What’s another $50 million?

Watching Parks & Rec director Butch Kisiah and various paid consultants and volunteer committee chairs present the master plans for Parks & Rec and Greenways, I learned that I’m not the only one with Lexus tastes on a Civic budget.

The plans looked great: adding 10 miles of greenway trails to the town’s existing 13 to be able to use greenways as transportation corridors; a district park large enough to attract tournaments and the dollars they’d pump into local businesses; more spray fields (which sounded terrific, until I Googled it); volleyball courts for the 200 girls who have to go to Cary to get their volleyball fix; an arts center; and a new office for Parks & Rec employees who cram themselves into a cinderblock building on a flood-prone lot.

All of it could be ours – for $50 million.

I was still reeling from sticker shock when Donna Bell turned on her mike and added a half-dozen more improvements to the wish list. I kept waiting for the punch line – someone from the audience to step up to the podium and announce how many lattes we’d have to give up to pay for all this.

Instead, Ed Harrison, subbing for the mayor who was, ironically, in Durham on an affordable housing panel (I hope he listens and brings back some ideas), asked Roger Stancil when we’d be able to issue another bond. Not until 2017, Stancil replied, and even then, only a small one. We shot our debt ceiling on the library expansion.

Anything that encourages us to get off the couch and moving around in the sunshine is a good investment – it’s an affordable way to feel good and reduce health-care costs at the same time. But we need to find a way to pay for it without pushing out the working and middle classes to make room for more wealthy class.

Kisiah is putting into play some cost-effective resources: opening Parks & Rec to Eagle Scout projects and using artificial turf to get more use out of fields. Council members added more ideas: selling naming rights for fields and facilities; leveraging rec space by partnering with Carrboro; turning the responsibility of pocket-park maintenance over to the homeowners associations that benefit most from them. I’d add leveraging under-utilized space. The transportation center, for instance, is nice enough to rent out for weddings.

Jim Ward cautioned keeping the plan flexible to anticipate our changing demographics and what sort of recreation facilities we might need 10 years hence.

The direction our town is going, we might have greater need for polo fields.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Bonnie Hauser

     /  February 19, 2013

    LOL. Hard to ask for good fiscal stewardship when the advisory boards and their consultants are asking for such extravagences.

    Its no wonder we need density – to counter all the tax exempt projects. As long as we continue to plan in silos, we’ll continue to underutilize resources. Not just shared planning between Chapel Hill and Carrboro – but across functions. Maybe if Parks spoke to public works – they could find space in the town’s $52 million town operations center – which already has public art and sustainability walking trails.

    BTW, there are polo fields in the county – where land is a lot less expensive and there’s no water or sewer infrastructure. You can even take lessons. Its privately operated so they even pay taxes!

    Let them eat cake!

  2. Terri Buckner

     /  February 19, 2013


    All they presented last night was a plan with a very clear statement that even though it’s called a 10 year plan, they don’t have any expectation of completing it in 10 years. I support this plan–plans are good for managing expectations in my opinion. Funding and operationalizing the plan is something altogether different–which everyone acknowledged last night.

  3. Bonnie Hauser

     /  February 19, 2013

    I’m still struggling with planning in a vaccum. I’m still trying to understand the expected size and composition of the population that will be served. Wouldn’t that impact long range planning for parks? Certainly no one is planning $50 million of improvements around 200 volleyball players?

    For example, the commuter projections for the new transportation plan and LRT reguires filling 500-600,000 sq feet of commercial space every year. That doesn’t consider where the space might be (along the rail lines or not?), or how much of the population doesn’t commute.

    Schools and SAPFO use different projections. At the last AOG, Gene Pease had the courage to ask about the differences.

    So how can any department plan short or long term without a reasonable growth projections. It starts with land use – and continues on to impacts on schools, transportation, parks and basic services.

    No blame to the advisory boards.

  4. Terri Buckner

     /  February 19, 2013

    The language and units of planning are a mess–I agree with you on that. OWASA, for example, plans based on the number of facilities/residences they expect to have built. The time frame they use doesn’t match that of Chapel Hill or the MPO. But then again, the time frame used for growth in 2020 doesn’t match the population growth time frame for the MPO either and those two units are supposed to be planning together.

    The TJ COG, as a central planning unit, should be the source of time frames and units, in my opinion. They plan against transit, population, and natural resources so using them as the canonical source just makes sense to me.

  5. Many

     /  February 19, 2013

    “It starts with land use”…….Bingo! Problems are even more basic than what Terry points to. For starters, why is it that zoning and land use overlays don’t match?

    I used to be a fan of TJ & CoG, but the most recent transit “plan” has completely soured my opinion on their ability to be responsible and effective. They cynically leverage ill defined terms like “sprawl” and “transit oriented development” to promote an agenda that addresses neither.

    Too bad.

  6. Bonnie Hauser

     /  February 19, 2013

    What’s TJ COG?? .

    Just an FYI- the town and the county have each separately asked the MPO to revise their forecasts downward for the 2040 MPO plan. The projections will be lower than the 2035 plan – but not sure how much. TTAs plan relies on the 2035 plan projections.

  7. Diogenes

     /  February 19, 2013

    Many. Who are you? You are the most knowledgeable person discussing these issues I have ever read Chapel Hill.

  8. Many

     /  February 20, 2013

    TJ = Triangle “J”
    CoG = Council of Governments

    Diogenes; I am Jack’s raging bile duct.

  9. DOM

     /  February 20, 2013

    OMG, Nancy –

    Quick, give us a new topic to bitch about!