County Commissioners Look To Fill Chapel Hill Planning Commission

The Board of Orange County Commissioners appoints representatives to fill two positions on the Chapel Hill Planning Commission.

The planning commission develops a plan for orderly growth and development in Chapel Hill.

It reviews plans for buildings, projects and facilities in the town.

Volunteers must reside in the Joint Planning Area or the Extraterritorial Jurisdiction of Chapel Hill.

To apply, click here.

To see if you live the in proper area, click here.

CH Planning Board Raises Concerns About Zoning Code For Ephesus-Fordham Area

Potential plans for the redevelopment of the area around the Ephesus-Fordham Boulevard intersection in Chapel Hill might be delayed until zoning code concerns are addressed.

Neal Bench, Chair of the Chapel Hill Planning Board, presented a petition to the Town Council Monday about the issues surrounding form-based code, which is a type of zoning new to the Town.

“The northern part of this area is the gateway to Town. The code should specify, in more detail, the character that the community would like to see in this area around the Fordham [Boulevard]-Franklin [Street] split,” Bench said.

Using form-based code, the Council will set parameters for development including building height, setbacks and parking guidelines for each zone, but once these are in place, individual developers will not need to bring their projects before the council if they meet the established criteria.

The Ephesus-Fordham renewal plan is the result of nearly a decade of planning to revitalize an area currently known for vacant lots, confusing intersections and traffic tie-ups.

Bench said that while the Board believed that form base code is appropriate for the area, the current code document is not yet ready to be adopted. He presented a list of suggested amendments and supplemental recommendations to the Council.

“We would also like RCD [Resource Conservation District] regulations, tree planting caliper standards, green building and energy efficiency standards, and steep slopes regulations and other environmental regulation from the Land Use Management Ordinances [LUMO],” he said.

Additionally, the Board recommended incorporating items into the code such as storm water management regulations, improvements to street crossings in conjunction with the Booker Creek Trail, the development of an open space green plan, and consideration of an affordable housing plan.

Bench also said that it should be amended to include a mandatory evaluation of the effectiveness of form based code three years after it has been implemented.

The Planning Board’s stance is that if those concerns are addressed, then form-based code will provide an acceptable guide to redevelopment in the Ephesus-Fordham area and will benefit the community, Bench said.

Upon revision, the Board will then support form-based code for the Ephesus-Fordham area to be included into LUMO, the current set of development regulations for the Town.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said that the Council wasn’t prepared to comment on the Planning Board’s petition, but did state that a work session addressing the issue is scheduled for March 3.

The Council is slated to take a formal vote on the redevelopment plan in late March.

Central West To Go Before Planning Board

CHAPEL HILL – The Central West Steering Committee is set to present its plan to Chapel Hill Planning Board Tuesday evening.

Members of the Planning Board said at an October 1st meeting, when the drafted plan was first presented by the committee, that they were pleased with it, but wanted more clarification on several issues.

Since December of 2012, the committee has worked to craft its vision for future mixed-use development in the area, which is near the intersection of Estes Dr. and Martin Luther King Jr., Blvd. Recommendations in the detailed plan include uses and heights for the proposed development and suggestions for bicycle and pedestrian amenities.

The committee’s looming deadline is November 25, when it will present final recommendations to the Chapel Hill Town Council for approval.

The Planning Board meeting Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. in the Public Works Building 2 on Millhouse Road.

Central West Goes Before Planning Board, Disagreements Continue

CHAPEL HILL – Members of the Chapel Hill Town Planning Board said Tuesday that they were pleased with the plan drafted by the Central West Steering Committee, but wanted more clarification on several issues. Members of the Steering Committee itself, though, weren’t so happy with the plan.

The Committee’s plan was a draft version of uses and heights for proposed mixed-use development in the area which is near the intersection of Estes Dr. and Martin Luther King Jr., Blvd. The plan also included recommendations for bicycle and pedestrian amenities.

The draft, presented partially in map form, was received fairly well by the Planning Board. Jason Baker said he was “pretty pleased” with the plan, and said he believed the bicycle and pedestrian improvements would be “fantastic” for the community and would help to mitigate traffic.

John Ager said he believed that changes along Estes Dr. were inevitable.

“I take issue with some of the points that have been made by members of the public because I think they are obsessing about the immediate problem and are not looking at the big picture,” Ager said. “There’s a lot of argument about will Estes be widened or not. It will be widened in my opinion.”

The work of the Central West Steering Committee has not been easy since it was undertaken in December of 2012, and at times, the meetings have been contentious. Ager said the committee lacked a “strategic vision” which was what made the task of the Obey Creek Steering Committee go more smoothly.

Planning Board Member Del Snow said she was not pleased with the work done by the consultant, who was brought in to provide the committee with technical expertise.

“As I said before, I feel that the tempo and style of this small area plan was set by the consultant when they came in with the maps first,” Snow said. “I’ve always been a big proponent of having the data to back up what you have proposed. That, in itself, troubles me.”

Neal Bench, Chair of the Planning Board, contended that something was going to happen to Estes regardless of what the committee presents to the Council. He said he would rather it happened sooner than later.

Four members of the Central West Steering Committee, who have formed their own unofficial subgroup, said they can’t endorse the “official” plan.

During the public input session, the four members presented their own map, which they said better addressed how development will affect traffic. They also criticized the official plan for failing to include community feedback.

Committee Co-Chair Michael Parker rebuffed that claim. He said that the Committee held four community events, hosted walking tours, and offered a public survey.

“I think we tried as hard as we could to reach out and be reached out to,” Parker said.

Parker and fellow Co-Chair Amy Ryan led the effort to formulate the map that was presented to the board. After several other versions were on the table, the map was drawn-up based on one-on-one meetings that Ryan and Parker held with their fellow members. Ryan said the goal was to find trends among suggestions put forth by committee members and incorporate them into a new plan.

“One thing that I like about it is that it squarely addressed the traffic concerns which are important for people in the area, and it also leaves things open to developers to have flexibility about how they do things,” Ryan said.

The plan wasn’t well received by some neighbors in the area at a previous meeting who believed the new plan had even less detail than previous versions and featured “no definition on impact to the community.”

Chapel Hill Resident Heidi Chapman was one of six people, included the four unhappy members of the committee, who spoke to the Planning Board during the public comment period. The other was Maria Palmer, who praised the plan and the work of the committee.

“This is an attempt to present something to the Planning Board today. It does not represent the public’s view,” Chapman said. “The public made it very clear at the Amity Church [event] and also in the survey that they did not like any of the plans that the consultant had come up with and the plan that the two chairs had come up with is even more intense.”

Steering committee member Mickey Jo Sorrell began the presentation of the dissatisfied subgroup.

”I want to make it clear that this group of four is not against urban development when it is appropriate in the right places,” Sorrell said.

The group presented their revised map, which includes what they call more in-depth traffic analysis. Julie McClintock said it better explained how the development could impact the neighborhood.

“If the biggest issue of developing this area, the biggest constraint is traffic, why would you not want to deal with it?” McClintock said.

The group also presented a report summarizing what they believed to be the shortcomings of the official plan.

“The traffic and number of trips analysis, I think you will really see is really presented way beyond what the majority of the committee has put forth,” Tuttle said. “I think it is very important for the Planning Board not to let this process move on to Town Council with out having that same kind of analysis presented.”

Firoz Mistry echoed Tuttle’s assertion.

“Anyone who travels on it [Estes Dr.] today knows that every evening, the traffic backs up all the way to the Library, so it is really a disaster already,” Mistry said.

McClintock added that she felt the committee had failed to also address storm water issues in an area that is prone to flooding.

Topics to be discussed at the committee’s meeting on October 3 include traffic performance measures, storm water issues, and street character vision.

The Steering Committee will return to the planning board on October 15 with final draft of the Central West Small Area Plan.

The committee will continue its work until November 25, when it reveals a final plan to the Chapel Hill Town Council.

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.