Fitting in our dreams

Chapel Hillians tend to go big or go home, and that proved true in feedback we got after Town Council authorized buying the American Legion property.

When we asked residents how to use the 36-acre parcel (only about 23 acres of which are developable, due to topography, stream buffers and resource conservation regulations), we received ideas that would fill up three times that space, easily.

Town Council designated a task force to pre-screen some of those concepts. I am one of the task force members representing Town Council, as is Donna Bell and Pam Hemminger. Other members speak for the community, business interests, the Visitors’ Bureau, the school system, cultural arts, and parks and greenways.

After a kick-off daylong charette on April 8 during which residents dropped by and shared their thoughts or stayed longer and drew them on a map, we held four two-hour meetings. We heard a couple presentations by groups that wanted to use a significant portion of the land for their organizations, and we received updated priorities from the town’s Parks & Greenways Commission.

The town hired Dan Jewell, a consultant who has shepherded developers’ projects through the town process for years, to write a report to council on our work. Jewell and his staff facilitated the charette, codified the ideas on various maps and helped us block out square footage of some of the proposals so we could get a sense of where they might go and what space would be leftover.

We saw just how small that 36-acre lot is.

Everyone on the task force, including the business representative, understood the value of having a community gathering space. Over the course of our meetings, we came up with some guiding principals on how to use the land. We will present those at the council’s final meeting of the fiscal year, on June 26. Dan Jewell will bring the list of suggestions that arose from the charette and the maps that he drew to show where those uses might fit.

We have time to decide. Even if we pay off the mortgage early, we can’t do anything with the land other than mow its grass for the next two years because we promised the American Legion use of the building through March 2019. That gives us time to gather more ideas and evaluate proposals as Ephesus-Church springs up nearby and the land’s market value increases. We have the money to make the remaining two mortgage payments, but the majority on council signaled a desire to sell off a slice of the land to recoup the investment. That would reduce our options all the more.

Fortunately, a Town Council task force evaluating town-owned land has been meeting since the beginning of the year. That group will present its report to council on June 26 as well. Perhaps some of the ideas we heard for the American Legion property would fit better on another town-owned parcel.

If the two groups pool our information, we will be better able to see where we are and where we want to go.
— Nancy Oates

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