Despite a four-hour meeting and a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100, the Chapel Hill Town Council had no time for public comment at Monday night’s public hearing on the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment plan.
The meeting ran long, forcing the Council to delay public comment on the plan until later this week. Though Council member Maria Palmer urged the crowd to stay for the remainder of the lengthy staff presentation on the topic, some audience members reacted with angry shouts and many walked out after waiting more than three hours to have their say.
“You might get really, really important information,” Palmer said to the crowd. “You’re saying you’re not interested. If you leave you are saying you’re not interested in the details. I know we need to hear from the public, but there’s also the purpose of informing the public and ourselves.”
The Ephesus-Fordham renewal plan proposes rezoning 190 acres near the intersection of Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard in a bid to spur development.
If approved, the plan would be the town’s first experiment in form-based code, in which the Council sets parameters for development, then individual projects are approved at a staff level with the input of the Community Design Commission.
Council member Matt Czajkowski is a vocal skeptic of the plan. He protested what he said was bias on the part of Lee Einswieler, a consultant hired by the town to create the form-based code.
“To a lot of us, it feels like we’re being sort of sold,” said Czajkowski. “We didn’t hire you to sell us, we hired you to give us the alternatives in an objective manner.”
Czajkowski called for scaling back the plan to include just a handful of commercial properties, a concept Einsweiler rejected.
“Objectively, I personally believe you’ll lose planning objectives of consistency throughout the district,” replied Einsweiler. “Unless you include some of the smaller properties in here, you’ll lose the leveling benefit of the form-based code, which allow the smallest guy to do just as much with his property as the biggest guy.”
The Ephesus-Fordham renewal plan would use Chapel Hill Town Hall as collateral for $10 million dollars worth of storm water and roadway improvements to try to address the longstanding flooding and traffic issues in the area.
While town staffers provided detailed presentations on revised storm water proposals and the criteria for project approval, the Council ran out of time before reviewing the transportation improvements, affordable housing and the financing of the plan.
The Council will reconvene at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, an hour earlier than usual, in an effort to get through a full agenda. The remainder of the staff presentation on Ephesus-Fordham plan will begin at 7:00 p.m., with public comment scheduled after that.
Looking ahead to Wednesday’s meeting, Council members pleaded with the public to have patience as they sort through the plan.
“There’s just a lot of stuff here to work through, and I think we all have to be patient with each other while we do that,” said Mayor pro Tem Sally Greene. “You know, can’t go over it, can’t go under it; we’ve just got to go through it.”
The Council could choose to vote on the rezoning on Wednesday, or decide to wait until April 28.