Talk, hear, act

Growth has proved a hot topic in the discussions in the local blogsphereNancy Oates recently. Participants have divided into two camps. One side believes that all growth is good and that new development of any kind will make money for the town and thus lower residential property taxes. The other side believes only nonresidential property is revenue positive and pays close attention to what the community gets in return when our tax dollars are used to subsidize developers.

Communication between the two sides appears to have ground to a halt, reduced to name-calling and arguments with no more depth than “Are not!” “Are too!”

Council has made a spate of decisions recently about development projects that directly impact the lives of those of us who live here or want to live here. Council members, repeating what they hear from the town manager and economic development officer, say that if enough buildings are built, the town will make money and pass that cash on to residents in the form of lower property taxes. But as the Wake County commissioners’ chair said, in facing the prospect of a property tax increase, “We can’t grow our way out of this.”

That jibes with my experience. The town has grown substantially in the nearly 20 years I have lived here, yet every year I pay more in taxes. Even in years when the town’s tax rate decreases, my tax bill goes up.

At Lee Storrow’s “listening session” Saturday afternoon, a woman told of trying to find an affordable place to live. “It costs a lot to live here,” she said.

I hope those words ring in Storrow’s head the next time a developer proposes a project that has no affordable housing. I hope those words touched him enough that he will lead his colleagues on council to rework the Ephesus-Fordham form-based code to include affordable housing. And while he’s at it, correct the code to meet town ordinance standards for stormwater so the affordable homes in the neighborhoods around Ephesus-Fordham don’t suffer even worse flooding.

The town manager, his staff, and council members who don’t have time to digest before every meeting 900 pages of jargon-rich text meant to obfuscate, adhere to a neoliberal theory of economics that postulates if you want the economy to grow, you need less government involvement and a climate friendly to big business, and you have to accept a widening gap between the rich and the rest of us.

But many of us who advocate for the community believe that’s not true, that there is a way to grow without sacrificing quality of life, without pushing out young people, modestly paid people and people of color. Council members and town staff need to bargain hard with developers to make sure the community gets something of value for the price taxpayers are paying, and to listen to folks other than those making money from the deals.
– Nancy Oates

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8 Comments

  1. David Schwartz

     /  March 2, 2015

    Nancy,

    I think it’s perhaps a bit unfair to characterize the argumentation about growth that has taken place on this blog recently as “having no more depth than “Are not!” “Are too!”. There’s been quite a bit of depth, on both sides. Readers can review the thread and decide for themselves.

    http://chapelhillwatch.com/2015/02/16/listen-up/

  2. Fred Black

     /  March 2, 2015

    “Participants have divided into two camps. One side believes that all growth is good and that new development of any kind will make money for the town and thus lower residential property taxes. The other side believes only nonresidential property is revenue positive and pays close attention to what the community gets in return when our tax dollars are used to subsidize developers.”

    Simplistic, overdrawn, and wrong! People I talk to who have a range of different opinions on growth in our community are more thoughtful and sophisticated than that label implies.

  3. Joey

     /  March 2, 2015

    Chapel Hill has grown on average less then 2% annually since 1990. Is that considered “substantial” growth? I would guess it pales in comparison to surrounding communities

  4. anon

     /  March 2, 2015

    explain why the Town Staff never publicize how much school taxes/services are needed for new development. I know the Town isn’t responsible for schools, but for most residents of CH the school tax is the largest part of our bill. For staff not to disclose what a new development like the Edge will cost for all town & county services seems wrong.

  5. David Schwartz

     /  March 2, 2015

    Joey,

    I calculate the town’s average annual population growth rate between 1990 and 2013 as very slightly above 2%.

    At that rate, the town’s population will double every 35 years or so. Under current town policy, that growth will have to take place within the town’s existing area, which is almost entirely developed. So if one considers the current rate of growth desirable, one has to be able to answer the question, “Where are the additional 60,000 people who will reside here in 2050 going to live?” What other infrastructure (roads, parking, water, transit, recreation land, schools, etc.) will need to be built and paid for to accommodate the new population? Where will the money come from to pay for it?

    Is the growth rate of neighboring communities the one to which Chapel Hill should aspire? If so, why? Why not the other way around? Perhaps folks in Durham and Raleigh are saying, “Chapel Hill seems to be doing fine growing at only 2% a year. Why do we need to be growing at so much greater a rate and incurring all the attendant problems?”

  6. Joey

     /  March 2, 2015

    David -You’re overdoing the trends. CH gained +- 9500 residents from 1990 to 2000. From 2000 to 2010 – +- 9400. And then from 2010 to 2013 just over 1% growth. A steady downward trend. (As you said) With dwindling land and also high land prices, high taxes, new construction water and impact fees that are driving costs, do you really think CH is going to add 60,000 more people by 2050?

  7. Fred Black

     /  March 2, 2015

    http://image.slidesharecdn.com/soc14gotime-140828100443-phpapp02/95/2014-state-of-the-community-report-14-638.jpg?cb=1409238534

    The Chamber reports states:
    ’04 = 49,438
    ’13 = 59,635
    = +10,197
    2.1%/yr for growth.

    Other slides might also be of interest

  8. David Schwartz

     /  March 2, 2015

    Joey,

    Here’s the formula to calculate average growth rate in Excel:

    =((End Value/Start Value)^(1/(Periods – 1)) -1

    Enter the 1990 population (38,511) for “Start Value” and the 2013 population (59,635) for “End Value” and 23 for “Periods” and you’ll get a result close to 0.02. Thus, a 2% average annual growth rate between 1990 and 2013.

    I have no idea whether Chapel Hill is going to add 60,000 persons to its resident population by 2050, but there are a number of people in town who I suspect would be quite pleased with such an outcome.

    The 26,000 souls who lived in Chapel Hill in 1970 probably found it similarly inconceivable that the town’s population would double by 2005, but it did.

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