Town and county staff and elected officials gathered around the meeting table, as well as those of us in the audience, squirmed and shifted uncomfortably in our seats, not because of what was being discussed around the table — precious little was — but because the hard plastic chairs weren’t meant for meetings that go on for more than three hours, as the Assembly of Governments meeting did on Nov. 19.
In fact, by 10 p.m., the three-hour mark for the meeting that began at 7, many in the audience and some at the table had called it quits. And who could blame them? Rarely did the players go off script — yes, selected officials took turns reading from a script to introduce topics — and much of what they said could have been written in an annual report and posted on a website.
The one exception came when Carrboro Alderman Sammy Slade and Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt disagreed on a sunset clause for expanded uses of land in the rural buffer. Right now, owners of farmland in the buffer can sell their land to a developer for low-density housing. Small farming is not lucrative, and as Commissioner Earl McKee noted, “The most profitable crop farmers in the buffer can grow is houses.” So to help small farmers make more money from their operation, the county has proposed allowing farmers to open businesses such as wineries and breweries and hold large events on their land.
Whether that would achieve the goal of preserving the rural buffer or just extend sprawl and traffic, no one knows for sure. Carrboro’s solution was to say that the new uses could last only six years, at which point the governments of Carrboro, Chapel Hill and the county would have to agree on whether to extend it. Kleinschmidt argued that landowners would view that six-year end date as the point at which their land might become less valuable, so a sunset clause would be an incentive to sell to developers.
The two had a discussion that didn’t follow the “raise your hand and the moderator will call on you” format, prompting Commissioner Barry Jacobs to interrupt with his version of “Boys! Boys!”
But that kind of back-and-forth is exactly what the issue calls for. Yes, Chapel Hill’s Town Council will discuss it separately, but it would help to have input from Carrboro. And the county might want to weigh in, too.
Isn’t that what an Assembly of Governments meeting is for?
– Nancy Oates