Ed Harrison understands that you can’t be a leader without followers. And if you get too far ahead of your followers, your nothing more than a guy on a road by himself shouting, “This way, really, I know what I’m doing.”
At Town Council’s May 12 meeting, Harrison was one of three council members to incorporate community research and views into their own thinking about the form-based code proposed for the redevelopment of Ephesus-Fordham. Jim Ward and Matt Czajkowski were the other two who voted against a blanket rezoning that would “give up the store,” as Ward said.
Ward chastised staff for not exploring affordable housing options seriously and Sally Greene, who had positioned herself as an affordable housing advocate, for folding on code adjustments that could incentivize affordable housing and energy efficiency. Greene said incentives wouldn’t work, and she named cities where that proved true. Ward countered that incentives do work in Chapel Hill, and he cited the $40 million worth of affordable housing, some 200 units, the town has now because of incentives.
(Greene did recommend, and the majority approved, that properties along the western and southern edge of Elliott Road be omitted temporarily from rezoning, leaving open the possibility that they might later be layered with incentives for affordable housing to replace existing businesses.)
Czajkowski tried in vain to explain financials, along with the gap between theory and reality, to the majority of his colleagues. He has consistently added insight and intelligence to council discussions, only to be dismissed as an outlier. In Ephesus-Fordham and other discussions, he has shown a sensitivity to people living on a budget and has supported measures that ensure a place for middle-class and working-class residents.
Harrison said while he could see some benefits to the staff’s rezoning proposal, he recognized that too many community members “weren’t there yet.” To ignore that reality would be ineffective leadership.
A big part of why many in the community weren’t there yet was that staff had not thought through adequate stormwater protection for the surrounding neighborhoods. Ephesus-Fordham makes up one of the largest swaths of middle-class housing, in part because of poor drainage in the area. Homeowners have invested in runoff remuneration rather than in fancy additions or selling their homes to people who would tear them down and build McMansions on the generous lots. If the $1.2 million the town plans to spend on stormwater management isn’t sufficient, neighborhoods will experience more runoff and flooding problems. Not only will their taxes go up to pay for additional stormwater management by the town, but they’ll need to invest even more in their on-site water problems.
Harrison also made reference to the ongoing problems with the town’s Inspections Department, noting that it doesn’t matter what the ordinance says if Inspections doesn’t enforce them.
A heartfelt thanks to Harrison, Czajkowski and Ward for defending the interests of residents working hard to hold onto their place in Chapel Hill.
– Nancy Oates