Infill, pseudo-infill, and NIMBYism in Carrboro

Let’s talk about Carrboro’s current development policy (probably the most contentious issue in Carrboro politics this month). At the risk of oversimplifying, we seem to have 3 camps here in town. One camp seems to be the majority (and vocal minority at times) and advocates the current administration’s policy of increasing commercial space downtown by allowing taller buildings to make dense development economically feasible for the developers. This camp (or at least lots of people I’ve talked to) generally approves of dense housing and commercial downtown and has mixed feelings about high density village mixed use development outside of the main part of town but understands that village mixed use has its positives and negatives and generally supports it as a way to reduce sprawl and the cookie cutter subdivisions that are its alternative. These folks also tend to be resigned to the fact that Carrboro is going to continue to add population whether they like it or not and they look for ways to accommodate that without the sprawl and increased pricing that has occurred in every other town where this has happened. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m generally with this camp.

Then there are the folks who aren’t too terribly thrilled with the idea of density downtown. Many of the ones I’ve met simply don’t want Carrboro to change, a noble sentiment amongst those of us who are die-hard Carrboro lovers. A minority see nothing terribly wrong with those cookie cutter subdivisions that pop up outside of town despite our best efforts to control them with the few zoning powers our fair conservative state deems that we have the right to have. I guess others are simply tired of seeing more traffic on the streets and see this as the only way to deal with that problem. The idea of not changing and keeping traffic at a minimum appeals to me, but I also think these aspirations are unrealistical when you look at the kinds of powers (very few) local municipalities have to completely stop growth and the potential repercussions of such actions (sky rocketing housing prices, expensive lawsuits, etc.).

And then there are the NIMBYs. Let me just explain this by example. The residents of Hannah Street are NIMBYs (please, someone challenge me on this). They fought Hannah Ridge, an admittedly poor condo cookie-cutter complex at the end of their street that was not any more sensitive to the environment than other Carrboro developments (Woo hoo NIMBYs). Once they had succeeded in turning that project into a low profit scenario for the developer, I guess they assumed that piece of land would sit idle and never be developed again (was it the terrible location really really close to the center of town or maybe the expressed willingness of the buyer to sell quickly that gave them this notion?). Well, surprise, the land went under option again and the folks from Bolin Creek Cohousing (now Pacifica) decided that it would be a great location for their cohousing neighborhood. Now luckily for the Hannah Street folks, the cohousing folks were willing to meet with the neighborhood, work with the town to ensure that the development didn’t deleteriously affect the Bolin Creek watershed, and work with state-wide groups to pioneer the most environmentally sensitive way to develop the land there . They have density, yes, but they also have managed to create a model of a community that is walkable, sustainable, and fits in well with the town as a whole (ok, so now you know whose side I’m on).

I’d like to explain here that I probably have a lot in common with the Hannah Street crowd. I’m sure we’d have a blast eating supper at the Weave and talking about our mutual hatred of W. So forgive me for the following rant, because I often find NIMBYs on the right side of my environmental arguments and some of my best friends are NIMBYs (no, really). But rather than realizing that this development is the best they could possibly hope for and patting themselves on the back for defeating the Hannah Ridge project and getting something leaps and bounds better, the residents decided to fight back again and try to bankrupt this group of 40 folks trying to develop a model of collaborative, sustainable housing for themselves. And they might succeed again. They submitted a frivolous lawsuit trying to stop the development, I’m assuming with the hopes of bankrupting them. And I’m assuming this is their strategy.

So what’s my point. Well, there’s a couple. First off, I think NIMBYers need to pick their battles, and this ain’t the battle to pick anymore. Whether they like it or not, the land will continue to be sold to developers. It’s a bunch of old farm fields sloping down to the hardwood forests along Bolin Creek. Everyone wants to get at those old farm fields and there isn't a compelling environmental argument against development considering that the alternative is developing something further out of town in the same way. I guess the folks at Hannah Ridge hope there will be a buyer that will subdivide into 4 or 5 lots, but the price of the land is such that those would be some VERY expensive homes. They turned back a poorly done development and kudos to them. But now they are accusing the town of not listening simply because the outcome wasn’t 100% their way? Those of us who were at the community meetings know that they were heard and understand that many of their issues were resolved (sidewalk funding along Hannah Street and buffering between the deevlopment and houses).

I also think we need to balance the interests of the entire town versus those of individual neighborhoods. By this I don’t mean we run over the rights of individuals who own property. I’m simply suggesting we need to listen (and if you have ever been to a board of alderman meeting, you know they listen ad nauseum) to those folks from individual neighborhoods that bring up important points in a reasoned, well studied way and try to find ways in which we have common ground and work from there. Sometimes that means rejecting development, sometimes it means tweaking it, and sometimes it means doing nothing at all depending upon your argument and how the development might fit into the larger goal of a healthy, sustainable Carrboro. I think we have the right to stop listening when and if those voices begin to throw misleading propaganda around lightly (100 year old forest at the end of Hanna Street, my ass) and accuse other folks of being dishonest when it is clear that this is not the case. Even the alderman who voted against Pacifica (Joel Hall Broun) has acknowledged that the process to approve Pacifica was and inclusive one and asked folks to move on in the interest of community health. So I echo her sentiment…


Rickie really hit it on the head with this posting. His assessment of the three political camps in Carrboro was dead on. This election is, in many ways, a battle between these three camps and the outcome couldn’t be more serious. As Rickie says, the NIMBY’S can play an important role in local politics, but they are way off base on this one. If their candidates (Jeff Vanke and Steve Rose) win on Tuesday, progressive, pro-environment policies could be set back for years to come. If we are serious about being a sustainable community and if we are serious about adopting anti-sprawl policies, we have to stay the course when the going gets rough.

I am also concerned about what would happen to the Board of Aldermen if Steve Rose gets elected. Steve is currently suing the Board of Aldermen over approval of the Pacifica project. How will the Board function when one of its members is suing the body as a whole? Will the Board get honest, straight-forward legal advice from its attorney? Will all board members respect the conversations about legal strategy that take place in closed session?

The voters of Carrboro need to carefully consider the position they will be putting their elected leaders in if they vote for Steve Rose on Tuesday.

The whole rap on the Aldermen that we don't listen is an inaccurate and misleading tactic by the "I want Carrboro to remain exactly like it was five seconds after I moved in" crowd, to win the support of those who otherwise disagree with them on the substative issues at stake. Anyone actually paying attention to any of those "controversial" public hearings knows that in each (Winmore, Pacifica, connector road de jure), we aldermaniacs listened and heard the concerns expressed and then acted on several, exacting concessions and compromises from the developers in light of what we heard from neighbors. But opponents of those projects don't care to see or accept any of those compromises--despite their own roles in producing them-- because when they say "you didn't listen to us" they really mean "you didn't obey us and reject the proposal." Now who's not listening?

This whole non-issue grows tiresome and makes me feel even better about my decision to return to private life, wehre I can spend more time with my 3 and 4 year old, and really confront the problem of "not listening."

The thing that fascinates me is that a lot of people in Carrboro think it's always been like it is -- a fabulous, creative enclave where half-assed millhouses are worth their weight in gold. But when my parents lived in Carrboro in 1960-1964, it was nothing like that. My parents, sadly, were among the first in the gentrifying migration of grad students and young professors and trustifarians who began to turn the working class neighborhoods of Carrboro into the kind of place it is today. My mother is perpetually shocked to see the changes that have come to Carrboro in the last 40 years. So I don't pay much attention to people who drone on about preserving Carrboro's "historic _________" (character, identity, or whatever the homogenizing word of the day is) , because there's nothing historic about the Carrboro we enjoy today. It's different, and it may even be great, but it's not historic.

(Some of the buildings downtown may be old, but very few are "historic" in the sense of being exemplars of a kind of architecture, or a place that had documentable importance in the community's history. Not every old building is historic. One of the only inarguably historic buildings in Carrboro is the old mill, and we turned that into a mall like good Americans. Isn't _that_ hilarious! The old mill houses are historic only in the sense that they are examples of how _little_ mill management cared about providing good housing for their workers. Those houses are crap, even if they are historic crap.)

Congrats, Mark, on winning the sprinkler war. That building is crap, too, but at least it's entertaining.

To Mike and others: Regarding your use of the "N" word:

My wife and I bought a little brick box in Carrboro almost two decades ago and made a commitment to making a life in Carrboro. Our four daughters have gone through every grade in the Carrboro schools. My wife and I lived in the basement as we saved for years to finally build two additional bedrooms, and every penny we have is invested in this house or in the education of our children. Our neighborhood is nothing particularly special--we are surrounded by condos and so-called affordable housing--yet we like our neighborhood enough that we want to preserve it.

My question is, does this mean that you would stereotype me and label me with a prejudicial term such as "NIMBY"? Would you dismiss anything I say because in your own mind you have segregated people into these "groups" (as you say you have)? What is your position on giving perjorative labels to certain groups of people (even if these people don't think of themselves as a "group"!) as an excuse to marginalize their opinions and rights? Who exactly is a NIMBY? Only someone who disagrees with you? I'd really like to understand when it is appropriate to use demeaning and stereotyping terms to refer to certain groups and when it is not. Please enlighten me.

Chapel Hill LiBeRaLs think affordable housing starts at $330k! Why did Roger Perry build unaffordable housing at Meadowmont? $330k will get you a 1700 ft2 bungalow.

Easy, GREED!

Where is the <100k or even <200k or even <300k housing, Roger?????


I just bought my townhouse in Chapel Hill last March for 104K


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