Get it right first

UNC researcher and Chapel Hill native David Schwartz turns his analytical eye toward some of the factors that may be fueling our mayor’s apparent urgency to approve Form-Based Code initially in the Ephesus-Fordham area. Schwartz realizes there is more going on with the Ephesus-Fordham issue than simply the mayor wanting to impress his colleagues in the Mayors’ Innovation Project, but there is a striking discrepancy between the planning procedure and outcome described in the MIP-funded report and what has actually transpired. Here’s what Schwartz has to say:

As some of you may know, Mayor Kleinschmidt serves on the steering committee of an organization called the Mayors’ Innovation Project (MIP). This group will be holding their summer meeting in Chapel Hill this August. In 2012, MIP awarded a $20,000 Technical Assistance Program grant to Chapel Hill to develop a form-based code for the Ephesus-Fordham area. This grant was used to hire consultants who, together with Town staff, produced a January 2013 report called “Form-based code guide: Making performance work for Chapel Hill.” This report contained many admirable and progressive goals and recommendations, almost none of which were actually put into practice; nor can they be found in the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment plan (i.e., the proposed rezoning and draft form-based code) that the mayor is now pressuring Town Council to pass ASAP.

Here are links to 1) the application the Town submitted for the MIP grant and 2) the project summary.

http://www.mayorsinnovation.org/pdf/ChapelHill.pdf

http://www.mayorsinnovation.org/pdf/ChapelHill_Summary.pdf

It is clear from these documents that the mayor envisioned, and perhaps still envisions, applying form-based code to multiple areas of town beyond Ephesus-Fordham, and that the progressive goals the mayor and town staff advertised for this project, such as responsible growth, environmental sustainability, affordability, and community support, have been largely jettisoned in order to pursue the single very narrow, short-sighted, and ultimately unsuccessful goal of stimulating commercial redevelopment in EF.

It is difficult to understand why the mayor is in such as hurry to approve a rezoning plan that hundreds of town citizens and several council members feel is poorly conceived, irresponsible, and inconsistent with the community’s stated vision for the area. It may be that he is eager to be able to tell his MIP colleagues when they come here in August that he has “accomplished” the governance project for which the organization provided funding, even if the accomplishment resembles what MIP funded in name only. I suspect that if the mayor’s colleagues on the steering committee were to advise him in this matter, they would say that it’s more important to get the plan right — to first do the necessary infrastructure and fiscal planning and to craft a code that does more than simply promote further gentrification — than to get it passed quickly.

In the meantime, perhaps MIP should ask for their $20,000 back.

– David Schwartz

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34 Comments

  1. DOM

     /  May 12, 2014

    Mr. Schwartz has officially jumped the shark.

  2. Joe

     /  May 12, 2014

    “A hurry”? Where have all of these anti-development people been for the past decade or so? The Ephesus-Fordham area work has been in the works for quite a long time. Are these all people who have either just moved to town, or people who have just started paying attention?

    Regardless, I like the plan and look forward to it being implemented as soon as possible. Unlike other mixed use projects like Southern Village and Meadowmont, I think this one will be a real benefit to the town.

  3. Bonnie

     /  May 12, 2014

    Joe. For the uninitiated, might you clarify why you didn’t like Meadowmont or SV and how e-f will be better?

  4. many

     /  May 12, 2014

    First, Ram’s Plaza, Eastgate and Village Plaza are in a flood zone. Development north of that location promise to make storm water flooding potential worse. Any development without a clear plan to alleviate the anticipated flooding both there and downstream is seriously flawed .

    Second, the area is currently served by poorly linked and inconvenient transit. Chapel Hill Transit routes D, CL and F weekdays, but TTA 400/405 express routes that run through the area but do not stop, so to go too or from anywhere outside of Chapel Hill you have to go downtown to transfer.

    Without adequate public transit, developers will not build anything that does not include significant parking (which adds to the flooding problems, and reduces density).

    Too bad all of our transportation dollars are being siphoned off to a misguided light rail program.

    I think form based coding and the plan for Ephesus-Fordham could be terrific, but some fundamental issues need to be solved first. Hizhoner needs to apply innovation to the infrastructure first.

  5. David

     /  May 12, 2014

    Joe writes: “Unlike other mixed use projects like Southern Village and Meadowmont, I think this one will be a real benefit to the town.”

    Let’s hope so, because, unlike Meadowmont and Southern Village, the costs for EF are coming out of our pocket . . .

    Unfortunately, the Town staff projects that the only major redevelopments that will occur in EF over the next 15 years are the construction of two high-rise apartment complexes and an expanded CVS pharmacy. Is that the kind of benefit you had in mind?

  6. anon

     /  May 12, 2014

    it certainly is interesting comparing what it’s supposed to do, with what it might actually do.

    ephesus is only one lane in each direction and 15-501 narrows to two, so I don’t see how it will help traffic
    all that much in the area with only minor road tweaks with denser development.

    also, there’s not much retail commercial at all, so not sure how beneficial it is to the tax base… putting a costco there and some studio townhouses (which don’t burden the schools) would be much better for the town IMHO….

  7. Joe

     /  May 12, 2014

    Bonnie, Meadowmont and Southern Village have failed as “mixed use communities”. They’ve got plenty of housing, but their retail spaces are either vacant or underused. There’s not enough residential in these two places to support them, and these two places are too insulated from the rest of town for more people to visit there on a regular basis. Personally, I think the developers knew the retail would be a wash, but threw it in to keep the town happy. They made their money on the residential.

    Ephesus-Fordham, on the other hand, will be well-integrated into existing commercial and residential, due to both location and the smart ideas to extend Legion and Elliott Roads, and will be a boon to the town at large. Again, I’m looking forward to finally getting moving on this plan.

  8. many

     /  May 12, 2014

    Joe, I would argue that the retail failed in Meadowmont and So Village because of how long it takes to get there & back on public transit, coupled with wholly inadequate parking. You need at least one for a commercial area to thrive.

    I believe in area the size of Ephesus-Fordham developers and tenants will shun participation and the plan will suffer the same fate without both.

  9. Geoff Green

     /  May 12, 2014

    What inadequate parking is there in Meadowmont? The Harris Teeter lot is never full, and there’s plenty of parking in the condos-above-shops area as well. If the parking right in front of the shops is full, there’s lots of additional parking behind the buildings on both sides.

    While I go to Southern Village less often, I’ve never found it hard to park either. There’s not always a space in the middle, so you just go off to the side where there’s more parking.

  10. many

     /  May 12, 2014

    Geoff, the reason is the commercial space is empty. A few years ago when there were businesses the parking was as difficult as it is on Franklin Street or in Carrboro. I agree with Joe, both are failures form a commercial perspective.

  11. Geoff Green

     /  May 12, 2014

    I’ve lived here six years, and it’s never been hard to find parking. Perhaps it was busier before then, I can’t say, but the fact is that there’s plenty of parking now. The number of empty spaces, especially outside the 9-5 hours on weekdays, are more than adequate to support filling all the retail even if everyone drove there, strongly suggesting that it’s not the lack of parking causing vacancies in Meadowmont.

  12. Terri Buckner

     /  May 12, 2014

    Southern Village has a consistent demand for additional office space. The retail may not be booming, but the addition of the hotel should change that. I don’t consider Southern Village a failure at all. Office space pays the same tax rate as retail and requires less town services, and hopefully, pays higher wages. The challenge is the get the mix right.

  13. James Barrett

     /  May 12, 2014

    I have no urban planning expertise in this, but I can say personally that I’ve never purchased anything at the retail shops of either Meadowmont or SV except for the restaurants, Harrington Bank, and Harris Teeter. The reason has nothing to do with parking. It has to do with the fact that only boutique retail spaces are available. I can’t afford boutiques. CH continues to build spaces which can only fit boutiques. Therefore, CH continues to force me to shop in Durham or online.

  14. James Barrett

     /  May 12, 2014

    Sorry, I should have remembered I used to buy a couple of things at Market St Books (guess not enough) and my daughter has done a few afternoons at Tumble Gym. My point remains, however. I live directly between SV and Meadowmont but I know I don’t pull my weight when it comes to supporting the businesses there.

  15. Joe

     /  May 13, 2014

    “I believe in area the size of Ephesus-Fordham developers and tenants will shun participation and the plan will suffer the same fate without both.”

    many, that doesn’t make any sense. There’s plenty of public transportation to the Ephesus-Fordham area now, and there’s no reason there won’t continue to be during and after all of the redevelopment. There’s nothing in the plans to say that public transportation and parking won’t be available, and there’s no reason to think otherwise.

    Meadowmont and Southern Village were large tracts of empty land that were redeveloped well outside of the town core. Ephesus-Fordham IS part of the town core, already. Big difference.

  16. many

     /  May 13, 2014

    Joe,

    Think bigger. Building a strong core of economic development requires the area to be convenient to more than just the town core. Take a look at TTA routes 400 & 405 they do not stop in the Ephesus-Fordham area.

    My point is that public transit now requires those coming from or going to TTA to transfer downtown then catch CHT back to Ephesus-Fordham, even though the TTA buses go through the Ephesus-Fordham area to get to the downtown transfer points (express service).

    The reasons I think that transit won’t happen or is in jeopardy are twofold; 1) there is no explicit transit plan (which attracts developer and tenant interest) in the Ephesus-Fordham plan and 2) TTA is spending elaborately on a light rail system which is resource starving CHT and other TTA service priorities.

    Putting a transfer point in the Ephesus-Fordham area (and not eliminating the express) now would make it easier for employees and shoppers to take the bus.

  17. many

     /  May 13, 2014

    Geoff,

    Not saying either Southern Village or Meadowmont are failures as a residential developments, just that the retail side has been a disappointment.

    Meadowmont was much busier in 1999/2004 when it was built. Afterward, things began to decline from a retail perspective. Competition with other more comprehensive retail areas with more parking and better transit has marginalized businesses, while rents have remained relatively high.

    Like Southern Village, I think critical mass was never achieved. I am sure the businesses are frequented by people who live there, it is just not a destination. Lack of parking and transit played a part in the decline.

  18. Nancy

     /  May 13, 2014

    Think about the way you shop. If you want to purchase a specific item, you likely will buy it online rather than drive to a store (even less likely to take the bus) and purchase it. If you don’t know specifically what you’re looking for, only a category (new shoes, for example, or a wedding gift), you’ll likely go to a shopping mecca that would have multiple stores where you can look for what you want. Meadowmont went through a period where it had only boutiques, and shoppers didn’t seem to be motivated to drive there to shop at one store only.

  19. DOM

     /  May 13, 2014

    Memo

    To: Chicken Little

    The sky has officially fallen.

  20. Don Evans

     /  May 13, 2014

    DOM
    Thanks so much! Another thoughtful, incisive comment from you. You certainly do consider all the factors in a debate and come up with just the witty summation that provides all of our readers with clarity.
    I don’t know how the discussion here could continue without your inspiring contributions.

  21. Ray Gronberg

     /  May 13, 2014

    The Town Council in approving Meadowmont and Southern Village was very clear in desiring the commercial cores of neither to attract customers/visitors from outside Chapel Hill. That drove the decisions on their size and location, particularly in seeing to it than the cores don’t front the major highways. Whether this ultimately made sense is debatable, but the cores are working as the councils of the time intended.

  22. DOM

     /  May 13, 2014

    Don –

    I can’t figure out whether you’re being sincere or sarcastic. Regardless, thanks.

  23. many

     /  May 13, 2014

    Ray, Can you provide a reference?

    I recall the debate more about Meadowmont than So. Village, but I clearly remember Chapel Hill citing “density” and “economic core” in the discussions over the development of the DuBois farm.

    I also remember the intensity of the debate over a six lane wide highway 54, the attraction of the historic building housing Kenan Flagler’s Rizzo center, and the Friday center as being main draws and attractions as a destination for people from outside of Chapel Hill for the “anchor” commercial development of Meadowmont.

  24. Ray Gronberg

     /  May 15, 2014

    Many, not a specific reference but I was there for all the Meadowmont SUP hearings and the SUP hearing on the second phase of Southern Village and I recall several comments to that effect, particularly from Joyce Brown, who actually was not convinced the Meadowmont plan would effectively deter shoppers from outside Chapel Hill.

  25. many

     /  May 15, 2014

    Hmmm. Interesting. I was at the Dubois/Meadowmont SUP as well. Not at So. Village. I do recall Joyce Brown, but my impression was that she was a single voice and most of the rest of the council was largely ignoring and arguing with her on this issue. I seem to recall Roger Perry finally told them in exasperation to please vote for or against….just please vote. Roger saw the writing on the wall and sold all of the commercial rights immediately after completion.

    I also remember Joyce Brown being a big proponent of “Shaping Orange County’s Future” which I seem to recall lead to the “Comprehensive Plan” and only lord knows how many pages of UDO spaghetti.

    http://server3.co.orange.nc.us:8088/weblink8/0/doc/18479/Page1.aspx

    All of the “themes and goals” were/are laudable, but not translatable to real world action and situations. It seems as if we are still arguing many if not all of the same issues while at the same time ironically not “progressing”.

    I do think we can all agree that building a moat around Chapel Hill/Orange County might have delayed things, but over the long haul cannot be sustained itself.

  26. many

     /  May 15, 2014

    BTW, DOM. Not to put words in his mouth, I think Don was saying rather than being insightful, you are being inciteful. Check the Oxford dictionary.

  27. Bruce Springsteen

     /  May 17, 2014

    CH TC intended for people to not come to Meadowmont or SV to shop? Really? Any particular reason?

    I’m reminded of John McKay, a football coach in the past renowned for his interesting quotes. His team had lost several games in a row and he was talking to the media after the game and he said “We didn’t block but we made up for it by not tacking.” That sounds like Chapel Hill in explaining why residential property taxes are so high. “We didn’t allow stores in town that Chapel Hiiians wanted to shop at and so the sales tax revenues went elsewhere but we made up for it by discouraging non-Chapel Hillians from shopping in Chapel Hill too.”

    I think that SV is pretty successful for what it is but of course it’s not going to be a big commercial place considering the stores there. Someone said that they don’t shop at SV because the stores are too expensive. Yeah, that too, but in addition to that lots of people that can afford to shop there don’t shop there because they don’t want to.

    SV is great in lots of ways (has anyone stopped to think how much more car driving would have to be done were SV not located where it is?) and it makes you feel good just being there but it’s not a place you go specifically to shop. I like that sign they put up at the second entrance, as if the reason people weren’t going in there to shop was because they just didn’t know those stores were there.

    They’ve since added that big park right past SV. Why not put more SV-type housing there instead, with some park too? That would be a close by market for SV businesses. And in addition to that have the inevitable Chatham/Orange Wal-Mart be 200 yards up the road and on our side of the county line? Those two things alone would have made a big difference for us.

    Okay, enough for now, I’ll go back to yelling at a passing cloud.

  28. Bruce Springsteen

     /  May 17, 2014

    Er, sorry, I meant to asked at the beginning of that last post whether the CH TC intended for NON-CH people to not shop at Meadowmont or SV. That makes a little more sense.

  29. many

     /  May 17, 2014

    Bruce

    Take some time to browse “Shaping Orange County’s Future”….I think you will be confused at a much higher level.

  30. Bruce Springsteen

     /  May 17, 2014

    What is that? A book, a website, what? I’ve never heard of it.

  31. many

     /  May 17, 2014

    Bruce, Look six posts above this one. Follow the link.Note the date and the credits for context…

  32. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  May 21, 2014

    Oh dear, I didn’t get the memo. I shop in Southern Village almost every day. Shopkeepers and cashiers address me by name.

  33. Trish D'Arconte

     /  May 23, 2014

    TTA 400 and 405 actually stop several places near Eastgate – there are 3 stops between the intersection of Franklin and Estes and Franklin and 15/501. You can see them by going to http://triangle.transloc.com .

    They’re circles the same color as the route line. Stops for other lines are in white circles until you select that line to see where the buses are. You can see real-time locations of buses for TTA, CHT, CAT, DATA, and others at that site. If you ride the bus it’s invaluable. You can also text to get arrival times but I haven’t tested that one out yet.

  34. many

     /  May 26, 2014

    @Trish

    Thank you. That is better than I thought it was, but certainly not as good as it c/should, and must be if there is economic rehabilitation planned for the area. It still amazes and offends me that TTA still intends to spend 1.3 Billion on that light rail.

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