Monday, July 04, 2005

Council update: Happy Fourth, happy summer!

NOTE: The following is my latest Council listserv posting. For GreeneSpace blog readers not subscribed to my listserv, I send out messages like this after most Council meetings. You may subscribe by going to and following the instructions or by just asking me. I'm grateful to Michael Czeiszperger for hosting the listserv, and I'm as sorry as he is that it's currently down. So as an alternative, I'm posting here.

Dear friends,

At our last Council meeting before our summer break, last Monday night, we finalized the budget. As you know by now, it has been a tough process, complicated by the new Town Operations Center. We ended up with an increase of 2.9 cents per $100 property valuation. With next year's debt payment on the Town Operations Center consuming around 3.8 cents per $100, please note that if it weren't for the TOC project, the tax rate would actually have gone down. The Council very much appreciates the efforts of our citizen budget review advisory committee as well as the work of town staff in helping us reach this result.

Also from Monday's agenda, I want to highlight the inclusionary zoning initiative. In April we resolved to go forward with drafting an ordinance that will be considerably stronger than our existing regulations in requiring developments to include affordable housing. At my suggestion, we are planning to go about this important project by forming a task force of citizens with particular interests in the outcome: developers, affordable housing advocates, bankers, real estate professionals, neighborhood advocates, people who need workforce housing, etc. My sense is that this community is very aware that we need to do better, and that we want to do so. I'm looking forward to the process of coming together to create an ordinance that works.

Please take a look at this item and consider joining us in this effort--or pass it along to a friend or neighbor you think would be interested.

Library Building Committee

Many of you are aware that in 2003, we passed a $16.23 million bond referendum for expanding the public library. It passed with the highest margin of any of the bonds on the ballot, reflecting the fact that Chapel Hillians are the most avid public library users in the state--by far. Because of budget issues when the current building was built, it was too small on the day it opened. The new bond money will enable us to increase the square footage of the library from 27,000 sq. ft. to 70,000 sq. ft.

The Library Building Committee, charged with helping to select a designer for the expansion and seeing the project through, met for the first time Tuesday evening. From library director Kathy Thompson we got a good review of library's master plan and the history of the project so far. We heard from town staff members who outlined various issues and challenges that will be involved in the planning and development of an expansion on this property. The library is in a park! It is situated in the middle of Pritchard Park, which has been waiting patiently to be transformed into a park until the library building's final shape takes shape.

The project will take several years to design and construct. It's exciting to be there "from the creation" (OK, "from the re-creation"). Of course, it will be a very public process, and we will welcome your participation.

Homelessness update

On Wednesday morning I met with the work group for the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness. Our funding goal was to come up with $60,000--largely to be spent hiring a project coordinator. Orange County, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough, and the Triangle United Way all generously gave what we asked for. Our request to UNC for $10,000 has not met with a response, though, so the funding we have now is $50,000. But we are still able to go ahead and solicit applications for a project coordinator for the process of creating our 10-year plan to end homelessness. By early fall, we hope to have a steering committee in place.

At Wednesday morning's meeting, we accepted an invitation to participate in a class project in UNC's School of Public Health next year. The two-semester class is called "An Action-Oriented Community Diagnosis Including Secondary Data Analysis and Qualitative Data Collection." Despite the name, it promises to be a productive way to get real, meaningful information about our homeless population and to encourage them to become more involved in the community. The best way to understand what we stand to gain from it is to see the results of a similar class conducted in Durham.

This collaboration will help us get off to a good start in achieving a real understanding of who our homeless are, what their needs are, and how those needs can best be met. I thank Kate Shirah of the School of Public Health for her presentation this morning. She said there was a lot of interest among different community groups in participating in the class, that there was only one slot left this year, and that she was saving it to see if we wanted it. I'm grateful for that.

Lot 5 & Wallace deck architecture summit

For two hours on Wednesday afternoon, the Council met again in a work session with members of the Ram Development team for more discussion about architecture. As promised, they presented us with a series of photos of various styles of urban mixed-use developments as a way of trying to get a sense of what we liked. I was not sure this process was going to be very productive--it seemed like a was a good way to ensure that we went down the road of generic, derivative architecture--but I think it was good in that the Ram team now has a clearer sense of our collective aesthetic sense.

We don't agree on everything, but we mainly do agree on the following: we don't want neotraditional, we don't want postmodern, either of which style ends up in fakery. Thumbs down on a building designed to look as if it were once an old warehouse. Many cities have old warehouses that are morphing into condos--Chicago, where I've just been, is full of them--but that's not for us. What we do want is design that is real: exposed steel beams are fine, for example (whereas nonfunctional columns making statements in the neat postmodern way are not). We like texture (wood is a nice complement) and warm colors. As I said to the Ram folks, trying to synthesize what we were hearing, I think that we have a basically modernist sensibility. I've said a little more elsewhere.

Nothing is anywhere near settled yet, but I'm confident that we're headed in the right direction. The team that will be negotiating the development agreement with Ram--which I'm on--will meet over the rest of the summer. The Ram folks will be back in September to the full Council with design sketches for consideration. I've heard from many of you who are as interested as I am in the success of this project; thanks for your comments. Please stay involved, and continue to let me know your thoughts.

Thanks as always for your interest in all that's going on here in Chapel Hill, and happy summer!

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