Friday, November 17, 2006

Lot 5 plans go public

After long negotiations, the Town Council is ready to present the proposed contract with Ram Development Corp. for the public's consideration. A public forum will be held at our regular meeting this coming Monday. As a member of the negotiating team, I'm very happy about where we are. We've remained true to our core principles: we are seeking through a private partner to make the downtown a great place to live--in turn enlivening the Franklin Street corridor for everyone's benefit. The proposal includes significant public space, as we've insisted on, as well as commercial space; Ram will contribute $200,000 toward programming that space. The project's design has been molded into an attractive "soft modernism" through peer review sessions with Marvin Malecha, dean of the College of Design at North Carolina State. Ram promises to invest $671,000 in public art, engaging distinguished artist Mikyoung Kim to lead that effort. The construction will be LEED-certified. Twenty-one of the 137 condo units, or 15 percent, will be permanently affordable, controlled by the Orange Community Housing and Land Trust.

The scope and terms of the proposal have changed over the course of the negotiations--largely due to rising costs to the developer, a real concern not unique to this developer. We are disappointed that the Wallace Deck component is no longer part of the proposal (though we hope that the addition of residential units above the deck can happen someday). We are also disappointed that the Town's initial proposed outlay of $500,000 to pay for underground parking for the affordable condos has grown to a maximum of $7.2 million to buy one entire level--the public level--of the two-level underground parking garage. This money would not be due until the certificate of occupancy for the garage is issued; in other words it would not be advanced with risk that the facility would somehow not be built. Within the context of a development totalling some $75 million, we believe this is a justifiable public investment in a public good.

The redevelopment of this town-owned property (which will continue to be town-owned) in a way that will contribute substantially to the revitalization of the downtown business district has been a Council priority for a number of years. We've been actively working on it for the three years that I've been on the Council. It's an accomplishment to be able to bring the project this far, and all of us look forward to hearing the public's response.

Not unrelated: Also on Monday night the Council will receive the final report of the Inclusionary Zoning Task Force, which I have chaired for the past year, with help from colleagues Cam Hill and Mark Kleinschmidt.

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