By Joan Guilkey
Every year since about 2014 when the town council began the Eastgate (Blue Hill) experiment with form-based code zoning, staff has agreed to publish a report on the district redevelopment progress. Staff now is calling the report a scorecard.
That seems a misnomer, since that term often makes one think of a game, with competitors and winners and losers. A more accurate/complete description of what is needed would be a fiscal impact analysis for Blue Hill land uses.
Fall is the time of year a report generally is presented and it is now on the agenda for the Nov. 4 town council meeting. A December report date might be better received, considering it is the day after many of us are up very late because of the election.
Last year a request was made for staff to share more than just tax revenues and debt service payments over a 10-15 year period. For example, how is the town accounting for the following:
- Purchase of a ladder fire truck to serve the Berkshire Apartments
- Consultant paid to rename the district
- Culvert under Elliott Road, replaced to reduce flooding
- Partnership with developer to reduce Booker Creek flooding and increase walkability
- Planning, construction and maintenance of Elliott Road Extension.
- Redesign, improvements to intersection at Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard
Some of these expenditures may have been spread over several years or over several accounts, but at least a portion are legitimate charges to Blue Hill.
Chapel Hill has not done impact analyses on a regular basis. However, there was one addressing town-wide commercial and residential land use about 10 years ago, by an external party. Unfortunately, that work, like the Ephesus/Fordham Small Area Plan, was not made public. The town analysis was shelved due to a disagreement over how to account for apartment dwellings. Records show that everyone except the development director agreed that apartments should be included as residential dwellings rather than commercial property.
Perhaps now is the time to begin maintaining these types of public records for Blue Hill as well as other areas of town. We should not be proceeding with development based on gut reactions and creative financing. This is especially true as taxpayers and the council struggle to maintain infrastructure at the same time we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and also evaluate major development projects.
Those who study growth know that all growth is costly (see Fodor, “Better not Bigger”). The most important goal of growth, therefore, might be to improve the livelihood of those who pay for it.
Joan Guilkey is a UNC alumna and Chapel Hill resident.