Advisory Board Restructuring: Two Information Sessions This Week

Tonight is the first of two public information sessions regarding changes to Chapel Hill's advisory board structure. For the past several years, the Town of Chapel Hill has been in the process of reevaluating most of its operations. This includes changes in department organizational policies and procedures, employee compensation and classification, and Council guidelines for more efficient meetings. However, one area of the Town's operations that has not yet been restructured are its advisory boards. There has been a Council committee in place since 2010 (currently comprised of Council Members Gene Pease, Laurin Easthom, and Matt Czajkowski) to evaluate the advisory boards, and last Wednesday Council Member Pease presented their recommendations for board restructuring at a Council work session

The process has been divided into two phases. The first phase encompasses how advisory boards approach development review, while the second phase will deal with the non-development review aspect of boards. Right now, up to seven different advisory boards (Planning, Transportation, Community Design, Bicycle and Pedestrian, Parks and Recreation, Historic District Commission, and Greenways) can have input on the development process, though most developments see 3-4 committees. The proposed plan would create four new boards (based loosely on the Chapel Hill 2020 themes) to deal with development review:

  • Transportation and Connectivity

  • Community Design

  • Environmental Stewardship

  • Community Housing

As mandated by law, the Planning Board would remain, but would be made of a representatives (likely the chairs) of these four boards, as well as at-large positions. A chart describing these boards in greater detail can be found here.

As an advisory board chair, I am generally in favor of restructuring the advisory boards. However, I feel that there are several issues with this plan:

1) By dividing the process into two phases, it is unclear if the Town Council sees the purpose of advisory boards as development review or advocacy. I believe there is room and need for both, but if, for example, Greenways and Bike and Ped are absorbed into the Transportation and Connectivity Board, what will happen to advocacy of non-motorized transportation? This will need to be addressed.

2) It is unclear if this plan will actually help reduce the length of the development review process. If most developments only see 3-4 boards, how will this help? This question was raised by several council members during the work session. Also, there is currently not a board that deals with housing issues in the review process (though there is a Public Housing advisory board). A large number of developments (half or more) do not have a residential component. Will developers for non-residential development have to go before this board, and if not, then what will the role be for  the Community Housing representative on the Planning Board?

3) The proposed timeline (see here) places possible adoption of this plan on October 16. Currently, advisory board terms have been extended through the end of October. That does not allow much time to implement the board restructuring, and for current board members to decide if the would like to apply to another board.

4) I am also not sure if the Chapel Hill 2020 visioning ideas are directly applicable to the development review process, especially since there has been some contention in the community about the legitimacy of the development of those themes (which was not done by citizens).

This is a beginning plan, and is likely to change a great deal before its adoption. If you would like to learn more, attend one of the information sessions at Town Hall.

  • May 16, 7-8PM

  • May 21, 6-7PM

OP Editor Jeff Miles will be attending the session tonight, and will report back what happens.



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