Listen up!

What a blessing to all of us that I stayed home to watch the town’s affordable Nancy Oateshousing seminar on my computer instead of sitting in the audience at Town Hall. Had I been there in person, I might not have been able to contain myself after Robert Hickey from the Center for Housing Policy in Washington, D.C., finished his talk. I might have shaken my finger at Sally Greene and Maria Palmer, who voted for the flawed Ephesus-Fordham form-based code, and admonished, “I told you so! I told you so!”

Make that “WE told you so!” For Hickey repeated many of the same strategies and suggestions that residents informed Town Council members of during the public hearings for E-F and the discussion of what to do with real estate assets the town wants to sell.

Among Hickey’s recommendations: Smooth the permitting process for developers in exchange for affordable housing. (Tysons Corner, Va., developers donate 20-30% of units for affordable housing, he said.) Consider easing height restrictions in exchange for affordable housing. (Though he said more than 3 or 4 stories might not be appropriate for Chapel Hill.) Donate public land for affordable housing. (A majority of council members voted down Matt Czajkowski’s suggestion of opening the cemetery parcel up for bid by for-profit builders who specialize in workforce housing after DHIC bungled its grant application.) Negotiate with major employers to contribute to housing affordable for their modestly paid workers. (Jim Ward’s demand for a higher payment-in-lieu for UNC’s Carolina Square was smacked down by some of his colleagues on the dais.)

Ed Harrison sat quietly in the audience, perhaps feeling vindicated, too.

Dwight Bassett followed Hickey by presenting data that spoke to the need for affordable housing. Millennials and senior citizens are competing for the same low- and moderately priced housing stock, and the rise in rents has far outpaced the rise in income in recent years. Compared to Raleigh, Cary and Durham, Chapel Hill has the lowest percent of single-family detached houses already.

People in the audience, who for the most part did not identify themselves or their interest in the topic, asked trenchant questions: How much would it cost to build an 800-square-foot, 2-bedroom apartment, and what level of income would that require to rent it (given the federal guideline of paying no more than 30% of gross income for housing, utilities and insurance)? Could parking spaces be reduced in exchange for using the space for affordable housing? How will the Chatham Park development affect the demand for affordable housing in Chapel Hill?

The town’s next presentation in the affordable housing series will be March 10 (the Feb. 24 date has been scratched) and will be on “The Real Cost of Housing: What It Costs the Town.” The free session will be held from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall auditorium. The public is invited.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. David Schwartz

     /  February 23, 2015


    Short answer: No, it’s not cast in stone.

    Slightly longer answer: I can envision conditions and arrangements under which I would support allowing town-level densities and urban services to expand into rural buffer areas. The urban growth boundary for Portland, OR, one of the most celebrated examples of this kind of growth management tool, has flexibility built into it, and we could do that too.

    But it would need to be done thoughtfully and skillfully, and I don’t have a lot of confidence that the current occupants of Town Hall have the knowledge and skill to pull it off in a way that would produce what I would consider a successful outcome. Exhibit A: Ephesus-Fordham.

    I don’t have an exhaustive list of the conditions under which I would support allowing development in the RB, but the kind of land swap you mention is certainly one of the things I would be looking for.

  2. many

     /  February 23, 2015

    David, Thank you.

    Both Portland and the Redmond/Seattle areas are what I was thinking of when I suggested the idea of flexibility in the RB. Land use plays a very important part (flooding an EF is an example) but that requires the vision to forgo or delay certain opportunities in favor of infrastructure and what the land supports without major negative externalities.

  3. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  February 24, 2015

    I would like to add the question, “Are apartments revenue-positive for county expenses?” (county tax being 55% of any Chapel Hill resident’s tax bill), and “Are apartments revenue-positive for school district expenses?” (CHCC school district tax being 13% of any Chapel Hill resident’s tax bill).

    Town staff and Town Council are not thinking of Chapel Hill (or any other) tax payers when they focus exclusively on Town revenue. However, Town decisions have an enormous effect on county and school district budgets, and it is those entities that raise taxes fastest in response to Chapel Hill growth.

  4. David

     /  February 24, 2015


    If you’re still following this thread, here’s a question:

    Carrboro has even higher taxes than Chapel Hill, and a much lower average property tax valuation than Chapel Hill has, so much lower annual tax revenues, even controlling for difference in population.

    But we don’t see the Carrboro Board of Aldermen rushing to build high-rise apartments all over town. What accounts for this difference? Do the Aldermen not realize, or not care, what a heavy fiscal burden they are imposing on their citizens by trying to preserve their small town character and human scale built environment? Or do they perhaps understand something that our elected officials don’t?

    Also, in reviewing our exchange I realized I let you off too easy with your statement that the schools balance their budget every year. It’s true that the schools can only spend what the taxpayers give them, but we keep having to give them more and more money, as evidenced by the steady climb in county tax rates.

    This suggests that, even looking only at operational expenses, the increased tax revenue from an enlarged residential tax base does not adequately cover the increased school costs associated with the growth of the student population.

  5. rucker

     /  February 25, 2015


    I’m not going to speculate on the priorities of the Carrboro Alderpersons. If they are making their development decisions on economics, they aren’t doing a very good job. As you said, their tax rate is higher than Chapel Hill’s. Regardless, our conversation has been purely about economics, not the Town’s character. We simply disagree there and don’t need to waste our time on it. Economics aside, I would prefer to see Chapel Hill modernize and urbanize incrementally over time. I don’t believe Chapel Hill has really been a small town for decades and that goal is no longer achievable in a Town containing a world class research University and hospital. All of our peer Universities in “college” towns are far denser than Chapel Hill.

    I don’t think I follow your logic on past and near term future tax increases as it relates to new development. As they say in investment marketing, past results are not indicative of future performance. Are you suggesting that Chapel Hill has developed rapidly as of late? Since Meadowmont and Southern Village were substantially built-out in the early/mid 2000’s, there has been very little built. A few of the projects that have been built are visible and high profile, but they have added little inventory to the housing stock. Between Greenbridge, 140 West, East 54, Shortbread and LUX I believe there are around 700 residences. Throw in a couple of smaller projects on the north side of town and the occasional new house on a previously vacant lot, and perhaps we have a bit more than 1,000 new homes in the last 10 years, fewer than one Meadowmont or Southern Village. As of the 2010 census, Chapel Hill had 20,564 households. That’s an annual growth rate of less than .5%. That’s not particularly fast, especially when you consider the larger Triangle region grew more than 3% per year over that same time period.

    Do I need to remind you that none of the projects in the news recently have actually been built yet? You can’t claim that current tax increases are related to future buildings. Even Shortbread and LUX haven’t paid a full year’s tax bill yet because they were still under construction last year.

    If you are looking for a place that has built an enormous amount of apartments recently, among other things, without having tax increases, you don’t need to go far. Durham and Raleigh quit sprawling years ago and ever since have been developing and redeveloping infill locations at much higher densities. Both Raleigh and Durham’s downtown and strategic areas on major transit corridors (think North Hills, the Crabtree Mall area, Southpoint Mall area, PNC Arena area, Duke campus area, etc.) have seen an explosion of apartments far greater relative to those city’s populations than what has been built in Chapel Hill during the same time period. And their taxes are not only significantly lower, but they have had virtually no increases over that time either.

    I’m glad you bring up the issue of school bonds and the inevitability of it increasing our tax rates. During this same time period of the last 10 years or so, Wake and Durham Counties have had bond issues for new and schools as well. Not to mention the public investments they have made on really cool projects like the new convention center, re-opening Fayetteville Street, DPAC, the Durham Bulls stadium, etc. So their schools have kept up with population growth while at the same time improving the quality of their education, plus they have made enormous public investments in other things without raising taxes. How do you explain that if it isn’t from the new revenues they get steadily from new development? Perhaps their Councils know something our elected officials don’t?

    And purely as a matter of semantics, “high-rise”? Come on, David. 6 stories does not a high rise make. I know its a scary sounding word to people who fear change, but let’s try and be honest with ourselves.

  6. Nancy

     /  February 25, 2015

    Durham and Raleigh both have had tax hikes recently. Raleigh’s rose 5 cents per $100 in 2014; Durham’s rose nearly 2 cents in 2014 and 3 cents in 2013. Taxes increase as towns grow. Show me a town where that is not true.

  7. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  February 26, 2015

    rucker (w-y-R),
    What happened to the Memos of Understanding that Dwight Bassett promised as part of the positive impact of the Ephesus-Fordham rezoning and Form-Based Code?

    These MOUs were going to provide immediate tax relief to the town once the rezonings went through.

  8. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  February 26, 2015

    Also, has the $10 million loan using Town Hall as collateral been borrowed yet? That money (according to the same presentation as presented the MOUs) is supposed to go towards extending Elliot Road across 15-501 onto Frances Street (presently a cul-de-sac of small houses) to Ephesus Church Road. Is that going to happen?

    If not, what are the new projects for that money?

  9. rucker

     /  February 26, 2015


    The taxes in Raleigh and Durham increase more or less with inflation, which means that they stay constant in terms of relative cost to the citizens, which is what I meant by “virtually no increase”. Chapel Hill taxes increase at rates much greater, meaning that the real cost is increasing. Cherry picking one year is taking the issue completely out of context, even if it is this year. You have to look at the trend over time and Raleigh and Durham’s fiscal houses are in much better order, despite, or most would say in part because of, their urban (not sprawl) rapid growth.

    Deborah, I don’t know what MOU’s you are referring to, but the Town’s financial projections for Ephesus Fordham specifically acknowledged that there would be no additional tax revenue generated in the district for 2 or 3 years and most of it would come even later than that. They did project minimal development application fees, which are coming in as planned with the Village Plaza and Ram’s Plaza projects.

  10. Nancy Oates

     /  February 26, 2015

    Rucker — Please share your data of “trend over time.” I could only find information about tax rates in recent years, years in which inflation has been about zero yet tax rates have gone up.

  11. George C

     /  February 26, 2015

    David said ” the increased tax revenue from an enlarged residential tax base does not adequately cover the increased school costs associated with the growth of the student population.”

    So let’s look at some of the more recently approved residential projects: 54 East (1 student I believe); Greenbridge (perhaps another student); 140 West Franklin (not sure if there are any CHCCS students); LUX apartments and Shortbread Lofts (doubt there are any CHCCS students); Village Apartments (probably few CHCCS students); 123 West Franklin (probably few CHCCS students); Graduate apartments (probably few CHCCS students).

    All of these projects will be paying not only CH taxes but County taxes and taxes to support the CHCCS schools but they will not be generating ANY significant number of CHCCS students.

    In addition, what infrastructure improvements did the Town provide for these projects? What roads? What sidewalks? None.

    High density residential not only provides housing but it is revenue positive. And more housing will lessen the pressure on housing prices. Chapel Hill tax rates are lower than those of Durham. What makes our taxes so high are the valuations. The law of supply and demand is real.

  12. bonnie hauser

     /  February 26, 2015

    Nancy – be careful with those comparisons- Wake’s tax rates are about 2/3rds of Orange – even with the tax increases (remember Orange and Chapel Hill increased taxes by 3 points last year – with no urban growth)

    Wake and its towns are massively investing in schools and expanded recreation assets- and their tax rate is still low – property values are low too. Maybe that’s why they can’t keep up with growth.

    George – your points are well taken with expensive in-town projects. What about the Edge, Obey Creek and E-F? All require major infrastructure improvements and are expected to generate students.

    We keep looking at growth and costs like its a linear model. Its much more complicated and I suspect there’s a way forward that looks more like a win-win.

    Is there a way to have an open community discussion about what growth looks like and how impacts cost?

  13. George C

     /  February 26, 2015


    The applicant for the Edge is required by the SUP approval to make the required roadway improvements. The applicant for Obey Creek has proposed to make the required roadway improvements. The Town is indeed making roadway improvements for Ephesus-Church, not for any particular development but because that intersection has long been considered the most failed intersection in Chapel Hill. The Town is hopeful that the additional tax revenue from future projects (synthetic TIF) in this area will pay for some or most of these costs.

  14. George C

     /  February 26, 2015


    Regarding student generation at both the Edge and Obey Creek, most of the rentals are proposed to be studio, 1- and 2-bdr units and thus not expected to generate a lot of students. As for E-F, the first residential project proposed is also 1- and 2-bdr and again, not expected to generate a lot of students.

  15. Nancy

     /  February 26, 2015

    George — The Edge developers, through their “supplemental agreement,” can hold the town hostage for paying for road improvements. All the developers have to do is say, “We can’t make this work without the road improvements,” and the town either will have to pay or live with a clear-cut 42-acre mess, no commercial development and no affordable housing. As Matt Czajkowski pointed out, council gave away all its leverage to get the developer to provide affordable housing and pay for the roads. The only positive thing you or anyone on council could say about The Edge was, “It’s better than nothing,” to which I disagree. Come to think of it, that was the only good thing you could think of to say about E-F: “It’s better than a hole in the ground.” This is how you represent people who live here?

    Bonnie — My point is that Wake and Durham have both grown substantially in recent years, and their taxes have gone up with growth. So the idea that growth somehow lowers taxes is ridiculous, as the Wake County manager, I believe it was, pointed out.

  16. George C

     /  February 26, 2015

    “This is how you represent people who live here?”

    Yes it is. You obviously don’t like the way I represent the citizens of Chapel Hill and that is entirely your right.

    Have a great day.

  17. Don Evans

     /  February 26, 2015


    Then I would suggest that you are representing the residents very poorly, not just in your short-sighted vote but also in your dismissive attitude toward folks who are very concerned about recent council actions that you would like to present as decision making.

    I believe the best way to describe the job you and the Town Council have been doing lately is “aiding and abetting.”

  18. David Schwartz

     /  February 26, 2015


    Two questions:

    1. If it had been demonstrated to your satisfaction that adding population to a municipality always and necessarily increases the tax burden on existing residents, how might you have voted differently on any of the resolutions that came before you over the past year?

    2. What evidence would persuade you that adding population to a municipality always and necessarily increases the tax burden on existing residents?

  19. Terri

     /  February 26, 2015

    When the apartment complexes along 54 Bypass in Carrboro were built back in the 70s/80s, they served almost exclusively University students. Now they still serve some students but increasingly they are home to lower-income families. There’s a mob of high school students out waiting for school buses every morning. Things change.

  20. David

     /  February 27, 2015

    Those who are curious to know what the experts have to say about the impact of population growth or increased density on per capita government expenditures may find the following two research articles informative:

    1. Population Growth, Density and the Costs of Providing Public Services, by Helen F. Ladd in Urban Studies, Vol. 29, No. 2, 1992, pp. 273-295.

    Conclusion: For most situations, more population density equals MORE per capita costs to government.

    2. Holcombe and Williams (2008). The Impact of Population Density on Municipal Government Expenditures. Public Finance Review, 36 (3), 359-373.

    Conclusion: When all government expenditures are taken into account, policies that increase population density will not reduce per capita government expenditures and, in larger cities, will lead to higher per capita government expenditures.

    It would be nice to think that hard data such as this would finally suffice to persuade those who cling to the belief that increasing residential density will improve our fiscal situation, but I fear they are gripped by an ideological conviction and are immune to evidence.

    It will be interesting to see what sort of tortured arguments Rucker uses to try to discount the validity or relevance of these studies.

  21. rucker

     /  February 27, 2015


    I believe you are an academic, so I’m not sure how you can, with a straight face, reference studies that draw no conclusions relevant to our conversation.

    The second study by Holcombe and Williams only found this relationships in cities over 500,000. From the article’s abstract: “There is no statistically significant relationship between per capita total government expenditures and operational expenditures for cities smaller than 500,000, and for larger cities, higher population density is associated with higher per capita government expenditures.” So the study itself finds no high-level correlation in a Town our size and we have very good local evidence that, in our particular case, higher density will in fact result in lower per capita public expenditures.

    The first study by Helen Ladd uses 30+ year old data and only looks at counties (not Towns), so it’s relevance is minimal to begin with. Even so, from the abstract: “The study balances the engineering and planning view that greater population density lowers the costs of providing public services by documenting a U-shaped relationship between spending and density”. That means that increasing density to a point DOES lower the per capita cost. Outside the towns, Orange County is a very low density county (we planned it that way!), and at the Town level, Chapel Hill is low density for a Town of its size. So this study also suggests that it is very possible that increasing density will have a positive effect on per capita spending.

    Is that argument “tortured”? The argument that densifying Chapel Hill will cost the current residents more is starting to sound a lot like “Saddam has WMD’s” or “Deregulating banks will result in more financial stability”.

  22. Nancy

     /  February 27, 2015

    Rucker, please supply some hard data to back your opinion. Up to this point, all we’ve heard is your Reagan-esque soft chuckle.

  23. rucker

     /  February 27, 2015

    Nancy, have you been following the conversation? I have done the math, provided examples and used statistics to make my points. David has even agreed with most of my analysis. More importantly, our highly competent Town staff has done a more thorough investigation and consistently found overwhelming financial benefits to the projects they have reviewed and approved recently. You have offered nothing more than canned statements and David has provided nothing that stands up to even a minimal level of scrutiny.

    Name-call if you must. But if I’m Reagan, you and David are George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

  24. Terri

     /  February 27, 2015

    Enough with the name calling!

    Rucker is talking statistics. He’s saying that at some point there will be an intersection of demand for services and revenues collected to provide those services. He’s claiming that a 30+ year old study predicts that *could* happen in towns smaller than 500,000. In other words, if we want to experiment with our community, we *might* find balance.

  25. Fred Black

     /  February 27, 2015

    “Then I would suggest that you are representing the residents very poorly”

    Don, you make these statements but never seem to be able to provide hard data like Nancy asks for.

    The sad thing, in my opinion, is that there are not a whole lot of residents out there who even know what is being discussed in this thread. Some of them might even vote, but then again, its your opinion that they are being “poorly represented.”

  26. David

     /  February 27, 2015


    Yes, indeed, I’m an academic, which means I read beyond the abstract.

    This is from the conclusion of the Holcombe paper;

    “This study shows that higher population density does not bring with it lower levels of per capita municipal government expenditures, as has been suggested by some antisprawl advocates. When looking at per capita total expenditures and per capita current operational expenditures, there is a positive and statistically significant relationship between population density and per capita expenditures for cities with populations larger than 500,000 and no statistically significant relationship between population density and total or operational expenditures for smaller cities. This suggests that increasing population density will not lead to lower per capita government expenditures, and for larger cities, it is likely to lead to higher expenditures.”

    The relevance to Chapel Hill is that, contrary to what you have been claiming, there is no evidence that increasing population density in cities of our size leads to lower per capita total expenditures, and thus no reason to believe that high-density residential infill projects such as Village Plaza Apts or greenfield projects such as Obey Creek or the Edge will ease the property tax burden on existing residents.

    Yes, Ladd found that at very low densities, growth reduces per capita costs, but we are way past the inflection point of her U-shaped curve.

    From the article: “The increasing per capita spending as the density of counties rises above 250 people per square mile provides important evidence to counter the view, which emerges from engineering and planning studies, that higher density reduces public sector costs.”

    As of the 2010 census, population density in Orange County was 336/sq mile.

    Helen Ladd, by the way, is on faculty at Duke. Why don’t you call her (613-7352) and ask her whether her findings are relevant to Chapel Hill and Orange County?

    Look, I can do this all day, but what’s the point? I think I understand why you are finding it so difficult to accept that increased population density doesn’t result in lower per capita costs. As we saw earlier in this thread, you are focussing too narrowly on current or operational expenditures and are neglecting to include capital expenditures in your cost accounting.

    If you go to
    you will find a 2012 dissertation by a guy named Christopher Goodman entitled “Density, Population Growth and Local Government Finance.”

    If you look on page 96 of the document you will see some graphs showing that total expenditures increase exponentially with the growth in number of residential units, and that the exponential nature of this relationship derives from the capital expenditure, rather than current expenditure, component of government spending.

    From the manuscript: “Examining per capita total expenditures, it would appear that increased development increases per capita expenditures at an increasing rate. However, when that result is deconstructed, it is found that the result is largely driven by per capita capital expenditures. The influence of residential growth on per capita current expenditures is small and linear. The influence on per capita capital expenditures is large and non-linear. This finding somewhat conforms to that found by Ladd. Ladd finds that population growth leads to declines per capita current expenditures (which she attributes to declining service quality) but finds that population growth increases per capita capital expenditures. In the context of whether new development “pays its own way,” it would appear that, in Georgia, new residential development increases the average burden on existing residents (i.e. per capita expenditures increase, an average measure). Therefore, development does not pay its own way, especially with regard to capital expenditures.”

    It’s hard, and consequently, very uncommon, for people to let go of strongly held beliefs, even when confronted with evidence of their falsity. But I’m hoping you can rise to the challenge, for the sake of our town’s future fiscal health.

  27. rucker

     /  February 27, 2015

    Indeed, David. It is very hard for people to let go of their deeply held, incorrect beliefs. I entered this echo chamber with that knowledge, and we had a nice dialogue for a bit. Not long ago we even agreed that higher density residential can be revenue positive, even factoring in capital and school expenses.

    Sadly, we appear to have regressed back into our familiar NIMBY vs. pro-growth arguments that are based on preferences and fears, not facts and data. Please remember I have never argued higher density residential development would fix the tax problems in Chapel Hill. I don’t believe it will. There simply is no evidence that moderately densifying our current low-density residential make-up is going to make it any worse.

    With plenty of blame to go around (including on me), our once productive dialogue appears to have gone off the rails. So I will stop fanning the flames and exit stage left. There will be plenty of opportunity for more grenade throwing as we enter election season.

    And thanks for another study showing sprawl is a bad idea. Earth shattering research……

  28. David Schwartz

     /  February 27, 2015


    I’m sorry you feel that our dialogue is no longer productive. It’s been very useful for me because, as I mentioned, I now feel I have a better understanding of why we seem to hold different beliefs regarding the likely fiscal impacts of adding population.

    You say, “I have never argued higher density residential development would fix the tax problems in Chapel Hill. I don’t believe it will.” And yet, you did write, “So, what challenges can growth address? Along with the vast majority of economists, I believe it can make us more fiscally sound.” I think you can understand how a reader might assume the latter statement implies the former.

    But I’m glad that we now seem to agree that we should not expect “moderately densifying our current low-density residential make-up” to yield any fiscal benefits. I do actually believe the empirical evidence suggests that it will make our fiscal situation worse, but we’ll just have to disagree about that.

    Note that I have never stated—not in this thread or in anything I have written or said—that, because residential growth is revenue negative, we should therefore not add any new housing. I do, however, believe that these decisions should be made on the basis of evidence and analysis rather than on myths and wishful thinking.

    I hope you will continue to participate in conversations on this blog. You provide a valuable perspective, and your voice will help to keep it from becoming an echo chamber—which, if you’ve spent much time here, you know it is not.

    And next time, go ahead and use your real name. We all know who you are.


  29. Fred Black

     /  February 27, 2015

    David, are you of the opinion that everyone should identify themselves?

  30. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  February 27, 2015

    “What happened to the Memos of Understanding that Dwight Bassett promised as part of the positive impact of the Ephesus-Fordham rezoning and Form-Based Code?

    These MOUs were going to provide immediate tax relief to the town once the rezonings went through.”

    Dwight Bassett, on behalf of town staff, presented MOU’s to the Planning Board in November 2013 and to Council in January 2014 to propound the rezoning of the Ephesus-Fordham area. The idea of charging increased property tax in advance of building seemed odd to me, but that was the justification.

    “Also, has the $10 million loan using Town Hall as collateral been borrowed yet? That money (according to the same presentation as presented the MOUs) is supposed to go towards extending Elliot Road across 15-501 onto Frances Street (presently a cul-de-sac of small houses) to Ephesus Church Road. Is that going to happen?

    If not, what are the new projects for that money?”

    Any answers?

  31. David

     /  February 27, 2015


    I haven’t given it much thought. I’d prefer to know to whom I’m speaking, but I won’t presume to judge the reasons a person might prefer to maintain his or her anonymity. Ultimately it’s up to the person who maintains the blog to set the policy. Nancy has apparently decided that the benefits to the conversation of allowing anonymity outweigh the costs.

    Someone recently pointed out to me that, on this blog, of those who frequently disagree with Nancy, you are the only person who does not use a pseudonym. Do you have any thoughts on why that may be?

  32. Fred Black

     /  February 28, 2015


    I think there are others who challenge things that Nancy writes and they use their own names. Terri and George are two examples. Scott Maitland and Gordon Merklein have also tried to correct Nancy’s incorrect assertions, but that’s what we now call criticism.

  33. Terri

     /  February 28, 2015

    You know, it’s funny how online discussion works. Something gets said once by someone who believes the claim, then it gets repeated and next thing you know it becomes truth. The claim that this is an echo-chamber is one example.

    When you look back through all the debates of the past few years, it becomes obvious (to me anyway) that public dialog on development has become entrenched and everyone who enters gets classified as to which side they ‘belong’ to. At that point, all hope of any peace and understanding are lost. Not what I would expect from a highly educated population.

  34. David Schwartz

     /  February 28, 2015

    For those who don’t have the patience to read back through the entire debate on this thread concerning the fiscal impact of residential growth, here’s a quick recap:

    I quoted Wake County Manager Jim Hartman, who said “Growth never pays for itself.”

    Rucker replied, “I prefer to get my economic advice from economists, not city planners.”

    I then adduced published research by two different economists, both showing that residential growth increases per capita government expenditures.

    Rucker then dismissed these findings, saying “our highly competent Town staff has done a more thorough investigation and consistently found overwhelming financial benefits to the projects they have reviewed and approved recently.”

    The lesson I draw from this is that the views of city planners are worthless, except when they tell you what you want to hear. And, similarly, the views of economists are the gold standard on matters of public finance, except when they tell you what you don’t want to hear.

  35. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  February 28, 2015

    Also, in 5 years that I have been on the planning board, I have not once seen an example of where town staff recommend against approving any project. Really. It’s as if the template for staff conclusions is “Staff recommends approval.”

    If anyone has an example to the contrary, please post about it.

  36. Terri

     /  February 28, 2015


    To me the worthwhile point that came out of the discussion is that capital costs are not calculated in the town staffs’ determination of whether revenues will be greater than costs. I don’t remember whether that came from you or Rucker, it doesn’t really matter to me. It does explain the impasse these discussions always end in. If it’s true, then development might be paying for itself in the short run, but not in the long run.

    Maybe CHALT should prepare something on the importance of capital budgets.

  37. bonnie hauser

     /  February 28, 2015

    When smart people are so far apart – there’s a problem with the data. Why doesn’t the town create a process to legitimately challenge the data assumptions on both sides. Developing a shared understanding could go a long way to get people on board with a plan – whatever it turns out to be.

    With such a process, we’ll be better able to separate the “progrowths” and “NIMBYs” from what I believe is a larger population of people who care about the future of the community and are willing to slog through the data to assure that solutions are thought through.

    I have a friend that likes to say “two monologues dont make a dialog”. I guess its true!

  38. David Schwartz

     /  February 28, 2015

    “When smart people are so far apart – there’s a problem with the data.”

    That’s one possibility. But there’s also the issue that, as Upton Sinclair memorably wrote, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

  39. many

     /  February 28, 2015

    Fred, whats your point?

  40. Rucker,

    A year ago you wrote, “I’ll grab my torch and pitchfork and stand shoulder to shoulder with you the second a developer proposes we get rid of the Urban Services Growth Boundary to build suburban subdivisions . . .”

    I wanted to alert you to the fact that, according to the Chapel Hill News, Chamber of Commerce CEO Aaron Nelson suggested earlier this week in his annual State of the Community report that the County “may need to consider easing restrictions that have kept water and sewer out of unincorporated areas.”

    I can lend you a pitchfork if you need one.

  41. rucker

     /  April 9, 2016

    Note: The following comment may not be from the person who posts as Rucker, as the email address did not check out. — Nancy


    Even though the Chamber isn’t a developer and I suspect they floated it in response to the opposition to reasonable residential building within the boundary, I will keep my promise. Thanks for the pitchfork, but I’m still going to need a torch. I can probably find one at Southpoint or New Hope Commons. I’ll grab one during one of my sadly regular but necessary trips out there.

    Once we hold the line on the Urban Services Growth boundary, can I count on you to stand-up for the type of higher density residential construction that you acknowledged can be revenue positive earlier in this thread? I don’t see any other way to supply the housing we are going to need to keep our affordability problem from getting worse and worse.

    Wait, I do have another idea. Donald Trump should have some free time on his hands come November, and I hear he is pretty good at building walls to keep “other” people out. Maybe he could help us. He could probably even get Durham to pay for it with some of our torch and pitchfork sales tax dollars.

  42. rucker

     /  April 11, 2016

    Nancy, this is the original rucker. My mistake on the email address. I posted from a different device and forgot which email address I used in the past. Hopefully this post proves it.

  43. Rucker,

    After the 6,000 already approved new residential units are built and occupied, you can absolutely count on me to stand up for new revenue positive affordable housing, if such a thing exists.

    I’ll even stand up for new housing that is revenue negative provided it is offset by a concurrent increase in revenue positive retail, office, or light industrial property and does not exacerbate traffic congestion or stormwater management challenges.

    To that end, I hope you will support Aaron’s call for us to increase the town’s stock of large, flexible office space—Ephesus-Fordham would be a good place to put it—instead of building more luxury apartments.

    By the way, I purchased my pitchfork at Lowe’s. They sell torches too. Or you can make your own by securing a rag to the end of a stick and soaking it in kerosene.

  44. rucker

     /  April 12, 2016

    David, can you clarify what you mean when you say “large, flexible office space”? What type of rents are you thinking this would lease for, and are you suggesting that developers should and will build it speculatively? Who will fill this space?

  45. Rucker,

    You’d have to ask Aaron. According to the Chapel Hill News, in his State of the Community report, he stated that “Large, flexible office space is the biggest hurdle to recruiting and keeping companies.” If you have any privileged insight into what he was referring to, feel free to share it with us.

  46. So when we pushed for the town to negotiate with RAM to have affordable, flexible office space for the PUBLIC/private West140, the Chamber’s staff, led by Aaron Nelson, trounced the idea.

    When we call on the UNC Foundation to provide affordable, flexible office space at the new University Square, Aaron said nothing but top tier would be salable or acceptable.

    Since I’ve been involved with development in Town, I don’t recall Aaron ever strongly supporting AFFORDABLE office or light industrial space.