Q #6 What kind of growth do we need?

6. What kind of commercial, business or industry growth does the Town need?

George Cianciola   We need businesses that will increase our tax base as well as those that can generate revenue from sales taxes and provide those items that we either cannot find in Chapel Hill or that are difficult to find in Chapel Hill.  We need more offices downtown in order to provide enough daytime traffic for our downtown businesses to not only survive, but to thrive. We’re currently doing a good job of getting more people living downtown but we now need to focus on getting more people working downtown.

An additional question is not what does Chapel Hill need but what does the County need.  Even if a particular business or industry doesn’t fit Chapel Hill, it might fit well in the County.  If the County benefits then so does Chapel Hill.  We need more incubator space, including wet lab space, in order to support our start-ups, including but not restricted to University-originated ones. We need to determine what businesses are missing from the current mix and what businesses would synergize with our existing ones and we then need to actively recruit them.  We cannot just put out a sign “Open for Business” and expect them to knock on our doors.

Sally Greene   We need to support the Downtown Partnership and the Visitors Bureau in their efforts to bolster Chapel Hill’s reputation as a cultural arts, dining, and entertainment destination, but those efforts are well launched. To address the goal of moving some of the residential tax burden to commercial, we need to concentrate on a diversity of commercial activity with enhanced retail. We should target, as we have been, those areas where the community already tolerates some level of commercial activity and would tolerate more—such as Ephesus/Fordham. Within the constraints of the flood plain, University Mall is a good candidate for redevelopment to higher value. We have a strong candidate for potential new commercial development, and even perhaps a siting of light industry, in the area south of I-40 north of Eubanks Road.

In these discussions we should remember that it’s in our interest to support Orange County’s economic development program, because most of the tax burden that we all shoulder is the county’s tax. The Council has been supporting the county’s economic development work and should continue to do so.

Ed Harrison  In all cases, growth that’s actually development: spends private funds on needed infrastructure (transportation, water management); provides services not available in a particular area of town, and does not impair the quality of life in that area or town-wide.

All types of growth cited can add to the non-residential tax base, which is a lower percentage of our taxable property than almost anywhere in NC. Commercial (various forms of retail) can add sales taxes, an easier source of revenue for the public to understand since it comes from tangible acquisitions. This type of growth is also prone to create the largest traffic impacts. Business development can occur in a wide range of sizes, from tiny start-ups to major office/mixed use redevelopments as is likely at the Blue Cross property.We’ve a shortage of affordable spaces for all types.

We don’t have true “industry,” although parts of UNC mimic it (the cogeneration plant). With the exception of truck traffic, “light” or “limited” industry appropriately located (ideally in the 1-40 “noise contour”) will have very few impacts and could pay substantial property tax. It’s unclear that we even have zoning rules for this category, and that’s something I would be eager to work on, having done so many years ago as chair of the Durham City-County Environmental Affairs Board.

Loren Hintz  Everyone agrees that the current residential/commercial tax ratio is too weighted toward residential. Realistically given the large build out of Chapel Hill, that ratio cannot improve very much. I think there is some potential for light industry near Eubanks Rd. Personally, I am able to buy almost everything I need in town but I know others want more retail. I would continue the downtown trend of having higher density residential, office and retail. I think that it is appropriate for there to be more office/retail/institutional in the focus areas. The impact on traffic, storm water etc. would need to be mitigated.

Gary Kahn  This should be be discussed at local committee meetings.

Paul Neebe  We need to find out how to attract businesses that give us maximum tax base, but which also affects the town in positive ways.  We need a business incubator project like Raleigh has. This could keep companies in the area.  We need to make it easier for companies like Blue Cross and Blue Shield to stay in Chapel Hill. I would like to see enough retail, so that I can buy what I need in Chapel Hill without going to Durham or Raleigh.  Perhaps we need to see how we can support the retail centers we have, such as University Mall. I do not support manufacturing industry in Chapel Hill unless it is very green and does not harm the environment.

Maria Palmer   We need innovation. I would like to explore a partnership with Google like the one Durham’s Underground just won. We need to support small businesses and provide loans and incentives to locally owned businesses that provide living wages and needed services.

Amy Ryan  A primary rationale for supporting business growth in town is that it will help to take some of the pressure off residential property taxes and make us more fiscally sustainable.

An important part of determining the kind of growth we need is accurate data about the costs and revenues that can be expected from specific types of commercial development.  The town commissioned a general study on this issue from Mitch Renkow, a professor at NCSU, a few years ago, but it does not go into detail about the effects of different commercial and industrial uses, which can vary greatly in the revenue they bring to town and their demands on services.  Armed with more detailed information, the town could make intelligent choices about development that would actually deliver the promised increase to our fiscal bottom line.

Another effort that should be instituted is to conduct evaluations of built projects, to see what their true fiscal impacts have been.  I would like to see a study conducted of some recent large projects, such as Southern Village, Meadowmont, and East 54, to see whether their promised benefits to the town have been realized.

 

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