This is David Schwartz.
Now that the citizens of Chapel Hill have woken up to the fact that the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment plan is a sham, the proponents are trying a new sales pitch. Now they tell us we need to approve the plan so that we can go shopping in Chapel Hill instead of having to drive to Durham or elsewhere to purchase the things we need.
But here’s the dirty little secret of the Ephesus-Fordham plan: even if it is approved, there aren’t going to be any new department stores or major retailers in the Ephesus-Fordham district. Not one. In fact, there’s hardly going to be any new retail at all. At a recent public hearing, Town staff showed a map of the properties they expect to undergo redevelopment over the next 15-20 years. The most striking thing about the map is just how little new commercial development there will actually be. In fact, the only new store that the staff expect to see in Ephesus-Fordham any time soon is not a new store at all, but rather an expansion of the existing CVS pharmacy in Ram’s Plaza.
Because so little redevelopment will actually occur in the district over the next 20 years, there will be no vibrant, walkable, urban cityscape in place of the parking lots and shopping centers that currently exist. EF will not become the next cool place to live, work, and play in Chapel Hill. It will not attract more young people to live here. And it will not provide new department stores and other retail to spare us from having to drive to Durham to shop for basic necessities. At least not for the next 20 years. And that’s why, contrary to what you may have heard, this rezoning plan will not in fact do much to increase our commercial tax base or reduce our reliance on residential property taxes.
Given this disappointing reality, why is the Mayor so eager to approve a plan that, on top of all its other defects, will take away our right to participate in the review of future development proposals? And why is he in such a hurry to do it? Perhaps he wants to be able to tell other Mayors from around the country who will be coming this summer to a conference in Chapel Hill that he has accomplished some bold, innovative economic development initiative. But there is nothing bold about gentrification, nothing innovative about throwing poor people out of their homes in order to build luxury condos. It happens every day in cities all over the world. I just never thought it would happen here, in Chapel Hill.
If you believe, as I do, that we can do better than this, that we should do better, come to the next Town Council meeting on Monday May 12th and make your voice heard.