Life in the flood plain
I sit here, watching the flood waters coursing through my back yard, and rejoicing that this time they did not enter the basement as they sometimes do.
I have lived in this house, in the Booker Creek floodplain, since 1971 and have endured many floods. I am not allowed to build a small addition to my house because of the floods.
I have noticed that the frequency and severity of the floods have increased since 1971. I cannot prove that this is related to development, but every time someone does some kind of paving or other drainage-related development, my floods have increased. All such developments have touted their storm water and road “improvements.” And yet the water continues to run through my back yard.
A recent letter writer rightly asks “Who will pay for all of this?” The answer is simple.
The taxpayers will pay more in taxes and I (and my neighbors) will pay in repair bills and emotional distress.
Narrow financial interest
Mark Zimmerman could have used his column in the March 9 issue of CHN to engage in a substantive debate about the merits of the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment plan. Instead, he offered us name-calling.
Zimmerman refers to the proponents of the redevelopment plan as “advocates,” “owners,” and “promoters” while those who are raising awareness of the plan’s flaws are “antagonists” and “neophobes.” Guess which side he’s on? He dismisses those who have questioned the plan’s merits by stating “The usual parties are predicting the usual calamities.” Instead he might have noted that another group of usual parties – many of whom have a personal financial stake in the plan – are predicting the usual cornucopia of benefits for the town if the rezoning and form-based code are adopted.
If Mr. Zimmerman had bothered to speak to any of the plan’s critics, he would quickly have discovered that few if any of them are “business antagonists.” Some of the plan’s harshest critics, in fact, are managers of small business, and professional business analysts who earn their living creating tools to help businesses make better financial decisions; they oppose the current redevelopment precisely because the plan fails as a business proposition. The town staff has not yet demonstrated that it will yield any net financial benefit to the town, and could well make our municipal financial situation worse.
Similarly, the plan’s critics are open to improving the plan. Indeed, we would welcome improved traffic and storm water infrastructure and a productive use for the empty site where the Plaza Theater used to be. However, the plan in its current form advances the narrow financial interest of a few property owners and developers and does little to advance the town’s broader community development goals. We can do better, and we should.
Form base code is a way a community can be proactive about development, rather than reactive. It ensures that all the parts will fit together to create consistent, integrated, and functional design. I would like Chapel Hill, especially in the commercial, high-density areas, to get away from the discontinuity that results from each project going up as a trial balloon to run ragged through several groups of critics. Reacting, instead of pro-acting, makes a better product with more secure value for all those owning real estate around the plan area. People know what to expect as the area develops. Value is negatively affected by uncertainty. Form based code brings more certainty.
However, as part of that process, we need to also budget the money to fix old work that surrounds these small area plan development areas. The old work consists of updating sidewalk widths, adding buffers, installing traffic calming devices, crosswalks, crossing lights, planting street trees, narrowing roads, and putting in bus stops with benches. We need to really build in the green spaces, as emerald necklaces, on both sides of water courses and along sewer ways behind houses, to create a continuous, connected routes for pedestrians and cyclists. The value of everyone’s property will increase with an integrated, old with new, proactive plan. The green spaces are good for the pedestrians, good for the residents, good for the cyclists, and absorb water better.
It is very important to bring surrounding old work up to date, up to current specifications with respect to storm water and transportation. There will be little improvement in the flooding problems at Eastgate without also modifying the old work upstream, like reducing the amount of pavement in the Booker Creek, Coker Hills neighborhoods and installing rain garden swales and street water diversions with speed tables. Residents should also be encouraged, as they modify homes, to grow upward to minimize roof area.
I don’t think the one storm water catch facility the town is planning will be enough for the increasingly heavy rains climate change brings. The deluge we had last June might very well become a regular occurrence, very similar to the amount of rainfall Wilmington gets now.
Sally S.K. McIntee
Plan lacks public areas
“...an area adopts a vision for the future and expresses it by regulating how buildings relate to each other and the public areas.” Soothing words, but they don’t explain how an area adopts a vision.
Here is a second downtown planned, with no public areas (planners assumed explicitly that private owners would provide amenities for their tenants, not for the public). No space is set aside to accommodate transit, although the plan claims residents will use transit instead of cars. The sample form-based code (FBC) envisions something like Patterson Place, or the strip off 751 where Aldi is, but denser, and with U.S. 15-501 bisecting it (although the plan states that the district will be more walkable than at present).
Once approved, FBC obviates citizen AND council input. Mssrs. Zimmerman and Pease may deride the commentary of everyone who is neither town staff nor consultant as “business antagonists and neophobes,” or “the usual parties predicting the usual calamities.” In fact, the district’s many small businesses who are tenants, as well as owner/landlords who were not consulted in the run-up to presenting the plan, have expressed concerns about it.
It is one thing to boost the code as a cure-all for flooding and traffic issues in the Fordham-Ephesus area. It is another to actually read the plan to see what it would offer. And it is another thing again, to tease out the multiple proposed overlapping tax districts (for flood stabilization, possible business incubation, and paying off debt for moneys borrowed to build new roads). All of these have been thrown in together with the FBC – and Town Council is supposed to just approve the whole package? Without questions? And none from their constituents allowed either? The angels fear to tread here, without their questions answered.
The Chapel Hill Police Department will host its spring Community Police Academy beginning Wednesday, April 9. We are currently accepting applications through Monday, March 17. The Community Police Academy is an action-packed three-day event providing community members with an “inside look” at how their police department functions. The Academy is designed to increase understanding and awareness of the role of the Chapel Hill Police Department and the day-to-day life of a police officer through “hands-on” activities and engaging discussions.
The Community Police Academy is open to anyone 16 years of age or older. Students are encouraged to apply.
Anyone wishing to attend the Community Police Academy must complete an application by visiting the Chapel Hill Police Department homepage at www.chpd.us and clicking the Community Police Academy link.
Lt. Josh Mecimore