March 25, 2012
This letter was presented to the Town Council March 26 by many stakeholders in the 2020 process.
An Open Letter to the Chapel Hill Town Council:
The purpose of the 2020 Comprehensive Plan is to hear citizens’ vision for the future and write a vision plan and land use map to make that future a reality. The Town Manager says we are on our way to completing the Comprehensive Plan vision and framework document in June. With utmost respect to the Manager, the Town staff, and the 2020 leadership, many 2020 stakeholders feel that our work to date is far from finished and does not answer the fundamental question the Town Council has asked: How much and in what way do we want to grow.
As we near the June deadline, we think it’s important for you to hear citizen input on the process, unfiltered by the voices of the 2020 leadership. Here’s our take on where the current process stands, where we feel it has succeeded, and where we still have work to do. We ask you to take our experience as stakeholders into account and consider making some mid-course corrections to the 2020 process that we feel are necessary.
The most successful aspect of Chapel Hill 2020 so far has been the outreach effort conducted by Town staff and 2020 leadership to engage citizens not previously engaged and to educate us on town affairs. We applaud these efforts and appreciate the many presentations that have been made to increase citizen understanding of town-wide issues.
Less successful has been the process of actually drafting the plan’s goals and objectives. The theme groups given this task have struggled with spread-out meetings, out-of-date materials, and sometimes conflicting direction from the 2020 leadership. Most have found it impossible to have substantive discussions and reach consensus decisions in the short hour or so we have met at each session. As a result, the goals recently inserted into the first draft report are more a collection of “sound bites” gathered and filtered by the leadership rather than informed discussion and consensus agreements among stakeholders.
Most troubling, the process of proposing land-use changes for key town areas has fallen seriously short. The 2020 leadership has admitted that the abbreviated Future Focus charrette exercise was not well understood; groups were not provided with complete information (such as streams, slopes, and location of ecologically sensitive areas); there was pressure by some staff members to favor particular development scenarios; and there was no process for citizens to identify the issues they were in agreement on or to resolve issues in conflict. As with the visioning and goals process, much preliminary information was gathered, shaped into a “consensus” document by consultants, and then presented as the conclusions of informed discussion.
The Comprehensive Plan process is a complicated one that typically takes a year and a half in most communities. We can accomplish some of our initial goals within our nine-month timeframe, but not the entire plan. Although the theme groups have not had time to reach consensus decisions on the goals and objectives section of the document, there has been much good information generated, and we feel that, with some tweaks to the process, this material could be ready for final presentation in June.
In contrast, the material gathered from the Future Focus charrettes is seriously flawed. This land-use section should not be part of the June document, and work should not proceed on this part of the plan until the Council, staff, the 2020 leadership, and stakeholders have agreed on a process to build on the goals in the vision document and connect them meaningfully with land use decisions.
As stakeholders, we have invested much time and effort in making Chapel Hill 2020 a success. Throughout the process, we have met with the 2020 leadership to share our concerns and suggestions. Based on these interactions, we feel that their commitment to finishing the project in June prevents them from considering ways to resolve the critical flaws we see, especially in the key area “development frameworks.”
The Town Manager has presented you with the 2020 leadership’s version of where the process stands and what it has accomplished. We ask that you hear from the troops on the ground as well, who want to report on the process that they have experienced. The Town Council is the only group that can step back, hear from all participants—the 2020 leadership and the stakeholders—and decide how to move forward to produce a Comprehensive Plan we can all be proud of
We, the undersigned 2020 stakeholders, respectfully ask that Council consider the following actions to address stakeholder concerns and ensure the success of the 2020 Comprehensive Plan:
(1) Endorse the completion of the goals and objectives section for the June vision document;
(2) Allow each theme group to choose two stakeholder representatives to join the co-chair discussions tasked by the Manager and the 2020 leadership with achieving consensus on conflicting theme group goals in the June vision document;
(3) Remove input from the Future Focus event maps, surveys, and conclusions from the June document and agree that work related to land use recommendations be continued in the subsequent implementation phase; and
(4) Develop, with stakeholders, a new process for creating the land use portion of the plan after the June document is complete. Include opportunities for comprehensive, analytical discussions of the impacts of proposed changes town-wide and to key growth areas to ensure that town goals and objectives are met in a balanced manner.