CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill Town Council voted Monday to move the Obey Creek development process forward, but with the addition of a new checkpoint along the way.
More than 100 people packed the Town Council’s first business meeting of 2014 to ask the Council to adopt the recommendations of the Obey Creek Compass Committee. Southern Chapel Hill resident Chris Bergstrom was one of 20 speakers to address the Council.
“Please show the citizens of this town that when you form a compass committee in the way that you did, that you actually pay attention to what they are recommending,” said Bergstrom. “Show us it is not just a fig leaf. Show us that you’re really listening.”
Concern centered on a 1.6 million square foot development plan put forward by developers at East West Partners for 124 acres along 15-501 South across from Southern Village.
Developers, consultants and the 17-member compass committee have spent the last six months exploring the Obey Creek proposal, but in the end the committee decided the current plan is too big and too dense. The group asked the Council to pause the process until a smaller plan was offered for consideration.
In addition, committee members and area residents worried the town was not ready to move into the next phase of the process without more information on traffic and the economic impact of the plan.
“I would ask the Council to not go to the next stage yet,” said Lee Nackman. “Make sure that the work is done to get the right information, get that information into the committee, and not put the cart before the horse, so we can have a considered understanding of what the proposal is in the context of real data before you take the next phase.”
However, town staffers and council members countered that data collection and analysis would be better suited to Phase Two of the process. Although the second phase of the development agreement process had been labeled the negotiation phase, council members including Jim Ward stressed they had not yet made up their minds about the outcome.
“If the impact in terms of the traffic volume this would generate is more than we’re willing to put up with, we can walk away from the table. I’m willing to walk away from the table,” said Ward. “So by moving to Phase Two doesn’t mean that we’re going to end up approving anything.”
Council members agreed with residents asking for more checkpoints along the way, but stopped short of seconding the committee’s call for a new concept plan.
The Council voted 8-1 to move into the second phase of the process, in which the technical team will work with developers and town staffers to revise the plan and study how it will impact the surrounding area. At the end of that phase, the council will review the plan and vote whether to enter into direct negotiations with developers at East West Partners.
The development agreement process is markedly different from the Council’s usual special use permit approval process. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt told the crowd the Council adopted the development agreement process in hopes of fostering greater dialog and more transparency.
“This is a significant change in process for a reason and it is because the Council wants continued community feedback on this project,” said Kleinschmidt. “If we desired a black-box decision, we would have done it the old-fashioned way.”
Town staffers estimate it could take up to a year to move through the development agreement process.