Tag Archives: central west steering committee meetings

Chapel Hill News Commentary

Commentary:  Central West Committee steering in dangerous direction

Sometimes people get led away from a common sense direction by misapplying fashionable ideas or getting lost in details.

Despite good intentions, this is happening with the Town’s Central West Steering Committee, with great potential danger to Chapel Hill’s future.

The town charged the committee with developing a plan for the area along MLK Boulevard near the Estes Drive intersection and east along Estes. An important requirement was citizen input.

The town staff and their consultant wasted time and ran up a big cost overrun by peppering the committee with trendy urban plans that showed no understanding of the context and real issues at Central West. The committee eventually developed four alternative plans, all with various amounts of dense commercial and residential development packed into this small area. Continue reading

Alan Tom’s remarks to Central West Steering Committee

Just last week, the Steering Committee (Action Minutes for September 19) voted to use the map recently developed through individual conversations with Steering Committee members “as a first draft and starting point for the Committee’s discussions.”

Tonight that same map appears on your agenda for final action because, as noted in the agenda directions, “the Committee needs to send a plan to the Planning Board for their review on October 1st ….”  Even by the twists and turns that have become a defining characteristic of the Central West Steering Committee, the abrupt switch in one week from a map being “a first draft and starting point for … discussions” to being an action item is a astounding change in direction.

The reality is that the Steering Committee is not near being ready to offer a final report that could be meaningfully reviewed by the Planning Board next week.  Let me capture major unresolved problems that are embedded in the map under consideration this afternoon (for reference, here is the map: http://www.townofchapelhill.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=20575

1) A key problem with the plan on the table is the failure of this plan to have a set of defensible performance standards for traffic and flooding, presuming that performance outcomes are to be part of the assessment for potential developments.

2) The plan does not identify square foot maximums for each developer (you can’t have both flexibility of building placement and no sense of maximum square footage and still have meaningful protection for surrounding neighborhoods).

3) The whole issue of Estes Drive is unaddressed in the plan under consideration, leaving it unclear, for example, the maximum number of lanes that  might be added as part of traffic mitigation procedures or precisely what features will promote the safety of school-age children and other pedestrians (part of this latter issue may be addressed this evening).

4) Yet to be discussed and resolved is whether senior housing can be appropriately placed on a ridge with nearby steep ravines in one of Chapel Hill’s last remaining near old-growth forests.

5) The southward extension of Somerset would entail it crossing a drainage area, both an expensive road to build and an environmentally questionable proposal.

6) While the map states that intensity decreases as one moves eastward on Estes, it is hard to see on that map how that claim is true.

7) Even though we now know that Carolina North is going to be phased in slower than originally expected, no provisions are apparent on the map for accommodating Central West development  to the phase-in of Carolina North.

These 7 unresolved areas — other people no doubt can add to this list — are significant, and it is not surprising that these areas are unresolved.  After all discussion of this new map has just begun, and the Steering Committee has only recently started to talk to one another in a serious way.  In the absence of a skilled facilitator and with a committee charge that has morphed periodically, the Steering Committee has seemed to spin in circles for much of the past 6 months.

When the Town Council established the Steering Committee membership last October, the Council made the committee membership broadly representative of the interests of the community, ranging from landowners to institutional representatives to residents of Central West.  This was a design to promote, if not compel, consensus, and the Steering Committee early on adopted consensus as a goal.

Now is not the time to shortcircuit that goal.  I urge you to persist and to work for consensus so that the interests of everyone around the table are preserved and the final small area plan has the support of all of you.

Alan Tom  September 24, 2013

August 19, 7 and July 30 Steering Committee meetings

August 19 Staff action meeting notes are here.  The Committee now has 4 maps on the table found here. Several committee members told staff that they did not have sufficient content to be analyzed. The don’t show building foot prints, intensity or road circulations, unlike earlier maps. Staff shared an outline for the small area plan. Steering Committee David Tuttle explained he found the steering committee meetings lacking in dialogue and a real exchange of views.  He was saddened that committee members no longer seemed to care about taking a consensus recommendation to the Council – on  that the community and a committee minority would support.

August 7  Staff action notes are here. This meeting was frustrating to observe.  Because the Committee lacks a skilled facilitator, committee members engage in serial conversations and conversation is not around one topic.  Decisions as recorded by co chair report are here.

  • Parcels B and C should have a mix of uses including: incubator (create relationship with Carolina North), significant residential along northern section, non-residential uses along Estes (intensities that are lower than Parcel A) and institutional uses such as a parks and recreation center.  An alternative scenario for this area should also be tested that would call for residential uses only on these parcels.
  • Consider a road connecting Somerset and the proposed road running along the south part of the YMCA property to MLK and have it tested for transportation impacts.
  • For area E, to apply environmental language from earlier discussions of areas G and H, and test two options: one that is residential, and one that is primarily residential with institutional/office uses along Estes Drive frontage.
  • Area J should be residential.
  • Because of meeting time constraints, the group was not able to make specific building height recommendations for areas A–F.  It was agreed that we would test on the range of heights suggested by a majority of committee members in the July 1st “homework” activity, with area C changed from 2-4 stories, with any decision that the Committee has already made to supersede the July 1st activity heights.
  • The group decided to test continuation of the area A retail strip south of MLK onto D and F. For testing purposes, we would assume that D would be a synthesis of uses and heights for areas A and B, and that F would assume an expansion of its current institutional use. A low-end use for Parcel D — institutional with a small area of retail — would also be tested..

July 30  Most of this meeting was a discussion about preferred land uses, intensities and heights for the undeveloped land south of Estes Drive.  Results are shown here.  Several members of the steering committee asked for a big picture discussion about data about land constraints and traffic for the area BEFORE making these decisions on a tract by tract basis.  They did not convince the co chairs of this approach. Whit Rummel presented his concept for retail, housing and civic uses for the undeveloped property north of Estes.