A new emergency services facility may be coming to Chapel Hill, but the debate on the suitability of its proposed location is simmering as the approval process continues.
Town officials hosted a meeting on Monday to address grievances issued by residents like Randall Barrow, who claimed that consolidation may not be apt.
“Suddenly, there’s this big panic like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got to put the police and fire in the thing,'” he jested. “Why do we got [sic] to cram all this into one sausage casing?”
The facility would house the Chapel Hill Police Department along with other agencies as part of a joint venture between UNC-Chapel Hill and the municipal government.
According to local resident Ann Loftin, the plan to build the facility on university-owned land leased for a nominal amount to the town may have unforeseen consequences.
“We’re now going into an arrangement whereby this is a renting thing from UNC, and it’s a nod and a wink, and who knows how that’s all going to play out,” she mused. “Let’s fix the nest we’ve already fouled.”
Those concerns may be overblown based on statements from Mary Jane Nirdlinger, who explained that her department is working with the future of the town in mind.
“What we’re trying to accomplish is to identify opportunities to serve the town today and for a long time in the future,” she noted. “We’re trying to think about Carolina North, about the center of town, not just today or two years from now, but 50 years from now.”
As the executive director of municipal planning, Nirdlinger presided over the meeting while answering questions and providing a platform for residents in attendance.
The issues brought to her attention were many, with Loftin expressing concern over developing land on Estes Drive for the facility that may have environmental importance.
“Is there a real need to develop this last little piece of undeveloped property that acts as an environmental buffer and a flood control buffer,” she asked.
Barrow also explained that Estes Drive is a two-lane road, which may confound the ability of first responders to maneuver through traffic in the vicinity during peak hours.
“If you have emergency vehicles going out and you’ve got a two-lane road, where’s the traffic supposed to pull over, because state law requires us to be in the other lane” he posed. “It’s not going to part like the Red Sea.”
Issues notwithstanding, Nirdlinger surmised that collaborating with the university on enhancing local emergency services would be a worthwhile endeavor.
“We have some aging facilities, we’ve got staff needs and program needs that serve the community, and we don’t really have the right place to do that,” she explained. “This site […] was obviously very attractive because it is an opportunity to partner with the university.”
The Chapel Hill Town Council is expected to consider that endeavor in subsequent meetings while discussions between university officials and civil servants continue.