Winding down or unraveling?

I’ve heard tales of people, upon receiving an eviction notice, vandalizingNancy Oates the very place they call home. At the Nov. 16 meeting, we saw a bit of that behavior by some council members wrapping up their terms and others anxious about the change that newly elected officials might bring.

The meeting opened with a developer who has contributed to the political campaigns of some council members proposing that town-owned land be deeded over to a private for-profit business. D.R. Bryan, developer of Southern Village, said Weaver Street Market wants to expand its outdoor dining space, and the bank won’t lend him money to do that unless he owns the land. Presumably, Bryan’s money is tied up in construction of a hotel going up along U.S. 15-501, which likely will be quite profitable for him. Southern Village would lose three parking spaces in an area that already feels squeezed by a shortage of parking.

This was the first public hearing on the matter, and it was scheduled to return to council in January for a vote. But Maria Palmer panicked and pushed for the unusual move of voting on the same night of the proposal’s first public hearing. Enough council members agreed, which is how we, the taxpayers, ended up donating town land to a for-profit developer. Jim Ward was the sole vote against the transaction.

Next up: proposed changes to the Northside Neighborhood Conservation District standards. A property manager spoke out against what he saw as an inappropriate use of the NCD to encourage affordability. Mark Kleinschmidt responded with an all-out rant. I had not seen this side of the mayor before, and I wished I hadn’t seen it last week. I give credit to the community member for standing his ground against the scolding.

The evening ended with a concept plan review of proposed self-storage units for the gateway location of the corner of MLK Jr. Boulevard and Weaver Dairy Road. The storage units would be masked on two sides by a 3-story office building, but what a commercial dead space. Several council members expressed disappointment in the use, but no one gave the developers the courtesy of letting them know that it might not be worth spending more of their investors’ resources on.

And if storage units can generate sufficient profit on expensive Chapel Hill dirt, why do developers say they can’t make the numbers work for workforce housing?

Tonight is the last meeting for this iteration of council. It will be long. Community members are peeved at the Chicago-style politics of it all. Let’s hope that council members will bring their best selves to the table tonight and leave office with their dignity intact.
– Nancy Oates

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10 Comments

  1. John Rees

     /  November 23, 2015

    Wondering if you have seen any of the plans D.R Bryan have for this proposal?
    What they have planned to improve the Market Street area is exactly what I thought CHALT seemed to be endorsing during the election. Human scale and human oriented development.
    The plan is to expand the area around weaver street for sure, but it goes on to improve the usefulness of the entire district. This will benefit the new tenant, Cpt. Ponchos, the pizza place and the entire sidewalk area. Before you quibble about the loss of 3 parking spots to improve the walk ability of the entire district, look over what they have planned.

    The biggest secret about parking in Southern village is there are lots underneath the building on the North side, under Town Hall grill and the recently rename Merlion. People don’t use them because they are not well marked. Ironically, in bad weather, these spots are better, as you can take an elevator from the lot under the places and arrive at Town Hall Grill and Merlion. Southern Village has turned into a fabulous place to live and work (I live there) I can spend an entire week without driving. The proposals will only make this district even better.

    John Rees

  2. Don Evans

     /  November 23, 2015

    John
    Maybe the “improvements” are a good idea; maybe they aren’t. I believe Nancy’s main point was that the item was introduced and voted upon at the same meeting, thereby not giving residents a chance to weigh in on the matter. Council decisions should be as informed as possible — in this case the public will not get that chance.

  3. Bruce Springsteen

     /  November 24, 2015

    I live in that general area. Admittedly I don’t know a lot about how these things work but it’s kinda weird to just read one day that there’s going to be this change near you without previously having any idea that anything was even being contemplated.

    There is a school and a daycare and other businesses on those two adjacent streets as well as the park and ride near there. A lot of people live near there too. Did any of the people involved with any of those things know this was even being considered?

    Making a few hundred flyers and walking around putting them in door handles costs ten bucks and a few person-hours. How about e-mail? You can reach even more people with less effort and essentially no cost. The SV HOAs e-mail people now and then anyway.

    I don’t know how all this operates. I have no idea how anyone would have known in advance of that TC meeting that this was going to happen. I have a vague idea that there is an agenda somewhere that can be found somewhere before the TC meeting but that’s about it. And I suspect that having that much or even less knowledge puts me in the majority.

    Pretty much everybody uses e-mail nowadays. Is there a way to have interested people receive an e-mail with the upcoming TC agenda or more generally news about things happening in town gov’t? Every other entity that wants people to know about something that’s happening manages to do so but CH town gov’t can’t manage that?

    Here’s some rough numbers off the top of my head. A postcard costs 25-33 cents. So if you send out 24,000 cards it costs you $6-8 K. If you do that just once every four years then it’s $1.5-2 K per year. And the postcard could say “Here is how to know what’s going on in town gov’t, here is how to sign up to have e-mails sent to you with TC agendas, etc.” We spend money on every other thing imaginable so why not that as well, especially since in doing so it would give the public more input in all those other things we’re already spending money on.

    But we probably don’t even need to spend money on that. There are probably even cheaper ways to get the word out.

    I’m so cynical about CH town gov’t. For as long as I’ve been following things closely, which is about 10 years, town politicians consistently say they want public input when their actions plainly indicate they don’t.

    The Town of CH has given away public land in close proximity to where I live, approving changes to nearby buildings and streets in the process, and I have no idea it’s happening until it’s done with? That is surreal.

  4. John Rees

     /  November 24, 2015

    How did I find out?

    I subscribe to updates from town on matters of interest to me. After finding out, I actually just contacted D.R Bryan and asked them. I do not know him or anyone at the firm. However, they maintain an office in Southern Village. It appears anyone can walk up and speak with them, provided they make an appointment.

    Furthermore, there were signs posted on the sidewalks of Market Street, especially outside of the Weaver Street. If anyone missed them, they must not frequent the area or were not paying attention.

    What I leaned from the experience:

    D.R Bryan maintains offices in Southern Village. In other words, they are not some out of town operation that is just here to make a buck.

    They actually let me see their plans, and were open to suggestions I and my colleagues on the Bicycle Alliance were offering them regarding bicycle parking.

    Three people from his office (including Mr. Bryan) took an hour of their time one day to discuss with us.

    I left feeling very satisfied about their interest and look forward to their final plans.

    Now, my speculation is they are sprucing things up as Obey Creek will be going up across 15-501. Seems like good good business to keep things competitive.

    I am not sure how else the town can improve communication, but it seems as though if I was able to find out, anyone can find out. I am not a town hall ‘insider’ just an active citizen in my community.

  5. Nancy

     /  November 24, 2015

    You can sign up for email updates from the town by completing the form at this link: http://www.townofchapelhill.org/town-hall/news-events/subscribe-to-town-updates.

  6. Nancy

     /  November 24, 2015

    John, my objection was that because a for-profit developer had so much of his money tied up in a money-making venture that he didn’t have the cash to invest in a second money-making venture and the bank would not loan him investment money unless he owned the land is not a problem that Chapel Hill taxpayers have to make sacrifices to solve.

  7. many

     /  November 24, 2015

    From this exchange it occurs to me that one profound change the TC might make is to offer an online “government 101” tutorial on how to participate in the process. Better guidance on how to stay informed and how government works.

    The issue here is that the current process was either violated by not having time for citizen engagement, or it was within the process because the change fell into the criteria of not being big/important enough or had minimal risk/opposition and qualified for streamlining.

    Nancy suggests there might be quid-pro-quo at work here and provides a plausible reason for that speculation. OTOH that might not be a bad thing. D.R. Bryan is a reputable developer with a clear stake in the community and has a track record of providing value. Based on that, is probably deserving (IMO) of some leeway.

    What is not clear (to me at least) is; was this change a violation of process or not?

  8. Bruce Springsteen

     /  November 25, 2015

    “How did I find out? I subscribe to updates from town on matters of interest to me,” you say?

    That kinda illustrates my point. “Subscribe to updates from the town?” What is that? Who knows how to do that or that such things exist? How do you find that out that that’s how to do it? You have to work to figure it out.

    How about a more outreach-y way? Maybe a line on the property tax bill. Maybe when you register to vote they give you a slip of paper with the details or ask you if you want to get e-mails about town gov’t. Etc. I know that if I work enough to figure it out then I can figure it out but people shouldn’t have to work for it.

    I walk up Kildare Rd every workday on my way to the Park & Ride and I had no idea the expansion was being considered.

    I don’t understand how it’s a for-profit thing. I thought Weaver St was a not-for-profit entity.

    That said, I don’t think profit or non-profit should matter. IMO around here there is too much of a “profit people bad, non-profit people good” ethic instead of simply examining each particular case and seeing what effect it has.

    I don’t think the town should just give it’s land to anyone or anything other than some sort of charity or for a park or whatever, and Weaver St Market is not those.

    It’s unclear to me if it was an outright land gift to Weaver St but if it was it seems kinda odd. If it was then will the town of CH give me some land too? Please!

  9. Other Steve

     /  November 26, 2015

    Bruce

    Politically, Chapel Hill is and has been a one-party town, for roughly forever. By any objective definition, it’s an oligarchy, an assumptive-benevolent dictatorship.

    Once an entity, profit or non-profit, becomes accepted by the power structure, who is around to object to the oligarchy granting that entity special privilege? What power structure says “whoa?”

    Unless and until the oligarchy here matures into a democracy, you’ll get more of what you have now. It’s just that simple. You’ll have to learn to live with it.

    Other Steve

  10. Mark Peters

     /  December 2, 2015

    If the process to give land away was to wait, then they should have waited, particularly with the new folks coming in.

    Regarding the rant, it seems that it was because the speaker appeared to be an investor that he was being taken to task. I don’t think that would have happened to a resident. I don’t know the details of the NCD, but the speaker seemed to have a valid point that exceptions were being made to the NCD for affordability based on the staff presentation. Maybe they didn’t codify it with those words, but the presentation made that point repeatedly. The rant was uncalled for and Mark K could have made whatever point he was trying to make (it wasn’t clear to me what he was saying because it contradicted the staff presentation) with decorum without berating the speaker, who did a remarkable job of keeping his cool.

    It reminded me of when the shelter was before council and both sides cheered for their speakers, but Mark K chose to berate the neighbors by giving pointed and prolonged lecture focused at them. He should have respectfully asked both sides to do refrain in a short request and left it at that. It was in one of the earlier meetings.

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