Urgent: Please help us move Carrboro's Google hub from cemetery to OWASA

Our group savecarrborogreenspaces.org has collected 332 signatures near the Farmer's Market on 2 Saturdays and 3 Wednesdays. Our last chance with the Carrboro Aldermen is June 21. We need your help now to address this new "profits over people" environmental social injustice.

Land use decisions are to made deliberately, after public input. But Silicon Valley's wealth is pushing their ASAP culture onto communities and disrupting local procedures (e.g. Uber). To attain market dominance, Google Fiber imposes rules that speed the sitings of its internet relay facilities: Since towns control permits, Google will not partner with utility districts. Google allows towns to nominate only sites that towns own directly. Towns don't own much land, so parks and urban green spaces get nominated.

In 2015 Google pressured Carrboro to move fast. Carrboro custom-amended its zoning law so that Google's zoning permit could be approved without a public hearing in June. In its 4 nominations to Google, Carrboro included a park and the cemetery woods/ meadow. The latter is a rare green space on grad student/ working class Fidelity Street, in the densest part of town. All Carrboro parks are on the other ("good") side of Main Street. No public hearing meant that no one thought of the industrial OWASA site next to the cemetery. Not even the neighbors of the cemetery knew what would happen until days before the Bechtel Corporation (Halliburton's cousin) began building in the woods in April. OWASA indicated interest in hosting this hub on April 28, but Google then accelerated construction. Dependence upon these fiber connections will increase (e.g. 911 calls), and so OWASA's higher security and reliability will be valuable to 10,000 homes in southeastern Orange County.

Back-up generator tests and 24/7 cooling gear will be heard in the meadow and by graveside mourners in this humble cemetery. Google is worth $500 billion and has $75 billion cash. Relocating to OWASA is a cup of coffee. This won't delay things much: OWASA is equivalent for this technology, and the network construction hasn't begun.

Please sign our change.org petition, which you can reach after you read more at savecarrborogreenspaces.org.

Total votes: 127

Comments

This is lengthy, but it is because I have some issues with a number of your premises, stated either here or on your website. First off, I do agree that changes in zoning are better done in the open, such as at public meetings, etc. The more open government is, the better. But the rest of your premises are where we diverge. For what it’s worth, I am a graduate student, I’ve lived at the intersection of Davie and Fidelity for the last 5 years, and I am the exception to the rule you state on your website: a grad student who “talks to Town Hall”. I’m really familiar with the green space adjacent to the cemetery, riding my bike or walking past it nearly every day, and I also walk my dog through the green space literally every day.

1. Characterization of the neighborhood
You are correct that the neighborhood around Fidelity and Davie has a lot of renters, including a large graduate student and ‘working class’ population, but it is not appreciably different demographically from other nearby Carrboro precincts. As you can see here (scroll down a little to the interactive map), the Lions Club precinct differs little from surrounding areas (where it does differ at the precinct level, it is probably due to the inclusion of large apartment complexes south of Jones Ferry). If you look at population density, which drills down to a sub-precinct level, the parcels on Fidelity and Davie aren’t any denser than other parts of town (3000-6000 per square mile), even the supposed ‘good’ (north) side of Main. Generally, I disagree with your implication that this neighborhood is at all undesirable, lesser-than, or overlooked. It is possible that it is less well represented at BoA meetings due to the high proportion of renters (80% in this area, compared to ~60% in Carrboro overall), but I do not think this has resulted in less upkeep or neglect: there are bike lanes on Fidelity St., and just a couple years ago a sidewalk was installed on Davie from Jones Ferry to Fidelity. This summer a traffic signal was installed at Davie and Jones Ferry. It is also an area of active development, with a proposal to build 6 houses at relatively high density behind the O2 complex. If anything, this desirable area is on the rise.

2. ‘Disruption’ by Silicon Valley
I agree that ‘disruption’ (a term I generally use mockingly) can be problematic as new services, born of the ubiquity of the internet and smart phones, can run afoul of either generally accepted or even officially codified practices. However, I think your concern here is either misplaced and misapplied. There is clearly huge demand for services in the ‘sharing economy’, which companies like Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and even lesser known ones like DogVacay (board your dog in someone’s home) help satisfy, connecting people who want a service with someone who is willing to provide it; if there are problems, those companies then work with local governments to come up with a solution that works for everyone. Regardless, I don’t see how there is any connection between Google Fiber and the sharing economy. Google Fiber is an ISP, plain and simple; it has nothing to do with the sharing economy, besides sharing real estate in Silicon Valley. If Google Fiber is meant to disrupt anything in an economic sense, it’s that it will provide an alternative to mostly unpopular companies like TWC, Comcast, or AT&T for Internet/TV/phone service. Your invocation of Uber, as well as mentioning Bechtel Corporation as ‘Halliburton’s cousin’ (what does that even mean? They are not related), come off as irrelevent dog whistles.

3. Tranquility and use of the green space
You spend a lot of time talking about the tranquility of the green space. I agree that green spaces are essential to having a healthy, happy town. However, it is hard to see how the addition of two cooling units and an occasionally used backup generator will substantially change the tranquility of the space, such that it is tranquil right now. As it stands, the cemetery and the green space are sited at the intersection of two roads. There are no traffic data available for Davie or Fidelity, but nearby counts (PDF) of 4200-4500 on Main and 8600 on Jones Ferry suggest that at least hundreds, and perhaps over 1000 vehicles per day drive by the cemetery and green space. The common presence of a police cruiser at the cemetery also suggests that enough vehicles drive by over the speed limit to justify a patrol there. The sounds of garbage and recycling trucks picking up trash, especially across Fidelity at the Hillmont Apartments, ring through the neighborhood several times a week. The CW bus route drives by the cemetery many times a day, and those buses make noise, too. And all the homes in the area have their own AC units that, in sum, can make quite a bit of noise themselves. Is there peace and quiet at the green space now? Sure, sometimes, particularly in the evenings. But this is not a pastoral, natural meadow. It’s a formerly wooded space that was cleared of trees a long time ago. It’s great for people to cut through when walking from Fidelity to Davie, and for dogs to run around in. Besides those activities, I never see people do anything else there, so it’s hard to see how the mere possibility of extra noise (which may not even be notable or audible there) is going to be a detriment. If there is truly a concern about sounds encroaching on the green space or the cemetery, there should be more barriers protecting them from Davie, Fidelity, and the surrounding neighborhoods. I wouldn’t advocate for that, either, but turning the green space into a bonafide park would be great, as I think the somber cemeteries of today would be better off as the livelier parks they used to be. (As an aside, I have to point out that your mention of Mike Nelson is strange because 1) he wasn’t elected mayor until 1995 and 2) pointing out he was unmarried serves no purpose regarding this green space; and since he was openly gay, he couldn’t have been married – so why mention that at all?)  

In sum, yes, it is a shame that this wasn’t discussed more openly. And perhaps it would have been better to site the building on OWASA property. But I think many of your concerns, specifically regarding the location at which they are currently building, are either overblown or misplaced. Now that they are building there, the main concern is noise, if it becomes a problem at all. I think there is a rather simple solution: if noise pollution does appreciably increase in the green space, sound barriers can be erected around the building (it is town-owned property, as well all well know). If the woods allow it, perhaps that could take the form of a dense vegetative barrier. If not, there are lots of options for building noise-reducing walls. 

 
 

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