Lotsa lux

Remember Bicycle Apartments? Trinitas Ventures doesn’t, evidently. The Indiana-based developer of student apartment complexes has opened a rental office in the arcade on East Franklin Street for its project formerly known as Bicycle and now called Lux at Central Park.

Gone are the images of healthy, clean-living students bicycling to campus and back, keeping reasonable hours because they wouldn’t try to bike home at 3 in the morning after a night at the bars and bring the party with them. Now that Trinitas has all its approvals and permits, it has changed its image to market to students whose families have money and perhaps are used to having someone clean up after them.

The motto for this revamped student housing? “Live Life Lux.” The posters tout “Resort-style pool” and “Free tanning”; “Granite countertops” (what student would want to go through college without them?), a “Cyber café” and “24/7 fitness center.” And, of course, “Social events” and “Walking trails” (no mention of whether they lead to campus).

Undoubtedly, this is the type of complex Trinitas had planned all along but figured that Town Council members in Chapel Hill might have second thoughts about approving a project that would raze affordable housing to build luxury rentals.

A similar project will come before council soon. The once affordable Timber Hollow Apartments are being renovated into luxury living with granite countertops, resort-style pool and state-of-the-art clubhouse. And that developer, Ron Strom, not only is pressing for an upzoning from R-4 to R-5 but has proposed an “overlay zone” that would allow him to build density beyond R-5 by claiming to reserve some units as affordable. Trouble is his proposal has so many loopholes that none of the units will be rented at affordable rates, and he won’t accept Section 8 vouchers. If council swallows his line, the only one who will benefit is Strom, who will have even more high-rent apartments to boost his profit margin.

On top of all this, the Land Use Management Ordinance rewrite has abolished public hearings for rezoning. Instead, the town manager would make rezoning decisions and wouldn’t have to heed input from council or other taxpayers.

If the town, even with its expensive, time-consuming rezoning and special-use permit process, can’t get developers to hew to the vision they presented to council and the public, what will our town look like if developers don’t even have to pay lip service to our standards?

We need Town Council members who can look behind the veneer of a developer’s PowerPoint, council members who will ask the kind of questions that reveal what the developer really plans to build.

It’s an election year. Who do you think can hold developers accountable?
– Nancy Oates

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42 Comments

  1. Zero surprise.

    Follows on the heels of Greenbridge – which removed the geothermal design a couple days after approval – and West140 – where RAM committed to having a public square but bisected it with a gleaming, steaming, silver turd.

    Expect the same to happen at Ephesus Church’s Colony Woods redevelopment.

    That said, looks like Shortbread Lofts is hewing to the course they charted – good for them.

    It has been heartbreaking to watch a solid majority of our elected leadership flail and fail so badly on development issues the last 5 years. Poor decision followed by zero oversight (or introspection) time after time.

    Look at how “development agreements” are now the flavor of the month.

    Without clarity of vision and an ability to negotiate performance guarantees, these agreements become a license to build developments which will fail the community, tax our public infrastructure and generate no public good or fiscal reward.

    Given that the majority of this Council hasn’t been willing to use specific objective metrics to evaluate the success of their decisions – or to follow up – in any sense – on the major decisions behind them ( Lux, East54, West140, Greenbridge), we can expect the most weak-kneed of outcomes. Yet one of the incumbents is flogging the development agreement approach for Ephesus and Obeys. Ouch.

    Now that, apparently, a majority of Council – supposedly our representatives – are on the brink of ceding most of the remaining avenues of public review and oversight to staff and ideologue consultancies, I expect even worse results.

  2. Scott

     /  September 9, 2013

    Nancy, I expect to see a lively debate about this post. One specific comment at this time on your statement – “On top of all this, the Land Use Management Ordinance rewrite has abolished public hearings for rezoning. Instead, the town manager would make rezoning decisions and wouldn’t have to heed input from council or other taxpayers.”

    You are 100% wrong on this statement. You need to post a revision to your comments.

    The Council is the only entity that can change zoning.

    Should the council make a change to the Zoning Atlas (Map) the standards in the LUMO still apply via whatever the District establishes in the Zoning Text. Within the text there are only two options for approvals – (1) Administrative [Town Manager or Planning Board] and (2) Special Use Permits for everything else.

    Chapel Hill has two very good examples of developments that went thru the political ringer the town currently employs to get their concepts and many of the development elements set in place via Rezoning done by the Council – AFTER WHICH there was administrative approval for some components and SUP approval for others as specified in the Council Approvals of ReZoning. These two are Meadowmont and Southern Village. Most people I know fault these communities for minor details – except for one. The Council that approved the developments didn’t fully explore the question “What happens if the project is successful?” We have learned in retrospect that the neighborhood centers do not have sufficient retail activity and once again we are forced to find new locations to add commercial tax base rather than reinforce the centers we already have by permitting them enough room to grow when they were approved.

    The Council adopted an extremely detailed and well thought out plan for the Ephesus Church – Fordham area after much resident input. Implementing it via a council approved zoning plan (map and text amendments approved by council) with components well thought out for administrative plan approval is not a foreign concept to Chapel Hill as Meadowmont and Southern Village demonstrate. It is a proven strategic approach to developing the adopted plan and implementing the roadway, pedestrian, bicycle and land use goals of that plan.

  3. Terri Buckner

     /  September 9, 2013

    For those who aren’t land planning geeks, here’s the deal on Fordham/Ephesus. Under the current LUMO (Land Use Management Ordinance), every piece of land has an approved zoning use (what the land can be used for). Chapel Hill has zoned everything so that, in general, any development has to request a zoning change (special use permit).

    In other words, Chapel Hill has chosen not to say in advance what land can/cannot be used for. They require developers to come to the town and ask permission for what they want to do. Such requests are long and drawn out; requiring multiple advisory board reviews, public hearings, and council deliberation. The process becomes so expensive for the developers that many, including some of the frequent posters to this site, say it as one of the primary explanations for the high cost of housing here.

    The process is also very expensive for the town due to the hours and hours of staff and consultant time required to shepherd each project through the long-drawn out process.

    For the past 6-7 years, Council, staff, and some citizens have advocated for adopting a ‘form-based zoning’ approach to reduce the high cost of development for both the town and the developers.

    The “Land Use Management Ordinance rewrite” Nancy refers to is a first take on what a form-based zoning approach would look like, applied to Ephesus Fordham. In this approach, development requirements are applied to “districts” with the intent of fostering “more predictable results and a high-quality public realm.” The current plan specifies type of use, height, set back, parking, and streetscape requirements.

    In other words, with this approach citizens and land owners know what can be done on the land in advance of any development plans, eliminating the need for advisory board reviews, public hearings, and council deliberation on every new project while reducing the cost of development for the town and the developer.

    Currently this “rewrite” is just a proposal and the town and consultant are asking for feedback. The proposed approach can be found here:
    http://www.townofchapelhill.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=20118

    Notice on p. 10 of this proposal that it specifies IN ADVANCE what the uses can/cannot be and some that still require a special use permit.

    IMHO, it’s contradictory for anyone to complain about the high cost of living in this community while immediately trashing this proposal which makes the entire development proposal more transparent and more affordable, not just for the developer, but also for the town (i.e., your tax dollars). That doesn’t mean it’s perfect as written. This is a proposal and anyone who is interested should review it and send feedback to the town. Unfortunately, I do not find the instructions for how to send feedback but I’ll post back later if I can find it.

  4. Nancy

     /  September 9, 2013

    Scott —
    From the draft LUMO rewrite:
    3.10.9. Administration of Form Districts
    A. Zoning Compliance Permit Required (no more sup, public hearings)
    1. It is unlawful to begin any excavation, removal
    of soil, clearing of a site, or placing of any fill on
    lands contemplated for development, or to begin
    any construction, moving, alteration, or renovation,
    except for ordinary repairs, of any building or other
    structure, including accessory structures and
    signs, until the Town Manager has issued a zoning
    compliance permit for such action, certifying that
    the development complies with the applicable
    provisions of this Article.
    2. It is unlawful to change the type of use or type
    of occupancy of any land or structure, or to
    extend any use on any lot on which exists a
    nonconforming use, until the Town Manager has
    issued a zoning compliance permit for such action,
    certifying that the intended uses comply with the
    applicable provisions of this Article.

    That’s what’s in the works. What do you think it will take for town staff to change its mind (especially as ways to give feedback aren’t readily apparent, as per Terri’s comment) or for council to continue the time-consuming, tedious public hearings that contribute to their meetings lasting until midnight? I fear it’s a done deal.

  5. Scott

     /  September 9, 2013

    Nancy – First, I would not assume that the adoption of the proposed Form Based Code section in its present form is a done deal. Second, you should probably be more careful with your words. If you think it is a done deal, but yet to be enacted you should say that. And you should not enflame the situation by inaccurately stating something that you should know is incorrect. I believe you do know that the Council, not the manager, is the only local government entity that can approve changes to the LUMO and to the Zoning Map. Please tell me that you do know this. If you think otherwise lets talk over coffee, because your misstatement – that can be corrected – is sure to be repeated by those less informed about process and local government capabilities.

  6. Terri Buckner

     /  September 9, 2013

    Nancy,

    The section that you quote doesn’t give the manager any special powers not already possessed. It says that before any digging can begin, the developer must request (and pay for) a permit based on a site plan that is in compliance with the adopted code. Are you saying you want a public hearing for a building permit? Is that really what you want town council to be spending their time on?

    I recognize that you are not the only one concerned that this new plan gives the manager more power, and if that is your concern you should send that feedback to council. But you should also note the following paragraph in the proposed language around Form Districts:

    “Where a use not listed is found by the Town
    Manager not to be similar to any other permitted
    use, the use is only permitted following a text
    amendment.”

    An amendment to the code would require council approval.

  7. Terri, it isn’t a more transparent system if the decision-making is happening behind closed doors, without public disclosure and discussion.

    Scott, I ran in 2005 with a platform that emphasized doing a small area plan for Ephesus area (some real opportunities). On the Sustainability Visionning Task Force I also pushed for using that area – expanded from Blue Cross/Blue Shield to Elliot Rd. – as a pilot for our process. I participated in the initial small area planning meetings (and heard many of the local biz concerns which remain unaddressed in the current plan).

    There are some very good aspects of the current plan but….

    Where is the commitment to measure the success or failure of the plan in terms of transportation, housing, community utility, commercial and economic improvements, etc.? It isn’t there….

    Where’s the metrics – not just there but for Obeys and Central West – that we measure the putative goals against? They aren’t there…

    And why are we, once again, asking what lessons were learned at Greenbridge, West140, East54, Southern Village and Meadowmont?

    How do we build on their successes, avoid their failures, if there’s no commitment to set specific measurable goals and look to see if they were achieved?

    Simple examples. The “rah rah growth at any cost” wing of Council that pushed West140 assured the public that the parking fees collected from the underground parking lot would cover the COPs borrowing costs. Have they? The Town said total taxpayer cost for the environmental cleanup (and on-going environmental monitoring) would not exceed $263K. Has that been the case?

    Every project brought before Council presents a lopsided story – all benefit, zero cost to the community yet the reality has always been different.

    How many Downtown businesses do we have to drive to failure, for instance, before we measure the effects of heavy construction Downtown (and deal with it)? And on and on and on….

  8. DOM

     /  September 9, 2013

    I really do feel that this posting is more an attempt to inflame rather than inform.

    There is so much mis-information being distributed right now in attempting to forestall any kind of meaningful discussion about growth and development in that area, it’s no wonder some people are out there with torches and pitchforks.

    When knowledgeable individuals intentionally feed an uninformed public with half-truths, they pay a disservice to the citizens of Chapel Hill.

  9. Terri Buckner

     /  September 9, 2013

    I thought those two public information sessions I attended this summer on the Ephesus/Fordham plan and the form based code process were quite public although not that well attended. There are also 3 more sessions planned to address the code changes. How much more public do you want, Will?

    The town has also contracted for a modelling program that will calculate costs using metrics that are owned by the town, not the various developers. That program is due for completion before the end of the year.

  10. Geoff Green

     /  September 9, 2013

    It is fascinating that Trinitas is trying to promote many different features of their apartments besides its proximity to campus and lack of auto parking spaces, and that the company is emphasizing different things to 19-year-old students than to Town Council members. You’d think they want students to rent them or something.

  11. Terri,

    “The town has also contracted for a modelling program that will calculate costs using metrics that are owned by the town, not the various developers. That program is due for completion before the end of the year.”

    The Town has been looking at some kind of metrics package forever. They were going to leverage OC’s – though it didn’t measure the kind of goals espoused by developers – and, when that didn’t pan out, moved on to the “new plan”.

    Unless something has changed from the last public discussion of this tool – the kinds of data that are to be analyzed will not give a very refined picture of what’s going on, the costs associated with particular development patterns (let alone a particular development) and won’t align with the touted goals of our much vaunted (thoroughly incomplete) CH2020 process.

    Simply. we appear to be getting a hammer when we need a scalpel.

  12. Scott

     /  September 10, 2013

    Will,

    What did we think will happen? What did happen? What were the outside actions we couldn’t predict? What should we look at (which metrics) next time. And what should we measure during and after development?

    All the questions you and I have been asking the town to address so that we can have better informed discussions. All Q’s the prior Manager refused to consider. This council is moving toward those evaluations, but a slow process as you point out. Nevertheless, it would be nice to actually get budget and development impact analysis tied together for school and town services and costs.

  13. Jason Baker

     /  September 10, 2013

    So, what you’re saying in town government should get into the business of regulating the names of private buildings and countertop styles? I’m sure that will go over well. Let me know when you’ve lined up support in the NCGA for allowing municipal governments additional rental regulatory powers, and I’ll be first in line to suggest some actions the council should take with their new power (but that probably won’t include suggesting they regulate whether apartments can advertise that they have a pool and fitness center).

    It’s interesting that the fervor in this town for preventing construction on the basis that there is a perception that it will house the wealthy instead of the poor is almost universally applied to large multifamily buildings and almost never to single family neighborhoods. As I look out the window of my modest duplex at the almost seven hundred thousand dollar three-story home of my neighbor across the street, I can’t recall anyone protesting the planning department’s approval of the new detached garage he built this spring on the basis of wishing to see more modest homes in Chapel Hill. There are merits to the concerns that we’re becoming a community where only the wealthy can afford to live, sure, but they would carry a lot more weight if they weren’t only strewn about as thinly veiled attempts to prevent multifamily construction.

  14. Del Snow

     /  September 10, 2013

    Jason, I was someone who was raised in a small apartment. Single people or young professional couples do well in luxury apartments and we now have many built and pending projects for them. But when or if children come on the scene, a house (if at all possible) is the generally the choice. What we should be looking to provide are smaller one family homes – what used to be called starter homes – that are on smaller lots. These would also be more affordable. In general, families contribute to the vitality of a community and insure a sense of future because they are vested in the success of their Town. Singles, on the other hand, can pick up and move in response to job offers or just on a whim.

    Equally maddening is this idea that residential density will lead to workforce housing. Tell that to Manhattanites! It is unfortunate that developers do not see the wisdom of providing diverse kinds of integrated rentals and I sincerely believe that most future developments (especially ones done by out of area firms) will be built to the max allowable by the form based code with no provision for affordability. Again, as a child of lower middle class parents, I agree with your point, but the visions that have been thrust upon us by consultants and council do not seem to agree with either of us.

    Lastly, Aaron N is quoted in the Tar Heel as saying that we need big box stores (which i have no particular problem with) to provide employment for unskilled and semi-skilled employees, No where does he address where these employees will live OR how these low-wage earners will afford to get to these job sites.

  15. Jason Baker

     /  September 10, 2013

    Del, you and I have worked together and voted together many times to limit the size and scale of homes in the Northside and Pine Knolls neighborhoods: in site plan reviews, changes to the neighborhood conservation districts, and our collective concern over this is part of the reason that we both voted for the moratorium for new development in Northside a few years ago so that the rules could be improved. I just wish that this same interest in promoting organically affordable homes were applied across the town and not to a few selective developments. I’m certainly not picking on you as an individual about this, and I do appreciate what you’ve said – I too grew up in a small home and shared a room with my brother (and a closet with our family’s washing machine).

    As my wife and I consider where we would like to live in the future, a future which very well may include children, I don’t think we’ve ever discounted the possibility of moving back into a larger multifamily unit. At the moment, we’re more in the lumped category of graduate students / young professionals, and I have to say that the housing market for us is pretty dismal. I believe it’s one of the reasons why Chapel Hill has lagged on attracting, building, and retaining creative class and information economy jobs. Many if not most of my friends our age (late twenties and early thirties) have moved elsewhere because the jobs and the type of housing that appeals to us just doesn’t compete with the rest of the Triangle, or with some of our peer metropolitan areas around the country.

    Frankly, if people moving to our area in search of luxury housing (I can’t fault them for choosing to – we live in a wonderful place!), I’d rather they have the option of living in a luxury condominium rather than a giant house on a sprawling lot. I say this if for nothing other than the negative environmental impact that some of our current development patterns encourage.

    I think we agree pretty firmly about the need for a more diverse and more affordable housing stock. But it seems where we differ is in how we believe the laws of supply and demand will affect home prices. As someone who has been known to support fiscal policies some might call socialist, I may not love free market capitalism but neither do I deny that it impacts the choices which are available to me. I don’t think the Manhattan arguments carry much strength because 1) we’re not Manhattan, nor do I hear anyone suggesting we should be and 2) such arguments work under the assumption that prices would not be even higher if there was less supply.

  16. must/remain/anonymous

     /  September 10, 2013

    I lived in rented apartments until I was 37, married with 2 children, and let me tell you it was such a relief to have a fenced yard. Everyone has neighbor stories to tell, but it’s even more stressful when they are right in your face, or making ungodly noise above, or below, or beside you. The only objection I have to single-family neighborhoods Chapel Hill-style, is that the subdivisions are segregated by income. Why not sprinkle a few little houses among the big. Why not have a little house on a little lot in Greenwood? Or a two-family among brick-veneered, “transitional” multigabled dwellings?

  17. Del Snow

     /  September 10, 2013

    Jason,

    It’s been years since we reviewed a single family McMansion housing development and I have no particular desire to see them – we have plenty already. This is a problem with use by right and one that a hybrid form of form-based code could help. If anyone were to propose a SF development, density bonuses could be given for smaller homes on smaller lots.
    Of course, environmentally, we would be better off if new wealthy residents lived in multi-family condos. However, I still contend that with developers choosing to maximize their profit (morality of that is a different discussion) they will continue to build luxury at the cost of losing affordability.
    The article posted by Fred made some interesting points about why, despite a huge number of units available, rents are so high.
    The first point is “There’s only so much space.” Here, our space is constrained by the rural buffer.
    The second point suggest that Manhattan could be even denser by relaxing zoning rules in some areas., but no where does it balance this by consequential infrastructure needs.
    Third -rent control.
    To qualify for rent control, a tenant must have been continuously living in an apartment since July 1, 1971. When vacant, the unit becomes rent stabilized, except in buildings with fewer than six units, where it is usually removed from the program. In some cases, a tenant living in a one- or two-family home may qualify for rent control if the tenant has lived there since 1953, however, once the apartment or home has been vacated, the home or apartment (if in a two-family) is deregulated.

    I would support rent control if it were an option here, but it’s not. Considering that occupancy in a rent control apt means that, at this point, you have lived there a minimum of 42 years, I would guess that rent control is not the explanation for the difference in rents cited in the article, Manhattan has some areas segrated with low rents and high crime aka slums – that will bring the median down really quickly.
    I don’t think high property tax rates or high constuction costs are relevant to this specific discussion.
    The next point is “affordable housing set-asides.” This goes back to the morality of having to charge incredibly high rents, just because you are providing some affordable ones. I sure hope that doesn’t happen here!
    Lastly,”minimum parking requirements.” You know that I have argued long and loudly against our parking standards. Too much parking does not support the transit oriented development that we claim that we want. By providing less parking we could have more land for housing – lowering some proposed heights, perhaps – and support transit as well.

    Jason, I really wish that a solution to this problem was embraced by a cooperative of powers that be and developers. You and Erin certainly should be able to afford to live here.
    Sorry for this long post –

  18. FYI “must/remain/anonymous”, Zinn’s built a mix of affordable housing integrated with more expensive properties in Larkspur.

  19. Nancy

     /  September 11, 2013

    I would love to be wrong about this. Let’s all of us lobby Town Council members to prove me wrong.

    And to Will’s point about Zinn Design Build: Carol Ann Zinn implemented inclusive housing better than most developers. But a slim majority of Town Council members drove her out of town with the unprofessional and mean-spirited way they treated her over Aydan Court, for two years asking her to make more and more changes, which she did, then ultimately denying approval. We need people on Town Council who can distinguish between who’s working in the best interests of residents and who cares only about their own profit margin.

  20. Nancy

     /  September 11, 2013

    Fred — That is an interesting article. One missing piece is that rents only skyrocketed when changes on Wall Street created “Masters of the Universe.” Once a large number of people had more money than they knew what to do with, all of a sudden real estate prices took off. Developers began buying up poor areas of town, renovating them and pushing the poor to the outer boroughs. Bill Strom bought what used to be a tenement on Grand Street that for generations was home to the working poor. (I knew I could work him in here somehow.)

  21. Fred Black

     /  September 11, 2013

    Nancy, we also must remember the two institutions with the most significant holdings in NYC, the Catholic Church and Columbia University. Their influence and impact is enormous.

  22. Del Snow

     /  September 11, 2013

    Proportionally, I’d bet UNC’s is much higher,

  23. Fred Black

     /  September 11, 2013

    Maybe, but if you just consider rental housing, they wouldn’t be close!

  24. joey

     /  September 11, 2013

    Claremont South will have 92 single family lots and 25% of them will be either 1350 square feet or 1100 square feet. These will be built on +- 3500 s.f lots. I would imagine that most of the homes will be in $200,000’s. The first phase of Claremont also mixed Community Home Trust duplexes along with market rate home duplexes. There was even 1 Affordable Home built in Montclair that is mixed in with the “McMansions” and it looks great. Kudos to those greedy developers!

  25. Scott

     /  September 11, 2013

    FYI – The New Jersey Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) was the organization set up by the state of NJ in the mid-80’s after the State Legislature passed a process to establish a town’s affordable obligation (combination of housing and employment and land available measures) and become the approval body for local affordable housing plan. I have know many of the staff for many years including their first 3 directors. After I provided them with pictures of Larkspur (Carol Ann’s project) COAH used them as one of their “best examples” of the integration of AH single family homes in a neighborhood. The building firm that has done the most to provide AH homes not in a condo/vertical development are clearly the Zinn family. Nancy is correct – Carol Ann did everything the council asked and was still denied.

    Chapel Hill has one or two locations that could still hold this model of development of smaller detached single family homes with an affordable component, but did not focus on it in the 2020 planning process. Nor will those areas be in any of the 2020 implementation planning areas for the next couple years. And in the long term the only place to continue to provide new single-family detached homes will be outside the urban services boundary, perhaps south of Hillsborough or west of Carrboro. Don’t expect that to happen in our lifetime.

  26. Del Snow

     /  September 11, 2013

    Scott touches on an important point – 2020’s “vision” does not provide for small home residential development – whether part of a development or on its own.

  27. Scott, why not encourage your Chartwell clients to build those affordable detached housing units?

    They could provide a mix of housing that would be attractive to seniors beyond their child-rearing days and young professionals just starting their families alike.

    If you convince them to forgo maximum profit for what would still be a good return on their investment – they don’t end up overloading the intersection, they provide a category of housing in high demand – all close to amenities/services like the YMCA, middle and elementary schools, even Homestead Park.

    Seems like a winning strategy.

  28. citizen deb

     /  September 11, 2013

    Thank you, Nancy Oates, for your September 9 article. You certainly make salient points. It is sad to see what Chapel Hill has become and is still becoming. The Town Government does not seem at all representative of what its citizens want.

  29. Del Snow

     /  September 12, 2013

    Manhattan rental estate may have a high rate, but the property is assessed at 45% of market value for property tax purposes.

  30. Terri Buckner

     /  September 12, 2013

    Here’s how to send comments on the DRAFT code:

    “The preferred method for commenting is via email to lumo@townofchapelhill.org with “Ephesus Church” in the subject line. Written comments may also be mailed to: Town of Chapel Hill Planning Department, Attn: Eric Feld, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514. “

  31. Scott

     /  September 12, 2013

    Will,

    Whatever happens at the corner of MLK and Estes Drive is not in my hands, but in the hands of the Council, sometime this fall it appears. But to the general tone of your comment about developers and return on investment (time and money). Since I moved to Chapel Hill I have not worked for a single use developer (hotel group for example) or for a larger land developer (such as the developer of Waterstone that now houses the Orange Campus of Durham Tech and a UNC hospital) in Hillsborough where maximum profit was ever a goal. Reasonable return on investment over time was a goal, not a land flip deal that was made so popular in Texas and California in the 80’s (after the Reagan Depression years). And in fact in the NY metro area – and actually here in Chapel Hill – I’ve worked on single-family large lot developments that generated far more profit than alternative uses. But at any rate, one job of the town at a basic level is to determine what uses and where are best for the town. How they affect the financial and economic sustainability of the town and the properties in town is of course also a concern. Chapel Hill has pretty much not believed it needed to take that set of metrics seriously until the past 5 years. And obviously the metrics are many and the most important ones frequently change over time. They have changed several times since I moved here, but the methods of analytically measuring them have been absent.

    Indeed, one of the key principles that those of us on the Northern Area Task Force thought we had been promised by the prior town manager was a study approach that would consider what metrics to measure (fiscal, traffic, school impacts, etc.) and how to do it on issues of cumulative impact of types of development. As Del Snow and I do agree – I believe – we are still waiting.

  32. Scott, given the high intensity of the Chartwell proposal, the terribly inappropriate land use it has – a hotel on a F- intersection/588 undergrad beds, I find it very hard to believe they didn’t look at it and say “How can we make the most out of this project?” If you read critiques of their other housing projects, it further suggests that they aren’t here for the long haul.

    What have I missed?

  33. Del Snow

     /  September 13, 2013

    Scott –

    I’ve already turned blue.

  34. Nancy

     /  September 13, 2013

    My understanding is that RAM owned the land on MLK that was later proposed for Charterwood, and that whatever RAM had proposed for that site met with resistance from people who lived nearby, so RAM decided to sell the parcel. Does anyone know what RAM had proposed?

  35. Del Snow

     /  September 13, 2013

    The initial concept plan proposal submitted by RAM called for 48 dwelling units comprising 72,000 sq ft of floor area, two banks with drive-thru windows, and a 22,000 sq ft office/retail building. Parking for 204 cars. Charterwood comprises 278,000 sq ft of floor space in 7 buildings, parking for 362 cars, and 154 luxury dwelling units.
    RAM (who paid 1.1 million for the property and flipped it a little over a year later for over 3 million dollars) did not meet significant neighborhood opposition. RAM Development’s efforts to negotiate use of the existing DOT retention ponds were not successful, and because of the significant stormwater challenges on the property, they chose to “get out.”
    This “resistance” that you refer to by abutting neighbors is just an effort to advocate for one’s quality of life. property values, and what’s best for CH by seeking the best a developer can offer rather than the minimum. This is something we see all over town – Central West, Obey’s Creek and even near Timber Hollow.

  36. Del Snow

     /  September 13, 2013

    Scott, you will appreciate this-
    Here is a verbatim quote from a speech I gave to Council on 11/19/2007 (speaking as the chair of the NATF): ThIs was one of the town-wide strategies recommended by the NATF:
    Design of a financial model that balances costs and benefits of commercial and residential property resulting in a revenue neutral or even a revenue positive outcome.

    The other strategies were just as compelling!

  37. Elisabeth Benfey

     /  September 13, 2013

    Dozens of neighbors asked the Council during Public Hearings on The Bicycle Apartments not to approve a project that called for razing affordable housing to build high-end student dorms. What was needed there was housing for a mix of folks — UNC and town workers, grad students, retirees, undergrads, young families. That was the position of the Planning Board, whose recommendation the Council chose to ignore, as it does so often. And now, there is no mechanism in place to ensure that Trinitas will, in fact, deliver the product they “sold” to the Town Council (are those famous bicycles actually going to be available to students?)

    At least, the project went through a review process with citizen input. Now, with the LUMO under revision, we are facing the possibility that SUP will be eliminated. You can plan generally in a small area plan, as called for by the CH 2020, but until you have a specific project, you can’t really judge its worth. Giving staff administrative approval of big projects could land us with some very undesirable new development in town.

    Amy Ryan, who has served with great intelligence on several town advisory boards before serving on the Planning Board for close to three years, has consistently worked to get citizen input at the front end of the planning process. She is doing so now with the Central West and Obey Creek neighborhoods. She believes that even if we do proactive planning and rezoning in town –before an application comes in- we still should have some kind of public hearing process before approval.

    Let’s support candidates that will ensure that citizens will continue to have a voice in the planning and rezoning of the town. Amy Ryan embodies all the wisdom and experience desirable in a Town Council Member.

  38. Del Snow

     /  September 13, 2013

    Thanks for veritying, Fred

  39. Wow! Most folks probably don’t recall how little review (and how much deference to RAM) Council did on this initial proposal.

    Irrespective of RAM’s involvement, as Del notes, still a better plan in terms of impact and complementing the NATF recommendations than what we ended up with.

    Six years ago, I thought that it was within the realm of possibility to improve our Town’s development process by incorporating a facts-based, metrics-based approach that would measure community ROI for proposed developments.

    Not a optimistic having seen the many calls – like Del’s and Scott’s – ignored and the failed CH2020 so widely lauded by those whom should know better.

  40. Mike

     /  November 25, 2013

    Sorry to see the old place torn down. I lived there 68-74 while in grad school.. LOT of good memories there. It was also a good place to park for football AFTER I left CH.

    Are they still sticking with the 600+ units and less than 300 parking spaces??

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