Seeing red

About 200 taxpayers turned out for the open house last Tuesday night that showed off the four plans for Central West Focus Area that we got for the nearly quarter of a million dollars we paid to Rhodeside & Harwell. Or as Jim Ward framed it in an email on the Central West listserv: a quarter of the revenue the town gets from hotels over the course of an entire year.

Crowds lined up before the doors to Amity Church opened, even though it was dinner time and they could have gone to the Estes Hills Elementary School Open House or to the Rosemary Imagine brainstorming session, both of which offered refreshments, unlike the Central West Open House. Instead of snacks, participants in the Central West event got strips of red and green stickers handed out by town staff. Maps and photos were laid out on tables, and newsprint lists hung on walls, ready for the community to put green-dot stickers on design aspects they liked and red dots on what they didn’t.

Town staff ran out of red dots within the first 10 minutes.

Some Central West Steering Committee members, responding to town residents’ concerns about the additional traffic that the consultants’ plans would dump on the already over-stressed Estes Drive, drew up an alternative plan. Town staff narrowly avoided a public relations debacle when, after initialing banning the alternative plan from the property, relented and let it be shown, as long as it was not inside the building with the rest of the plans, where it might be misconstrued as staff sanctioned.

Alternative plan supporters set up their proposal on the walkway outside the building only. Ward, who is not up for re-election this year and perhaps is fed up with citizen input, crashed through the bushes, leaving footprint-sized divots in the mulch in his haste to get inside the building to stand by the consultants’ plans and avoid constituents looking at the alternative plan.

When a politician reaches that level of curmudgeon, town residents pay for it. The Central West process has highlighted a growing disconnect between town staff and the public. Staff are as professional and courteous to the public as always, but there is an element of lip-service to staff interactions with the citizens, as if the development plans are a done deal, and they have to listen politely until members of the public give up and go away. And if enough people on the dais have had their fill of feedback from the public, we’ll end up with a town out of a textbook, all matchy-matchy, rather than the one with character we’ve had for generations.

Don and I didn’t stay long after sticking on our dots. We wanted to give up our parking space to some of the other cars circling. Besides, we had some things to grill, and not just politicians.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Dan Bruce

     /  September 18, 2013

    Come on Chapel Hill, where’s the outrage??? The town planning department has spent $230,000 to promote the profits of 3 landowners and they’re on the committee to help develop the growth patterns in the focus area. Is 54 east what y’all envision for MLK and Estes? Will increased density mitigate traffic woes on Estes? I’m astounded there are no other comments on this blog item.

  2. Don Evans

     /  September 18, 2013

    The planning board meeting Tuesday night gave an indication of how bad it’s going to get in that area. Ron Strom brought his merry crew into the meeting room at the Transportation center and convinced the board that his Timber Hollow scheme to build 4 story buildings set right on the street was a good idea. The board members couldn’t sigh and smile enough as Strom captivated them with visions of a coffee shop (which nobody seemed to realize would be an illegal use) and front porches right on MLK.
    You can expect the same for the intersection of Estes and MLK. Talk about canyons — the board seemed quite happy with the concept, even endorsing such a scheme as a way to have residents “engaging with the street.”
    Even Eric Hyman, a member of the Central West Steering Committee and an Estes Drive resident, proved he was a total tool of the Strom camp by fervently endorsing the plan for Timber Hollow. He did about everything he could to endorse Strom’s plan except kiss the man. Wonder how much the unemployed accountant got from Strom to sing the plan’s praises?
    We certainly have entered bad times for residents of Chapel Hill and great times for developers. The Planning Board and Town Council seem ready to endorse anything that comes along as we hurtle head-long toward turning this city into another version of such exclusive communities as Pinehurst. And the developers don’t have to live here after they finish their depredations.

  3. “All movement is not progress, just as all motion is not forward.”

    One commenter at the recent Central West event told me she felt that Town was in its death throes. I’m not quite that pessimistic as yet but I can understand why someone would think so.

    The bulk of this Council is flailing about like a wounded animal – striking out aimlessly trying to do what? Survive?

  4. Milton Hayek

     /  September 18, 2013

    So Eric Hyman is on the take because he likes the plan?

    Maybe that’s why you aren’t in the newspaper business any more Don……get some damn facts before you slander people for saying their views. And I love how you would always shut the gates behind you Don…….it seems to me that you are the elitist who would like to limit growth so less people have the opportunity to live here.

    With respect to everyone else that is against the concept, wasn’t this idea – density along transportation corridors – what the community said they wanted during every design and lumo meeting over the last fifteen years?

    Maybe the distance between the Council and the “public” is because the “public” is not really the public but the same old anti-capitalists teaming up with the Nimby’s du jour.

  5. Milton, I think it is more accurate to say that given a choice between density spread throughout Town or clustered on transit corridors, the community has opted for transit corridors.

    That said, there has been some real twisting of facts to sell unjustified levels of development in some corridors – like Hwy. 54. There, TTA and the Town’s staff have consistently overestimated population growth and trends to try to create an artificial requirement for high-density TOD. Why? Federal dollars for the light rail system won’t flow unless there is a certain population density – one way beyond what Chapel Hill’s economy, tax base, environment and community will support.

    Finally, look at the Central West process. Why isn’t there a plan to deploy BRT on MLK in tandem with the high levels of growth the Town and Council is pushing with Options A1 through B2 (and Timber Hollow’s redevelopment)? If we were serious about increasing density within these corridors – certainly we would be discussing how to mitigate transit issues concurrently. That we aren’t having those discussions are quite telling.

  6. DOM

     /  September 18, 2013

    ‘Don’ — What right do you have to blister a dedicated citizen like Eric Hyman for speaking his opinion just because he doesn’t agree with your myopic views? That diatribe above is inexcusable. And any reasonable reader of this blog should call you dead to rights on it. Shame on you and Nancy for stooping to new personal lows.

    This used to be a blog with an edge of insight – now it’s just one big complaint site for anti-growth rhetoric and narrow-minded cant.

  7. Fred Black

     /  September 18, 2013

    If you didn’t attend the 12 o’clock presentation, I encourage you to attend the one this evening at Extraordinary Ventures:

    Interesting info for those who like to see data rather than supposition.

    PS: They plan to publish their report and put slides on Slide Share.

  8. Nancy

     /  September 18, 2013

    Fred — What was the gist of the presentation? I was at the CDC meeting, imploring unsuccessfully for affordable housing.

  9. Terri Buckner

     /  September 19, 2013

    For those who missed the presentation, here’s the paper it was derived from:

  10. John Ager

     /  September 19, 2013

    I’ll add my name to the lengthening list of those who feel Don has overreached massively here. “Seeing Red”? This has less to do with the forest of red dots than with the red mist that Don must be seeing whenever he thinks about new construction.

    Depredation – interesting that you chose that word.
    The Latin language makes the noun praeda “prey” into the verb praeda-ri-, which then means “to plunder.” As if that wasn’t enough — they added the prefix de-, “thoroughly,” to create a word that says it all. In 15th-century French, the word became depredation, but the meaning was far from refined, describing a wholesale pillaging of those who became the “prey” and continuing the history of man’s inhumanity to man.

    So, you’ll really characterize Ron Strom as a pllager and plunderer? Neither Don nor Nancy were really listening on Tuesday. Ron elaborated to the Board in some detail exactly what he had done – which is, devise a realistic and affordable plan for refurbishing some of the older apartments, and building new ones to make the Timber Hollow site economically viable into the future.

    Need I point out that Don and Nancy live mere yards from Timber Hollow and that any construction there will subject them personally to more noise, dust and general inconvenience than any other project in town? A more classic case of NIMBY-ism I have yet to see. The combination of Don’s vitriol here and Nancy’s handwringing over “luxury” apartments in front of the Planning Board is just shameful, and reveals their true selfishness.

    If you had stayed to the end of the Planning Board meeting on Tuesday you would have witnessed a unanimous vote for a motion – to tell Council and the planning staff that we believe the Design2020 process is moving way too fast. We’re very well aware of the dangers of “hurtling” and we have real concerns that the current pace of the process doesn’t allow for sensible thought and analysis. I applaud you if you’re so concerned about the democratic process that you want to rush down to Town Hall and help them repair the roofing damaged in the floods. That way Council could revert to meeting there again and we’d all once more be able to follow along on video. But please, don’t tar the Planning Board with the same brush you’re using on the Town Hall.

  11. Nancy

     /  September 19, 2013

    John, this is the first development in the history of Chapel Hill that neighbors have not lined up to protest density. What we’re lamenting is the loss of affordable housing. Clearly, you have not read Strom’s plan for affordable housing that ensures all the market rate apartments are rented first, any vacant apartments are deemed the affordable ones, and if they aren’t rented within 30 days, he does not have to rent them at affordable prices. Strom has been clear that he plans to flip the development by 2015, and even though the Planning Board believes that the affordability stipulation conveys to the new owner, it is not legally enforceable, a fact that Strom will no doubt use as a selling point.

    It is tremendously frustrating to see otherwise intelligent people become so gullible because someone uses the word “affordable.” The new student apartments proposed for behind the Franklin Hotel, with, of course, a resort-style pool bills itself as “affordable.” Did you not listen to Robert Dowling at the meeting before you cut him off mid-sentence?

  12. Don Evans

     /  September 19, 2013

    John Ager, if you had a true sense of shame you would resign your seat on the Planning Board. “Shameful” is putting the desires of the developer before the good of the community, which you did Tuesday night.
    Your gullibility in the face of Ron Strom’s development claims show that you were not paying attention during the meeting, besides the fact that you were late to the gathering. And I’ll concede that Strom’s team and the town planning department did present some pretty pictures of what could be at the site (most of which I’d bet will not see the light of reality). Maybe you were distracted and didn’t carefully study what is proposed.
    Strom wants to squeeze every nickel he can out of Timber Hollow, to the detriment of affordable housing. He’s entitled to do that, but it’s your responsibility as a board member to see that his squeeze isn’t detrimental to the town. His notion of affordable housing is to have the units he cannot rent out be the designated affordable units — the rotating nature of his scheme would be obvious to a blind man.
    As for your NIMBY claim, nice canard. You and others have used it when they couldn’t come up with other fact-based accusations. Nancy and I have said repeatedly — and it does not reflect well on you that it has not registered in your brain yet — that we do not oppose Strom redeveloping Timber Hollow. We object to him packing another 109 units on top of the 198 that are already there and eliminating workforce housing by making the units top-end rentals. We object to his plan to turn the apartments into high-end leases that will shut out work force members. Get it straight, man!
    The extent of Strom’s greed is limited only by town representatives such as yourself. If you choose to endorse that greed with no regard to residents or community good, then don’t blackguard me for your own failings. You want shameful? Look inward.

  13. DOM

     /  September 19, 2013

    Don & Nancy –

    You know, I actually would like to thank you two for going so far over the edge on your discussions of the various development projects now in play, particularly Central West and Timber Hollow. Your comments of late have made it very clear that you’ve lost any sense of objectivity or level-headedness.

    About the only ones I see commenting on this blog nowadays (besides myself) are the few strident usual suspects who continue to do battle against any and all progress for our town.

    Thanks for the insanity!

  14. Terri Buckner

     /  September 19, 2013

    Why can’t all of you well-educated, articulate people disagree on the facts and leave the personal slanders aside?

  15. Jason Baker

     /  September 19, 2013

    It should be noted that the renovation of the existing 198 aging units does not have to be considered within the scope of the SUP or ZAA; those units can be upgraded to fit whatever clientele the owner wishes to market to separately from the discussion of the new units, so long as they stay within their existing footprint. There’s nothing about the existing R-4 zoning that would prohibit that. While we can’t control the rental rate of the market-rate units, I do applaud the developer for the energy efficiency upgrades in those units, which is something I wish we saw a lot more of. Utility rates, like proximity to transit, are certainly part of the affordability calculation I would make before selecting any home I choose to rent.

    As for the new units, you’ve presented one narrative. An alternative narrative more in keeping with reality is that the developer altered his plans to propose building exactly what the town would like to see in that location: increased density in a very transit-friendly corridor, oriented towards the street to both bring a face to the MLK corridor and to protect your neighborhood from the impacts of construction.

    In terms of affordability, what I heard at the meeting was Robert Dowling reject the words Nancy (perhaps incorrectly) attributed to him and instead offer his support for a rental affordability plan like the one being suggested (the scope of his comments did not include the physical development itself, just the rental affordability aspects). I also heard town staff indicate that the affordability plan would be reviewed by the town attorney, who I (and the staff) strongly doubt would put forward a plan that he feels would not hold up in court. As I said, we have no mechanism for controlling rents or preventing interior upgrades; meanwhile, the tools we do have at our disposal for affecting affordability include the manipulation of the housing supply and the introduction of subsidized affordable housing, both of which are a part of this project.

  16. Joe

     /  September 19, 2013

    I’m just curious… Nancy and Don: Do you realize that Carolina North is, square footage-wise, larger than the current UNC-Chapel Hill campus? When the Carolina North is inevitably built (and construction has already started), how do you think that all of the employees, faculty, and students will get to that campus? Like it or not, unless somebody develops some science-fiction type of teleportation device, that Estes Drive will be four lanes, in both directions, eventually. The attempt to preserve Estes Drive as it currently stands, is futile, to say the least.

    I think it’s time for the NIMBY’s to stop tilting at windmills, and begin to think about the inevitable future of our town.

  17. Joe, as far as “Estes Drive will be four lanes”, you should drop in to tonight’s Central West steering committee meeting and make the case.

    Several of the advocates for the most intense growth on the committee (Eric and Sarah being two examples) are calling for building right on the existing Estes right of way – lining the corridor on both sides with big-n-tall – to constrain NC-DOT from expanding Estes.

    I agree with you that given the current options the Town staff, consultant and some of the Council are calling for in that corridor, expanding Estes to 4 (or more) lanes is the only way to handle the anticipated load.

  18. Nancy

     /  September 19, 2013

    Jason, Robert Dowling said he and I are in agreement that we would like to see some affordable rentals in town, that he did not support or oppose Strom’s plan, only that he would like to see affordable rentals.

    Joe, I’ve long lamented that DOT won’t widen Estes or do anything to ease the traffic flow on that road. I’m not sure where you got the impression that I don’t want Estes to change. As people who have read my posts here and my columns in The Weekly know, I strongly support the kind of growth that makes life better for everyone, including the middle class, not just the developers. Please do come to the CW meeting tonight and add your voice to those of us who would like DOT to improve Estes. In the interim, given that DOT has stated unequivocally it is not going to do anything more to Estes, we need to plan flexible development that will take into consideration the constraints for the foreseeable future and be able to grow as the need arises.

  19. Dan Bruce

     /  September 19, 2013

    Wow…When I asked where’s the outrage I never meant at each other. I was referring to the lack of transparency in the workings of Ch Planning Dept and footing the outrageous bill from the consultants that are promoting the causes of the developers.
    Then I see lecturing from DOM (who ever he/she is) the Oscar the Grouch of blogs and Terri’s ‘ maternal retributions.. Geez
    And by the way, imho, affordable/workforce housing in Chapel Hill are the manufactured home parks set along MLK.

  20. Scott

     /  September 20, 2013

    Nancy & all,

    You should check with David Bonk of the Planning Department and Council Member Harrison about plans to improve Estes Drive with sidewalks and bike paths. There is a $ 1.2 million project (C-5179 project area is MLK to Caswell Drive) on the books with NCDOT. I would suggest that the impediment to “improvements” – lanes, sidewalk, and bike paths – is the school system, not the town or NCDOT. If the schools do not agree to some reconstruction of their frontage, then only the area west of Phillips Middle School will see vehicular traffic improvements.

  21. Milton Hayek

     /  September 20, 2013


    Perhaps you are new to this blog, but anonymity is highly valued. It’s how you speak truth to power.

  22. Milton Hayek

     /  September 20, 2013

    Personally, I believe that the quality of this blog suffered when people did not have to attach their names to their comments. I am currently moving from being a lurker to a commentator but I plan on keeping my name visible for all to see.

  23. Milton Hayek

     /  September 20, 2013

    Sorry….I am obviously new to this posting thing…Will, why is it bad to create density on transit corridors with the density to attract funding for light rail? Isn’t that just good planning? It is much better planning than creating high residential density downtown where that space could have been better used for office and complementary parking for our entertainment district.

    Moreover, lack of planning for BRT? We have one of the largest bus systems in the country for a town our size……I think we already have BRT.

    Finally density is what will bring down the prices. I hate to talk about economics instead of social engineering, but more supply helps reduce costs……Ron Strom can talk about how much he is going to rent or sell things for….Nancy and Don can talk about what is “affordable” …..but only the market knows what the price will be……

    BTW, Don if you have it all figured out, why don’t you develop something affordable instead of taking no risk and contributing nothing to society but poorly written and slanderous rants.

  24. Nancy

     /  September 20, 2013

    Milton — Don and I have lots of ideas about preserving affordable housing and designing new complexes that would keep costs to a minimum. We have tried repeatedly to share those ideas, most recently with Ron Strom, but he won’t listen to us, nor anyone else who doesn’t have the cash to invest with him. He has his own ideas of how much money he can make based on what the market will bear, and he doesn’t want to hear about making less. As a development project makes its way through the approval process, count how many times you hear “highest and best use.” It means: “maximum profit for the developer.”

  25. many

     /  September 20, 2013

    Sorry to burst the bubble Milton, but Chapel Hill does not have BRT. I invite you to do your own research.

    Furthermore, is it good planning to spend 1.4 Billion on LRT that;

    1) density and free market dynamics not withstanding, drives up the cost of real estate along the corridor displacing the people who really need and use public transport, Making them move further and further away, increasing traffic and pollution….. which is what has happened in other LRT deployments.

    2) in turn, subsidizes a small population of yuppies who can afford the real estate and will than have to decide every morning if they want to take the Lexus (a hybrid that runs on coal of course) or LRT, because we all know that developers will not build without parking and if the developers don’t come, then LRT is even more of a financial disaster

    3) result in a perpetual money loser, demanding a permanent taxpayer subsidy.

    Speaking of attracting funding, it’s a small wonder the FTA actually prefers BRT over LRT for most new federal funding:

    Of course the TTA & MPO current plan completely ignores another major success criteria which is land use, choosing instead to cut a new swath through the New Hope Watershed rather than using existing infrastructure (however lately I understand that poor choice might be changing).

    So how is it you would you like your transportation tax dollars spent? Do you want a gold plated Cadillac that needs a lot of service, or do you want a reliable investment that serves the greatest number of people over the largest possible area at the lowest possible cost? Something that has a prayer of becoming self sustaining over time?

    I think you can guess my view. For further discussion see “Transit takes a curve” in this very blog.

  26. Bonnie Hauser

     /  September 21, 2013

    Milton – let me add to Many’s comments – For that $1.4 million ($700 million for Orange County), we will get a paultry 3 miles of LRT service much of which is along university property -with limited options to create high density, tax producing, and opulent property.

    I was disappointed when WCHL reported that Carrboro expects to get four bus stations through their partnership in the 1/2 cent sales tax. What are they thinking? Neither Carrboro or Chapel Hill or the University or CHT has a direct say in how Durham spends our money. Now that the plan is committed – it takes a unanimous vote (Durham, TTA, the county and the MPO) to change anything.

    As Many suggests, there is no evidence that LRT and Transit oriented Development will bring down prices. The data suggests the reverse.

    Add that Wake County is no longer in the picture and is instead pursuing alternatives that connect all their towns (not just Raleigh). we are poised to get is $30 million of consultant fees and studies but no rapid transit.

  27. Geoff Green

     /  September 21, 2013


    I’m on the bike/ped board and interested in walkability generally, so I’d be interested to hear the details of what changes the schools would need to make to improve ped/bike friendliness along Estes, and what roadblocks they’ve put in place. Thanks.

    – geoff