It’s been a decade since Chapel Hill leaders began to push for more commercial growth to balance the tax base. But David Schwartz, co-founder of Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town, says in that time, the town has failed to move away from residential development.
“We cannot make up for a deficit in commercial by doubling down on the amount of residential that we build,” says Schwartz.
Town Council Member Maria Palmer says that’s not a fair assessment.
“You can’t say we’re not building enough commercial if every commercial proposal that is put forward is attacked by the same folks who have organized the group you represent,” says Palmer.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce President Aaron Nelson takes that idea even further.
“We’ve moved beyond NIMBY in our community,” says Nelson. “NIMBY stands for ‘not in my backyard.’ We’ve gotten to NOTE: ‘not over there either.’ And so, it is a challenge when you both want to protect your neighborhood and prohibit it from happening in other appropriate places as well.”
Schwartz is also critical of the town’s new form-based code, in which the council sets specific parameters for development, then hands over the approval process to the Town Manager’s office. He argues the town isn’t asking enough from developers.
“The problem we have with our form-based code is that we didn’t ask for anything,”says Schwartz. “We asked for basically nothing. We said OK because we are so eager to get some kind of investment in here, any kind, even if in fact, it is the wrong kind in terms of what the town needs, that we are going to basically ask for nothing.”
Last spring, the Town Council rezoned 192 acres near Ephesus-Fordham Boulevard using form-based code in a bid to spur redevelopment in the area. Ben Perry is with East West Partners, the development company that submitted the Village Plaza Apartment plan, the first project under the new rules. He takes issue with Schwartz’s assertion that the town asked for nothing.
“We paid a very significant payment-in-lieu to Parks and Recreation for open space to develop that somewhere else. We paid a transit fee to Chapel Hill Transit which is not a requirement anywhere else in town,” says Perry. “It’s not that the town didn’t get the things they wanted and usually expect, they just told us what they want and we didn’t haggle. We just did it.”
Now, a little less than a year after adopting the form-based code, the Town Council is considering a laundry list of adjustments to tweak the code based on public input and planning staff feedback.
Southern Village resident Jeanne Brown said she’s happy to hear there’s room for change.
“One of the concerns in the community is that we’ve gone up significantly in height and density- that changes character,” says Brown. “That’s something we’ve got to address and understand, that not everyone is feeling good and comfortable with that.”
Dwight Bassett is the Town’s economic development officer. He says building dense residential developments like Village Plaza Apartments can help draw commercial investment, a strategy he ultimate expects to benefit the whole town.
“From my perspective I think we’re headed on the right path and we’re going to wake up one day and look back at that district and say that was a great decision because it helped create something that was missing in Chapel Hill.”
Chapel Hill residents voiced an array of concerns about the state of development in the Ephesus-Fordham district at Monday’s town council meeting.
Here are some residents’ words:
Jean Yarnell: “Ephesus-Fordham district form-based code only addressed water quality, not water quantity or flooding.”
Esther Miller: “I spent a half an hour . . . the other afternoon, right after school, trying to get through on Estes from Carrboro back to my neighborhood because there’s no place to go. The traffic has no place to go.”
Diane Willis: “The citizenry answered your surveys and said we want three-to-four-story buildings and human-scale development, not seven-story buildings with no affordable housing of any kind, no energy efficiency, no provisions for green space for the public.”
Residents were responding to the nature and pace of development since the town council approved a new type of zoning in the district called form-based code. The code sets parameters for building height, parking space and other details, and it authorizes the town manager, instead of the town council, to approve projects that meet the criteria.
Since the council enacted the new code ten months ago, the town received three project applications, and one, Village Plaza Apartments, has been approved and is now being built. The district has seen only two developments of a similar scale over the last several years.
At Monday’s meeting the town discussed amending the text of the code, including aligning the regulations with the town’s comprehensive plan and rewording the design guidelines.
In responding to residents’ concerns, Member Jim Ward said he voted against form-based code; he said the code, unfortunately, doesn’t incentivize affordable housing.
Member Lee Storrow said the parking guidelines ensure that seven-story structures will not be built “at every parcel.”
Member Donna Bell said that town leaders have listened to residents; they may feel unheard because they have experienced unexpected outcomes.
“It’s not that we don’t think about or care about our citizens who are living in a floodplain that were sold houses that are going to flood,” said Bell. “But we have committed to looking at the development at the upper end. We have committed to having some control over both quantity and quality of the water in the Ephesus-Fordham development district.”
After the planning commission reviews the text amendments and makes recommendations, the council will continue the public hearing on September 21.http://chapelboro.com/news/development/residents-voice-concerns-over-ephesus-fordham-development-form-based-code/
A Walgreens could be coming to northern Chapel Hill.
The Chapel Hill Town Council on Monday unanimously approved a rezoning and Special Use Permit for the Weaver Crossing development.
The project will bring 40,700 square feet of retail, medical and office space to 3.7 acres at the corner of Weaver Dairy Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The property is owned by Walgreens; the drugstore and drive-through pharmacy will be the retail anchor store at the site.
Council members approved a right-in-only turn from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard into the parking lot, and right in/right out entrances at Sparrow Street and on Weaver Dairy.
The developer will also pay $16,800 for a new bus stop and shelter.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/town-council-approves-walgreens-plan/
After nearly a decade of debate, the Charterwood development is underway.
Bill Christian is the Chapel Hill-based developer behind Charterwood, one of the most contentious projects to come before the Chapel Hill Town Council in years.
While he’s glad to see the project finally breaking ground, the battle he fought to get to this point has left him bruised and bitter.
“I would not go through it again. There’s no possibility of my group making anything. We will lose money. That’s a foregone conclusion.”
According to Christian, the Charterwood project came before the Town Council 28 times since 2007. It was narrowly approved in 2012. But that wasn’t the end- neighbors filed suit against the developer and the town, and the mediation process that resulted lasted another year.
He says the approval process alone cost him upwards of $2 million dollars.
“It was certainly a poor outcome. My partners don’t blame me- that’s a good thing- because I could not have made up the process that I went through.”
Now, he’s sold a portion of the 15 acre lot to Zimmer Development out of Wilmington. They’ll build the first phase of the mixed-use project – a 154 unit apartment complex on nine acres near the corner of MLK and Weaver Dairy Road Extension. That’s under construction now and should be completed in a year.
“I think they’ll do a good job, and that’s important to me. What’s left to do is either stuff that we may do or future buyers may do, but I hope they also will do a good job. That’s important to me. It was from day one important to me.”
Christian still owns an adjacent five-acre parcel, which is zoned for a four-story mixed-use building plus a bank and a historic farm house he hopes to repurpose.
But he’s not sure he wants to continue to do business in Chapel Hill, given the kind of backlash he’s seen firsthand.
“I have often thought, ‘how did the process get to this point?’ For the whole time I’ve lived here, thirty years, it has surprised me. Why does everyone want to oppose virtually every project that gets proposed? It doesn’t matter the merits.”
He says he is encouraged to see the Council try new approval processes like form-based code.
“Form-based code is definitely a step in the right direction, because the way it’s supposed to work is that it takes the politics out of it, and that’s a good thing. The development review process here is highly political and that’s not a good thing for real estate.”
Chapel Hill’s form-based code is limited to 190 acres in the Ephesus-Fordham area. Since the council enacted the new zoning last spring, the Village Plaza Apartment project has already been approved and a second project application has been submitted.
The Ephesus-Fordham district is a test case to see if new methods of zoning and approval can spur economic development. Currently, there are no plans to extend the code to other parts of town.http://chapelboro.com/news/development/charterwood-begins-construction-after-7-year-battle/
Members of Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town, or CHALT, say they are fighting to “save the town they love, before it’s too late.”
David Schwartz is one of the organizers. He says CHALT grew out of residents’ dissatisfaction with the Town Council’s recent efforts to plan growth in key areas of Chapel Hill.
“A lot of these people came to us because of their participation and concern about some of the decisions the Town Council has made over the past year or two, particularly related to management of finances, comprehensive planning, changes in rezoning for higher density in certain parts of town,” says Schwartz. “People have felt concern both about the outcome of those processes but also about the way in which those decisions were arrived at.”
The Council has been tackling the questions of where and how the town should grow in coming years, but the process for incorporating resident input has some Chapel Hillians feeling left out in the cold.
“A number of people felt like the current Council is not being as responsive or welcoming of citizen input as Chapel Hill elected officials traditionally have been,” says Schwartz.
The planning process for the Central West focus area, negotiations for a development agreement for Obey Creek, and the rezoning of a broad swath of land in the Ephesus-Fordham area each drew criticism from residents who felt the pace and scope of proposed developments were a poor fit. In each instance residents expressed frustration that their concerns were pushed aside.
In response, CHALT supporters have crafted a five-point platform they hope will be the starting point for discussions about Chapel Hill’s future:
Schwartz says the group’s goal is twofold: first, to educate residents about town issues and second, to change the make-up of the Town Council this November.
“If there are people out there who want to run this platform, who share our vision of the new direction for the town, we would be interested in talking with them and perhaps support them when it comes time to run for office.”
With several hundred supporters, CHALT is a voting bloc in search of a candidate, or two.
The terms of Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and council members Donna Bell, Matt Czajkowski, Lee Storrow and Jim Ward are all coming to an end this year. Filing to run for office doesn’t start until July, and to date, none of the incumbents has signaled his or her intention to run again.
Schwartz says CHALT is not targeting specific council members; rather, they will encourage and endorse candidates who support their platform.
“We’re not determined to oust any particular person. If the people who are incumbents seek re-election and sign on to this platform, then we would have no problem supporting them. It’s really not about people. It’s about this particular platform and this particular vision for the town.”
CHALT organizers will present their platform at a workshop on Sunday titled “What Makes Chapel Hill A Livable Town?,” from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Chapel Hill Public Library in Meeting Room A. Refreshments and childcare will be provided.
You can find out more about CHALT here.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chalt-hopes-shake-chapel-hill-town-council/
The Chapel Hill Town Council is considering options for redeveloping the park-and-ride lot at Southern Village. The council hired a consultant to help plan the future of the town-owned 8.5-acre lot.
Victor Dover, the consultant from the planning firm Dover, Kohl & Partners, facilitated the discussion at Thursday night’s meeting.
Dover said a park-and-ride lot means “capturing an outer catchment or cloud of suburban drivers and hoping that we’ll intercept them so that they don’t ask us to store their big, expensive, space-consuming cars in the center of town or on campus or at the research triangle where we don’t have room for them, and instead store them somewhere on the edge of town and use transit for the rest of their trip . . . Apart from the $2 they pay to park in the park-and-ride, which barely helps with recovering any costs, they’re not contributing economically to that place.”
Dover said putting shops between the parking space and the bus stop might entice drivers to spend money locally.
Dover listed several possible development scenarios to start the conversation about the park-and-ride lot. One scenario has surface parking with a few mixed-use buildings. Another scenario includes a parking structure, several mixed-use buildings, an access lane with on-street parking, and civic buildings.
Southern area resident Jeanne Brown offered suggestions to the council as they consider the future of the park-and-ride lot.
“Please make sure that your planning can be proactive and not reactive to what is being proposed across the road,” said Brown.
Council members are considering redevelopment as they negotiate with East West Partners, the future developer of the privately owned 120-acre property across the highway. This is the Obey Creek site, proposed as a residential, retail and office development of up to 1.6 million square feet.
Council members encourage people to come to Chapel Hill Town Hall for Friday’s 1:30 pm meeting facilitated by Dover and designed to get public input. The Town Hall address is 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. At 4 pm, council members will meet with Dover and the developer to discuss both the park-and-ride lot and Obey Creek.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chapel-hill-town-council-considers-redevelopment-southern-village-park-ride-lot/
Hillsborough Planning Director Margaret Hauth led an Open House, on Thursday evening at the Town Barn, to discuss the “Vision 2030” project.
The early stages of the project involved collecting Hillsborough-centric data.
“If you don’t know what the current situation is,” she says, “you don’t know whether you’ve made any progress.”
There are several lofty goals as part of the development project: town-wide wireless internet by 2025, increasing residential density without losing small-town charm, all while maintaining affordable housing options.
But one item grabbed community member’s attention on Thursday night, the construction of a train station to re-establish Amtrak service and be open to commuter rail. Hauth says they are in line to receive funding from the state Department of Transportation for construction of that train station in 2019.
“We are building the platform, the building, and access to the site so that Amtrak trains can stop,” she says. “Any other trains that are running on that line – that choose to stop – we will welcome.”
The Town of Hillsborough already owns 20 acres off of South Churton Street where the train station will be built.
This is the second time Hillsborough officials have developed a long-term planning document, and they have seen major solutions come during the process.
“In 1990, when we wrote the first Vision 2010 plan, we did not have a reservoir,” Hauth says. “We were at a point where really we couldn’t tie on new water customers for any kind of large-scale development.”
Hauth says that they will have annual reports to update the board, and residents, with progress being made on the “Vision 2030” project.
The public hearing for the development plan is scheduled for next Thursday, January 15.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/hillsborough-vision-2030-open-house/
The year 2015 is finally upon us – but before saying goodbye to 2014, the WCHL news team took a look back at the year that was in our local community.
In a year dominated by ice storms, high-profile elections, serious debates over policing and public safety and same-sex marriage, and still more scandal at UNC, what were the top news stories that shaped the year 2014 in Chapel Hill? And who were the top newsmakers?
As we do every year, WCHL’s news team compiled a list of the top 10 news stories, and the top 10 newsmakers, here in Orange County. Does your list match ours?
Listen to our 2014 Year In Review special!
Part 1: #10, #9, #8
Part 2: #7, #6, #5 (and the year in sports)
Part 3: Aaron Keck chats with Akiva Fox and Allison Driskill about the top stories of 2014 as viewed on Chapelboro.com.
Part 4: #4, #3, and #2
Part 5: #1
News Story: Rooftop Incident At Hampton Inn
Newsmaker: Rita Balaban
Our #10 news story of the year took place on Tuesday, September 30, when Carrboro police got a call that a man was on the roof of the Hampton Inn on Main Street, threatening to jump. What followed was an 18-hour standoff, during which Chapel Hill and Carrboro police shut down traffic downtown so trained negotiators could talk the man off the roof – which they did, successfully, the following morning.
Our #10 newsmaker is UNC economics professor Rita Balaban, the professor who unmasked three streakers who dashed through her classroom in October. Coincidentally, she was also the professor of the class that police entered in November to arrest the student who’d posted a bomb threat in the Pit on social media.
News Story: UNC’s Response To Ebola Crisis
Newsmaker: Francis Henry
Thousands in West Africa died during the worst outbreak of Ebola in history. Other than a handful of cases, the disease didn’t make it to the U.S., but in Chapel Hill, the work of UNC researchers was pivotal in the fight against the disease overseas.
Meanwhile, the fate of Hillsborough’s beloved, now-dilapidated Colonial Inn was a hot topic all year. Francis Henry, the building’s current owner, petitioned the town for permission to tear the historic building down, but was denied.
News Story: Teacher Pay
Newsmaker: Robert Campbell
North Carolina public school teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation – a fact that sparked an outcry in 2014. That outcry was so loud that state legislators actually responded to it, passing a sizable pay increase, but that didn’t quell the controversy: those raises were minimal at best for experienced teachers.
2014 was a banner year for Reverend Robert Campbell, whose tireless work on behalf of the Rogers Road community came to fruition at year’s end. Orange County municipalities finally came together on a remediation plan to extend water and sewer service to the neighborhood, and a new community center opened in the fall.
News story: Development in Chapel Hill
Newsmaker: Roger Perry
Our #7 news story and our #7 newsmaker go hand in hand: 2014 saw big debates about new developments in Chapel Hill, primarily at Obey Creek and the Ephesus/Fordham district. Developer Roger Perry was at the center of both discussions: his East West Partners is both the lead developer at Obey Creek and the developer behind the first major proposal at Ephesus/Fordham.
Wrapped up with development is the ongoing discussion about affordable housing – which is getting harder and harder to find. Chapel Hill teamed up with DHIC for a major affordable housing project in Ephesus/Fordham, but that’s on hold because clerical errors in DHIC’s funding application led to its rejection.
News story: Ferguson and Police Militarization
Newsmaker: Charles Blackwood
The events in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked several major debates locally: from protests over the non-indictment of the officer who killed Michael Brown (as well as the officer who killed Eric Garner) to a debate about perceived police militarization, sparked by the heavily-armed police response to protestors in Ferguson.
This year’s local elections were mostly a low-key affair, but the sheriff’s race was an exception, as six candidates vied to replace longtime sheriff Lindy Pendergrass. Charles Blackwood emerged victorious, defeating David Caldwell in a summer runoff.
News story: Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety
Newsmaker(s): Mark Kleinschmidt and Lydia Lavelle
Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and UNC were all honored as “Bicycle Friendly” by the League of American Bicyclists, but our community was hit by a series of incidents involving bikers and pedestrians – most notably the tragic death of bicyclist Pamela Lane in October, in a collision with a vehicle on MLK.
It was a busy year all around for Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle, but perhaps most notable was their respective contributions to the fight for same-sex marriage in North Carolina. Kleinschmidt was an attorney on the case that saw the state’s ban struck down; Lavelle and her partner Alicia Stemper were the first same-sex couple to apply for, and receive, a marriage license in Orange County.
News story: Ice Storm
Newsmaker: Rashad McCants
We won’t soon forget the February ice storm that shut down Chapel Hill and Carrboro for days, left motorists stuck on 15/501 and other roads for hours, and forced UNC to call off the Duke/Carolina basketball game scheduled for that evening. (Carolina won the rescheduled game, when it was finally played.)
Former UNC basketball star Rashad McCants made waves in the summer when he appeared on ESPN to declare not only that he’d taken phony classes and had tutors write his papers at UNC, but also that his coaches – including Roy Williams – knew all about it.
News story: Murder of Feng Liu
Newsmaker(s): Thom Tillis and Kay Hagan
Chapel Hill and the UNC community were shocked when pharmacy professor Feng Liu was attacked and killed on July 23, while taking a walk near campus in the middle of the afternoon. Two men were arrested for his murder the following day.
Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan and Republican challenger Thom Tillis waged a hard-fought (and extremely expensive) battle all year for a seat in the U.S. Senate. State House Speaker Tillis won, riding a Republican wave in spite of the unpopularity of the General Assembly.
News story: Same-Sex Marriage Legalized
Newsmaker: Carol Folt
In May, Mark Chilton unseated incumbent Deborah Brooks in the race for Orange County Register of Deeds, at least partly because he said he’d be willing to defy the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. As it turned out, though, that wouldn’t be necessary: a district court judge struck down that ban in October, and it was Brooks (not yet out of office) who issued Orange County’s first same-sex marriage license.
UNC Chancellor Carol Folt was at the center of every major debate on campus. The academic/athletic scandal was the most prominent, of course, but there were also plenty of major accomplishments as well.
News story: The Wainstein Report
Newsmaker: Mary Willingham
Commissioned in February and delivered in October, Kenneth Wainstein’s 131-page report on academic irregularities at UNC shocked observers who thought they’d heard it all – shedding light on a “scheme” of fraudulent classes that went unchecked for nearly two decades.
Former UNC academic advisor Mary Willingham sparked massive debate when she appeared on CNN in January to blow the whistle on UNC admissions – arguing that a sizable percentage of UNC football and basketball players couldn’t read above an eighth-grade level.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/wchls-2014-year-review/
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.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/residents-raise-concerns-affordable-housing-edge/
Carrboro Aldermen will consider extending the deadline for a pair of previously approved developments when the board meets Tuesday.
The Butler is a commercial and residential project planned for 120 Brewer Lane. It was approved in 2008, but developers are asking for an extension of the Condition Use Permit while they negotiate with Orange County on the location of a new branch library.
The Shoppes at Jones Ferry was approved in 2007. Developers for that project want to bring retail and possible a grocery store to Jones Ferry Road near Barnes Street, but say the economic downturn has made it hard to move forward.
If the board grants the extensions, the Conditional Use Permits would be valid for another year.
Aldermen will also receive an update on the public forum on community policing held last month.
The meeting gets underway at 7:30 in Carrboro Town Hall. You can read the full agenda here.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/carrboro-consider-extending-permits-2-development-projects/