At first glance

The Friends of Downtown held a sneak preview of the candidates for Town Council last Thursday. I sat in the audience next to Julie McClintock, which didn’t seem like a mistake at the time, until Mark Kleinschmidt, running unopposed for mayor, got up to speak and made mention of the “constant contrarians.” And suddenly, all eyes were upon Julie and me.

I can’t speak for Julie, but I plead guilty to taking any good idea, eyeballing it for dents or scuffs, shaking it to see what pieces fall out, dropping it to see whether it breaks, then checking its price tag. The mayor sees that as being negative. I call it being thorough. We can agree to disagree.

What all of us in the windowed meeting room on the second story of the Franklin Hotel might agree on was that the non-incumbents showed well. It was refreshing to note that when panel moderator Gregg Gerdau asked the candidates for a 2-minute elevator speech to introduce themselves, all more or less stayed within the two minutes. When Gerdau asked them a question, for the most part they answered it before moving on to an issue closer to their passion.

Not so, the incumbents. Sally Greene, first elected in 2003, and Ed Harrison and Kleinschmidt, elected in 2001, have campaigned numerous times over the years. We already know their values, how they are likely to vote on issues and what pet projects they’ll promote. Plus, Town Council meetings begin a week from tonight. They’ll have plenty of opportunity to insert the planks of their platform in discussions of issues that come before council.

At the forum, the newcomers had time only to mention in passing some of their ideas.

George Cianciolo sees an advantage of increased revenue with increased growth, and wants to make room for more entrepreneurs.

Loren Hintz differentiated between the homeless and panhandlers, and argued that the increase in vandalism downtown is likely not due to panhandlers.

Gary Kahn mentioned the importance of continuity, that development on one side of the street should mirror development on the other.
Paul Neebe focused on high property taxes that are pushing out even the middle class; he also favors taking a carrot and a stick approach to solving problems.

Maria Palmer noted that many of the working poor can’t go places on Sundays, the only day of the week they have off, because buses don’t run on Sunday.

Amy Ryan wants to respect the brand of Chapel Hill, but worries that college students, like her daughter, won’t be able to afford to live in town after they graduate. She also put forth the idea of a trolley bringing people downtown from remote parking lots.

D.C. Swinton would like to clear up the misperception that homeless people are bad people, and he suggested incentivizing business owners to hire more workers, even at minimum wage.

This should be an interesting election season, with plenty to talk about, even critically.
– Nancy Oates

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68 Comments

  1. Terri Buckner

     /  September 5, 2013

    The town has contracted with a company that will be creating a financial model for new development, using assumptions relevant (and manipuble I *think*) to Chapel Hill. This tool is expected to answer the question of what it will cost (or benefit the town for each new development. This was a request of the town council in response to a discussion that developers’ claims of benefit may not accurately reflect the true cost of services. It’s supposed to be ready for use before the end of the year.

  2. many

     /  September 5, 2013

    Terri,

    An accurate and impartial assessment of a plans costs/benefits would truly be progress.

  3. Bonnie Hauser

     /  September 5, 2013

    hey if I wanted to take cheap shots, I’d aim for the Town Operations Center – a $52 million white elephant – complete with sustainability trails and public art. Nothing but the finest for our garbage trucks and buses.

    Of course it was built before the global economic crisis. But – honestly why does the town so proudly feature the price tag in its brochures. Town Operations will be saddled with these overheads for a very long time.

  4. Scott

     /  September 5, 2013

    Many – “many” thanks for the correction to my inaccurate reference for comment and quote. I was looking at your name in one comment and copying the other. And, isn’t leadership always the issue?

  5. DOM

     /  September 5, 2013

    A question for Councilman Czajkowski:

    Since you agree that Estes Drive is already unacceptably dangerous for children who walk to school in the Central West area, how do you plan to secure the funds to fix it? DOT isn’t an option — at least for the next several years — and the town’s overextended budget isn’t capable of the fix either.

    If one of the stipulations for substantial increased density along Estes & MLK called for developers to provide space for sidewalks and bicycle access, isn’t that a huge plus for the childrens’ safety? It solves the most important issue in the area, an issue that otherwise appears to be unfixable for the next ten years.

    Your take, please.

  6. many

     /  September 5, 2013

    Scott,

    Yes, it is. Too many people think leadership is an adjective.

  7. Scott

     /  September 5, 2013

    DOM, Many, Matt, and all who read this blog. There is another funding source available to the residents if that want a safer Estes sooner – Particularly for Bike & Sidewalk facilities. The “dreaded” – Special Assessment District. If residents, but particularly property owners along Estes Drive initiate a petition with the correct amount of signatures, improvements can be funded and right of way acquired. A UNC Local Gov’t Law Blog has an article on the use of special assessments http://canons.sog.unc.edu/?p=7288 and a downloadable publication that explain this in more detail. http://sogpubs.unc.edu/electronicversions/pdfs/lfb40.pdf

    So maybe the question has morphed and should be, do the property owners along Estes Drive want to provide a safer environment for themselves and their friends in nearby neighborhoods? If so, why not request via the CW Steering Committee that the Town develop a real improvement plan for bike and sidewalk facilities on Estes (in 6 weeks, not 18 months) so that a special assessment allocation could be made and everyone could see the costs and decide whether a special assessment (along with developer contributions) is reasonable.

    The primary question I asked earlier still obtains – with the safety issues so well identified and the needs for sidewalk on the north side of Estes Drive so well established (and in fact an obligation of UNC in the Development Agreement for Carolina North) why has the CW process done everything but spent serious time on presenting a program to fix the problem? In our lifetime as someone said.

    Why not take the following starting point for instance:
    (1) The developers of the Butler and Rummel properties put all the required improvements in place in front of their properties,
    (2) UNC provides a payment to Chapel Hill for the rest of the improvements needed from the east side of the Rummel property to Caswell Street.
    (3) Take the school impact fee of $250,000± for the student housing proposed for the Butler Property (which we know will generate practically no children) and use it for its purpose capital facilities improvements on the school property to reconfigure the edges of those sites to be safe and well landscaped – after the sidewalks and bike lanes are constructed.
    (4) If after all this a small special assessment is needed – lets hope some of the property owners along the south side of Estes will see the benefit of improvements on their side of the road as well.

    Matt or anyone on the CW Steering Committee – Are you willing to put this on the table now instead of next year (when the CW report will disappear into political debates)?

    Many / DOM – others. Would you think such a program set out by an elected official would be leadership?

  8. many

     /  September 5, 2013

    Scott, In a word. yes. Are you announcing your candidacy?

  9. Bonnie Hauser

     /  September 5, 2013

    Why is the DOT out of the question? The county recently reshifted priorities to pave Buckhorn -sadly afer two teenagers died in a wreck. If this is important, why doesn’t the council ask the county and DOT to look at it – especially if there’s a safety issue.

  10. many

     /  September 5, 2013

    Bonnie; does not look like Estes is on the DoT radar:
    https://connect.ncdot.gov/resources/safety/HSIP%20Library/ORANGE%20BP.pdf

  11. many

     /  September 5, 2013

    Ooops, spoke too soon: here are two…..Project #: C-5179 in 2014 -> 2015 and the second is “SFR”…Scheduled for re prioritization.

    http://www.ncdot.gov/projects/search/#t=estes

  12. Scott

     /  September 5, 2013

    Many – Good research. It looks like a funded project for ROW starting in Sept 14 and Construction starting in Sept 15. Would be nice to know exactly which section of Estes Drive. And to know if there is a design plan or just a good estimate of costs as the basis for the budget number.

    Maybe we won’t have to die to get improvements in place.

  13. many

     /  September 5, 2013

    Scott, sadly if you look at the spend, I think there is likely too small a budget to be a complete fix. It is just one piece of the puzzle. The sidewalks and bike lane are probably not 1.4 million dollar and done deal.

    Second, as I have tried to point out (proudly being a constant contrarian) there is a larger piece of storm water and other infrastructure improvement that needs to happen in order to not have profoundly negative effects downstream.

    Lets get *all* the costs on the table. I think the benefits will still outweigh them, but I might be wrong.

  14. Fred Black

     /  September 5, 2013

    I guess the Town isn’t doing a very good job of bypassing citizens:

    MEETINGS
    Mayor’s Committee on Affordable Rental Housing
    9/5/2013 8:30 AM – 10:30 AM
    Justice in Action Committee Meeting
    9/5/2013 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM
    Library Board of Trustees
    9/9/2013 5:15 PM – 7:00 PM
    Council Business Meeting-NOTE LOCATION CHANGE
    9/9/2013 7:00 PM
    Human Services Advisory Board-This meeting was originally scheduled for September 2, 2013.
    9/9/2013 7:00 PM
    Central West Steering Committee – Subcommittee Meeting
    9/10/2013 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
    Central West Focus Area – Community Session
    9/10/2013 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM
    Rosemary Imagined Social Event
    9/10/2013 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM
    Orange-Chatham Development Briefing
    9/11/2013 7:30 AM
    Chapel Hill Public Arts Commission
    9/11/2013 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM
    Council Work Session-Note Change in Time
    9/11/2013 6:00 PM
    Community Policing Advisory Committee Meeting
    9/11/2013 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
    Greenways Commission RESCHEDULED
    9/11/2013 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
    Board of Adjustment
    9/11/2013 7:00 PM
    Form-based Codes: An Introduction
    9/12/2013 8:30 AM
    Public Forum – Proposed Tanyard Branch Trail
    9/12/2013 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM
    Transportation Board Meeting
    9/12/2013 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
    Historic District Commission
    9/12/2013 7:00 PM
    Trayvon Martin Panel Discussion
    9/12/2013 7:30 PM
    Public Information Meeting: Carolina North Annual Report
    9/16/2013 5:30 PM
    Council Public Hearing
    9/16/2013 7:00 PM
    Public Transit Committee
    9/17/2013 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM
    Bike Plan Steering Committee Meeting
    9/17/2013 6:00 PM
    Planning Board
    9/17/2013 7:00 PM
    Balancing the Tax Base
    9/18/2013 12:00 PM
    Parks and Recreation Commission
    9/18/2013 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
    Community Design Commission
    9/18/2013 7:00 PM
    Central West Focus Area Steering Committee Meeting
    9/19/2013 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM
    Council Business Meeting
    9/23/2013 7:00 PM
    Central West Focus Area Steering Committee Meeting
    9/24/2013 4:30 PM – 6:30 PM

  15. Matt Czajkowski

     /  September 5, 2013

    DOM

    Would you be so kind as to point me to the source of your statement that I “agree that Estes drive is unacceptably dangerous for …..”

    As you know, some of those who post on this board are sticklers for correct attribution, myself included.

    The great news in this generally civil debate is that residents are actually having a discussion of specific tradeoffs which have cost guesstimates associated with them. Now we’re down to the tough decisions and as long as they are made explicitly and with clarity then we have a defensible process. That is significant progress which no doubt you will join me in celebrating!

  16. Bonnie Hauser

     /  September 5, 2013

    Many – I agree wiht your point on development should have a net postive – but its not clear how much after those all in” costs, This is at the crux of the conflict in each of the focus groups – especially Central West and Obey Creek. .

    I’d like to add two qualifications. First – the assumption that the development will be taxable.. When so much of the town’s highest value real estate is being gobbled up by UNC and UNC Healthcare – its hard to wonder how that’s impacting the value proposition.

    Second – can development fill the growing fiscal hole that the town is creating. Some fiscal restraint – partly through cooperation with the county and Carrboro could go a long way to save money. Certainly there are many options to lower costs.

  17. many

     /  September 6, 2013

    Bonnie,

    I see your point. I think also the definition of “value” is often a slippery one. That’s why I try to be careful when I say _I think_ the value will outweigh the cost. Others may have a different evaluation.

    In reply to your first point, yes there is a lot of “tax free” real estate in Chapel Hill, as with any other college town. On the other hand I think most college towns including Chapel Hill thrive not despite the tax status of the university, but because the university brings so much value in the best and brightest young minds across many (if not all) cultures. Additionally the taxpayers of the state (including ourselves) support the operation of the university and those taxes support many jobs directly and transitively through businesses that would not exist otherwise. (ask Scott)

    My answer to your second point is that in and of itself no. The public-private partnership of Carolina North will help immensely, but it is not a silver bullet. Fiscal restraint is one way, but I think fiscal _investment_ in certain directions has the promise of a much greater return. I have tried to point out that Chapel Hill is just one town in a county that is being slowly consumed from the east and west. Now with the likely approval of Chatham Park, the county borders to the south are in the same position. Rather than trying to build the same ol’ things, Chapel Hill should think of its uniqueness. What is it that Chapel Hill has that they do not and how can that be leveraged to it best complementary advantage?

  18. DOM

     /  September 6, 2013

    Matt –
    My apologies. At no point in this discussion did you agree that Estes Drive is “unacceptably dangerous.” I incorrectly assumed that, because you posted the SIT letter, you implicitly endorsed their position that Estes was unsafe in its present state and needed to be improved as soon as possible.

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