Published: Mar 09, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Mar 09, 2013 08:43 PM
So now job creators are the problem.
The recent approval of the University Square redevelopment was a watershed moment for Franklin Street. It brought out the best in the Chapel Hill Town Council, underscoring its commitment to downtowns revival. Unfortunately, it also brought out the worst in the approval process and at least some council members attitudes about business.
The existing building will be torn down and quadrupled in size. 123 West Franklin Street (as the new buildings will be called) will have more retail, more office space, more parking and new apartments. This will considerably increase sales and property tax dollars to the town, and, importantly, bring more people to Franklin Street both to work and to live.
To gain approval, the developer needed a special use permit, which Chapel Hill requires for almost all new developments. The SUP process invites micromanagement and worse. The council is in control, although sometimes, council members cant control themselves.
One of the few controversies in this project involved affordable housing. That may seem odd since apartments are exempt from affordable-housing requirements and 123 West Franklin will only have rental housing designed for grad students and young faculty.
That creates a problem for the council, though, since its sole affordable housing strategy is to force developers to provide new units. Thats where the SUP approval process comes in handy. It gives the council leverage to exact additional concessions.
In the case of 123 West Franklin, the developer initially volunteered a $60,000 contribution to affordable housing. Last fall the council asked for more, so in last months final hearing the developer offered a 50 percent increase to $90,000. That still didnt satisfy some council members.
One disappointed councilman contrasted the project with others from which the council had extracted a larger payoff, and then proposed an amount over $100,000. Another was both shocked and disappointed, and thought $90,000 every year for five years sounds right. A third wanted subsidies equal to a third of the projected rents for an unspecified number of units for the next 10 years.
The dazed applicant paused to consult with his university backers, and then agreed to $250,000 over five years. Minutes later the council granted the SUP.
The developer must have felt like an honest, hard-working merchant whose cost of business just increased because some wiseguy demanded protection money.
Adding salt to the wound, two council members publicly castigated the developer and the university for exacerbating the affordable-housing shortage, because a few of 123 West Franklins many new employees may not earn enough to live in Chapel Hill.
Those council members had the gall to criticize good people investing millions to improve our community for the consequences of Chapel Hills high cost of living.
Affordable housing is needed because of decades of Town Councils restrictive, confiscatory land-use policy limiting supply, the burdensome approval process driving up development costs, and debt-driven spending that has resulted in one of the highest tax and fee burdens in the state.
123 West Franklins approval exposed the SUP sausage making to public view. Old attitudes and habits die hard. This project may be a tribute to the town being Open to Business, but only after the council extracted a tribute from the business first.Mark Zimmerman owns a small business in Chapel Hill. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @markrzim on Twitter.
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