What’s the rush?

Southern Area resident and CH2020 participant Jeanne Brown has this to say about the proposed Obey Creek development near Southern Village:

As has become a common theme in the two-and-a-half-year-old Obey Creek discussion, area residents found that Monday night’s Town Council agenda included another Obey Creek twist: The resolution before Town Council combined discussion and approvals for moving forward with Development Agreements at Glen Lennox and Obey Creek projects into one vote.

Clay Grubbs’ request to enter into this type of contract with the town for his Glen Lennox project instead of going through the Special Use Permit (SUP) process makes sense. The developer and residents and neighbors of Glen Lennox have spent the past two years working together to craft a plan that takes into considerations the needs of developer, town and local community. The town-sponsored and -directed process has included significant opportunity for all parties to analyze important information about traffic and transportation infrastructure, local watersheds, area schools and more. And careful consideration was given to the impacts on those who would be most affected – abutting neighbors and those looking for affordable housing.

By comparison, the Obey Creek discussion has barely begun and, as council members acknowledge, the only opportunity provided for citizen input was a fast-tracked, three-day process that took a total of 7 hours and 43 minutes!

Based on the state’s legal requirement that a development site be larger than 25 acres to be considered for a Development Agreement, future proposals for the 35 developable acres on the west side of Obey Creek offer Roger Perry and the town the possibility of a Development Agreement in the future.

But what other criteria should be applied to a proposal to determine whether a Development Agreement is the right process to use? At what point in the development process should a Development Agreement be initiated? How will a Development Agreement – a contract between the town and the developer which allows flexibility for future change – protect the rights of abutting landowners, nearby neighborhoods and local business owners during initial discussions and in the event the developer wishes to request changes to the agreed upon work in the future?

Jim Ward indicates that he feels that data collection and planning steps can be folded into a Development Agreement process because the town can decide not to approve a rezoning if the negotiations fail to produce consensus.

Gene Pease disagreed, pointing out that the successes at Carolina North and Glen Lennox were the product of the careful work done before moving to a Development Agreement. Echoing citizen concerns he said, “Obey Creek feels like we are somehow rushing this process. I wonder why we’re moving to a Development Agreement versus the process we’ve been going through.”

For their part, 18 speakers and 310 petition signers urged council to adopt a modified “Central West” process – with citizen organizing efforts beginning in December, adoption of a steering committee in January and work completed by June.
Given data in the December 2011 UNC Traffic Impact Analysis that indicates the Culbreth Road/James Taylor Bridge intersection will fail with normal growth, it is hard to believe a Target and other major retailers would find this an optimal spot. So why the rush?

Through a careful process, the town, developer and Southern Area stakeholders can find the right opportunities for southern Chapel Hill to be “Open for Business,” whereas a developer-driven, rushed process may very well result in “giving away the store” with the only winners being East West Partners and their Maryland-based owners.

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1 Comment

  1. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  November 12, 2012

    It’s not clear that the developers have much to gain. Perhaps the reason East-West Partners presented the same thing as before they participated in the 2020 discussion group is that they didn’t want to waste money on having an architect modify the project. Perhaps the goal is to force a zoning change so that the owners can sell the land to another developer.

    East-West Partners and Caves Valley Partners (the majority owners of Obey Creek) are also partnered in a mixed-use project in downtown Raleigh called Charter Square. Caves Valley bought the site in 2007 near the convention center from the city for $5.28 million, built a 550-car parking garage which was sold back to the city for $25.5 million (reference: http://www.newsobserver.com/2009/07/21/78959/council-amends-project-agreement.html), and two towers are to be built over the garage (reference: http://www.raleighmsa.com/newProjects-DowntownRaleigh.html). However, no building permits have been applied for, and the site must be resold to the city of Raleigh if not begun by September, 2013. The developers are seeking tenants, but financing is hard to obtain.

    I don’t claim to be an expert, but if a mixed-use project in the capital city (with convention center, performing arts and numerous employers within walking distance) is troubled, would a similar project fare any better in Obey Creek?