Consistently inconsistent

This Town Council sure is hard to figure out.

Council members seemed poised to endorse a bicycle path/pedestrian walkway along Old Chapel Hill/Durham Road last night. Town transportation planner David Bonk said the time was right to start the project. The Blue Cross Blue Shield representative expressed concerns, since the project would shave three-quarters of an acre from its land, but said Chapel Hill’s largest employer was ready to enter discussions.

Then Matt Czajkowski brought up the point that putting in the path would take out 294 trees and that the council would never approve a development that would take out that many trees with no plan for replacing them.

Wait a minute – didn’t these councilfolk just spend quite a few hours during a couple meetings discussing how important tree canopy is to the town? Now they are willing to lose a whole lot of trees so that people can take an unshaded stroll?

These folks also seem quite prepared to help the Obey Creek development along, and that project will clear-cut 120 acres across the street from Southern Village and, oh, by the way, go back on a promise made to residents that the land would not be developed.

Council members talk about saving trees and make sounds that indicate they value the town’s tree canopy, then they crawl all over one another to be the first to yank the chainsaw cords and start cutting.

Jim Ward correctly asked whether there was a way to save some of the trees along Old Chapel Hill Road. By removing a patch of green space that would only accommodate bushes and grass, a good portion of the trees could be saved.

Ed Harrison, who strongly supports the bike path/sidewalk and who lives in the neighborhood, expressed his exasperation that sidewalk/bike path has been in the works for almost 20 years. He didn’t want to see any delays in getting the project going.

Penny Rich cast aspersions on the tree count, all but accusing Blue Cross Blue Shield, which opposed denuding the land, of being untrustworthy in its count.

Town staff and state planners will get together to see what they can do to alter the plan and save some trees. The council will probably get a report after the holidays. Makes me wish the council would introduce an element that is rare for this council’s approach to policy planning — consistency.

–Don Evans

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4 Comments

  1. Michael

     /  November 16, 2010

    Touché!

  2. Do you remember the Town’s carbon reduction (CRed) initiative from 2005?

    Don’t worry if you can’t, the remaining Council members who supported and approved the goals to reduce per capita carbon emissions by %60 by 2050 seem to have forgotten it as well.

    The initiative was introduced and adopted with a lot of political pomposity apparently, at least seen in retrospect, to serve mainly as a proxy for support of environmental mitigation (over actual commitment) in the 2005-2007 election cycles. Like a number initiatives from that era, the call to make specific measurable goals was rejected. Instead, a more generic and difficult to assess pledge to make percentage reductions (%5 by 2010, for instance) was substituted.

    An intermediate assessment of the Town’s carbon footprint was made, a series of recommendations suggested, an advisory board – the Sustainability Committee – created to keep the effort “evergreen” and monitor progress.

    While the focus of CRed was to reduce emissions, recommendations made as part of the process included retaining carbon sinks – like the tree canopy.

    Even before the 2005, 2007, 2009 election cycles I was pressing Council to “walk the talk” on this and other sustainability initiatives.

    In 2007, when I highlighted the fact that the Council – when it came to building the Town Operations Center, Aquatics Center, the clear-cut Southern Community park and other projects – refused to adopt measures to restore some percentage equivalent of the carbon sinks being destroyed, then Mayor Foy lashed out and accused me of wanting to plant trees on top of soccer fields.

    Given the Town’s checkered record since, I wished he had shown the same sensitivity to the reality of CRed as he did to my critique.

    When the Carolina North agreement was being developed there was a lot of environmental posturing made by some on the Council. One of the most interesting interchanges during that process came one evening when Laurin Easthom, Jim Ward and Czajkowski all pointed out that the Town, in deference to its business buddy RAM Development, decided to ease off its own obligations under these different sustainability pledges – like CRed – while pressing UNC for greater responsibility on the Horace-Williams tract. Jim put it bluntly – the Council in voting on watered down provisions for its own project had lost all credibility in demanding the same from UNC (UNC overlooked that discontinuity and accepted some, but not all, of the requested requirements).

    That there was a stark contrast between the two was no surprise to me. There is no real political reckoning for a policy of “do as I say, not as I do”. Until there is it will continue to be easier “to appear, over to do” instead of “esse quam videri” when tough choices have to be made (this attitude applies equally to other pledges – be it collective bargaining, fiscal responsibility, etc.).

    What does that have to do with Matt Czajkowski’s comment?

    Matt was highlighting another disconnect between stated policy and implemented policy. Can the trees be saved? We’ll see. Could a plan be adopted to mitigate their removal – maybe by restoring some fractional equivalent carbon reducing vegetation elsewhere? Possibly. We won’t know if we don’t look.

    And that continues to be a problem Chapel Hill’s leadership struggles with. It is always easier to avoid uncomfortable divergences in pledge over practice if you don’t evaluate policy, in light of those pledges, in the first place. Getting them over that reluctance continues to be a problem.

  3. John Kramer

     /  November 16, 2010

    Ahh yes, to seem rather than be.

    Kudos to Matt C for pointing out the folly of the feel good eco folks.

  4. That seems like the tree count is too high. Is there a map of the proposed path that shows 294 trees in the way?

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