I noticed during the November Chapel Hill election that some candidates were asked pointedly if they had accepted financial contributions from developers. The implication was: If you are a developer, you must be bad. If you accepted money from a developer, then you must be bad.
I am a developer. I have built 12 successful developments in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham over the last 35 years. Many of you live in homes and neighborhoods that I created.
I am a developer. What is worse, recently I attempted to bring a model project with the highest environmental standards - Aydan Court - to a cherished site near a waterfowl impoundment where birds live and hunters hunt.
The Aydan Court site was a perfect location for what was planned - an environmentally sound mid-range condo development, especially appropriate for young professionals and empty nesters. It was a compact model of sustainability.
Though positive testimony was provided from world-regarded experts as to the lack of damage to the impoundment and to the Jordan Lake water supply, a highly organized opposition to the project was led by Julie McClintock and Del Snow, long-time opponents of new development.
Ms. Snow's opposition to new development is crystallized in her role as Planning Board chair, where her votes against new development are routinely overridden by the remainder of the Planning Board members.
Ms. McClintock has questioned nearly every proposal for development, advocating longer and more expensive reviews of successive iterations of plans - making all those proposals cost substantially more and take longer to approve and ultimately increase the cost of housing in Chapel Hill.
Their techniques are old and familiar: Organize using fear-based strategies and do not constructively dialogue with the developer. Do not come to concept review and advisory board meetings to voice concern and negotiate. Wait til the evil developer has spent a few hundred thousand dollars.
Then, and only then, at the eleventh hour close to a town council vote, bring in the troops - children if necessary and certainly online petitions - to pressure the council to vote your way.
Anti-development groups have been active in Chapel Hill since the late 80s-early 90s, and Ms. McClintock has been the main force behind most of them. Currently they are called "Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth." They oppose almost every development proposal by developers and the university.
Have they contributed to the dysfunctional development review process in Chapel Hill and the extraordinary length of time and cost?
Absolutely. By opposing new, medium-density housing development, they are helping to create higher-priced housing. This drives mid-range home buyers to other communities.
Here's another problem: It's called Council Concept Review. Concept Review is an important early meeting for potential new developments.
In preparing for this meeting, the developer spends about $20,000 to $30,000 and presents an overview of her project. This is the town council's opportunity to indicate displeasure before any more money is spent - money spent not only by the developer but also by the town during the prolonged review process.
Readers, by the way, the town money is YOUR money. The developer is supposed to rely on Council's Concept Review comments to decide whether or not to move ahead.
At both Aydan Court Concept reviews, most of the comments were positive, thumbs up, move ahead, you're on the right track.
And so I did. To the tune of a few hundred thousand dollars.
The development review process is severely broken, and the details of what happened to the Aydan Court project need to be made public. No one should ever have to experience what I went through.
Twice I took two different rezoning projects to the Council Concept Review (one defeated in June 2011 and the other defeated in March 2009), and twice the council comments were favorable and encouraging ("You are on the right track" was the predominate feedback from council members).
Based on that, I spent hundreds of thousand of dollars to do all that was required. This was not only my loss, but also the town's loss - not only of a model environmentally sound project, but also of vital tax revenue.
I think the rejection of Aydan Court development in June 2011 shows how fossilized, outdated, and reactionary Chapel Hill has become. The ultimate price of this will be, in my opinion, continuing higher taxes, more retail vacancies, and developers going elsewhere with their good ideas, which translates into lost tax revenue for our municipality.
Carol Ann Zinn lives in Chapel Hill.