, it should take longer,” said Harrison. “This discounts none of the work of the committee, which I think has been excellent and the citizen’s plan as well is a nice piece of work. But I just want to say that right now I am willing to extend the time if that’s what it takes.”

Nonetheless, council member Gene Pease told the assembled crowd the town faces tough choices about growth and taxes in the near future. He asked residents to make room for commercial development.

“I don’t know the answer, except we have to accept some commercial,” said Pease. “You’ve been trying to define it with your citizen’s plan, the committee’s trying to define it, but we have to find some way to find some middle ground or our taxes are going to continue to go up services will be cut and we will be pushing out the people that create a diverse community. This will become a bedroom community if we’re not careful.”

The Central West plan goes to the Town Planning Board for evaluation before returning to the Town Council for consideration on November 25.

Council Members Square Off On Affordable Rental Plan

CHAPEL HILL- Molly McConnell told the Chapel Hill Town Council she’s lived in rentals since 1970, but it’s getting harder and harder to make ends meet.

“I will tell you that 74 percent of my income goes to my housing, my heat, my electricity and my water,” said McConnell, who lives in the Glen Lennox neighborhood. “I am one of many, many thousands of people in this sort of situation in this community. We do not have a healthy or just community when we don’t have affordable or decent housing for all of our citizens.”

McConnell, along with a group of developers, elected officials and non-profit representatives, served on the Mayor’s Committee on Affordable Rental Housing, which presented five month’s worth of research to the Town Council on Wednesday.

The panel recommended that the town shorten the approval process for developers building affordable rentals and incentivize the creation of new affordable rentals at all ends of the economic spectrum.

Council member Donna Bell, who co-chaired the committee, told the council demand quite simply outstrips supply.

“As long as there are more people than there are units, then people will continue to pay a premium to have property here,” said Bell.

Committee members suggested putting a bond package up for a vote and dedicating as much as one cent on the tax rate to create consistent funding for the development of new housing.

Bell said taxpayers will have to decide just how much diversity is worth.

“What we are talking about is investing in whether we want to be a bedroom community or if we truly are invested in being a community of diversity. There’s no wiggle room in this. This is the baseline question,” said Bell. “If the citizens want to create a bedroom community, they should let us know so that we can start making policies in that direction and so that I can pack up my family and move somewhere else.”

But council member Matt Czajkowski pushed back against what he said are contradictory policies.

“To have a policy that says ‘we’re going to find ways to add affordable housing, when we have Chapel Hill 2020, broadly endorsed by the Chamber, which is basically going to knock down 300 affordable units in Colony Woods, makes no sense,” said Czajkowski.

In a ten minute speech to the council, he argued that Chapel Hill needs to fight to preserve its present supply of affordable rentals instead of planning to build more in the future, and he rejected the idea that more development will translate into more affordable options down the road.

***Listen to the discussion***

CHTC Affordable Rental Debate

“When we talk about the need to add supply to the housing stock overall, let’s look at what we’ve added: East 54, 140 [West] Franklin, Greenbridge, the apartments that are coming at University [Square]. Every single one of them is among the most expensive per square foot in the entire town,” said Czajkowski. “What is the basis for the argument? Where is there any evidence at all that if we build more, or allow developers to build more, that it will result in ultimately lower rental rates?”

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt spent five minutes rebutting Czajkowski’s remarks, saying the problem is too big for the council to just throw up its hands.

“It requires every single one of us getting up everyday and making it work, and that means coming up with new ways of thinking about things,” said Kleinschmidt. “That’s what this committee has done.”

Despite the heated debate, the council took no action on the plan other than requesting a report from town staff on the feasibility of the proposals.

In the meantime, the council faces a November deadline to make a deal with a Raleigh-based nonprofit to use low-income tax credits to build affordable housing on town-owned land on Legion Road.

2013 CHTC Candidate Profile: George Cianciolo

CHAPEL HILL – Chapel Hill Town Council candidate, George Cianciolo says revenue and paying for the implementation of the Chapel Hill 2020 plan are the top issues he’ll focus on if elected.

“If you look at where the town is now, I think several council members have talked about that the Council and the Town Manager pulled all the rabbits out of the hat they can,” Cianciolo says. “We don’t have any ability to issue a bond for four more years; we raised our taxes this time for the first time in five years by four percent.”

WCHL’s Ran Northam spoke with Cianciolo about his seeking election to the Town Council and how he believes he’ll best serve you.

***Listen to the Interview***

Nine candidates are contending for four seats on the Town Council.

Cianciolo says the way to increase the revenue for future development is though a thoughtful process for the business applicants and the citizens.

“We need to shorten our review process and make it more streamline,” Cianciolo says. “But to do that, we need citizen input. We’ve been talking about potentially going to a form-based code zoning system or something like that; it might be a hybrid.”

Between now and Election Day, we’ll be previewing each of the candidates one-on-one.

For more on Cianciolo, click here.

2013 CHTC Candidate Profile: Sally Greene

CHAPEL HILL – Chapel Hill Town Council candidate, Sally Greene says the gap between the very wealthy and the very poor is very disconcerting.

“One issue that I have worked for two terms on is very important, and that’s affordable housing,” Greene says. “On Wednesday night, Donna Bell and I will be presenting a draft affordable rental housing strategy that she and I have been working together with a group of citizens on on a mayor’s committee over the summer.”

WCHL’s Ran Northam spoke with Greene about her seeking election to the Town Council and how she believes she’ll best serve you.

***Listen to the Interview***

Nine candidates are contending for four seats on the Town Council.

Greene is currently serving the remainder of Penny Rich’s term on the Council.

She says there are a number of recommendations they have been working on to combat the town’s affordable housing issue.

“One has already been presented to the Council for the first time, and that is a low-income housing tax credit project for which we will potentially give ten acres of town land to a non-profit from Raleigh called DHIC which is in the business of providing that type of housing,” Greene says.

Between now and Election Day, we’ll be previewing each of the candidates one-on-one.

For more on Greene, click here.

2013 CHTC Candidate Profile: Ed Harrison

CHAPEL HILL – Mayor Pro Tem and Chapel Hill Town Council candidate, Ed Harrison, says the top issue he’s hearing discussed in town is the relationship between future land use and revenues. He says one way to work on those issues is by continuing with the priority budgeting process.

“We had to change things around when there was what a colleague called old fashioned priority budgeting issues, which is a lot of people showing up, making sense about changing how we spent money—for instance, on the library and its hours,” Harrison says. “But, I think we will continue that kind of process.”

WCHL’s Ran Northam spoke with Harrison about his seeking re-election to the Town Council and how he believes he’ll best serve you.

***Listen to the Interview***

Nine candidates are contending for four seats on the Town Council.

Harrison says in his 12 years the council, he’s been able to hone his skills.

“Being a council member is a general field, but you have specializations” Harrison says. “I already had expertise in environmental issues when I came to the council. I’ve worked very hard on that, particularly with a couple citizen boards. I was called, by a newspaper eight years ago, the transportation wonk; I’m very proud of that.”

Between now and Election Day, we’ll be previewing each of the candidates one-on-one.

For more on Harrison, click here.