Chapel Hill 2020, Carolina North: Serious Questions

Priscilla Murphy's picture

In the context of concern about development of neighborhoods proximate to Carolina North, about last night's (3/20) session: 

A threat?  There's much to be wary of, not the least the strong implication that unless we accept fairly sweeping increases in commercial use and density in the very near future along MLK, Estes, 15-501 and 54, we will bring down the wrath of economic gods on us -- making property values plummet and real estate taxes skyrocket.  Of course, the consultants do not use such threatening terminology, and words like "modest" obscure the true extent of alterations in critical neighborhoods. 

Lining the corridors?  The dice are heavily loaded in favor of thinking first in terms of transportation corridors to serve commercial interests and on that basis planning neighborhood changes to best serve those corridors.  This is being framed as if it's the rest of the town saying "leave us alone and just develop along 'major corridors."  A politically savvy spin, pitting potential NIMBYs against each other, but there's more going on than that.

A quarter of what?  Relatedly, I was not impressed with the repetition of the mantra "only 1/4 of Chapel Hill's land area will be affected."  That 1/4 of the area represents A) rather more than 1/4 of the population and B) actual people, not dirt. 

Greening by Carolina North?  The presence of Carolina North is, in the universe of Chapel Hill 2020, a side issue.  The urge to Go for Growth A.S.A.P. is framed for a town approaching urban status all by itself, regardless of any increase in activity or congestion from the new north campus.  In fact, CN seems largely to represent green space to the CH 2020 mind -- thereby alleviating some of the pressure on developers and the Town to consider environmental factors.  The clear implication is that those along MLK north and south should be grateful for all that green space preserved within CN, which should take care of any concerns about the impact of increased commercial density on the east side of MLK and down the Estes corridor. 

Brave New Carolina North?  Of course, to developers, CN represents a golden stimulus and justification for all kinds of building around it.  Have seen advertisements already with "close to new campus" as inducement to buy or build.  But that golden stimulus is kept largely to the level of subtext in CH 2020 discussions.

Brave New Estes?  Reports so far regarding the Estes corridor sidestep the crucial issues.  Comments like "we are still considering this," and "we have to be strategic about it" bely what actually seems to be the intention -- to make it into as wide, busy, and commercial a thoroughfare as any in the town, at the expense of the schools, church, and R-1 neighborhoods there now. 

Who's doing the driving?  Have seen and heard comments on the 2020 process to the effect that it's being staff/consultant driven, not citizen-driven, despite PR descriptions. Seems that's more than accurate, especially if you add developer-driven into the mix.  Also: No one is talking about the vacancy rates we're already seeing in commercial properties in Chapel Hill in Chapel-Hill 2012, of course.

Reach out?  Quibble, too, with the self-congratulation on the issue of "outreach."  The couple of CH News stories at the beginning of the process was pretty much the extent of efforts to alert residents potentially affected.  Otherwise, citizens not involved in the first meetings had to know enough on their own hook to go to the Town website and the 2020 website to find out what's going on -- and even then the websites don't tell the story.  If you haven't been to any of the CH2020 meetings, I challenge you to go to http://2020buzz.wordpress.com/ and discern what's going on.  If yours was a neighborhood that hasn't yet been treated to imminent hearings on zoning changes, you still might not know.

A charette by any other name:  Charettes may work well for single-project brainstorming, but it's alarming to think that planning for 1/4 of the town should be accomplished in such pressure-cooker circumstances, especially when the perception of so many is that (see above) the discussions and reports-out were staff-driven.  As it is, the "theme groups" operate at such abstract, idealizing levels that one is reminded of the pastel drawings of what Carolina North will look like in 2050 - with pastel drawings of bicycles and empty streets and a single bus.

Mapping things out?  Finally, I would try to direct your attention to the detailed maps of re-zoning/re "formed" of the five "critical" corridors on line, but they are impossible to read -- as they were in last night's presentation.  Close scrutiny of the legends, parcel borders, and characteristics -- if you can find them -- is so difficult as to raise questions of intention.  I do hope these maps will soon be placed online with zoom-able features so that all can see what's what.

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