Letter to Steering Committee

Four steering committee members, David Tuttle, Firoz Mistry, Mickey Jo Sorrell, and Julie McClintock, presented this letter to their colleagues at the September 4 steering committee meeting.  They requested that that this new proposal be discussed and that it be shared with the public at the September 10 outreach session at Amity Methodist Church. The committee declined to allow the letter at the workshop.  Not to be deterred, citizens gave out the letter at the door.

Members of the Central West Steering Committee:

We find that we cannot support any of the four plans now being considered by the Committee without significant change. This letter is not meant to discredit anyone’s hard work, rather it is intended to document our understanding to date about the inconsistencies of the current four proposed plans to our announced goals and objectives and to clarify the big picture concerns why we find these plans unworkable.

 

1.    Central West planning area is a relatively small area, in a sea of residential neighborhoods located at least 1 – 2 miles from thehighly developed areas such as downtown and the 15-501-Frankin Street corridor. The available land area in Central West is not big enough to become a self-contained urban community that some think it can be. Yet we want to see changes that will enhance our area and complement the two nearby schools, the first phase of Carolina North (approved 800,000 square feet), and the many nearby residential neighborhoods.

2.    When given an opportunity, the public has strongly supported development that will not clog the mobility of Estes but would improve the quality of a safe biking and walking experience. In the major community events held, the public opposed the high intensity development now being proposed by the majority of the Steering Committee. This articulate public opposition has not been incorporated in the discussions and decisions of the Steering Committee.

3.    The Estes-MLK intersection is already overwhelmed by traffic, rating F for many traffic movements at peak hours. The four plans now under discussion call for 1500 to 2300 new residents to be shoehorned into Central West, along with retail and commercial space. Much of this traffic would be dumped onto Estes. The traffic analysis assembled by the Town for the four current plans shows that traffic conditions will become even worse than F, assuming the rosiest assumptions. Since most of Estes will remain as a two lane through street and we have made safety near the schools a priority, Central West development must be planned to minimize new traffic loads on Estes and on the MLK-Estes intersection. So called suggested “traffic mitigation strategies” could easily turn Estes Drive into a more dangerous road. (See attached slide). New turning lanes should be limited and added with care to maintain pedestrian and bike safety. We endorse the proposed road circulation in Attachment A and question the unsubstantiated traffic assertions in Attachment B.

4.    The planning approach adopted by the Town to deal with each “focus area” separately is obstructing a Town-wide comprehensive approach to planning. The individualized focus area approach is blocking a comprehensive common sense consideration of the best overall development strategy for the Town. There is a place in Chapel Hill for intense urban development, but Central West is not the right place for it. Our principles say we are seeking development that will serve the needs of our area and we need to choose unique forms that suit it.

5.    The Town has studied how much residential, retail, office, and commercial space exists in Chapel Hill, what the vacancy rates are, and how much of each type of space has already been approved by the town but not yet built. This Town-wide information should have guided the discussion of what development is most needed for Central West, but the Steering Committee has not pursued and used this information. Recent information provided by developers said that there is not a large market for office and retail. (We do not know why a hotel is suddenly in the mix.)

The four committee members who support this report want others to consider and discuss the serious problems we see with these current plans. You will recall the plans were built by committee vote before we received stormwater and transportation information.  We don’t yet understand the impacts of either.

Alternate Vision for Central West.  Our alternate vision is based on the best ideas we’ve heard so far and includes a concept map showing road circulation, zones and heights. It includes: 1) retail and office and professional housing for families in Tract A; 2) professional and single family housing with no commercial development on Tracts B, C and E; and 3) preservation of the sensitive parts of H. A comparison of the impact of design elements in each plan (attachment C) shows what happens when key parameters are modeled, illustrating how our alternative vision would add the least number of auto trips and only 323 additional people. In addition we propose a pedestrian and biking plan that will include all intersections in the impact area.  We want this alternate view to be included in the September 10 presentation to the community.

We will continue to advocate our views within the Steering Committee and search for consensus. We will be prepared to present a minority report when the recommended plan is adopted if we believe that the majority recommendation is not right for Chapel Hill.

Julie McClintock

Firoz Mistry

David Tuttle

Mickey Jo Sorrell

Attachments:

A.   Map of the Central West Alternate Vision:  Zones and Circulation

B.   Concerns with Town Analysis

C.   Comparing Alternate Vision Design Elements to Current Concpets

 

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