Rezoning UNC?

Once again Chapel Hill is moving toward a rezoning of UNC's property according to the Herald Sun.

Joyce Brown and I tried valiantly to rezone Horace Williams to O&I-2 back in the mid-1990's, but we were shot down at the time. Will it be any different this time? Sounds like it might. The Herald-Sun said the council voted unanimously to consider the rezoning.

We'll see . . .


I'm delighted that the council is starting the rezoning
process. The current zoning is an archaic mix, and if planning
were based on the current zoning, the
result would be chaos.

The particular part
of HW that is zoned OI-3 is what
scares me, because as
Mark pointed out back then, it is,
practically speaking, a non-zone that allows anything to be built with very few
restrictions and 99 pct of the time,
only a town staff review. As I recall
the HW committee discussions, there was unanimity that the property should
be re-zoned; the only debate
was whether to recommend OI-2 or R-1.
Those who favored R-1 simply wanted
a placeholder, that would
require that UNC ask for a rezoning
with its development plan. Those
who favored OI-2 expressed that
with that zone, at least UNC would
have to come to the council for
a Special Use Permit in order to
build anything substantial. I believe
that both are just placeholders, and
hope and predict that negotiations will
occur between the town and gown
that will result in a good project that
will both help UNC and have a
positive impact on the town. I truly hope that Chan. Moeser doesn't
reiterate his early main-campus statement "You're treating us like a shopping center".

I'm not clear on the relationship between the zoning and the new law that gives municipalities more control over state property within their boundaries. I tried to find the newspaper article announcing this new law but it's a "file not found." Does anyone know what I'm talking about? :)


I remember seeing that article in the N&O. A quick search netted:

"Land rules change, quietly:
Cities gain new say in state plans"


Joe, I wished that I could share your optimism on the value of having "placeholders." It seems to me to be a tactical mistake to have placeholders as a means of executing what could be a flawed strategy. I would prefer that the Town only zone something the way that they are willing and able to deal with down the road. And the "gamesmanship" of placeholders will do nothing to move negotiations along.

Part of the problem here, it seems to me, is that UNC has no "real" plan yet (or the money to execute it?) to give the Town, but some still think that there is a "secret" plan that will be sprung at the time of UNC's choosing. Without a real plan at this time, it makes it difficult to do much more than identify principles that the Town would like to see in whatever plan emerges. This situation gets us very close to having many folks confused about whether the Town is trying to design Carolina North or if the Town is in the role of approving/disapproving UNC's plan.

As with many unintended outcomes in policymaking, you have to be careful what you ask for - you might get it!

Mark--how do you and others who support the OI-2 zone for the Horace Williams tract respond to the editorial in today's Herald Sun:

Today's CH Herald editorial made several good points and offered a lot of food for thought.

I fear the town council's precipitous decision to open up the Horace Williams rezoning issue at this point can only deepen the already acrimonious relationship it has with the university. It may even lead UNC to go directly to the state legislature so they won't have to deal with the town at all. And I think everyone would agree, almost anything's better than that scenario.

The sooner the council sets aside its darkest fears and agrees to sit down and conduct detailed discussions with UNC face to face and in good faith, the better the ultimate outcome will surely be for everyone involved.

I can't help drawing a comparison between the council's decision here and GW's decision to jump into a war with Iraq. Had cooler heads prevailed and a diplomatic solution been pursued, the huge mess we now find ourselves in over there might never have happened.

So, my message to the council: Give peace a chance. Swallow your pride. Talk with the enemy and work on finding an acceptable solution at the negotiating table, no matter how distasteful and painful that may seem to you at the moment. For goodness sake, and for the sake of Chapel Hill's future, let cooler heads prevail. Don't get us into a war we most likely won't be able to win.

I don't know too much about the zoning/rezoning process, so please excuse what is probably an elementary question. However, I am curious about how zoning decisions are made in general. In this particular case, it seems that the discussion of rezoning is a reaction to what UNC might be able to do with this site under its current zoning. But the current zoning occurred that way for some reason---why was the current zoning OK for this piece of property last year, but not OK now? When the property was zoned, someone must have known what that meant in terms of buildout, so why is Carolina North such a surprise? How does the town make zoning decisions for undeveloped property and under what circumstances can that zoning be revisited and changed? Thanks for helping me understand this issue.

Charlie, you've got it backwards. I think UNC is the U.S., claiming to attempt diplomatic solutions while in fact having it's mind already made up and being unwilling to compromise. The current zoning does not reflect anyone's goals for the property, not UNC's and not the community's.

So in answer to Anita's question, rezoning comes about when the town rethinks it's goals and vision, which is a constantly ongoing process. This usually happens after a comprehensive plan has been undertaken. I have to say I think the planners were remiss to leave the OI-2/OI-3/R-1 zoning on this property in the wake of our last comprehensive plan. (I was not yet on the Planning Board at that time.) It really doesn't reflect any coherent vision at all.

In fact, almost all of what UNC is proposing to build is in the area that is currently OI-2 already. Changing it to one consistent zone will better reflect the community's goals for the property and in does not prohibit UNC from doing anything other than ramming projects through with no community input. OI-2 is not a roadblock. Many people have presumed that UNC would like this propoerty zoned OI-4. Well let them ask for it and we can discuss that proposal. At the moment, the University has not engaged in a dialogue with the Town, and the Councilmembers are smart but they're not mindreaders! I think the voters and the Horace Williams committee have sent the clear message that the University should play by the same rules as the rest of us, this is simply being fair. Again, this is not a roadblock. It's a road MAP!

Chapel Hill is the excellent place that it is in part because of the thoughtful approach we have taken to growth and development here. We don't stick our heads in the sand and hide from the problem, we meet it head on by guiding and pacing our growth. How would it serve anyone to ignore this process for the single biggest development the town has ever seen? Why shouldn't UNC engage in a dialogue with us rather than dictate it's demands?

By the way, the Herald editorial posted by Terri doesn't make a lot of sense. They list all the great things that UNC wants to do with this land. None of their current plans can be done under the existing zoning! They would have to either ask for a rezoning or else re-do ALL of the plans they have developed in the past 7 years. Unless they have been intentionally throwing state funds away on expensive design firms, I think they were going ask for a rezoning anyway.

The Herald and others are making this out to be restrictive move when in fact it changes very little of the underlying conditions for CN. Why are these parties opposed to a level playing field?

Rudy -
I'm afraid you're missing my point, above. Frankly, it doesn't matter to me which party represents "us" or "them."

All I'm saying is - this isn't the time to be stirring up even more animosity between the two opposing forces. Surely you'll agree that the council isn't acting wisely by taking hasty and precipitous steps it may later regret. And I'd say the same thing to UNC too: Take a breath, guys, sit down and talk, try your darnedest to work things out instead of widening a rift that'll ultimately be harmful to everyone.

To answer Fred and help Anita,
I believe that a placeholder approach
is the best one and here's why:

Zoning is legislative. It is the process
by which the town council can establish
its vision for a piece of property
with few legal restrictions. When a
developer (UNC or any other) applies
for a rezoning, the council applies its
vision for that area when it approves
the rezoning. One could argue that it
is arbitary for the council to say, for
example, "we envision a large
mixed-use project in northern Chapel
Hill" but, this is what
local politicians are elected to do and
the laws assume that they should be
able to perform their tasks.

Special use permits are not legislative.
They are highly regulated by state and
town law, and there is an assumption
that if the developer meets the
legal requirements and if the council
makes findings based on sworn evidence
presented at public hearings, that the permit will be approved. Many
legal fights over denied permits have
shown this to be true, while I know of
no successful legal challenge to a
denied rezoning. Mark or Gerry?

By downzoning the entire HW tract to
R-1 (low density residential which
neither town nor gown wishes for the tract), UNC is
forced to request a rezoning as part
of its application. This gives the
council the maximum ability to apply
its vision to the property, which will
force both sides to enter into a
negotiation to everyone's benefit.

Can the planning board rezone a property once someone has formally submitted a project that conforms with the existing zoning?

The planning board can't rezone anything in Chapel Hill. That's for the Town Council.

NC Law permits rezonings for three reasons:

1) To correct a manifest error in the zoning ordinance.

2) Because of changed or changing conditions in the area.

3) To make the zoning more consistent with the Town's Comprehensive Plan.

I have always felt that the primary issue is #1 above. A zoning district that imposes essentially NO RULES AT ALL is no zoning district.

Charlie P,
Negotiations are always conducted in the context of the two parties' power relationships. Under O&I-3, Chapel Hill has no power at all. If Chapel Hill has no power, then talks with UNC are simply not negotiations.

To the Chapel Hill Herald:
1) OI-2 would not be "extraordinarily hard to displace." Why do you say that and then fail to back up that claim?

2) How is OI-2 a "downzoning?" It is merely a zone in which large buildings need SUP approval (unlike OI-3).

3) Who is trying to "stop Carolina North"? Clearly Chapel Hill cannot stop UNC from developing its property. The Herald, in usual fashion, is trying to marginalize the concerns of neighbors and other area residents by implying that they are anti-UNC - sounds like a classic Karl Rove-ian move. "Dissent is unpatriotic."

4) If, as many suggest, UNC can "just go to the General Assembly" then why haven't they? Do you think our state legislators want this issue thrown into their laps? Definitely not. Indeed, it seems that the legislature actually gave towns MORE authority over UNC schools in the last legislative session.

Everything Mark said above, plus... when Chapel Hill rezones a property they generally grandfather any existing uses. This means that they don't make you noncomforming with the stroke of a pen, but the new regulations will usually kick in if you want to make any changes to your property.

I'll only address the first of the questions Mark directed to the CHH.

As most folks in this forum know, it takes seven council votes to rezone property in the face of a protest petition. It is safe to assume that any rezoning, whether down to OI-2 or up to OI-4, will be protested, in the first instance by UNC, and in the second by neighbors.

My read is that seven votes are within reach for the move to OI-2 (the debate starts at 4-1 in favor, and those numbers will move as the debate winds toward a conclusion sometime in the spring).

I do not see any possibility of obtaining seven votes for a move up to OI-4 given the present configuration of the council. Cam's opposition can be taken as a given. If Bill, Sally and Mark K. wish to declare their open-mindedness on this point, they should feel free to do so now.

Moreover, the present configuration of the council is subject to change in less than 13 months. In the fall of 2005 I expect to see strong electoral challenges mounted against Verkerk, Foy, Wiggins and Harrison, in descending order of vehemence, by those generally aligned with the sponsors of the OI-2 proposal. I also expect expect these folks to establish a litmus test for candidates by asking them to vow opposition to any upzoning of the Horace Williams tract.

The unknown in all this is how the electorate will respond, but I'd say only that the most active partisans in local politics do not go into elections expecting their side to lose. In any event, given the seats that are up, the odds are the next council will be no more favorable to UNC than the present one.

BTW, the point of the editorial, which seems here to have been missed, is that UNC always has the option of developing the property under whatever zoning is in place. Ruby, Joe, Mark C. and others here assume the university will forego that option and come to the bargaining table. I see no basis for making that assumption.

It's been clear for some time from your editorials that you believe in the division you describe. Some might say that you are fomenting it. But it is fabricated from a selective and often forced reading of Council votes.

Let's look at the case in question, the Horace Williams property. A unanimous council recently voted to remove the road from Homestead into the property and to maintain Weaver Dairy Extension as a two lane road. In addition, a unanimous council endorsed the HWCC's recommendation to pursue the rezoning to OI-2 (a choice not generated by the Council or any faction thereof but by the committee).

My sense from these votes is that there is broad agreement on the Council about shaping any development that might take place on Horace Williams to reflect a number of community concerns that have been well-articulated by the HWCC.

Of interest is the inconsistency of your own interpretations. Your editorial this morning implies that the Council ought to listen to its own advisory committees. The issue in the editorial is the Council's questioning of the cemetery committee. You attribute those questions to the imaginary faction that you oppose and criticize them. But when the Council does listen unanimously to the HWCC committee, you attribute that as well to the imaginary faction that you oppose and criticize them in effect for agreeing with the committee. That's called having your cake and eating it too. As an editorial position, it's pretty transparent.

Frankly, I'm surprised that, given how long you've followed town government, you don't seem to understand that such committees are set up to advise the Council, not to make decisions in its place. If you did, you would not have written “We fail to see the point of the council's having delegated the job to the task force in the first place if elected officials now feel compelled to do part of the work from scratch.” Actually, if Council-members feel that a committee has strayed from its charge, they have an obligation and should indeed feel compelled to point that out. [Readers should note the hyperbolic expression “from scratch” in the editorial. Is it “from scratch” for the Council to scrutinize a committee recommendation? Does that make it wrong?]


Thank you all for the info about zoning--who does it and why it's done. It's very helpful!

Ray, If the rest of the media thinks
the way you do, then the media is trying to build a division that doesn't
I believe that the entire council wants
CN to be a mixed-use, auto-minimized
low-as-possible impact project that
benefits UNC and causes minimal
harm to the towns. To achieve that,
some type of rezoning will have to
be done. Options are current static
zones (OI-2,3) or zones that require
a negotiated plan (OI-4 or the tabled
MX-150 which might be reconsititued
in some form) or some new type of
zone that I cannot now forsee.
It is unreasonable to think that the
next council and aldermen elections
will turn on who will support what type
of rezoning. The zones are details
of the means to achieve a large ends
that we all want.

Just curious... If the council is contemplating rezoning the entire HW tract, shouldn't it also look into rezoning at least some of the undeveloped property in the immediate vicinity? It seems a unfair to just focus on HW without taking into consideration other property that would be directly effected.

Gronberg promises a division and then does all he can to make it real here and in his editorials.

Any observer can see the UNC Bloc is led by Verkerk (not be Foy who is something of the wild card on UNC/Horace Williams/Carolina North zoning). Gronberg's editorials have been consistant in their attack on those he sees as promoting rezoning in the favor of the town's citizens (who he calls "neighbors" as if that were a demeaning term).

Maybe Ray is right in thinking that Verkerk is solidly a UNC flunky as he tries to preempt any criticism of her in his post above by saying:

"In the fall of 2005 I expect to see strong electoral challenges mounted against Verkerk, Foy, Wiggins and Harrison, in descending order of vehemence, by those generally aligned with the sponsors of the OI-2 proposal. I also expect expect these folks to establish a litmus test for candidates by asking them to vow opposition to any upzoning of the Horace Williams tract."

Watching what benefits accrue to Verkerk from UNC as time passes will be as amusing as watching her sell out the Humanities Programs to the Pope Center or denying conflict from the consulting and support she happily took from red light camera vendor, ACS.

While I'm at it, we can be sure that Ed Harrison won't budge since he still has a gun to his head. Will Santa bring him a backbone for Christmas?

Jim Ward is safe in this election having barely scrapped by in the last. No one can doubt that Jim is sincere when he says things like "we can't vote tonight without our partners here" It's clear that he means UNC, his employer, and not the citizens.

I seem to have left out former UNC administrator, Edith Wiggins. She teased us with retirement, but astounded us with her work on the MLK Blvd. Will she challenge Foy in the fall?

Ray, himself, remains on the UNC payroll -- as an adjunct instructor of journalism. Just a little disclosure.

But that said, we all love UNC and wish the basketball team well.

We in Doodyville only want the citizens to have a seat at the planning table. UNC has already dismissed the citizen generated report out of hand. Thanks, neighbor.

Mr. Doody,

If you're trying to make a case against a division on the council, it doesn't help by invoking you're own conspiracy theory. Are you implying someone is into something crooked?

Here's my own theory. Some town council members should stop making the division so obvious. The cemetary discussion is a case in point.

Sally Greene makes an impassioned plea for historical preservation (West House) on her blog. Yet, she's unfazed by the need to restore historically significant fences in the cemetary. Why?

This US vs. THEM stuff is getting old already.


I'm confused by your comments. You speak as if there's nothing else of historical significance in the cemetary. As I pointed out during the discussions on this issue, the previous Cemetary Task Force (whose report the new committee was supposed to use as a starting off point) identified a number of high priority projects. During the discussion we questioned what level of consideration was given to these projects. Projects that, if completed would contribute significantly to the ongoing preservation of significant portions of the cemetary, to wit, those projects that would help curb further erosion and protect the cemetary from the increased traffic that will be created by the planned parking deck. The conflict was not and has never been over the value of the Di Phi plot, but rather whether 1/3 of the available funds should be dedicated to this single project. I think Jim Ward's proposal to earmark a smaller amount as a challenge grant is a great way to go. Di Phi might not have all the necessary funds availabe at the moment, but they do have a strong base of alumni. The alumni pool is not limited to just former members of Di Phi, but also includes the long succession of students who have served as student government leaders. I know I was proud to have been part of that legacy as a former Speaker of Student Congress. Those who were advocating for the fence restoration failed to note that Di Phi's greatest gift to student life at UNC was establishing a strong tradition of student self-governance. Probably the best model of student government in the country.

Mark K.,

I don't know how you draw the conclusion from my post that I don't think there's anything else of historical value in the cemetary.

The fact is the fences are the reason the cemetary is in the National Register. They need to be restored before they deteriorate any further. The money is in hand to act now.

As far as the other projects you mention, my understanding is that those would fall under the normal maintenance of the cemetary.

I didn't say that the plots were not valued by the council. On the contrary, everyone seems to agree that they are important and no one seems to dispute the high cost of restoring wrought iron properly. This is what makes the haggling all the more confusing.

Jim Ward's proposal was a good one. But, didn't the task force consider that already? It was my understanding that the Di/Phi simply lack that kind of fund raising ability.

My criticism of Sally Greene boils down to this: On her blog ( she makes a case for the preservation of West House, a piece of architecture on the UNC campus scheduled to be demolished to make way for the arts commons. Her passion for historical preservation does not square with her position on the cemetary fences. As part of her defense of West House, she mentions that some of the architect's houses are in the National Register. But, the fact that the cemetary is also in the National Register (because of the fences) doesn't seem to faze her. She also writes about the contributions the Tanner family (who commissioned the house) has made to UNC. You acknowledge the important contributions of the Di/Phi Societies in your post. Are their contributions less than the Tanners?

In my view, the expense for the fences is justified. Here's a link to my letter in the CHN which was published Sunday.

Actually Donna, the two things aren't the same. In the case of West House, the question is: destroy it or save it.
In the case of the cemetary that's not the question. Rather the issue comes down to HOW to preserve both the Di Phi fences as well as the rest of the cemetary. As I said in my earlier post, I think the fundraising potential of Di Phi is being underestimated a great deal. Your attempts at connecting the West House preservation and the cemetary issues are tenuous.

Moreover, I don't think you're correct in asserting that the only reason the cemetary is on the National Register is because of the Di Phi plot; it's my understanding that the old African American section also played a large role in achieving that designation.

Although I'd like to see the reinstatement of a line item in the town budget for cemetary restoration, there aren't funds there for it now. Even when there were funds (and I hope we'll have more in the future) the money was used for headstone restoration. There is still a need for safety improvements and erosion controls that fall outside of how those funds were used in the past.

Also, you say "I don't know how you draw the conclusion from my post that I don't think there's anything else of historical value in the cemetary." Really? I don't think it's an unreasonable assumption given your hyperbolic description of Ms. Greene's position. She's "unfazed by the need to restore historically significant fences in the cemetary." "Unfazed?," Well that's just not true. You admit there's a shared recognition of the importance of the fences. Also, in your letter you plead with historical preservations to give Greene a raspberry for not supporting paying for the full cost of fence restoration -- in effect saying that her interest in using SOME of the money for preservation of other areas and providing for preventative maintenance somehow is at odds with supporting historical preservation.

Also, I don't think this discussion benefits at all from a comparison of the contributions of the Tanners vs. Di Phi. It's distracting and irrelevant. Citing the contributions of the Tanners in no way diminishes the importance of the Di Phi.

I haven't really followed all the nuances of this discussion about the cemetery, but I was quite surprised at the high price tag associated with restoring the fences around a section of the cemetery. Is there a place where I can see a more detailed analysis of the cost break down and how those costs were derived? On the face of it, I have to concur with Mark that earmarking one third of the available money to this one project may not be the best use of limited financial resources.


In one way, the two situations are different. The focus on West House has been way overblown while the cemetary fences, and the artist who created them, languish in obscurity. I guess that's because there's no "poet-preservationist" or state senator to speak up for them.

Where do I infer in my post (7:55 pm, 11/29) that the fences are the only thing worth saving? Please explain.

Sally's not unfazed? I just don't buy it. She bothers to write an eloquent defense of West House, a structure of questionable historic value. But the task force's recommendations are dismissed. I don't think it's a stretch to say she is contradicting herself.

The case with the cemetary fences is the same as that of West House. "The question is: destroy it or save it." Allowing these fences to deteriorate because of silly political squabbles (US vs THEM) is the same as destroying them.


Go to the town's website ( Click on October 11 business meeting. The cemetary task force's report is Agenda Item #7.

And another thing. Where in my letter do I plead with anyone? I was criticizing the newspaper for not taking a position on this issue, especially in light of their editorial supporting West House. I was asking for an explanation. And my criticism was aimed at those West House proponents, who sent many letters to both papers, but have ignored this issue of historical preservation.

If the Tanner's contributions to UNC are revelent (at least according to Sally), then why aren't the contributions of Di/Phi just as revelent? I'm only repeating the same argument that Sally made. When I watched the cemetary proceedings, I was not aware of Sally's position on West House. I was very surprised to read it, given her lack of enthusiasm for the fences.

The opportunity to fix the fences is presenting itself right now. When do you think another chunk of money like this will come along?

Thanks for the link Donna. As I read the minutes, it appears that the 52,000 estimate on the Di-Phi fences came from a single contractor in Alabama. I guess that's my concern--the apparent lack of multiple estimates on the project.

I do not want to second guess this group's decision making, but I don't have enough information to determine how much due diligence was done on this particular component of the project. Perhaps that's what the Town Council was concerned about as well.

There used to be a local ironworks company---Vega Ironworks--who did all the wrought iron work for a lovely mall in Asheville. If they're around they might be a good place to start finding out about this kind of work--who does it, is there anyone locally, costs, etc.


Here is a link to a company that specializes in restoration. There is good info on this site ( According to this site, there are only about a half dozen competent restoration ironworks in the US.

Another site that is helpful is:

I found info on Enrique Vega, E. Vega Studios, in Apex. He doesn't specialize in restoration.


Thank you very much for the links. It's helpful in understanding the committee's work.

Yes, there are VERY few places that will restore old iron work--hence the lack of multiple bids. Personally--I think the old iron fences are what gives the cemetarty so much of it's charm... not to MENTION architectural/historical significance...and I think they ought to be repaired.

I was at the Council meeting when the cemetary renovation was discussed and I totally agree with Sally Greene.

The Di Phi society has lots of resources it can draw upon to help restore the fence, I'd prefer to see the limited budget go toward maintenance of other things, like the historic gravesites of slaves that have no foundation or institutions to watch over them.


I watched the proceedings on TV, too. It was Mrs. Rebecca Clark who described the sunken graves in the African-American section. Edith
Wiggins suggested that repair of the graves should come from the regular maintenance budget.

Yes, this section needs attention, but do you think there are $52,000 worth of restoration in this section? Like I said in a previous post: when will a chunk of money like this come along again? Unlike the slave gravesites, restoration of the fences cannot come out of the regular budget. It's a one time repair. You can't do it in phases. What company would want to travel to Chapel Hill 10-20 times to do this job in increments? How expensive do you think that would get?

Again, I gathered from the proceedings that the resources of the Di/Phi's are limited and that much of their funds goes to maintaining a valuable portrait collection. I have no reason to believe that the task force didn't do their job when they already explored this option.

I know what you allude to in your post. It's fairly transparent. Since all issues have to be framed in racial terms, why should this be any different? Mrs. Clark may be surprised, though, to find out that she's a racist since she did vote for the $52,000 allocation.

I don't buy the racial angle. Neither does Edith Wiggins judging from her response to Sally; "That sounds good". Translation: please don't patronize me.


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