Just because they can

Last week a man carried a loaded assault rifle into the Atlanta airport whileNancy Oates he dropped off his daughter for her flight. Georgia passed a law last year that allows permitted gun owners to carry loaded weapons in an airport, as long as they don’t go through the TSA security checkpoint. The man said he did it because he wanted to exercise his rights.

“If people are getting scared, that is their own fault,” the man said.
Whether it destroyed the sense of security and peace of mind of others in the airport was not his concern. He did it just because he could. Fortunately, airport security took seriously what was in the best interests of everyone else at the airport and followed the man until he left.

Town Council could learn from this real-life parable. Frequently developers and other private equity investors propose something to Town Council that will benefit themselves, and they give no thought to how their proposals will affect the quality of life of town residents. It is up to Town Council members to be our equivalent of airport security, setting boundaries with developers to make sure what gets built will serve the town as a whole.

In recent years, council has failed miserably. But council has the chance to redeem itself with the Obey Creek project. Last week, staff released a fiscal analysis of various iterations of Obey Creek — smaller or with a lower percentage of residential buildings — that reflected what some town residents have been saying all along.

Reducing the size of Obey Creek by a third or setting the percentage of residential square footage at no more than 50% of the total built space would net the town just as much money as the current proposal of 1.6 million square feet of built space and another 800,000 square feet of parking.

Council members are divided on whether to widen U.S. 15-501 to accommodate the traffic of the large version, and town staff say there is no money in the budget for bus service to the Obey Creek side of the road, ensuring a car-centric development.

A smaller project would reduce the traffic congestion as well as do less damage to the environment, situated as it is proposed so close to wetlands. All of this combined would make voters happier, too.

The developers are balking, understandably. A smaller project means less profit for them. It also means less risk. The developers said it would cost them $28 million to prepare the land to be able to build the large project proposed. A smaller version would require less prep investment.

Two council members have indicated already that they plan to vote for the large version of Obey Creek, despite its intractable challenges. We’re counting on the remaining six to safeguard the rest of us.
– Nancy Oates

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70 Comments

  1. Fred Black

     /  June 11, 2015

    Terri,

    You tried, but as long as these exchanges are rife with cheap shots (thanks for your contribution Deborah!) that lack factual basis and the name calling, progress is hard. Keep trying.

  2. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  June 11, 2015

    Dear Fred Black,
    Thank you for using your real name. Although I love that you use the word “rife,” I don’t think my shots were cheap at all; the Obey Creek development looks like it will cost this community plenty, as it is planned to be primarily residential. Quotes were actually quoted. The NCGA reviews bills requesting de-annexation on a regular basis, all that is needed is a sponsor and the survey description of the indicated parcels. That’s factual basis.

    Here is my April 21 contribution to the Planning Commission:
    Why is the Town breaking with its Comprehensive Plan, after spending millions to create it? The 15-501 South discussion group’s conclusions under the direction of former mayor Kevin Foy were incorporated into Chapel Hill 2020 by Council to guide development in this area.

    I realize that the Obey Creek project (like construction projects generally) has been marketed as a way to lower property taxes. However, the town population has grown by 20% in each of the last 2 decades, and property taxes (county plus town plus school) have grown about 36% 1995-2005, and 42% 2005-2015, respectively. I did not adjust for Consumer Price Index.

    As an inhabitant who is regularly caught in traffic at the James Taylor Bridge nexus (spent 15 minutes yesterday on South Columbia from Manning to 15-501, slower than walkers on sidewalk at 5:00PM), and highway gridlock between Mt Carmel Church and Manning any weekday morning between 7:20 and 9:00 (1/2 an hour to do a little less than a mile), I feel that town staff, Council, and the developer are remarkably cavalier about traffic effects. One cannot blame UNC/UNCH for moving jobs out of Chapel Hill to Hillsborough and more accessible places elsewhere.

    Finally, although this developer once coyly promised to bring a “major retailer based in Minneapolis,” we were told April 7 that there is financing for the residential portion (up to 800 dwellings), but not for retail. Perhaps that’s because the site is miles from the interstate.

    I hardly expect to be heard, but Chapel Hill’s Old Bridge, Southern Village, Hundred Oaks and the Culbreth Road neighborhoods are as hostage to traffic and rising county and school taxes as I am, and subject to rising town taxes to boot. Unlike the Obey Creek site, my neighbors and I in the ETJ pay .15/annum to Chapel Hill’s bottom line (several hundred thousand). I would hope town staff and council would consider what they are doing in the with East-West Partners, but they seem to have forgotten the original fiscal justification.

    Deborah Fulghieri

  3. Fred Black

     /  June 12, 2015

    One of the items missing on the above “many” list is when positions are muddied with falsehoods or statements that reveal no understanding of what is being written about. For me, this causes me to wonder about the validity of the other things stated. Let me use awards as an example, as I chaired the process three times. Nominations are sought from the entire community and then reviewed,and the committee prepares recommendations that get approved by the board. This is not an unusual process. But to say a young professional had no business experience misses the criteria, as it is designed to honor someone young making contributions to their profession. What does that have to do with voting or develement decisions? Nothing. Saying it just doesn’t make it true, so what else isn’t true? Sidetracking? No, it’s about inaccurate framing. David then Deborah threw out “allegations” and David then revised his. What other passionate points in his posts also need revising?

    I am tired of it all, so continue as a happy little band to call people names and make allegations you can’t support, or won’t support.

  4. Runner

     /  June 12, 2015

    Without Fred this blog will be down to only 8 people repeatedly posting their concerns about the direction of our local government. What am I going to do for internet entertainment now?

    By the way, this Blog hasn’t been relevant since Bill Strom slithered out of town.

  5. Don Evans

     /  June 12, 2015

    Runner

    I assume you don’t care about the direction our local government has taken, needing entertainment instead of facts and documentation about town decisions that affect all of us. Says a lot about your philosophy of life, but so be it.

    You seem to be among the folks who are not paying attention and therefore cannot be outraged. Or maybe you just like to ignore the facts presented by this blog on a regular basis.

    I am thankful that there is a corps of attentive people who still care about the town and who are willing to put in the time to follow what the town leaders do and dig up the facts that could make a difference. Too bad you cannot be counted among that group.

    Instead of pointless sniping, maybe you should get back to your game of Angry Birds and leave the real work to our posters.

  6. many

     /  June 12, 2015

    To belabor the point even further, ask yourself how can one tell if you’re being spoon-fed bullshit? It starts with second-guessing yourself (critical thinking). If you accept or reject data, is it because the data is accurate, or is it because it confirms your bias? In my estimation the most likely sign that the poster is using a bullshit-delivery system is lack of context. Raw data without any context is pointless.

    That is why The Storrow example is interesting, it lacks context on both sides. For Fred context is that he has “chaired the process three times”. Sadly that does not help the casual observer who can clearly see that Storrow is the only person with zero business experience receiving a “Business Excellence Award”. Further, the “criteria” being referenced is not published anywhere, and in point of fact the description of the “Business Excellence Award”. on the web page is to ”….honor the very best in business at the BEAs. The Chamber will award over a dozen exceptional businesses and leaders for their great achievements in the greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro business community” (lack of context? Inaccurate framing?), although to be fair the nomination itself mentions “non-profits”, but none of Lees non profits are mentioned. None of that changes the fact that the whole question is irrelevant and was snipe without context.

    As far as EF development and Obey Creek goes, people have provided plenty of contexts, very little of which has been refuted or even addressed by those with opposing viewpoints. Instead, the people that are from the opposite viewpoint prefer to dissemble “passionate points” rather than the important issues and effects of the developments such as inadequate infrastructure or about faces on previous standards with little or no discussion. In fact, I am still not even sure what the opposing viewpoint really is; is it “pro” development? Is reflexively defensive of the current TC? Do some people really think these two (three if you count “the Edge” are really good for the town, and that we can’t do better?

    Seriously folks, we can do better.

  7. The current issue of the Chapel Hill News features several letters to the editor regarding Obey Creek. The editor, Mark Schultz, has said in the past that he tries to publish a representative sample of the letters he receives. So, for example, if he receives twice as many letters in favor of a proposal as against, he will publish twice as many yea letters as he does nay letters.

    The current issue has six letters to the editor regarding Obey Creek. Five of them ask the Council not to approve the 1.6 million sf scenario the developer has proposed and to instead seek alternatives with fewer adverse impacts. One letter “strongly supports” approval, and that letter is written by—drum roll please—a member of the local Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

    The Council will almost certainly approve the 1.6 million sf development scenario on Monday. Our elected officials’ land use decisions thus seem more aligned with the preferences of a small minority of the local population, some of whom, like the letter writer, are not even Chapel Hill residents, and most of whom, as best I can tell, are associated with the Chamber, than with the preferences of the broad majority of their constituents.

    http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/community/chapel-hill-news/chn-opinion/article23863924.html

  8. DOM

     /  June 13, 2015

    “Our elected officials’ land use decisions thus seem more aligned with the preferences of a small minority of the local population…”

    Masterful use of scientific deduction.

    “We see what we want to see.”
    — Salvador Dali

  9. Terri

     /  June 13, 2015

    Here’s the problem as I see it. Elected officials are a group of individuals elected to serve as proxies in making decisions that impact the community. The expectation is that within the council, they individually serve as a representative sample of community perspectives. Some will have an environmental slant, some will be advocates for individual rights, some will have legal expertise, etc. Collectively, their decisions should bring some degree of consensus–not pleasing everyone but representing the majority.

    That isn’t happening. It hasn’t happened in many years–as individuals they are all intelligent, thoughtful people. But as a unit, they appear to care more about working with each other and staff than representing those who elected them. If you listen to their speeches/questions, they (most of them anyway) continue to pursue their individuals strengths and passions, but when pushed into making a decision groupthink prevails.

    As we see in Raleigh these days, there is a point of view/ideology that has taken over. I have no idea where it comes from–they each call themselves progressives, dedicated to the idea of transparent, representational government. But their actions do not align with the image they have of themselves. And citizen pushback–as we have seen beginning with Central West, into Ephesus-Fordham and now Obey Creek–on their self-image seems to entrench them further into their protective little cocoon instead of causing them to step back and reflect on what they are hearing from the public.

    I just hope that before Monday evening, they will each take some time to reflect on a couple of points. Number 1: the vast majority of the communications they have received through email, advisory boards, and public hearings is that the community wants something to go forward at Obey Creek but on a significantly smaller scale than the developer is proposing. Number 2: the citizens they have been hearing from have repeatedly pointed out the economics are more beneficial on a smaller scale and their staff finally confirmed those claims last week. Number 3: they chose to pursue this project as a development agreement because it would allow for more open communications. To ignore the many thoughtful insights the citizens have brought to them, through a process they created in order to collect those insights, is hypocritical and disrespectful of the kind of open, progressive government they claim to support.

  10. DOM

     /  June 13, 2015

    Terri –

    “Here’s the problem as I see it…”

    Let me repeat, “We see what we want to see.” Not necessarily what IS.

  11. Terri

     /  June 13, 2015

    By virtue of that response DOM, there is no IS–it’s all perception and one person’s perception has no more value than anyone elses. Unless you believe that some people count more than others…..

  12. DOM

     /  June 13, 2015

    Terri –

    Pretty heady comment. All I was saying is, just because someone thinks something to be so, that doesn’t mean it is. As Runner said, above, there are about eight people who read this stuff and keep agreeing with each other that the town council is dysfunctional and/or corrupt. That does not mean that it is actually so, nor does it mean that the vast majority of Chapel Hill citizens believe any such thing.

  13. Terri

     /  June 13, 2015

    It’s a specious argument Dom. How many people read this blog is totally irrelevant and diversionary. The number of people who turn up at council meetings, take the time to send emails, and comments from advisory boards is the relevant evidence for how the community feels about the details of the individual development plans. Since the majority of Council business is devoted to land uses, that evidence is indicative of the communities feelings about the direction the council is taking the town in.

    \

  14. DOM

     /  June 13, 2015

    It is very easy to count the numbers of people against a development because they almost always express their dissatisfaction; those NOT against it almost never speak up. To state that those who have spoken out against Obey Creek reflect the entire community’s “feelings” about the council is just not true, no matter how many times you say it.

  15. Don Evans

     /  June 14, 2015

    DOM

    Ah, the old “silent majority” canard, used by Nixon and his minions during the Vietnam War to counter anti-war protests. Just don’t listen to all those folks pointing out the inconsistencies and problems — all that extra research and analysis can’t possibly help the council make a decision that benefits everyone.

    BTW, you might want to check out the letters to the editor in The Chapel Hill News today — goes a ways to proving it’s not just the Gang of 8 here on the blog that find Obey Creek objectionable.

  16. many

     /  June 14, 2015

    DOM

    I posit that it is not so much “for and against” as it is “don’t care or don’t know vs. we can do better”. The process of awakening and information takes time and that time is extended greatly by the amount of chaff and noise over “passionate points” that obscure the important issues.

    As Don points out, that was the pattern during the Vietnam era. This same pattern is one reason we have low information voters and mostly dismal turnout.

    If you recall people were questioning the wisdom of TTAs LRT transit trophy +2 years ago, but now people are starting to pay attention because it is more real to them. I hope it is not too late.

    I have yet to hear any compelling reasons or data that counter the fundamental issues being raised about development programs that are being approved by the TC. Arguments “for” seem to have been reduced to nit-picking small peripheral inaccuracies, while staff and the TC’s deafness on the subject seems to be adding fuel to the fire.

    I guess we’ll see.

  17. Anyone interested in learning what the citizens of Chapel Hill are capable of when they determine that the town government has abnegated its responsibility to ensure orderly growth and development should read the article “Bulldozers in the Southern Part of Heaven: The Alliance Strikes Back.”

    http://www.envplan.com/abstract.cgi?id=a200435

    Perhaps this fall we’ll see a revival of the spirit of 1985.

  18. Terri

     /  June 15, 2015

    Thanks David. Whoever said history doesn’t repeat itself?

  19. Bonnie Hauser

     /  June 15, 2015

    Many – good points. I would add that rather than a serious discussion about the issues,there’s a proclivity to characterize those raising issues as “anti-development” rather than “pro-good development”.

    Marginalizing “the opposition” is a tactic of politicians. Leadership requires vision and welcomes input in order to help sort out issues and consequences,

  20. A Chapel Hill resident named John Quinterno sent the following letter to the Mayor and Town Council this morning:

    ______
    As a resident of Chapel Hill for the past 15 years and the owner of a small business based in the town, I write to ask you to oppose the proposed Development Agreement for Obey Creek.

    I have been watching this issue unfold for some time and have tried to keep an open mind, but the more information that comes to light, the harder it is for me to support the current proposal.

    I know many of my neighbors have shared with you important concerns related to the proposed project’s impacts on the environment, transit, traffic, and public finances, not to mention the project’s compatibility with the town’s long-term vision and plans. And I share those concerns.

    What I find most alarming is the extent to which the interests of one business entity have been singled out for special treatment over those of every other business in the city. In the eight years, I have operated a business in town I never have received the slightest interest from elected officials, town agencies, and town staff about my work. Yet when it comes to Obey Creek, it appears as if the entire apparatus of town government has been thrown behind the interests of one business entity. To add insult to injury, this same firm regularly receives special treatment and acts as if it knows its interests will trump those of other firms and the larger town.

    Moreover, I believe that the process used to develop the proposed agreement is consistent with a troubling model of local development that seeks to move development decisions outside of regular democratic channels, thereby resulting in a lack of citizen input, the sidestepping of established planning processes and norms, and the shifting of political and policy authority related to development from a democratically accountable elected body to an unelected town manager and staff. The result has been physical growth but community decline.

    Because it is clear to me that the town’s current path is inconsistent with what first drew me to Chapel Hill, I look at the upcoming vote on the Development Agreement for Obey Creek as a deciding issue upon which I will act when voting for local office and deciding which elected officials to support materially. That includes the elections scheduled for this fall.
    ____________

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