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CHTC Hears Criticism Of Central West Committee

By Elizabeth Friend Posted June 25, 2013 at 9:04 am

CHAPEL HILL- Nearly a year to the day after the Chapel Hill Town Council adopted the Chapel Hill 2020 Comprehensive Plan, town leaders reviewed the progress of one of the first fruits of that plan- a citizens advisory committee tasked with charting the future of the Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard- Estes Drive intersection.

But some residents of the area told the council Monday they’re not happy with the direction of the Central West Steering Committee.

Theresa Raphael-Grimm said she feels neighborhood input is being overlooked in favor of consultant recommendations.

“Is this the vision the town council has for the 2020 process?” Raphael-Grimm asked the council. “Do we really want to know what people think, or is the Central West Focus Area Steering Committee process merely a well-orchestrated charade, where citizen input is tolerated under the guise of active citizen engagement, but not actively considered?”

She was one of several speakers asking the council to extend the November deadline for the committee’s report and allocate funding for an outside facilitator.

The group of neighbors also presented an alternate plan for potential development that features less density than that suggested by consultants from Rhodeside & Harwell. The citizen plan was delivered to the council along with 200 signatures of support from residents in the area.

But council member Donna Bell warned against building single-family homes, arguing that given the scarcity of land in town, low-density development would preclude affordable housing.

“I think these small area plans will be a moment where we as a town decide whether we truly have a commitment to a diversity of folks living here, or whether we truly want to become a sleepy suburban town, a bedroom community,” said Bell.

The 17-member steering committee was appointed by the council last fall to create a small area plan for 60 acres near the intersection of Estes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. About half of those on the committee are residents of the area, while the others represent business interests and stakeholders from the wider community.

Council member Matt Czajkowski called for the council to approve funding to hire a facilitator to work with nearby residents and the steering committee over the summer.

“When there are significant groups with different views on how the process is going and where we stand in it, we need to find some way to build the bridge back,” said Czajkowski. “So I would very, very much be in favor of spending the money, whatever it takes, to get a very able facilitator.”

However, his motion failed in a 5-2 vote after committee members acknowledged they had already rejected a similar idea earlier in the planning process.

Town Manager Roger Stancil said the steering committee does have the option of calling in outside facilitators over the summer if members decide that’s what’s necessary to move forward.

Looking ahead, council member Jim Ward urged both neighbors and committee members to consider the bigger picture.

“This needs to be a plan that really moves the town of Chapel Hill forward, while taking into consideration those who live near by and those more distant than that,” said Ward.

The council opted to leave the November deadline unchanged and appoint Ward as a council liaison to the steering committee.

The steering committee meets next Monday at 6 o’clock in the Sienna Hotel. That meeting is open to the public.

Meanwhile, the Chapel Hill Town Council will go on a summer hiatus. Regular meetings will resume in September.

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