Northern Area Task Force presents report

I would like everyone to know that there will be a community open house on Tuesday, August 28th, from 6:30pm to 8:30pm at the Library. We will present a draft of the Northern Area Task Force report for your feedback and comment.

This was an amazing accomplishment, considering the small amount of time that we had to work. Those of you who were on the Horace Williams Citizens Committee will appreciate what I am talking about because we HWCC members worked hard for 2 years in order to produce our report. Because of the time limit imposed by the moratorium, the Northern Area Task Force and Town staff only had time to meet 7 times over 3 months and participate in 2 workshops with planning consultants.

Our charge was to prepare recommendations for the Council for the implementation of transit oriented development. We have recommendations and guidelines for over 350 acres of land along Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Northwest Chapel Hill. Not only are we the gateway entrance from the north, we will be the northern neighbor to Carolina North.

Please come and weigh in on plans for our future.



The report can be accessed on-line at:

Del, it's quite a report.

A few questions.

1) Density and height - was everyone comfortable with the base density of 8-15 units/acre? What about height? Was there any numbers bandied about?

2) There's talk of minimizing entrances onto MLK, was an upper number or number per 1000' discussed (seems like entrances onto MLK could be the traffic equivalent of death of a thousand cuts).

3) Funny that the Station is referenced as a successful design. Nice enough building but it doesn't appear to work very well on that corner. I know walking to it from the East or North is a bear.

4) Walgreens discussed at all?

5) The impact of development on Weaver Dairy is touched upon, was there a discussion of the tipping point when WD would have to be expanded because of higher density development?

Great work, wish the complete MLK corridor had gotten the same treatment. I'm quite concerned that CN to Downtown will become a commercialized strip. Our planners have already identified several possible sites along Estes to Hillsborough for high density buildouts that I believe are not in keeping with retaining the charm of surrounding neighborhoods and protecting environmental assets to the Southeast of the YMCA.

You have to remember that the charge the Task Force was given was to come up with guidelines and recommendations
specifically for transit oriented development. That in itself would dictate a certain amount of density. There are developments in Chapel Hill that are denser than 8-15 units/acre, so from that perspective, we were all relatively in agreement.
By specifying "appropriately scaled, multi-story, mixed use buildings," we tried to be respectful of the different needs of the different focus areas. It remains to be seen what happens with specific height limits.
We recommended minimizing curb cuts. Because Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd is a State road, there are DOT standards that will also control the distance between cuts. TOD design, in general, minimizes the need for curb cuts because it is not, by definition, auto-centric.
I don't think that The Station was specifically referred to as a success or not-the picture is there as an example-and it was used for the idea of landscape design used as an enhancement to walkability. Hopefully, your walk to it will get better as sidewalks are completed!
There was no need to specify Walgreen's, because at this point, we were painting TOD with a broad brush. I would imagine that the Town will see a new concept plan for that parcel that is respectful of the recommendations that the Task Force made. The specific store really didn't matter - our work was about the overall development.
Our hope would be that if the Council accepts our recommendations, they will be used as a model for TOD throughout the Town-maybe even for Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. south of Homestead! You know that I was fighting for comprehensive planning as opposed to piecemeal development in order to avoid a patchwork of uses that didn't work with each other. I hope that if the Northern Area development works out well, that concept will become a more common planning tool.

I need some help here.

I'm probably wrong in this assumption, but it seems as though not too many people are concerned/caring/interested in the northern part of Chapel Hill. It almost seems like Chapel Hill ends at Homestead Rd!

I wondering which of these possibilities is true:
1) People read the draft report on line, thought it was great, and didn't feel the need to comment.
2) People read the draft report on line, thought it was beyond awful, and shook their heads in collective despair,
3) People ignored the draft report because it concerned an area that was too far away...

We did have a great turn-out-made up of community members representing over 20 neighborhoods, NRG, and Council members. But where were the OP people? Northern CH borders the northern end of Carolina North-it is our neighborhoods that will be affected by the onslaught of traffic crawling down Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd or cutting through 5 residential neighborhoods bordering Weaver Dairy Road Extension.

I have been talking about the traffic (probably boring everyone to tears) since the day the original 17,000 parking spots figure was relaeased, so I am not new to the fray. I'm hoping that when development starts we won't be a considered a bedroom community to all of you and that we can count on your watchful eye and support.

There hasn't been any interest in the Smith Level Road issue either Del. We're expecting 30,000+ new residents in north Chatham, most of whom will be coming into Orange County on a regular basis for work at the university or entertainment.

As far as your report goes, I will admit to not reading it because I'm busy worrying about the southern portion of the community. I apologize for being so slack.

Del - Regarding your query about why more people aren't speaking out about Carolina North, it just might be that the vast majority of them are in favor of the project and feel that it will bring progress and new opportunity to the community - not just parking and traffic woes, as most of the contributors on OC would have us believe.

J., "vast majority" is a substantial overstatement at best; and Del's questions are entirely legitimate, it seems to me. Silence on CN or anything else north of Homestead Rd. can be hardly interpreted as enthusiasm or consent.

People living at some distance from the northern area may well be speaking out because they (in all honestly) probably don't care all that much, especially if they never drive around the northern area. Or maybe more to the point, because no one's asked them. It's been an unfortunate truth historically that, absent coalitions of neighborhoods, the north-south and east-west cleavages in Chapel Hill have often meant that issues that should concern the entire town end up merely looking like competing NIMBY-isms.

People living closer to the northern area may not be speaking up out of the sense of fatalism or helplessness mentioned at the NRG meeting. Or laziness, leaving the battle to the more active voices. At the very least, it is a matter of completely logical wariness when developers (be they private or University) talk about economic opportunities, creation of jobs, etc., with blithe dismissal of worries about the impact on the town.

Where an enormous project like CN is concerned, located at the very nexus of those east-west and north-south cleavages, the impact can't be anything short of town-changing, and not at all necessarily for the best. It won't just affect MLK but also (as others note) Weaver Dairy, Homestead, and for darn sure Estes Rd. and Estes Ext. If those become commercial corridors on the order of Franklin St. or Durham's Hillsborough Rd. it's not necessarily good news -- either for neighborhoods OR for the integrity/cohesiveness of Chapel Hill as a community.

I just read the task force report to confirm that it was not addressing Carolina North. It's focus is the non-university growth in north Chapel Hill from Homestead up to I-40 and MillHouse/Eubanks over to Weaver Dairy Road.

I would have liked a stronger statement on walikability along MLK, including crosswalks across MLK from every development that exits onto it.

J.-No where did I say that people were not speaking out about Carolina North-on the contrary, there has been an immense amount of discussion about it. I don't know if you will argue the point that quality of life should not be the price of progress. For the most part, I believe that citizen objection to Carolina North is 3-fold: first of all, we expect any development on the Horace Williams site to be worthy of the UNC flagship campus-not just "another" campus, but one that inspires with innovation and forward thinking ideas AND PLANNING. Second of all, I wouldn't be too sure about the "new opportunities," because as time progresses, it seems as though the University is changing its concept of a research, public/pvt campus (maybe there would have been progress and oppty) to an extension of the main campus. Lastly, if we don't focus on the parking, traffic (and accompanying smog and health concerns) beforehand you will be in for a pretty big shock when it is all too late to fix. It will be hard for the University to attract the "best & the brightest" to an area that has lost its charm and had its spirit sapped.

Priscilla-I agree, that we all tend to look at our immediate areas and try our best to defend them from what is perceived as a "threat." But, I keep hoping that if all of the various groups support each other (the goals progress from our backyards, to our town, to our county, to our our world) we will avoid the cloud of hopelessness and make a positive impact.

And Terri-The Task Force couldn't address Carolina North because that was not part of the charge that we received from Council. Obviously, "the Northern area" has random borders and the charge was guided by the large parcels available for development. But, I wouldn't necessarily call the focus non-University growth-I would assume that most of the housing will be Carolina North related.
As far as walkability goes-Our charge was to develop guidelines and recommendations for Transit Oriented Development, which by definition is pedestrian friendly. Additionally, the first bullet under Pedestrian and Bicycle mobility recommends completion of the bicycle and sidewalk system along corridors-specifically naming MLK-along with a host of other pedestrian benefitting ideas. We also recommended adoption of the NC86/MLK Corridor Study which, in itself, promotes pedestrian safety and walkability.
I grateful that you took the time to read the report and comment on it!

Del - I agree with pretty much everything you say above, but I'm also trying to have enough faith in UNC to believe that they don't want to see our community or our "quality of life" compromised any more than we do -- if for no other reason than they're part of it too. Let's start looking at it as a "WE' possibility instead of assuming it's an "US" or "THEM" inevitability. Until that happens, none of us will get what we want.

J-I'm glad that you agree with most of what I say. In a perfect world, your logic would be indisputable-why would the University sully the water they too drink? Unfortunately, it does happen because sometimes don't see situations through the same lens or a certain momentum has taken over. BUT, I will try to remain optimistic and hope that the powers that be have been listening (and reading OP) and that they will come through with a plans that are respectful of the Town, the residents, the neighborhoods, and the environment.
But, on what you would think is the off chance that they don't, will you join the chorus?

I did notice the recommendation to complete the sidewalks and bikeways along MLK, but that doesn't necessarily include crosswalks. I don't ride the bus because I can't cross MLK safely. And yet there are sidewalks on both sides of the street. The devil is in the details.

Do not fear-we took care of that too!
See-Gateway Entrance #2-design crosswalks as signature feature, and
Pedestrian and Bicycle Mobility #4-Ensure safer crossing of major corridors through ground level street improvements
a)install striped or colored crosswalks with maximum radius corners to ease pedestrian crossings
b)install pedestrian activated signals with count down feature that provide enough time to safely cross at main corridors and transit stations
c) provide pedestrian refuges with shade through median pockets along MLK and,
Transportation - #5-bullet 2 locate stops near designated pedestrian crossings with crosswalks and/or signalized intersections, and when possible, away from busy corners

your wish is our command-

Del -- Have no fear, I want the same things you do.

But I'm curious, just who do you think 'they" is? Some powerful and secret cartel that controls what the university does and how it acts? I prefer to think of them as people much like ourselves, who believe they are doing what's right for the community and its future success, the same as us.

Thank you fairy godmother. I'll see if I can think of anything for my other two wishes. :)

"They" ARE people like ourselves-but realistically, like ourselves, their first priority is, (and one could argue should be) what's good for the University. I don't believe that it is as simple as saying it is the Chancellor, nor I am I saying that is a "secret and powerful cartel," I'm just saying that there are many vested interests, different visions, and different perspectives on what is the "right" thing to do. What is right for the University is really not necessarily right for the Town or the residents. If powerful people always had everyone's best interests at heart, the world would be a wonderful place and we wouldn't have much to write about here!

"If powerful people always had everyone's best interests at heart, the world would be a wonderful place and we wouldn't have much to write about here!"

Amen to that, Del. All I'm trying to point out is that the University's interests and those of the community are not necessarily opposite or even that different. Ask any of the "powerful people" you mention and I'll bet they'd tell us they don't want gridlock or over-densification any more than we do. Because it would be just as bad for "them" as it is for 'us."

Del, this is why Joe C's comments on home rule in the CN thread are so important to grasp. As you say, "What is right for the University is really not necessarily right for the Town or the residents." Go up one level - what is "right" to the state? Their answer could conflict with the University, the Town and the residents. This is why there is uncertainity and concern over the resolution of the HWA situation.

I'm almost giving up in the face of so much optimism and faith!
Maybe some people are just wrong, maybe some people think it would be worth the price, maybe some people wouldn't actually be personally affected, and maybe some people really have the Town's interests at heart.
But, I would still rather be safe than sorry and keep my self aware ...just in case....

"But, I would still rather be safe than sorry and keep my self aware …just in case…." I guess that's why we all try to stay on top of the issue, right?

At any rate I think the worst of all possible evils would be for the state to insist that HWA stay where it is and have UNC be forced to build around it.
That might be good for a few wealthy private pilots, and admittedly easier for some users of AHEC planes, but not good for the community or the University.

Not to be a sour old skeptic (though I am a good part of the time) but history would remind us that not too long ago, what was "good for the University" was also what was "good" for airport advocates. It was only when the University decided (roughly coincident with the installation of Moeser) that the airport was no longer "good" for the University's longterm interests that suddenly the NC legislature weighed in -- heavily -- on what was "good for the State." At that point, what was good for Town and Gown, although congruent, wasn't deemed good for interests with clout in the GA.

It all can happen again, and we leave advocacy for the citizens' interest to others, including and maybe especially the University (where we have no elected representatives) at our peril.

Del, a quick comment on the NATF meeting attendance - the CN meeting was going on the same time (many of this year's incumbents took off to attend the NATF meeting it appears).

I've been making a record of the CN meetings, else I would've attended.

As far as the report, it's a good start. As you know, I'd like to see an "end-to-end" analysis and review of the MLK corridor and surrounding areas. I believe the NATF work is a good start in that direction.

There a few issues - like density and height - that sound like more of a piece from the "rah rah" Downtown development chant than makes sense for the historical nature of this corridor. Lining MLK with 5-6 story buildings clustered in dense developments would rob that avenue of both its charm and drive a visual wedge between the eastern and western adjacent neighborhoods.

Finally, we shouldn't be doing "one shot" roll outs of these and other policy proposals. I've been critical of UNC for not doing more CN meetings, doing those meetings in different venues, recording the give-n-take for wider unfiltered distribution and making better efforts to schedule them more reasonably for working folks.

But at least they're trying. Our Council needs to do much, much, much better on reaching out to our citizenry on these issues. Saying "there was A meeting" or "you could've attended such-n-such board review" is no longer acceptable.

The shameful way TC-3 was adopted should never happen again. Our community deserves the best opportunity to understand the impacts of these type proposals or changes in zoning and the Town, especially considering the current leadership that claimed they'd do better, has not been doing a good job (this is a leadership issue - staff, I know, is working hard but the message is not getting out).

Ms. Murphy: I agree completely that, "it could all happen again" and that special interests may yet get their way in the GA to keep HWA open. Someone suggested in an earlier entry that the University should just bulldoze the runway before the legislature gets the chance to meet again. Sounds like a fine idea to me.

The HWA situation is a little more complex than some might assume. It is not a PRIVATE airport operated by UNC; it is a General Aviation facility open to all. Why? Because UNC accepts FAA dollars for safety and operational equipment. As a result, it is a perfect example of "taking the kings money means doing the kings bidding.

Closing it requires a process be followed. Bulldozing the runway may sound appealing, but ...

For more info from a variety of sources, visit:

I'm sorry that there must have been some misunderstanding about the timing-the Open House started AFTER the CN meeting.
There was no mention of "Lining MLK with 5-6 story buildings clustered in dense developments" any where in the draft report. As a matter of fact, the Altemueller property was specifically singled out for less dense development, out of respect for the historic buildings, 200 year old trees, and Booker Creek headwaters. There was also a suggested pocket park, rather than building, on the east side of MLK at Homestead. The entire center of Focus Area 2 (University Station) has a do not build recommendation on it.
Remember too, that these are recommendations and guidleines and that there will be a Public Hearing (Novemeber 12), and reviews as each project comes up.

Fred: Interesting. But the FAA is a federal entity, not state. Does that mean the feds can step in to stop its closure?!

Just who will be the final "decider" when it comes to shutting it down? No, no, don't tell me...

Del, I understand and applaud those provisions. My concern is that "transit oriented" has become shorthand for the type of big development (boondoggles) of Lot $$$$$$$$$5.

No J., I think it means that if and when the decision to close is reached, the Feds must be notified and there will be a period of time before closure so that all appropriate entities are notified.

Best I can tell, there many "deciders!"

Fred - I seem to remember hearing about an airport in the middle of Chicago that was secretly bulldozed overnight on the mayor's orders. Apparently, the state had been going back and forth on its decision to close or not close for many years until the mayor just said, "the heck with it!" and had it destroyed before anyone could protest.

Back to the Northern Area thread-
There are 20 neighborhoods watching out for "boondoggles" as well as neighborhood protection, road congestion, walkability, bikeability, and the environment-and we are a scrappy bunch-

Very true! AOPA will tell you the story if you want:


"Faced with a $33,100 fine and the possibility of another $4.5 million in penalties for illegally closing Meigs Field airport and misusing restricted airport funds, Mayor Richard Daley and the City of Chicago predictably went into "spin" mode this weekend."

I am happy that we are not Chicago, regardless of one's opinion on HWA!

Good find, Fred! But apparently, even according to AOPA, Mayor Daly didn't break any laws; he simply "didn't keep his word to the pilots of America." Shame on him.

Tying the two together..... There are those CN opponents who think that keeping HWA would prevent CN from becoming too monstrous (or even from being developed at all). Although it may have been naive to imagine that the developers would not clear land elsewhere if prevented from using the runway area, it wasn't entirely nutty to think that between zoning and the costs of developing elsewhere in the tract, the scope of CN as well as the impact on surrounding neighborhoods might be limited.

Some of the town's north-south divisions, however, stand to be deepened by this very issue, however. Keeping the airport would mean moving CN in a generally northward or north-westerly direction, and thereby shifting the "weight" of increased traffic AND increased commercialization of the corridors to the north (Homestead, etc.). If the airport goes and current plans for CN are preserved, the strong east-west orientation of CN suggests heavy pressure on Estes Rd., already under a lot of 15-501/Franklin-to-MLK/I-40 traffic pressure as it is.

The one point of agreement is that MLK could become a behemoth of both traffic and commercialization, something surrounding neighborhoods will not consider a benefit. One hopes that the Northern Area Task Force report will become a model not only for thinking about MLK but for dealing with all approaches to CN; and that all neighborhoods will see the benefit of working together rather than merely trying to deflect potential problem areas to another sector of the town and forgeting about them.


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