Terri Buckner writes:
Tonight the council will decide whether to adopt the Chapel Hill 2020 plan or send it back for additional detail/revisions. The plan combines strategic elements with the beginnings of land use guidance along with an implementation plan for addressing priorities and schedules. The plan has been strongly criticized by some for lacking the specificity needed to direct council and advisory boards when new projects come before them for review. The Planning Board went so far as to rewrite multiple sections in an attempt to add the detail they felt was necessary for guiding their decision-making processes.
Despite all the citizen and staff work on this plan, growth remains the elephant in the room. “The character and quality of life offered by these neighborhoods could be impacted by nearby changes that increase noise, light pollution, and traffic congestion. Sustaining the character and lifestyle that these areas provide, yet allowing them to be flexible to accommodate change will serve to assure their viability and will demonstrate that the residents’ concerns are an important consideration when planning for future changes.” Statements like this acknowledge the challenges we will face if growth predictions are accurate, and the Future Focus section outlines the type of growth staff and consultants believe is appropriate for individual areas of town. But nowhere does the plan propose any specific policies that might direct decisions across the entire community.
In Writing Public Policy, Catherine Smith says the first step in developing effective policy is to identify the problem. The 2020 plan establishes a vision and a set of goals and actions for achieving that vision. But nowhere in the plan is there an acknowledgement of any constraints or problems that might interfere with achieving the vision. For CH2020 to be successful, I believe that we need to step back and conduct a community conversation to determine our local principles on growth, including some guidance on what level of growth is acceptable.
Lemony Snicket, in “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” said, “Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don’t always like.” My preference is to be the master of our collective fate; at the very least, if I know the direction of the community, I can make my own decisions instead of continuing to wonder what those odd little waiters are going to serve up.