What’s up tonight

The big news for tonight’s Town Council business meeting could be the town’s financial/economic update, presented by town manager Roger Stancil. It holds the No. 1 spot on the agenda, with no accompanying documentation to give us a clue as to what the presentation will reveal. Our prediction? The address will be short, as in, “We’re all good. Nothing to see here. Move along, everyone, move along.”

One of the oddities in the consent agenda is the town’s plan for traffic calming devices: Gimghoul Road, a dead-end street of stately, old-money homes, will get two speed cushions, at a cost of $9,000. I can see the need for two speed cushions on Sedgefield Drive: East Chapel Hill High students who oversleep use the winding cut-through as their own personal closed speedway, parked cars, dog walkers and sanitation workers be damned. But Gimghoul Road? Even if every resident along that wide straightaway has a lead foot, you wouldn’t think there would be enough cars to constitute a hazard. Maybe Jim Heavner, whose mansion caps the end of the street, has an army of assistants always under the gun. You’d think the problem could be solved through the neighborhood Listserv, without involving taxpayer dollars.

Also on the consent agenda, the town wants to officially designate 200 pieces of public art it has paid for over the years as a Permanent Collection. It’s a step toward transparency, so we must applaud it.

Council will also have a chance to approve a modified special use permit application in what must surely be a record 5 weeks. Town planners told Altridge Group that its application for a modified SUP for the long-vacant sorority house at 420 Hillsborough Street would take a year and a half. We’ll check out the reserved parking spaces before the meeting to see whether any government officials are driving brand-new fancy cars.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Traffic “calming” measures are usually best reserved for places where the requestors will be annoyed less by them than those who drive through. Since there isn’t any drive-through traffic on Gimghoul, my prediction is they’ll be back to request taking them out in less than a year. Even on Lake Shore Rd this happened, and they do get drive-through traffic.

  2. Ed Harrison

     /  November 22, 2010

    I will be pulling this consent agenda item. The staff memo could have been a lot more analytical in just a few more sentences discussing each request. There’s a case for each of these, but it shouldn’t have taken the Council’s “transportation wonk” (N&O, 11/5/05) pulling out hard copy maps to figure out what those are. The Lake Shore traffic “bumps” — not “cushions” as these — were requested, and rejected, in the late 1990s. When I was the council member who asked for development of a detailed traffic calming policy in 2002, I was struck by Cal Horton’s on-the-spot response as to how he would staff develop it, and what it would contain. It turned out that the Lake Shore Drive experience had bothered him significantly, and that he wanted a more quantitative process.

  3. Nancy, another big item on tonight’s agenda is the recreational fee modification to LUMO [ Land Use Management Ordinance Text Amendment – Proposed Changes to Section 5.5 (Recreation). (O-2a, O-2b, O-2c, O-2d)].

    I made some comments on it Oct. 18th which, unfortunately, appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

    Like the affordable housing component Council adds to SUP requests, the recreational “impact” fee is charged against a project to support increased demand on recreational services.

    There are two major and another all too familiar problem with the proposal.

    One, the formula proposed for various zones shifts costs off of developers shoulders and onto residents for zones OI through TC. I’m most troubled by the inequity proposed for the TC (town center) and MUV (mixed-use village) zones. Developers Downtown will pay %50 of the fee compared to other zones. The UNSUPPORTED justification is that developers won’t pay at %75 or even parity. Of course, providing urban recreational services is much more expensive and, even at the higher rate, costs would be shifted off onto other parts of the community. At %80 the formula would reap funds at a slightly lower rate than the %1 arts requirement (though arts expenditures are completely controllable unlike providing Downtown rec opportunities). Of course, if this is just a way of pulling funds from developers in one zoning district to provide services elsewhere the cost factor is not as big a deal. But if that’s the case, does that mean folks Downtown won’t get any rec services?

    A more equitable formula is needed.

    Two, there is another UNSUPPORTED contention that for the OI to TC zones, a one year delay in implementation is needed. What that means, as a practical matter, is that the largest developments going on or proposed – Obeys Creek, University Square, etc. – will not pay anywhere near their fair share, especially compared to a developer doing smaller projects. The folks living in these projects will certainly want services – delay means the developers get a near free ride and insures the rest of Chapel Hill’s citizens will pick up the tab.

    The “all too familiar problem”? At the risk of Cam giving me further hell for mentioning Lot $$$5, the Town’s agreement with RAM doesn’t even come close to the %100 let alone %50 rate proposed. In other words, given the chance, the Council didn’t push for a level of rec funding on their own project (a fee which would have been picked up by RAM Development) that compares to tonight’s proposal. More of the “do as I say, not as I do” which continues to bother me about their decisions.

  4. Terri Buckner

     /  November 22, 2010

    Two other points. It’s my understanding that material for public meetings need to be made available to the public no later than 48 hours prior to the meeting. The financial report from the town auditors should be there by now.

    Also, note the continued used of the Jordan Lake allocation in the OWASA report. For several years, we were told that development within the OWASA service area would never require use of that allocation, and certain council members who were previously OWASA board members wanted OWASA to drop their participation in the partnership due to water quality concerns with Jordan Lake. I assume that revised growth projections and the last drought are the basis for OWASA’s continued participation, but I hope the question will be asked as to whether continued participation is the result of revised growth projections or whether it is simply a safety net after the experience of the last drought.

  5. Terri Buckner

     /  November 22, 2010

    An email was sent out this morning with a request by the mayor to add an item on permanently locating the library at UMall to tonight’s agenda:

    Memo from Mayor: University Mall Library Proposal
    Posted Date: 11/22/2010


    TO: Council

    FROM: Mark Kleinschmidt, Mayor

    SUBJECT: University Mall Library Proposal

    DATE: November 22, 2010

    During discussions regarding the temporary relocation of Chapel Hill library to University Mall, Madison-Marquette, the mall’s owners, expressed to our staff their interest in exploring the possibility of permanently locating the library at the Mall. The proposal would be for a mall anchored at one end by A Southern Season, and at the other by the Chapel Hill Public Library, which they propose would occupy the current Dillard’s Department Store space.

    It appears to me that are several reasons to explore this offer. When our Town Manager approached me about the Madison-Marquette offer, I asked him to provide his best estimates on how this change in plans would affect the level of capital investment we were making in expanding the current library. Our staff roughly estimates that pursuing a University Mall location could save the Town between four and five million dollars. In addition to cost savings, this location would be easily accessible by transit, be located near affordable housing, and would help us achieve economic development goals by catalyzing commercial development in the rest of the center. In addition, building a new library on this site would allow us to move into a facility large enough to meet the programming needs of our library without having to incur transition costs that we had set aside for a temporary location, and free up Town owned space to meet the space needs we know exist for other departments.

    I asked the Manager to set up a meeting with representatives of Madison-Marquette to meet with me, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Ward who also serves as the liaison to the Library Board of Trustees, and Councilmember Gene Pease who has served on the Library Building Committee and is our liaison to the Chapel Hill Public Library Foundation. At that meeting we asked several questions and confirmed that if the Town were to proceed the Town would own its space and have control over the design of the new facility. We asked that Madison-Marquette prepare an offer that we could present to the full Council and to the community.

    After I was informed that the Town had received the attached materials, I arranged for the Mayor Pro Tem, Councilmember Pease and I to meet with representatives of the Library Board of Trustees, the Friends of the Chapel Hill Library and the Chapel Hill Public Library Foundation. That meeting was held this evening during which we shared the details outlined in this memorandum.

    Attached are a copy of the Madison-Marquette Proposal and a copy of the preliminary estimates I asked Mr. Stancil to generate.

    I am asking that this be added to our agenda for Monday night’s meeting (11-22-10), so that we can provide direction to the staff as to the next steps. If we pause the current library expansion for a 60 day exploration period, Mr. Stancil assures me that he will be able to provide us with a more comprehensive assessment of this proposal.

  6. Quick clarification.

    A developer can choose to provide onsite recreation related open space or services and reduce their fee completely.

  7. Terri, I didn’t receive the email on the Library, how did you get a copy?

    I think it is a great idea if the details can be worked out.

  8. Terri Buckner

     /  November 22, 2010

    Will–it came as an info update from the town. I agree that this looks like an excellent possibility. The only downside that I see is that it will require all new plans which may eat up some of the initially expected savings.

  9. At least there’s plenty of coffee at Southern Seasons!

    I found the memo, it triggered my spam blocker for some reason.

    I’m interested in seeing how Council addresses this issue in an expeditious manner. The bonds have been authorized, will they work to keep costs down or will they feel flush with their self-awarded high credit limit?

  10. Terri Buckner

     /  November 22, 2010

    I’m curious to see how the town will work in partnership with Madison-Marquette. Hopefully, some lessons learned from their dealings with RAM will make this a more equitable partnership.

    I haven’t been following the development plans for the mall. Have concept plans been put forward yet?

  11. Terri, funny you should mention “lessons well learned” on Lot $$$5 the day it lurches forward. My first suggestion would to restructure the negotiation team – new members of Council and a few folks from town (I know a Kenan-Flagler prof I’d like to nominate as a member). Second suggestion? Put as much information as timely as possible into the public domain – unlike the Lot $$$5 where only the threat of FOIA type action led to some releases (still waiting on others). Along those lines, keep good audio records of all the proceedings for eventual release.

    The Town’s track-record on private/public as evidenced by the extremely poor outcome on Lot $$$5 justifies a very open process.

  12. Runner

     /  November 22, 2010

    The Town is fooling themselves if they think that they can service almost $7,000,000 of debt thru parking revenue. That comment from the town was too, too funny.

  13. Runner, how short do they think folks memories are?

    The type of debt isn’t firmed up as of yet but it looks like TIFs (tax incremental funding) is going to be used to pay some of that debt back. I base this on the off-hand comments made by one of our consultants on the Downtown Framework, the hiring of an expert in TIFs to head the Downtown Partnership and the backroom mumblings of Foy and Strom during their tenure (which was subsequently batted down by both when exposed).

    TIFs can play an important role in financing projects which will improve the economics of a whole area – increasing the total revenue stream so that the revenue taken away to service the debt doesn’t starve other necessary projects.

    Lot $$$5 is not that project.

  14. Terri Buckner

     /  November 22, 2010

    The quote Michelle Laws references in her statements regarding the firing of Mr Clark and Mr Bigelow: “Town Spokeswoman Catherine Lazorko said less than 10 percent of fired employees appeal their terminations and even fewer are successful in their endeavor. ” http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2010/11/fired_town_workers_might_struggle_to_regain_jobs

  15. John Kramer

     /  November 22, 2010

    They are playing fast and loose with the cost estimates for the mall. Pretty hard to square foot a mezzanine structure that is rated for the load of books.

    Chapel Hill is setting itself up for a boondoggle running around making important decisions with very loose dollar figures like this.

    Should be interesting to watch from a non taxpayers standpoint.

  16. Runner

     /  November 22, 2010

    The mezzanine idea was floated because the Library Foundation was getting a 62,000 sf library. The Dillards space is 52,000. So, If the Library can live with 52,000 sf then they don’t need a mezzanine. The mezzanine is not a requirement, but the additional 10,000 sf may be. They could pull the extra 10,000 sf from an adjacent tenant.

    After watching the council meeting tonight, I’m worried that this excellent idea is going to be killed by 1,000 cuts from the individual council members over the next 59 days. Too bad.

  17. Mark Marcoplos

     /  November 22, 2010

    The regional water plan is getting no attention. It is a major story. It is a giant step toward OWASA getting entangled with neighboring jurisdictions who have not mandated conservation and thus are negotiating for more water for their economic development needs. This is unsustainable and a bad deal for the future of our unique utility, OWASA. Please, local journalists, pursue this highly important story.

  18. Terri Buckner

     /  November 22, 2010

    I agree Mark. Not only is it important from a conservation perspective, but it’s also important because it means that somewhere the towns growth projections have exceeded those being used by OWASA. Do we have more growth than was expected when they originally decided we didn’t need the Jordan lake allotment, where their projections this far off (which I doubt), has there been a reduction in the water supply? What’s going on to cause this major shift in policy?

  19. Mark, Terri, when some of the folks on the Sustainability Visioning Task Force took the water/growth issue on our efforts were derailed and, eventually, completely shutdown by the groups dissolution.

  20. John Kramer

     /  November 23, 2010

    I disagree with Mark. Owasa needs to collaborate with its neighbors. A water system is no place for social engineering experiments.

  21. Terri Buckner

     /  November 23, 2010

    I’m not surprised the discussion was shutdown Will. There seems to be this assumption here and nationally that growth is the only pathway to prosperity. Personally, I would prefer to see us working toward a steady-state economy where the emphasis is on quality over quantity. But apparently my definition of sustainability (balancing environmental, cultural, and economic needs with respect for future generations) is not a majority view.

  22. Mark Marcoplos

     /  November 23, 2010

    I suspect that the recent discussions of bringingw ater & sewer to the economic development districts is part of this plan. Plus, there is a misguided sense that the other counties deserve our help. This is despite the fact that the Bunky Morgan crowd in Chatham approved developments that exceeded the county’s ability to provide water.

    Plus I suspect there is also just the natural desire of these planners and engineers who basically went to school at Planning Central to do something big and different. But there’s more here, too. That’s why it needs to be sniffed out by a journalist. We just can’t allow a big social engineering project like the formation of a de facto regional water to occur without understanding the risks and implications.

  23. OWASA already has access to regional water supplies and, through a series of inter-links, Lake Jordan’s supply. The original idea was more akin to that of mutual aid between parties rather than a sustained reliance.

    OWASA and its leaders over the years have shown foresight in securing a good sized watershed and established several reliable sources of water – including the quarry which is coming on line soon. The question, then, is will UNC, Carrboro and Chapel Hill willing to live within that footprint, permanently reject direct access to Lake Jordan like they apparently have to the Haw or will they build beyond the fairly limits imposed by that physical watershed and appropriate water elsewhere?

    I think there are natural constraints to growth – the ability of a diverse community to equitably pay for infrastructure, the amount of water available, a limited range of land to discharge biosolids on, only so many fiscally and environmentally responsibly sustainable ways to deal with our waste stream, etc. In other words, there are measurable limits.

    When the desire to grow “bumps up” against those limits there are still ways to prudently keep on growing – be more efficient, extend resources like UNC’s use of grey water for the chiller plants, etc. What I don’t want to see at OWASA is a strategy of literally buying our way out if trouble – purchasing substantial, on-going supplies from outside the established footprint just to fuel a particular pattern of development.

    The “rah rah growth at any cost” folks don’t want to talk about those limits even though the limits exist. But ignorance is no bliss and not planning effectively will cause more grief.

  24. Terri Buckner

     /  November 23, 2010

    The economic development zones are outside of OWASA’s service area. I would hope OWASA is not being asked to expand into the Elfland and Durham areas without public discussion/notification.

    I think we should help our neighbors in emergency situations just as they have helped us many times in past drought situations. I think this decision to continue holding onto the Jordan Lake allocation has less to do with helping our neighbors as with making up the difference between previously anticipated demand at buildout and currently anticipated demand at buildout.

  25. Mark Marcoplos

     /  November 23, 2010

    OWASA owns land on the west shore of Jordan Lake that would be a great site for an intake station. That’s what the other municipalities want access to.