Finding a Site for the Carrboro Branch Library

A full-service library has been at the top of Carrboro's community facilities wish list for decades. So, the recent announcement of a contract to purchase a 2.7-acre site at 210 Hillsborough Road (see map) was, in some ways, welcome news. Unfortunately, however, it is not clear that this site will fulfill Carrboro's dream of a place downtown for the community to gather and learn.

While we heartily salute the county commissioners' determination to bring a library to downtown Carrboro, one has to wonder what indicates that the parcel behind Carrboro Elementary would be the most suitable site. It is served by only one bus line, it is difficult to get to, and traffic would further complicate and congest an already problematic intersection near our elementary school. When did the public have an opportunity to comment on the site selection, or its selection criteria?

A location in the heart of downtown Carrboro along our three bus routes would be a far better option. To be sure, the higher cost of land poses a challenge to finding a site downtown. But there are imaginative solutions to this challenge. For example, the county could partner with the town and/or private entities to site a library as part of a downtown mixed-use project. The recent proposal to relocate Chapel Hill's Library at University Mall is a good example of a project that integrates commercial and institutional uses.

Below is a picture of the Bookmark Apartments in Portland, Oregon (see map). In addition to the ground-floor library and coffee shop, there are three floors above with 49 apartments, including 19 affordable units.

Bookmark Apartments, Portland, Oregon
For Carrboro, three possibilities for an innovative and sustainable community project like this are already available to us:
  • Carrboro owns the parking lot opposite the Century Center and police station (see map). It is already paid for and could easily accommodate a multistory mixed-use building that could include commercial, institutional, and residential uses. Local architect Giles Blunden prepared a concept model for this site in 2000, shown below.
Lloyd Building Concept Model
  • The 300 East Main Street property already has development plans approved around the ArtsCenter's parcel (see map). The ArtsCenter has not expressed any plans to expand their current use of their site, yet the site is currently zoned in a way that could provide our community with more amenities.
  • A drugstore chain is proposing to construct a two-story building on the northwest corner of Weaver and Greensboro Streets, and a significant portion of the parcel is zoned for up to five floors. A rezoning will be necessary for the project they are proposing, so the Board of Aldermen has an opportunity to encourage the developers to provide a public amenity in the process. Why couldn't a four-story building at this corner include a library?

As important as it is to have a library in Carrboro, for current residents and those who follow us, the selection of the Hillsborough Road site seems hasty. Sure, this location is expedient and cheap, but is it appropriate for this important civic purpose? Even if public expense is the most significant consideration, aren't there possibilities other than finding land that is "bargain-priced"? We ask the county commissioners to rethink this purchase and work with the Carrboro Board of Aldermen to find a more suitable location, in the heart of downtown Carrboro, accessible via transit, and alongside the places that bring people together to experience what makes Carrboro “Carrboro.”

James Carnahan and Benjamin Haven
For the board of directors of The Village Project, Inc.

James Carnahan lives in Carrboro and is vice-chairman of the board of directors of The Village Project. Benjamin Haven lives in Chapel Hill and is treasurer of the board of directors of The Village Project.



We may be done with soon once the fait accompli actually becomes accompli'ed in April. Then maybe you can borrow the domain name and the open siting principles on it for the Carrboro library siting.  After that, if the BOCC somehow unlearns the waste siting lessons it learned with the transfer station in some future siting of a permanent transfer station or an actual landfill, then the community can use the abettersite domain name and principles for that when you are done. Please let me know if you are interested and I can ask the registrant.   

Excellent points, James. I share the desire to have a library in downtown Carrboro, and I think it would be an asset to the entire community to locate it in such a walkable and accessible place. In fact, I'm still kind of frustrated that there isn't a way to get the Chapel Hill Library and the County branches together under one budget and plan.That's probably a suggestion almost as radioactive as school merger, so I'm willing to let it go, for now at least.I do hope that an eventual Carrboro Library will be sited really downtown and not in the middle of a neighborhood - for everyone's benefit. 

I agree regarding combining CH and OC library branches under one budget while at the same time siting them in locations that are easily accessible to people who walk, take public transportation, bicycle and drive. Radioactive or not, it makes good civic sense and fiscal sense.

This is absurd! Although elected officials in Carrboro profess to believe in new urbanism, we are to have a library people will mostly have to drive to, while a good site for a downtown library is to be used for a huge new CVS instead?Link to DTH article.Kudos to Jacqui Gist for being the sole vote in opposition. James Coley

Why would most people have to drive to that site, James? It's on the CW route and it is within walking distance of thousands of people.  I agree it is not ideal, but give me a break: Walkability and transit access it's got.Also, your comment ignores the reality that this is the County's project.  We don't have the power to tell the County where to build their library, only the power to accept or reject that one site.  And we decided that that site will work if the County truly believes it to be their best option. 

Your two points are well taken, Mark. First, that the board had relatively little power since this is a county library. The second point about walkability is not so strong, though. Walkability is more complicated than being on a busline or near homes. Nothing beats downtown: the transit, biking and walking nexus.More broadly, I was expressing frustration, not an accusation. Frustration both with those who say that the market is always right (and you’re not among them, I know) and with the political process.I think you and I probably agree that it is an ironic, if not tragic, twist that a bigger CVS we don’t need might be built at a downtown site that would have been great for the library, while the library we do need will not be downtown. Are Carrboro’s electeds really so powerless that events and developments could not have been shaped to prevent this? Maybe so; and if so, I apologize.James Coley

It's not too late to convince the Board to fix this, but the Board in question is of County Commissioners, not of Aldermen.One other thing to consider about walkability, 210 Hillsborough is right next door to the lowest Socio-Economic Status school in the district, which means it would provide excellent access to the largest number of the lowest income students - not the only consideration, but an important one.  And Carrboro Elem. is the lowest SES because so many low-income families live within its walk-zone, not because of gerrymandering.

Watching the school board meeting last week, there was mention that when the current Carrboro Branch library was opened, it had to be in non-school hours specifically because the schools and the library didn't want their people to mix.  Thus, there was discussion in the school board about a fence between the new library and Carrboro Elementary.  I sure hope this fence has a gate and ability for the library to be used as you mention, Mark.

jcb- could you direct me to a resource (meeting minutes, online video, etc) that I could follow this discussion more directly?  I can think of few ideas more counterintuitive than placing a library next to a school for proximity and then putting a fence between them.

No idea if this link will work, but here goes.  It is mentioned around the 4:46:00 mark.

Shelton Street runs on two sides on Carrboro Elementary and connects to this site.  There will at least be a pedestrian connection there.  The rest of the common boundary between 210 Hillsborough and Carrboro Elementary is already fenced.

a great opportunity to take down the path and establish the most appropriate pedestrian connection.

Vicki BoyerWhile a library for Carrboro WOULD BE NICE, we have to balance that need with ALL current needs;  Which is most important right now; a library or the next elementary school?  If we have to let go of one to have the other, what will we do? The current economic situation is such that we can not currently create programs or put up buildings simply because it would be 'nice' to have them.  We share parks and rec activities with Chapel Hill, why the resistance to continuing to share a library?  Carrboro's identity should not rest upon having a library of its own.   

Two responses: (1) The county has said that it does not intend to break ground on a Carrboro-Southwest Orange branch library in the foreseeable future. The current step in the process is simply a request to rezone a site for future development. (2) The specific matter before the Carrboro Board of Aldermen is not whether a library should exist but whether the property on Hillsborough Road should be rezoned.

Not Carrboro's Library?

The new library, as I understand it, is meant to serve county residents as well as Carrborites. Until Carrboro can pay for it's own library, commissioners must consider how a county-run facility could best serve all county residents. It may be that this location doesn't fit the bill, but the assumption that this library should be built to suit the demands of Carrboro residents overlooks the needs of rural residents. For example, for those driving in from Bingham Township, parking will be an issue.

The site under discussion is for a Carrboro-Southwest Orange branch of the county library, not a town-owned library.

includes Chapel Hillians, too.  We are frequent users of the Carrboro Branch Library at McDougle today.  It often has better books than the vaunted CH library (and not because of space, just the priorities of what is purchased is more in line for us).  Given that I don't get transportation anywhere near my house, we'd have to drive to here are well.

The notion that "rural residents need access to the library" = we should not put the library in downtown near the highest level of bus and pedestrian access makes no sense.There is plenty of public parking in downtown Carrboro, and a recent study shows that despite some perceptions to the contrary, much of that parking has capacity for additional users much of the time.  This means that IF a library branch were to be located in the core of downtown Carrboro, then there would be people accessing it by bike, foot, bus and car.  Now it is possible that some of the car users would get to park for free and walk a block or two instead of parking right at the library, but that's what people do in vibrant business districts where putting parking for every use on every parcel eventually ruins the vitality of the business district by allocating most of the downtown real estate to cars and not higher and better uses.The flip side of this is that by locating the library at a location that is NOT convenient to multiple bus routes, many people who might access the library via bus in a downtown location will now drive to the more auto-prioritized location, which means more Chapel Hill/Carrboro dwellers competing for spaces with rural residents at the library.

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen voted tonight to approve Orange County's request to rezone 210 Hillsborough Road as a location for a county branch library. Because a protest petition had been filed by neighboring property owners, the approval required at least 6 affirmative votes. The request was approved by a vote of 6 to 1, with Jacquie Gist voting no.

The Daily Tar Heel reports today that, after asking the town to rezone the property for a library, the county commissioners decided last night not to purchase the site.


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