Know where your name goes

A well-designed website can give a veneer of legitimacy to any venture. Just ask the visitors to a sham website that looked convincingly like a site to buy DPAC tickets. Buyers who purchased tickets through the sham site paid more than double the price they would have paid on the official DPAC site.

A website for Friends of Chapel Hill, though not set up to collect money, raises some red flags as well. It claims to be a nonprofit, though its name is not found on the registry of legitimate charities. It gives no indication of the founders or members of the group. And the email address used as its contact method may be unmonitored.

The site has names of what it claims are Chapel Hill residents who signed a petition opposing Aydan Court. The petition caught my attention when I noticed it listed the names of teenagers not old enough to vote; family members listed individually, including children; at least one Realtor, and real estate professionals usually are in favor of smart growth; and people who have not previously come out passionately against growth. So I called some of the people I know whose names appeared on the petition.

One person claimed never to have signed a petition against Aydan Court. Another asked, “What’s Aydan Court?” Apparently people stood outside the library one Saturday asking library users to sign a petition to save the environment that would be sent to Town Council members. One person who initially declined to sign the petition as she did not live within the Chapel Hill voting district was urged to sign it anyway, and she did. Who doesn’t want to save the environment?

But my email to find out more about the group has gone unanswered. And the person who does not want to be listed on a petition against Aydan Court has no recourse for getting her name removed.

Friends of Chapel Hill has put forth candidate Lee Storrow for Town Council. I wonder whether he knows that.

With friends like this … best to verify.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Terri Buckner

     /  July 13, 2011

    what’s the url for this site? I see opposition from Neighbors for Responsible Growth and Friends of Bolin Creek but nothing on Friends of Chapel Hill.

  2. Nancy Oates

     /  July 13, 2011

    Erik Ose contacted me this morning to say that he and MJ Jenkins, both residents of Chapel Hill, are the co-founders of Friends of Chapel Hill. Among the points he wanted to clarify or expand on is that Friends of Chapel Hill worked with Neighbors for Responsible Growth to collect signatures for a petition against Aydan Court. The Friends of Chapel Hill website is:

  3. Nancy, it was great talking with you this morning. If you want me to recap everything we discussed, here goes:

    I thought I was being pretty public about my role as an organizer of a petition drive opposing Aydan Court when I spoke before the Town Council on June 20th, presented petition signatures, and talked about how two separate petition drives against this development got started.

    That night I delivered petitions signed by 1,090 Chapel Hill residents opposing Aydan Court (in addition to another 110 signatures the Council received on May 25th), and explained that a few months ago, I saw Aydan Court was coming back before the Council. I remembered this proposed development from two years ago, when the Council denied a rezoning for the property by a unanimous vote. So I was interested to see what happened next, because it’s such an environmentally sensitive spot.

    BTW, the video from June 20th can be found on this page of the town’s website:

    At Town Council hearings all spring, I watched from home as a steady stream of environmental experts and wildlife advocates spoke out about why Aydan Court was still the wrong project for this very sensitive area. I was moved by their concerns to speak to some of my neighbors and other town residents about the issue.

    Friends of Chapel Hill is an informal community group that a couple of friends and I organized. We’re not trying to recruit members, but we share a common philosophy with anyone who supports sensible, sustainable development and thinks it’s important to preserve our community’s treasured environmental protection standards by developing responsibly. Unfortunately, Aydan Court was not such a project. I know we disagree on this, because I’ve read all your previous posts regarding Aydan Court.

    We worked with Neighbors for Responsible Growth on this issue, who organized an online petition.

    If your followup comment is all you’re planning to add to your original post, here’s the inaccuracies in your post that I pointed out when we spoke:

    (1) We never “claim to be a nonprofit” – the only category that Blogger has for community groups under their Industry heading is “Non-Profit,” which is why it’s listed that way on our profile page (the only mention of the word “non-profit” on the entire site):

    A more technically accurate category would be “A Free Blogger Site Set Up By Concerned Citizens Who Wanted To Talk With Their Neighbors About a Proposed Development That Was Bad News For the Community and Petition Their Local Officials to Vote It Down”. But Blogger didn’t offer that choice.

    (2) Every name listed on our website as “Chapel Hill residents Opposing Aydan Court” either signed one of the two petitions asking to Council to reject it; was one of 150 residents who e-mailed the Town Council in opposition; made their objections known by speaking at one of the public hearings this past spring; or wrote a letter to the editor against it. A few dozen of the signers were under 18, usually teenagers who were with their parents when their parents signed, and felt strongly enough about what was going on to want to sign, too. You and I can agree to disagree over whether only residents of voting age should be allowed to express their opinions to elected officials in petition form. In my remarks to the Council on June 20th, I specifically mentioned the youngest signer, an eight-year old Chapel Hill resident named Addison Callaghan, who was born here in 2003, and signed with her mother Virginia as they ate dinner at Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe.

    (3) The first question we asked of EVERY petition signer was, “DO YOU LIVE IN CHAPEL HILL?” And then further questions if necessary, like “Are you sure you live in the Chapel Hill city limits, not Carrboro, Hillsborough, Pittsboro, or Durham?” And finally, “Do you vote in Chapel Hill city elections”? A couple of hundred signatures on the petitions above and beyond 1,200 were crossed out because they were from folks who we determined lived outside the Chapel Hill city limits. Anyone is welcome to comb through the petitions for a more detailed analysis of proof of residence (they’re on file at Town Hall), but I feel confident they had a very high level of “signature integrity.” If anyone feels they signed in error, please contact me (see below) and I’d be happy to remove their name from the website.

    (4) We haven’t “put forth” or endorsed Lee Storrow or any other candidate for Chapel Hill Town Council. Although we did note on our website that Storrow was one of the 1,200 petition signers to oppose Aydan Court, unlike other announced Council candidates like Jon DeHart (who signed a pro-Aydan Court petition organized by the developer, Carol Ann Zinn, which ended up with about 130 names on it, of which 10% were duplicates or anonymous), or Matt Czajkowski, whose Council term is up this year and voted FOR the rezoning.

    If anyone has any questions about Friends of Chapel Hill, I can be reached by e-mail at It might take a couple of days, but myself or someone else will get back to you. And if the person you referred to who “does not want to be listed on a petition against Aydan Court” e-mails us at that address, I’d be happy to remove their name from the website. As of today, we haven’t received any e-mails from her or anyone else asking for their names to be removed.

    Thanks again,

    Erik Ose
    Co-organizer, Friends of Chapel Hill

    ps – apologies to your readers for the super-long comment!

  4. Thanks Erik for the long comment – transparency and clarity in one neat package.

  5. Terri Buckner

     /  July 13, 2011

    Erik or Will–has anyone analyzed the difference in impervious surface created by the condos vs the single family homes Carol Ann says she will build in place of the condos?

  6. Duncan O'Malley

     /  July 14, 2011

    And the council members who so blitheringly voted against Aydan Court were counting on the people who signed this petition to vote for them in the next election. Good luck.

  7. Rick Lewis

     /  July 14, 2011

    It is not clear why Aydan Court as proposed would be environmentally less desireable than 12 single family homes. The fact is that the Chapel Hill Town Government zoned these 5.8 acres for residential development. The only question is the density of occupancy.

    So apart from “more people” living on 5.8 acres with the 90 unit plan versus the 12 single family homes what is the environmental rationale for disapproval? I was not able to attend the meeting but I have spoken with individuals who did. There are a number of environmentally responsible and learned individuals who were in favor of Ayden Court. They characterized the vote of the Town Council as being based on “feelings” and not science. That is how the vote is being portrayed.

    There are many other cultures out there in the wide world who have to create rich and interesting living spaces for their population. They are also environmentally conscious. The most advanced in this regard tend to be the Japanese or various European countries such as Denmark, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Finland. The often build in much higher population densities than we do here in the United States. The citizens of these countries are no less interested in “sustainable” development than we are. To imagine that those of us living in Chapel Hill are world leaders in creating environmentally friendly and sustainable living environments is probably more aspirational than it is actual. Indeed to opt for less dense housing on the same acreage can be considered as environmentally less responsible and less sustainable than the rejected Aydan Court proposal. Having lived outside the United States for extended periods of time in my life I have experienced different methods of solving human needs that work very well. No human wishes to live in “dirty” environment.

    The issues raised by Aydan Court will be with us for many years moving forward. The Triangle is growing in population. Good housing is vital for a vibrant economy and attracting a skilled workforce. How does the vote of the Town Council represent good governance given the many comments that it was based on “feelings?”
    So what do the data show?

  8. DOM

     /  July 14, 2011

    One should also mention here that ALL of the advisory boards as well as the professional staff hired by the town approved the development. The council members who voted no never provided any acceptable reasons why they chose to ignore the recommendations of all those who carefully reviewed all the materials and evidence provided.

    The citizens of Chapel Hill should feel a keen sense of disappointment that the no-voting council members chose to “go with their feeling” instead of listening to those who went with facts.

    It pains me to say it but, as a community, I can’t help but feel we’re going backward instead of forward.