Plunge Into the New Year

For the first time in my life, I live in a neighborhood with a swimming pool. To celebrate the New Year, some of my neighbors and I took a polar bear plunge. That the weather was a mild 66 degrees helped, but not as much as you’d think. The water felt every bit the liquid ice it was.

Maybe it was just that getting out of the pool was such a relief by comparison, but I felt great the rest of the day.

This week we take another plunge as council meetings resume with a work session on Jan. 9 to talk about the Future Land Use Map. The idea behind the FLUM is to lay out what sort of development should go where. It is not binding, but it gives prospective investors an idea of what council might be amenable to in a given area.

For the past nine months, town staff have been reaching out to town residents, collecting input from the community about how the town should grow, the type of development we want to attract and what we’d like to discourage. Staff identified six areas that might be vulnerable to redevelopment.

A few months ago, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce asked council to add five additional areas to the study area. Council nixed considering the three areas in the Rural Buffer, but gave the nod to consider the two remaining: one that was south of Southern Village along 15-501 and the other northeast of I-40 off Erwin Road.

Unfortunately, the staff’s outreach efforts were nearly complete, so adding the new areas of study would set our schedule back by nearly a year. This matters because council and staff had wanted the FLUM done before continuing with the much-needed rewrite of the Land Use Management Ordinance (LUMO).

Now council is faced with three options: 1) Stage another round of community visioning exercises, which would delay adopting the FLUM and the LUMO rewrite; 2) Move forward with the six areas originally under consideration, adopt the FLUM and amend it later, after the visioning exercises take place, thus allowing the LUMO rewrite to proceed on schedule; or 3) Defer adopting the FLUM until after the additional visioning exercises for the new areas, which would delay the LUMO rewrite.

We can’t forgo the visioning exercises. Council represents the town residents, and we can’t shut out their input on an issue as important as how the town should grow and change. Yet new development ideas are in the works for the area south of Southern Village, and without a visioning exercise and FLUM, council is left to consider projects piecemeal.

Regardless of what we decide (and we won’t vote on anything until our Jan. 16 meeting), some faction of interested parties will react icily.

This is the council version of the polar bear plunge.

— Nancy Oates

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  1. The original late 90’s comprehensive plan represents the most “complete” effort the Town ever put forward in drafting land use management.

    Ever since then, we’ve adopted a series of worse and worse policies based on a “declare victory, fill out the details later” approach.

    For instance, when citizens drafted 36 specific key recommendations for the Ephesus-Fordham plan, the Town and its staff ignored that input and said it would be integrated at a later date – which essentially worked out to never.

    Those issues should’ve been fleshed out and discussed before adopting E/F – just as we should expect the many issues with the new FLUM proposal should be worked out in a very public and collaborative way before adoption.

    It’s also way past time to work within a “facts-based” system that objectively measures what does and does not work for our community.

    For instance, I submitted a petition nearly 3 years ago asking the Town to analyze the success and failures associated with many of the big ticket projects – East54, West140, Greenbridge, etc. – that were adopted under incompletely specified plans. Within that request, I provided about 100 quantitative measures as examples of what we should be evaluating.

    Other than one very terse meeting (42 minutes) with Town staff, there has been no further progress on that initiative. I’m still waiting for staff to move forward on the commitments made during that meeting 2+ years ago.

    We’ve seen how disastrous a “kick the can down the road” approach has been and should reject any further LUMO rewrites without a process comparable to the original late 90’s Comprehensive Plan creation.

    Further, there should be no more adoptions of “wild west” zoning schemes – like form-based codes or development agreements – without a list of very specific measurable objectives and built-in breakpoints for non-compliance.

  2. Plurimus

     /  January 8, 2019

    Happy New Year Nancy,

    Challenges facing local government are a direct result of economic uncertainty coupled with the consequence of stale decisions – forcing councils to respond or rest rapidly. The requirement to respond rapidly has to be balanced with the critical review and oversight of new services, and which services are affordable, while protecting existing frontline services. More and more decisions are being made with a short-term focus in order to meet budget challenges which reduce an authority’s capacity to respond to change while at the same time delivering the services its citizens need and want.

    No longer providing certain services is a now a reality for many authorities. Councils are struggling to transform the way they deliver and account for services once they are decided on and if, as in the case of light rail, do those services still make sense in the big picture? You don’t mention that the Town just signed a development agreement with GoTriangle.

    When I read your comments I wonder how these things tie together in the big picture. Looking at the two sites you mention, neither seems to tie in with light rail or the shiny new ¼ mile TOD development radius around stations that is being sold as part an parcel of the +3.5 Billion dollar investment. Also, how does the new Legion property figure in? Is this published somewhere?

  3. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  January 8, 2019

    “Staff” made a huge impression on me during the Obey Creek development process, whereby the Town’s planning department,officially renamed “Development Services” under former mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, approved developer plans before they were presented to the Planning Commission. Planning Commission in all other cases is supposed to comment on plans so that council can vote in an informed manner. Development Services, paid for by taxpayers, worked for the developer. The developer, in turn, worked for the pass-through partnerships that own the 120-acre Obey Creek property. One of the base owners (if not THE owner), Sinclair Broadcasting Group, became famous last year for requiring lock-step right-wing political announcements on all the local news stations it owns. The company is fortunate that employees of local municipalities volunteer to push through its projects. That’s the invisible hand of the free market at work (taxpayers are not the free market, so no need to consider them). During that time, the property lay outside town limits, so it didn’t even pay Chapel Hill tax.