Taxpayers who participated in the grueling CH2020 process and small area plan meetings know the feeling. After eight months of public participation in CH2020 – more than a year for the volunteers who made up the initial task force – the first project to come before council post-CH2020 completely ignored the new comprehensive plan. When Matt Czajkowski urged developer Roger Perry to come back with a plan for Obey Creek that followed the CH2020 recommendations, Jim Ward interjected that CH2020 was only a “placeholder.”
At this week’s Thursday night council meeting – rescheduled due to Monday being the Jewish holiday Simchat Torah, and the first council agenda item being a public forum on the bus ad controversy that some observant Jews might want to weigh in on – staff will report on the progress of the Estes Small Area Plan. Over the past couple of months, between 30 and 50 community members, some developers and their entourages, and planning department staff have held four meetings to define the focus and impact area and decide on a structure going forward, including the composition of a steering committee.
Four nights of paying a babysitter and giving up time to rejuvenate after a long day at work to think through and negotiate development issues that will affect their quality of life and most likely their annual property tax bill. Only to be ignored by staff who swept aside community recommendations to make room for their own.
The two major points of difference come from the steering committee composition and the borders defining what constitutes the Estes Small Area. Community members wanted 16 members on the steering committee: one representative each from UNC, a nearby public school, and a member of the planning board and the transportation board, along with eight residents of the planning and impact areas and four owners of businesses or land in the planning or impact area.
The planning department staff recommended a 17-member committee with fewer neighbors. Planning staff reduced the number of residents to six, and dictated that one be a renter, added a Chamber of Commerce member, a public housing resident and a wild-card from outside the planning and impact areas.
Community members took pains to draw the planning area boundaries of neighborhoods ripe for redevelopment. Planning department staff erased the lines and redrew them only around parcels that line a major transportation artery.
And yet, a few days ago, town staff sent out another cheerful email announcing “Participate Chapel Hill!” and inviting residents to “share your ideas!” (Exclamation points courtesy of the town.)
– Nancy Oates