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.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chtc-moves-forward-obey-creek-plan/
CHAPEL HILL- The 17-member Obey Creek Compass Committee unanimously petitioned the Chapel Hill Town Council on Monday to postpone its final report to the council until after the start of next year.
Council member Donna Bell, who serves as liaison to the committee, said the group also wants more guidance from the council on what that final report should include.
“One of the biggest concerns was to make sure that whatever product that was produced was specific enough to give direction to the council,” said Bell.
The Obey Creek Compass Committee is in the first phase of the negotiation process for a development agreement. The committee’s report, which was originally due to go to the town council on November 25, will help the council decide whether to enter into the second phase of the process, in which town leaders would negotiate directly with the developer to hash out a long-term building plan for the 124 acres site along 15-501 across from Southern Village.
The current plan calls for approximately 1.5 million square feet of retail, office and housing ranging from three to six stories with underground parking.
Developer Roger Perry told the council he supports the committee’s stance, but he asked that town staff spends the interim months considering how to proceed, should the council vote to enter into the second phase of negotiation.
“We’d like to ask that we try to adhere somewhat to the schedule by asking the staff to go ahead and do the planning and the logistics of how phase two would work,” said Perry. “At the risk of being alarmist, I would say to you that we’ve been talking about this for three and a half years, and if we wait long enough, many of the choices that you may have for what should be done to this property may be made for you by the actions of others, and so we do believe there is some sense of urgency.”
Council member Sally Greene said she’d agree to Perry’s request as long as it was clear that the move not a sign that the council endorses the second phase of the development agreement process.
“This is a procedural step that seems to make sense under the circumstances and it is not telling the staff or the community that we are going to phase two,” said Greene.
The council concurred, voting unanimously to extend the deadline while also investigating how the next phase could proceed.
The Obey Creek Compass Committee’s report will return to the council in January. In the meantime, the group will hold two meetings in the next month to allow for greater public comment and to finalize the report.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/obey-creek-committee-asks-town-council-for-more-time/
CHAPEL HILL- More than thirty concerned citizens showed up at Monday’s Chapel Hill Town Council work session, an unusual turn-out for the less formal meetings that take place beyond the TV cameras.
Even more unusually, the council broke protocol to give them a chance to speak their minds about Obey Creek.
“It is hard to understand why there is no formalized role for the community in the leadership of the decision-making process,” Jeanne Brown told the council.
Brown spoke on behalf of many in the audience who live in Southern Chapel Hill near the proposed Obey Creek development on 15-501 South across from Southern Village.
The original plan for the 124 acre lot called for a high density mixed-use retail and residential development, but the developer has agreed to start from scratch in order to explore a development agreement process for the project, an alternative to the contentious Special Use Permit approval process.
In March, town staffers put together a two part plan for exploring and negotiating the agreement, a plan that featured public input sessions and workshops throughout the summer and fall.
But neighbors said that’s not enough. They want formal representation in the process of crafting a development agreement and they asked the council to form a citizen task force.
Developer Ben Perry, of East West Partners, agreed.
“I think that will be tremendously helpful in disseminating information in every direction, keeping the neighbors up to date on what’s going on, as well as providing the ability to speak to the town in a clear fashion,” said Perry.
At Monday’s work session, several council members including Matt Czajkowski challenged town staffers’ assertion that the current planning model allows for adequate public participation.
“You tell us that this process is designed for ample community engagement. I thought I heard the community saying didn’t agree,” said Czajkowski. “That’s an issue right there.”
The council debated the merits of formal versus informal representation before settling on the idea of creating a task force similar to the Central West Focus Area Steering Committee.
That group is made up of 17 members from diverse backgrounds throughout Chapel Hill who are working together to craft a small area plan for the corner of Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard and Estes Drive.
Although pausing to form a new task force could push back the October deadline to complete the first phase, Gene Pease urged staff to take the time to get the process right.
“Ultimately, if it gets a better project, I’d argue it is well worth it,” said Pease. “We’re going to be living with this development for twenty or thirty years, so another two, three, four months- who cares?”
The council will revisit the issue at a business meeting next Wednesday, with an eye to seating the task force before public information sessions kick off in May.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/obey-creek-neighbors-fight-for-representation-in-new-planning-process/