CH2020 win

Town Council approved CH2020 last night during Part 1 of its two-episode season finale. The vote came after nearly three hours of public comment and council discussion. As with any good drama, there was a plot twist – the Planning Board came up with a list of last-minute changes. And there was a very interesting presentation on the cost of growth and how it would affect property taxes.

But after much assurance from town staff that “moving forward” with CH2020 would not mean “leaving community members’ input in the dust,” council members voted unanimously to accept what will now be the new comprehensive plan and begin implementing it.

And some people thought hammering out the details and getting the words on paper took it out of them. Just wait until those words become the “living, breathing” entity of implementation, and we get stuck in its traffic and shelling out for services to high-density projects many people don’t want at all.

A couple of bright points: Rather than a traditional PowerPoint presentation of white letters on a solid-color background, assistant town planner Mary Jane Nirdlinger arranged for a presentation with inspired graphics and software that zoomed viewers in and out and whirled us around to new spots. I believe the presentation was designed in-house, and if so, that staff member deserved every penny of the 3 percent raise council approved in the budget it passed earlier in the evening.

I also took heart at the number of regular folks trooping up to the mike to add their opinions and insights. Too often at council meetings we hear mainly from paid consultants and lawyers and retirees with too much time and money on their hands. We are inexorably heading toward becoming a resort community, but seeing the number of people who seemed to know what it was like to do their jobs without a phalanx of support staff gave me hope that Chapel Hill might still tolerate, if not a working class, at least a middle class.

Tonight, tune in for more on St. Paul Village, Charterwood and options for solid waste disposal.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Nancy, a short clarification on your statement that “the Planning Board came up with a list of last-minute changes”.

    The Planning Board had put some long hours into responding to the 3rd DRAFT plan back and had submitted their written recommendations May 14th which were submitted to both staff and the Council. Doing a formal review was a condition of the CH2020 process and part of their charter.

    The one major difference between those recommendations tonight came from the brand new and quite schematic section on implementation steps and community outreach. Contrary to George’s assertion, most of this was brand new material, even to staff who stumbled answering the simplest of Council questions on how and when their comments along with the community’s would be integrated into the final document.

    In reviewing the PB’s comments from May, it is clear that many of the process related concerns had been commented on week in and week out starting last Fall. In other words, staff and the Council members who attended the meeting should not have been surprised by either those previously submitted comments or tonight’s calls for action.

    As far as the Chamber’s Nelson’s comment about “Where were you?” to the PB, many of them participated extensively throughout the CH2020 process. Then they scheduled several special meetings to perform their CH2020 review. Finally, they scrambled and dedicated further hours reviewing the new and substantially revised sections which just appeared a few days ago.

    The Planning Board meets twice or more a month. Has a high workload and lots of responsibility for getting it right.

    It would have been fine for Nelson to criticize their message, the way they conveyed it but not their effort to do the due diligence their position requires.

  2. DOM

     /  June 26, 2012

    I must say, it’s quite exciting to see such a radical shift in the perspective for what the future might bring for Chapel Hill and its citizens.

    A number of people turned out last night to try and slow down or halt the 2020 process – in many cases, the same faces I’ve seen for years and years who resist Growth and continually profess to be trying to restore the Chapel Hill they knew when they first moved here forty or fifty years ago.

    Thankfully, there is also a whole new batch of fresh young people with creative and out-of-the-box ideas who aren’t limited by unattainable memories of the past.

    Onward, Chapel Hill!

  3. DOM, I’m not sure where you get the idea that folks who turned out last night were against growth or want to restore a mythically lost Chapel Hill. That just isn’t accurate.

    The Planning Board spent almost all their time speaking to process issues. They use the current Comprehensive Plan to evaluate projects already and were asking for a tool that would improve their ability to match a development proposal against the goals within that plan.

    Recall, the new plan was supposed to clarify the process, make it much more predictable in outcome, reliably indicate what type of growth folks wanted where, speed up the general review process, clearly identify opportunity zones so developers would bring the kinds of projects we want to Town and, finally, inject a level of comprehensiveness into our planning regime which was fairer in apportioning growth and recognized some intrinsic constraints to development.

    That was the original goal of the CH2020 process – a much more effective, comprehensive planning tool.

    That is not what we got – by a long shot. As measured against the current Comprehensive Plan, which is referred to 100’s of times within our LUMO, the adopted proposal doesn’t measure up. And that was why the Planning Board, who are on the frontlines, brought up their concerns.

    They focused on the Comprehensive Plan as a tool that didn’t achieve its stated goals.

    As far as the goals of making the system more user friendly, I’ll remind you that I was way ahead of anyone on the CHTC calling for an update (and took political heat from some of them when I ran for office for calling for a more predictable, efficient and reliable process).

    Finally, the CHTC keeps saying that this is the “peoples’ plan” but at the same time has rejected the peoples’ input. The structural issues with the adopted plan should have been fixed prior to adoption. As a business document, the adopted plan didn’t pass muster and deserved at least one more copyedit session to tighten up and fix known problems. As a guide to the Planning Board, their concerns should have been addressed. And, finally, if the document really is living and “the peoples'” , the implementation plan in section 4 should have been taken out and reworked over summer (which is essentially what is being done).

    That didn’t happen and now it is on Council to take “the people’s” input and fix the plan themselves.

  4. DOM

     /  June 26, 2012


    I understand that what you got falls far short of where you wanted to go, but I challenge you to look at the possibilities for what happens next with a positive and collaborative spirit without further complaint about what didn’t happen. I hope others who feel a sense of disappointment will too. And I really don’t mean that to sound snarky either.

  5. DOM, I’ll refer to tonight’s CHTC Charterwood discussion as exhibit one for why a “half-baked” (to use one Planning Board members phrase) plan is worse than keeping the old.

    I did get a some of my concerns addressed throughout the CH2020 process and some of my practical land-use elements and suggestions were incorporated.

    Finally, it’s not negative or not collaborative to point out the gaps.

  6. < :~ 0

     /  June 28, 2012

    When the Comprehensive Plan is a public relations document declaring Chapel Hill’s inclusiveness instead of an actual plan with guidelines, the Planning Board gets stuck with all endless requests for exceptions to rules and zoning. Its members then take all kinds of rhetorical flak for the town’s failure to provide procedure and guidelines. That flak comes from neighbors and developers who use the media to vent anger at outcomes that seem unpredictable, until you realize that the Mayor and Council benefit from this lack of guidance. Council uses the PB to gauge sentiment, and its members each think, “Well, better them than me!” but it produces chaotic outcomes to have almost every development decision emerge one by one from requests for exceptions to zoning and the Comprehensive Plan. The CH2020 provides less guidance than ever before, so assume more chaos in the future. A lot of time will be saved by reprinting old invective, with just the names changed.

  7. Terri Buckner

     /  June 29, 2012

    Two council members attended the Nurturing Our Community meetings–both asking for specifics to help guide their deliberations, so I take exception to
    the post above.

    The 2020 plan isn’t a traditional comprehensive plan in that it wasn’t developed by staff and consultants, and as a result of the community-drive process, the first phase of its development provides a framework instead of the details experts would have included. So we have a less than perfect document developed by the community. We can’t have both–a community-drive process and an expertly crafted comprehensive plan. And that’s the fallacy in the arguments of certain members of this community that keep making me crazy. They want both.

    It’s time to stop complaining and offer positive suggestions for how to shape the next phase of the plan development in a way that continues to involve the usual and non-usual citizen voices and gets us (eventually) to the level of detail needed to improve the broken review process.

  8. Del Snow

     /  July 1, 2012

    “As with any good drama, there was a plot twist – the Planning Board came up with a list of last-minute changes.”

    It’s been a long week, full of drama, but the record always needs to be set straight.

    Obviously, most people do not seem to be aware of the FACT that the Planning Board presented not changes on Monday night, but the reasoning behind the changes that were incorporated into the the 2020 plan. These changes were written in by Staff and the revised document was the one approved by Council.

    There were only 2 additional changes that were up to the Council to enact – one was the “sample citizen comments” on the Future Focus maps. We advocated for objective descriptions rather than comments that were tilted one way or the other. As an example, the Downtown comments included “Downtown could primarily support 4-6 stories with some 8-12 story buildings on Franklin and Rosemary Streets.” This was one comment chosen out of many, some comments with the opposite view, suggesting a more small scale village type approach, were made as well. One can only imagine the furor if the comment referenced and codified in the Future Focus chapter were those less growth oriented remarks! The Planning Board requested that subjectivity be removed.

    The other change involved the implementation process. Without implementation, there is no plan…only a vision document. For example, if a proposal is presented in Septemeber, when Council returns, I wonder if they will have a clear path on how to proceed.

    The Planning Board’s charge is to prepare and recommend revisions to the Comprehensive Plan for the physical development of the Town. The tremendous amount of extra work and dedication put in by the volunteer Planning Board, many of whom faithfully attended all the 2020 sessions as well, ultimately improved the adopted plan greatly and we are proud of our work.

  9. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  July 1, 2012

    Nancy, those were not last-minute changes. The Planning Board has been working all year on the various aspects of CH2020, as Town Council’s PB liaison Matt Czajkowski will attest. PB has submitted the suggestions you heard at several iterations of the 2020 plan.