Chapel Hill: Opinion

Jeanne Brown: 3 things you need to know about Obey Creek

Guest column

Having participated in the Obey Creek process for the past five years, I appreciate Holly Fracarro’s optimism about what is being negotiated (“Bravo Obey Creek,” CHN, However, with several weeks left before the first public hearing, important items remain in flux including the fiscal analysis and its often misunderstood $1 million annual revenue estimate.

1: Undetermined transit costs could put a big dent in the town’s net revenues. The analysis remains in “draft” form pending updated transit costs. At a Jan. 8 meeting, town business manager Ken Pennoyer said the analysis includes a “placeholder” of $157,000 for transit, but does not consider projected increases in demand.

A subsequent study by town-hired consultants shows the need for the town to purchase three buses and operate additional morning and evening buses to meet increased weekday demand. Weekend and evening service, crucial for Obey Creek’s success, have not been addressed.

Based on today’s costs of $90/hour to operate a bus (gas and driver) it would cost approximately $350,000 annually to cover additional weekday peak-time shifts alone.

The developer’s proposed transit contribution, which ranges from $10-$30K per year, is a positive step but applies only to the duration of the agreement, stopping after build out.

2: A million square feet of “flexibility” doesn’t necessarily equal $1M in net revenue. The draft analysis assumes a $1M net revenue benefit, however, this is based on a scenario that includes 327,000 sq. ft. of retail at Obey Creek. As Mr. Pennoyer noted, variations in the mix of uses will affect the town’s bottom line.

East West Partners’ current proposal guarantees minimum levels of development for three uses: retail (200K sq. ft.), office (150K sq. ft.) and residential (250 units). The remaining density (up to 1 million sq. ft.) would be at the developer’s discretion.

Should the completed development include the minimum 200,000 sq. ft. of retail and a higher ratio of office – or more likely – residential, the town’s bottom-line will be reduced by $353,000 in sales tax revenues.

Of course, a higher ratio of residential to non-residential use will affect county and school budgets as well.

3: Important questions about traffic remain unanswered. Traffic generation and road design issues remain front-and-center in these negotiations, as the town waits for NCDOT decisions, evaluates traffic projections for future redevelopment of the town-owned park and ride lot and assesses right-of-ways for future bus rapid transit.

Council member Sally Greene has asked whether area infrastructure can accommodate the projected levels of traffic that would be created by the current proposal.

Given Obey Creek’s reliance on the James Taylor Bridge and a shared main intersection with Southern Village’s Market Street, this is a complex issue that warrants careful consideration.

Scenario analysis is needed to fill in the gaps. To work out the details effectively, council would benefit from analysis of various scenarios (ie. Maximum Retail, Maximum Residential, Middle of the Road). This approach would allow them to evaluate the proposed “minimums and maximums” and ascertain whether the Development Agreement adequately addresses uncertainties inherent in an agreement that allows 1 million sq ft of “flexibility.”

Finally, inclusion of scenario-specific traffic, parking and transit information would allow Council to weigh trade-offs and set limits where appropriate.

To learn more, “” provides digestible mix of use graphs and links to the town’s fiscal analysis.