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What’s Happening on Elliott Road?

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March 2016 Update  The new Town Council has called a public hearing for March 14 to consider certain modifications to the Code.

The East West Partners are building a massive 90-ft. tall building on South Elliott Road that was approved by Town Manager Roger Stancil on December 31st, 2015. The project will include 266 apartments, 15,600 sq. ft. of retail and an attached parking deck. It is the first project to be approved under the form-based code adopted by Town Council for the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment district.

 Last year the Town Council rezoned 200 acres with the idea the entire area needed a face lift and that redevelopment would bring vitality and new revenues to the town.  That belief fails on both counts.  The town’s own fiscal analysis raised doubt that rezoning would bring in net revenues and Orange County commissioners expressed similar doubts. Usually developers pay a contribution for affordable housing units, and a % of road improvements for nearby intersections,  but this code allowed a free pass. It’s unlikely that these overpowering new buildings lacing in community amenities will bring new vitality. Many of us miss the large oak trees that shaded Elliott Road.

The Town Council approved a special type of zoning for the Ephesus-Fordham District called Formed Based Code.  Where this type of zoning has worked the best in the United States is when a community consensus is translated into standards for the Code.  Most people who participated in the community process to develop a small area plan did so in good faith.  They were upset to learn that under the management of the Town Manager and the oversight of the Town Council the Code did not resemble the plan endorsed by the community.   The Chamber of Commerce led  a vigorous campaign to pass the Code as they believed the highest value was a quick review process; the Chamber leadership chose not to engage with concerned citizens. As a consequence, the Code that was passed fails on all counts to meet the identified community needs.  Review time is only 45 days.  Missing are parks, green space, graceful buildings that create livable walkable spaces, affordable housing units, and community amenities.

Elliott Rd Tower                                              Benefits for a few, costs for the rest of us

 What did the community  say we wanted in Ephesus-Fordham?

  • Improved traffic flow
  • A participatory process
  • New affordable and workforce housing
  • Energy efficient buildings
  • Expanded shopping opportunities
  • Less flooding
  • More public green space and recreation areas
  • Attractive, human scale urban design (i.e., 2-4 story buildings)
  • New tax revenues that exceed new costs, i.e. office, retail,and light industrial

What are we getting?

  • Thousands of new vehicles with inadequate public transit and parking = more congestion
  • No public review for all projects going forward in this zone
  • Net loss of affordable and workforce housing (possible net loss of 118 units)
  • Old basic conventional energy standards that cost more to build and operate
  • Loss of locally owned small businesses, e.g. Plaza Dry Cleaners, Yarns Etc.,BP station, Eastgate Barber shop, Evo, Best Buy Mobile, Eco-Design Architect
  • Increased flooding when up stream projects are built
  • No new public green space, recreation areas or public amenities
  • Seven story buildings permitted in most of the district
  • Non-existent urban design yields unattractive new buildings
  • Increased taxes, because the costs of the redevelopment will exceed the new revenues. (Upscale residential apartments are not what we need.)

What are the landowners and real estate developers getting?

  • Millions of dollars worth of new land entitlements, voted for by Mark Kleinschmidt, Lee Storrow, and Donna Bell, along with incumbents Sally Greene, George Cianciolo.

What can we do now that it is passed?

  • Write to our elected officials and ask them to fix the Ephesus-Fordham zoning code; it can be fixed
  • Stay informed: Visit www. chalt.org and sign up for the CHALT newsletter
  • Spread the word: Tell your friends and neighbors what is happening and what needs to be done
  • Vote for a change: This November, vote for candidates who will ensure that new development in Chapel Hill serves the public interest. See CHALT’s endorsed candidates: CHALT.org

Read more here….Form based code is used in some communities as a way to encourage development.  It is most successful when the community embraces a vision of what the code standards will deliver.  Some communities use the code itself as an incentive for public benefits, energy efficiency and creating other community benefits.  Unfortunately, the Council adopted a poor code and eliminated all the public hearings that would have improved the final plans.

Elliott Tower Alternative StreetThis graphic was shown by the Town during the public hearing as an example of what the Code would create. Clearly the code approved by the council will not result in any thing close to this inviting streetscape.  Instead the code seems to mirror the developer’s desires and ignores the town sponsored community consensus.

 

Fiscal benefits. This proposed project is expected to generate new tax revenues. However, because it is 95% residential—and thus will add hundreds of  residents to the town’s population—it also will impose considerable new costs associated with providing government services such as schools, police, fire, etc.  It is doubtful that the proposed development will generate any net fiscal benefit to the Town for many years to come, according to the Town’s own analysis, but it will place additional strains on the town’s already precarious budget and school district finances.

Protection of our urban streams and downstream properties. Initially, Town staff promised to provide improvements to reduce existing flooding problems in the Ephesus-Fordham district. Yet the proposed apartment complex will increase impervious ground surface, i.e., ground that cannot absorb water because it is paved or built on, and so may well worsen our flooding problems. Additionally, the Booker Creek Linear Park and its surrounding impaired creek habitat lies adjacent to the site of the development and East-West Partners intends to move the Greenway to accommodate  planned road construction associated with the development.

Mitigation of traffic congestion. Elliott is a narrow, curving road that connects two major thoroughfares, Franklin Street and Fordham Boulevard. It already carries a high volume of traffic, and 270+ additional cars will add to the congestion. A weakness of the adopted form-based code is that it does not require the Town or the developer to address traffic impacts that result from new construction.

Affordable housing: Despite the public’s request that developers be required to provide affordable housing in exchange for building greater densities, Town Council declined to adopt that requirement for most of the Ephesus-Fordham district. As a result, East West Partners will not be required to provide a single unit of affordable housing in this development, and does not intend to provide any. In fact, the greater E-F plan displaces several hundred low-income households.

Public Amenities: When Council members adopted the form-based code for Ephesus-Fordham, they also declined to require developers to provide any public green space or other publicly available recreational amenities. As a result, the proposed Elliott Road development will not provide any. This development presented a great opportunity to connect new public green space to the adjacent Booker Creek Linear Park, an opportunity that now will be lost. This omission violates the Smart Growth principle that increased height and density should be balanced with additional open green areas.

Town citizens who will be affected by proposed new developments and who literally will have to pay the price of any fiscal costs that are incurred, should have an opportunity to participate in the review of development proposals. Citizens asked Council to retain the public’s right to participate in the review of proposed new developments in Ephesus-Fordham, but Council voted to surrender all decision-making authority to the Town Manager. Chapel Hill residents thus had no opportunity to review potential adverse impacts, such as increased traffic congestion and flooding that the enormous new building complex may impose on adjacent Chapel Hill neighborhoods, including Coker Hills, Briarcliff and Colony Woods.

Chapel Hill was once a pioneer and paragon of progressive urban planning, and we can be again. We know how to grow our town in ways that produce not only an attractive, vibrant public realm, but also fiscal, environmental and quality-of-life benefits. We just need to summon the will to do it and elect leaders that will insist on it.

 Town Website

Chapel Hill News Article

Chapel Hill Watch Blog – Roj Mahal

 

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