Letter to Town Manager, August 5, 2012

Manager Roger Stancil
Town of Chapel Hill

Dear Roger:

We residents of the Estes Drive Area are ready to participate in a planning process which will analyze and make recommendations for a planning area surrounding southern Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Estes Drive. We believe that a good planning process is necessary to ensure a result supported by the community and the affected neighborhoods.

The community must give input on the scope, format, timeframe, product and decision-making for the process which will result in important outcomes for the Town’s zoning map. Last week the Estes Neighbors were surprised by the Planning staff’s announcement of a Community Meeting for the “Estes Focus Area.” In the announcement sent to many potential participants, the Town asks the questions, “Do you live or work in the Estes Drive area? Do you have ideas about how the area could be improved or enhanced?” A community meeting is a fine way to begin a process, but it is appears the staff is already deciding on and enacting the process without the public participation and buy-in the Council intended.

For example, the Town website description on the MLK/Estes process announces the boundaries of the “Estes Drive Focus Area” (an inaccurate name in our opinion, covering only a small subset of the area that needs to be studied. Our original petition to the Town included Carolina North and MLK between Hillsborough Street and Homestead Road). Discussing the size and scope of the study area should be part of the August community meetings.

We believe that as described so far, this first community meeting is not in accord with Council’s instructions to staff at the June 25th meeting. We are writing to confirm with you our understanding of the direction the Council set that night for the “implementation” of the 2020 Comprehensive Plan. We believe that the Council clearly expressed the intention that members of the community be actively involved in both the design of the planning process and in developing land use plans for the focus areas.

We have reviewed our notes and the meeting videotape to list the key points that Council members made in giving direction to the staff. The bottom line message is expressed by Mayor Kleinschmidt, “We can’t give you exact details on the focus area process, because citizen input will shape our approach.”

We had believed that substantive work on the small area process and plans would not resume until the end of August. From the Council discussion, we understood that over the summer the staff would proceed to develop a draft blueprint for an MLK-Estes Focus Area Process with citizen input that would be ready to present to Council when they are back in session. Council members called for this proposed planning process to go to the public for comment and be approved by the Council after the Council has the benefit of those comments. We request that you confirm these key points with us.

We’ve talked to Mary Jane and have scheduled a meeting with her next Tuesday, August 7. We are eager to present our ideas to the staff about “A Community-Driven Focus Area Planning Process”. At the meeting we will recommend that the planning process — the scope, the schedule, and the final product — be the subject of the initial Community meetings.

We would very much appreciate hearing from you if the Town will commit to meaningful involvement of citizens in planning the process for the Future Focus discussions. Specifically will the Town support these specific actions?

  • Coordinate staff actions in accordance with direction from the June 25 Council meeting.
  • Provide opportunity for citizen comment and set the date for the Council to review the MLK- Estes planning process.
  • Include the neighborhoods in designing the planning process and in subsequent planning activities by forming a steering committee or similar structure.
  • Employ an outside neutral facilitator.
  • Focus the August community meetings on asking the community for feedback on a planning process which includes the timeline, scope, identification of goals, meeting format, decision-making, and a final product description for the focus area plan.
  • Issue an invitation to UNC to join this planning process because of the critical importance of Carolina North to Chapel Hill’s future.

Please let us hear from you on whether you are in agreement with these points.

We want to contribute actively and constructively to a successful process for this very first future focus area discussion of the 2020 Comprehensive Plan. 

Sincerely,

Estes Neighbors Leadership Group

David Ambaras, Estes Hills
Julie McClintock, Coker Hills West
Jill and Dick Blackburn, Coker Hills
John Morris, Coker Hills West
Watson Bowes, MD, Huntington-Somerset
Priscilla Murphy, Huntington-Somerset
Laurie Couzart, Estes Hills
Will Raymond , Mr Bolus
Verla Insko, Estes Hills
Steve Rogers, Coker Woods
Fred Lampe, Coker Hills
Gretchen Stroemer, Estes Hills
Erin Schwie Langston, Coker Hills
Alan Tom, Estes Hills
Winsome Leadbetter, Estes Hills
Sandra Turbeville, Huntington-Somerset
Cathy Walker, Estes Hills             

Attachment 1: Council Discussion of 2020 Comprehensive Plan, June 25, 2012

It is our conclusion that there was a majority consensus at the 6/25 Council meeting that the staff should develop a proposed focus area planning process over the summer, allow public comment, and then bring it to the Council and the community in the fall to discuss it and decide on the process. This conclusion is based on the following quotes from that night’s meeting:

Jim Ward: We need to put real thought into an implementation schedule so people know what to expect. I like the charrette process. What the product looks like is critical; it would be good to see a menu of options (in the fall) for both the process and the product.

Matt Czajkowski: Let the staff take the summer to develop a process to do the focus area plans with charrettes, etc. and bring this back in the fall so we can debate it and then move ahead. The staff will need to revise the 2020 implementation chapter so it will be consistent with our discussion tonight. 2:58 We must continue to involve the citizens of Chapel Hill so they feel energized in the next steps. We need to be clear that when a developer comes in he is making a proposal for something we want. Now a developer can devote project to single purpose and we have little choice. I’d like Mary Jane to help us figure how this is all going to be implemented so we know how to move forward. “Obviously by clarity and definition in the small area plans.” … Request to staff (referring to Estes Study): We need a definition of the process. 3:09 (to Mary Jane) To extent then that you can….come back to our fall work session and say what you are thinking. Everyone and all the Boards can weigh in and suggest small changes. Public will have full opportunity to weigh in on the process.

Ed Harrison: 3:14 We need neighborhood protection in the plan. We need a larger study area, not just the “Estes corridor”. I like the charette process but they don’t always work. The process is not worth doing unless the Council gets involved and uses the results. The implementation chapter needs more work. The ideas of the Planning Board are superb; I’d like to see them used. 

Lee Storrow: 3:44 The model we should follow is not the recent rushed 15-501 south plan, but the more thoughtful and substantial 1990 south 15-501 small area plan. It was a really good product because the Town took the time to do it right did not try to condense the process. Over the summer the staff should develop a planning process and present it to the community to reflect and comment on before we barrel forward.

Laurin Eastholm: The comments tonight are excellent. We need to include these ideas. We need to define the planning process and let the public know exactly how they can engage. Carolina North will have a huge impact. 

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt: We can’t give you exact details on the focus area process, because citizen input will shape our approach.

Mary Jane Nirlinger: 3:08 “We need to organize dates, we need to put the schedule together for different focus studies … this summer.” … A plan will be ready for the Sept 5th Council work session. “It’s not like the staff is going to go off and make up this on its own.”Mary Jane agreed to shift her earlier plan to have a product for review for the Estes corridor area by November. She said that she would talk to citizens and to the Planning Board on how to proceed with the process and the product for the small area plans. She said she would not surprise citizens.

Attachment 2 Estes Neighbors Recommendations for a Community-Driven Focus Area Planning Process

1. Obtain professional facilitation services. The facilitator will be neutral and help the group of participants toward the goal of consensus. The facilitator should ensure that the agenda for the process and meetings are set by the group, not the staff.

2. Establish a Steering Committee to work with the Facilitator and Town staff. Consider this representation of interests: 5 members of adjacent neighborhoods, 1 planning board member, 1 developer, 1 parent or School Board representative, and 1 UNC representative. The role of the steering committee would be to plan meeting agendas with the facilitator and staff, stay in touch with their respective neighborhood, or organization, and make recommendations.

3. Prepare to Plan: August Community Meetings.

  • Review previous planning processes and what we have learned: small area plans, South 15- 501, Glen Lennox
  • Develop draft Focus area process with community participants beginning at August 27-28 meetings: discuss ideas about draft timelines, format and final outcome with participants and get feedback.
  • Estes Neighbors present a process model for discussion–  Geographic boundaries of study area
    – 
    Timeframe
    – 
    Process: Facilitator and Steering committee and to ensure a community-driven process
    –  Decide on how meeting results will be gathered and    communicated
    –  Decide on how decisions will be made” (voting or consensus)
    – 
    Discuss final product of process
  • August meeting input and feedback will help the design of the process which will be sent to Council for approval.

4. Suggested Phases:

Phase 1: A series of community- wide events and small group conversations based on the 1990 Southern Small Area Plan and the Seattle model to understand and gather data on the elements of the study area: transportation, air and water quality, identify retail, commercial and housing needs

Suggested time period 6 meetings September through November:

  • Clarify decision-making, clear specific objectives, and final product first, then
  • Air people’s concerns and issues and document them;
  • Survey neighborhoods for preferred development types;
  • Compile and prioritize recommendations for area development;
  • Analyze the study area in the context of over-all Town needs and capacities;
  • Ensure all relevant data and studies are brought to bear on discussions;
  • Identify group study areas, such as transportation, open space and parks, neighborhoods and buffers; public safety
  • Close information discussions with an interim report.

Phase II: Facilitated series of community meetings of subcommittees organized by Facilitator, Steering committee and staff with focus on developing alternative plan scenarios while continuing outreach efforts.

Suggested time period: January through March; small groups can meet more frequently.

  • Form smaller study group to focus on chosen topics such as transportation, open space and parks, neighborhoods and buffers; public safety; designate facilitator, note taker for each group
  • Steering Committee ensures that group regularly share results; schedule joint community meetings to arrive at agreement on general approach
  • Study and compare alternative plans
  • Invite public to several community meetings to comment on final alternatives

Phase III: Final report in April: Possible organization:

  • Area as it is today,
  • Goals and objectives,
  • Design concepts,
  • The Plan,
  • Projected impacts,
  • Estimated infrastructure costs,
  • Tax revenue potential of the plan,
  • Recommended strategies,
  • Specific descriptions for what the Town wants to see for undeveloped and redeveloped properties in study area.

Resources:

Southern Small Area Plan

http://www.townofchapelhill.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=1075

Facilitating a Planning Workshop
http://www.etu.org.za/toolbox/docs/building/webplan4.html#basic%20planning

Seattle Planning Workshop

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