I was hoping that developers and their allies, having carried the day in the Obey Creek and, before it, the Ephesus-Fordham area, would give us a break from the steady stream of distortions surrounding these projects. Alas, ‘tis not to be.
Mark Zimmerman’s recent commentary (CHN, nando.com/1sk) is a case in point. He opens by saying there are two “camps” in the discussions about these projects: those who want to manage change and those who really don’t want change at all.
There absolutely are some who think that Chapel Hill has changed quite enough, thank you, and want no more of it – not many, but some. But the “manage change camp” in fact consists of two groups: those who want to maximize proposed developments (Mr. Zimmerman’s position) and those who want to take a more disciplined approach and optimize such changes (e.g., CHALT – Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town).
By lumping CHALT and other “optimizers” in with the no change group, the maximizers simply dismiss whatever modifications and alternatives the optimizers propose. That is what happened with Ephesus-Fordham and, again, in Obey Creek.
After mislabeling the camps, Mr. Zimmerman then called the idea that new construction projects should pay for themselves “dangerous” and claimed it illustrates how unreasonable CHALT’s opinions are. Really? It was our town staff that persuaded Town Council of the need for ever larger versions of Ephesus-Fordham and Obey Creek on the grounds that more development would help solve our budget difficulties by more than paying for itself (i.e., by generating new revenues in excess of new costs.)
Moreover, council member George Cianciolo stated in his 2013 campaign that he would encourage “increased commercial, retail and residential growth” as a way of increasing our town’s revenue to pay for the goals established in the Chapel Hill 2020 planning process.
Finally, Mr. Zimmerman himself, in a July 14, 2014, column, stated, “We need more revenues. To that end . . . Chapel Hill has approved redevelopment plans for Glen Lennox and the commercial areas around Eastgate” (i.e., Ephesus-Fordham.) Thus, CHALT did not introduce the idea that development can and should pay for itself; that has been the incessant mantra of growth proponents for the past several years.
CHALT is merely calling attention to the discrepancies between what proponents of outsized growth said development was going to do for us and what it is, in fact, doing. That’s what makes CHALT dangerous to Mr. Zimmerman. It’s also what makes CHALT such a valuable participant in development discussions and why we should support candidates (sadly, none of them incumbents running this year) who will manage growth in a way that makes Chapel Hill better, not just bigger.
Charles Humble lives in Chapel Hill.