This is in response to Mark Zimmerman’s unfortunate August 2 column (CHN, nando.com/1sk).
Mr. Zimmerman portrays those opposed to Obey Creek as opposed to development, period. That’s incorrect. Instead, the issue is whether this particular development makes sense. Mr. Zimmerman’s dismissing concerns about the fiscal impact of the plan is hard to follow. Of course there is development worth doing that would require the town to spend more to provide services than it would receive in increased revenue – for example, development addressing Chapel Hill’s deficit in affordable housing. But what are the advantages that Obey Creek would generate that would justify its imposing a net cost on the town? Mr. Zimmerman doesn’t identify any. Are we supposed simply to assume that there must be something?
Beyond these possible financial problems, concerns about the increased traffic that Obey Creek will generate are not unreasonable. Nor is it a NIMBY argument to be concerned whether a development the size of Obey Creek will worsen the problem of stormwater runoff.
Mr. Zimmerman notes that the Obey Creek project was the subject of a number of public hearings and reports from advisory boards – but was any weight given to this input? For example, the Planning Commission’s concerns regarding the financial impact of the project on the town do not appear to have affected the council’s vote on the project.
Then there was Mr. Zimmerman’s attempt to suggest that anti-immigrant sentiment somehow is behind concern for the financial impact of Obey Creek. Why does a Charlottesville organization’s linking the two subjects justify implying that CHALT does the same? If he has evidence that CHALT has come out against immigration, let him produce it. If not, he owes all your readers, not just CHALT, an apology.
Mark Zimmerman, the issue for this election is not “pro growth” vs “status quo” as you suggest in your August 2 column in the Chapel Hill News. Instead, the issue is electing town leaders who will look critically at development proposals and make the thoughtful decisions that will help the town grow in desirable ways – physically, economically and socially.
Contrary to your portrayal of a mayor and council who “listened” and “looked at many options,” it is transparently obvious that the council and staff’s goal from the beginning was to approve Roger Perry’s Obey Creek proposal substantially unchanged, despite hearing from citizens, their own Compass Committee, and town advisory boards that the project had serious drawbacks.
In terms of fostering a diverse community and economic sustainability – two issues you raised in your column – the absence of a shared vision and negotiation strategy resulted in council shifting their goals to meet the developer’s proposal as opposed to asking the developer for alternatives. Originally in favor of ensuring a mix of housing that would include families, the demographic shifted to be predominantly age-restricted. And although initially intended to increase the town’s commercial tax base, the final agreement spells out a highly residential mix with commercial coming in final phases.
Insisting on good development that meets town goals is not anti-growth; it’s responsible. On November 3, Chapel Hill voters should cast their votes for a mayor and four council members who are willing to work collaboratively to establish a shared vision, pay attention to the details that define “remarkable places” and know the difference between building whatever is proposed and building the kind of places that will make our town an even better place to live.
Council ignored input
Mark Zimmerman’s commentary regarding the recently approved Obey Creek development agreement, is grossly misleading on multiple fronts. First, he suggests that people who didn’t support Obey Creek in its current form “don’t want change at all.” Untrue; they just wanted the project to be better, not bigger – a sentiment reflected in the unanimous recommendations from the town’s 17-member Compass Committee and nine-member Planning Commission, along with 600 citizen petitioners and the majority of public comments at three Council hearings. NONE of these requested that there be NO development, just better, more rational development. The council ignored all of this input, and approved the full, 1.6 million square feet project desired by the developer.
Second, Mr. Zimmerman states that the desire for a project to pay for itself (a desire shared by the town and the taxpayer alike) will exclude housing suitable for families with children and, by clear implication, immigrant families. He expresses concern that “pay-for-itself” requirements would lead to the town welcoming only “college students or retirees.” But if Mr. Zimmerman is really concerned about these things, then why does he support the current Obey Creek design? At least 50 percent of the rental residential units in these high rises will be restricted to persons older than 55, and only 5 percent will be designated as affordable apartments. By the developer’s own admission, these are not expected to attract many families with children, and certainly will not be affordable to any significant number of workforce or immigrant families. Contrary to Mr. Zimmerman’s suggestion, it is precisely developments like Obey Creek that will prevent the more diverse community that we want.
The November elections will be critical. My vote will be for candidates who will listen to their constituents and who reflect commitment to a human-scale, fiscally sustainable, diverse university town. A number of the new candidates in this year’s race offer this commitment.
To expand public engagement with the community, the town of Chapel Hill is continuing its Chapel Hill 2020 Come Learn with Us sessions with a workshop titled “Your Guide to Successful Home Improvements in Chapel Hill.”
The workshop will focus on practical information to successfully navigate the town’s development review process for common home-improvement projects, such as decks and small additions.
The workshop will take place at 5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 13, in the Council Chamber at Town Hall, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. It will be recorded and available for future viewing on the Town’s website.
The Come Learn with Us sessions originated during the creation of the Chapel Hill 2020 comprehensive plan as a way to engage the public in complex planning topics.
Mary Jane Nirdlinger
The writer is the executive director of planning and sustainability with the town of Chapel Hill.
Activist will be missed
Steve Dear is leaving People of Faith against the Death Penalty after 18 years of excellent and challenging leadership Friends, allies and leaders in this real struggle gathered July 31 at the Chapel Hill United Church to regretfully send him off with his wife to Oregon where she has a job and he will refocus.
Dear will be deeply missed. He aggressively joined in the moral movement as a doer, speaker, troublemaker and speaker of truth to the legislative powers in Raleigh.
Bob Geary in a recent “Indy” noted the wisdom Steve gained from Thomas Merton: “Offer yourself, offer your gifts. But don’t hang your ego on the outcome. What’s much more important is the life you lead and the people around you.”
Geary also quotes Steve on 18 years at People of Faith against the Death Penalty: “I have gratitude. Deep gratitude. I’m so grateful for all the beautiful people I’ve gotten to know.”
While North Carolina has not carried out a death penalty since 2006, our current legislature is hard at work to renew and carry out executions. I believe a vast majority of readers are opposed to the pending deaths of the 148 folk currently on death row. What can and will we do to maintain the current moratorium as a reflection of Steve’s hard work and leadership in this struggle?
PFADP will need lots of help re-establishing the energy that Steve Dear has set in motion.
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