Office-retail only

Ellie Kinnaird’s voice was drowned out during her final years in the N.C. Senate by affluentNancy Oates colleagues who, having reached a high level of creature comfort, put in place policies that closed off that path to others. After several years of advocating for laws that made life better for residents in all socio-economic classes, Kinnaird found herself in recent years ignored and outvoted by senators who served the interests mainly of those already well-off.

When Kinnaird addressed council members at a Town Council meeting last month, suggesting that Ephesus-Fordham be rezoned as office and retail only, she may have felt it was deja vu all over again. Not a single council member picked up on her excellent suggestion of a way to avoid digging a deeper debt pit for taxpayers to climb out of.

Council is considering rezoning the 190 acres of the Ephesus-Fordham area as a high-density commercial zone that will gift all developers with an expedited approval process and kick in $10 million in infrastructure improvements that developers often are asked to pay for. Apartment buildings are considered commercial development but, unlike office and retail establishments, cost the town more money in services than it will collect in tax revenue.

The impetus for the E-F rezoning was to ease the tax burden of residential property owners by bringing in more money from office and retail development. Unfortunately for taxpayers, the first projects likely to come out of the ground will be apartments, which will increase the tax burden for homeowners for at least the next decade until some of the office and retail space is built.

Kinnaird’s recommendation offered a practical solution that would go a long way in reducing widespread community opposition. People in Chapel Hill need places to shop for everyday items. The town has no shortage of specialty shops, jewelry stores, art galleries and gourmet merchants, but no place to buy socks and underwear and other functional items that do not have to have cache.

Establishing an area with retail stores on the ground level and office space above would create a shopping destination that might lure back some department stores or other chain stores we frequent that we now have to go to another county to patronize. We might hate the area’s seven-story buildings, but we would go there to shop.

If the town were to sever the DHIC project and Park Apartments from the Ephesus-Fordham zone, then designate the remaining areas as only office and retail, the zone would almost certainly be revenue positive. We wouldn’t risk overwhelming our school system or the Public Works department. And town residents would have an alternative to spending our consumer dollars in another county.

Kinnaird knows what she’s talking about. We would do well to listen. Ephesus-Fordham is back on the Town Council agenda for this Thursday, April 17.
— Nancy Oates

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  1. many

     /  April 14, 2014

    The non-cache “functional items” can be bought less expensively online (as can most things) and your size 12 carbon footprint is delivered more efficiently by FedEx, UPS or DHL.

    IMO an even more practical way to get to revenue positive is a VAT tax at the state level shared with the goods destination municipality. Then using the balance to bring competitive internet services as well as online health services and education to a much larger statewide population. This could become self perpetuating both in revenue and in economic development.

    O.K I am going to put on my tin-foil hat and move the the basement now. Let loose the dogs of the internet!

  2. Julie McClintock

     /  April 27, 2014

    Yes one of the surprising twists in the E-F proposal saga is that most of the new buildings inthe first phase will be residential, not the mixed use that was touted.

    Ken Pennoyer’s financial analysis deserves more scrutiny before we reach consensus on what it means. On the face of it , it appears he forgot to factor in transit costs.

    The other surprising fact that emerged from last week’s budget materials is that Chapel HIll will not have money for transit “for the foreseeable future”. Transit friendly communities can’t be built without transit. Can they?

  3. DOM

     /  April 28, 2014

    Remember Chicken Little? “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” There will always be fear-mongering from the few who don’t want change. And they’ll use any excuse to try and stop it.

  4. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  April 28, 2014

    On planning board (a volunteer citizens’ advisory board) I get to see individual homeowners who hire architects and engineers and surveyors at great expense in order to ask permission to replace a broken deck on a house built near wetlands before the Resource Conservation District (RCD) rules came into effect, or convert a garage in a pre-RCD house to living space– and they draw persnickety flak from the Town Planning Department about exacerbating downstream flooding.

    The E-F plan that came to the planning board (and is being tweaked following public comment) is mostly in an RCD, and it is the Town planning department itself drawing up plans for projects tens of thousands of times bigger than any one homeowner has ever brought up, without regard for wetlands and flooding downstream.

    In this case, individuals are 2-ounce tax-paying hatchlings, and the E-F plan is a giant cow telling the public “Eat Mor Chikn.”

  5. DOM

     /  April 28, 2014

    “…Individuals are 2-ounce tax-paying hatchlings, and the E-F plan is a giant cow telling the public “Eat Mor Chikn.”

    The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

  6. many

     /  April 28, 2014

    If they do not address the water problem, next time we have a significant rain in a short period “the sky is falling” will be an apt metaphor.

  7. DOM

     /  April 28, 2014

    “If they do not address the water problem…”

    As I said above, there will always be fear-mongering from those who don’t want change.

  8. many

     /  April 28, 2014

    Don’t be afraid DOM, just buy flood insurance and a good pair of boots.