Roger’s job gets tougher

At Monday night’s Town Council meeting, Town Manager Roger Stancil gave his periodic update on the state of the town budget. His PowerPoint presentation showed that the town is way behind in development fees this year from what it expects – some $200,000-plus.

So what did the council do? Kill the Charterwood mixed-use project off MLK Blvd., a project that was projected to pump $500,000 a year in tax revenue into the town’s coffers.

This was a rezoning special-use permit hearing, and for approval the project needed a super-majority – eight council members showed up for work last night, so by the rules the project needed six votes to pass. It garnered five votes.

And why did the project fail to draw enough council votes? According to Lee Storrow, it had a restriction that did not allow anyone under 21 to live there, so he voted against it. According to Laurin Easthom, there was not enough affordable housing included in the plan, so she voted against it.

I won’t even mention Ed Harrison’s objections, which were based on “stipulations.” Ed was in a bad mood Monday night, and he took it out on the developer’s representatives by scolding them for last-minute additions to the proposal. Ed had a point there, so he voted against it, but talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

I’m no friend of developers, as Nancy can attest. I’d much rather see an extensive area of woods than brick and asphalt. But I also believe that those who follow the rules should be rewarded. And when a developer bends over backwards to cross every “t” and dot every “i” of the town’s development restrictions and has the approval of the Town Staff and the Planning Board, then the council should heed that advice instead of heading off in counter-productive tangents that help no one and make Roger’s job even more difficult.

This town is making a big deal about its 2020 “visioning” efforts, trying to get input on how we all can enjoy life in Chapel Hill in less than a decade. Well, one way is to get developers to put up smart, environmentally conscientious projects, which by all accounts Charterwood was. The rules are in place, and there are developers who are brave enough to try to pass them. The town should not put developers through such a gauntlet and then refuse to approve on petty grounds.

You may not like development any more than I do, but it will come because that is the way of the world. We can control it or we can let it control us. Or we can talk about controlling it at special town sessions that ultimately lead to more contradictions and reshuffling and ignored policy.
–Don Evans

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14 Comments

  1. George C

     /  February 1, 2012

    This was not a proposal for a conditional rezoning; i.e., a rezoning conditional upon the SUP (Special Use Permit) attached to it. Then why where all the objections to the rezoning (at least those publicly stated) based on objections to stipulations in the SUP? The rezoning should have been evaluated on its own merits. That is apparently how the Planning Board evaluated it. They voted 7 to 1 in favor of it with the lone dissenting vote coming from a member who was instrumental in the filing of the protest petition.

    As a former member and chair of three Chapel Hill advisory boards and former chair of three special Council-appointed committees I am concerned that Council members seem to be giving less and less weight to the opinions of their advisory boards. They may make the argument that they’re “listening to the citizens” but I have a news flash for them: advisory board members are citizens too. They’re citizens who have taken the time to get involved. They’re citizens who have taken the time to listen and learn. And they’re citizens who take an oath to do their best to make this a better community.

    I’m now in a difficult situation. As co-chair of the Chapel Hill 2020 process I have to go back and convince the stakeholders in that process that Council will listen to what they, the stakeholders, are saying. But if Council members won’t listen to their own advisory board members, whom they appointed and, in many cases, recruited, why should the CH2020 stakeholders believe that Council will listen to them – many of whom are getting involved in their community for the very first time.

    I can understand Lee, being new and inexperienced, allowing his objections to the SUP cross over to his vote on the rezoning. Perhaps after reflection on this mistake he will have the courage to go back to Council and ask for a re-vote, which he, as a dissenting vote, is allowed to do. It would be the courageous thing to do but it would also be the right thing to do. I hope that he might see that they are the one and the same.

  2. DOM

     /  February 1, 2012

    Well said, Don.

  3. DOM

     /  February 1, 2012

    George C. has a right to be worried about the 2020 process and its results – I have attended a dozen meetings and presentations and have yet to see any council members present. If they really had an interest in changing the way the development process works, wouldn’t they want to take part in the change?

  4. George C

     /  February 1, 2012

    DOM, a number of Council members have attended on a fairly regular basis.

  5. Anonymous

     /  February 1, 2012

    this was a massive development with mostly residential.
    A similar development in carrboro, Shelton Station, actually was calculated as a net negative to the Town only in terms of revenue to the Town minus service cost per resident. so I’d suspect Charterwood would be similar. In the future, the Town of Chapel Hill should do a similar analysis so the public would know. Also, some ratio of commercial to residential should be calculated so the public would understand that something that is 90% residential and 10% commercial would likely negatively impact Town net revenue.

  6. Anonymous

     /  February 1, 2012

    assuming a 60/44% split of single unit to two bedroom units as proposed Charterwood would generate at least 215 new chapel hill residents; therefore the net tax and sales revenue to JUST Chapel Hill (not the county) would need to be at least 215,000$ just for break even . the figures I have seen on sales tax and property tax have been totals to county + Town….

  7. Anonymous

     /  February 1, 2012

    Lee is probably going to get the mother of all arm twistings… guess we’ll see about pressure points.
    the other side of MLK contiguous with commercial and without a huge slope is a better site for that type of development..

  8. Name Witheld By Request

     /  February 1, 2012

    A WASTE OF TIME AND ENERGY

    Someone pointed out this is the second time in six months that the Town Council has denied a development request despite strong recommendations from town employees and wholehearted approval from every single advisory board. That just doesn’t seem right.

    Some years ago, I volunteered to serve on one of the ‘key’ advisory boards here in town. During that time, my colleagues and I reviewed dozens of development requests, often working several hours together before providing what we thought were informed and insightful comments to the Town Council. NOT ONCE during my time on the board did Council or any of its members communicate with us or provide any feedback. Some of my colleagues even joked that all the work we’d done probably went straight to the circular file. I fear I now have to agree with them.

    I think it’s appalling that a small handful of elected politicians can presume to be the ultimate experts on development decisions and ignore the advice of employees they’ve paid to study these developments. I also thing it’s appalling that they would ask advisory board members to volunteer countless hours when their recommendations will ultimately be ignored.

    As for the 2020 project now underway, I fear it’s just another example of citizens thinking they’re going to be making a real contribution to our town’s future, when in reality it’s just a waste of time and energy.

  9. Andy

     /  February 1, 2012

    Did anyone object wrt to the overcrowded schools?

  10. Ph. Johnson-Sledge

     /  February 1, 2012

    If one were cynical, one might say that when the town actively seeks public input they do so so that they can say after the fact–“but this is what the public asked for.” One might say that…if one were cynical.

  11. DOM

     /  February 1, 2012

    George C.

    Yes, I do remember seeing a few council members showing their faces early on. But since things have started to get into the nitty-gritty details, they seem to be noticeable absent. We can only hope that Name Withheld Upon Request’s comment about all the public input being a waste of time does not turn out to be correct.

  12. George C

     /  February 1, 2012

    DOM,
    I think more Council members have been in attendance at CH2020 than you might think. Remember, our last several meetings we have been broken out into our theme groups so unless a Council member was in your group you might not know they were there. The other thing you should know is that after the first CH2020 meeting, attended by over 400 citizens, we had heard from several sources that some folks felt “intimidated” by Council members because the Council members could readily cite reasons why something wouldn’t work (existing ordinances, previously tried, too expensive, etc). Rosemary and I sent an email to Council inviting them to continue to participate as stakeholders but asking them to be careful not to dampen the enthusiasm of other participants, particularly many citizens who had come out for the first time, in these early visioning exercises. I think the Council members have tried to honor that request and have tried to listen to the other stakeholders rather than to inform or criticize.
    We think CH2020 has been a great success at reaching out to folks to an extent never tried for or achieved before in Chapel Hill. We have had many, many folks participating who have never participated in any public forums before. The fact that citizens have come to realize that they have to take some responsibility for how their community functions and grows is very heartening. Keeping that high level of involvement up and translating that into useful guidelines for both the Council and the community remains a daunting task. But at least the community has demonstrated it wants to try.

  13. DOM

     /  February 2, 2012

    George C.

    “Keeping that high level of involvement up and translating that into useful guidelines for both the Council and the community remains a daunting task. But at least the community has demonstrated it wants to try.”

    I totally agree with you, George. But no matter how much work is done, the results are meaningless if Town Council continues to override the recommendations that are provided to them. If 2020 wants to get some genuine Street Cred, Town Council should come up with a contract of sorts agreeing to go along the recommendations that 2020 provides. Otherwise, it’s like just another advisory board – doing a lot of work and then being ignored.

  14. Lauren

     /  March 27, 2012

    I am a Chapel Hill resident and it bothers me to think that such a whimsical process is in place. If the process is set up where the town council members give feedback of say X, Y, and Z and the person on the other side of the podium, the developer, goes back to the drawing board and addresses X, Y, and Z but still has his proposal strung along and shot down then why does the process even exist? Also, I have been to a few of the meetings and George C brings up a good point about why Del Snow has been allowed to participate in this process from both sides. She lives adjacent to the property and clearly has a conflict of interest here. The chairwoman of the planning board, which has already voted in favor of Charterwood, she is the lone vote against. Why does she not feel obligated to recuse herself from the vote? It seems as though the council members are possibly being swayed by the interests of an insider.

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