Future Focus Report Out Frustrates Participants

Earlier this evening town staff briefed the public on the results from the Future Focus sessions held last week. The meeting followed a pretty basic format. During the first and last 30 minutes, participants were free to roam around five different rooms, one or each of the special study areas that town previously identified. In the hour between, Mary Jane Nirdlinger, the town’s assistant planning director, gave a presentation synthesizing the results while taking questions from the audience.

On the whole, people seemed unhappy with the way the sessions were held and the way the results were reported. Some complained about the lack of data while others were upset that the process doesn’t seem to be comprehensively covering the town. Still others bemoaned the lack of the detail that the process has engaged in thus far and the nearness of 2020 as an outlook date. None of this is to discount Nirdlinger, who did a fantastic job of handling some hostile questions and comments in a measured, polite way.

All of these observations are spot on, and they all seem to rotate around one central theme: time. We need more time to think through the complex issues that our town will face over the next 10 years and beyond. It’s interesting because while town staff seem to have emphasized the need to deliver something to the council by the June deadline, at the same time they constantly note that the process “is ongoing” and that we are in the “early stages” of developing ideas.

They also note that if the quality of plan is not on par in June, the process will be extended. I would argue that at this point there is no way to deliver quality plan in June based on where we are now. Why wait? We should extend the deadline now.



Yes, yes, yes. I really appreciate that you are still going to these meetings so we will all know what's going on, Jeff. I'm starting to come to the conclusion that while the Town wants public particpation in theory, they are not prepared to actually deal with it and don't actually understand what they want it for. While some 2020 staff and leaders might grasp that the public has good ideas that should be in the plan, no-one seems to understand that without genuine engagement, we won't feel any ownership of the outcome and will not feel any need to support the conclusions of the plan.If the process continues as is, anyone who doesn't like the content of the Comprehesive Plan will be able to easily justify their belief that the plan is not legitimate nor representative of the community's vision. It risks just being a piece of paper that doesn't mean anything to most people (and maybe even most elected officials) in Chapel Hill.


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