Not-Quite-Live Coverage

This is my attempt to blog the University's presentation to the Chapel Hill Town Council about their plans for Carolina North. It may be a little rough, I want to get the ideas up here as close to real-time as possible so I am writing things as they happen while I watch this meeting on cable.

It's 9:30pm and I just got home from a meeting to flip on the Town Council Meeting where they are listening to a presentation from UNC about plans for Carolina North. I was encouraged to see they were talking about how to forge a better relationship and work together to go forward. But this meeting does not look terribly friendly.

Now at the podium is Doug from UNC who is going over the same old crap we've heard about CN for a year.

OK, ViceChancellorforR&D Tony Waldroup is up. He is presenting 8 changes to the previous version of the CN plan:

1. He has good news about the school site: The CHCSS picked out a site for an elementary, and UNC is giving it to them.

2. The main road is moved away from the Northhaven neighborhood, and the road nearest them will dead-end rather than span the entire campus. (What about releif for people in the Barclay Road area?)

3. They have a residential buffer. Near Northhaven.

4. Parking reduction? (I see this on his list, but I didn't hear him say anything about it.)

5. Taller buildings in the interior of the site, leaving more greenspace.

6. Housing will be restricted to employess and will reflect the range of types of employees. (You know what he's trying to say, but still so vague.)

7. Greenspace, more of it.

8. They don't like it, but they will give some permanent conservation easements - only around stream valleys,and only if the bosses in Raleigh approve.

Mayor Kevin Foy ask why they don't commit to permanently preserving all the greenspace? Waldroup repplies that "we have to be stewards for the future of North Carolina." Foy asks for a 100-year committment, they won't go for it.

Cam Hill questions length of 50-year plans. Things may change a lot in that time! He wants to talk about now. He says our quality of life in Chapel Hill is threatened (housing, environment, etc). Carolina North could exacerbate this, or it could help to solve thse problems. And what about the airport???

Sally Greene notes that they've been there almost 3 hours and are acting like the airport isn't an issue. She wants to will the number of residents be more than the number of employees/students using the campus? i.e.: Will this add to housing problems, or make them worse?

Drumroll please... VC Waldroup now addresses the airport!

He says the University is fully in support of AHEC. And RDU is not an adequate alternative. BUT, they think they can move forward with CN with the airport in place until there's an alternive. They have a map that shows the land that can be built on while the airport is still in service! They really don't want to change the plan.

Foy asks if this means there is no plan to plan for the possibility of the airport being there permanently? Waldroup says that right. But he has no good anwser for where the hell AHEC will go.

Waldroup is so smug and scripted. You can tell he practiced his messages for weeks. He has a great future as a politician.

Edith Wiggins points out that these buildable-next-to-the-airport areas don't correspond to the phases previously presented. Waldroup says they don't intend to do it in phases chronologically. He acts like this is obvious, but this is not what they have been saying all aong. She asks if the masterplan will include the airport? The answer is no.

Foy asks some direct questions about what the University plans to formally submit to the Town and when. Waldroup says it goes to the BoT this summer. He's pretty vague after that. This is a huge question. The Town has wiated wayto long to address the process for this. The HWCC had some recommendations... Hello?

Sally Green asks how this all relates to the decision of the legislative committee, and points out that Waldroup has not adequately answered Foy's question (amen).

Edith Wiggins is concerned that there isn't enough time to do all the work needed to build an honest dialgue between the Town and the University.

Mark Kleinschmidt is diappointed with their attempts at transit-oriented development. He says there are lot of tools available that are not being taken advantage of. He feels that the University is picking and choosing which things they can be flexible and work with us on.

Jim Ward asked the Town Attorney how th Council coudl legally approve aplan with a 70-year buildout. The Attorney sais that in fact the most the Council can do is approve something and have durrent ordinances apply for 5 years. That means a future Council can change the rules.

Waldroup said they're not asking for a 70-year approval, but just giving the Council a sense of the overall plan. Ward asks how they are deciding where to draw the conservation easements. Waldroup says they are using state regulations, to which Ward asks to have some input into that, to which Waldroup agrees.

Bill Strom wants the Town and the University to collaborate on local transit master plan. This is the first time I've heard it, but I think it's a great idea. He wants more clarity on our vision for transit and about the airport before this project moves forward.

Of course Waldroup replied with a list of urgent needs for research facilities at Carolina North. But is it so urgent that its' worth doing a crappy job out there?

Wow, citizens are finally being allowed to speak! That is cool, but making them wait until after 10 pm to do so is not.

Here are some of the ideas the citizens shared: There's already a lot of congestion at the Aiport & Estes intersection. Air nonattainment. UNC needs to answer the Council's letter. Less auto focused, less tech park focused. Listen to the HWCC principles. Agree with Council members' concerns. We need more time to do this. Reduce parking by half. I would say the citizens were overwhelmingly supporting the Council's current strategy of being very deliberate and not allowing the University to rush the process.

Although I only saw the final hour of this meeting, I am going to post these comments as is. If I have time I will review the tape of the first two-and-a-half hours, but I have a full time job and many other responsibilities.

Where you there? Did you watch? What did you think? Do you believe anything Tony Waldroup says?



FYI, the DTH has published this map of what UNC thinks it can build with the airport still in place:

Regarding Priscilla's comment above, I think we'd all be amazed how quickly support for AHEC's survival at Horace Williams airport would disappear if the legislature passed a bill saying that only AHEC business would be allowed to use the airport in the future. This step would supposedly address the issue of AHEC's importance, but also put many local citizens at ease who are concerned that air traffic will increase exponentially if Carolina North is constructed nearby.

Sally Greene mentioned an association of university research parks and their data does not show overwhelming success of these.

I located a web site

Interestingly the 2005 convention is in Raleigh. I have not looked extensively at the site, but noticed at the bottom of the page there is a listing of universities with research parks and links to specific sites. There might be some interesting information here.

UNC response to Sally's comment is that CN is not a research park but a ????? instead, sorry I did not catch their phrase.

Another issue I found troubling was UNC response to Mark K question about their incorporation of the town's Horace Williams Committee report into their plans. The answer was vague, a likely 'no'. Mark then asked if UNC would communicate what they did not like about the committee report. Again the question was avoided with a 'well maybe we could, if you think you want that, we could try.....etc' Mark pushed the issue and requested the University provide responses to the items in the report they found unacceptable. Mark gave an excellent speech about the amount of citizen input into this report and advocated strongly that UNC review and respond to it. Many thanks for your persistence Mark.

The UNC response was especially disappointing given all the 'let's communicate and work together' rhetoric.

You would think that UNC would like to be a model for other universities to emulate regarding innovative transportation and effective land use planning. In fact, other universities are trying hard to reduce the dependence on the automobile in commuting to and from their campuses. UNC could learn from Stanford University. According to Transportation Demand Management (T. Panayotova), in the last ten years, Stanford has grown by over 2 million square feet, but has reduced autocommuters’ trips by 500 per day! How have they done that? They have financial incentives to encourage other modes of transportation through their Clean Air Cash program (a monetary stipend to those who use public transportation/bike/carpool). They have raised their parking fees annually to discourage parking in general. And, according to Panayotova’s article, Stanford has a "car-free" campus comprising a 16-block area during the day that is open only to bicycles, pedestrians, and a few buses.

UNC could also learn from the University of Colorado. This university has concluded that it is three times more costly to add a parking space than to shift one person to transit. The University of Colorado learned from Cornell University’s experiences. According to Colorado’s Blueprint for a Green Campus, Cornell invested in a transportation demand management program instead of building 3100 new parking spaces. In the six years of the program, only 350 spaces were built and the university calculated it saved $12 million (Eagan and Keniry 1998). There are many other examples of universities to be explored.

In Chapel Hill, our buses, as Roy Williams says on WCHL, are free. Why create tens of thousands of parking spaces in the center of Town? There are ways to improve traffic flow that have nothing to do with the number of parking spaces. For those of us who have traveled past the YMCA at Airport and Estes in the evening you understand that traffic flow and traffic numbers are not the same. The proposed realignment of Estes would be an opportune time to address the traffic flow issues that currently exist near the YMCA and will be severely compounded by Carolina North.

If park ‘n ride, which is so successful from the south and east for the main campus were expanded near I-40 in the north, another couple thousand car trips to the center of Town could be spared further mitigating congestion and fuel consumption. Shortening car trips a meager 3 miles each way saves 30,000 commuter miles per day assuming only 5,000 commuters, or 750,000 car miles a year.

The latest draft plans are designed to get cars off campus but do very little to smoothe traffic flow on the bottleneck that is Airport Road. It appears all roads lead to Airport Road not Rome. Carolina North is the perfect chance to expand upon what we do well (fare free transit), tweak what needs adjustment (road alignments and traffic flow, particularly at Estes Drive), and think of new ideas (like a mini-busway from park ‘n rides to a transfer station on Carolina North). True dedication to mass transit would almost necessitate a transit station on Carolina North, which appears oddly absent. Our goal should be to reduce both the need to get into a car and the amount of driving that needs to be done thereafter.

Let Carolina North be a model of excellence for OTHER universities to follow.

I was at the meeting and I spoke sometime after 10:15 P.M. I have been discouraged by the heavily auto-dependent designs that have appeared thus far, and I have tried to focus my comments on how to adopt a transit-oriented strategy instead.

The 17,000 spaces is a recipe for complete gridlock in North Chapel Hill and Carrboro- I disagree with UNC staff that this is an improvement. 11,000 spaces would match the parking ratio to square feet on the main campus, but Doug Firstenberg made the valid point that the uses here are not going to attract the same mode splits as the main campus.

Carolina North will likely draw more of its employees from further away, and therefore regional access is going to have even greater significance than on the main campus.

So how do we do this?

1. Identify a funding source to fund Phase II of the Regional transit plan sooner than 2023. Current funding for regional fixed-guideway projects is dedicated to TTA's Phase I project until that date. The best way to get this done will be the combined initiative of the County, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and UNC advocating with one voice towards this goal.

2. Immediately fund a study to see how much it would cost to connect Carolina North to the Main Campus and Phase II via the rail corridor and city streets.

3. Begin procuring land near I-40 that abuts the rail corridor for short-term bus park and rides that can become long-term rail park and rides.

4. The suggestion Bill Strom made last night about setting up a transportation plan was a good one. The towns and the university should come together to get a unified transport policy. That means thinking about things like taking away lanes on Airport Rd. from cars and dedicating them to buses only. It means a comprehensive parking supply and parking pricing policy that is tied to development phasing.

I can't stress point 1 enough, though. Without a funding source for fixed-guideway transit to Carolina North, not too much else happens in this area. Getting the funding source dedicated PRIOR to construction of Carolina North has the potential to transform the whole project significantly.

So, the University is assuring us that they CAN have the airport there at Carolina North after all while they develop all around it, perhaps for the next twenty or thirty years. Phew, that's a relief. I thought it might be unsafe. But if the universtiy says not, I guess we no longer have to worry about schools and homes in the area either. Thanks, UNC. I feel so much better.

The only thing the council should approve is

1. the very first phase of development (whatever that is) which will be tangible and presumably have parking numbers for it and

2. a master plan that says there will not be an airport and Carolina North operating simulaneously.

other than that to approve rezoning or such for the whole thing is silly.

My favorite indirect quote was mayor Foy saying "it doesn't take some ingenious scheme to use park n ride near I-40. You aren't asking people to use new technology."

Council member kleinschmidt also emphasized the bus system currently.

I hope UNC takes the clear directive to use the bus system and park n ride and starts by identifying potential park n ride sites in their next presentation.

Why not immediately cut the onsite sites in half immediately?

Was interesting that despite 3 noble groups asking for space it was not even known, when ,where and how these 3 groups would ever get to Carolina North.

amazing how little financing and details of who moves where and when were described.

If the plans for CN are spread out over 50 years and clearly subject to much change, how do the zoning people address the issues of impervious surface? I would assume this is an issue with the stormwater utility proposal since it sounds like paradise is going to become a parking lot sooner rather than later.

I was there until all but one or two citizens' comments, left ca. 10:15 or 10:20. A long, long meeting of smoke, mirrors, fuzzy thinking, panic about things that aren't supposed to happen for 30-50 years and almost no concern about the near-term implications. To their credit, Strom and Foy tried to draw focus on what will happen next (not in 2040-50), but the University people kept returning to the broader picture, with the barely-stated implication that until the legislative committee rules on the airport, they just can't say anything definite.

Fair enough, but the Council failed to pursue their own questions about the airport as listed in a letter from Foy to Moeser and handed out at the meeting. Wiggins did ask whether the airport was in the final Master Plan and the answer was, "no," but no one pressed them on how much of the first 49 years of the Master Plan could include this "temporary" arrangement with the airport. The University insisted -- and the Council accepted -- that there are active efforts to find another airport for AHEC; however, RDU is finally, permanently ruled out, and most accounts of the AHEC/pilots' position say that no other airports in the region will do. No one pressed them on this, nor did anyone ask about 1) the strong push by the Med. and Business Schools to make the airport an integral part of CN or 2) alternatively, the likelihood of building an entirely new airport elsewhere and the sincerity/feasibility of that effort.

Overall, I'd say that the University is trying very hard to get the Town Council to write, essentially, a blank check re: zoning, financing, planning for the whole Master Plan so that they don't have to keep consulting with the Town each step of the way. I think it was Mark K. (or was it Foy) who was sharp enough to ask the attorney how far into the future ANY action by a Council could legally apply -- Answer: 5 years. Efforts were made, but far more gently than all the ire about not having a transit - oriented plan, to suggest that the University come up with more detailed proposals having to do with the first stages that are actually confronting the Town in the next 2, 5, or 7 years.

One fact that the University waited almost 3 hrs. to address is the necessity of building things out of order, thanks to the requirement to keep the airport there indefinitely. "Phase 1" is no longer the first to be built, but the University spent much of their time talking about Phase 1. The first areas planned to be built are 3 areas proximate to the airport runway, and the slide (next to last displayed) showing that was very difficult to see. If memory and eyesight serve, they include the current site of town operations, an area to the south near (or including?) the P lot, and an area at the west end of the runway into the Carrboro sector. According to that slide, building in these areas somehow complies with FAA safety regulations, which strains credulity not to mention common sense. For years pilots have been castigating the town for having built so close to the airport, but these areas are even closer. See further comments this issue on the "Will the airport fly?" discussion here.

The main focus of most of the discussion was the failure of the Master Plan to truly address transit/traffic issues, which it clearly does not. The Council did get tough on this one, and the University has been remarkably obdurate or else obtuse on the issue. They claim to want to recreate McCorkle Place, but they have cars all over the place. Mark K. asked how they could proceed without taking into consideration and integrating the regional transit plan or a master transit plan for Chapel Hill -- a valid and useful point which Waldrop sidestepped, I felt. The point was made that simply reducing the number of parking places by 10 or 20% doesn't do it, if you are still dedicating large areas to parking and not even showing bus/light rail/shuttles on the plan.

I do not think things ended cordially, despite the usual assurances of desire for cooperation. I felt the Council kept their gloves on and their powder dry and thus seemed either gullible or distracted by policy issues that cannot possibly be guaranteed or even really understood this early in the game. The University is, indeed, trying to rush the Town to judgment, and the Council did end by challenging that pseudo-urgency.

Here's the Chapel Hill Herald's coverage. It doesn't sound like I missed much of substance in those first 150 minutes..


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