Obey Creek: From Outreach to Inclusion

Southern Area resident Jeanne Brown has this to say about the evolving community engagement process for Obey Creek:

Three years after Town Council members asked to know what a Development Agreement for Obey Creek would look like, a long-awaited public engagement process is beginning to take shape – thanks to council suggestion that staff, East West Partners and community members Amy Ryan and I work together to craft an initial Exploratory Phase.

At the end of this first phase, council will decide if the project is appropriate for a Development Agreement.

The draft Exploratory process, which was presented at the April 29 council work session, details opportunities for public participation, including a public information meeting, two multi-day workshops, a series of key topic sessions and online data collection opportunities.
But by assigning all leadership and decision-making to an outside consulting team and by using a series of reactive feedback meetings as the format for community “discussion” of important topics, the community will continue to find ourselves in a position of having to respond to developer and consultant generated recommendations or plans rather than being allowed to play a participatory role in shaping our own future.

Furthermore, because the schedule includes a multi-evening community workshop during the last week of school and then concentrates discussion of key topics such as traffic and environment during the summer months, it continues to feel as though the intent of the process is to value efficiency and technical decision-making over true community engagement.

Having worked as a consultant doing process improvement and redesign for companies and organizations in the past, I wonder why we have spent three years trying to get to a process that provides necessary community planning steps and meets common goals of transparency, fairness (clarity and impartiality), inclusion, data-informed decision-making and, in this case, planning from the ground up (blank slate).

Incorporating these goals into a process plan is not rocket science but it does require commitment to those goals every step of the way.

So, where are we now, and where do we go from here?

During their April 29 work session, council addressed several important issues, including a role for citizens in decision-making and the timeframe for the process. At the end of their discussion, council members asked staff to return with a proposal for a Central West-style steering committee; council member Gene Pease suggested the need to adjust the timeframe.

For the 30 or so community members who attended the work session, it was helpful to hear council discuss this “process,” which has up to now been too vague to understand. During a rare opportunity for public comment, individuals from numerous neighborhoods applauded council’s decisions followed by a statement from East West’s Ben Perry, who reaffirmed his company’s commitment to open community dialogue.

Further discussion is expected at an upcoming council meeting or work session.

In the meantime, a walking tour of Obey Creek has been scheduled for Wednesday, May 22, at 10 a.m. Details can be found at http://townofchapelhill.org/index.aspx?page=15&recordid=5585.

Interested in attending but unable to get away on a Wednesday morning? Hopefully, in the future, we won’t have to ask; but for now, e-mail staff at: developmentagreement@townofchapelhill.org.

Include the words “Obey Creek Exploratory Phase” in your subject line!
— Jeanne Brown

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  1. Nancy

     /  May 15, 2013

    From the discussion at the Town Council meeting Monday night, it sounds like council members strongly support a Central West-style process as part of a development agreement. Evidently, East West Partners wrote to council asking for its money back because the timeline for the development agreement is taking longer than East West thought. East West paid a $75,000 deposit for consulting services but had second thoughts when the town moved in the direction of a steering committee like Central West. Council offered to refund the money but didn’t back down on the steering committee process.

  2. Ed Harrison

     /  May 15, 2013

    “Evidently, East West Partners wrote to council asking for its money back because the timeline for the development agreement is taking longer than East West thought. East West paid a $75,000 deposit for consulting services but had second thoughts when the town moved in the direction of a steering committee like Central West.”

    The letter from Roger Perry contained no language at all to this effect. Any discussion of that originated with a council member at Monday’s meeting.

  3. Nancy

     /  May 16, 2013

    Ed — Is there a way to show the text of the letter online? As the bulk of the discussion by council was over the Perrys wanting their money back, someone must have inferred that from whatever the letter did say.

  4. Nancy

     /  May 17, 2013

    To view a copy of East West Partners’ letter, go to townofchapelhill.org, click on “Government” then on “Mayor & Council” then scroll down that page and click on the link “archive of council email.” The letter was posted 5/9 at 8:30 a.m., so in your search, put in parameters of “after 5/8” and “before 5/10” and it should take you to the page where the email to Jason Damweber appears. The letter is a pdf attachment to the email.

  5. jeanne brown

     /  May 17, 2013

    Thanks, Nancy, for providing that information.

    Also available in the archives is a memo from Roger Stancil which outlines a “Compass Committee” for the upcoming Obey Creek process (entitled “Committee for Obey Creek”).

    The committee is fashioned after the community engagement process used for Northside.

    Given talk about Glen Lennox and Central West, this is a departure from what was expected so I’d be interested to hear about that process from those who participated or followed it closely.

  6. Fred Black

     /  May 17, 2013

    Nancy, I don’t infer that from reading the letter. Did I miss something?

  7. jeanne brown

     /  May 17, 2013


    Unfortunately, the contract between the town and East West Partners was signed before council had reviewed and approved the plan and schedule for public engagement and technical review processes.

    At the April 29 work session, council members agreed that a steering committee or task force similar to the one in place at Central West should be included. In addition, council member Pease asked that the timeline be adjusted.

    As Ed Harrison alluded to earlier, many council members did not feel that East West Partners was asking for their money back; however, both council members Czajkowski and Ward felt it was important that everyone understood that the process would include a steering committee/task force and, would, therefore take a little longer than expected. They went on to ask staff to verify with Mr. Perry if he wished to move forward with the Exploratory Phase given those conditions or choose to use the SUP process.

    No official word is out about Mr. Perry’s answer but, presumably, Mr. Stancil’s memo suggesting a “Compass Committee” might indicate that an Exploratory Phase for Obey Creek is still in the works.

  8. DOM

     /  May 17, 2013


  9. jeanne brown

     /  May 18, 2013


    I don’t know whether to answer “Exactly!” (as in why has it been so complicated to put a fair process in place?) or , given that you were reading this thread, ask what you were hoping to discuss about Obey Creek, Development Agreements……