How can you protest and collaborate at the same time?

This is the question on many minds as UNC says they want to work together with the town on Carolina North, while simultaneously attempting to block a pro-active initiative of the town to re-zone the Horace Williams tract to OI-2, which realistically reflects the current capacity of our public infrastructure and the lack of any formal proposal for the land from UNC.

The process of trying to zone this land in a way that allows the University to innovate, while mainataing the health of the surrounding community has a long history. In fact, the Council considered re-zoning this land to OI-2 back in 1994, and spent subsequent years trying to develop a custom mixed-use zone for UNC, which was ultimately rejected..

At last night's Town Council meeting, almost a dozen Chapel Hillians spoke in favor of the rezoning. The only person speaking against it was Ana Wu, UNC's Director of Facilities Planning. Ana said the rezoning was unnecessary. She also claimed it would encourage a piecemeal approach that would defy mitigating strategies. (The only way that this would be the case would be if UNC decided to take that kind of approach. If they are feeling so much concern for the Town, why would they do that?)

Ana told the Council that the Chancellor very much wants to cooperate with them, just like they did in the development of the OI-4 zone (in which the Town was steamrolled). He even says this collaboration can happen in spite of this rezoning. Why then, has the University filed a formal "protest petition" requiring a super majority of the Council to approve the rezoning? Why hasn't the University followed any of the recommendations of past collaborative committees or sincerely invited Town input into their process?

As Bill Strom, Julie McClintock, and others pointed out last night, The current zoning - a mixture of residential and institutional zoning - is a relic. It won't even fit with the University's stated plans for the land. Lately all UNC has shared was a PowerPoint presentation back in May 2004 about their plans for the land. In lieu of a serious proposal, I think it would be irresponsible for the Council not to act to zone this land correctly. It's not like this will stop the University from requesting (and probably getting) a re-zoning to suit their ultimate plans once they decide to share them with us.

The only difference this change from OI-3 to OI-2 will make is that there will be more oversight of the land, with development requiring a Special Use Permit and approval by the Town Council instead of the Planning Board. If the University hopes to collaborate with this Town, then why would this oversight be a problem?


 Permitted Uses:
Low Residential
All Residential
All Residential
Place of Assembly

Maximum Density:
4 dwelling units/acre
15 dwelling units/acre
Not Applicable

 Floor Area Ratio:


 Height Limit:

Planning Board

Chart from 3/21/05 memo to Council by Town of Chapel Hill Planning Department.

It seems to me that University wants to play hardball, they just don't want to admit it. The next meeting to consider this rezoning will be on April 11. Because of the University's protest petition, it will take 7 of 9 votes to pass this re-zoning. If you support the responsible zoning of this land, make sure your representatives know.


I don't really know the specifics of this particular instance, but when it comes to zoning, it's not really fair to think of the University as "steamrolling" the town. In fact, the perception of many students on campus is that the town is actually somewhat of a bully. Since the last Town Council election, it seems like no matter what the University wants or doesn't want, the Council arrays itself to oppose it. While I would certainly hope that perception isn't based on fact, it is hard to think of development issues where the town has not seemingly gone out of its way to make life difficult for the University.

Perhaps it would be important to note that what is good for the University will probably benefit the town, too. More jobs and students mean more money in the economy. Really, Chapel Hill wouldn't be much of a town without the University. And before anyone says anything about us trying to get in the way of the town's democratic governance, please remember that we make up half of the town's population. We deserve to have our interests represented, too.

Thanks for this table Ruby. Do you know the rationale behind not requiring Council approval for O-I3? Seems to me that plans for large institutional buildings, such as a hospital or hotel should have full Council approval in addition to that of the Planning Board.

I would be interested to learn what university proposal the town has opposed. I can't think of anything UNC has wanted lately that it hasn't gotten with full cooperation from the town.

That was one of the points I tried to make last night when discussing the collaborative zoning committee that developed a new zoning designation for the Horace Williams tract a decade ago. Although the trustees later nixed their own staff's proposal in that regard, the immediate point is that the town worked hard and spent significant resources to accommodate UNC's needs in that case.

Again, in 2000 and 2001, when UNC needed to build its new master plan for main campus, the town worked with them to develop the OI-4 zone, one that not all townspeople are happy with.

As Mark Kleinschmidt pointed out last night, the idea that anyone on the Council or any significant group of Chapel Hillians is "anti-UNC" is utterly without foundation and would be laughable if it were not repeated with such insulting regularity.

Chris--I have shared your concerns in the past, on this forum in fact. However, what I have learned over the past year is just how much of a financial burden the town bears in order to support the university. The university pays no property taxes--the primary source of local government funding. Property taxes pay for town services such as police, fire, road maintenance, trash collection, etc. While many students and faculty do pay into the property tax fund, many live outside of town due to the high cost of living here--a result of our reputation AND a tax rate high enough to offset the missed property tax revenues.

To me there is also an inherent loss in the change of culture from the small village we used to be to the growing metropolis facing us with the Carolina North development. Although you can't put a dollar amount on that change, it has a direct impact on those who are permanent residents.

The Carolina North project will further exacerbate the Town's financial problems from all that I can tell. As a result of the project, the Town will be building (and financing) a new Town Operations Center, will need to make serious road modifications, will need to provide significantly more public safety services, etc.

While it does seem intuitive that the additional residents and businesses that MIGHT be attracted to Town would help finance these services, there is also a risk that the development will simply add to the University coffers (grant funding, business investments) without those funds being equitably shared with the Town. From previous discussions, it appears that similar university R&D developments have not been as successful as anticipated (NC State is the one I remember being used as an example).

To me, this unknown factor is what gives the Town the right to be an equal partner. Zoning is the primary vehicle through which the Council ensures the Town has an equal voice in university growth plans.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding your point Terri, but doesn't UNC make "in-kind" expenditures that benefit the community? It isn't as "one way" as your comment suggests. And surely UNC-CH didn't make the decision not to pay state taxes.

Second point: yes, by UNC-CH not renewing the lease for the Town Ops Center on the HW tract, the Town will now spend $43 million for a new facility (and almost a half million will be set aside for public art, but that's another issue). How many years did the Town lease the property for $1 per year? How much did the Town set aside from the amount representing the true value of that lease for the day that they might have to buy land and build a new facility?

Surly there is a way to structure any development at Carolina North so that the goals of the University and the Town can be satisfied, and it appears that the change in zoning may give the Town a stronger voice. Somewhere along the line, the "we-they" approach that has typically characterized the relationship has to give way to "us" type thinking and behaviors.

Can anyone tell me if impact fees apply to UNC?

I didn't mean to say the university doesn't contribute to the town Fred. My point was that in terms of hard cold cash (property taxes), the town loses out when the vast acreage owned by the state/university is withdrawn from taxable development consideration. It's not a value statement as much as an accounting statement. The Orange County Planning Dept has calculated that the break-even point for property tax generated and level of county services provided is about $250,000 (residential only). If the university is going to add residential and commercial property, will they be paying enough in other ways to balance out the lost property taxes the town needs to provide services? Personally, I would like to see the discussion take more of an accounting turn and away from the we-they arguments, you pointed out.

As part of the budget advisory process, it would have been helpful to determine the level of services the town pays to support the university vs. the support the university provides in order to maintain that level of service. I believe someone with the CH Planning Dept was working on determining how much property tax is needed to support current levels of service to residential property, but I haven't followed up to find out of their analysis was ready for public distribution. I doubt if that analysis extended out to anticipating the development planned for Carolina North.

My bottom line is that the Town should have a voice at the planning table and the zoning classification change from O-I2 to O-I3 provides that assurance.

Just piggy backing on what Mark said last night and Dan posted, after two years of being attacked as having 'anti-UNC' views in town politics, I have just started telling people that if caring about the environment and a fair process concerning development makes me anti-UNC then I am proud to be.

I think the university could further thier plans a lot better if they had a plan. Let me give the university a bit of credit. I don't think the town is much more in the dark then the unversity is. What they have submitted says the devlopment will go where the airport is but the state says the airport can't be closed untill a new location is found. That seems to make zoning questions moot.

Further, where's the loot to build it. Last I heard, the state is looking at $1billion in (cost cutting/tax increeses} for this year. The university is looking at more spending cuts; perhaps up to 4%. The UNC system just finished spending $3billion in capital improvement bonds.

Even if the state changed it's mind (said build where we told you not to with money we don't have)... the idea is questionable. As things stand now it seems like the presidents social security plan. They don't have a plan to critisize. They want us to jump on a train which hasn't come to the station.

"Property taxes pay for town services such as police, fire, road maintenance, trash collection, etc."

Just wanted to point out that UNC handles their own trash and recycling.

Sarah, did they clean up Franklin Street after we beat Duke?

Sarah--do you anticipate that the university is going to handle waste disposal, police and fire protection for the residences planned to be included at Carolina North? Wouldn't that be like the university becoming a small town within Chapel Hill?

Ruby, is Franklin Street part of the campus?

I mixed up my zoning statements yesterday. I'm in favor of changing from OI-3 to OI-2. As I understand the University's position, they are afraid this change will mean each single plan will need review. Anna Wu is quoted in today's DTH as saying "OI-2 encourages a building-by-building approach to development and offers no comprehensive mitigation strategies for transportation, perimeter protection or environmental management.” Couldn't that problem be solved by creating a master plan that was subjected to council review? Then the actual building plans could be quickly processed as long as they were consistent with the master plan. Isn't that basically what the concept review, discussed last year, was supposed to achieve?

Ruby - not to my knowledge. Grounds handles the campus up to the street itself.

However, non-UNC trash and recycling regularly finds its way into our bins, and we do pay for that.

Terri - I can't speak about police or fire protection, only trash and recycling. Those would be questions for DPS. I know that we do have a fire marshall, but use Chapel Hill's fire trucks. I would bet they'd have a UNC police substation out there.

We handle trash and recycling in all University-owned buildings. In buildings the University leases, the landlord provides trash and cardboard recycling, UNC provides indoor recycling. So yes, I anticipate that UNC will continue to provide those services at Carolina North. I am not, however, a deal-maker or a fortune-teller, so there is always a chance that I am wrong.

I am not trying to deny that the University receives services from the town. Just trying to clarify the small bit that I do know.

I'll be polite and call the university's position as put forward by Wu merely disingenuous. The fact is, as she knows very well, that neither OI-2 nor OI-3 requires a master plan. The only university-related zone that requires a plan is OI-4 (necessary reminder: OI-4 came about because of the town's ready collaboration on helping UNC succeed with its main campus plan).

On the other hand, pretty much any property over 20 acres can be developed under a master plan (see LUMO 4.8) although for most properties a meaningful master plan would require a rezoning (or several as in the case of Meadowmont).

The key point that Wu neglected to mention is that, under either OI-2 or OI-3, “building by building” development or development under a master plan is entirely up to the developer, that is, the university.

If you want to see some damn ugly building by building development that went up under OI-3, check out the cavernous high-rises near the southeast corner of Columbia & Manning (Joe Capowski may still have a nice slide show of that part of campus which he put together for a mid-90s discussion of Horace Williams rezoning).

With or without a master plan, under OI-2, the university benefits from the town's assistance in trying to get it right and the town is protected from UNC's tendency to get it wrong. Of the available zones, OI-2 gives best protection to both town and gown, emphasizes their respective and shared interests, and holds the best option for encouraging a truly collaborative solution.


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