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Re today's story on Chapel Hill density and East 54

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Got two complaints about today's lead story in the Chapel Hill News. Jesse James DeConto wrote about density in Chapel Hill. Now that the buildings at East 54 have gone up, some Town Council members are saying constituents are shocked at what they're seeing.

The callers said it was unfair to let people criticize a project in the construction stage, before people know how it truly will look and feel. They said the article did not include the project's benefits. East 54 will boost the commercial tax base, has more affordable housing units than required and has gold LEED certification.

I told the callers they had a point. In the future we will try to mention those aspects of the project. But I also said the story was fair. The story was about density, and East 54 has become the touchstone. Jesse heard the buzz. I heard it at the Glen Lennox meeting, and we've received letters from people upset about the tall buildings along the highway.

I also pointed out to the callers that we used careful language in our headline ("Project gives Town Council pause" is hardly inflammatory). Councilman Bill Strom's context-setting quote about transit appears on the front page, not the jump of the story. And we picked developer Roger Perry's quote on why Chapel Hill needs more of this kind of construction as our "Worth repeating" quote of the day. It appears on our editorial page.

So what did you think? Was the story unfair to East 54 or, as we hoped, a timely look at an issue Chapel Hill will be discussing for months and years to come?


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Buildings are not all up yet

There will be more "Shock and Awe" when the residents see the next three buildings which we approved for that sight.

The present construction is only thee of six buildings. Two more are planned to flank the behemoth in the front, including a 70,000 square foot hotel right at the edge of the property (in front of the fire station).

One more is planned for the back row, also. It will occupy bring the back row closer to Glenwood. That parcel is going to be packed full of buildings before the construction is done.

Those who want to wait to pass judgement until the buildings have people in them, I say, wait until the buildings are surrounded by more buildings.

What is a creative commons license?

Thanks Ruby, Will, Tony, Mark and Fred ... Ruby, what is a creative commons license, and want to try to resked that put-off coffee this week or next? You can e-mail me at with times.

Google is your friend

and so is Wikipedia:

 I don't think my comments are all that creative though :)

Look for more in Sunday's paper, and a question

Thank you all for your comments. Jesse has a follow-up story on two more projects raising second thoughts about how dense the town should grow in Sunday's paper.
On another point, to our commenters -- Terri, Mark, Fred, Ruby, Will, Tony -- may we have permission to print your names when we publish comments from the blog in the print paper? We are not publishing comments with screen names now, and I miss seeing some of the discussion in our pages.
Don't know who Claudius is.

OK, but

It's fine for you to use my comments, and I appreciate you asking. I do wish there was a Creative Commons lisence on your blog as well as the paper so that there would be more clear directions about how and whether to re-use the content.

I look forward to Jesse's follow-up story. I hope he'll mention that the Chapel Hill Planning Board asked the Town a couple of years ago to initiate a process to better define our collective vision for growth, but we were rebuffed by the Town's need to do more urgent planning around the Northwest Development Moratorium (which was necessitated by the lack of foresight in the first place).

As was also mentioned at the recent Carolina North forum, as a community we are still lacking the tools for both in-person and online dialogue that would really advance these discussions instead of having the same old faces (including mine) at the same boring old public hearings.

Go for it

In the interest of fairness, I too ask that my hurried grammar and punctuation be corrected :)

IMO this is a worthy discussion, but there are missing PoV.

I hope the developers and planners will add to the discussion. It would be good to hear from the economic development folks and to have a balanced view of the types of employment we want to attract. Obviously UNCs plans will have some of the greatest impacts.

It seems to me that the economy is going to be somewhat [perhaps radically] different on the backside of this recession. It is important to think through and communicate widely ideas about how this might affect development and planning and what the county and towns look like. Maybe this sort of public discussion will help to add some definition to the 2013 comprehensive plans broad strokes.

Publish away...

Mark, fine with me to use any of my comments though I hope you concentrate on those that are coherent, erudite and grammatically/syntactically correct ;-)!

Seriously, I appreciate your looking at a way to broaden the discussion. Feel free to use any of my comments - good or bad. It would be nice if those of us that provide pointers to our 'blogs could have the address included (i.e. Will Raymond, ).



you have my permission, especially since I'm using my name, just without the caps and the punctuation.

Headline: "Clueless council members don't have a clue"

I was not very impressed with this article.  It cited the two newest Council members - who inherently have the least experience with the Town's growth management policies, and (more importantly) who did not participate in the Town's review process for East 54 - and made it seem as if there was widespread concern on the Council.

So the two who know the least about this project are the most concerned about it. Should anyone be surprised about that? What did surprise me was the prominence of this non-issue above the fold in Wednesday's paper.

uhhh hello!!

Matt C's comments were only reflective of the input from his constituents.


In case you missed it: "Virtually all the reaction I get to East 54 is negative," said Matt Czajkowski"


So how does this make Matt C less experienced?  Maybe he is not  skilled at taking phone calls from Chapel Hillians?

A factual comment rather than some dismissive comment about someone you obviously do not like, since he is an "outsider" or "non koolaid drinker", would be a welcome change.

How about it??

I agree with Mark

on this one. It seemed like the article a balance. Giving pause is a legitimate reaction to change. To me, the growth in this area is inevitable. Chapel Hill Carrboro cannot remain "villages" forever, especially with the rapid UNC expansion. I think the decision to promote density rather than sprawl is the right one. No one is going to like everything that is built but the ability to sustain mass transit and other municipal services with denser development is well documented. While Roger Perry is no urban planner the notion that this is the right course resonates with me. There is after all a correlation between fuel consumption and density/floor area ratio

Flawed implementation....

Tony, East54 received a bucketful of variances based on the concept that the greater density, eventual transit utility, LEEDs certification and affordable housing components were acceptable trade-offs. In my estimation, these are relevant reasons to grant an exemplary project exemplary benefits. East54 is not that project.

Wait and See?

"...these are relevant reasons to grant an exemplary project exemplary benefits. East54 is not that project."

Let's give it a chance to put its clothes on before we tell it how ugly and inadequate it is. I had severe reservations when construction at Meadowmont started, but have since grown to like it quite a lot.

Not troubled by.....?

Claudius, not sure if you lived here during the big Meadowmont "debate" (to be charitable) but many of the selling points of that development have either been abrogated or have gone unfulfilled. One notable (at least to me), is Roger's original claim that the bucolic entranceway - a series of meadows and rolling hills - into Chapel Hill would not be marred by his development. That claim doesn't stand the test of time. Neither did the claim of tax revenues.

Now we have the logical bookend in East54 to Meadowmont. An out-of-character behemoth whose construction was impossible with variances whose private benefit for the contractor don't balance well against community returns.

Not surprising as both Roger is a clever, patient negotiator. He waited until some of the same folks that approved/pushed Meadowmont ( ) began to push their recent "growth at any cost" agenda - which subsequently led tohis East54 vision of Chapel Hill (one I'm concerned will be replicated along MLK. Jr. ).

As you can see, the Hwy. 54 corridor is becoming a strip of bland architecture and diminishing greenery on par with other Southeastern locales. We can't control what Durham does, but did we really have to shoot ourselves in the foot so boldly?

I'll wait and see, though, if, Claudius, you agree to revisit whether the promises made securing exemplary private benefits aren't diminished by costs - direct, as in the infrastructure improvement costs thrust upon the public - and indirect, as the environmental, loss of character, etc. - going forward.

I believe, as we've seen with other such developments, the tally always favors the developer.

Need to use the wayback machine...

I'm already on record as far as the setback and height issues with East54, so I am not surprised as to the looming, out-of-character aspect of East 54 (or, even how incredibly ugly it has turned out). I am surprised that you gave a free pass to both Mark and Kevin on their comments


"It's challenging for me when I see these buildings going up because they are so large," Kleinschmidt said. "Just seeing something of that size go up, I think it's emotionally evocative because the change on its face seems so great. ... My emotional response is, 'Wow, that's so big.'"

First, Mark's response maybe emotional but the truth is that East54 is a large project that, in-spite of Mayor Foy's contention ala Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.

"Is that going to line 54 in and out of Chapel Hill? Are those the kinds of projects that are going to line Martin Luther King from downtown to 40? Is that what our future looks like?" said Foy. "No, it doesn't have buildings lining all of those corridors. It's much more focused than that.

is exactly the future Councilmembers Strom, Foy, Greene, Kleinschmidt have brought and want to further bring into existence.

Unsupportable density that, so far, has resulted in some rather un-Chapel Hill-like, ugly (in the eye of this beholder) results - East54 and Lot $5 being sterling examples.

For folks concerned about the Altemueller Mixed Use Development [1641 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. ] ( ), they don't have to look any further than East54 to see the future of their neighborhoods.

For the rest of us living adjacent to Martin Luther King, Jr. corridor, the Northern Area Task Force (NATF) recommendations are fairly selective, don't stretch from I-40 to Downtown and don't satisfactorily deal with density and height tradeoffs. 

Don't look to the NATF to protect or preserve Chapel Hill's character.  

Second, there was plenty of testimony by concerned citizens as to the scope, the reduction is community utility (cutting the %30 affordable housing square footage down) and other negatives - including the shadow - both physical and psychological - the project would cast on the eastern entrance to Chapel Hill. Why no mention?  Why not tap some of the citizens who spoke out then for their input now?

Third, if Mark or the other Councilmembers now expressing "shock" at the scale had wanted to, Chapel Hill's Planning Department has access to tools to virtually model the development within its existing footprint (here's my modest example from 2 years ago: ).

They didn't avail themselves of that input, I believe, because they wanted political cover when the East54 experiment went awry.

Fourth, maybe Jesse probed their answers more deeply - testing them against what these Councilmembers said during East54's public hearings, testing them against their comments developing the Martin Luther King, Jr. corridor, testing them against what several of these members have asked for at Carolina North - looming buildings right on the road - but if he did the results of that analysis were not apparent in your article (I understand you only have so much space!).

Five, once again the (supposed) benefits get an airing while the costs, especially the future carrying costs pushed on to Chapel Hill's taxpayers, get nary a mention.

Finally, this is an election year and, as a former candidate for Council, I well know how past deeds are reformed to meet today's concerns. In light of that, it would be nice to see some reflection on the re-characterizations of past comments by the incumbents.

The density discussion is important.  The process under which it is held, the way citizen concerns are captured and integrated, key.  Based on the recent Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth forum on the subject, I expect, unfortunately, that the "growth at any cost crowd" that brought us East54, Woodmont, Lot $5, etc. will be doing their best to stay the course.

I find it ironic

That the very people who approved it are now backing up and not liking it. Is densification no longer the cause du jour? Only Matt C.'s comments made any sense to me. The rest seemed like backpedaling on what has up to now been the Holy Grail of those in power.


And, come on!  To argue it will look different when it is finished?  Like even bigger?  What is up with that comment.

A Good Article

But I think I have to agree with the two callers on this one. The headline ('give pause') led me to believe that the council was definitely having second thoughts about their decision to greenlight the project.

I also think it's a tad unfair to lend too much credence to the 'aesthetic' judgment of Glen Lennox residents who, interestingly enough, are renters and would have to seek new accommodation if the old apartments are torn down. Frankly, I believe they'd saddle up with just about any argument that reflects negatively on new development there - I know I would if I were in their shoes.

Finally, I think Roger Perry hit the nail on the head when he said that complaints come mostly from a very "vocal minority." The vast majority in town are acutely aware that if we don't grow the commercial base and increase density within our town limits, we may well end up even more "exclusive" than we already are.

Totally fair article

I thought it was a good take on the issue - gave a few sides of the debate & showed the nuanced reactions of council members to an evolving approach to development.  

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About the blogger

Mark Schultz is the editor of The Chapel Hill News and The Durham News.