Hoe down or showdown?

Tomorrow (Wednesday) evening at 7 pm is the big, friendly hoe down between the Town and UNC to discuss proposed changes to OI-4, the zone that covers the entire main campus. This is intended to be a relatively-informal event which should allow UNC administrators and town officials to discuss issues in a non-confrontational format. There will be some audience participation, but I'm not sure how much.

There have been so many problems with OI-4. The zone was created in 2002 to suit UNC's needs for growth on the main campus, but I hope they will come to the table with open mind about how this regulation can also meet the Town's needs as well. For example, OI-4 currently requires the Town to review and approve huge UNC proposals in less than 90 days, when other smaller projects take at least twice as long to be reviewed by the town staff. Changing this time limit is just one of the nine modifications that will be discussed tomorrow.

I will be there representing the Planning Board, so I hope some of you readers will come out and raise some hell! ;-)



What's at stake on OI-4? Here's a reality check from Diana Steele who runs the Willow Hill Preschool from her home on Mason Farm Road.

Yes. Peg, Susan Fellner and I are mightily impinged of the survivors. Others simply couldn't take it. Ruth Egan was miserable and died. The Wolfendens sold and moved to a neighborhood where they can still hear birds. The family renting the UNC house next to me moved out and the house has stayed empty since. Jessie Gouger across the street from me hated the constant construction traffic and died. The Town subdivided her lot into three lots, thereby breaking the neighborhood covenant (it was to last until 2015. That is the covenant that UNC uses to justify running a power line across the back of my lot, allegedly to electrify the Mason Farm Road neighborhood but in fact to power Odum Village). Jessie's house and the two new lots sold immediately to a developer who quickly turned her house into a five bedroom four bath rental unit. He is now moving to build two more such houses on the other two spurious lots.

Constant beeping giant trucks, forklifts, bucket lifts, cement mixers rumble up and down Mason Farm Road, which they had promised not to use for construction traffic. The trucks start at 6:00 am and continue way past dark, seven days a week, including holidays. They speed along the road, constantly surprised by the one remaining speed bump in front of the Egans'. Dirt blows across my yard each time. They send a street sweeper to clean up periodically, which throws the street dirt up into the air again and into my garden. The kids have learned to hide behind the playhouse when the dirt clouds come but that exposes us to the constant beeping from the trucks rolling up and down the dirt hill on the construction site next door. Since the chaos drove my tenants out long ago, we can have school on the worst/dirtiest/noisiest days in my now vacant rental unit.

Dan, how about a little background on Diana's letter. I haven't followed this. Does she live across the street from the new UNC student family housing? Is this what she is complaining about? On first glance this student housing looks just like the kind of thing we're trying to encourage: high density housing within walking distance of work. Or is Diana talking about something that is happening deeper inside her older neighborhood? Why did the town break her neighborhood's restrictive covenant that prevents subdividing lots?

No, Mary, it's not "the kind of thing we're trying to encourage." Pretty much just the opposite.

The university is tearing down 306 units of perfectly serviceable apartments only to rebuild them a short distance away. In doing so, they are trashing the Mason Farm neighborhood in a manner anticipated by many neighborhood activists and described by Steele and others before the town council on numerous occasions. UNC has shown scant regard for its neighbors throughout this process and, in doing so, has seriously weakened its occasional claim to want to be a good neighbor.

I'm still confused. Where are the 306 units that are being torn down? The student family houing is the replacement?Was there a good reason why the 306 units needed to be torn down? Did UNC already own the land the new housing now occupies? Also, in Diana's letter it sounds like the town is culpable of something: approving subdivision of lots despite neighborhood restrictive covenants. (Where are these lots she is talking about?) Also, is the 'trashing' of the neighborhood a reference to construction debris and heavy equipment damage that can be fixed?

Mary, I suggest you reread Diana's comments above and perhaps search for some background in the newspapers. This is a case of a once-stable and lovely old Chapel Hill neighborhood, walkable to campus and once home to many faculty members, destroyed by the growth of the university.

Mary--in my experience with state budgets the university probably faced several constraints that prompted them to build the new student housing facility. First, the new facility is replacing Odum Village. If they renovated Odum Village it would mean taking student housing out of commission. Many of our grad students simply cannot afford to live off campus and any loss of campus housing would threatened the possibility of some students coming here or continuing on with their studies. Graduate students are critical to the university's instructional and research missions. Second, the state has some very weird funding rules. For example, they will often fund new construction but not renovation. Or like Smith Level Road, they will funded bigger but not more environmentally sound.

Neither of those constraints should lessen the expectation that the university be considerate of neighbors as they expand their borders. To me the discussion of whether or not the university 'needed' the new student housing is quite different from a discussion of their contruction process/procedures.

I'm also perplexed, once again, about why some people who were so outraged at the attitudes of the residents in the Carrboro annexation area, are now outraged with the university for building on their own property, close into campus. It seems to me that the university is following the principle of high density, mixed used environments.

Personally, I would be heartbroken if I was a resident of that neighborhood and like Diana Steele I would fight against it with everything I could. But if the town wants high density, mixed use development, that must include the university and it's going to have to impact on the wealthy, older neighborhoods that are sitting on very large lot sizes. That's why I don't understand the planning board's support for neighborhood conservation districts. To me that concept is at odds with the HD/MU principle.

7:05 and plenty of room. There's still time to come dialogue on OI-4 (and OI-X).

Here's a picture of the forum now underway: http://flickr.com/photos/rubyji/12387119/

The UNC staff is staying very quiet on any of the comments currently being made by Town citizens and board members.

Mr. House made a quick indication that they'd negotiate on the 120 days with a commitment to reduce internal development reviews to 60 days.

Other than Mr. House's comments, UNC has only had a canned message from Anna Wu(?) but no real feedback since.

Dan, my just about dead computer can no longer load anything and searching for answers is nearly impossible. I apologize for the endless questions.
Since I don't live in Diana's neighborhood, I can't really appreciate her distress, but it looks to me like the finished product leaves an intact old neighborhood on one side of the road, and high density housing on the other side of the road. Exactly how has the neighborhood been permanently destroyed? Is it the presence of the new housing across the street that constitutes the permanent destruction?
Honestly, if the new housing was built on empty UNC land, (and I still don't know if that's the case), did neighborhood residents really think nothing would ever be built on it? I'm always of the belief that a homeowner in town should absolutely expect something to be built someday on any empty land surrounding his/her home. It's foolish to dream otherwise.
I guess you know by now, my heart rarely bleeds for homeowners. I won't even shed blood over Winmore when it happens in my own backyard. As for all the construction traffic that will be stopping in front of my driveway, well, I figure the kids will enjoy watching it. I can wear earplugs if need be.
I know we're all different and some of us are wired to live in 'protected' neighborhoods. Some need to be able to walk out into their yards and know that nothing will ever change around them. It really must be distressing for those so wired, and it must be even more distressing for those who don't have the economic means to flee.
Again, I really believe in keeping our towns as green as possible while we grow, but neighborhoods will be impacted. I think Orange County is expecting about 32,000 new residents in the next 15 years, and these people will have to live somewhere. I haven't checked my ZPG literature lately—I think it's called Population Connection now, but I bet world population shows no signs of leveling off still. The point is, we will have to make adjustments in the way we house ourselves. It's never too early to start educating people so that they know what to expect to happen to housing locally.
Dan, I would be interested in knowing how you feel about infill, high density and connectivity. (If you're planning on running for office, I completely understand why you might dodge this question!)

Terri, thanks for the UNC perspective.

So far, the two/three elements discussed are centered on an early review of concept plans and extending the review period to provide adequate time to do a decent job.

One gentleman brought up that, in his experience, every time the citizens were involved intimately with a UNC project, the project turned out better. A number of UNC officials (House, Wu, ??) nodded and smiled - I think in general agreement.

From reading the paper this morning, it sounds like #2 is the only ammendment UNC has problems with. Is that right?
It also sounds like UNC is making an effort to be a better neighbor.
I still don't understand why UNC takes all the heat for creating the unpopular student housing development on Mason Farm Rd.
Didn't the town negotiate, then approve the language of 01-4 zoning? Didn't the town approve 01-4 zoning for the land the housing was built on? Didn't the town approve subdivision of the lots?
Seems to me, there's plenty of blame to go around for why this development ended up looking the way it looks (clear cut and too dense--I'm starting to gather that this is what people find so offensive.)
The good news, I hope, is that UNC has no interest in shocking and surprising neighbors and stirring up such fear and wrath again.

At the council meeting last night, council members took responsibility for failing the Mason Farm neighborhood when they negotiated the OI-4 development plan.

A quick recap of last night's OI-4 meeting.

There was fair amount of discussion on the amendments, especially length of the review process, with a lesser amount of discussion on UNC's requested additions.

I asked a few questions and tried to make a few points about OI-4. My basic thrust was OI-4 was developed somewhat informally, without enough public scrutiny; that the public's concerns during its genesis weren't adequately addressed; that "everything old is new again" and we're dealing with those same concerns; that we have a 4 year-old track record to judge the
current OI-4 process; that we've had significant failures; and, finally, that the best course of action is for the Town to freeze current UNC development with a revamped OI-4 (which includes the 9 citizen/Council requested elements), scrap OI-4 and develop an OI-X zone with more protection and enforcement teeth.

Funny thing, the idea of scrapping OI-4 didn't provoke any solid discussion.

The most "energetic" responses I received was from Roger Waldon, head of Planning, and Cal Horton, Town Manager, when I asked "Was there any record of an enforcement action against UNC in the last 5 years?" Mr. Waldon responded somewhat circularly. In the meeting, he mentioned meeting with UNC staff on-site and hammering out fixes. After the meeting, he told me in the last 5 years, under OI-4, all the incidents requiring enforcement action were remediated informally. So, in 5 years, no incident with UNC ever risen to a level requiring formal enforcement, thus, never requiring a formal record of action. Pretty darn amazing. I asked him about all the anecdotal complaints I'd heard about Mason Farm Rd., he said they were resolved satisfactorily. I asked about Barclay Rd., he said that he couldn't recall specific details but that many times citizen's complaints were resolved when UNC demonstrated it was within "code", so to speak, and, thus, requiring no additional actions.

Mr. Horton, in the meeting, essentially said the same thing - the relationship with the Town and UNC was good enough to resolve any violations informally. He further indicated a citizen could request any emails or correspondence to determine how issues were brought up and resolved.

I naively thought that the Town would keep some kind of formal record of complaints and resolutions. It's a shame it doesn't as, based on Mr. Horton's and Mr. Waldon's statements, UNC has a sterling record. Of course, this could also mean there's so much wiggle room in OI-4 that any violation short of pancaking local neighborhoods doesn't rise to the level of formal remediation.

Aaron Nelson expressed some concerns about the impact of tighter zoning on UNC to the business community. He argued the extra scrutiny could clog up the Planning departments processing pipeline. I'm not sure, but it seemed he was also trying to make an argument that UNC's projects were not distinctly different than the development of the downtown hotel or any other large scale development. I find this a somewhat strained argument as no commercial entity has come to Chapel Hill and requested 60 day review periods for a slew of multi-million dollar projects. UNC has a large slate of above $20M projects, two at $94M and $111M respectively, a level of development puts them in a distinctly different category. The closest thing I can imagine is a commercial developer asking the Town for expedited approval of a plan equivalent to building 6 or 7 Southpoints in short order.

I'd argue Mr. Nelson presented a better case for beefing up the Planning department (or removing whatever that "clog" might be) than for retaining the shortened, expedited review process for UNC development approvals.

There were a number of comments directed at the distinction between major and minor modifications and the distinction between internal and perimeter development.

Currently, minor modifications fall into five categories (which Mr. Waldon enumerated) and must not involve more than a %5 change to those categories various criteria (number of parking spaces, footage, etc.). Of course, a %5 modification of a large projects floor space could be rather large. Minor modifications fall under an administrative process and are the purview of the Town Manager. As a consequence, the modification can slide through with zero Council involvement.

It's strange this %5 loophole rule appeared in the historical record after one of those 2001 offsite confabs amongst some of the Council, the Mayor, Mr. Horton and UNC staff. It'd be nice to see some notes justifying the rule.

UNC asked that internal zones be given a reduced 60-day approval process in trade for expanding the perimeter approvals to 120 days. There was a lot of discussion on the timing, with Ruby pointing out that an approval process of less than 9 months for a (apartment/restaurant Ruby?) would be considered rapid. It seems 120 days for a $111M project is ridiculously short by any standard, but especially when you consider that the time between bid and construction is 6 or more months.

Jim Ward said the timing was arbitrary so let's settle on some agreed value. I pointed out that the timing was probably one of the least arbitrary factors in the process and was a function of how long it should take to adequately review these mega-projects.

What I do find, and argued lastnight, is that the arbitrary distinction between internal and perimeter development. It's hard to imagine that there's a pocket of mega-development (Bell Tower, Genetics Building, etc.) anywhere on campus that doesn't have a Town-wide impact.

Sally Greene also argued this, pointing out, for instance, that the Town's traffic patterns would surely be altered by internal development.

Late in the evening, Joe Capowski commented that under the OI-4 agreement UNC was supposed to take responsibility for the maintenance and repair of OI-4 zoned Campus roads. He spoke of how the increased bus and construction traffic had made a mash of the main thoroughfares. He characterized UNC's efforts to repair this wear and tear, to date, as pathetic. UNC's road rep responded that they were only directly responsible for the two roads they owned but were working diligently with NC-DOT and the Town to correct problems in a cooperative fashion. The UNC road rep felt that the Raleigh Rd. experience demonstrated how this collaborative approach was working.

A kind of bizarre note came from Dorothy Verkerk when she piped up, I think the only time, with a suggestion that students be incorporated in the process as some kind of learning experience. Mayor Foy had made a big deal about staying on point with OI-4 so I'm not quite sure what spawned her comment.

The evening wrapped with a quick review of UNC's requests for helpful modifications to OI-4. Ruby said that UNC's first three requests, which basically asked for specific targets and language, seemed reasonable.

Overall, UNC was rather quiet, deferring mainly to Mr. House and Ms. Wu. Bruce Runberg jumped in when I asked if UNC was willing to let the Town enforce code and cited, as one of my reasons, what seemed to be technical violations along Mason Farm Rd. It seems that under the LUMO ordinances, a private developer would've caught heck for some of the things happening on that formerly beautiful lane. He felt that UNC had addressed these "non-violations" in an expeditious manner and that, in any case, UNC wasn't in violation. Ruby pointed out that she didn't know one way or the other if UNC had violated any ordinances along Mason Farm Rd. but it would be great if an enforcement regime was in place so the citizenry would be confident either way. I used the old "trust but verify" saw to try to say the same thing. It'd be great that there was a public record to measure adherence to the "spriit" of OI-4.

The NRG folk made a number of excellent points and endorsed the original 9 amendments. I'm hoping they comment within this thread.

Finally, did this event produce results?

Hard to say. UNC 's representatives did clarify a number of points I believe in a positive fashion. They also agreed with more of the nine points than UNC's vice chancellor for finance and administration Nancy Suttenfield's guest
might've led one to believe. As the upper-level UNC seemed to defer to Ms. Wu when agreement was called for, I'm hoping that UNC won't later say she wasn't in a position to make these assessments.

Should they have another "open-mike" night? Yep! Hey, I benefited, so take my hardy endorsement with a grain of salt. Sure, I wished that more of the local neighborhood organizations had turned out, but tonight's meeting did give experienced citizen's like Ruby, Joyce Brown, Joe Capowski, Mike White, Laurin Easthom, Fred Stang and the indomitable Diana Steele an opportunity to ask the UNC folk direct questions.

It also provided an excellent record of UNC's level of responsiveness.

Mary, I was surprised by Bruce Runberg's reaction when I pointed out that the new Mason Farm bald is visible from Fordham Blvd. - he didn't understand what I was talking about....

Maybe UNC is a little oblivious to the current eye-sore because they've planned to "fix" it by replanting the old forest with individual "mono-spaced" trees. Again, I'm somewhat naive. I thought the forested buffer UNC agreed to meant that they'd keep the mature forest, shielding the development now and in the future, rather than knocking a ton of trees down and replacing them, eventually, with young pups taking 20,30,40 years to return the area to its former glory.

Sorry Mike. That was Mike Collins with the Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth organization.

Will, thank you for 'indomitable'.

Mary, the Mason Farm/Oteys Road neighborhood goes/went down BOTH sides of Mason Farm Road. It was established some sixtyish years ago by UNC professors on professor salaries and is hardly a "wealthy" neighborhood.

Chesley Baity sold her wonderful house and considerable acreage to UNC at a bargain price, with UNC's (verbal, sigh) promise to use it for academic expansion, expressly forbidding athlletic enlargement.Then came the Dean Dome.

UNC has been buying the other houses along the north side of the road one by one. They were also buying the houses on the south side all the way to the bypass but slowed down on that when it became public.

When UNC first showed its Master Plan, those of us on the north side found our houses eliminated, replaced by 64-unit apartment buildings. We then asked the University to please build only on their own property, which they are currently doing, but the thread of condemnation weighs heavily on us. I am particularly vulnerable, since UNC now owns the property adjacent to me on the west, north and east.

My home here is a duplex. When the neighborhood is not such a mess I rent one unit, and sometimes rooms. I have my preschool in the half where I live. Rentals and preschool provide my income for utilities, groceries, taxes, car repairs, etc. University representatives have offered to buy my house at a price that would buy me another residence, but with no provision for replacing my monthly income. That is not a workable exchange for me.

I hope this gives you more of a sense of this particular neighborhood and my position here. Come drive through. With the two year construction coming to an end, it's becoming slowly pleasant again, especially with houses along both sides of the road.

Thanks for more background.

Thanks Rob.

UNC 'reluctantly' backs Columbia plan

William Roper, CEO of the UNC Health Care System, expressed "reluctant" support to The Chapel Hill Herald on Tuesday for improvements the council wants to South Columbia, which serves as a key southern access route to UNC Hospitals, the campus and the town in general.

Reluctant? Kind of an understatement, but at least they're willing to talk about

Decisions about the future of the Horace Williams Airport and the basing of UNC's air fleet have to emerge from a "free and full debate on the issues," the dean of UNC's medical school said Tuesday.


...debate will begin -- but not end -- later this month when UNC officials present plans for a satellite campus on the airport site called Carolina North to the university's Board of Trustees, said Dean William Roper, who is also the CEO of UNC Health Care.

Wonder if Dean Moeser can be convinced to redline those principles in the HWCC report his UNC administration and the UNC BOTs disagree with?

Hey, Dean Roper is even willing to include input from "community folks" in Chapel Hill and he's

"..very interested that we have a full and unfettered public debate about all the issues at hand with respect to the AHEC program, medical air operations, our use for those programs of Horace Williams Airport and the development of Carolina North as an important part of the university's future, including the medical school's future."

Wonder if they'll be discussing siting a Class 4 bio-weapons facility at UNC/North?

UNC's "reluctant" support of the now orphan plan to add pedestrian and bike amenities along South Columbia Street amounts to condemnation and abandonment.

UNC arranged though their cronies on Raleigh to abort DOT's implementation of an excellent plan. Year by year it is delayed.

Who now has the courage to implement and expedite that forward-thinking project in the face of UNC's blatant disapproval?

'Reluctant support'? Yuk.

So is Chapel Hill going to be caught in the crossfire as NCSU's and UNC's boosters have a shootout at the ole "Centennial Campus envy" corral?

I wonder if the BOTs impetus reported in today's N & O, to allow these institutions to set their own funding rates, is to create a pot of cash to pay for their "corporate" vision of UNC? The BOTs back channel communications with the Senate, coupled with their well-heeled supporters indicate that maybe a closer examination should be made of their development motives.


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