Chapel Hill News

Matt’s move is taxpayers’ loss

Nancy Oates
Nancy Oates

Monday night’s Town Council meeting, which started with Matt Czajkowski announcing his resignation and ended with the council voting to use taxpayer money to subsidize developers of the Edge, was enough to make me want to watch “The Bachelor.” In the cruel network reality show, as opposed to the one on public access TV, at least people try to make good decisions.

Clearly, Czajkowski’s decision to go to Rwanda and work for a nonprofit that provides clean water to those living a hardscrabble life is a good one for him and the poor in Africa. Czajkowski and his wife, Jill, have an opportunity to make the world a better place in conditions less harsh than those he experienced on the council dais.

Throughout his seven years on council, Czajkowski has demonstrated that he cares about his community and is loyal to constituents at all income levels. With every council vote, he routinely asks what taxpayers are getting for their money, whether it’s worth the price and how we can pay for it.

Early in his first term, when other council members voted to give themselves health and retirement benefits for life at taxpayers’ expense by slipping the item into the consent agenda, Czajkowski demanded a public discussion. Ashamed of themselves, his colleagues changed their votes. They have never forgiven him for advocating for fiscal responsibility, and they have regularly disparaged his attempts to spotlight the consequences of decisions made from their own self-interest or need to be liked.

The discussion on The Edge special-use permit that followed Czajkowski’s announcement must surely have made him feel he’d made the right call to leave before the end of his term.

Developers of the 54-acre parcel on the corner of MLK Jr. Boulevard and Eubanks Road asked for a special-use permit when they should have sought a rezoning, proposed a supplemental agreement in lieu of a development agreement, and wanted the Land Use Management Ordinance rewritten for the entire town so they could build in the protected Resource Conservation District. Brazen requests made more so by the developers’ appeal to be exempted from building height strictures, setbacks, landscape buffers, underground utilities, signage and tree-canopy ordinances, and limits on how much of the project could be apartments that don’t earn the town more money than the cost to provide services.

At first, it seemed that the council would put its foot down. Sally Greene and Mark Kleinschmidt objected to the escape clause that freed developers from providing 50 units of affordable housing. George Cianciolo asked for a definition of significant that would determine whether changes could be approved by the town manager instead of the council. Jim Ward said he would not support giving away the best development site in town without some affordable housing or sufficient revenue-positive office and retail.

Then backbones began crumbling like the Twin Towers. Czajkowski tried to stop the damage, pointing out that the developers were holding the town hostage by linking their promise to spend more time looking for affordable housing construction tax credits to the town paying for road improvements, and that the town was giving away its greatest leverage.

But his colleagues didn’t pay any attention. By the time the horse trading had ended and Kleinschmidt was congratulating council members on their tough negotiating, the council had approved a project that could leave the town on the hook for nearly $2 million in road improvements, without any guarantee that the project would bring affordable housing or earn the town more money than it costs to provide government services. And the council agreed to pay full tax value for an affordable housing site that the developers originally offered to sell for $1.

We will miss Matt Czajkowski more than his colleagues will know.

Nancy Oates writes the Chapel Hill Watch blog.