Published: Jan 08, 2012 02:00 AM
Modified: Jan 07, 2012 07:12 PM
I tell people that IP3 is our office annex, but it's true.Last month, Dwight Bassett ordered a cheese slice and talked with me about growth, taxes and driving in from Graham.Yes, Chapel Hill's economic development officer lives in Alamance County. He couldn't afford what he wanted in Chapel Hill, which meant a lot with room for woodshop. (That's his wooden arm holding up a basketball outside Spanky's, and yes, he's just as surprised it's still there as you are.)
Bassett is concerned because some residents now participating in the Chapel Hill 2020 community planning process "think it's an option not to grow the tax base." He means the commercial tax base, mostly: the kind that gives back to town and county coffers more than it takes in government services.
Last month we reported how developer Carol Ann Zinn had sold her Aydan Court site to UNC for $410,000 after buying it for just over $1 million four years ago. Zinn seethed about anti-growth activists in a guest column that is still generating letters. But many share her main point: the town's development review process drives up the cost of doing business and turns away opportunities.
We recently reported how Walmart may come to northern Chatham County and kill possible Chapel Hill plans for commercial activity in the southern part of town. When I suggested to Bassett it was another New Hope Commons in the making, his eyes widened.
"Exactly," he said.
Doesn't the development review process guarantee everyone has a voice and protect the environment?
Yes, but without more businesses paying taxes, the cost falls on homeowners. And Bassett repeats what Town Manager Roger Stancil has been saying: Chapel Hill can't ask homeowners to pay more.
"We've got to cut services just to not have a tax increase next year," Bassett said.
Bassett's job is to bring business here. He think the town can do a better job telling developers what it wants early on so that they can have a surer chance of succeeding later.
Which brings us to Rams Plaza. The new owners will be seeking town approval for renovations. But even if the 30-year old shopping center is redeveloped it will only increase the town's commercial tax base from 16 to 18 percent of the total. Without more business, the burden will still fall on homeowners.Bassett hopes Chapel Hill 2020 will lead to new and better rules, and on this he agrees with Zinn: "If 100 people show up at a meeting, they can sway things," he says. "But that's 100 people out of how many voters? ... If we really do believe in a sustainable community, it's not just about saving a tree, it's not (just) about stormwater. "There are reasons besides lot size that Bassett and others live outside town limits. In Alamance, commercial property accounts for 40 percent of the tax base. (And don't forget sales tax generated by Tanger Outlets, which pretty much killed Orange County's plans for Buckhorn Road.)
"It's an hour of my life," Bassett says, "27 miles a day (each way) I would rather give up" if he could find what he could afford in Chapel Hill.
Mark Schultz is the editor of The Chapel Hill News.