CHAPEL HILL- More than 200 people came out Monday night to voice their concerns about the draft plan for the future of the intersection of Estes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
“I am not against development,” Chris Hakkenberg told the council. “I am however stridently opposed to the aggressive and myopic plans that have carried the day thus far in the Central West process.”
“I feel like in some respects, this is a size nine foot going into a size six shoe,” said Elaine Marcus.
“This plan, in short, is not ready for prime time,” said Alan Tom.
The three were among nearly thirty speakers at the public hearing, most of whom criticized the small area plan created by the Central West Steering Committee.
The 17-member committee was convened nearly a year ago, and since them the group has met more than 30 times and hosted 10 public outreach sessions prior to submitting the small area plan.
The plan lays out potential land uses for the 97 acre area, calling for a mix of commercial development and housing in three to five story buildings along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, with the density and building height decreasing along Estes Drive.
The plan also focuses on the need for bike and pedestrian pathways to access the two nearby schools. The committee recommends widening Estes to five lanes at the intersection with Martin Luther King, but tapering down to two lanes for much of the length of the road.
Amy Ryan, Town Council candidate and co-chair of the Central West Committee, said the improvements could mean less traffic at the intersection even with more drivers on the road.
“What they are telling us is that the level of service in morning and evening are not worse than they are today, and in some cases will be improved with some of the mitigations,” said Ryan. “The delay times are generally at a minute or less at peak times.”
The plan was approved by a two-thirds majority vote by the committee, but a small minority rejected the plan, saying it was too dense, with too few details on the possible impacts of growth.
But Ryan argued that’s not what the process was meant to produce.
“Our job was not to produces a specific site design for this area,” said Ryan. “Rather it was our job to have a vision for positive change.”
Residents opposed to the work of the committee have circulated a lower-density citizen’s plan, as well as a petition asking that the council vote to adopt the plan be delayed indefinitely.
And some on the council, including Mayor Pro Tem Ed Harrison, seemed inclined to consider the request.
“If it does take longer, it should take longer,” said Harrison. “This discounts none of the work of the committee, which I think has been excellent and the citizen’s plan as well is a nice piece of work. But I just want to say that right now I am willing to extend the time if that’s what it takes.”
Nonetheless, council member Gene Pease told the assembled crowd the town faces tough choices about growth and taxes in the near future. He asked residents to make room for commercial development.
“I don’t know the answer, except we have to accept some commercial,” said Pease. “You’ve been trying to define it with your citizen’s plan, the committee’s trying to define it, but we have to find some way to find some middle ground or our taxes are going to continue to go up services will be cut and we will be pushing out the people that create a diverse community. This will become a bedroom community if we’re not careful.”
The Central West plan goes to the Town Planning Board for evaluation before returning to the Town Council for consideration on November 25.