Applause for Ephesus-Fordham
Brian Wittmayer's letter on Wednesday’s Opinion page CHN, Feb. 26, tinyurl.com/lzwdvm3) presents an unfortunate reality and bleak picture of the future for Chapel Hill under its current leadership.
His idea of competing on “focus” is exactly what is driving the uniqueness out of Chapel Hill. Just look at what has happened to Franklin Street over the past few years. Franklin Street is now full of stores backed by chains with deep pockets that can withstand the real costs of time and dollars associated with trying to do business in Chapel Hill. They are good stores, but hardly unique. In reality, there is very little uniqueness left as a result of the Town Council trying to “compete” on focus and preserve the ideal of what Chapel Hill used to be.
The town needs a tax base other than its residents and it’s likely already lost the battle to retain the consumer dollars in our community, no matter what happens to Ephesus-Fordham. Durham and Chatham County have allowed and encouraged commercial development at the fringes of Chapel Hill for years. Think of the nearby stores and businesses that support Chapel Hill's populace (within 10-15 minutes of the town limits). Those companies get the Chapel Hill dollars without the hassle, Durham and Chatham County get the jobs, the revenues, and pull tax dollars out of this community – dollars the town could have had if Mr. Wittmayer and his council peers truly understood Porter's concepts from the beginning.
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I believe the residents of Chapel Hill would like to shop within the boundaries of our town if there were available options. Efforts like Ephesus/Fordham should be applauded, not blocked by the same people who have already destroyed much of the town's uniqueness by attempting to "preserve" it.
Who pays for all of this?
Town officials have unveiled a fancy way to finance $10 million in storm water and road improvements for proposed new development in the Ephesus-Fordham planning area. We can use a synthetic tax increment financing plan that involves mortgaging Town Hall. This sounds suspiciously like one of those sophisticated Wall Street inventions that blew up the world economy a few years back. But let’s not worry about that.
Whatever means of borrowing we use, we still have to pay it back. Town officials have said that the debt will be paid by the taxes on the new developments that benefit from the investment. That may be true in some narrow sense, but it’s vastly misleading.
Ordinary home and business owners pay taxes that go into the town coffers to pay for police, fire, parks, etc. The taxes paid by the new Ephesus-Fordham developments will not go for these essential services, but instead to pay off the principal and interest on the town loan. Who will pay for town services to these new developments for many years while the loan is being paid off? Ordinary taxpayers, you and me. What if the new taxes don’t come in as anticipated? What if the improvements cost a lot more than we think? (Not unusual for town projects.) That’s right, we ordinary taxpayers are on the hook for it.
Town officials have disclosed that the anticipated new taxes may lag behind the debt-service obligations, requiring more town funds to fill the gap, and that this may hold up the urgently needed new police building and waste transfer station. How about letting the citizens vote on whether paying for private developer infrastructure or these two urgent public service needs is a higher priority?
My husband and I raised our kids here. For the last 40 years we happily lived and worked in Chapel Hill (my husband a UNC philosophy professor and I a clinical psychologist). Thursday night after the“information” meeting, I had a nightmare. I dreamed that we’d have to move.
It was heartening to hear citizens raise smart, critical questions and impassioned points. But Town Manager Roger Stancil and economic development director Dwight Basset failed to give specifics, or answer questions. A suggestion was made that we follow the example of Durham; their final results were improved by adjusting their concept plan as they went along to solve problems, getting input from townspeople, council, and design/planning board members. The question: would you commit to ensuring that, once approved, such input would be possible? No answer. A business owner asked if rents of preexisting businesses would rise, forcing him out. No answer.
Bassett told us things won’t happen for several years because many of the affected businesses (eg. Whole Foods) have long leases, so don’t worry. The question: would the proposed developments be required to be environmentally sound? The reply: the N.C. legislature won’t let us require that! Case closed. Gone is the special use permit allowing the town to provide incentives to ensure architects, builders and developers incorporate environmentally sound principles saving energy and money.
The plan is faith-based financing. What happens if hoped-for revenues fail to cover our debt? What if anything of the problems that come up as the result of the developments (e.g. flood or traffic control) or of necessities (police, fire, schools, roads etc.) will be paid for by the developers as opposed to the tax payers? No answers.
The lease we can do
The Chapel Hill Town Council is currently exploring options for selling number of its properties, including the Old Town Hall and the former library building, as a means of generating revenues and securing needed investment. As it does so, the council should remember the old real estate maxim that land is the one thing they aren't making any more of.
Rather than outright sales, I urge the council to consider long-term – 50, 75, or even 99-year – land leases. These arrangements if properly negotiated, can yield as much value as an outright sale, but hold out the possibility that the town can regain ownership of the land when the lease expires. And they can also provide the town with greater control over how these properties are used down the road.
While we may not need the land now, our grandchildren are likely to. The future will be here before we know it and it would be prudent for the Council to take that into consideration as it finalizes it plans for the disposition of the town's surplus real estate.
Michael G. Parker
Wisdom of Madison
An open letter to Sens. Burr and Hagen:
Several topics have left me angry and disgusted by this administration’s actions.
1. First was the idea of placing monitors in newspaper news rooms. Whatever role they may play, the government has absolutely NO right to do such a thing. Yes, I know they have decided not to, but it would not surprise me if they bring this up again later. This would soon turn into an abridgment of the freedom of the press as they will try to control what is printed and not printed. I should add that I read the Raleigh N&O but take their editorials with major grains of salt and realize that they do spin stories. Which I why I rely on other news sources.
2. The harassment of conservative groups by the IRS is a major disgrace to this nation and our constitution. Anybody involved should be tried and fired. If this idea comes from the administration, there should be impeachment hearings. I won’t add anything to this as I am sure you have read all this in great detail.
3. Is any action being taken concerning the ongoing vote fraud actions by Acorn and its branches?
4. Finally, the continuing infringements of our right to keep and bear arms. Can these people in this administration and Congress read and understand the clear words of that amendment and their meanings. Obviously they are ALL violating their oaths to uphold our Constitution. And again, they should be impeached
I have been taking a video course in Western civilization. The more I see what preceded our Constitution, the more I appreciate the knowledge and wisdom of Madison and others responsible for that document. And the more I am alarmed by the despicable and traitorous actions of this administration. These actions MUST be stopped by the legislature.
Donald A. Holloway