Own up to tax hike

Get ready for a tax hike, a one-two punch of county and town both wanting Nancy Oatesmore from taxpayers.

Talk of money hung heavy in the air last week, with the county commissioners continuing discussion (kudos to board chair Earl McKee for dissuading his colleagues from rubberstamping approval) of a $125 million bond in 2016, and Town Council holding a work session last Monday in which town staff bandied about the possibility of a $40 million bond in the November 2015 election, plus another $50 million financed in TIF-style installments.

Elected officials for both county and town have the authority to raise taxes without putting a bond referendum on the ballot for voters to approve or vote down. But politicians prefer to raise taxes through a bond because it puts the onus for an unpopular decision (paying higher taxes) on the voters, not the elected officials. When a bond referendum passes, politicians have the excuse that the tax hike came about because voters demanded it.

Instead, elected officials tend to exercise their spending authority on projects that they know voters wouldn’t necessarily spring for. Commissioners spent more than $1 million renovating a lovely meeting room for themselves and others, mainly adults with cars. But wouldn’t it be nice if schoolchildren could wake up every day knowing that they had a similarly beautiful spot in which to learn? Or at least one with adequate heating and without mold.

Town Council members also approved a pricey renovation of its space that included a secret emergency exit, exclusively for council members’ use, and a bullet-proof dais. And look at the exquisite town manager’s suite — oh, right, we can’t because it requires cardkey access. But it must be nice because its budget was three times that of the equivalent space for the permitting center open to the public on the ground floor.

Those expenditures likely would not have met with voter approval. So, being politically savvy, our commissioners position their bond as money for schools, and council members make theirs for new greenways, sidewalks and unspecified stormwater improvements, all of which appeal to voters.

Council members seem to have no compunction against asking taxpayers to pay more for what we value, but they won’t ask developers to contribute.

We have a noisy group of “Not in My Checkbook” businessmen who want residential property taxpayers to subsidize their development projects as a hedge against their risk, most recently The Edge and Village Plaza Apartments, which produced no affordable housing or energy efficiency or stormwater mitigation that would reduce flooding in modest neighborhoods nearby.

Those businessmen are big contributors to the election campaigns of many of our council members and at least one commissioner.

We need elected officials willing to make decisions about what’s best for the community, even the community members who don’t contribute to election campaigns.
– Nancy Oates

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49 Comments

  1. George C

     /  March 9, 2015

    Nancy,

    The dais might be bullet-proof but it’s not mud-proof. So you can keep slinging away.

  2. David Schwartz

     /  March 9, 2015

    George,

    If there are errors of fact or of interpretation in Nancy’s post, let us know what they are, so we can have a constructive and edifying discussion of the issues she raises. Accusing her of “mud-slinging” is both unseemly and unhelpful.

  3. Don Evans

     /  March 9, 2015

    George

    During my newspaper days, we in the newsroom could always tell that a story had exposed the truth when its subject, usually a politician or greedy businessperson, accused the paper of getting facts wrong or mudslinging. And usually the politician or greedy businessperson did not offer up any details to refute the reported facts. As if by declaring that story wrong and ignoring the facts, the story would go away.

    BTW, have you had a chance to review that Town Council video of your comments on who’s to pay for the road improvements for The Edge?

  4. anon

     /  March 9, 2015

    I wish the Town Council would put any money for Eubanks road for the Edge on a referendum.

    Can they do that?

  5. David Schwartz

     /  March 9, 2015

    Anon,

    Another approach is to make it possible for the town’s citizens to overturn council decisions with which they disagree. So, for example, if elected officials approve a rezoning request that is widely unpopular, the citizens would have an opportunity to go to the polls and vote to reverse it. Berkeley, CA adopted such a policy in response to the the public’s perception that their elected officials were selling them out to real estate developers.

    We, fortunately, have not yet reached the point where the citizens of Chapel Hill have lost faith in the ability of our elected officials to serve the public interest, but we seem to be moving in that direction.

  6. anon

     /  March 9, 2015

    I’m not even asking for that much oversight.
    Just if we have to approve Bonds for sidewalks,
    why don’t we get to approve Bonds for
    Road widening/reconfiguration for the Edge…

    seems kind strange to make voters approve sidewalks but not roads…

  7. bonnie hauser

     /  March 9, 2015

    Anon – you are spot on. The political trick is to put popular items on the ballot- schools, affordable housing. An uninformed voter doesn’t realize that they are really voting in a tax increase for themselves or that their vote is unnecessary to issue debt or increase taxes.

    The mayor gets away with “the cost of the bond approved general obligation financing is lower.” That’s true- its 1 basis point – or 1/100th of a percent (consider a mortgage of 4.75 vs 4.76. Its negligible and offset by the cost of the ballot process and the loss of flexibility in use of funds. Voters get to control the increase- but have no choice in how all the other funds are used. Its all politics

    Things are changing quickly – and personally I’d like to see more planning for growth, capital improvements and infrastructure -rather than distracting voters with a bond referendum.

    Imagine if leaders came face to face with voters in a town hall forum to discuss spending and difficult choices. That would be interesting.

  8. George C

     /  March 9, 2015

    Don,

    From the Approved SUP for the EDGE:
    17. Eubanks Road Improvements: That the following improvements, along the Eubanks Road
    frontage, must be constructed within a publically dedicated right-of-way, prior to the
    issuance of the second Certificate of Occupancy:
    a. A 105-foot wide right-of-way, and 89-foot wide cross-section, (or greater to provide for
    wider bicycle lanes where necessary); if deemed applicable, the Town Manager may
    approve a variable width right-of-way
    b. Through lanes, turn lanes, median, 5-foot wide bicycle lanes, standard curb & gutter and
    5-foot wide concrete sidewalk;
    c. A 5-foot wide concrete sidewalk, on the south side of Eubank Road, between the
    intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd and the easternmost edge of the existing
    sidewalk adjacent to the Chapel Watch Village development (sidewalk not required if
    adjacent to proposed Ramsley Subdivision, if Ramsley sidewalk is constructed prior to
    this development);
    d. 5-foot bicycle lane adjacent to the Ramsley Subdivision;
    e. A high visibility pedestrian crossing between the Eubanks Road south side sidewalk and
    the intersection of Street #2; and
    f. Medians wider than 4 feet shall either be planted or have pavers.
    The design must be approved by the Town of Chapel Hill and the North Carolina Department
    of Transportation (NCDOT) prior to issuance of a Zoning Compliance Permit.
    18. Eubank Road Traffic Signals: That prior to the issuance of the second certificate of
    occupancy, unless modified by an approved phasing plan, the applicant shall install traffic
    signals and provide traffic signal timing plans for the intersections of: a) Street #2 and
    Eubanks Road; and b) Eubanks Road and Public Street ‘A.’ The timing of the traffic signal
    installations is subject to approval of the NCDOT and the Town of Chapel Hill.
    19. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Improvements: That the applicant construct the following
    improvements at the Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd./Eubanks Rd. intersection within a
    dedicated public right-of-way, prior to the issuance of the second certificate of occupancy,
    unless modified by an approved phasing plan:
    • Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
    o Dual northbound left-turn lanes with 300 feet of vehicle storage.
    o Southbound right-turn lane, including 4-foot wide shoulder, including maximum
    available storage, subject to NCDOT approval.
    • Eubanks Road
    o Eastbound left-turn lane with 500 feet of vehicle storage.
    o Delineate two eastbound lanes as separate left-turn and right-turn lanes only
    • Utilize right-turn overlap signal phasing for the southbound and eastbound turn lanes
    • All required traffic signal modifications, associated with the improvements to the
    intersection shall be installed by the applicant.
    The design, including traffic signal timing, shall be submitted for approval by the NCDOT
    and the Town prior to issuance of a Zoning Compliance Permit.
    20. Construction of Public Street ‘A’:
    a. That prior to receiving the first Certificate of Occupancy for any structure located within
    Blocks ‘E’ or ‘F’, that the applicant construct, within a publically dedicated right-ofway,
    Public Street ‘A,’ from Eubanks Road to the intersection with Public Street ‘B.’
    Public Street ‘A’ shall have a minimum of:
    i. Standard curb & gutter,
    ii. Street tree plantings within a minimum 6-foot wide planting zone with structural
    soil and supplemental drainage or a minimum 8-foot wide planting zone with
    native soil,
    iii. Two 11-foot wide travel lanes,
    iv. Two 5-foot wide bicycle lanes measured from the curb,
    v. 5-foot wide concrete sidewalk on the east side,
    vi. Pedestrian crosswalks,
    vii. 10-foot wide multi-use path on the west side, with the dedication of a 76 foot wide
    public right-of-way; if deemed applicable, the Town Manager may approve a
    variable width right-of-way.
    A temporary turnaround at the western end shall be constructed and may be removed when
    the street is extended.
    b. That prior to receiving the first Certificate of Occupancy for any structure located
    within Block ‘G’, that the applicant construct, within a publically dedicated right-ofway,
    Public Street ‘A,’ from its intersection with Public Street ‘B’ to the western
    property boundary. Public Street ‘A’ shall have a minimum of:
    i. Standard curb & gutter,
    ii. Street tree plantings within a minimum 6-foot wide planting zone with structural
    soil and supplemental drainage or a minimum 8-foot wide planting zone with
    native soil,
    iii. Two 11-foot wide travel lanes,
    iv. Two 5foot wide bicycle lanes measured from the curb,
    v. 5-foot wide concrete sidewalk on the east side,
    vi. Pedestrian cross-walks;
    vii. 10-foot wide multi-use path on the west side, with the dedication of a variable
    width (approximately 76 feet wide) public right-of-way; if deemed applicable, the
    Town Manager may approve a variable width right-of-way
    21. Eubanks Road/Public Street ‘A’ Intersection: At the intersection of Public Street ‘A’ and
    Eubanks Road, within a 79-foot wide publically dedicated right-of-way, Public Street ‘A’
    shall have:
    c. One 11-foot wide lane for ingress; and
    d. Two 11-foot wide lanes for egress.
    If deemed applicable, the Town Manager may approve a variable width right-of-way.
    22. Eubanks Road Park and Ride Lot and Public Street ‘A’: That if deemed necessary by the
    Town Manager, in order to coordinate the redesign of the Eubanks Road Park and Ride Lot
    ingress and egress lanes, the construction of the portion of Public Street ‘A’ to its
    intersection with Public Street ‘B’ may occur prior to the issuance of the first Certificate of
    Occupancy for Blocks ‘E’, ‘F’ or ‘G.’
    23. Maintaining Access During Construction: The applicant shall maintain transit vehicular and
    park and ride access to the Eubanks Road Park and Ride Lot during construction activity on
    The Edge site at all times.
    24. Construction of Public Street ‘B’: That prior to a first Certificate of Occupancy for Block
    ‘G’ unless modified by an approved phasing plan, and within a 60-foot wide publically
    dedicated right-of-way, construct Public Street ‘B’ from the intersection of Public Street ‘A’
    to the eastern property line as shown on the proposed plans. Public Street ‘B’ shall be:
    e. 27 feet wide from back of curb to back of curb;
    f. Standard curb and gutter, 5-foot wide sidewalk on the south side;
    g. 10-foot wide multi-use path, on the north side; and
    h.Street tree plantings within a minimum 6-foot wide planting zone with structural soil with
    supplemental drainage or a minimum 8-foot wide planting zone with native soil,
    25. Performance Bond: Prior to commencing construction activity for required improvements in
    the public right-of-way, a performance bond shall be provided to the Town to ensure that
    improvements are in accordance with Town standards.
    26. Public Right-of-Way Dedication Plat: That prior to the issuance of a Certificate of
    Occupancy, the applicant submit a recorded right-of-way dedicated plat for all required
    public roadway improvements associated with that phase of the development. That the plat
    shall be reviewed and approved by the Town Manager and NCDOT prior to recordation.
    27. Internal Street- Public Access, Private Maintenance: Excluding Public Streets ‘A’ and ‘B’,
    all streets within the development will be privately maintained. Public access easements,
    providing public ingress and egress, to and connecting all development Blocks, providing
    access to Streets ‘A’, ‘B’ and Eubanks Road, must be recorded prior to the issuance of
    Certificate of Occupancy for the Block or phase being developed.
    28. Internal Street Design and Standards: That the design of all internal streets, including Streets
    1, 2, 3, and 4, and any streets within Block D or F, shall be consistent with complete streets
    concepts and constructed to Town standard or greater for safety, geometrics, drainage, and
    pavement design. Angle parking on streets shall have maximum angle of 45 degrees and
    shall be designed so vehicles will not back across two lanes of traffic or into pedestrian
    crossings. That the striping of Streets 2 and 4 will incorporate sharrow lane marking to
    provide bicycle connection between the Eubanks Road bike lanes, the eastern multi-model
    path in Block ‘D’ and the path along Public Street ‘A.’
    29. Internal Sidewalk Widths: Internal streets 1, 2, 3 & 4 fronting commercial space shall have
    minimum sidewalk widths of 8 feet and minimum planting zone widths of 6 feet between the
    curb and sidewalk. Sidewalks not fronting commercial space shall have a minimum width of
    5 feet. In locations not fronting commercial space, where the adjacent planting width is less
    than 8 feet, trees shall be installed and backfilled with structural soil and supplemental
    drainage.

    Also, what Nancy failed to note in her above post was that the Council was told in our work session that a $40 M bond could be issued without any increase in the CH property tax rate. She also failed to note that the renovation of the Council chamber was necessitated by its having been damaged by flooding and that the renovations included more comfortable seating and more screens so that members of the audience can better see what is being presented. And where did she get the information that the new emergency exit is only for Council members? Does it not make sense to have more than one emergency exit from a room where public gatherings are being held? And did Nancy ever contact the Mgr’s office to ask for a tour of the new facilities? I suspect they would have been happy to oblige.

    Sorry Don, I call it like I see it: Misinformation or lack of information designed to further a particular point of view.

  9. Nancy

     /  March 9, 2015

    George — No argument with what the SUP says, but during the meeting, as you can see in reviewing the video, Adam Golden said The Edge would have no affordable housing unless the council would share the cost of the road improvements and allow building in the RCD.

    I agree an extra emergency exit is a good thing. The fact that this exit doesn’t have a lighted “Exit” sign that the law requires and is hidden from view by a curtain suggests it was not put in place for the general public.

    Lastly, the town manager, even if he returned calls, has better things to do than offer tours of his office to the general public. My point was not so much whether the public could see how their money was being spent but that the budget for his suite was three times that of an equivalent space open to the public. I don’t begrudge upgrades to council chambers due to flooding. I would have been quite happy if the renovations had ended there. But in order to use Town Hall as collateral for the E-F TIF, the renovations had to go beyond council chambers. Interesting that the most expensive part of the renovation was the manager’s administrative suite.

  10. Don Evans

     /  March 9, 2015

    George
    The SUP excerpt you so graciously posted doesn’t say a thing about who will pay for the road improvements, and that is key to my argument that you and your fellow councilfolk are asleep at the wheel. Where does it say “applicant will pay for” in the document?

    It is the height of misinformation for someone who “calls it like he sees it” to cite an example as proof when he knows that it is incomplete or uses it to mislead.

  11. many

     /  March 9, 2015

    “Misinformation or lack of information designed to further a particular point of view”

    Really? George be honest now; don’t you think there are better examples of your concern in the “Form Based Coding” sales pitches branded as community input the town gave?

    The council member doth protest too much, methinks.

    To me Nancy is presenting an alternate point of view that is being attacked for veracity without addressing the points directly.

  12. George C

     /  March 9, 2015

    Don,
    The SUP says that a C of O won’t be issued unless the road improvements are made. Since the Town has not agreed to do them how do you think this project would move forward? I guess they could set up a kickstarter account.

  13. Terri Buckner

     /  March 9, 2015

    I believe the council authorized the mgr negotiate with the applicant on ‘issues of concern’ one of which is how to pay for the road improvements. The applicant was pretty clear that he couldn’t proceed without some town financing. But the council won’t have to agree if that is the staff recommendation. At that point, the applicant would not be able to proceed and everything would start over. At least, that’s the way I understood the situation from another council member.

  14. George C

     /  March 9, 2015

    Terri,
    You’re correct with the exception that with the SUP approval the applicant might now be able to line up the retail/commercial tenants that would allow them to do the road improvements without Town assistance.

  15. Fred Black

     /  March 9, 2015

    Wow, interesting exchanges. I’m just pleased as punch to learn that “a story had exposed the truth when its subject, usually a politician or greedy businessperson, accused the paper of getting facts wrong or mudslinging.” I guess a paper never ever got the facts wrong or were in fact ever mudslinging.

    Newspaper people doth protest too much, methinks.

  16. Terri Buckner

     /  March 9, 2015

    This so silly. Dialogue is good and healthy. So what if someone gets it wrong. Just clear it up and move on. This poking at each other is serving neither side with any real benefit. The community as a whole is best served when everyone (who is interested) understands what is going on. Even the council members acknowledged the process with the Edge was unduly complicated. Can we please quit all the blaming and try to accept that most everyone is doing the best they can and that means we have to talk to each other to get somewhere most can accept, if not like?

  17. Del Snow

     /  March 9, 2015

    The road improvements are linked to the provision of affordable housing. Northwood Ravin said they CANNOT provide affordable housing UNLESS the Town participates in the road improvements. He then offered: IF the town agrees to the contribution (note: of taxpayer money to a private for profit developer), Northwood Ravin will extent the time limit to obtain grant money to 10 years and, if unsuccessful, sell the land to the town for ONE DOLLAR. See video at 1:29 into the meeting

    But the approval states that if Northwood Ravin can’t secure financing for AH within 5 years, Northwood Ravin has 3 choices: request an extension to continue trying to get funding, come up with a new Council-approved plan, or sell the land for the 2016 TAX VALUE..

    If CH wants Northwood Ravin to build the affordable housing, they will have to, like it or not, hand over one million dollars plus for the road work. If the Town wants to build the housing after Northwood Ravin doesn’t get the grants (Mayor Mark kept asking about due diligence in obtaining grants, but there was nothing forthcoming) the Town will pay the tax value in 2016 (increased after the approval).

    Northwood Ravin’s claim that building in the RCD seems to hold the key to success for commercial development is sure to leave council over a barrel. On what basis will it be denied? Or,will the justification be if we want commercial, that’s what we HAVE TO do?

    Why is the discussion of resolution C and D called a development agreement? Don’t development agreements involve community input? Will the citizens have a say in the road investment or the RCD? Or are these negotiations “private?”

    One thing for sure, if I ever need a negotiator I’m calling Adam Golden of Northwood Ravin.

  18. David

     /  March 9, 2015

    What seems to be missing from this discussion is a clear statement on the part of those critical of council action of what Council SHOULD have done, given their stated goals for The Edge. George can then offer his own explanation for why this recommended course of action was not taken—other CMs may have different explanations.

  19. Nancy Oates

     /  March 9, 2015

    My sense is that the whole process was so convoluted that different council members have different understandings of what they voted for. I appreciate George engaging in a conversation on this blog. George honestly believes that taxpayers won’t have to pay for part of the road improvements. From the way the SUP and the resolutions passed, I believe town staff have lost their leverage to negotiate for that. I was pleased to see council members asking the right questions. But when the developer offered the land to the town for $1, I wish someone on council would have said, “Write that down.” The developer hasn’t even purchased the land yet. There was still plenty the developer had to give.

  20. many

     /  March 10, 2015

    What people want is for the council to stop looking at development piece by piece and communicate a unified vision.

    Stick to your guns. Why are you wavering on the goal of commercial development especially in the most attractive commercial locations?

    If you are going to unwind the spaghetti that is the town ordinances then you need to use the discipline of a framework to do so. Form based coding is a possible start but still an elementary facade compared to what is really needed.

    This wasn’t government it was gamesmanship, and the council blinked.

    Fred, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, I thank you. Carry on.

  21. anon

     /  March 10, 2015

    To George C : thanks for participating. I’m hopeful other council members are lurking since there are occasionally some good points raised.

    I think what you are sensing is that there’s a fear the developer and staff are going to ram through a development that gets huge taxpayer financed road reconfigurations . Personally, if there was going to be a development right near I-40 that DID get taxpayer financed roads and was building in an RCD I would be OK if the development looked like Southpoint – not 70% apartment buildings. Council would be better off putting out a RFP type ad saying they will pay 1$ million for roads and allow building in RCD if someone puts in a 100% commercial development near Ideal State interstate with high income residents.

    I’d also encourage you (and the council) to keep in mind that this is basically a greenfield (as Council member Ward said) and there should be no need to give away taxpayer roads and building in the RCD for it to turn into mostly apartments.

    The Edge is not ephesus fordham and council should be content to “walk away” from this..

  22. Del Snow

     /  March 10, 2015

    Anon,
    I agree with what you said, however, what can Council now “walk away” from? The SUP was approved with a significantly increased residential cap potential of 75%. There are no stipulations about efforts to obtain retail.

    I also would like to thank George for participating. I am, though, somewhat surprised by his demeaning tone because it doesn’t jive with the man that I thought I knew. I realize that he could counter that other people’s tone have not been the friendliest, but that is the price one pays when holding elective office – a basic respect and civility for your constituents – naysayers included.

  23. anon

     /  March 10, 2015

    Del – very simply council could make it clear they are willing to finance roads and build in the RCD for a 100% commercial plan. Not a dime for one with residential…

    I don’t think it’s that hard to say no, or at least it shouldn’t be…

    If the developer is willing to go ahead with their SUP approved plan with no road money and no building in the RCD than we will know the Town got taken

  24. Del Snow

     /  March 10, 2015

    Anon – I really like what you are suggesting, but the terms of the SUP allows Northwood Ravin to build in the following ranges:

    residential 43% – 75%
    retail : 15% – 44%
    Office: 6% -29%

    Council no longer can change that unless the SUP is modified. Northwood Ravin stated over and over again that they didn’t know if they could attract retail at all.
    It wlll be ironic if the Town comes up with the road money from CH’s stretched coffers, allows building in the RCD and all that is built is luxury apts with the requisite cleaners, coffee shop, nail place and casual fast food joint. AND to top the irony off, the Town (aka taxpayers) has to buy the affordable housing parcel at the 2016 tax value and get grants themselves. No commercial/no affordability/no accountability.

  25. anon

     /  March 10, 2015

    Del – has the Town legally committed to paying for roads or allowing building in the RCD? I thought they had not -…..yet…

  26. Del Snow

     /  March 10, 2015

    No, they have not. That is the subject of the private negotiations – Resolution C for the road improvements and Resolution D for building in the RCD.

  27. Annie

     /  March 11, 2015

    Here’s my take on this discussion: Those who care about Chapel Hill, and who try their best to follow what’s going on here, are disturbed by the destructive pace and tenor of development in Chapel Hill. We’ve learned through painful experience that we cannot always (ever?) trust the town’s current leadership. We see a government wildly overspending on greenfield development and high-rise redevelopment, while underspending on basic services. We see a town taking on more and more debt, encouraging gentrification while talking about affordability, and pushing its “workforce” out to less expensive places. As an aside, I find it extraordinary that the News & Observer saw fit to gut its Chapel Hill newsroom, leaving only one reporter, however able, to cover such an important and complex region of the state and the nation. We need deep reporting — the kind that takes weeks or months to do. Nancy Oates, a terrific editorial writer with a sharp nose for smelly deals, should have a twice-weekly column. George C. could resume his newspaper career (the pay wouldn’t come with campaign contributions, but then he wouldn’t need to run) and write counterpoint. We need a more informed electorate, and the town’s new web site and beefed up communications department can only present one viewpoint. If we had a working press, we might be more comfortable letting things run their course. Personally, I find it scary to feel that without us, nobody is minding the store. Nancy Oates is doing her Fourth Estate job: speaking truth to power. She should be applauded, not maligned.

  28. Runner

     /  March 11, 2015

    Annie,

    Don’t for one second call this blog journalism. This is a soap box.

  29. many

     /  March 11, 2015

    Runner,

    Don’t disrespect the origins of the humble “Soap Box” as a portable stage to rise above a crowd and make speeches. The Soap Box is democracy at its most basic; get on your soap box, and harangue the assembled listeners with your point of view.

    To paraphrase our frienemy Don Rumsfeld; you don’t question authority with the media you want, you question it with the media you have. Whatever you call this platform it is head an shoulders over the twaddle over on that other blog.

  30. bonnie hauser

     /  March 11, 2015

    Thanks Many – that’s perfect. Soap Box vs the Echo Chamber.

  31. Scott Maitland

     /  March 11, 2015

    “So what if someone gets it wrong….clear it up.”

    That sentiment is fine for a commentator on this board but not the person that is creating the editorial content to begin with especially when their flame-first apologize later husband picks up the torch.

  32. David Schwartz

     /  March 12, 2015

    Scott,

    I asked this question at the beginning of this discussion thread, and I’ll ask it again: What did Nancy get wrong? What errors of fact or of interpretation does her blog post contain?

  33. Scott Maitland

     /  March 13, 2015

    Well….besides the always present innuendo of council people being on the take or in cahoots with some developer plot….let’s start here:

    “Council members seem to have no compunction against asking taxpayers to pay more for what we value, but they won’t ask developers to contribute.”

    Developers already contribute directly and, most importantly, are bled to death by a process that stretches out for decades. More importantly, read what George C. posted…..the complaints that are lodged are answered by the requirements of the approval……

    David, I also think it’s interesting you didn’t question my retort to or censor Don for his unceasing vitriol against anyone that has an opinion that’s different than his.

    Finally, I question why we place so much weight in the opinions of two people that were surprised that so much government regulation existed that prevented them to monetize this blog. You would think that bad experience which seriously highlighted their collective misunderstanding of the economics of ANY sized business venture ( one that required no capital outlay or risk on their part as opposed to commercial property development) would have instilled in them a humility when lambasting people that are actually creating something of value in this world by taking actual risks.

  34. Nancy

     /  March 13, 2015

    Scott —

    Government regulation has nothing to do with why we don’t monetize the blog. (Governments regulate blogs but not Yik Yak?) The only way we knew to monetize this was to solicit ads, and we didn’t want to go that route, so we absorb the costs of hosting the blog. I’m never one to turn down free money, though, so if you know of a way to milk profit out of Chapel Hill Watch, I’m all ears.

  35. anon

     /  March 13, 2015

    @Scott – the developer asked for a Ton of exemptions, which is why it should stretch out and chose not to build in compliance with pre-existing zoning.

    from big things like millions for roads that their project makes necessary to “littler” things like no affordable housing, building in the RCD. Even things like not having to have underground utilities . Didn’t the recent power outages show the benefit of having underground electricity? – yet another asked for developer exemption. The town goes to decades of trouble putting together laws and development guidelines with citizen input groups and then a developer wants to ignore most of them. Even the local papers pointed out the huge number of exemptions to law/code the developer was asking for. Not the town’s fault.

    council should be prepared to walk away.

  36. George C

     /  March 13, 2015

    Annie,
    It might be a little late to resume my newspaper career. The last time I did anything like that was when I was editor of my high school newspaper. And BTW, I wouldn’t miss my Council salary since it and much more all went to local non profits last year. What I would miss is what I’ve been doing since 1999 – spending hours in meetings trying my best to make Chapel Hill a successful place to live for ALL of its citizens.

  37. David Schwartz

     /  March 13, 2015

    Scott,

    Personal attacks, whether it’s Don attacking George or you attacking Don, do not help to advance the conversation, so let’s all try to keep focussed on the substantive issues, rather than impugning each other’s character.

    I don’t have much to add to what anon says above, except to point out that developers and business folk are not the only ones taking risks. Anyone who buys a house is taking a large risk and hopes that the housing asset will at least retain its value and, even better, appreciate in value. For the vast majority of middle-class people, their house is their only major asset; they can not diversify this risk and they have no way to insure it against the possibility of neighborhood-wide or town-wide decline.

    The phenomenon of zoning was introduced largely to provide property owners, and especially residential property owners, some protection against the financial risk that land use changes “in their backyards” will lower the value of their property.

    So it’s no wonder that homeowners get agitated when elected officials, who we entrust to govern in ways that help us maintain the value of our single, undiversified, uninsurable asset, start allowing or even encouraging land use changes that homeowners fear will make Chapel Hill a less attractive place to live—by increasing traffic congestion, increasing property taxes, lowering the quality of the schools, degrading the natural beauty of the landscape—and thus lower the market value of their homes. The fears may not always be justified, but we can certainly understand why they do not welcome these land use changes and may try to prevent them. They are simply engaging in prudent risk management, as best they can.

    So if we’re going to talk about capital outlay and financial risk, let’s acknowledge that the people who have the most at risk (relative to their total financial position) from changes in the pattern of land use are local homeowners, and especially those who have resided in their homes long enough to have accumulated considerable equity. Is it any wonder that these are the folks who turn out to vote in greatest number?

  38. bonnie hauser

     /  March 13, 2015

    George – you have to admit that most of the process is reactive and important principles – like increasing the commercial tax base – are getting lost along the way. Many of us like the idea of simplifying the zoning to take unnecessary cost out of development – but not at the cost of quality or impacts.

    The council has placed itself in a difficult situation of trying to judge each project separately. Developer proposals seem to be trumping small area plans and its hard to see how projects fit with current or future neighborhoods, or how plans for recreation, transportation and services will be impacted.

    If it were a single proposal, it would be easier – but the risk of so much development at once is frightening for your citizens. Is it possible to host a legitimate town hall on the topic of development – and face the questions? Not as a campaign stunt – but as a legitimate conversation with citizens and taxpayers.

    Your elected seat gives you the right and the responsibility to decide – but important questions have not been answered- and the citizens and taxpayers have to live with your decisions long after you leave office.

  39. Fred Black

     /  March 13, 2015

    8-0 vote, what does it mean? (Lee Storrow was out of town.)

  40. Mark Marcoplos

     /  March 13, 2015

    There’s quite a bit of argumentativeness over these issues, which indicates to me that some people think it’s not very difficult to solve these issues the “right’ way. Which municipalities around the country that are somewhat similar to Chapel Hill have successfully solved these issues?

  41. David Schwartz

     /  March 13, 2015

    Mark,

    These aren’t issues that one can “solve” once and for all. They are recurring challenges for any dynamic, growing municipality. That said, I think Boulder, CO and Flagstaff, AZ are two cities we can look to for guidance. Perhaps also some of the California college towns such as Santa Cruz.

  42. bonnie hauser

     /  March 13, 2015

    Fred – maybe you didn’t understand. The point is that the council is reactive – and 8-0 was the reaction to the last development proposal. If they instead developed a plan that integrated the pieces, then developers could advance the town’s vision – with bonuses for helping with infrastructure.

    Better planning can reduce risk and improve affordability for developers and citizens,

  43. Fred Black

     /  March 13, 2015

    Bonnie, please don’t assume what I understood or didn’t understand, you are just not able to do that from me asking what I asked. Several here have stated on more than one occasion that they were happy that at least one council member “got it” when it came to development decisions. Yet, the vote was 8-0.

  44. bonnie hauser

     /  March 13, 2015

    OK Fred – then what are you talking about?

    The question was raised as to whether it was possible for council to host a town hall where citizens can get real answers to questions about development and how the shift to residential development will impact the goals of improving the commercial tax base. Plus there’s the bigger question of vision and integration.

    Adding in David’s point -that property owners have the most to gain or lose, shouldn’t they have a way to openly ask serious questions?

  45. many

     /  March 13, 2015

    Fred, Lighen up, man. Whats the matter, having a bad day? The first word in the statement was “maybe” no assumption made or implied.

    So what, the vote was 8-0 on the same night Matt announced his resignation.

    Matt Czajkowski was the only council member to question light rail, FBC and the Village Plaza short comings that gave him credibility in my book.

    Matt seemed to be the only council member that clearly understood what was in the best financial interests in the town and residents and tended to “ground” the expeditions into the weeds of confirmation bias by other council members.

    Beside that, the vehement attacks on and criticism of Matt by Ruby Sinreich cemented for me that he was making salient points in the face of the painful political group think around here.

    We may disagree, but those are the reasons I think Matt stood alone as the one council member “got it”.

  46. Fred Black

     /  March 13, 2015

    Bonnie, you wrote, “George – you have to admit that most of the process is reactive and important principles – like increasing the commercial tax base – are getting lost along the way.”

    An 8-0 vote means that George was not alone. It would seem your problem is with the entire council with regards to this development decision.

  47. bonnie hauser

     /  March 13, 2015

    OK – now I understand. I never implied George was alone – He’s opted to be a voice on this blog. I’m appealing to his interest in leadership. Why doesn’t the council want to hold a real town hall with its citizens to talk about the very important issues that are coming up.

    And approving isolated projects one-by-one – with lots of uncertainty and without an overarching vision is precisely reactive. The alternative would be a plan that connects neighborhoods, transportation, recreation and urban centers. That would make it easier for everyone to understand – including the developers.

  48. Geoff Green

     /  March 14, 2015

    According to one survey, Boulder, Colorado has the highest housing prices in the entire state of Colorado (report). Chapel Hill ranks tops in North Carolina, with average home prices half that of Bolder.

    (Calculated for four-bedroom, two-bath house.)

  49. David

     /  March 16, 2015

    Geoff,

    Mark asked for examples of cities similar to Chapel Hill that face similar challenges. Boulder is one example, and, as you rightly point out, they have their own affordable housing challenges. The question is, what are they doing about it, and what can we learn from them?

    One thing they are doing is they are getting a lot more affordable housing from new residential development (e.g., 20-25% of new units) than we are.

    More info here: https://bouldercolorado.gov/housing/affordable-housing-policy

    and here: https://bouldercolorado.gov/housing/inclusionary-housing

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