Tag Archives: 2020 plan and Estes Drive

Town Council takes a broad look at Central West

This article was printed in the Chapel Hill News on December 17, 2013

Planning for growth has been a red hot topic in Chapel Hill this year. The 2020 plan, completed in June 2012, skipped over land-use planning, leaving that critical task to be completed over the next few years in six designated “focus areas” where growth and change are most expected.

In the planning world, land-use planning is the civilian equivalent of “boots on the ground,” the sort of planning that affects our community’s health and quality of life most directly. So it’s not surprising that citizen interest is running high. Planning is already underway for potentially large projects near Obey Creek across from Southern Village, and for redevelopment plans along a huge area on Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard, Glen Lennox, and downtown, where big projects are already going up on Franklin and Rosemary.

Following the adoption of the 2020 Comprehensive Plan, the first plan up for a council decision was Central West, a much smaller land area along Estes Drive, just east of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The council named a steering committee to develop a plan for this area, and the result of almost a year’s work was delivered to the council on Nov. 26.

The council’s action on this first focus area plan was heartening. The council held a thoughtful and far-ranging discussion that brought the most important issues into clear focus and set a good starting direction to deal with most of them.

Council Member Matt Czajkowski concisely framed the growth-management debate by observing that we have four priority public concerns: traffic, town finances, flooding and schools. He pointed out that many growth proposals make all or many of these problems worse! The council tackled these challenges directly. The general direction of their discussion pointed toward knowing where we are going before making commitments. We heard members cite the need for data, analysis and thoughtful review to make sure that development proposals are really beneficial to our community’s future before we make decisions.

Traffic: Jim Ward and Ed Harrison pointed out that we must not evaluate traffic for each development proposal or each focus area in isolation. What happens at Central West will affect traffic-clogged Estes Drive, but so will development at Ephesus-Fordham, near the other end of Estes. Ward pushed for a town-wide traffic model that can assess traffic interactions for the whole town. Town planner David Bonk said that this was feasible.

Town revenues vs. costs: Many are concerned about how to maintain good services without letting taxes get too high. Here the critical measure is how much new revenue will be brought in by a development proposal, compared to the additional town costs to service the new development. There was consternation when a last-minute town analysis showed that the Central West proposal would not bring in any significant excess revenue. Council member Gene Pease had often raised the fiscal issue and wondered why we would want to burden ourselves with so much more traffic at Central West with no gain for the taxpayers. Pease and Ward advocated for use of an economic model to evaluate development proposals before approval to encourage the approval of projects with a net benefit to the Town so we do not make the tax bills higher.

Flooding: Flooding is a more urgent topic now after last summer’s extremely damaging floods that even put part of Town Hall out of operation. Building on the committee’s recommendation to do a stormwater management plan for Central West, the council took broader action. When there is a big impact on a watershed, the council agreed to conduct a watershed-wide stormwater impact analysis of the potential cumulative stormwater impacts on Bolin and Booker Creeks.

Schools: Parents are concerned that Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools will have the needed space for their children and will retain their high quality. Just like traffic, we have tended to deal with school capacity on a project by project basis, asking the schools if a given development proposal can be accommodated. Czajkowski urged a comprehensive approach which may show school capacity is exceeded. The question is whether all the development projects (approved to be built, and all those planned for the focus areas) can be handled by the schools at the time they are anticipated to be built. Mayor Kleinschmidt urged the town to continue to work more closely with the schools as they plan for the sites and financing that will be needed to meet our projected growth.

Council Member Ed Harrison successfully urged his colleagues to adopt the Planning Board conditions into the Central West plan, which made official many of the positive directions discussed by the council. If the council continues the thoughtful direction set on Nov. 26, Chapel Hill’s future economy and quality of life will be on a sounder footing. We urge the new Town Council to build on this trend.

Submitted by David Tuttle, Mickey Jo Sorrell, Firoz Mistry and Julie McClintock.

Advisory Boards review Central West plan

The Chapel Hill Planning Board met on November 19th and responded positively to concerns expressed by the public.  The Board adopted these recommendations to the Town Council which we support. We strongly recommed that the Town Council adopt these recommendations as a part of the proposed small area plan.

The Chapel Hill Transportation Advisory met October 24th.  Michael Parker wore two hats as chair of the Transportation Board and Steering Committee Co chair.  After he presented the plan, the Board heard public comment. Three steering committee members spoke in favor of the Citizens’ Plan. Steering Committee member Firoz Mistry asked that Whit Rummel, Central West property owner and member of the Transportation to recuse himself.

Mr Rummel voted on the motion with other Board members to adopt the Central West Committee’s higher density Small Area Plan with the caveat that “all means necessary be used to keep traffic moving on Estes.” This caveat was surprising as the Town has made it clear that it does not intend to widen Estes:  (1) there is no money to do so allocated at the MPO; (2) the 2009 Long Range Transit Plan does not list Estes as a transit corridor, and (3) CW steering committee itself has voted to keep Estes to two lanes. Transportation Advisory Board Resolution is here.

The Chapel Hill Planning Board met on October 29. The Board heard a presentation from the staff and co chairs.   A number of citizens spoke in favor of the Citizens’ Plan.  In addition these concerns about the committee plan were raised:  (1) committee plan densities will cause gridlock on Estes; (2) questioned the traffic consultant’s assumptions about how many people actually will use Estes versus MLK; (3) concern that no real plan for affordable housing exists; (4) uncertainty that a stormwater management plan will be effective at managing substantial increase in impervious surfaces; and (5) a call for respect for the old growth hickory forest on the Davis property.

Some of the most important Board member comments follow:

  • Add a principle not to widen Estes Drive
  • Move 2020 goals to front and link plan to them
  • More synergy with Carolina North needed
  • Use low impact design techniques
  • Add limits on parking
  • Add affordable housing recommendations
  • Need to link focus area plans and do a town-wide TIA

Two or three planning board members said they liked the densities, and one posited that Estes would eventually be widened. Board members said they were not ready to endorse a plan to the Council and wanted to see what the Committee would do with their comments.  The Board will meet to make a recommendation on November 19th. Here are the Planning Board Comments

The Greenways Commission met October 23 and made these  Recommendations.

The Bike and Pedestrian Board met October 22 and made these recommendations.

July 22 Steering Committee

Meeting Summary by Co chairs Parker/Ryan

The Central West Steering Committee met on July 22 at the Chapel Hill Public Library from 6:00 – 9:00 PM. Copies of all meeting materials can be found at www.townofchapelhill.org/centralwest All formal agreements of the Committee reflect the affirmative vote of at least 2/3 of the members present.

1.     Opening Remarks: Megan Wooley began by sharing the goals for the meeting. She noted that Matt Sullivan from the Chapel Hill Police Department would be filling in for Loryn Clark, who was not able to attend the meeting.

Firoz Mistry moved that the committee permanently extend its second public comment period to 10 minutes.  This measure was passed by general agreement.

2.     Community Participation:  Megan Wooley began by saying she had a request from community member Erin Langston to have Megan to read her comments to the group, since Erin was unable to attend.  The committee discussed this request and decided by general agreement that it could not be accommodated, citing concerns about setting a precedent that might lead to having multiple such requests at a single meeting.  It was noted that Megan forwards all written communications to the committee and that this practice allows people who cannot attend to express their thoughts directly to the committee members. 

Several individuals from the community than shared comments/opinions with the group. Public comments recorded by Michael Albritton at the end of the summary.

 

3.     Comments from Todd LoFrese: The assistant superintendent for support services with Chapel Hill–Carrboro City Schools spoke about the school board’s safety goals, plans that will soon be proposed for upcoming capital projects that will improve traffic circulation and student safety, and the statistics for how Estes and Phillips students go to school.  A question and answer session with the committee followed.

 

4.     Transportation Overview:

Link to presentation.

Link to transportation materials

       David Bonk, the Chapel Hill long range and transportation planning manager, gave a presentation on the existing transportation conditions in the Central West area, showed three possible road profiles for Estes Drive that would incorporate improved bike/ped facilities, and led the group through a sample exercise that showed how a trip generation analysis was conducted.  He shared data from a rough estimate of trip generation from two of Rhodeside and Harwell’s June 4 concept plans—one at lower density with more residential (option 1 less 25%) and one at a higher density with more commercial (option 3).  He noted that it was not possible to draw definitive conclusions from these initial estimates.  Specific land use plans—along with possible internal circulation solutions—will be needed before the impacts on Estes Drive and MLK Boulevard can be ascertained.

Brian Litchfield, Chapel Hill Transit’s interim director, gave a short presentation about the planned transit alternatives analysis that will be conducted along the route that stretches from the Eubanks park and ride south along MLK and then through town to the Southern Village park and ride.

A question and answer period followed the transportation and transit presentations.  The group decided by general agreement to extend the Q/A period to take up the time allotted for agenda item 5, Transportation Discussion, and that decisions on bike/ped facilities and road profiles scheduled for that time would be deferred to the committee’s next meeting.

 5.     Principle 13: The text for the proposed new principle 13 that had been developed by the Principles and Objectives Subcommittee was presented for discussion.  The committee debated at some length whether “assess” was the correct word or if “consider” would be preferable.  They voted unanimously to accept number 13 in principle, with the understanding that final wordsmithing would be conducted at a later date—most likely on August 27, when all principles and objectives will be reviewed.

 6.     Community Comment: The meeting concluded with comments from several community members.

Martha Petty: Today at 1:45 pm traffic was backed up on Estes Drive to Caswell because of trees being cut down at the corner of MLK and Estes.  There is also no retention of water in the land in this area.

Lyn Kane:  Traffic is heavier in this area than on Fordham Blvd.  Flooding is a problem that we cannot ignore.  Storm drains are never cleaned.  This area has many pine trees which causes pine needles to fall and cover the drains during big storms and it is never cleaned by the city.  There was a car totaled near the area due to the flooding from the recent large storm, yet this storm was considered a  500-year storm.  This not a 500 year storm, it will happen again.

Kim Talikof: Stressed she was a parent of children in the schools and that she was representing those parents with children in the local schools.  There is an existing problem – inadequate sidewalks, children have been struck by cars within the last 2 years.  How will plans improve this situation? Then explained how she was listening for current data to address the needs for not only Estes but also surrounding feeder streets.

Jonathan Drake:  Commented that he has 2 children who are students at Phillips.  He then encouraged the committee to reach out to the parents at the schools so that when the summer was over and some plans were being delivered to council they would not be caught off guard with a lot of opposition to the plans.

John Morris:  The mayor and council have spoken about the need for increasing tax base repeatedly, so why would the committee not want to address the financial impact of development in this area?  Also mentioned that in the beginning everyone was excited about discussing these issues but now they are afraid.  Why so? (Committee agreed to adopt Principle #13 but to word smith later).

Fred Lampe:  The financial data is not complicated to access (then gave some examples).  The number of parents that live within the walking zone yet still drive their kids to school should indicate how unsafe the area is.  There was no discussion about traffic circles.  We need to answer the questions of size, how pedestrians cross, where they can be located?  There is significant development coming to this area, he is very skeptical of the 2% recommendation from David Bonk, especially considering the developments of Carolina North, Central West, and areas along Homestead.

Suzanna Dancy:  Stated she believes strongly that the design of streets will determine the community’s character and that she is happy to see discussions about improvements to Estes.  She also congratulated the town staff for putting together such an informative meeting.

Thanks to everyone who attended for your continued hard work and interest in the Central West process.

Summary 6.24 report to Town Council

First, a huge thank you to over 200 members from all over the Chapel Hill community for supporting our letter to the Town Council for their June 24th meeting. The objective of our letter was to demonstrate that members of the Chapel Hill community are invested in the Central West consultation planning process and eager that it should succeed as the future model for planning in Chapel Hill.
Many participants in the process are frustrated that basic underlying issues of transportation and traffic, housing and economic needs, and school safety have not been discussed by the committee.  

What were we asking for:
We requested that the Town Council support 6 key recommendations for the Steering Committee to improve implementation of the community-driven consultation process:

  • Encourage Steering Committee to deliberate on major issues and take more control of the process
  • Provide a neutral facilitator, to keep discussions on topic, hear all voices are reach outcomes
  • Improve outreach to key constituents such as the schools’ community
  • Keep development compatible with the Principles and Objectives already co-developed in consultation with the community
  • Gain data for evaluations so that the Steering Committee can make evidence based decisions
  • Arrange for a walk-through of land with old deciduous forest

 What did we achieve?
In general the Town Council gave few specific directions for interventions to the Steering Committee. However, in response to our specific recommendations as listed above:

  • Several Council members suggested that achieving a quality product was more important than meeting the November deadline. Whether the deadline would be extended depends on the actual progress made. (To be reviewed at TC meeting in September)
  • The Council voted 5:2 against Matt Czajkowski’s motion (supported by Lauren Easthom) to appoint an external facilitator to the Steering Committee, but the door was left open for the Steering Committee to reflect on this decision and request a facilitator for some of their future more difficult discussions.
  • The Council noted that the Principles and Objectives seemed consistent with the 2020 goals.  The Council did not define the desired density. Lee Storrow noted that he liked the declining density from MLK along Estes Drive.  Donna Bell noted her preference that this land be developed in a way that increases the tax base and prevents CH from becoming a bedroom community.
  • Jim Ward felt it was very important that the Steering Committee obtain good data on the impact on schools and about what the DOT will require for the locations of the entrances and exits to the proposed development along Estes, and what changes Carolina North will bring. Jim also requested an economic analysis of the impact of the development on Town finances and of what population and parking is required to have successful retail there.
  • The Council recommended to the Steering Committee that they arrange a walk through of the environmentally sensitive areas as we had requested.
  • There was support to include citizens concept map in future Committee discussions. Fred Lampe presented the first revisions to this map.
  • Matt Czajkowski highlighted the fact that no member of the public had recommended ‘no development’ in Central West.
  • Jim Ward mentioned the need for an official Council liaison to the Steering Committee, and the Council designated him.

We are happy the Council took our recommendations seriously and we received some support.  The burden now rests on the Steering Committee to consider the feedback and recommendations they received.  With the principles almost behind them, the tough work of the Steering Committee begins  – data collection and analysis and finding consensus on a recommended approach – while ensuring the public consultation continues over the summer months and beyond.

I encourage you to attend their next meeting on July 1st to find out at first hand how the Steering Committee plan to move forward.  I welcome further reflections and thoughts from the many residents who were also at the Town Hall on Monday night. Citizens need to stay involved if they are to have voice in the future shape of Chapel Hill.

Debbie Jepson

Time for more public comment

A Community Workshop will be held on Saturday morning, May 18, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Chapel Hill Public Library.  The purpose of this Workshop is to gain community feedback to the Planning Principles and Concept Maps which are under development by the Central West Steering Committee.  This Workshop is the last time for community input before the Steering Committee’s draft report is submitted to the Town Council on June 24.

The Workshop will have two major activities – a detailed agenda for the Community Workshop.  The initial focus (9:00 to 10:10) will be on the Guiding Principles. The objectives for these Planning Principles will also be reviewed.

The second activity of the Workshop (10:20 to noon) is to review and react to the Guiding Principles and  three maps.    According to the Consultant these Concept Maps are an attempt to visualize three levels of development in the area of Estes and MLK: 1) residential focus, 2) residential and office focus, and 3) mixed use focus.  Each map includes a possible new road structure.   Also accompanying each of the three maps is a second map where estimates are made of the increasing density (as one moves from 1 –> 2 –> 3 ).

After you review the three Planning Concept maps you may want to look at a fourth map which reflects the current zoning and land use pattern in the Estes and MLK area. The Planning Concept maps above are not the exact ones you will be reviewing during the Workshop, because the ones provided are being revised by the consultants.

Please join the Community Workshop on Saturday morning the 18th; this Workshop is a critical step in the path toward the draft report by the Central West Steering Committee to the Council on June 24.

Council October 24th Actions

We’re happy to report that last Wednesday, October 24, the Council — after a lengthy discussion of our focus area proposals — accepted most of them. This endorsement of a community-driven process would not have been possible without your support, particularly the petition 213 of you signed in just three days! Thanks also to those of you who attended this exciting Council meeting to support our speakers.

Here are the main points that were endorsed by the Town Council.

  • Purpose of study: to create and deliver a small area plan for the Planning Area for Council consideration.
  • A geographic study area (a planning and an impact area) similar to the one adopted at the community meetings with the addition of a focus on undeveloped properties – an area that can be expanded.
  • Focus area study was renamed “Central West Focus Area”.
  • Steering Committee will be composed of a diversity of representation including, business owners, landowners, and residents from the planning and impact area.
  • All are invited to apply for the steering committee; council committee to recommend slate. Those with active development applications are not eligible.
  • Schedule of study and meetings: December 2012 – December 2013 with a report in June. All meetings will be open and your participation is invited.

We think the well-organized presentations of our speakers encouraged several Council members to take positions a bit different from their past orientations, and we will continue to encourage the Council to adopt a community-driven approach to considering how growth is to occur in our “Central West” area of Chapel Hill.

As events unfold, we will keep you informed about the small area study process, including possibilities for you to become more involved, for example, by making your views known directly to the Steering Committee, volunteering to serve on study groups addressing key issues, and talking with your neighbors about the overall process.

Applications for seats on the Central West Focus Area Steering Committee are currently being accepted. The application deadline is Monday, November 12, 2012, at 5:00pm. For a copy of the application and for more information about application process, please visit www.townofchapelhill.org/centralwest.

For the resolution that the Council adopted for the Central West Focus Area from the October 24, 2012 Business Meeting, please click here. This information has also been posted on the Town webpage which can be found at www.townofchapelhill.org/centralwest

Quality Growth

Central West Citizens for Quality Growth
October 17, 2012

Based on conversations with citizens from the Central West Focus Area, Alan Tom drafted this mission statement.  The statement was revised and edited by those who live in the 12 neighborhoods which are in this focus area and we invite comments.

                                                        Summary
Working from the premise that high “Quality Growth” is desirable for the Central West Focus Area and ultimately for all of Chapel Hill, we identify and describe five considerations which make such quality growth possible:

  • The Character of an Area – Determining the best ways to integrate higher density developments into our traditional single family neighborhoods, soon to be joined by Carolina North
  • Need for Development  — Analyzing the need for development to reduce the risk of building out excessively, resulting in commercial and apartment vacancies and a declining Town image
  • Cost Effectiveness – Making sure that new development really produces more tax revenue than the costs such development imposes on infrastructure and Town services
  • Transportation – Attending to implications of new development for automobile traffic, bike travel, and pedestrian safety, all within the context of the traffic to be generated by Carolina North
  • Environmental Impacts – Anticipating and remediating the effects of new development on storm-water run-off, including the impact of storm-water diversion on downstream neighborhoods.

Addressing each of these considerations, while evaluating development proposals, makes it possible for development projects in our area to be of high quality, which in turn fosters the quality of life for the entire community of Chapel Hill.

Background
The Central West Citizens group is composed of homeowners and renters from over ten neighborhoods in Chapel Hill.  Membership is open to any person who endorses the view of “Quality Growth” which follows.

While preparing this statement of our core beliefs on development in the Central West Focus Area, we found a blog which indicated that our orientation is misunderstood.  This blog suggests that our interests are narrow in scope — essentially limited to guarding our neighborhoods — and that we are anti-development in orientation.

We admit to having great pride in our neighborhoods but also believe that our concern for high quality growth is good not only for our neighborhoods but also for all of Chapel Hill.  Our view is longterm.  We are conscious that in the not-too-distant future our location adjacent to Carolina North will place us in the center of the northern gateway entrance to Chapel Hill.  New development in our key location, therefore, must be of the highest possible quality.

Introduction.  Fifty years ago the vicinity around the intersection of Estes Drive and Airport Road (now Martin Luther King Boulevard) was on the perimeter of the single family housing surrounding the University.  Some roads were not yet paved.  Over time, as the university and the medical center expanded, more single family homes were built on half-acre and up to two-acre wooded lots that eventually covered the hills around Eastwood Lake, both sides of Estes Drive from Franklin Street to Phillips Middle School, and the high land in the Mount Bolus area, with a few apartments and some commercial properties extending along Airport Road.

About 25-30 years ago, as the Town’s rate of growth accelerated, the whole community had a long dialogue about the downside of sprawl: increased driving distances, more cars on the road, more pollution, and so forth.  There was general agreement that the Town should focus on infill and increased density.  Land use planning and special use permits reflected this revised thinking; newer housing developments in the area are on smaller lots.  Now we are a mixture of single family housing and apartments, along with some commercial development, but the dominant tone of our overall area remains single family housing.

Today we are at a critical juncture as a number of high density developments are being proposed for our Central West Area; other proposals are sure to follow; and four undeveloped properties on the south side of North Estes are currently for sale.  We – the residents of the Central West Area — are homeowners and renters who have come together to address the situation we now face – what is the proper approach for the continuing development of our area.  As a group, Central West residents are dedicated to the “Quality Growth” of our neighborhoods and our Town.

This statement, of course, raises the question of what we mean by “Quality Growth” and what implications our concern for “Quality Growth” has for our neighborhoods and our Town of Chapel Hill.  We believe that the following five considerations are an excellent basis for evaluating the quality of proposed developments.  “Quality Growth” occurs when there is a focus on:
•    Character of an Area,
•    Need for Development (demand analysis)
•    Cost Effectiveness (of development)
•    Transportation (broadly construed)
•    Environmental Impacts (of development)

These five considerations identify when development is the intelligent choice for our neighborhoods and our Town.

To explore these considerations further, we provide detail and examples about how these five considerations can work to help us identify “Quality Growth” proposals when we see them.  We use examples primarily from our focus area; however, other examples could be drawn from the Town as a whole.

Character of an Area. Our area is soon to be affected by a new presence – the creation of Carolina North.  As planned, this campus will be welcoming and stately; it will add to the beauty and attractiveness of the community.  But we do not know what the future holds for the surrounding area.  Will Martin Luther King Boulevard along Carolina North ultimately become a second Franklin Street?  Will North Estes Drive and Extension be totally overcome by the future flow of traffic?  These and other questions have yet to be answered, but we do believe that if development is prudently pursued our homes can be part of a new vital urban area, with Carolina North at its center.

For this reason, our home values may well increase, but only if the area remains attractive, traversable, and safe.  To insure that successful development is achieved, we are prepared to work directly with landowners interested in the development of their properties if these landowners are committed to pursuing development that enhances the overall appeal of our neighborhoods and the safety of our corridors.  We can and must work together to find an intelligent balance between retaining and enhancing the extraordinary, livable quality of our single family neighborhoods and the benefits and amenities that infill and higher density development can offer.  We owe it to ourselves and to our future generations.

Need for Development.  How quickly development is needed in Chapel Hill depends on whether the kind of development being proposed makes sense in light of current demand for such development; we are calling this kind of assessment “demand analysis.”  A typical demand analysis for commercial space should look at what commercial space is needed, what similar development is already approved but not yet built, and what existing commercial space is currently vacant.  The same kind of demand analysis can be performed for other kinds of development, ranging from undergraduate student housing to single family apartments.  Ironically, such demand analysis data are amazingly hard to come by; one would think that the Town of Chapel Hill – or the local Chamber of Commerce – would have data on currently available space, but we have not succeeded in locating comprehensive data on the vacancy rate, Town-wide, for commercial and apartment space.  Assessing the demand – particularly the future demand – for space is difficult, but it must be attempted if we are to achieve “quality growth” for future development in Chapel Hill.

“Quality Growth” occurs when demand analysis is a central focus in assessing the need for commercial and housing development.  In our part of Chapel Hill, such demand analysis needs to pay special attention to the anticipated demand vis-à-vis Carolina North whose future unfolding has already been approved by the Town in the form of a development agreement.  We know that the “apron” surrounding Carolina North will have enormous and varied demands made on it over the next 20-30 years, yet some potential developers with properties on that apron do not seem to be considering how their prospective developments might fit in with the growth of Carolina North.

Cost Effectiveness.  Towns which grew up – as did Chapel Hill – with a predominant focus on single family housing and only a modest amount of commercial development typically face pressure to raise local property taxes.  High property taxes are never popular, and many towns and small cities look to increased development as a way to broaden the tax base.  Thus Chapel Hillians should always ask: Will this particular development generate more tax revenue than the costs imposed by the increased demands on town services and infrastructure, particularly on the road system which is already stretched to capacity in some parts of Chapel Hill?  Longer term, we must also consider the increased pressure new development places on everything from the OWASA water supply to enrollment in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Public Schools.

“Quality Growth” occurs when a developer is able – and actually does – demonstrate how a particular development project is a net plus for the overall financial condition of Chapel Hill.  Such estimates require developers to complete additional work – particularly for new businesses and apartment complexes – but obtaining any development approval should be conditional upon this work being performed in advance with results that are persuasive.

Transportation.  Chapel Hill developed with a road structure well suited to single family homes spread around a downtown core area.  As the Town grew, it became increasingly clear that this web-like road structure placed capacity constraints on automobile traffic that does not occur in communities with a more grid-like road structure.  Roads such as Estes Drive (North and Extension) that were designed to connect neighborhoods have evolved into cross-town arterials which often lack attention to biking and pedestrian safety and to other alternatives to automobiles.  Additionally, the traffic generated by an ever increasing number of vehicles on these roads is a direct result of incremental approvals of development along these corridors; this increased traffic has generated a variety of traffic bottlenecks.

“Quality Growth” occurs when the constraints of our road structure are recognized and addressed prior to (or certainly concurrent with) new development proposals.  For example, the Town employed this concurrency principle when negotiating the Carolina North Development Agreement.  As Carolina North is built out, the University will be required to make improvements to the existing transportation system.  Applying this principle of concurrency means that at times it is not prudent to proceed with a development proposal due to our inability to make needed changes to our transportation system.  At other times the nature of a development can be altered in consultation with the affected neighborhood interests which understand at a personal level the likely traffic implications of a particular development.

Environmental Impacts.  While a variety of environmental impacts are possible, storm-water run-off is one of the most pressing.  Water quality and creek ecology are dramatically affected when trees are removed and those same areas paved over as part of new developments.  With the percentage of paved areas increasing over the years, storm water is less able to be absorbed into the remaining ground to replenish groundwater supplies.  As a result, urban creeks can become raging torrents of water which both cause erosion and carry sediment into water bodies, compromising both water quality and stream habitat.

“Quality Growth” occurs when the Town pays close attention to storm-water impacts during the concept plan stage before proceeding with a development that could result in unforeseen downstream impacts.  Town storm-water ordinances and Jordan Lake rules must be applied to all new development to avoid costly mistakes.  Greater densities in development pose particular challenges as a certain amount of unpaved land area is needed for storm-water control.  The most aggressive controls should be employed when multiple commercial and apartment development are being considered because of the large number of impervious surfaces they typically employ.  Additionally, a proper storm-water impact study should consider how storm-water is redirected through existing neighborhoods as new developments are introduced into the area.  The cost to mitigate unintended storm-water run-off needs to be included as a cost of implementing the proposed development.

                                                      Conclusion

In conclusion, the above five considerations illustrate how we are dedicated to the “Quality Growth” for our area and our Town.  Our interests are long-term; we have purchased homes with the desire to stay here for an extended period of time.  However, we do worry about the short-term perspective so many – but not all — potential developers seem to hold and the reluctance of some developers to engage area residents in helping them plan the use of their property so that the result is both profitable to them and appropriate to the Central West area.  We are ready to engage.

So with this perspective, we look forward to participating in the impending study to produce the Central West Small Area Plan.  We invite any resident – homeowner or renter – to join us to work within the framework of the five considerations which support our vision of “Quality Growth.”  Making these considerations central to the Town’s small area planning may increase the effort a potential developer needs to gain approval for a proposed development, but in the long run following these principles will help ensure  that “Quality Growth” is achieved and reflected in the neighborhoods and that the Town can augment its tax base.