Chapel Hill: Opinion

Jean Ranc: Ephesus-Fordham plan is ‘faith-based financing’

A local businessman was complaining about the $12,000 property taxes on his Chapel Hill home compared to how little he pays for his “big house at the coast.”

Since their children have grown up and left, he and his wife must be rattling around in a home valued at some $766,000. Do the math: according to the “2013-14 Report to the Community” (p.12) by the Town of Chapel Hill, the combined town, county and Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district tax bill on a $300,000 house is $4,728.

Further, he hates our downtown with its scruffy T-shirt shops, corporate “pharmacies” stuffed with junk food and the lack of parking. So for him, downtown is just a drive-through. He also hates to go to the Europa Center because he has to park in the garage, walk across the street and take an elevator.

But he loves to shop at Southpoint, so he could care less about our local stores such as Mariakakis Fine Food & Wine and Yarn, Etc., which the rest of us treasure. And he’s all for the massive Redevelopment of Chapel Hill to “expand the tax base and increase tax revenue,” believing that it will decrease the property tax on his home.

No matter that the proposed Redevelopment will likely destroy our small businesses with higher rents and taxes while the proposed “Transit Re-configuration” for Ephesus Church Road-Fordham Boulevard, plus unspecified “storm water amelioration” is projected to cost us, the taxpayers, at least a $10 million down payment (securing a loan by pawning our Town Hall) to support it.

Not to mention that it would close the frontage road to Mariakakis and other shops, as well as, demolish a swath of homes to extend Elliott Road and connect it with an extension of Legion Road, which would wipe out the Holiday Inn ... all to make way for More & Faster Traffic.

Ah, but the proponents of this Faith-Based-Financing preach that it will be at “No cost because an Expanded Tax Base Will Increase Tax Revenue”.

Time out to look at another college town: Burlington, Vt. (pop. 42,300), home of the University of Vermont.

There, a condo within walking distance of downtown and campus is on the market for $335,000 with a property tax of $7,017. Much higher than Chapel Hill taxes despite the fact that Burlington enjoys a vibrant downtown with a pedestrian mall, a big indoor shopping center with an attached parking garage in the rear, fabulous restaurants and cafes, cool boutiques, art and craft galleries, a vintage film and performing arts theater and a walk-to co-op grocery now celebrating its 40th birthday downtown ... with residential lofts above all, in addition to restored historic and new condo and apartment buildings overlooking Lake Champlain. And not to miss this little city’s peripheral shopping centers and big box stores also generating tax revenue.

So much for “Re-development to Expand the Tax Base, Increase Tax Revenue and Reduce Property Taxes.” Meanwhile, those hardy Vermont citizens are not complaining about taxes and parking as they walk, bike and ski around their town and campus.

But when I differed with our Chapel Hill business man, he referred me to our Chamber of Commerce’s “tax facts.” Oh, so that is where all of this marketing campaign of “Redevelopment-to-

“Expand-the-Tax-Base & Increase Revenue” originated and has been endlessly propagated by our Town Manager Roger Stancil-Economic Development Director Dwight Bassett Duo ... until it now reels out of the mouths of our mayor and Town Council ... with their “2013-14 Report to the Community a veritable piece of marketing propaganda. Behold the cover photos: the “Re-imagined Rosemary” as a lovely tranquil scene, not the all-too-real West Rosemary with the pile of boring-brick-econo-boxes-over-priced-for-higher-profits known as 140 West, then the gargantuan “Shortbread” student apartments (with a 42-inch TV in each) under construction and the grandiose Greenbridge now having an “After Bankruptcy Sale”... no thanks to our Town Council, which approved them all.

Next photo: the “Obey-Creek-walk-in-the-woods”... rather than a depiction of the proposed shopping center disguised as our latest “urban village” across from Southern Village! But this one with a half-buried Big Box Store topped with sod (or astro-turf like the Raleigh North Hills Mall “playground”?), not to mention the 15-501 traffic jams it would engender.

So now the count-down to D-Day, March 24, when our Town Council – so overwhelmed by the financial leaves it can’t see the trees, never mind the forest – plans to vote whether to re-zone the whole Ephesus Church Road-Fordham Boulevard swath to “form-based-code” translated as: Fast-Track, Top-Down Redevelopment by Corporate Owners & Developers, which will destroy the Chapel Hill we’ve known and loved to replace it with yet more over-the-top buildings and leave us holding the $10 million bag and higher, not lower property taxes.

Jean Ranc is a psychologist and writer who lives in Chapel Hill.