Free market

Developers and property owners who rant about their “right” to make the maximum profit regardless of how it affects the quality of life for the rest of the community should spend a couple hours at the end of a Saturday afternoon at the Orange County Solid Waste Convenience Center on Eubanks Road. There they could note the individuals and families waiting to see what gets dropped off in the “free shed.”

Saturday mornings are popular times for yard sales, and later in the day, some sellers decide they don’t want to make room in their closets again for their unsold merchandise. So they take it to the free shed on Eubanks Road for anyone who wants it. Those who drop off items receive no tax write-off, only the knowledge that their useable items will be snapped up and begin a new life in another home.

In my observation, the number of people who spend their Saturday afternoons “shopping” at the free shed instead of at Southpoint is increasing. Yet they seem to remain invisible to developers and property owners concerned only about making their own well-off selves richer.

I spent the past week barking behind Ron Strom as he presented his rezoning request to various boards and commissions. Strom claims that the rents at the Timber Hollow Apartments he purchased last year are 32 percent below market rate, so he plans to bump up the rent on one-bedroom units from about $700 a month to about $925. And he plans to build more than half again as many new luxury rentals and tricking up the amenities, adding a resort-style pool, party plaza and coffee shop to appeal to well-to-do tenants. To speed the approval process, he stamped his plans “affordable,” even though the plan won’t yield a single affordable unit.

Every market rate apartment complex has a predictable vacancy rate. Stom’s plan allows him to claim that his vacant units are the affordable ones and that if he can’t rent them out within 30 days to tenants who qualify for affordable units, he can rent them at market rate. No tenant on a budget can pay the buyout for breaking a current lease in order to move into Timber Hollow with less than 30 days’ notice. So, goodbye affordable units.

The Rules of Strom deem graduate students (who receive annual stipends of $15,900 for a PhD student and $11,900 for a master’s student) make too much to qualify for affordable units because he includes as income their scholarship funds paid directly to the school and personal loans students take out to make ends meet.

Strom claims he can’t make the numbers work to provide actual affordable rentals, yet at every public meeting he brings a posse of six to eight men, professionals who charge about $300 an hour – the middle-aged white men in the group, anyway. He likes to portray himself as community minded, but recall that when 3Cups didn’t garner him enough return on his investment, he pulled out, and the independent coffee shop was sold to a franchise.

If Strom wanted to make a positive contribution to the community, he could preserve the existing affordable housing, and maybe open a free coffee bar next to the free shed on Eubanks Road.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Del Snow

     /  September 23, 2013

    Sadly, the affordability issue seems to have been off almost everyone’s radar for quite a while.

    Many people concerned about this issue were silent when luxury apartments were approved at Charterwood. The payment-in-lieu agreed upon (there will be NO affordable units provided), approved by the council in a theatrical bidding war, was so low that Crosland homes demanded a partial refund for the payment-in-lieus that it had previously paid for its developments.

    The voices were also silent when Lux (Bicycle) apartments were approved. Existing affordable units were taken down, and instead of a diverse development that could have kept affordability in the mix, Council approved housing for students that provides them with “necessary” luxury amenities.

    I’ll wager that Grove Park, which is will likely add more luxury student housing (next to Lux apartments), will barely raise an eyebrow of concern when yet another tract of land is lost to the option of economic diversity. The approved SUP provides for 26 affordable units out of 346.

    This luxury apartment fad is a bubble that is waiting to burst. All of the “young professionals” that they are designed to attract won’t be living here when there income goes up, they settle down, and start a family. At that point, they will move to areas that provide them a small home with a small yard and they will take their obsessed over tax dollars with them. And, yes there will be new “young professionals” to replace them…more temporary renters who potentially don’t feel vested in the community. In the meantime, employees of UNC, the Town, and the school system will continue to commute. Who is representing them? There is a lot of talk about residential density providing affordability, but very little in the way of concrete (pardon the intentional pun) results.

    Timber Hollow’s renovations are outside the scope of advisory boards’ and Council’s purview. When I questioned the legality of the proposed affordability plan, Staff’s response was that the Town Attorney will not agree to a plan that is non-enforceable. My best recommendation to you, Nancy, is to come with documentable legal opinions. If you are correct, Council will not just take your word for it.

  2. Del Snow

     /  September 23, 2013

    Additional information:
    1. Neighbors abutting the Lux development repeatedly brought up the affordable housing issue, but because they abut the property, they were ignored.
    2. Details on payments-in-lieu:
    Charterwood: $233,000 payable 25% before ZCP, and 25% before building permit for bldg A, 25% before bldg permit for bldg B, and 25% before bldg permit for bldg J
    Crossland: Chapel Hill North payment in lieu of $400,000; Chapel Watch PIL $300,000. all payable before the ZCP issuance.


  3. many

     /  September 23, 2013

    I have to agree with Del, fads like the “new urbanism” are just old style urban renewal with another name…… the logic being that the town needs to be “fixed” by replacing neighborhoods with better buildings and wealthier residents. Naming it “new” is a way to bypass institutionalized road blocks from established residents, business, banking, media, regulatory and academia.

    To sweeten the pie, newly minted urban renewalists have now augmented their motives with a new twist; morality. They claim that their brand of planning can heal a fractured sense of community and solve air and water pollution at the same time. Kum-bah-yah……unless you can’t afford it.

    As Del points out, what is still missing is what the new urbanism has always promised but never delivered on; it’s promise to promote socioeconomic diversity.

  4. Nancy

     /  September 23, 2013

    Del — …which makes the $250,000 that 123 West Franklin, a $100 million-plus development, is to pay over 5 years, and the $25,000 that Shortbread Lofts is to pay a real bargain.

    In November, let’s elect council members with the backbone to drive a hard bargain.

  5. Del Snow

     /  September 24, 2013

    Agreed. Unfortunately though, if the remaining major development areas are ceded to form based code, the day of the hard bard bargain is over. The pity is that those wrangles were generally over the issues that involved the greater good: affordable housing, energy efficiency, etc.
    Backbone won’t help a bit.

  6. Fred Black

     /  September 24, 2013

    Seems to me like there are tradeoffs that must be considered. Could the “hard bargain” survive a legal challenge, and if not, would the situation be worse as a result?

  7. Terri Buckner

     /  September 24, 2013

    I don’t understand these discussions. Everyone wants affordable housing. But inclusionary zoning isn’t working, so why perpetuate it? We also know that housing isn’t going to become affordable without subsidies/concessions until the commercial tax base becomes more robust. But the Central West folks, including Nancy and Del, don’t seem to want any commercial development in that part of the community. There was opposition to Bicycle because it wasn’t deemed appropriate to have students in a residential neighborhood (or at least that’s what I understood to opposition to be), but here’s Nancy and Del lambasting the redevelopment of Timber Hollow because students won’t be able to afford to live there.

    I know I’m being linear but it seems to me that the arguments are all over the place. The inconsistency keeps me confused; just as I was totally confused by the skepticism directed at the speakers from last week’s special session on Balancing the Tax Base. Have we really become a community that opposes everything or is the story just not being told in such a way that it can be understood logically?

    (Aside: where did the idea that grad students get annual stipends come from? some do, but definitely not all.)

  8. Nancy

     /  September 24, 2013

    Terri — What comes across as inconsistent has to do with what was there before. The Bicycle/Lux project tore down affordable housing to make room for students, and the developers opposed making room for affordable units. Timber Hollow is housing affordable for students and people who have chosen professions that pay only modestly. We’d like those students and workers to be able to stay without an unnecessary rent increase. The profit for the developer could come from the new units he wants to build.

    Inclusionary zoning works in non-rental units; it just can’t be legally enforced in rentals. And housing could be more affordable if developers were willing to build starter homes. But small homes don’t yield as much profit as “French chateaus” as Lee Einsweiler called them at last night’s council meeting.

    I can’t speak for Del, but I’m not opposed to commercial development at Central West, as long as traffic can be managed to mitigate the burden along Estes.

  9. Terri Buckner

     /  September 24, 2013

    Nancy, The Bicycle/Lux project tore down housing used by students and built housing for MORE students, creating an opportunity for more students to live within walking distance of campus/downtown. So if you consider that more students can now live without the expense of gas and parking, affordability shifts from being rent-determined to overall costs. I don’t see that as a bad thing.

    Here’s the dilemma as I see it:
    1. Developers are not going to change from scorpions into frogs.
    2. We can’t grow ourselves out of this problem.
    3. We can’t increase our commercial base without also growing the population living around those commercial areas (Southern Village experience proves this.)
    4. We have to minimize infrastructure (because we can’t pay for it’s upkeep). To me, that includes “affordable” units that the community has to pay the maintenance costs for.

    So where are we? In the town’s defense, I think the staff understands that the past approach hasn’t worked, and their new approach has to make up for those past bad calls by planning for denser mixed use where more residents are paying to support services/infrastructure over a smaller area to reduce capital improvement costs for roads, sidewalks, and transit.

    Your plan seems is be to keep the old “affordable” complexes without any redevelopment or build small starter homes. That might allow more median and lower income residents to live here in terms of housing prices, but how does it solve the town’s problem of paying for infrastructure? In the long run, I don’t think it makes the town more affordable if the town has to keep raising taxes to pay for infrastructure and amenities using residential tax rates for smaller homes.

    We needed a unified plan so that everyone sees the big picture, especially the capital costs for future maintenance.

  10. We can stay stuck in “subsidies” or we can make housing more affordable by paying people a wage that allows them to “afford” a home. Otherwise, we have the campaign issue that keeps on giving,

  11. Del Snow

     /  September 24, 2013

    I am surprised at all of your assumptions – it is not a reliable path to take.

    The inclusionary zoning works fine, as Nancy said, in non-rental situations. The difficulties in getting affordable rentals, in my opinion, has a lot to do with expectations. When Crosland developed Cosgrove Hill, a rental development, on 15-501, they built 34 affordable units at the neighboring affordable community. As I wrote before, Residences at Chapel Hill North, resulted in a $400,000 payment in lieu and Chapel Watch Village $300,000. Now however, for some reason, Council has been letting developers off easy – hence the 123 W. Franklin, Shortbread, and Charterwood numbers. The hard concern for affordability just isn’t there.

    As for Central West, I have not made any public statements regarding commercial development at that location. As a matter of fact, I haven’t made any comments about Central West plans at all. I have not attended the meetings, and will wait for the Planning Board presentation to form an opinion. You have fallen prey to the assumption that I am anti-development, which is a total fabrication. I support development,commercial and residential, that reflects the best an applicant can offer and helps Chapel Hill maintain an identity it will always be proud of.

    On Timber Hollow, my Planning Board vote was in favor of the applicant. I’m sure that Nancy can tell you that I actually liked the project, though I appreciated Nancy’s concerns.

    I found the Balancing the Tax Base discussion insulting. The Asheville experience is not applicable here. We have no inventory of large old buildings to bring back. While Joe and Chuck derided debt, how did Joe and his firm renovate all of those buildings? Either by incurring debt or having a huge amount of money to invest. There was no discussion of the cost of infrastructure and services (beyond roads, sidewalks, and transit) –only one side of the ledger was examined. Taller buildings require different fire ladder trucks and more firefighters. Police, schools, and social services costs will rise as well because they are linked to population not physical footprint. The presentation of the assessed value of Spotted Dog as $22 million dollars an acre was the most laughable. Spotted Dog lies on .02 acre and that “impressive” number, meant to be manipulative, was an extrapolation with no meaning.

    Bicycle/Lux was a perfect location for a diverse development. If you think that students living with their amenities, but saving gas and parking money trumps providing housing for students, retirees, Town employees, teachers, etc., that is your choice.

    You are correct “developers are not going to change from scorpions into frogs” – no one is demanding that they change. Whether concessions were gotten begrudgingly or not, they were gotten, for the benefit of Chapel Hill, at one point in the past.
    I share your concerns about the direction of our community. I worry about those who buy assumptions without a factual basis and then go on to criticize those who disagree. Six years after the Northern Area Task Force recommended a fiscal impact analysis for development, a consultant will finally be starting the job. Hopefully, the impact of their fees will be included.

  12. Terri Buckner

     /  September 24, 2013


    Sorry for lumping you in with the CW folks. So much of what you write about sounds similar that I made an unwarranted assumption.

    I’d really like to know why you think inclusionary zoning is working. When an affordable 560 sq ft condo at East 54 sells for $196/sq foot down from $389/sq foot for the commercial unit, I just don’t see that as affordability. It’s lower for sure, but $196/sq foot is still really high, especially for a subsidized unit.

    For me, affordable means you can actually pay the purchase price and all the associated upkeep costs that home ownership brings. My preference would be to live in an affordable community rather than forcing developers to offer affordable units and then pay for it by raising the costs of all their market units.

    One of the reasons we have an affordability challenge is that it costs a fortune to do business in this town–all the hoops and delays are expensive and get calculated into the costs of the finished units. Form-based codes, by providing clear, easy to understand guidance, has the greatest possibility of lowering the cost of development. What happens next is the question–will the developers lower their prices to reflect their lowered costs? I would hope so, but there’s no guarantee other than public pressure. But by trying this approach in Ephesus/Fordham, we will learn to pros and cons of how it can work in our community. Sticking with the SUP process is the road to McMansionville.

  13. Terri, guess it’s my turn to be confused. Please explain the following assertions you’ve made within this thread:

    1. How is it that high levels of commercial growth – in and of itself – will increase the general affordability of living in Chapel Hill (yes, I know you don’t live here)? What is the mechanism your propose?

    2. You say “One of the reasons we have an affordability challenge is that it costs a fortune to do business in this town–all the hoops and delays are expensive and get calculated into the costs of the finished units”. How much more expensive, in your estimation, are the units? From your statement, it seems that there is no upside – for instance getting developers to pickup the tab for infrastructure – that comes from the process. Is that your thinking?

    3. You suggest that form-based zoning is the answer. Could you explain how that will significantly reduce housing costs to an affordable level? Or how it will improve – as Mark cogently notes – the wages of workers to the point they can afford existing properties?

    4. When you apologized to Del you said “Sorry for lumping you in with the CW folks.” Are we to infer that you think all the CW folks (who, to be clear, are my neighbors) are anti-development, anti-growth? How does that square with their creation of a citizen alternative small area vision which is significantly more dense in commercial than the existing zones allow, provides more needed types of residential than the Town’s proposal and is balanced in a way to provide positive tax revenues (once you deduct infrastructure costs) without exacerbating the stormwater, traffic or environmental loads on the existing infrastructure?

  14. Diogenes

     /  September 25, 2013

    Terri doesn’t live here. The residents of Central West do. It is their town and it is their opinions that matters. To argue otherwise is well — um — like arguing the ETJ doesn’t get enough value from Chapel Hill to pay it’s taxes!

  15. I’m not suggesting Terri doesn’t weigh in – but the reality is Chapel Hill residents (and taxpayers) will have to live with the direct fiscal, environmental and social consequences when theory doesn’t meet reality.

    I’d like Terri to respond to Del’s point about the Tax Base discussion. Extrapolating that narrow success in Asheville to Chapel Hill doesn’t pass the sniff test – why is Terri suggesting that it does?

    Within the development discussion there are issues which can’t be reduced to numbers, are impervious to analysis – but for every one such issue there are dozens that will yield to rational, objective reflection.

    What we’ve seen with Central West is a concerted effort by the staff, the consultants, several members (notably the landowners who stand the most to gain by a lack of introspection) and one co-chair not to apply an objective yardstick where it is possible.

    It does bother me that Terri is dumping on my neighbors because they are asking great questions, looking for a bit of comparable real-world data to support some rather broad suppositions (big claims require strong evidence) and are requesting a bit of thoughtful examination before granting developers in the MLK/Estes corridors incredible leeway.

  16. Terri Buckner

     /  September 25, 2013

    Will, I am saying many of your vocal neighbors are anti-change and the change they are opposing, high density development, is the change they are opposing. Personally, I agree with some of their arguments. I think traffic issues need to be resolved upfront as the most badic design requirement. Safety is a prime requirement for any new development, and building dense in support of walkability/bikeability is contradictory if safety doesn’t come first.

    What I don’t agree with are these arguments that imposing new infrastructure and affordable units on developers is going to achieve the goal of bringing down housing prices. I’ve provided my arguments already. Second, if the developer builds it, the town still has to maintain it. That was the argument from the Asheville designers. You can take ownership of 1 mile of road that generates taxes from 5 homeowners or from hundreds of renters/homeowners as well as commercial operations. Which scenario is most likely to pay for the supporting infrastructure without imposing high taxes on everyone?

    The Asheville speakers provided birds-eye view data to address the infrastructure cost issue but because that data didn’t get down into line-item specificity (and supported an unpopular premise), it was totally discounted by some of the vocal advocates for data-driven decision making. Those guys presented theory, not an operational process. I was ashamed byresponse they got from some of those in the evening presentation.

  17. Terri, I’m not sure how you can make the blanket assertion that “many of your vocal neighbors are anti-change ” when it is clear that hasn’t been the case.

    First, I haven’t heard anyone say they oppose change. In fact, the most “vocal” of residents who have shown up to weigh in have repeatedly said that they are trying to shape the change they see coming so that it is fiscally sustainable (in fact, a net positive tax flow), environmentally responsible (including reducing the cost of dealing with down stream flooding and pollution) and which meets real-world community needs (severe shortage of “aging in place” residential, starter and affordable housing).

    That isn’t “anti-growth”. Instead, that is – as you noted re: traffic – a prudent growth strategy which will serve our community well.

    Further, while there were plenty of red marks and dots put on various components of options A1,A2,B1,B2 at the recent Central West outreach, there were also plenty of green dots on specific elements – human-scale street corner mixed-use, 3 story town homes and condos, some Southern Village like commercial – which have much more density than existing zones allow.

    Residents drawn from 26 neighborhoods put together an alternative plan that has apportioned sustainable high density throughout CentralWest.

    I suggest retiring the “anti-growth” claim as it isn’t supported by the facts, quite frankly reeks of the kind of propaganda we hear coming from the Chamber and does a disservice to the many folks who are asking good questions, looking for data to drive the process, want extraordinary claims to be backed by evidence of efficacy.

  18. Fred Black

     /  September 25, 2013

    Will, can you tell us what the residents who haven’t been “vocal” think about this issue? And can you elaborate on this “propaganda” from the Chamber?

  19. Terri Buckner

     /  September 25, 2013

    Anti-growth was your term, Will, so I would wholeheartedly support discarding it. I’d also support discarding your other, non-descriptive term of “rah rah growth”.

    My assertion about anti-change comes from having reviewed the maps at the public event in which the bulk of the dots were red (against) on all options other than residential and open space. I wouldn’t want to see commercial or tall multi-family development along Estes either due to the safety issue. But for there to be so much opposition to the moderate option that had taller facilities (3-5 story) along MLK seems unnecessarily conservative to me.

  20. Fred, hundreds of residents have “spoken” through emails to staff/Council, letters to the editor, editorials, dot exercises, surveys, attending CWSC meetings to express their concerns, creating an alternative plan.

    It is unfortunate (and disrespectful) that so little of their input has made it into the process. If it wasn’t for a handful of CWSC members – a strong minority on some of the issues – even less of the residents input would be reflected in the current state of the “plan”.

    As far as the Chamber, where to start?

    I’ll summarize simply – the consistent message is that residents – by asking questions, demanding a data-driven approach, requesting that theory be supported by evidence – are obstructionist, NIMBYist, anti-business, anti-growth, anti-Chapel Hill.

    It’s a weird thing to see the Chamber Exec and the PR rep attack basic democratic principles, the Chamber’s member’s customers and those in the community who – unpaid and on their own time – have worked so hard to make up for the deficiencies in Chapel Hill’s small area planning processes.

  21. Terri – to be specific – I say “rah rah growth at any cost”.

    As far as painting folks with a “anti-growth” brush, Del drew that conclusion based on your previous comments.

  22. Fred Black

     /  September 25, 2013

    It appears, Will, that you are the one in the “propaganda” business, as your take is pretty one-sided. There are plenty of my neighbors who have different opinions, yet you seem to reject them.

  23. many

     /  September 25, 2013

    Reading this thread, it is obvious everyone is just talking past each other.

    Will’s statement that residents are “….trying to shape the change they see coming……” Is just not being adequately addressed by the current rhetorical monologue coming from the town planning department or Chamber of Commerce.

    Red and Green dots on maps with insufficient detail actively promote a “your either with us or against us” interpretation. Terri’s agreement to discard the term “anti-growth” and in the second following sentence substitute “anti-change” would be humorous if it were not representative of the tone of development dogma.

    The bottom line is that legitimate questions remain unanswered. Tic-toc.

  24. Fred, your last comment makes zero sense. Have your neighbors expressed their opinions publicly? Where would I have been exposed to them? Did they do so through the CWSC process?

  25. Tom Field

     /  September 25, 2013

    Anti-growth is actually a positive local option rather than just an epithet. Anti-growth policies at the state or national level are suicidal. At the city or county level with stable employment drivers and something beautiful to protect, it can be a viable option. Just say NO to greed.

  26. Terri Buckner

     /  September 25, 2013

    Ha! If I had proceeded with Will’s “anti-growth” accusation I would have been criticized for that too by he-who-does-the-accusing. FWIW, I subscribe to the CW mailing list and have yet to see anyone calling for controlled change–just opposition and anger.

    Design is a creative process that *should* begin with a vision and the collecting of user requirements associated with achieving that vision. With those requirements in hand, whoever is developing the project decides whether it can be done/afforded or not or starts a negotiation process–can we get to 80% of the vision and have it be acceptable, etc.

    But the town process didn’t elicit vision–it started by assuming a vision, starting the whole process off on the wrong foot. Then the citizens focused on “answers” or “data driven decisions” to oppose the vision they had been given and in the process, created a war zone. To me as an outsider, this means that no one is at fault or everyone is at fault, whichever way you choose to look at it. Who cares? The point is that development is going to happen and if affordability is a concern, then development is going to have to be different from what is currently on the ground.

  27. Fred Black

     /  September 25, 2013

    Will, I have neighbors who support greater density and are on the record supporting it. They have also objected to the “we-they” discussions that seem to be the norm. My neighbors live all over Chapel Hill.

  28. many

     /  September 25, 2013

    Right you are Terry, because branding is divisive and hypocrisy is worthy of criticism. Try not sounding like such a shill for the university and listen to what people are concerned about.

    Controlled or uncontrolled? How can anyone tell with the level of detail that is being provided? No one disputes that Carolina North is going to bring change and drive density, but what are the downstream infrastructure effects and mitigation costs? How does this new expansive impervious surface not make already existing flooding problems at East Gate and U-Mall orders of magnitude worse?

    Wonder why there are different opinions on the matter? Try asking how will this change peoples lives. For example, my friend Fred lives at the top of the hill and has the HW airport removed and that’s all great news for Fred and his neighbors, but what does that same development mean for the people on the east side of MLK and Estes and in the low areas that used to be OK before they paved the drainage area for the Malls?

    Maybe someone in planning has thought all of that through, but if they have its not publicly circulated and it has been brought up often enough so as to cast a significant doubt. If unanswered questions are that obvious to the untrained observer then what else is being hidden behind the dots?

  29. Ray Gronberg

     /  September 25, 2013

    >Anti-growth is actually a positive local option rather than just an epithet. Anti-growth policies at the state or national level are suicidal. At the city or county level with stable employment drivers and something beautiful to protect, it can be a viable option.<

    Chapel Hill's "stable employment drivers" may not be as stable as people in Chapel Hill think. Let's see what the General Assembly and the governor do over the next few years.

  30. Del Snow

     /  September 25, 2013

    “Sorry for lumping you in with the CW folks. So much of what you write about sounds similar that I made an unwarranted assumption”

    When you attend the CW meetings in order to observe and listen, are people talking about quality and data? That’s my focus. Having not been at CW meetings, I don’t know about the breadth of what is discussed. I read the blog as well, and while there is a lot of frustration that is vented on it, I would hesitate to make conclusions without hearing the actual goings-on. So, I really am interested in your first hand observations.

    I will say though, that I do not appreciate the tone of the comment -“all you people sound alike,” just as, I am sure, you wouldn’t appreciate being “lumped in” with people who want to develop Chapel Hill in a short-sighted manner, drven by personal gain.

    You write about money saved on infrastructure that is footprint based. And I agree with you. but I will ask again, What about the increased infrastructure costs based on population?

  31. Terri – I am responding to this comment. “But the town process didn’t elicit vision–it started by assuming a vision, starting the whole process off on the wrong foot. Then the citizens focused on “answers” or “data driven decisions” to oppose the vision they had been given and in the process, created a war zone.”

    You are right, and I agree the “vision” thing is important. But as a veteran of every Central West meeting we failed to establish one. The Town may have know what it wanted from the beginning – but I took the process at face value. The staff directed the consultant to prepare expensive maps early on (which we had not requested), and drained the budget. We took valuable time trying to understand them at the insistence of the staff. SC members are all well intentioned but a committee membership of property owners, residents and assorted interests must have competent facilitation to find consensus. The co-chairs also meant well but led us down a path of tract-by-tract analysis without holding discussions about what our principles applied to the entire area to clarify that vision. Then the traffic data were introduced late in the process and hardly discussed, and the stormwater hardly at all.

    I am sure there is enormous interest in winding up this 9 month process but we don’t have much of a vision yet, and the map the committee is sending to the Planning Board lacks the basics so much so that traffic impacts cannot be measured. So it is a murky vision with no data. Given the Town significant investment we might want to revisit the vision or maybe the planning board can sort it out for us.

  32. Bruce Springsteen

     /  September 29, 2013

    As far as this area being affordable I’m reminded of an episode of Star Trek. The Enterprise is being sucked in by some force and it’s going to be crushed unless they can find a way out and no matter how much they reverse the engines they keep getting sucked forward. And in fact the harder they reverse the engines the more they get sucked forward. What is happening is the opposite of what they think should happen.

    Then they figure that if reversing the engines makes them go forward then maybe thrusting the engines forward will make them go in reverse. It goes against what they think should happen but then again everything else they’ve tried goes against what they think should happen. So they try it. They thrust the engines forward and end up going in reverse. It works!

    Here is the analogy. For years and years around here we do things that we think should make it more affordable and not only does it not become more affordable, it actually becomes less affordable. Maybe things work the opposite of how we think they work.

    But OTOH it doesn’t take a genius to see that some of the way we do things around here are going to make things less affordable rather than more affordable. I think the political power in this area, who likely don’t read this board and who don’t care what anyone else thinks anyway, don’t actually want this area to be more affordable. They just don’t say it out loud because it’s not PC.

  33. many

     /  September 29, 2013

    Bruce, you have nailed it. That must be why they call you the boss.

    The episode of Star Trek always confused me ……..logically when they reversed the engines in the first place, they should have been thrust forward and they would not have survived long enough to think of alternatives. The show would have been over.

    Here is the annoying analogy part, Maybe the show is over.

  34. DOM

     /  September 29, 2013

    “Maybe the show is over.”

    Let’s hope so.

  35. Terri Buckner

     /  September 30, 2013

    Great analogy but I disagree with your conclusion. For one thing, I know this board is read (and groaned over) by several town and elected officials. But most importantly, I know they care about affordability; they are stuck in that aspect of your analogy where the crew is trying all options that are effective in theory or through the experience of others. They can’t seem to get to the point where they acknowledge that their favorite/preferred solution isn’t working. The riskier approach is to think outside of the box.

  36. Nancy

     /  September 30, 2013

    “Groaned over”? I don’t know whether to feel hurt or proud.

  37. Milton Hayek

     /  October 4, 2013

    so I am confused……making more affordable housing is going to reduce the number of people at the free shed?

    The most charitable way to assess Nancy’s argument is that Ron Strom or anybody else’s development creates an externality the cost of which must be absorbed by the community.

    However, Nancy’s argument turns the externality analysis on its head.

    Nancy doesn’t like the fact that there is not enough affordable housing, so we are going to make somebody else – Ron Strom apparently – absorb the cost of the externality that he had nothing to do with creating.

    Moreover, in the process, we are going to deny the future would be renters or purchasers of the property to rent our purchase simply because we say they shouldn’t have the right to do it.

    Springsteen is right. It’s a process. Ron builds the new stock. People move out of the older stock because there is an option. The older stock then commands less rent because it is not as attractive and voila…..affordable housing.

    More housing not less is the answer and to get more housing you need to make the process less onerous.

  38. many

     /  October 4, 2013


    Is this the sort of thing you’re suggesting?

    The only problem is that it will likely be flood zone when they are finished with Central West………..kidding, but not really.

  39. Don Evans

     /  October 5, 2013

    C’mon, Milt! Externality? Really? We’re just folks here, so how about sharing your thoughts in English.

    Or at least provide a translation.

  40. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  October 5, 2013

    This article has been up a while, but anyway: there are 3 separate taxes that every Chapel Hill property owner pays. They are
    1. Orange County (except for Ed Harrison’s part of town in Durham County which pays Durham County tax),
    2. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Tax, and
    3. Chapel Hill Town tax.

    Chapel Hill only discusses Chapel Hill Town tax and its tax base. However, building decisions made by Chapel Hill affect Orange County tax and the School tax. Adding population increases both the County tax and the School tax very quickly. The School tax rises quickest of all.

    Chapel Hill Town gets an allocation of the County’s share of the sales tax. A portion of a portion; most of the sales tax goes to the State of North Carolina.

    Someone up the thread, Terri I believe, mentioned residential property tax rates. In fact (I checked with the Orange County Assessor), the property tax rate is the same for a commercial property as for a home, pursuant to North Carolina state law. The only difference would be due to any difference in value of the property being taxed.

  41. Milton Hayek

     /  October 7, 2013

    Don….your ignorance of, and unwillingness to learn, such a basic economics term as “externality” should reveal to everyone that you are inherently unqualified to even discuss these matters let alone suggest solutions or ways forward.

    externality |ˌekstərˈnalitē|
    noun ( pl. externalities )
    1 Economics a side effect or consequence of an industrial or commercial activity that affects other parties without this being reflected in the cost of the goods or services involved, such as the pollination of surrounding crops by bees kept for honey.

    Or I might add the increased costs of housing due to limited supply; or the increased costs of housing to buyers due to “affordable” housing units being rolled into the costs.

    Don, I know you espouse your feelings because you want to feel good and you hope to change the world. Unfortunately there are costs to your ideas and these are called “externalities.” Since you don’t even have a clue about the term, I doubt you have spent anytime thinking about the true costs of your proposals and to whom those costs fall. Spoiler alert: the very people you want to help.