6:57 We’ll be kicking things off shortly for tonight’s meeting, which we estimate will take several decades. American Legion is currently 16th on the agenda out of 17. If you want to watch alongside us, here’s the link to the public meeting from town hall.
7:01 Mayor Pam is explaining how meeting agendas are set. And she has vertigo. Stay steady, Pam!
7:05 Did Norah Jones choose this council meeting to release a new song?
7:07 Happiest of birthdays to council members Miller-Foushee and Anderson.
7:08 Petitions! Anthony Hennage (ESAB, Friends of Bolin Creek) followed by Carol Conway
The first petition is about saving an old growth forest. Or, as I call them, woods. These are historic woods near historic I-40 and where historic UNC wants to build some health care facilities. (The original petition regarding this was created by Julie McClintock of CHALT fame.)
7:11 Second petition is about including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in placemaking activities. And encouraging the town in consider them when planning for affordable housing. People with IDD need to be integrated into the community.(Carol Conway is a retired researcher and is the current chair of Parent Advocates for Adult Children with Intellectual and/or Developmental Disabilities in North Carolina (PACIDNC))
7:15 We’ve reached the Adam Searing Tall Tales part of the evening. He’s super concerned about enabling denser housing.
7:17 Jess Anderson – nobody will lose their single-family home if they don’t want to. “This is not taking away single family zoning from anybody. ….What it does do is make it so our neighborhoods can be more diverse, more interesting. I could have had my Dad living in an ADU when he had Alzheimers….but nobody is going to be required to give up their single family home. I think it’s really important that this community continue to move forward…”
7:18 Paris Miller-Foushee – history of single-family zoning has harmed people of color and prevented them from “benefitting all that Chapel Hill offers its residents.”
TBB: The town is going to hold a public hearing in January on changes to the LUMO to allow more housing types in our single-family neighborhoods. Adam Searing warns the public that this may look innocuous but could create big changes in neighborhoods; Jess Anderson and Paris Miller-Foushee respond with strong responses about how the single-family zoning has been used to exclude people in the past and how these proposals can benefit our communities.
7:21 something something financial, something something audit
Seriously, though, we’re now on current item 12. Amy Oland reveals she gave presents to council today — hard copies of audits and the fiscal year report.
Because we can all use some good news (I think this is good news): “We issued an unmodified clean opinion for the town’s audit this year, which means we found the financial statements to be fairly presented.”
7:26 Amy Oland’s back. She’s presenting the financial report for FY22. We’re getting 11 slides in 15 minutes.
- “the debt fund finished fiscal year 22 with an increase of 3.6 million in fund balance.”
- “The transit fund added $13.3 million to fund balance in fiscal year 22.”
- We won’t be able to assess the parking fund for a few years until the Rosemary Deck opens…
- Incredibly strong fiscal year 22 due to conservative budgeting, recovery from the pandemic, and “unexpected sales tax growth”
7:37 Amy Oland suggests excess funds could go to affordable housing, LUMO rewrite, climate action, capital needs, etc.
7:39 No decisions tonight on spending the funds. More detailed discussions to happen in January.
Michael Parker: what didn’t we spend funds on earlier than maybe we should have? Excess funds are nice, but so are staff (referring to staff who recently left but weren’t replaced)
Amy O: all departments are short-staffed. It’s hard to get anything done. Hiring has been challenging. Need to discuss workload and changing dynamic of workforce after the pandemic.
Paris Miller-Foushee: what is our 5 year strategy? Need to see that before making specific choices re excess funds. Mentions radio replacement for first responders.
Camille Berry: concerned about conditions of fire engines and ladders. Wants to know what we need to function. Public is pleased with services but don’t always see possible problems happening in the background. Concerned about pay compression issues (TBB: We looked this up. Pay compression refers to new employees hired at higher salaries, which is necessary to catch up with inflation, and those salaries are close to longer-term employees whose salaries have not kept up with inflation)
Mayor Pam: would be helpful to see sales tax trends over time. Likes to see excess funds at end of the year “but not at the cost of employees and services.”
Amy Ryan: wants to see departmental request that weren’t met in recent past. Paris Miller-Foushee feels similarly, wants to take opportunity for thinking creatively about options.
7:50 Amy Oland apologies for coming up to the podium a second time, to introduce the bond order for two-third bonds. She says this one will take five minutes. Take all the time you need Amy – we love your financial wisdom.
7:52 we have some crappy public safety radios. Estimate to replace is ~$1.5 million. (that’s a lot! I hope these things have dual cassette decks like my old boom box)
7:55 Complete Communities Framework is up!
7:56 Jennifer Keesmaat is checking in remotely. Perhaps all the way from Canada, which we understand is a beautiful city near Detroit.
JK is reminding everyone about what complete communities are and what the framework is for Chapel Hill. Walkability, amenities in or close to neighborhoods, social equity drivers that should be incorporated everywhere.
JK: We should build a greenways to greenways system to enable most people to get most places by bike or foot
JK: we need denser development. Along transit corridors. On surface lots. On sites that are currently underdeveloped.
JK: Greenways + transit. That’s where it’s at. Gotta have both.
JK: Build 500 housing units per year (that’s a whole lot of new vacant apartments!)
JK: we need a natural areas strategic plan.
TBB: Benefit of this is so CHALT we mean Council doesn’t have to negotiate natural areas on a project by project basis.
JK: potential pilot projects have been put in two categories: new active transportation strategies and new development approaches.
JK: greenway system is recommended pilot project to build new transportation network. Objective is to shift from cars and enable denser development. Supports social equity, such as by subsidizes for e-bike for low-income households
JK: need to build cycling culture. Going to be a lot of spandex in stocking this holiday season.
JK: next recommended project: master planning for UNC property near Root Cellar. Planning could begin ASAP.
Parkline is another project that could be started immediately. Parkline is off 15-501 near I-40. No one knows why we started calling it Parkline.
JK: “integrating complete communities framework into the LUMO. I cannot stress enough how important this exercise is. This should not be something that takes years ideally it will take six months.” Also integrate into the FLUM.
JK: developments that meet the Complete Community framework should receive faster approval of projects
Pam: this has been a wonderful journey
Tai Huynh: What happened to North Chapel Hill project? JK: good project but staff don’t have the capacity to take that on.
Amy Ryan: for January work session would like to know what investments are needed to move this forward. A natural area strategic plan for example does not yet exist.
Jess Anderson: what’s the timeline for all this? JK: first step is creating a workplan with deliverables and timeline. Suggest doing midtown and parkline MOUs quickly. For greenways, that’s more difficult and defer to staff.
Manager Jones: engages in conversations about greenways and looking at grant proposals.
Paris Miller-Foushee: what can we do to remove barriers to staff capacity? Jones: we don’t have enough staff and would take time to hire. We have a ton of projects in the works already. Need to discuss budget needed to start midtown and parkline.
Jess Anderson: would love us to do one project at a time so we learn from it rather than trying to do two projects at once. Wants to establish this as the way we do business moving forward.
Mayor Pam steps away, not feeling well. Feel better Mayor Pam!
Adam Searing: I’ll be looking for numerical goals for miles of greenways developed and acres of park land created. Wants natural surface trails as well.
Tai Huynh: don’t care the order of pilot projects, want to do them all, just get them done. Wants more clarity on what can be done to add staff capacity to move on multiple projects at once.
TBB: town has like 17 planning projects going on at once, each of which takes staff time. And the projects aren’t necessarily aligned.
Jess Anderson and Michael Parker say nice things about the process and new conversations this has spurred. Excited about moving forward.
Amy Ryan: if we can pull this off, this will be world class planning. Current piecemeal planning is not building the city we want. JK has done her part, now it’s up to us to implement it. Need partnerships with UNC and school system.
Camille Berry: grateful we made investment in working with Keesmaat. The pilot should be a test. We may not get it right and we should learn from it, assess what we didn’t get right. Support going a little slower for that reason, not doing too many projects at once. Want to work with town attorney to ensure we are legally capable of doing it.
Karen Stegman: it’s already changing how we are working, appreciate how JK incorporate council goals into overall approach
8:50 Council passes the Complete Communities framework and initial pilot projects. Jennifer Keesmaat now retreats into the snowy Canadian wilderness, ready to help another village. Godspeed!
8:53 We’re moving onto the Transit Oriented Development and Land Use Management Ordinance (LUMO) Update.
8:56 The TOD and LUMO consultants are discussing the status of the LUMO rewrite project, right now focusing on the North-South BRT corridor. Focus of the consultant team are changes to the land-use regulations that could help support Chapel Hill’s application for federal funding for the BRT.
8:58 The LUMO rewrite consultants is preparing an “audit report” of the existing code which identifies challengers with the current code and provide options for the LUMO rewrite.
TBB: It’s important to note that projects that are heavily into parking can harm the scoring for the project.
9:00 The audit notes that the current regulations do not support the town’s goals in the comprehensive plan, much less the complete community objectives that the council approved tonight. Key concerns with the current LUMO, according to stakeholders, that should be the focus of a comprehensive update: Process, predictability, and efficiency.
9:03 Some of the consultant team’s key recommendations: Consolidate zoning districts so there are fewer that are more relevant; update the standards, and incentivize affordable housing and community benefits.
9:20 Amy Ryan is psyched about a better LUMO. Goal is better placemaking, not FTA score. (Good comments about density and greenways.)
9:25 Camille Berry thanks Deidra W-M for focusing on opportunities to raise the FTA score for the NSBRT, notes that we need to fund this project.
9:23 We are taking a break to get our brains and fingers focused for what’s coming next….the dozens of comments re: American Legion.
9:27 THE BIG EVENT – American Legion
We start with Manager Jones. Goals are to review the Legion PROPERTY Committee (LPC) recommendations
. General agreement re adding affordable housing and parking on the site, no consensus on selling part of property for market rate housing.
Recommendations are general at this point. If recommendation for affordable housing + park (and no commercial) moves forward, detailed work will be conducted on the recommendations.
Ross Tompkins, assistant town manager steps in. Describes how this would create a big ass park when combined with Ephesus Park.
8-9 acres would be for affordable housing and “consistent with Complete Communities strategy”
The pond on the property is failing, which is fascinating when you really think about it.
The fishin’ hole was not designed for stormwater management. The LPC wants to look at it in more detail to see where the pond water is coming from (We love a mystery!). LPC recommends identifying best placement for stormwater on Legion.
Next steps include assessing Ephesus Park for streams and steep slopes and developing recommendations for the Legion pond. Also, engaging advisory boards, evaluating the site and looking at infrastructure needs (water, sewer, entryway), and identifying a greenway through the site. Lots and lots of consultants to be hired, potential affordable housing developers to be sought. Public to be informed throughout!
9:41 Moving on to clarifying questions
Berry – when will steep slope determination be done? January
Public comments! 2-minute time limit because there are 35 people signed up. Note: public comments are PUBLIC.
First speaker shows a video of a pollinator garden. Which would probably fit on a 40 acre park.
Next up is Richard Mitchell, a leader of Save Legion Park. He’s complaining about the process. He is shocked.
The two-minute limitation on speakers is really messing with people, who presumably prepped for 3 minutes.
Fourth speaker says her name but I won’t repeat it. Disagrees with town staff that the pond does not serve a stormwater function. Says park space isn’t really park space if it’s too steep to be developed.
Fifth speaker loves the pond.
Sixth: beauty is slipping away in Chapel Hill. The pond is beautiful, a gem. You can enjoy is just by driving by.
^A pond somewhere
Seventh: any development should manage stormwater
Eighth: Walk on Legion every day. It’s big but you can’t build a park on the parts you can’t build housing on.
Ninth: seen a lot of changes in 44 years. In last 6 years have seen “soulless blocks of apartments.” Once it’s gone, it’s gone. We need affordable housing but it can come out of vacant apartments and unused retail space.
Tenth: I’m an old white guy. I was once homeless and slept in a sleeping bag under a piece of plastic. I get that but I want a park.
11: describes volunteers taking out invasive plants in Legion. Essential to have native plants and protect animals.
12: Wants open space preserved for future generations. We don’t have a park in this part of town. (TBB: Ephesus Park is in this part of town. Cedar Falls is less than 2 miles, which is an appropriate distance for community parks).
13: enjoy the park before and after work
14: people who want the park to be all park are not having a problem dealing with change, but are seeing the consequences of changes. Make developers pay for affordable housing.
15. Representative from Hope North Carolina and OCAHC encourages council to approve LPC recommendations. Perfect spot for AH. “…been looking for many years to find the right property to develop affordable housing for people of all ages and abilities.and the while there is land not much of it is very near public transit. and walkable.” Can build a great park and housing for “people who don’t drive people with disabilities, older adults, teachers, hospital staff and many who have been priced out of our community.”
16. This is not about affordable housing, it’s about the land. Criticizes council for not knowing how much concrete would be added to the property (TBB: which is a weird critique, since there are no plans at this point for them to know about).
17. Land was purchased for park and other uses 7 years ago, glad to see council is ready to take action. ready to “move forward with demolition of the asbestos ridden building, determine the fate of the artificially created pond, develop additional affordable housing which continues to be a huge need in our community, and finally create a product that serves all members of our community.”
18. advocating for “mixed use of affordable housing and parks.” Housing is more expensive than ever. “We can throw around words like social justice and equity. But true equity is ensuring the ability of all our friends and neighbors to lay down their head in a safe, comfortable place at night.”
19. President of the UNC Graduate and Professional Student Government. “affordable housing would affect my constituents.” (grad students at UNC). Their average rent is $1300 versus $1700 in income. High rent prices push students and staff outside of town, money that should be spent in town.
20. Pro housing + park on Legion.
21. Affordable housing is about more than just shelter. It’s environmental injustice to have affordable housing without a park as nice as parks in other parts of town. Wants entire space preserved as a park.
22. Applied ecologist. “wholeheartedly and enthusiastically endorse the recommendations of the committee.” This is a location efficient site that can help address our housing shortfall. Opportunity for multiple benefits, including a park on the site.
23. Supports LPC recommendations (housing + park on Legion). Pro pond as well! “Affordable housing is also important to the economic vitality of communities. it can support the local workforce so they can live close to their jobs. shorter commutes allow workers to spend more time with their families, while the community benefits from reduction in traffic congestion air pollution, and expenditures on roads”
24. Seems to be wearing a park + housing sticker but is Team Park Only
25. Disability rights attorney and former director of North Carolina’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. “I’m here as somebody who lives next door adjacent to Legion Park and spend a bunch of time in the air. I strongly support the proposal to allocate a parcel of that land to affordable accessible housing that the park offers inclusive community, to people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities.”
26. Only 1 in 10 people who work in Chapel Hill live in Chapel Hill. “I can say as the CEO of a living wage employer based here in Chapel Hill, with 30 staff members that most of them can’t afford to live in Chapel Hill even though they would love to live here and enjoy the wonderful amenities.” Imagine climate benefits if just a portion of 46,000 people who work here could live on a public transportation line.
27. This is a very unique opportunity that we have and Chapel Hill is built on inclusivity community and diversity and building and supporting affordable housing is a way to live our values.
28. “…urge you to not vote in support of the development of affordable housing on this land.” Love this community because of its green space. Once the land is gone it’s gone. “…being in an environment with trees and greenery helps to decrease cortisol levels stress that we experience on a daily basis. This is exactly what the Legion Park has helped to eliminate for me in the past two years.”
29. “I want to acknowledge the persons and the people here who will go home to a tent. I want to acknowledge the people here who are experiencing homelessness and who are housing insecure.”
30. Representative of OCAHC speaks in support of park + housing recommendation of the LPC. “I do not understand as I sit here, this narrative that we are pitted against each other there truly is only one group that has excluded the other. Our message has been parks plus housing, housing plus parks. …There isn’t enough housing and we’ll seize every single opportunity that we can to advocate for additional housing.”
31. “My brother my mother and me, along with 28 other families where we walk down to the same pond that everybody’s talking about. And that’s why we need to do both [a park and housing]. Until you sleep in a car all night long in the wintertime with just a comforter until you sleep at a hotel because you can’t pay outside the hotel because you can’t pay for another night. I was that person also. … We need to do both. We need to work it out.”
32. Something about a yellow billed cuckoo. Keep it all park, but “I hope that we can find some kind of compromise.” Def wants to keep the pond.
33. Compares Chapel Hill to Apex, says we are behind on parks (TBB: Apex doesn’t have an urban growth boundary like CH and can expand in all directions).
34. Support affordable housing, just not on Legion. Slow down the process and investigate other options for affordable housing.
35. “And I wanted to say that the discussion between housing and the land I think it really comes down for me it comes down the pond, and we’ve heard you know, everyone loves the park. Everyone appreciates the park, but the pond is very unique. We call it our pond, the pond.” Keep the pond and vegetation for carbon sequestration.
36. “I left for a military and came back here because I love this area but as it is now I came into force to live in a city that I love.” Pro park + housing.
Moving on to Council comment
Jess Anderson: Did not think selling off part of the property for commercial uses (as stated in the original petition) was not going to bring in sufficient funds and may impact the park, and that helped drive the compromise that the committee developed. “This side of town does desperately need a park and we did use some money to buy the Legion property with money that was for parks and a lot of this property will continue to be a park. so I feel that we have fulfilled our obligation there.” “We are going to be building more densely moving forward… ” “Every time we say we want to do affordable housing somewhere somebody comes and says I support it, but just not here. And that means we can’t do it anywhere. …and guess what? It’s going to be in a lot of somewheres. Everywhere that we own property.”
Adam Searing: Starts with a fishin’ hole story. “A few weeks ago, I was really proud to vote for nine plus million dollars for six new affordable housing projects, many of which are already under construction…” We haven’t spent enough on parks. “is it any wonder that so many people are upset when they when the one big thing we’re doing about parks is that we’re going to come in and take a third of this amazing park, drain the pond [and] build some housing on it no matter how much we need that housing?”
Tai Huynh: “In the past decade, we’ve invested yes and millions and millions of dollars, but by our own estimates, our shortfall of affordable housing is still in the 1000s of units. 80% of our renters are still cost burdened, including a lot of the ones and a lot of the apartments that are full in the Blue Hill District. So we need more housing everywhere…”
Michael Parker: “I just want to say how proud I am tonight. To be able to move forward with this resolution. I was part of the council that purchased this property. We voted on almost exactly to the day seven years ago. We actually acquired it in the following March. And it was always our intention to have a mix of uses and affordable housing was hoped to be one of those uses. And so for me personally, it’s just really rewarding and I hope many of us in our community clearly not all feel the same way that we are able to move forward with providing affordable housing for hopefully 150 families somewhere in that neighborhood.”
Amy Ryan: “I’d like to thank everybody who’s come out tonight and who came out in the past and shared their passion for parks and for ponds and forests, and for housing and for equity. That word ‘and’ is key. This doesn’t need to be an either-or discussion about who benefits and who loses. It’s about using town resources to accomplish multiple goals, as my colleagues have said, and to bring multiple good things to Chapel Hill.”
Camille Berry: “Parks: are we investing enough? I don’t think so. I really don’t. We do have park amenities that we have not invested in to maintain. That is concerning for me. Housing: congratulations to us. We just invested $9 million We need to invest more. …”
A statement from Mayor Pam, who had to leave the meeting early: “For me as mayor the purchase of the Legion property for the town is one of my proudest accomplishments. And after many years of community conversation, I’m excited to begin work to create a place that our entire community can benefit from and enjoy. Looking ahead, there will still be much work to be done. But for tonight I would like to take a moment to be grateful and to celebrate the possibilities that this property holds for our entire community for generations to come.”
Karen Stegman: “We’re talking about a park and we’re talking about housing. I do want to address we’ve heard a lot from folks about the need for housing and questioning that and I just want to say as I think some of my colleagues have already said that the data and evidence is in disputable we have housing crisis housing shortage of all types of housing, not just here across this whole country. And this goes back not only to the complete communities, but the zoning reform we’re talking about earlier. Our zoning has been exclusionary and has suppressed the development of housing. And so we need to catch up and those apartments are full. And if they’re not full yet, it’s because they just opened but they’re going to be full. We also need affordable housing. Those apartments are not making our housing more expensive is the lack of housing. So we have a responsibility to address that.”
Council votes 8-1 to approve the recommendations of the Legion Property Committee. Searing was the lone nay vote. (the mayor was not excused and thus her vote was recorded in the affirmative)
It’s the last council meeting of the year! Stay tuned for tonight’s live blog of the Chapel Hill Town Council meeting which will take place on this page. The meeting details are here. We’re hoping to stay awake until the American Legion discussion, which is slated to take place 16th on the agenda.
Here’s some pre-reading:
Why aren’t we considering the Legion site for the Complete Communities pilot?
A deep dive into the proposed changes for Chapel Hill’s LUMO