Town Council Process for Development of Carolina North

On Thursday evening September 25th, at 7 PM, the Chapel Hill Town Council held a special meeting at the Friday Center.  In addition to all of the Council members (except Councilman Bill Thorpe who is absent due to medical issues) the Council Members were joined by UNC representatives Roger Perry (Chair, Board of Trustees), Bob Winston (trustee, Chair of the Building Committee) and Jack Evans, who is is chair of the Carolina North project for the University.

One of the important points that was made early by Roger Perry was that he and Bob Winston speak for the trustees and he gave assurances that anything that they agreed to in principle would be supported by the Trustees.  Another important issue was that of timing.  Roger pointed out that in July there will be 6 new trustees (out of 13) and that these new trustees would come in with little or no background.  Thus he urged the Council to consider a timetable that would complete by the Council's summer recess the necessary steps (e.g., rezoning, development agreement?) to allow Carolina North to go forward.

The meeting was taped and there is a lot of information on the Town's website.  The Council expressed concern that the timetable proposed by the Joint Staff Working Group (JSWG) is ambitious but also expressed a willingness to consider it further (which presumably will occur at their October 15th and, if necessary, October 20th meeting).  The timetable proposed by the JSWG is:

September 25, 2008

Council and Trustees meet, receive briefing on staff work over the summer, general outline of proposed process for proceeding, tools that are proposed for use, and a preliminary outline of the timing of the process. Council and trustees agree on framework and timing of the process for moving forward.

October 2008

University submits petition developed by the joint University/Town staff work group proposing that a text amendment and map amendment for the Horace Williams property be developed.  University and Town staff work group present joint proposal for negotiation of a Development Agreement. University includes as supporting information the adopted overall context plan for Carolina North for information, a specific phase plan for a discrete portion of the project for eventual approval, and existing background analysis (environmental studies, fiscal impact analysis, transportation analysis, design guidelines, etc.).

Council receives the University petition. Council refers petition to its staff and directs staff to:

·         Meet as needed with public and town appointed boards to secure advisory board and  public comments on the issues to be addressed, standards to be applied, and potential specific conditions on approval;

·         Consult with the University staff on an on-going basis, continuing the JSWG process; and,

·         Report back to the Council with a staff analysis of the University proposal, draft ordinance text and map amendments, and a preliminary draft development agreement by January __, 2009.

Council and trustees begin a regular schedule of continuing working meetings and to invite public comment on the issues to be addressed, standards to be applied, and potential specific conditions on approval.

November-December 2008

Council/Trustee group conducts public meetings on proposed text amendment and development agreement, including opportunities to receive public comment on overall project and key specific issues (transportation, housing, environmental impacts, fiscal impacts, etc.).

Advisory board meetings as needed.

University board of trustees updated on process and submission of plans, petitions, and development agreement.

January 2009

Text amendment, based on the joint work of the Council/Trustee working group and the staff working group, is submitted by Town staff to the Town Council for processing under the procedures provided for in the Town’s LUMO. 

University submits formal application for Zoning Atlas Amendment to proposed new zoning district. 

Draft development agreement, based on the joint work of the Council/Trustee working group and the joint staff working group, is submitted for processing under procedure proposed by text amendment.

Council accepts text and map amendment proposals and proposed development agreement and initiates steps for formal review of each.

February-March 2009

Joint staff working group directed public information/education meetings on proposed text and map amendments and development agreement (perhaps organized with individual meetings focused on key topics)

Council-trustee meetings held as needed to address issues.

April 2009

University and Town staff submit further proposed amendments or revisions to phase plan, text and map amendments and development agreement

Council accepts final proposal package for formal public hearings.

May 2009

Planning board makes recommendation on package.

Council holds formal public hearings on package.

June 2009

Council takes action on text and map amendment, phase plan, and development agreement.

If approved, University ratifies and records development agreement.

Professor David Owens, working with the Council, outlined the legalities of development agreements, including the fact that they are limited to durations of 20 years or less,  and their pros and cons (briefly summarized below):

Some Pros and Cons of Use of Development Agreements

Whether or not the development agreement tool is appropriate for the Carolina North project is of course a policy choice for the Council and the University. Experience in other states indicates local governments, land owners, and the public have found several positive dimensions for development agreements. These include:

·         An ability to review and consider a large project as a whole rather than dealing piecemeal with individual permit applications for individual components of the project.

·         An ability to consider a wider range of mitigation alternatives, to tailor conditions of approval, to secure binding developer commitment to the mitigation measures, and to assure compliance with the measures through regular periodic reviews mandated by the agreement.

·         Greater flexibility and creativity in addressing community concerns given the broader context in which the projects are reviewed

·         Longer term certainty and predictability for both the local government and the landowner.

·         More flexible opportunities for community participation and open negotiation of conditions.

There are also a variety of potential drawbacks that should be considered. Among these:

·         Once approved, both the local government and developer are locked into the terms of the agreement for its duration unless both mutually agree to amendments, thereby reducing flexibility to respond to changing policies, preferences, or needs. While there are exceptions to this rule for changing state and federal law and serious threats to public health and safety, they are strictly limited unless both parties consent.

·         The up-front planning, technical analysis, and community participation can require considerable expenditure of developer and governmental time, funds, and effort.

·         There is the possibility for ad hoc decision-making that does not take into account the comprehensive plan or a sufficiently broad community context. 

 This will be a tremendous challenge for the Council to complete everything necessary to allow Carolina North to move forward on the timetable requested by the University.  I guess we'll hear in 2 1/2 - 3 weeks whether they and the Town Staff think it is doable and whether they are willing to commit to this tremendous level of effort to be expended in such a short time.


I would say that this process is really going to begin in earnest with tonight's meeting. Please note that there is a 15 minute slot for public comment near the beginning of the meeting and another opportunity at the end. Unfortunately I have an advisory board meeting tonight so I'm hoping that someone might be able to take good notes or blog it for those of us who can't make it.


October 22, 2008

Chapel Hill Public Library, Meeting Room (Down Stairs)

7:00 – 9:30 p.m.


7:00 p.m.




7:05 p.m.


Introductory Remarks

Mayor Kevin Foy

BOT Chair Roger Perry

Chancellor Holden Thorp

7:15 p.m.


Public Comment Period

7:30 p.m.


Discussion of Proposed Detailed Timetable for Town Review of Carolina North Development

8:00 p.m.


Discussion of Key Issues to be Addressed in Town Review of Carolina North Development Proposal

Range of Issues

Identification of Issues Needing Substantial Additional Discussion

Process for Discussion of Critical Issues

9:00 p.m.


Public Comment Period



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