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Schultz: Ephesus-Fordham fairness

April 1, 2014 

So last week new Town Council member and former CHN columnist Maria Palmer blamed the messenger for doing its job.

Palmer is a passionate, dedicated public servant and activist, but she is off base when she says our coverage of the Ephesus-Fordham plan has been “terrible” and dismisses criticism as “rants” by a small group opposed to all change in Chapel Hill.

CHN columnist Mark Zimmerman has been an early and leading proponent of the form-based code proposal. The newspaper has run commentaries by former Councilman Gene Pease, David Godschalk and Michael Parker supporting the plan.

The criticism has outweighed the support, but I looked at who has written in against or questioning the plan: Sally McIntee, Fred Lampe, David Gellatly, Del Snow, Ariana Mangum, Jean Ranc, Jean Yarnell, former Councilwoman Julie McClintock, Deborah Fulghieri, John Chambers, Judy Morris, Susan Bernstein and David Schwartz, among them. Palmer should remember she represents these people too.

Further, staff writer Tammy Grubb's stories have given voice to valid perspectives. It was after our front-page flooding story (and town stormwater board concerns) that the E-F plan was revised to hold developers accountable for runoff from their projects, instead of relying on two ponds in the plan that were never meant to handle future growth.

Here’’s what some of you said after I posted this on my Facebook page Friday:

Mark Zimmerman: There's been an ongoing and good debate – as there ought to be on an issue like this –in the pages of the Chapel Hill News.

George Hussein Entenman: Are we talking about what to do with the Ephesus Fordham area, or about switching the whole town to using a new form-based code to guide development?

Terri Buckner: The problem is that form-based code is a solution. Unfortunately, the problem that it solves has not been agreed upon. The town’s economic development officer is the project manager, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that this is a developer-centric solution. It isn’t that he’s ignored the community because he hasn’t. How long has the community been saying that we have to build the commercial tax base in order to take pressure off the residential sector? So he went forward to solve an economic development issue and the community turned around and said the costs of his solution (height, density, and stormwater) are higher than the economic value of his proposal (confirmed by the finance director's analysis).

Sally S. K. McIntee: It is not as simple as developers and residents. We have pro-change residents, we have the never-change-Chapel Hill residents, we have the residents wanting energy efficiency and sustainability, we have people who wish that Chapel Hill was a forest, some always want an easy parking place, some want less pavement, some want their apartments to not flood, and some want to make it a non-commercial bedroom community. ... There is much disagreement about what kind of development takes us into a more sustainable future.

Julie McClintock: Initally I found the paper's coverage glowingly one sided. I think that's because the project sounded good until one started to dig into the details. A 200 acre redevelopment plan - much of it in a low lying area susceptible to periodic flooding may not be the best place to put expensive real estate. At first the town had an answer: Do a service district and charge developers a lot. But then we read the commissioned studies and found there were no easy answers. The town keeps pushing for a council approval but details on what will be required for stormwater management are still not drafted. The fiscal analysis is just out and we have not absorbed the details. The big picture is that without county help it looks like a losing proposition.

Mark Schultz is the editor of The Chapel Hill News.

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