Six facts the latest CHALT blog post gets wrong

This piece was written by Melody Kramer, Caroline Dwyer, Martin Johnson and John Rees.

We hadn’t intended to spend so much time pointing out misinformation circulating in Chapel Hill, but we feel it’s important that our community have high-quality and accurate information on what’s happening with local civic affairs.

And so we head back to the American Legion plot of land.

We previously fact-checked a CHALT blog post about the property – and they’ve now published another post that contains more accusations and misleading information.

Here are six things that stand out:

1. Town Council’s current plan *is* to build a “first-class” community park on the American Legion land.

In all of CHALT’s many writings about the American Legion land, they frame the debate as “people who want to build a community park” vs. “people who don’t.”

This overlooks one important fact: the petition Town Council wrote makes clear they want to build a park on the land. It’s in their plan.

There is a need for a park in the northeast part of Chapel Hill, which Town Council clearly recognizes and explicitly acknowledges. As noted before, the council petition asks to make part of the land into a first-class park, including active and passive recreational opportunities. They also ask to  explore using a portion of the site for affordable housing and/or missing middle housing — which would then pay for the park land.

In other words, the Town Council petition WANTS A PUBLIC PARK TO BE BUILT THERE.  We ALL want a park to be built on this land. No one is against park use.

2. There is no requirement to name the entirety of the land Legion Park.

CHALT claims that the purchase agreement for the park requires that the parcel be named “Legion Park.”

The purchase agreement says “Buyer agrees, in the event the Buyer designates any of the Property as a park and any naming opportunity for the Property so designated arises, Buyer will use its best efforts to name the Property so designated as Legion Park.”

In plain English, the purchase agreement says “If you make part of the land parkspace, please try to keep that portion of the land named Legion Park.”

This is a small thing, but how we name land is important.

3. The goal of the American Legion Task Force was ONLY to consider possible parks and recreation uses for parts of the American Legion property that might be used for that purpose. They weren’t asked to discuss affordable housing.

The American Legion Task Force report continues to be used as a rationale for not including affordable housing on the land. This is misleading because the survey (and therefore the report) ONLY included options related to parks and recreation uses. People couldn’t select “affordable housing” because it wasn’t even provided as a choice.

However, there was an option to provide additional ideas by choosing “other” on the survey. And the report notes that “popular choices in the other (fill in the blank) category include affordable housing.”

The report also reminds readers that people were *only* asked potential parks and rec uses of the land. This was also noted at a Town Council meeting about the American Legion land in 2018, in which several speakers noted that the Task Force was set up to exclude anything but parks and rec uses. Many of the speakers at that meeting asked for some affordable housing to be placed on the site.

In addition, the 2013 Parks and Recreation Master Plan identified the Legion property as a potential expansion of Ephesus Park (Section 4 page 7), but never stated the entire property would be purchased to be only used as a park.

4. The 2007 article from NC Policy Watch is completely taken out of context.

CHALT brings up a quote from a 2007 NC Policy Watch article to defend their claim that affordable housing and parks aren’t mutually exclusive (except, for some unnamed reason, on this particular property). This is a mendacious misreading of that piece that distorts both intent and information. The article’s author is promoting “cluster development” as a method to preserve open space while accommodating affordable housing development.

Cluster development is a zoning mechanism that concentrates the developed parts of a property in a smaller area, thus maximizing the amount of land left undeveloped. The reason this requires a special zoning tool is because the usable parts of a cluster development usually end up being developed at a higher density than would normally be allowed under the existing zoning (because it results in the preservation of land or sensitive areas).

Conservation subdivisions are a tool used by many local governments, including Orange County, and follow the general pattern discussed in this N.C. State guide.  The NC Policy Watch article proposes applying this development pattern to affordable housing.

It does not, as CHALT implies, support a scenario where certain properties should be 100% conserved (I.e. the American Legion land) and affordable housing gets punted off somewhere else. Like Durham.

5. The Trust for Public Land uses the same methodology for every place. This is what makes it a useful tool! If they didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to compare across communities!

John Rees’ recent post on park space in the Triangle notes that the Trust for Public Land data was recently updated for Chapel Hill, and as a result, Chapel Hill ranks ahead of Durham and Raleigh in the percentage of residents who live within a 10-minute walk of a park.

TPL uses the same methodology for every place: university land *is* included, if it’s open and accessible to the public. This is true for Durham. This is true for Philadelphia. This is now true for Chapel Hill.

In November, before Chapel Hill’s data was updated to include existing park space, Adam Searing used TPL data to claim that Chapel Hill came in “dead last in park space” for our region. At the time, Chapel Hill’s data was not comprehensive or the same as the other communities being measured — and it now is.

6. Pocket parks are *NOT* included in Chapel Hill park maps and do not skew walkability data.

CHALT’s post claims that pocket parks skew walkability data on Chapel Hill’s maps.

This might be true, if pocket parks were included on town maps. But they’re not. Neighborhood pocket parks are not included on the town website, and they’re not included on the TPL website.

What CHALT’s article doesn’t tell us, however, is why they are doubling down on a misinformation campaign for the fate of a property that will have very little impact on their (primarily large lot, single family) neighborhoods.