Cam Hill asked me to post his guest column in the Herald today about Carolina North:
For several years UNC has been talking about developing a research campus, Carolina North, which is slated to contain as many as eight million square feet of buildings. UNC owns the Horace Williams tract, some 900 acres that currently is the home of the Horace Williams Airport, a couple of toxic dump sites and the old town of Chapel Hill public works and transit facility locations. UNC wants to put Carolina North there. Because the property is largely undeveloped (with the above exceptions), surrounded by existing neighborhoods and not served by any existing (or planned) transit or large-scale utility infrastructure, and because this is Chapel Hill; there has been some considerable discussion about this. Oh yeah, and the airport is still open.
On June 14th a joint group of state representatives and senators heard testimony from the AHEC doctors about how they felt about closing Horace Williams Airport (which is the legislature's decision). The NC Area Health Education Centers is a program that flies doctors around the state to treat patients in their hometowns. The doctors were concerned that if they had to fly out of RDU instead of HWA it would take too much time and many would be forced to reconsider their participation in the program. Within that hearing room last Thursday the AHEC doctors certainly presented a compelling case that the airport serves the needs of North Carolinians in a way that Carolina North does not. Admittedly what happened in that room may be of no consequence given the way that decisions are made in Raleigh.
After six years of discussions UNC stands firm in certain aspects of their vision for Carolina North. They still want one parking space per employee, this in spite of the fact that this will almost certainly undermine any chance of the success of public transit (if you can park, you will take your car). After lots of wrangling about the transit study, it is finally underway but the initial planning for the site will be done before the results of the study are complete. Ditto the Fiscal Equity study. These foundational studies were meant to inform the planning but it is hard to see how they can, given their timing. Transit is a big issue; if access to CN is not handled thoughtfully it will be disastrous for the community. On other big issues UNC has done a lot to raise the level of greenhouse gases emanating from Chapel Hill but made no firm commitments. They steadfastly refuse to protect the undeveloped portion of the HW tract in perpetuity. On the issues of providing housing and other living amenities many of us deem necessary for the project, UNC has made only reluctant provisions and no real commitments. All along this has been billed as a research campus and then suddenly in May it became an overflow campus with only about twenty percent of its square footage slated for research. Starting sometime last winter, patient care became one of the activities slated for CN. This was never discussed anywhere before. The one thing that seems fixed is that the trustees will get a plan in July and it will come before the town council for concept review in October.
So, if it must be built, I say build it somewhere else (preferably in eastern NC, which can use the investment and jobs); like on the east side of town. It would be a lot easier to move Finley Golf Course than to move the airport. Finley is adjacent to the Friday Center and if you add the two properties and the other property that UNC owns contiguous to these two I suspect it come out well in excess of the 250 acres that the first fifty years of CN will supposedly require. This location is closer to I-40 and 15-501/54 the primary entries into and out of town. The Triangle Transit Authority has located future rail line stops at Meadowmont and behind the current University Motor Inn slated to become Ã¢â‚¬Å“54 EastÃ¢â‚¬Â, a large multi unit dense housing project. So the transit and access problems would be easier to solve. The housing and retail infrastructure is already in place at Meadowmont, 54 East and Glen Lennox. So those jobs that UNC doesn't want would be done for them. OWASA's sewage treatment plant is right there so the grey water reuse infrastructure is close by. Maybe turning Glenwood Elementary into the Ã¢â‚¬Å“First SchoolÃ¢â‚¬Â would make the idea affordable, where building it from scratch at Horace Williams was not. UNC owns other properties in the area that would make their presence on that side of town more synergistic. Basically, the campus could overflow right down the hill to Finley.
As to Finley, a new golf course could be built adjacent to the airport. The amount of traffic it would attract would be insignificant. When the airport is finally closed that land could be reclaimed or put to low impact recreational use more suitable to that part of town. We could restrict the development of the Horace Williams site to a minimum, which would really leave a legacy we would all be proud of.