Deborah Fulghieri is an ETJ (Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction) member of the Planning Board. Here’s what she has to say on the recent sale of Eastowne Office Park, owned by Blue Cross Blue Shield, to UNC Health Care:
It was a surprise to learn that Chapel Hill’s economic development officer does not live, vote or pay property taxes in Chapel Hill. His assertion that he could not afford what he wanted in Chapel Hill – his salary is $78,000 per year – sent me on a brief search on Alamance County’s website, which shows what he paid cash for a small house on six tenths of an acre, and gives a map. He could have afforded the equivalent nearby, so I think he has other reasons to live where he lives. (When the economic development officer job was advertised in 2007, it specified that a vehicle would be provided at Town expense; perhaps that offsets his commute.) But I can’t accept the economic development officer for Chapel Hill, for heaven’s sake, joining the chorus singing “Chapel Hill Is Too Expensive.” His money is not where his mouth is.
Maybe that is why he didn’t work to keep Blue Cross Blue Shield from selling Eastowne Office Park, on 48 acres of Chapel Hill’s best commercial property fronting on I-40 and 15-501, for $14,250,000 – 33 percent less than its assessed value – to UNC Health Care. By comparison, University Mall on 41 acres is assessed at $33,928,000, and Rams Plaza on 14 acres was sold last month for $13,250,000 – three times as much per acre as Eastowne. Although there are differences in the use of these properties, the Eastowne property does not appear to have been exposed to the market for sale, and might not be considered an arm’s-length transaction.
The location is right where Chapel Hillians exit when they want to shop in Durham, otherwise referred to by Chapel Hill’s mayor as the “open drain on sales taxes.” UNC Health Care vice president Karen McCall was quoted by WCHL as saying that UNC Health Care will continue paying property taxes. “We certainly respect the need for the Town to be able to take care of all the facilities and all the organizations relying on Town services.” Those property taxes in 2011 were $333,652.08, an important part of our county’s and Chapel Hill’s budget. UNC Health Care is exempted from property tax by N.C. statute (the N.C. Machinery Act, Section 105-278.1), so the property could be withdrawn from the tax rolls whenever its management might see fit. This transaction weakens Chapel Hill’s commercial tax base.
I think Chapel Hill’s economic development department dropped the ball here and will now try to push for heavy commercial development on the Town’s periphery. That’s as bad an idea as letting Eastowne be sold for a third of market value, for non-commercial use.
– Deborah Fulghieri