Inter-City Visit: Lessons From Boulder

Business accelerators: good. Regionally integrated transit: good.

Homes selling for 800,000 dollars: perhaps not.

Earlier this week, nearly 100 local leaders traveled to Boulder, Colorado, for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce’s biennial Inter-City Visit. Every other year, the Chamber leads a visit to a town much like ours: visitors tour the city, meet with local leaders, and learn how other communities have tackled their problems – many of which are the same problems we face in Orange County.

Situated just outside Denver, at the base of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder is home of the University of Colorado. Town leaders there pride themselves on strong business development – focusing not just on incubators but also “accelerators” that help keep startups in town past the ‘incubation’ stage. And they’re also proud of their transit plan, which incorporates driving, busing, biking and walking together as essential components. Less exciting, though, is a rapid spike in housing costs that puts Chapel Hill’s concern about affordability to shame: the median home in Boulder sells for more than $800,000. (Consequently, far more people live outside Boulder and commute into the city to work. In Chapel Hill it’s the other way around.)

What did the Orange County delegation learn from the Boulder visit? WCHL’s Aaron Keck spoke with several people, both during and after the trip.

Listen to Aaron’s conversation with NC AIDS Action Network executive director (and former Chapel Hill Town Council member) Lee Storrow.


Listen to Aaron’s conversation with Carrboro Alderman Bethany Chaney.


Listen to Aaron’s conversation with Aaron Bachenheimer, UNC’s director of Fraternity & Sorority Life and Community Involvement.


Listen to Aaron’s conversation (post-ICV) with Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger.

Orange County Approves 37-Acre Purchase for Soccer Field Expansion

Orange County brings in an estimated $100,000 per year through the operation of the soccer pitches at the complex near Gravelly Hill Middle School in Efland, according to officials. And that number could soon be on the rise.

Commissioners unanimously approved a proposal on Tuesday night to proceed with the purchase of 37 acres adjacent to the existing soccer complex in western Orange County.

“I think as a five-field complex we are a very desirable location, as a nine-field complex we’re going to be considerably more.” David Stancil, director of the Department of Environment, Agriculture, Parks and Recreation, told the commissioners this week.

Stancil said the popularity of the facility from local, national and even international visitors has been growing.

“We opened in 2009. In 2011, we had a total seasonal gate attendance of about 12,000 persons,” Stancil said. “We’re now up over 50,000.”

Stancil said that usage results in permitting and concession revenue totaling approximately $100,000 annually. Be he added the total economic boost to the area is much higher. Particularly with events like the College Soccer Showcase Series, which Stancil said the county has hosted in each of the last four years, as a showcase of high school soccer players to college coaches.

“Our visitor’s bureau calculated last year that the total economic impact of that event was $778,000,” Stancil said. “And that’s just for those two weekends.”

Stancil added the naming rights to the complex and concession stands have brought in additional revenue.

Commissioner Penny Rich said that in conjunction with this expansion, recruitment of a moderately-priced hotel to the immediate area needed to be a point of focus.

“We don’t have enough beds in this area,” Rich said. “And we’re sending folks to Alamance and Durham, and we would love to capture more of that business.”

Board chair Earl McKee said this expansion may be the cherry on top for prospective hotels.

“In fact, I’m pretty sure we’ve got some interest from hotel chains – some fairly significant hotel chains,” McKee said. “I think this addition will possibly be the determining factor of more interest.”

Stancil said he also believed an event was very close to announcing its intention to come to the complex.

“We hope to be able to announce in the next week or so an informal activity of national significance that will be able to take place at the Center.”

The 37 acres is part of an 87-acre tract currently owned by S.L. Efland Heirs, LLC. The final purchase price is $740,000 – or $20,000 per acre – and $12,000 – $15,000 in “transaction costs” and is expected to be completed as of July 31.

Redeye Moving Global Headquarters to Hillsborough

North Carolina-based Redeye Worldwide is relocating to Hillsborough in May.

The music company announced the move on Wednesday.

Redeye, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2016, is moving to a 90,000 square foot facility at 505 Eno Street.

Redeye says the new space will serve as “offices for 51 of the company’s 67 worldwide employees and warehouse space for hundreds of labels, including Acony Records, Barsuk, Burger Records, Daptone, Kill Rock Stars, Ninja Tune, Warp and Yep Roc Records, as well as artists including Death Cab for Cutie, Iris Dement, Nick Lowe, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, and Gillian Welch.”

Redeye Chief Operating Officer Aaron Freeman said in a release:

“We are excited to move our headquarters to Hillsborough and back to Orange County, where it all began for us as a company 20 years ago. It’s important that we provide a workplace and infrastructure that can support continued growth and allow us to increase the value we bring to our artists and label partners while attracting and retaining our best assets — our employees. Additionally, we are grateful for the assistance of Orange County’s Economic Development Department and look forward to continued growth in Hillsborough and Orange County for many years to come.”

The release says the project also includes involvement from Yadkin Bank, Russell Kennedy general contractor and Center Studio Architecture.

Redeye began in Carrboro and has been headquartered in Haw River.

Carrboro Moving Forward with Arts and Economic Development

Art and economic development are converging in Carrboro and planning the best pathway to move forward.

A public hearing has been called on a proposed new Arts and Innovation Center in Carrboro. Mayor Lydia Lavelle says this is your chance to voice your opinion on the project.

“We want to hold this meeting to get input from Carrboro folks, from Carrboro residents, business owners, property owners,” she says. “We’ve had a request submitted to us by The ArtsCenter (and) Kidzu…that we construct, own, or lease to this partnership, an arts center building.”

The meeting will be held at the board meeting on Tuesday, January 20th, and Mayor Lavelle adds that she believes this will be the first of several meetings on the topic.

Mayor Lavelle is also working to push forward economic development involving arts in Carrboro. “We purchased a condo that was formerly owned by Fleet Feet, which is located above Acme. And that enabled the Fleet Feet building and some of the projects in that development to move forward.”

But now the question is raised of what to do with the building. One proposition is to use the building as a common work space for small businesses in the area. Perch, which operates a co-working space in Carrboro, has lobbied to lease the space from the town and add a larger co-working space for Carrboro entrepreneurs to collaborate.

Mayor Lavelle says, “Our sense of it is that it would be an incubator, of sorts, for all kinds of small businesses. It’s a pretty large area.”

While the theory of the small-business incubator is fairly agreeable, the process to get there is still to be determined. The mayor said the question remains, “do we want to subsidize, to a degree, this project for a period of a minimum of two years? What’s the value we’re going to see out of this?” she asked. “Will we end up with Carrboro businesses that form, and grow, and that stay in Carrboro?”

While there are many decisions to be made, it appears the arts and economic development projects are converging and moving forward in Carrboro.

Commissioners To Update Orange County’s Park Plan

County Commissioners will consider adopting the 2013 Master Parks Plan when the board meets on Tuesday.

This will be the first major update of the County’s parks and recreation plan since 1988.

The plan lists the $2.3 million dollar Blackwood Farm Park outside of Hillsborough as a top priority, along with River Park and a new $6 million dollar athletic facility on Millhouse Road north of Chapel Hill.

The board will also likely authorize the transfer of ownership of the new Buckhorn-Mebane water and sewer utility infrastructure to the City of Mebane.

The project was completed this fall using $5.1 million in revenue from the county’s quarter-cent sales tax to support economic development. It will bring water and sewer service to the Buckhorn-Mebane economic development district, where Japanese candy-maker Morinaga is building its first American factory.

The City of Mebane will provide sewer and water service to the area.

County Commissioners meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road. You can get the full agenda here.

Brainstorm “Creative Carrboro” On Saturday

Carrboro is known for a quaint, quirky vibe that inspires artists of all stripes. Now, a group called Creative Carrboro is exploring if the town should formalize the way it supports the arts.

“Is an arts district something that we want to do? Obviously Carrboro has a very rich and full arts culture, but do we need to put some organization around that, some structure? Do we need to take it to the next level? So that has been our mission, to investigate that,” says Carrboro Economic Development Director Annette Stone.

Town officials are partnering with the ArtsCenter and other stakeholders figure out the best ways to nurture the creative community. Art Menuis says that support is vital because while arts are proving a huge draw for the town, increased demand is driving up real estate prices, and some fear that could drive out the working artists and small business owners.

“How do we keep creative businesses, the creative community and creative economy strong in Carrboro given all the pressures? Carrboro is such an incredibly desirable place to live, so how do we keep it affordable instead of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs?”

This Saturday, the organizers of Creative Carrboro want to hear your ideas.

They’re hosting an information gathering and sharing event from 10 a.m. until noon at Carrboro Town Hall.

“What’s exciting about Saturday morning is it’s a much more informal opportunity for citizens and residents to interact with the committee members, check out the information we’ve been gathering first-hand and give us their feedback on key questions,” says Menius.

To find out more:

Economic Development Causing Growing Pains For Chapel Hill

Community leaders agree that we want to grow as community in a way that promotes economic expansion and sustainability, but we are running out of space to do so.

The populations of Chapel Hill and the campus of UNC are increasing, and with growth comes inevitable change. The task at hand is to decide how to have development happen across the town in a way that serves the community, but many disagree about the best approach.

Aaron Nelson, President & CEO of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, says he is fully in favor of embracing redevelopment.

“I think a lot of the future will be in redevelopment. If we are going to protect the green stuff out there, we are going to have to redevelop the stuff within our municipal boundaries or begin talking about getting into the rural buffer,” Nelson says.

Nelson has been a supporter of the proposed plan to revitalize the area surrounding the Ephesus-Fordham intersection, which includes vacant lots, confusing intersections, and traffic tie-ups.

That plan is causing conflict within the community, with many residents pushing back against the proposed redevelopment, arguing that the process is moving too fast. The Council delayed taking a formal vote on the plan Wednesday evening.

Julie McClintock, President of the Friends of Bolin Creek and a former Chapel Hill Town Council member, has been outspoken about her opposition to the current state of the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment.

“The fact is that what is so fascinating about everyone of these so-called focus group processes is the citizens have gotten well informed and have pointed out to the council that we need to be more comprehensive. I mean, you cannot just look at the traffic in the Ephesus-Fordham intersection. You have got to look at the entire 15-501 corridor,” McClintock says. “I would really fault the Planning Board of the Town of Chapel Hill. Why do we employ planners if they aren’t to plan comprehensively?”

McClintock also served as a member of the Central West Steering Committee, the group that was tasked with formulating a plan for the future redevelopment along Estes Dr.

Central West, like Ephesus-Fordham, is one of the several focus areas designated for redevelopment in the Chapel 2020 plan, a strategy the Town developed with a hope of formulating a vision for growth for Chapel Hill.

That is where McClintock says she believes that this approach is not living up to expectations.

“I would say that we don’t have an economic development strategy, and we need to get one. I think the Town is in crisis. Fiscally, we have unfunded transit, unfunded houses, unfunded roads. We are in trouble. We need a strategy to get out of this mire,”  McClintock says.

Michael Parker, Chair of the Town Transportation Board, co-chaired the Central West Steering Committee. For more than 10 months, members of the group argued about issues such as how much density was appropriate for the area.

Parker says he felt that the Town Council should have been more specific about what it wanted from the Central West Steering Committee, saying that they spent a lot of time “wandering in the desert.”

After dozens of long, contentious meetings, the group ultimately produced a small area plan which was approved by the Council in November of last year.

As far as the Ephesus-Fordham Redevelopment Plan, Parker says it makes sense for the town.

“Until you take a proactive stance, until the town is willing and to say, ‘These are the things that we want, and we are going to do the things that will make it possible for those things to happen,’ we will be the recipients of things that we very often do not care for and then will have to scramble and struggle to make things right,” Parker says.

On the subject of the effectiveness of these focus groups, David Schwartz, a researcher for the N.C.Botanical Garden, says that Town leaders should consider the bigger picture.

“The small area planning processes are occurring now where you have each area being addressed in isolation from the others. We end up reinventing the wheel, or each area plan not taking into account what is being considered in the other areas, and why it may make more sense to do something integrated across the entire town,” Schwartz says.

Locally-Owned Vs. National Chains

As redevelopment plans are in the works across Chapel Hill, new businesses will move in.

Nelson says the Town should aim to support locally-owned business for a healthy locally economy, but added that national chains draw in consumers which benefit surrounding stores as well. He shared that downtown Chapel Hill was about 80 percent locally owned and operated business and 20 percent national chains.

McClintock says she feared that the Town could loose its character if too many national chains moved in.

Nelson says that Orange County residents have the highest per capita income in the state, but the county is ranked 65th in per capita retail sales—so we are spending our money somewhere else. He says that in order to change this, retail brought into our area should be tailored to serve the population, not excluding big box stores.

All agreed that job creation and a strong transit system were key factors in economic prosperity.

Schwartz, McClintock, Parker, and Nelson made those comments during the “Economic Development” panel of WCHL’s 2014 Community Forum. To hear the full discussion, click here.

Costs Up, Partnerships Down, But “People Want To Live Here”

Affordability, taxes, housing, solid waste, economic development, and the future of Carolina North and Rogers Road: all longstanding hot-button issues in Orange County, and all requiring strong partnerships between the local municipalities as well as UNC.

Orange County leaders say the time is now to make those partnerships stronger.

“One of our major issues is to renew the strength and vitality of our partnerships with the municipalities,” says Barry Jacobs, chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners. “I think we’ve lost touch to some degree.”

At the center of the conversation is the eternal question of affordability: how to manage the cost of living while preserving a desirable community, in a space with little room to grow.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt says that’s often an issue in college towns – and it’s certainly the case in Chapel Hill.

“University towns are very, very highly sought after,” she says. “I try every day to recruit faculty and staff and students…of course they’re concerned about price of living, (but) mostly we hear that people want to live here. So I think we are still on the positive side of this equation: this is a very high-choice place.”

But with that desirability comes a number of challenges – including, perhaps most notably, the cost of housing. Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says those costs are worth it: “I sometimes look around (my house) and think, wow, for this price I could be in a much bigger place in Durham,” he says, “but I’d rather be in Chapel Hill.”

And while higher property values still mean Chapel Hillians are paying more dollars in taxes, Kleinschmidt notes that Chapel Hill’s property tax rate is actually lower than many of our neighboring communities.

Still, the cost of housing is a strain, one that makes it difficult – if not impossible – for many people to live in Chapel Hill. And not only Chapel Hill: Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens says the affordability question is affecting his community as well.

“We’re seeing rising costs (too),” he says. “It’s a little bit less expensive to live here, so we’re finding families move out (of Chapel Hill-Carrboro) and folks wanting to be in Hillsborough – (but) as prices go up, we’re finding a lot of our families are moving to Mebane.”

The housing crunch has driven local leaders to explore creative policies for developing more affordable housing in all of Orange County’s municipalities.

But as Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle points out, housing is not the only factor driving the cost of living.

“We’ve studied extensively the interplay between transportation costs and affordable housing,” she says. “A typical income earner spends anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of their income on transportation – owning a car, taxes, insurance, and so forth.”

That, she says, gives local leaders a strong incentive to develop housing downtown – so residents don’t need vehicles to get to and from work. Kleinschmidt adds that he’s equally proud of Chapel Hill’s fare-free bus system, which also keeps the cost of living down.

Taxes too are a primary concern – and local leaders are quick to point out that they’ve managed to maintain services while avoiding tax increases, even through the long recession. (Lavelle says she expects Carrboro to maintain that streak this year too.) But Barry Jacobs says that, at the end of the day, it’s just as important to preserve the services that make Orange County a desirable place to live.

And the most important of those services, he says, is education.

“We’re proud of public education (and) we’re going to fund it to the best of our ability,” he says. “Going through the recession, and then having a state legislature that’s attacking public education, we have actually raised the per-pupil funding…and in the last 20 years we’ve built 14 schools in this county. And three of them were high schools. Those are expensive suckers…

“And that’s part of what makes this an attractive community. That’s what draws people here. It’s a double-edged sword, to use a cliché.”

But Jacobs adds that the need for education spending must be weighed against the concern for affordability – particularly the fact that many Orange County residents are seniors on fixed incomes.

And so the question returns to partnerships: town, county, and UNC officials working together to promote efficiencies, reduce costs, and improve the standard of living. Local leaders agree that’s already happening (if slowly) on the issue of Rogers Road remediation, and Chapel Hill Mayor Kleinschmidt says he’s confident it will also happen on the issue of solid waste: “I think we’re going to come together with a solution,” he says, “(and in) four, five, six years, we’re going to have a site for a transfer station that we’re all going to use.” (Kleinschmidt says there are several attractive candidates for that site in the northern part of Chapel Hill, including one off Millhouse Road.)

It’s also happening on the question of economic development, where UNC is actively partnering with the towns and county on projects ranging from the LAUNCH entrepreneurial incubator to the redevelopment of 123 West Franklin, the former University Square – though Chancellor Folt says little is happening right now when it comes to Carolina North. (“We’re really not having any active plans there right now,” she says. “It’s really not at the top of the list.”)

In the end, though, while local leaders seem to agree that municipal partnerships have been stronger, there’s also a shared commitment to strengthening them in the months and years to come.

“How we should go forward is together,” says Jacobs.

Folt, Jacobs, Kleinschmidt, Lavelle, and Stevens made those comments during the “Town and Gown” panel of WCHL’s 2014 Community Forum; they were joined on the panel by outgoing UNC student body president Christy Lambden.

CHTC Wants More Time And Data For Glen Lennox Plan

CHAPEL HILL- After the Chapel Hill Town Council took its first look at the draft Glen Lennox development agreement, elected officials insisted they’ll need more time to review the twenty-year plan to redevelop one of Chapel Hill’s historic neighborhoods.

“I will not be pushed. This needs to be a deliberate conversation, not one that is rushed,” said Council member Jim Ward, speaking at Wednesday’s work session.

The Glen Lennox planning process began back in 2010, when developer Clay Grubb held monthly meetings with residents to discuss how to revitalize the commercial and residential development on 70 acres at the corner of Raleigh Road and 15-501.

The formal procedure for negotiating the long-term build out of the project got underway last March, and the town manager and attorney have been hashing out the details of the plan with developers for the past six months.

On Wednesday, the Council was scheduled to discuss the four big issues that remain unresolved, but Council members said they need more time to evaluate transportation improvements, affordable housing, design standards and the economic impact of the project.

Ian Colgan is a consultant hired by the town to evaluate how the proposal will impact town revenues. He told the Council commercial development generates tax revenue for the town, while single-family housing costs more in services than it produces in property tax. Colgan said the Glen Lennox project, with its emphasis on multi-family housing and commercial development, will likely generate at least $1.7 million dollars of tax revenue.

“Based on all the other studies I’ve seen, I think it’s a very conservative estimate,” Colgan told the Council. “I think this truly will be a net positive.”

But Council members pressed for more information, including the full cost of multi-family housing and an idea of how the additional rental units might impact schools.

Transportation was also a key issue, as the project is estimated to add 17,500 vehicle trips to nearby roads. Changes to Raleigh Road and a new road that intersects with 15-501 are proposed to help ease congestion, along with bike lanes and a greenway.

Council members want to be sure the road improvements are phased in along with development. Mac McCarley, who facilitated the negotiations, assured the council this would be written into the agreement.

“They can develop as fast or a s slow as they choose, but the infrastructure has to be at or ahead of their development,” said McCarley.

The Town of Chapel Hill has only negotiated a development agreement once before in 2009 with UNC officials to govern the build-out of Carolina North. Now, in addition to the Glen Lennox project, the Council is also currently pursuing a development agreement for the Obey Creek property on South 15-501.

The Council is planning to hold public hearings on the Glen Lennox plan this spring, with a vote scheduled before the June recess. The date of the Council’s next work session to discuss affordable housing and building design standards has yet to be announced.

The Edge Developers Seek Help With Road Improvements

CHAPEL HILL-Adam Golden is the vice president of development for Northwood Ravin, the company that’s been planning the Edge project for more than a year. He came before the Chapel Hill Town Council this week to ask the town to help pay for the $3.5 million dollars worth of road improvements needed to widen Eubanks Road.

“Please consider participating in these road improvements to fix an existing condition that is already in trouble,” said Golden. “Enable the Edge to move forward. Open the northern edge of town for economic development opportunity.”

The Edge is a 54-acre site on Eubanks Road next to the town’s Park and Ride lot. Golden says the proposed project would be pedestrian and transit-oriented, with a mix of retail, residential and office space. But he told the council it can’t happen without help.

“Our firm can absorb some of the costs associated with The Edge, but we cannot absorb all of the costs associated with some of this background improvement that’s required,” said Golden.

Town officials and representatives from NC DOT agree that to support the proposed development, Eubanks Road needs to be widened with new turn lanes and bike lanes.

The developer is planning to submit a formal application soon, but council members said they couldn’t offer any guarantees that the town would contribute to the road improvements. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said the council would be willing to listen but could not make a commitment.

“There is no way that the Council can provide you assurance today or this week that the end of those discussions is going to be affirmative and that you’re going to have that level of participation that you seek,” said Kleinschmidt.

Golden said his company would likely abandon the project if the town decides not to chip in. “If we can’t get help with the improvements, we may be left with a project that’s not feasible.”

Council members agreed to refer the matter to staff for a report, but warned Golden they would not likely have a reply any time soon.