Downtown Partnership Shares Its Views on Chapel Hill 2020

Jeff Miles's picture

On Monday, the Downtown Partnership posted its vision for Chapel Hill on 2020 Buzz, the official blog of the Chapel Hill 2020 process. The vision apparently stems from a meeting that the Chapel Hill 2020 Outreach Committee had with members of the Chamber of Commerce and the business community before Thanksgiving. 

The vision isn’t so much a vision as it as wish list. It calls on the town to expedite the review process for development downtown and provide for a whole host of a uses-by-right in the area so that new development downtown wouldn’t need any approval on top of building permits, zoning complains and certificates of occupancy. It also talks about building some new streets (especially in the north-south direction) downtown, making some changes to the way Chapel Hill does it zoning and ensuring regional transit is centered in the area.

The business community has a right to be involved in the visioning process for Chapel Hill just like any other group, and though I don't agree with the statement 100 percent, I don't have any major problems with it per se. My concern with this post is that the business community is the only group who seems to have been invited to voice its opinion in this way so far (if I'm wrong, please correct me). It’s my hope that other groups have the chance to do the same. The business community is one of the best-organized interests in town, so it’s my view that they don’t need any special attention.

That being said, I don’t expect invitations to come to other groups on a silver platter. There are a lot of constituencies in our town—students, transit riders, drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians, users of the library, young families, retired people, the LGBT community, the Latino community and the African-American community are just a few. If you represent one of these diverse groups or any other, now is the time speak up now! Send your organization’s vision into the Leadership Team and ask them to post it on the blog! You can reach the team at compplan@townofchapelhill.org

A second, more unrelated concern that this post raises is the transparency of the process so far. I'm not in any way suggesting that the meeting out of which this vision grew was a “back room” affair. I don’t think that was the case at all. I would just like to see more promotion and information around the activities of the auxiliary committees and leadership team. I’ve been engaged pretty heavily in the process thus far and I still have to dig for information on these groups. I don’t think that the town’s intentions are bad, I just think that there’s a communication problem right now. If people understand the work that’s happening behind the scenes on Chapel Hill 2020, they’re more likely to have confidence in it, and they’re more likely to invest their time in it, too.

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3 Comments

Ruby Sinreich's picture

Disappointed and disconcerted

Thanks for this post, Jeff. I also was struck by how narrow and short-term the Downtown Partnership's proposal was. As James points out, I'm faimiliar with the proposed downtown framework, but other than that it reads like a policy wishlist for today (and one I don't entirely agree with), not a vision for the future.

I'm also concerned about the amount of outreach and inclusion being extended to groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Partnership. There are so many other groups and constituencies that are much more underrepresented in Chapel Hill 2020 right now. I hope the Town will follow-through also extend an offer to publish ideas from the Sierra Club, NAACP, EmPOWERment Inc, Occupy Chapel Hill/Carrboro, the Human Rights Center, people who walk, bike, and ride buses in town, the public housing Residents Council, Orange County Justice United, countless neighborhood associations, and of course the Village Project. I'm sure there are others I'm not thinking of right now.

design principles or carve-outs for interest groups?

I too am dismayed by the relative narrowmindedness of this plan, particularly when it comes to parking. With the exception of game days, I don't think it's difficult to park in Chapel Hill, and there'd be more economic activity if we converted parking lots to high-density residential apartments.At the same time, I wonder if we would be better off reducing the complexity/difficulty of the zoning/permit approval process, and instead tried to resolve (through some mechanism) the difficult questions that seem at the heart of the matter. For example: 1. Who should live in downtown Chapel Hill?2. How many people should live there?3. How should they get to work?4. What kinds of businesses should exist in Chapel Hill? I, honestly, do not know how the groups you mention, Ruby, would answer these questions.  (For the record, my answers would be 1.) socio-economically diverse population that lives/works/plays in CH; 2.) 8K/sq. mile 3.) walk, bike, transit 4.) businesses spun off from UNC R&D, plus more of everything we have now )But, I wonder if that kind of conversation would be more productive than one that adds another level of bureaucracy/decision-making processes to justify what certain people in town want to do anyway.