Vision for our area: David Ambaras statement

David Ambaras shared this vision with the Town Council in June 2012.

My name is David Ambaras. I have lived in Chapel Hill since 1999, and in Estes Hills since 2005. I have been participating in planning-related meetings since last spring, and was at 3 of the 4 community meetings. I want to thank the Council for having decided to promote a community-driven process. I fully support the recommendations that came out of the community meetings, the comments you’ve heard this evening, and the alternative resolution offered this evening.

I’d like to speak to you about the issue of vision-driven planning. I keep coming back in my mind to Council Member Cjakowski’s remark at the June 25 Council meeting: If we want developers to give us applications for projects we like, we need to tell them what kinds of projects we want. The process in which we’ve been engaged has, it seems to me, been geared more towards revising the zoning of specific properties – with an active SUP on the table – than developing a holistic, long-term, community-centered vision.

However, a number of us have, in various informal settings, been engaging in such conversations, and I’d like to share one example with you: Many of us recognize the need for more housing for retired and elderly citizens. Carol Woods is a wonderful community, but it is filled to capacity and has a lengthy waiting list. There is also a widespread demand for quality retirement housing and assisted living across the country, and many people are looking to retire to the NC area, so from a purely market perspective, a new retirement and assisted living community would make sense and would certainly bring in ample tax revenues for the town.

As important, long-time residents of Chapel Hill face the prospect of having to leave Chapel Hill in their older years because they need assisted living or other amenities and can’t find them in town. This is no way for the town to treat people who have contributed so much to our community. Moreover, these community members would continue to contribute to our lives in meaningful ways. Having a new residential community at the MLK-Estes intersection would permit those residents to connect to the nearby schools, day care center, churches, and other cultural centers, including of course the university. This retirement community could be embedded within a larger, multigenerational housing network (students being part of the broader mix), and include housing that is affordable for people from all walks of life. Such a development, which could include retail spaces, a cultural center, and ample green space, would be a wonderful addition to the surrounding area, an appropriate complement to Carolina North as part of the new gateway into town, and a perfect expression of Chapel Hill’s highest ideals about who we are. This is just one example of the kinds of ideas that we can produce when the community gets involved in the visioning process. It is an example that offers the potential for a win-win situation — current and future residents, businesses, developers, and the town would all benefit.

So again let me reiterate Council Member Cjakowski’s statement: We will only get the kind of development we want — what several hundred of us in the community now refer to as the principle of quality growth — when we can actually tell developers what it is that we want. We as a town can’t do this if a key constituency feels that the planning process fails to ensure our fair representation and thus our ability to bring our neighbors on board with eventual decisions and build the credibility of the product. The Council now has an opportunity to demonstrate that it truly values and respects the community input that it not only solicited but placed at the center of the planning. I ask you to take full account of the findings of the community driven process so far, and to embrace the community resolution. Thank you for your attention.

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