New beginnings

New year, new mayor, new council. New ideas, new dynamics, new proposals. Nancy Oates

With all of these new beginnings, Town Council will evaluate new development applications. Chapel Hill has only a handful of large parcels of land that would be suitable for the high-revenue commercial space we need to shift the property tax burden homeowners bear. More than 80% of the property tax revenue that feeds the town’s coffers comes from homeowners. And as most residential property costs more in services than the revenue it brings in, we dig ourselves in deeper with every new apartment building approved.

I am hopeful that council and town staff can work together on this problem, that the town’s economic development officer can recruit some businesses other than retail, bars and restaurants. We need a data center or other light industry. We need wet-lab space. We need inexpensive, flexible office space for new businesses launched at our incubators to land. And we need space suitable for a corporation’s headquarters.

Up to this point, the development that has come before council originated with whatever was most profitable for the developer. In the past couple of years, the former council approved about 5,800 new residential units. Once built and occupied, those new units will increase our population by about 20%.

It’s time to shift that mindset and recruit projects that better serve the community. Town planners can explain to potential applicants what the town needs. The town manager, economic development officer and planning staff can let developers know that we’re saturated with luxury rentals and can encourage the commercial space council likely would approve quickly.

The American Legion is looking for a buyer for its 36 acres along Legion Road. In November, the former Town Council gave up Chapel Hill’s right of first refusal to buy the land. That puts the responsibility on the new Town Council to work with any potential buyer to shape the proposed development to conform with something that will benefit the community. Any transaction of that magnitude must be a win-win for both parties.

I have confidence the new council will embrace that concept.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. anon

     /  January 4, 2016

    I hope you are right, but It’s most likely going to be a high density residential apartment thing with a shop or two (“mixed use commercial”, if I had to guess.

    Rather have lower density single family since at that location it would most likely be for commuters to RTP.

  2. It’s a shame that we’re starting off the year with one of the most reprehensible examples of backroom dealing I’ve seen from Town Council.

    What a shameful performance from the lame ducks!

    If this Council is serious about their recently renewed call for greater citizen involvement, they will admit that the previous Council made a huge mistake with the Legion deal, commit to investigating what seems to be a clear breach of open records protocol and pledge to perform their duties with better transparency.

  3. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  January 4, 2016

    That Chapel Hill 2020 charette I took part in regarding 15-501 North concluded that the American Legion property would be a good site for a future middle school as it abuts Ephesus Elementary. A 20% population increase means increased pressure on schools.

  4. anon

     /  January 5, 2016

    good point Deborah – hopefully Nancy can bring up needs for new schools with new residences

  5. anon

     /  January 5, 2016

    it’s actually land efficient to co-locate schools to share sports fields, parking lots for events, etc…. I’m guessing the school board
    didn’t consider this land in previous surveys if it was owned by a group not thought to sell it?

  6. plurimus

     /  January 5, 2016

    I believe it was earmarked for a school originally, then that plan was abandoned. That negotiation is the “why” behind the 2005 town negotiated right of first refusal.

  7. anon

     /  January 5, 2016

    not a bad location for a middle school since I don’t think there are any others in the northeast part of CH.

    Also, funny that orangepolitics most recent post is about “talking at elected officials at podiums isn’t working”

    I hope nancy continues to inform us and get input from her blog.

  8. anon

     /  January 6, 2016

    is the Town council’s agreement not to designate the american legion property more or less legally binding than
    the obey creek area not being upzoned due to southern village?

  9. David

     /  January 7, 2016

    For more background on this issue, see here:

    Some combination of parkland, middle school, and housing for public employees (especially school system employees) would be a good use for the property. (The data center or other commercial development can go on the now vacant site of the old Volvo dealership and adjacent areas; isn’t that why we passed the Ephesus-Fordham form-based code?) However, in order for that to happen, the Town will first need to deny Woodfield (the developer) a permit to build 400+ apartments on the site. Seems like a no-brainer. To paraphrase Ellie Kinnaird, the last thing Chapel Hill needs is more market rate housing.

    If the Council clearly communicates early in the process it’s disinclination to approve a permit for new market rate apartment housing on the site, the developer can choose not to waste its time and money on a formal application and lengthy review process and the American Legion can begin looking for a new buyer. They may even be willing to sell the land to the town for what it is actually worth, ie, its appraised value.

  10. DOM

     /  January 7, 2016

    David –
    I’m not sure that would be legal, would it?

  11. Nancy

     /  January 7, 2016

    What wouldn’t be legal, DOM? That’s the whole idea behind a Concept Review, to let the developers know how well a proposal meets the town’s vision, so that developers don’t invest a lot of time and money in a plan that council likely wouldn’t approve.

  12. DOM

     /  January 7, 2016

    Nancy –
    You’re probably right. I’m just trying to point out that if the town wants to buy the property for its own purposes and then sets out to reduce its value by not allowing any other reasonable development on that property, it may be seen as an illegal “taking” of that property.

  13. plurimus

     /  January 8, 2016

    I wonder if the TC giving back the right of first refusal nullified the entire 2005 agreement and allows the TC to add the land back to the land use plan?

  14. anon

     /  January 8, 2016

    there’s no legal obligation to upzone property

  15. plurimus

     /  January 8, 2016

    Right. I was referring to this agreement:


    WHEREAS, American Legion Post 6 owns property located at 1714 Legion Road in Chapel Hill; and

    WHEREAS, a proposal has been suggested to designate this property as a potential school site on Chapel Hill’s Land Use Plan; and

    WHEREAS, the American Legion has offered to provide the Town of Chapel Hill a right of first refusal on the property, should the Legion decide to sell it, in return for a pledge from the Town Council to not designate this property as a potential school site, as expressed in a letter dated March 25, 2005;

    NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Council of the Town of Chapel Hill that in recognition of the substantial community contribution that has resulted from the American Legion’s investment in this property and the Legion’s generous policy of community use over many years, and in consideration of the Legion’s offer to provide the Town with a right of first refusal for this property should the Legion decide to sell it, this Town Council pledges its intention to not designate the property as a potential school site on the Chapel Hill Land Use Plan.

    BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town Council states its appreciation for the activities of the Legion.

    This the 5th day of April, 2005.

  16. anon

     /  January 8, 2016

    so not only is it off the school site list but will put a road next to the school making the tennis courts unusable for the school and potentially cause issues for the school already there? stop the insanity

  17. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  January 10, 2016

    Just wondering, what was the substantial community contribution? Also, is it true that the lame-duck council and mayor in a November closed meeting threw away the right of first refusal granted in exchange for the Town’s keeping the property off the list of potential school sites? Why’d they do that? The American Legion gets to keep the quid when the old council hastily destroys the quo?

    What is this trend for closed meetings by public entities on matters of public interest anyway?.

  18. DOM,

    Until the property is rezoned and a Special Use Permit is approved, the owner has no vested rights to build anything beyond what current zoning allows, and without a vested right, there is no regulatory taking.

    Similarly, although the properties that lie within the Ephesus-Fordham district were upzoned when the form-based code was adopted, the owners of those properties have no vested rights to construct, say, a 90-ft apartment building until they apply for and receive a permit. Thus, if the Town Council decided this month to rescind the form-based code and revert to the previously existing zoning for the area, it would not constitute a regulatory taking and the property owners would have no grounds for suit.

  19. DOM

     /  January 10, 2016

    David –

    “…if the Town Council decided this month to rescind the form-based code and revert to the previously existing zoning for the area, it would not constitute a regulatory taking and the property owners would have no grounds for suit.”

    Is this what CHALT is encouraging town council to do?

  20. DOM,

    No, CHALT is not encouraging the Town Council to rescind the FBC. Instead, CHALT is supporting efforts to amend the FBC in ways that will provide better design guidance and that will create incentives for redevelopment to deliver community benefits, such as affordable housing, public recreation areas, and energy efficient construction.

    Read more here:

  21. DOM

     /  January 11, 2016

    Nancy –

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the September 30th letter to Council gives them 60 days to respond; that means no later than Nov. 30th. Since the new council wasn’t even sworn in till Dec 2nd, it would seem that the old council had no choice, other than to let the first refusal offer lapse?

  22. plurimus

     /  January 11, 2016


    My two cents:

    I do not think right of first refusal would have lapsed, and regardless the response would not have needed to be either affirmative or negative. the letter could have easily cited the change in administration as a reasonable cause for delay and promised a review as a early order of business in the new year.

    That decision would have of course required the outgoing mayor to let the proverbial cat out of the bag.

  23. anon

     /  January 11, 2016

    @nancy @george

    it is my impression that the developer plan has strategically placed new trees that don’t exist between the tennis courts and the ball field parking area. You can drive cars on paved road between the two areas.

    if so someone needs to call them out on that. The tennis court parking is used by lots of people at school or ballfield events. So that road would really impact people using public facilities.

    pretty sneaky.

    Also, someone should ask the developer why shouldn’t the town get paid for giving land to an apartment builder for the road?

  24. DOM

     /  January 11, 2016

    plurimus –

    Are you sure the property owner was willing to forego a golden opportunity to sign an option with an interested buyer for an indefinite period of time with the expectation that the result of the council’s vote would eventually be the same? I think some in town (perhaps a few CHALT folks?) are simply trying to find fault with outgoing council members’ decision because they can no longer speak up for themselves. I may be crazy but…

  25. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  January 11, 2016

    The Legion property has been tax-exempt for all this time. What has been its “substantial community contribution” in return for which the town kept it off the school site list and then declined to buy it?

    Here is another example of Chapel Hill cramming hundreds more dwellings without planning for schools, roads, transit. That’s why school tax and county tax are the fastest rising components of property tax, announcements regarding the Chapel Hill town portion notwithstanding. As far as I know, no planning for the Legion property (apart from CH2020) exists, and this proposal would add 50% more dwellings to the adjacent Ephesus-Fordham area, which also has no plan to accommodate transit.

  26. DOM

     /  January 11, 2016

    Deborah –

    I take it you don’t know any veterans then, or don’t think they should have a place to gather without paying outrageous property taxes. To my mind, their exemption makes a helluva more sense than exempting all the churches in town.

  27. plurimus

     /  January 11, 2016


    No matter which side of the issue you are on you have to admit the timeline and players actions stink to high heaven.

    It is not plausible that this important decision was not handed off to a new administration gracefully in the interests of the residents, particularly after a political defeat that was predicated on exactly this sort of development negotiation without community input.

  28. Nancy

     /  January 11, 2016

    DOM, I guess the previous council thought the 32 tax-exempt acres was sufficient for veterans, which may be why said council denied a sliver of cemetery land for a war memorial.

  29. DOM

     /  January 11, 2016

    plurimus –

    I agree the timing wasn’t perfect, but saying it “stinks to high heaven” is why I have a problem with many of the posts on this site: the bias is often so blatant, I find myself discounting the point of view.

    Nancy –

    Yikes! Was that memorial for Confederate veterans?

  30. Nancy

     /  January 11, 2016

    It was for more recent wars: WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq … I suggested placing it on McCorkle Place and moving Silent Sam to the Human Services grounds, the latest site for the war memorial, but no one has taken me up on that suggestion yet.

  31. plurimus

     /  January 11, 2016


    I admit bias against a leader that allows a decision like this to take place under their watch. Spite or poor judgement is the difference between Limburger and Stinking Bishop.

  32. DOM

     /  January 12, 2016

    plurimus –

    No point discussing then.

  33. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  January 12, 2016

    DOM, you are wrong, I do know some veterans. You are wrong again to raise a non-issue (whether I personally know any veterans) to obscure the town council’s granting of a favor in 2005– keeping the Legion property off the list of potential school sites at the American Legion’s request, in exchange for town’s right of first refusal), and then secretly granting the second favor of waiving that right. What was gained?

    And since you are knowledgeable, tell me what the considerable community contribution was in exchange for preventing consideration as a school site, because I don’t know.

  34. plurimus

     /  January 12, 2016

    Hi Deborah, this link may shed some light on the issues:

    If I recall correctly, prior to the 2005 agreement. the Legion felt vulnerable by being declared a school site in the LUMO. I do not know exactly why they felt this way, but some increased potential for eminent domain comes to mind.

    As far as tax exempt goes; its not a town or state thing. The American Legion is tax exempt under Section 501 (c)(19) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954.

    As far as the contribution to the community that seems beside the point since they own the property. I suspect that “contribution to the community” statement was in the resolution more to cover the political tension the situation presented. I will say that my family used to property nearby and the Legion was always “community oriented” by allowing people to use their facilities, but no more so than a church or other non profit was.

  35. DOM

     /  January 15, 2016

    Nancy –

    Is there some way to give a rough breakdown of the “5,800 units approved in the past couple of years”? I have heard that number referred to a lot but haven’t seen any specifics that back it up.

  36. DOM

     /  January 15, 2016

    Nancy –

    I have added all those up and only come up with 2354 that have been approved. Is there some way to compare my calculations with the figure you provide?

  37. Del Snow

     /  January 16, 2016

    This is what I see:
    Charterwood 154
    Burch Kove 74
    The Edge 400-700
    St Paul Vill 87
    Courtyard 64
    Bridgepoint 23
    Ramsley 13
    Carolina North 750
    Grove Park 346
    Timber Hollow 109
    Alexan 266
    Grad Apts 76-97
    Carolina Sq 246
    Glen Lennox 1187 net new
    Obey Creek 800
    So Vil apts 80

    Not on the list is the DHIC development which is approved. The total = 4675 – 4996 APPROVED. There are additional units under review and applications coming for 800 units at The Park.

  38. DOM

     /  January 17, 2016

    Del Snow –

    Thanks for the breakdown. I did not seriously consider several of the ones you mention because it seems it will be 10-15 years minimum before they are built out. Carolina North for example, as well as Glen Lennox. And isn’t Obey Creek planned over about 20 years? Finally, I wasn’t aware that The Edge project had actually gotten the go-ahead for residential construction.

  39. Del Snow

     /  January 17, 2016

    Always happy to help, DOM.

    I agree that some of the projects will build out beyond the next 5 years (I picked 5 because that is the span Woodfield used to justify the need for 400-600 apartments on the American Legion property) The problem is that OC, CN, and GL are all development agreements. A traditional SUP expires usually expires after 4 or so years. If a SUP expires, a new application can be submitted that reflects changing needs and conditions. With the DA, on the other hand, we have to be aware that a decade from now we could have an influx of thousand of new units. Real planning has to take that into account.