High hopes

Anyone who has listened to WUNC Radio in the last couple of months has heard the ad for the 140 West project. The ad, which can run as many as four times a day, says that the project “is now rising in downtown Chapel Hill.”

Last I checked nothing is rising on the spot where RAM Development Co. wants to build an 8-story condo-office building, and so many deadlines have been missed that it has become a joke – “How many RAM Development employees does it take to screw in a light bulb? I don’t know. Check with me next month!”

What reminded me of the rising expectations of 140 West was an exchange during the council meeting Monday night after the topic of Obey Creek came up. Several speakers worried that Obey Creek was being steamrolled through the council, and that Town Manager Roger Stancil wanted to have the town pay $30,000 for a consultant to help the developer plan a project that has not even been approved.

Linda Finch, an architect who represented Neighbors for Responsible Growth, mentioned that a website had all but declared Obey Creek a done deal and was listing joint-venture shares to potential partners even though the suitability of the project has not yet been determined.

Caves Valley Partners in Baltimore lists the Obey Creek proposal as an investment opportunity at its website (www.cavesvalleypartners.com). According to the company website, CVP “seeks outstanding risk-adjusted returns through the deployment of capital to opportunistic investments in superior real estate projects located throughout the United States.”

“What’s being proposed by the town manager is not in the best interests of the town,” Finch said. She said the town is trying to enter into development agreements before developments have been approved and labeled Stancil’s recommendation as “an agreement to develop, not a development agreement.”

Is Stancil trying to steer the town into the development business? He couldn’t explain to council member Gene Pease how the consultant money would be spent, only offering the vaguest of vagaries, kind of like the little boy who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Not what you’d expect from a town manager who wants to finance a study of how best to design a development project. Shouldn’t the developer pay for that?

We need a much more public discussion about the appropriateness of this development agreement. And less advertisement by developers who neither have the OK to build nor have broken ground.

And by the way, a call to WUNC got a positive response – the 140 West announcement is to be amended and the “rising” is to be taken out, maybe as soon as today.

–Don Evans

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7 Comments

  1. Terri Buckner

     /  November 10, 2010

    Can you please clarify something? You and Nancy have both said the $30,000 was for a consultant. The N&O says the $30,000 (of a $100,000 economic development budget) is intended to promote retail at Obey’s Creek.

  2. Nancy Oates

     /  November 10, 2010

    At the council meeting Monday night, Gene Pease asked what the $70,000 and the $30,000 would buy. Roger Stancil said it was for professional help to guide development plans and promote commercial development. The “professional help” would be a consultant.

  3. The monies also are used for other resources, like the membership in the 13 county regional economic planning group.

    Here’s the language that upset folks:

    This initiative is focused on capturing retail market share being lost to adjacent
    areas. There are two areas with opportunities to affect retail development in the
    coming 18 months: Obey Creek and development along Eubank Road. The
    initiative is to guide these projects so they meet both developer and Town
    interests both from a market and development perspective. Redevelopment in the
    Ram’s Plaza area will take some additional engineering and a financing plan prior
    to being able to encourage redevelopment.$30,000

    http://chapelhillpublic.novusagenda.com/AttachmentViewer.aspx?AttachmentID=5494&ItemID=1010

    So, not all of the $30K was earmarked for Obeys Creek. Does anyone find it strange that there’s no mention of enhancing Southern Village’s prospects? There wasn’t much introspection done by Council concerning the economic leaching effect East54 had on Meadowmont – maybe it’s Southern Villages turn to be left high and dry.

    Note that the ordinance authorizes the fund transfer but the supporting staff memo is pretty opaque as far as where the underlying funds are being channeled from or where they are being channeled to….

    http://chapelhillpublic.novusagenda.com/Bluesheet.aspx?itemid=1010&meetingid=87

  4. Thanks to both of you for sitting thru these meetings and providing the information. It is very interesting these insights into local govt.

  5. Terri Buckner

     /  November 10, 2010

    So staff was suggesting $30,000 for recruiting new businesses, some of which would be targeted at Obey’s Creek? What’s the consultant going to do, identify the businesses to recruit?

  6. John Kramer

     /  November 10, 2010

    Ms. Buckner- why don’t you ask the town?

  7. Runner

     /  November 10, 2010

    Did anyone see “Raising Hope” last night? The father of the main character had to take the town councilman to the girlie bar to get the parks contract. Maybe that’s what the $30k is for.

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