Real numbers, please
Michael Parker’s column (CHN, March 30, bit.ly/1i9j3he) enthusiastically supports the town staff’s plans for the Ephesus-Fordham area. This key town commercial center does have great potential for redevelopment, but the course we are on now is full of problems that Parker glosses over.
The 1,000 or more apartments anticipated in the first phase of development may bring 3,000 new residents to the area. If we are not to have massive gridlock, most of these new daily trips will need to be on transit. We know that with the loss of federal and state funds the transit budget is already in big trouble. But the financial analysis presented by the town to show that the new development is a paying proposition does not include the town’s added costs for more transit service! Let’s have some real numbers, please.
Parker says that the form-based code (FBC) to be used in rezoning will get us what we want because it will specify building appearance and uses. But that’s not correct. This kind of zoning will not specify uses. The town has adopted the most extreme form of this kind of zoning that prevents negotiating with developers for affordable housing, managing traffic impacts, energy efficiency, or public open space. Is Chapel Hill such a desperate suitor for development that we have to give away all these opportunities to improve our quality of life and social equity?
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I agree with Parker that this is a big deal for Chapel Hill. Unless the Town Council takes the lead and fixes the fundamental problems with the plan, its a big BAD deal for our community.
The I-40 factor
“Chapel Hill has faced change before” (CHN, March 30, http://bit.ly/1sjhe9B) was a good summary of the hot button development issues our community has faced in the past decades. However the writer failed to mention the debate over the routing of Interstate 40.
I would maintain that the decision to bring I-40 to our doorstep was the single most important development in putting an end to the "village" of Chapel Hill. We have become, for better or worse, a community of high-end commuters, as well as wealthy retirees and trust funders. That mix of interests with the resident university folk has often made for a town at cross purposes.
I was new college student at Chapel Hill when the routing debate for I-40 raged. Several alternative routes had the interstate miles to the north and south of town. What we got was the direct asphalt shaft down into the heart of the Triangle. Without the routing of I-40 change still would have come, but I think it would have been slower and better thought out.
By the way, I became a commuter on I 40.
Tammy Grubb’s well-researched article “Chapel Hill has faced change before” (CHN, March 30, http://bit.ly/1sjhe9B) recounts the history of our town’s controversial change proposals.
Results have been mixed, with many worthwhile projects eventually, if grudgingly, accepted. However, she fails to mention two especially unfortunate outcomes that strike me every time I visit the Rosemary Street parking deck and the Chapel Hill North shopping center.
Rosemary Square was a wonderful mid-70s project designed by local architect Phil Szostak that could have saved downtown. Located on Rosemary Street behind the old Post Office, it would have included underground parking, a public plaza, a condominium hotel, offices, and shops. However, it was “too big” for one Town Council member (whose delaying lawsuit was dismissed as “frivolous” by the N.C. Supreme Court) and the then-newspaper editor (who hammered it in print). The project died and was replaced with the present bare-bones parking deck, with its arid concrete roof plaza.
The original Chapel Hill North shopping center was an excellent design solution to the difficult site at the intersection of Weaver Dairy Road and Martin Luther King Boulevard. It was attacked by outspoken residents of an adjacent neighborhood, on grounds that it would poison their wells, reduce their property values, and bring high traffic. The ensuing delay shot down the good proposal, and another developer then produced the unfortunate maze of commercial uses in the “hole” on the lowest part of the property.
In Chapel Hill, it’s popular to sign petitions and speak against plans in public hearings. Change threatens the status quo. The down side is that the community misses good development opportunities, forcing us to live with second-rate places. As a university community we should be able to see beyond floods of passionate, but short-sighted, negative rhetoric.
The writer is a former member of the Chapel Hill Town Council, a UNC professor emeritus of city and regional planning, and the author of “Sustainable Development Projects: Integrating Design, Development, and Regulation” (Planners Press, 2013)
Anytown USA benefits no one
I found the article “Chapel Hill has faced change before” (CHN, March 30, http://bit.ly/1sjhe9B) puzzling. Does it mean that we should blindly accept all change, just because Chapel Hill isn’t like it was in 1798?
No one who opposes the proposed changes for Ephesus-Fordham is opposed to change. We are concerned about displacing viable businesses and vulnerable residents; worsening flooding in the area; increasing traffic while simultaneously reducing parking for patrons of whatever businesses survive; and waiting 20 years before the town is able to recoup its investment if optimistic projections turn out to be true (doubtful).
Right now the area serves all of Chapel Hill and attracts out-of-town visitors to its mix of locally owned businesses and popular grocery chains. Under the E-F plan, we will see seven-story apartment buildings with chain restaurants and bars on the street level. Accessibility will be limited primarily to the 1,000 or so projected residents.
Turning Chapel Hill into an Anytown USA benefits no one, except possibly a few early developers.
Join the Youth Community Project
The Youth Community Project is dedicated to establishing environments where youth ages 14-19 can gather with their peers. Our nonprofit group intends ultimately to create a Youth Cultural Center in Chapel Hill/Carrboro, where all teens can convene to engage in creative, meaningful pursuits, in an empowering and supportive environment.
Currently, we have leased space at 115 W. Main St, Carrboro, that will provide a high-profile planning space for leadership and collaboration of the various Youth Groups in the community to become involved through collaboration in reaching our goal.
On Friday, March 28, The Youth Community Project sponsored our first Youth and Adult Ally Gathering, the coming together of the various youth groups throughout Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Following the meeting there was a young artist showcase and open mic at the Oasis in Carr Mill Mall. Performers included singer-songwriters Katie Orton, Caroline Robinson, Evan Griffith and Elayna Madden, all of whom showcased original works.