Town Council Calls for Revamp of Advisory Boards and Committees

CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill Town Council got its first look on Wednesday at plan to revamp the town’s advisory boards.

When it comes to gathering resident input, the Town of Chapel Hill relies on nineteen standing boards and committees, as well as a variety of task forces and work groups. But some on the town council worry that the current structure is not working.

“We’ve built up this system over several decades,” said Gene Pease. “If we could streamline it in some way, not only could we make the work more meaningful and hopefully get better feedback to the council, we could possibly save money or reallocate resources in the town to do other things that are frankly a little bit more important.”

Pease and a work group of fellow council members have spent the last year studying the roles and responsibilities of the various committees. On Wednesday they rolled out a proposal to combine many of the existing boards.

“I know this is probably hitting some of you as some radical change, but we think of it as evolution of our thinking, to be frank,” Pease told the council. “We know we haven’t figured everything out, nor has it been intended to so far. The committee feels it would be an important step to try to align our current system with our new thinking on 2020.”

The first phase of the revamp will focus on those boards involved in the development review process. Ten committees, including the Transportation board, the Bike and Pedestrian board, the Greenways Commission, Historic District Commission and the Community Design Commission could see their functions rolled into four new groups, each centered on a main goal from the Chapel Hill 2020 comprehensive plan.

The new advisory boards would be called Community Housing, Community Design, Transportation and Connectivity, and Environmental Stewardship.

A representative from each would also sit on the planning board, whose membership would be split between committee representatives and at-large members.

But Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt worried that kind of workload might discourage many from participating on the planning board or other advisory committees.

“Families and full-time job people are just going got have a hard time being in two major boards, which is what they’d have to do if they’re on the planning board, or even handling some of these major issues,” said Kleinschmidt.

Other council members also voiced concern that the new plan focuses too narrowly on development review, without recognizing the other functions of many of the advisory boards.

“If the general notion is to merge the Transportation, Bike and Pedestrian and Greenways, as far as how they interact with the development review process, that’s fine, I can see how that might work,” said Jim Ward. “But there continues to be, at least for Greenways and Bike and Ped, a tremendous advocacy role that they need to play in this community as far as I’m concerned, because we need those two elements in our community to a greater degree than we already have.”

Mayor Kleinschmidt stressed that this is just the beginning of the planning process, and that the role of each board will be thoroughly analyzed during the year-long review.

“What we’re not doing is jettisoning an important function of town volunteers who provide advice to the council, but rather taking those elements and reconfiguring them in a way that’s more efficient, yet continues to allow for their value to be added,” said Kleinschmidt.

The council will discuss the plan further at a business meeting on June 10.

CHTC Outlines Development Agreement Process For Obey Creek

CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill Town Council approved a plan to explore a new type of planning process for three large projects, including the controversial Obey Creek development.

Though they haven’t always agreed in the past, developer Roger Perry and southern Chapel Hill resident Jeanne Brown told the council on Monday that they are ready to work together to plan the future of the proposed Obey Creek project.

“What we’re saying is, this is a positive pathway to resolving what should go on this site,” said Roger Perry. “We’re saying, let’s begin it.”

Brown has long been a critic of Perry’s plan to build a 1.5 million square foot high-density mixed use development across from Southern Village.

But she and other residents say they’re willing to engage in a new planning process, one that sidesteps the traditional Special Use Permit approval in favor of a longer period of back and forth negotiation between the council, citizens and developers.

Brown asked the council to prioritize public participation in the process, saying community dialog needs to happen before any technical review of site plans.

“While I recognize that public participation will be part of the proposed two-phase process, there has not been an agreement between all parties about a starting point for Obey Creek, a fact that suggests the need to begin with dialog, not just data collection,” said Brown.

But council members suggested the data gathering and public planning can happen simultaneously.

“My experience is that people start talking and they’re like, ‘hey where’s the data on traffic?’ said Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt. “It would be really great if it’s on its way.”

The council unanimously approved a two-part planning process to evaluate if pending projects would be suitable for development agreements.

The Glen Lennox redevelopment, the expansion of the Southern Human Services Center and the Obey Creek development could all be candidates for the process.

The six month exploratory phase will combine public dialog about a proposed project with technical review of the possible impacts. If all parties reach consensus on the need for a development agreement, the council would enter into a six-to-nine month negotiation phase with the developer to establish mitigation plans.

Developers would foot the bill for any consultants hired to provide technical expertise. Town planners estimate it could cost developers up to $150,000 to complete the process, nearly twice as much as a Special Use Permit application fee.

With the council’s blessing, the Town Manager’s office will launch the technical review and public outreach efforts for both the Glen Lennox and Obey Creek projects, as well as approach county officials to discuss if the Southern Human Services Center expansion meets the criteria for a development agreement.