Central West Makes Progress, Many Still Skeptical
CHAPEL HILL – The Central West Steering Committee has formulated a plan which focuses on several points that it will present to the Chapel Hill Planning Board Tuesday. This comes after last week’s meeting when the committee could not reach an agreement on a single item. Still a portion of the committee members and neighbors weren’t content with the process.
For the first time in the history of the Central West Steering Committee, a motion passed unanimously Tuesday evening as committee members applauded the consensus.
“It is time for us to make decisions. We’ve met for nine months. I think it is time for us to put some marks on paper with some decision making. We will then send it to the Planning Board and get public comment,” said committee Co-Chair Amy Ryan.
Matt Sullivan, the meeting’s facilitator, said that the topics up for discussion were development use; height; and bicycle and pedestrian amenities. By keeping the meeting’s agenda from getting too broad, the committee was able to make progress before sending suggestions to the Town Planning Board.
Other motions were approved as well, such as limiting building heights to three stories in the small area plan, and including additional proposed lines on the map, denoting possible off-road paths. A motion was almost passed to restrict building heights to three stories along Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., south of Estes Dr. However, it was decided to delay a vote on the matter in order to include feedback from the Planning Board.
For nine months, the committee has discussed possible land uses and building heights for new development along the Estes Dr. corridor. Six maps have been considered in total, featuring mixed-use development located near the intersection of Estes Dr. and Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd. The plans are variations of residential, office, institutional and higher density housing development proposed in the area.
The sixth map, formulated last week by Committee Co-Chairs Ryan and Michael Parker, was based on one-on-one meetings with their fellow members. The goal was to find trends amongst suggestions put forth by committee members and incorporate them into a new plan.
Neighbors like John Morris said that he believed the new plan had even less detail than previous versions and featured “no definition on impact to the community.”
Alan Thom, who lives on Caswell Road off Estes Drive, spoke during a public comment session. He said he believed that the committee was “nowhere near ready” to present a final report the Planning Board, adding that the group had spun in circles since work began.
“Even by the twists and turns that have become a defining characteristic of the Central West Steering Committee, the abrupt switch in one week from a map that was a first draft and starting point for discussions, to a being an action item, was an astounding change in direction,” Thom said.
Some Committee members, like Julie McClintock, have questioned the new map, arguing that it goes against the concerns of neighbors who will be impacted by more density.
“To me, we haven’t had a conversation and a consultation on this map,” McClintock said. “It was really brought to us last week. It reflected apparently individual conversations that had occurred. I didn’t see anything on it that reflected my views.”
Committee member Dave Tuttle said he felt that public opinion had been neglected as well.
“This process of what we are really supposed to do is to maintain the integrity of the planning process and ensure that the process is open and participatory,” Tuttle said. “We also should receive and integrate community feedback. I think we have failed miserably.”
Town Planner Megan Wooley said public comment was always included in the committee’s action minutes.
Committee member Lucy Carol Davis added that the plan wasn’t a final version, rather a composite collection of suggestions made so far.
“Again, we are not trying to approve a development project here,” Davis said. “We are trying to set the direction for the kind of development that we think would be appropriate in this area.”
Though this was the committee’s last meeting before presenting to the Planning Board, the group’s work will continue until November 25, when it reveals a final plan to the Chapel Hill Town Council.
Topics to be discussed at the committee’s meeting on October 3 include traffic performance measures, storm water issues, and street character vision.
A representative of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Board, Jared Simmons, said that moving forward, the committee needed to consider density in regard to transit operations.
“I think the most important thing we need here is that we need the proper density level to support transit infrastructure,” Simmons said. “If we underdevelop it, then we are going to be wasting money and no one is going to ride the G-Route and the Cross-Town Route. It is not going to support the proper transit infrastructure.”
The committee presents its newest plan to the Transportation Board this Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. in the Public Works Building on Millhouse Road.