Neighborhood Conservation

After establishing Neighborhood Conservation Districts (NCDs) in the town Land Use Management Ordinance, the town of Chapel Hill started the process to create an NCD for Northside, the historically black neighborhood north of Rosemary Street and west of North Columbia Street. I was disappointed that the Northside NCD didn't do more to define and promote community design principles that could actually improve our quality of life. But it was a step in the right direction.

Now that the NCD exists as a tool for preservation, neighborhoods all over Chapel Hill are clamoring for it, from historic, near-campus Greenwood to low-income, struggling Pine Knolls. Guess which one has been able to turn out dozens of neighbors to agitate for an NCD at Planning Board and Town Council meetings? Here's a clue: it's the one where folks are less likely to work more than one job and less likely to have childcare for their kids at night.

The town is now wrestling with the question of whether it's even possible to do more than one NCD at a time (Northside took over a year), and how to prioritize the different neighborhoods. If we protect every neighborhood in Chapel Hill, is that the same as protecting none of them?



Ruby or anyone else who knows,

I was busy when the Northside NCD was established. Did any/many Northside residents complain that the NCD designation was an infringement on their property rights? You hear so much nowadays about old folks who make the case that the resale value of their property figured heavily into their retirement plans and that new restrictive zoning laws hurt them. Can older Northside residents who fit this profile receive compensation, or does NC have laws that prevent compensation? My understanding is that the thrust behind the Northside NCD designation was to protect Northside residents from encroaching gentrification, but how was this motive balanced with the pitfall that this designation may thwart some of the hopes and dreams of the very people the designation was designed to protect?

As for all the new NCD applications, I have to believe that we have a bit of a mass hysteria, due in no small part to the high decibel fear emanating from such neighborhoods as North Haven, Glen Heights, and Greenwood. I know I probably come off sounding like I'm a pro-growth, anti-environmentalist, but really my environmental ethic is quite good. (I'm thrilled about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker!). My hope is that we are careful not to let every neighborhood in town use environmentalsim as an excuse to stay segregated.

People ought to be able to build a second home on their property, if it will fit. This infill is what the rural buffer is all about. Just because it usually requires that a wealthy developer become wealthier still, does not make it wrong. Greenwood can even avoid the kind of recent Carrboro Pine Street rentals construction, if the zoning is right.

Zone the right BRs:bathrooms ratios, and you can keep rentals down.

The recent Erwin tract purchase was an example of where infill should happen, but won't, because of pound-foolish environmentalism. Through a chain reaction of housing demand, a 5-10-minute commute to Duke Hospital from there will now be a 30-minute commute from somewhere in north Durham or north Chatham. (The most sensitive wetlands there were already zoned protected, not to mention 1000s of acres preserved right - next - door. Everything is in a watershed. Everything. No one in Solterra should ever call themselves environmentalist again, for the contribution to sprawl they have led, and at great public cost, which after consultants and park construction will cost even more.)

The Greenwood etc. infill should go ahead. But because this issue will turn out many votes, watch all kinds of mental acrobatics by people here and elsewhere to avoid immediate firm positions, or even ultimate environmental positions.

Folks, it's not hard to be environmentally responsible and to be firm but nice about it. When I campaigned in Carrboro '03 for much needed votes, I answered when questioned by slow-growthers that their neighbors ought to be able to build infill homes. (Admittedly, that was a relatively conservative opinion in Carrboro ... and Shanghai.)

So here's a challenge, OPers. The main issue here is as clear as my support of this kind infill, even if the details aren't. Doesn't this infill make sense?

Isn't there a conflict between the planning board's/council's desire for high density development and providing a NCD for a large lot, high income area like Greenwood? Personally, I like the large lot sizes because they provide privacy and room/habitat for wildlife, but I understand the need to contain growth and development within well defined boundaries as a control measure against sprawl and even greater loss of natural habitat. But neighborhoods, local communities, are important to. What I'd really like to hear discussed is how these two competing goals can be balanced equitably.

For those interested, here's an interesting (IMHO) article are how our homes have been growing over the past 30 years. "Since 1950 the average new house has increased by 1,247 square feet."

One way to maintain the coziness factor is to funnel traffic onto arteries, and to avoid or even close (not necessarily to emergency vehicles) connector roads.

No one would be forced to divide their large lot -- they just couldn't tell their neighbors what to do with theirs. We're not talking about commercial zoning or townhomes -- just a rather gradual increase in neighborhood density.

Covenants can be used to maintain lot sizes and building heights. My neighborhood is split between Carrboro and Orange County. In trying to work with Carrboro's planning department on a neighborhood problem, I learned that it is much easier to work for enforcement of covenants than to try and have planning policies enforced. Plus, covenants take precedence according to the lawyer I consulted (and the planning dept agreed).


If Chapel Hill wants to "conserve neighborhoods," then before the planning board makes another recommendation about a NCD, there needs to be some serious definition about what that means, and whether or not it fits into the comprehensive plan, which stresses infill.

Most of the strategic approaches I see mentioned in the May 1 Herald-Sun article are:
-height limits
-setback requirements
-lower density

I'm not too familiar with the whole NCD issue, but at a glance, it's a whole lot easier to freeze a neighborhood in time forever using these strategies than it is to do infill.

So-forget lots 2 and 5- where is infill in Chapel Hill appropriate?

Janet, perhaps I can shed a little light on "who wants to live in Chapel Hill." I work for a local staffing/recruiting company, and I work with people every day who want to relocate/chosen to live/want to work in Chapel Hill. (Recognizing that I don't see people who aren't looking for work.)

They fall into a few categories.

1. Young professionals who want to live here because of the "creativity" of Chapel Hill--they like the vibe, the energy, like being next to UNC, the music scene, the arts, or the rich writing culture.
2. Young families who move here for the quality of our schools, the great place to raise a family.
3. And 50+ ers who relocate here to work for a few years before retiring--they move here because their kids/grandkids are here.

I haven't met a single person who has decided to call Chapel Hill home because of an abundance of good jobs in our local community. Most of the people I meet are totally frustrated by the job search--they can't find the job they want in Chapel Hill or Orange County--they are shocked by how hard the job search is here. They fall in love with our community based on our schools, how our neighborhoods look, our restaurants, , the Farmer's Market, Weaver Street, or whatever, and then reality hits. They struggle with the realization that they have to fight I-40 every day to get to a decent job--they're driving way "out there" sitting in traffic, hating life. I have had many candidates move to Cary/Apex in the last year because they have given up on finding work nearby.

They want to live in Chapel Hill because of our wonderful ambiance, but quickly realize that they will have to drive out of our community to work everday. Adn increasingly, they are deciding that they aren't willing to drive an hour a day each way, so we lose them.

We do not have a lot of "good jobs" in this town--by which I mean jobs that meet the median income requirements to live here. Where do you think these executives who live in the million dollar homes work?? Not in Chapel Hill. They live here to send their kids to school here, not because they work here.

The purposes of a Neighborhood Conservation District in older Town residential neighborhoods or commercial districts are as follows:

* to promote and provide for economic revitalization and/or enhancement
* to protect and strengthen desirable and unique physical features, design characteristics, and recognized identity, charm and flavor;
* to protect and enhance the livability of the Town;
* to reduce conflict and prevent blighting caused by incompatible and insensitive development, and to promote new compatible development;
* to stabilize property values;
* to provide residents and property owners with a planning bargaining tool for future development;
* to promote and retain affordable housing;
* to encourage and strengthen civic pride; and
* to encourage the harmonious, orderly and efficient growth and redevelopment of the Town.

Patrick, you raise an exceptional question: where is infill appropriate? As I try to answer this question, I do not think that Chapel Hill has carefully applied the principles of "new urbanism." We are at an interesting juncture to consider whether these principles -- self-contained communities in which residents live, work, shop, and find entertainment, recreation, and education -- have served us well, been misapplied, or whether we should rethink its application in Chapel Hill. New urbanism (as it was conceived) is an environmental methodology that creates a continuum of development zoning, from dense urban, to urban, to suburban, to rural, to natural. However, I am troubled by how these zoning boundaries have been fractured to establish whole and discrete micro-communities. These self-contained and autonomous areas feel like independent towns albeit within the legal geography of Chapel Hill.

The role of the NCD is indeed to freeze our older, modest neighborhoods as they were designed: with strong setbacks, building height limitations, and relatively small lot sizes. If we do not actively encourage preservation of these neighborhoods, then everywhere we go will look and feel the same. And, to be sure in a few years, we will have lost our natural environment. Chapel Hill's older neighborhoods are neither suburban nor architecturally homogenous. Each was designed for an easy walk to necessary services. In Coker Hills, one can bike or walk to a grocery store, civic building (fire station, post office, community center, library) or a park. Why would a resident want to add density to a 0.6 acre lot with a 2200 square foot house?

The NCD status also protects us Town-wide from easily adding another 20,000 people to the resident population. It is hard to imagine how the Town could respond to this growth in a thoughtful and timely way with additional services, schools, and infrastructure; and this kind of growth does not even begin to address the consequences to our environment and commitment to sustainability. More is not necessarily better, and growth does need to be checked.

Here's a Town Council that is willing to spend +/- $100,000 *per housing unit* on Lots 2 & 5 (Rosemary, Wallace). If it's that important, then infill needs to happen in the gradual places, too, all around town.

The math:
Town pays almost $20,000,000, to maintain the status quo on public parking at Lots 2 & 5, while developers build 180 units & 48,000 in retail space:

$20,000,000 / 180 units = $111,000 / unit

If you say the retail space is worth about 50 condos, then

$20,000,000 / 230 units = $87,000 / unit

Those moneys are tax dollars.

If the Town of Chapel Hill wanted to contribute half that much per current residence in Greenwood and Coker Hills, as a consolation payoff for adding another unit at further profit ... maybe those neighborhoods would be less keen to freeze out new houses? C'mon, Chapel Hill, you can get 180-230 extra units for much less than $20,000,000!

$100,000 in Town subsidy per condo?!? And then the Town turns around and contemplates shutting down infill in other places (which, incidentally, will not strain commercial parking space)?!?

(BTW, last time I saw the Town contribution, it was $18m and change. Now it's $19m and change. Is there a blank check here, depending on how hard the rock is for drilling?)

I don't even know what kind of math to call the logic behind this.

Oy vey.

Janet Kagan,

Growth will not be checked, because the growth in good jobs is strong enough to compel employees to find housing where they can. UNC and Duke will not move their burgeoning businesses elsewhere, and many other employers will stay or keep coming.

Because Chapel Hill & Carrboro & Orange County have not facilitated housing to match job growth, two things have happened. (1) Housing costs have risen more than in neighboring jurisdictions. (2) People who work at UNC have longer and longer commutes to neighboring counties.

Now, if you already own in Chapel Hill - Carrboro, as I do, you have a financial incentive to keep the supply limited, pushing real estate values ever upwards. If you own in Chapel Hill - Carrboro and you care more about your neighborhood's status quo than about making fists of money by building a second house on your lot, then you are closing the door behind you. (My house's lot is too small for this anyway.)

It's great that many people in Greenwood and elsewhere got into relatively affordable housing way back when, whereas they could not afford it now. But it is ungenerous, to say the least, that those residents now push for zoning restrictions that mean their successors at their jobs will not be able to contemplate the same kinds of housing locally.

Not allowing someone to build infill housing on their own lot in order to protect one's view and whatnot is a very conservative position, and cumulatively across this country, if unchecked, that kind of behavior will cause much more sprawl and air pollution damage than decades worth of SUVs. It will also gradually impoverish the working and working-middle classes, in favor of older landowners.

Opposition to infill is therefore both environmentally and socially regressive.

Finally, this kind of infill would happen very gradually, with the preservation of many trees and wooded paths and quiet. There is a vast spectrum from Coker Hills to Brooklyn, and no one is proposing moving all that quickly toward the latter.

Seems like the Town Council set the zoning in the Greenwood neighborhood back in 1983 (or possibly it has been largely unchanged since 1969). Either way, the real issue is that Greenwood was developed by playwright Paul Green long before the present zoning was applied to it. When the Council zoned the neighborhood in 1983 or 1969, they evidently chose an allowable density that is not very similar to the actual, then-existing development on the ground.

In principle, zoning existing neighborhoods to allow much higher density than currently exists is neither good nor bad. It is merely a policy question: Does the community want to see re-development here?

I wonder if there was any discussion of this matter in 1983/1969? That was before my time, so I don't know.

Looking at my own neighborhood in Carrboro, there has been good infill and bad. I may be biased, but I think my house is a good infill house. But, my house is on a lot of typical size for this neighborhood (1/4 acre); the house itself is a typical size for this neighborhood (1380 sq ft); and the architecture is typical for this neighborhood (1920's bungalow).

Now, for those of you who have not been down Greenwood Road lately, take a little trip over there. A typical house size for the neighborhood is about 3,000 square feet. But along Greenwood Road folks are replacing existing houses with new houses that are simply huge. For example, here's one in Orange Co tax records on Greenwood Road that was built two years ago: 6,369 square feet! Right next door is one built eight years ago that is 5,465 square feet. And these are but two examples. I can see why residents might be concerned about the trend. Frankly, it is a little difficult to see this as an affordable housing issue, however. Even un-renovated 3,000 square foot houses in Greenwood cost about a half million.

On the other hand, rezoning Greenwood will not stop the abovementioned trend. It will simply limit down the number of houses in Greenwood. The Northside NCD adopted "floor area ratios" to deal with the equivalent issue in Northside. I wonder if Greenwood will do likewise.

It's my understanding that infill is a strategy proposed to prevent sprawl (exurbs). If that's the case, then the question should be 'how can infill be used to achieve that goal without threatening the character of local neighborhoods.' Mark's description of what's happening on Greenwood (also happening in Lake Shore as well as Morgan Creek) may help control sprawl, but it doesn't protect the neighborhood character. It is also counter to the secondary intention of increasing the local supply of affordable housing. The NCD process can bring all of those goals under a single umbrella, but if the process is as lengthy as described in the press, it may not be the best tool.

Is there another zoning mechanism available besides NCD? Would the neighborhoods requesting NCD protection be better served by revising their covenants to limit building height, square footage, etc? If the university could break the covenants of the Mason Farm neighborhood, do covenants really offer any serious protection?

I'm not sure where y'all got the idea that "The role of the NCD is indeed to freeze our older, modest neighborhoods as they were designed" as Janet said. None of us get to preserve our neighborhoods in amber and excuse ourselves from the growth and infill that are neccesary for our community to continue to thrive.

"None of us get to preserve our neighborhoods in amber and excuse ourselves from the growth and infill that are neccesary for our community to continue to thrive."

Unless you live in Northside?

Could you explain the purpose of NCD Ruby?

Infill does not prevent sprawl. The best tool government has to prevent sprawl is refusal to permit sprawl-type development.

Infill may reduce the demand for sprawl but, given the overall housing demand in our area, it is hard to imagine that it would in fact do so any time soon or to any significant degree. Sprawl homes can more effectively be eliminated by requiring transit-oriented, mixed-use development whenever possible. This in turn requires citizen organization and the political muscle to keep the homebuilders lobby from denying us the regulatory tools needed for success.

To reduce sprawl, infill would most appropriately be coupled with transfer-of-development rights. In other words, the right to increase development denisty in town must be acquired by purchase from someone who has the right to develop at the sprawling edges.

The problem with much of the advocacy of infill and other forms of dense development is that it only looks at half the equation. It's like the episode when Homer Simpson starts eating lots of vegetables and wonders why he doesn't lose weight. He has to cut out the Duff beer, the donuts, and Marge's pork chops too.

To reduce sprawl, you also need to provide affordable homes inside the rural buffer. This is such a complex problem and needs to be discussed as such. The goals are reducing sprawl and maintaining a high quality of life (environmental quality, social opportunities, educational quality, etc.). What are the elements of the NCD equation? How do they accomplished the goals?

On Monday, May 9, 6:00 pm, a group of students from the Carolina Environmental program are going to present their capstone projects--one of which looks at the carbon reduction capacity of trees. As infill progresses, older trees are going to be threatened if not removed. What happens to the quality of our air without big trees?

I agree with Dan that the best way "to prevent sprawl is refusal to permit sprawl-type development." That said, sprawl is a consequence of an absence of planning. Infill, which is sometimes a response to sprawl, is not a solution for all housing, transportation, and quality of life issues. The reasoning behind "new urbanism" was to counter sprawl. Indeed, in some parts of the country, it is effective. But I think that we should be careful about adopting big city solutions in a small town. Not every neighborhood in Chapel Hill has access to public schools, civic buildings, a grocery store, recreation, open space.

It would also be helpful to understand who wants to live in Chapel Hill. I am having difficulty agreeing with Jeff that it is because of "good jobs," which he claims is driving the demand for housing. I thought that there was a demographic shift, which reflected an increase in retirees and laborers. I appreciate that UNC and Duke will continue to have a strong presence throughout our community, but the rate at which teaching and researching faculty is growing surely cannot be ascribed to the rate at which new homes are being constructed.

I think that it is time to update the Comprehensive Plan and look at what has happened since it was adopted and discuss how we want to live in Chapel Hill in the future. In 2000, the Plan stated its goals were to:

Maintain the Urban Services Area/Rural Buffer Boundary;
Participate in the regional planning process;
Conserve and protect existing neighborhoods;
Conserve and protect the natural setting of Chapel Hill;
Identify areas where there are creative development opportunities;
Encourage desirable forms of non-residential development;
Create and preserve affordable housing opportunities;
Cooperatively plan with the University of North Carolina;
Work toward a balanced transportation system;
Complete the bikeway / greenway / sidewalk systems;
Provide quality community facilities and services; and,
Develop strategies to address fiscal issues.

I would add that this conversation should be expanded to include those intangible dimensions of "quality of life," which include the environment, access to services and open space, transportation, civic needs, public art, and, along the way, we should talk about how Chapel Hill can create employment opportunities that positively contribute to our downtown (ie: other than retail) and extend these nodes into other neighborhoods in an effort to help recreate a sense of place.

Anita, thank you for your observations. What do you think of the following:

1) The DEDC's focus on specific types of Downtown businesses? I asked Nick Didow why the company I work for and many of the similar type of software, research, etc. type companies located downtown don't appear on their charts/maps/literature? He said something like "I hear that complaint often". I do live and work in Chapel Hill and I understand what a blessing that is, what could an institution like the DEDC do to incorporate these businesses into their economic model of Town?

2) The lack of a Town-wide economic development office and officer? I believe Chapel Hill could do quite a bit more to encourage "cottage" industry, information-based companies, research and development operations, etc. Carrboro is actively soliciting these type of business activities (low impact, high reward) to build its economic base. How hampered are we by the lack of focus on the whole of Chapel Hill?

3) Lack of an integrated economic development technology infrastructure plan for the Town? There's home-based information age businesses in Chapel Hill. There's home-based consultants in Chapel Hill. I know of a number of distributed "virtual" companies with 2 or more employees that are "based" (if that means anything in the online world) in Chapel Hill. I think we could do more to create a fertile technology ecology to attract greater numbers of these type operations to Town. Maybe they'll only employing two or three folk at a pop in well paying jobs but better then nothing. I read recently of how Google located a new research center in a small (12,000 pop.) Oregon town because their visionary leaders had intensively pursued and implemented a municipal fibre-based network offering high quality bandwidth to both their community and businesses within their community. It seems like a municipal-based effort along these lines could also spur UNC-based startups. Chapel Hill, as you pointed out, has many of the elements that people seek out when selecting a place to live, but it seems we're lagging well-behind other communities when it comes to a sound economic "ecology". Would bolstering are technology infrastructure fill the jobs gap?

Anita and Will, thank you for your insightful comments. This discussion seems to have expanded from the considerations of NCD status for Chapel Hill's older neighborhoods, and I accept partial responsibility for this digression. But it does seem important to look at our community through a larger frame.

Janet--I heartily agree with your last observation. Last night Carrboro reviewed two new development projects and a third project had a representative in the audience. Two of the three are going into downtown Carrboro, along with another large apartment complex that wasn't represented. As a reviewer, I couldn't figure out how these projects will interact with the downtown transportation study, which doesn't address how Carolina North will impact traffic flow to and from Carrboro (light rail, bus routes, etc.). None of the plans address the impact of all of this development on the Carr Court and Lloyd Street neighborhoods.

I'm new to the planning review process but I don't see how the current process facilitates consideration of the larger questions. In fact, the current process may actually interfere with efforts to see the bigger picture. Thus, while the town wants the economic development potential of new development, they are also faced with protecting neighborhoods. The two goals seem to me to be at odds with one another and the current planning process and zoning ordinances facilitate the smaller discussions rather than the larger one.

This might be a little off track, but it is a question I have often wondered about and you all seem very knowledgeable. I have lived in three different coastal communities that all had one thing in common, high-rises. High-rises built on sand. Yet, here we are on terra firma with few buildings over two or three stories. Why?

Don't get me wrong, I would want to AVOID sprawl and changes to the "downtowns" of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. But, in the area around Eastgate for instance, why are there no high-rise buildings? Is it purely a result of cost/benefit?

As Anita mentioned, there are many young professionals that move here, myself included, only to be frustrated by the traffic and lack of affordable housing. In other metropolitan areas, this lack of housing is ameliorated by high-rise condominiums and apartments.

Personally, I would prefer a high-rise district, near Eastgate, or out Airport Road, instead of single-dwelling houses filling up every square inch of the county. It seems too late to worry about it now, but then again, I can't imagine Orange County shrinking.

Anita, Your insightful Commerce perspective might miss those thousands of public employees at the university, and in local governments including schools. My family lives where it does first and foremost because of proximity to the hospital, where my wife works. Proximity to work is the first concern for a lot of people.

And Dan, that relates to your point. While it would be ideal to contain sprawl on the edges, as well as offset it in town, I think that the latter works quite well alone (and much better than the former alone -- since there are more "edges" than can be controlled -- if it's not the rural buffer, then it's soon-to-be-former rural Chatham)....

Imagine, for example, that the apartment complexes along Highway 54 West in Carrboro & Chapel Hill were single homes instead, even small clustered ones. And imagine that those apartment inhabitants still had jobs in and around Chapel Hill - Carrboro. Then those thousands of apartment-dwellers would live out in the county/ies somewhere, in small scattered rentals, burning up tons more gas every day. The mere fact of that kind of "infill" is working, and those particular apartments predate the rural buffer....

The same will be true even for massive homeowners in Greenwood (didn't know the scale!), who won't have to drive in from north Chatham. (Hmm, maybe zoning *could* cap house size, to encourage even more infill of people per acre? I think I'd recommend that.)

I appreciate and value the significant number of jobs provided by public entities in our town, but I don't think anyone believes that those jobs are the 100% solution for our employment needs. And I may not have made myself clear----a lot of our newcomers do make their initial relocation decisions based on those 'quality of life" factors that we're so rightfully proud of, but they get a reality check when they realize that they don't get much time to enjoy this "quality of life" during the week because they're commuting an hour or more a day each way on top of a full time job. What is that doing to our environment? And if they're working out of town, then where are they spending their money on their lunch hour? Whose community benefits from that sales tax revenue ? How much are they involved with the school they so desperately wanted their kids to attend?

Wouldn't it be great if it weren't an either/or situation---imagine if anyone who wanted to both live AND work right here could do so? It will only happen if we work both sides of the table---it's OK to say no to business development we don't want, but we also have to give a clear YES to business development that we do. And saying yes means having a clear vision of what we do want, recruiting those opportunities and actually helping those opportunities relocate to our community.

We need to be proactive about choosing and recruiting the kind of employment opportunities we want in this community to best utilize our local workforce talent. We also need to have more workforce housing options so that people who work here now but can't afford to live here have some real options about moving into Chapel HIll/Carrboro if they want to. These are flip sides of the same coin.

This thread started as a discussion about infill and neighborhood conservation, and I am sorry I have digressed the discussion. However, more diverse employment options, as well as more workforce housing options are important topics and I appreciate being allowed to weigh in. It's a passion of mine, given my job. Nuff said! Call me if you want to talk more, I am certainly in the phone book! Back to neighborhood conservation.

For what it's worth Anita, I think the issue of jobs is an important aspect of neighborhood conservation. The connotation of neighbor is friendly, amicable. When people move here for the schools or other quality of life factors, but are faced with long daily commutes, they are less likely to be engaged and involved in their neighborhood/community. If they aren't engaged, they aren't really 'neighbors' in the connotative sense of the word. And if they aren't engaged they are more likely to make decisions that are good for themselves even when the results are negative for the larger neighborhood/community. It's the big picture that we need to be talking about and you've raised some very important points.

We need more than just restaurants and cute boutiques--we need a more dynamic economy. I know Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Orange County local leaders share that belief, but I haven't seen any explanations of why we aren't more successful at attracting business (other than housing costs). Do you know?

You make an excellent point Terri. I think my family is fairly typical of Chapel Hill. My husband commutes to the EPA each day. For years, I drove the kids to Hillsborough for preschool. Except for food, I do most of my shopping in Durham. Historically, I've done as many 'family' things in Durham and Hillsborough as I have in Chapel Hill. I've done little in Carrboro, but that's changing.
Certainly, there's nothing like annexation to make a citizen take renewed interest and notice of her community. I thank Ruby and Dan for this multiblog because it has been an excellent tool for getting up to speed on the community aspect of where I live.
I'm especially grateful for this and other recent threads on growth. I'm glad I took the time this week (better late than never) to begin trying to understand what the controversy about 01-4 zoning is all about (I feel like the old bumper sticker, ‘Who is Shearon Harris and why does everyone hate her?'). Given what I just described about where my life has been oriented, it's easy to understand why myself and many, many others just skip right past many things in the local news because these events seem irrelevant to our lives.
Learning about 01-4 zoning has made me think more about the big forest behind my home that will soon be Winmore. The Winmore developers have a pledge: ‘Healthy pre-existing trees should be protected and preserved to the greatest extent possible, as set forth separately in the Winmore tree protection plan.' I don't know what kind of oversight Carrboro has of the tree protection plan. Is the oversight good enough? Will anybody be watching? Winmore is a great opportunity for anyone who has grown weary of being accused of being a selective neighborhood NIMBY to step up to the plate and show that they care about development in all parts of town. Perhaps someone has some pointers on where I should be checking to see if Carrboro's agreements with Winmore provide any real protection against unnecessary environmental degradation.

I have several observations.

In our fragmented land-use planning policy environment, it is a fantasy to think that growth can be checked. Any growth that may have occurred in Chapel Hill will simply move to Chatham, Alamance, Wake, Durham or Johnston County, where it generates more VMT and greater air pollution. It bears mentioning that growth diverted from Chapel Hill is likely to move from a jurisdiction which applies a high level of environmental scrutiny to jurisdictions where that scrutiny is much lower.

Dan's point about infill and a concomitant prevention of fringe development is correct. However, the fringe has leapt the Orange County line, and in terms of this policy question of NCDs, infill is all that can be done within the mostly built-out town limits. Working with Orange County on developing rural nodes would also help, but again, due to fragmented land use planning authority, Chapel Hill can mostly only work the infill side of the equation.

Most of the comments on infill in the community have not been as much about density as design. Mark mentions his house as an example of “good” infill, based mostly on the stylistic qualities of his home. If neighborhoods concerned about “character” are talking about design (rather than using “character” as a proxy for density), then there's a lot that can be done. I highly recommend “How Buildings Learn” by Stewart Brand, which is all about how neighborhood structures change while respecting the architectural character of their surroundings.

Finally, I don't like the NCD discussion with its terms of “preservation” and “protection.” Using these vague terms, we frame growth as a looming threat to be avoided, which I believe unnecessarily sets the stage for acrimony.

The big question remains: WHERE WILL GROWTH GO IN CHAPEL HILL?

A better question for the debate over these new NCD requests is: WHICH HOUSING TYPES WOULD REINFORCE THE THINGS YOU LIKE ABOUT YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD?

Or even further, to address infill in greater detail: WHICH NON-SINGLE FAMILY DETACHED HOUSING TYPES (ROWHOMES, CHARLESTON HOUSES??) WOULD BEAUTIFY YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD? hint at an important idea: If the sum of all these housing strategies still does not meet all of our housing goals/needs, then (by definition) the solution is something that is still off the map and will require innovation, exploration, and an entrepreneurial attitude to find.

These forces can be messy, scarey, and imperfect. We accept them (in regulated amounts) in other fields, such as medicine and health care, but we have a zero tolerance for them in our neighborhoods and in the housing industry as a whole if we perceive a personal impact/sacrifice is that realistic? Are we questing for a Magic Unicorn...the perfect set of Government Regulation (Capital "G", capital "R") to make all things Perfect?

I think our Town Council did a good job of TRYING to make NCD's about more than just neighborhoods trying to gate themselves off from the rest of the community's housing issues...but I think the human nature of the "average neighbor" is going to lean towards the aspects of the NCD's that appeal to self-interest (no disrespect intended...). And I don't think the political system will let members of Council ignore those pressures unless the community as a whole steps in and insists that these matters be discussed in a community-wide context, not in a "what is best for MY neighborhood" context...

Ergo, I wonder if the NCD concept doesn't precipitate over-stated expectations that "every" neighborhood can receive "special attention"...


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