Two neighborhoods in Chapel Hill are proceeding with Neighborhood Conservation District applications. The town has six NCDs already and has spent tens of thousands of dollars on consultants to help with the process.
So who’s in charge of making sure that land owners in and residents of NCDs comply with the ordinance? Nobody.
That was clear Monday night at the council meeting as Town Manager Roger Stancil and council member Donna Bell discussed their recent experience of taking a walking tour of the Northside neighborhood to check out neighborhood needs and just how far some land owners have bent the rules. The fact that two town officials were on the tour had nothing to do with town vigilance.
It took a concerted effort by Orange County Justice United and Empowerment Inc. to audit the state of the Northside and Pine Knolls neighborhoods and report back to the town before it got the council’s attention.
Two properties appeared to be in violation of restrictions on front-yard parking, and one property was in disrepair. Sidewalks are nonexistent in many places, especially along North Graham Street, where construction on Greenbridge has forced regular foot traffic into the streets. Street signs were either damaged or missing. Streets are cracked and need repair.
The NCD designation means that a neighborhood is a “unique and distinctive” older in-town residential neighborhood or commercial district that contributes “significantly to the overall character and identity of the town and [is] worthy of preservation and protection,” according to the town website. The Glen Lennox and Highland Woods neighborhoods are knocking at the club door. Northside was the first to join.
Even with the NCD rules, Northside continues to slip away. The council doesn’t monitor what goes on in the NCDs. There’s no early-warning system when questionable practices develop, except for a resident to point it out. There’s no follow-up on how a neighborhood is doing once the NCD designation is approved.
If the Northside tour proved anything it is that the town needs a system for checking on and enforcing NCD rules before these distinctive parts of town edge beyond distinctive and into questionable.
Stancil suggested that strengthening a neighborhood’s Community Watch will spur input. That can work to some extent when the community has an active and committed contingent such as Justice United and Empowerment. But what about the town making good on its commitment to these neighborhoods? The town cannot just proudly proclaim its pride in these neighborhoods and then ignore them.
In the end Mayor Kleinschmidt suggested the town revisit the NCD process in its entirety, from instigation to follow-up. That’s a great idea – it could mean taxpayer money that was spent on establishing NCDs will not have been wasted.