We on the Board of Aldermen were recently presented with (and approved) a multi-party financial agreement that would lead to the following result:  keeping two successful local businesses – Fleet Feet, Inc. (its headquarters and a retail store) and Kalisher – in Carrboro.  An overview of the agreement can be found by reading the following article: The agreement involves a purchase of property and a financial commitment by the Town.

We received lots of support electronically and in-person at our board meeting where we first discussed this proposal publicly.  We did receive a small amount of negative feedback; these related to two general themes.  One concern was around parking – in a town where we are trying to promote biking, walking and using the bus, why are we committing to providing what seems to be a large number of parking spaces for one of the businesses?  We addressed this concern by tying in the parking more closely to the number of employees expected for the business, and by providing financial incentives for employees of that company that chose to use alternative means of transportation to work.  But – point well taken.  As we continue to examine our parking situation in town, this feedback seemed particularly timely and relevant.

The second concern was around what could be characterized as a lack of transparency with the transaction.  The general public found out about this proposed deal four days before our first public discussion and first vote on the matter.  Usually in Carrboro, we kick around an idea of this magnitude for a few weeks, getting lots of public input, before voting on it.  This deal, by its nature, was a different animal.  The Board of Aldermen had discussed the proposed purchase in closed session twice before it appeared on the public agenda, as this is one of the rare subjects (purchase of real estate) permitted by law to be discussed initially in this way.  Secondly, because of the timing of the deal (end of June, before the summer break), input from the general public had to be received as soon as possible (as some input was) and a decision had to be voted on quickly to keep the E. Main Street project moving forward and to keep our two local businesses here in Carrboro.  It seemed to me to be one of those times as an elected official that, having been elected by the citizens, we needed to use our best collective wisdom in determining with a short turnaround whether to move forward with the deal.  This being the case, I believe we made the best decision for Carrboro’s future.

At our January 15, 2013 Transit Partners Meeting, we had a discussion about UNC-CH’s plans to begin charging for parking at their University park and ride lots starting in August of this year.  We were aware that this would be happening, as this is part of their Department of Public Safety Transportation and Parking Five-Year Plan.  We discussed possible impacts to the towns (Chapel Hill and Carrboro).

By necessity, this required Chapel Hill Transit to investigate charging at Town-owned park and ride lots, because the fear is that many commuters might choose to park at the free town lots rather than pay for a permit in the UNC lots.   The Chapel Hill town lots this will affect are located on Eubanks Road, in Southern Village and on Jones Ferry Road.  If the Town of Chapel Hill is to start charging also, this means setting up a system for parkers to pay ,distributing permits to parkers, hiring parking monitors, and so on.  A more complicated discussion involves how often to allow people to pay – unlike the University, which can operate on a University semester or academic schedule and can deduct parking by payroll deduction, there needs to be a way to let local residents use the Town of Chapel Hill park and rides, yet be able to pay on a different schedule (and, what about the occasional user?  This supposes that people who use the park and rides do so regularly).  A further complication is that Triangle Transit riders also use the lots (in particular, the one on Eubanks Road) to park their cars and then pay to ride Triangle Transit routes to nearby towns.  Should they also have to pay for parking?

Finally, what are the implications for Carrboro?  Our town prides itself by having free (and thus far, fairly adequate) parking.  I have not heard a majority of our board suggest that we want to change this philosophy.  But when these changes take place in August, we need to be mindful that this may push riders (“parkers”) into our free lots or town, and so we need to have a strategy to address this.  Also, Chapel Hill Transit currently has an arrangement with the owners of Carrboro Plaza (at a minimal cost) to have a free park and ride lot on the back side of the stores for transit; the owners of the plaza are not interested in having equipment installed to have transit riders pay to park and ride.  Their concern is that parkers will simply park on the front side of the plaza and then walk through to the back to catch the bus.  So, the implementation of these plans will also likely mean that this park and ride lot will be eliminated.

Stay tuned for how the Chapel Hill Town Council decides to address this in the coming months, and the implications for Carrboro.