MLK And Estes Drive Residents Pan Central West Plan

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.

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.

Central West Stalled

CHAPEL HILL – The Central West Steering Committee has 12 days to present its plan to the Planning Board, and not a single item in the plan has a consensus agreement.

The action item for Thursday night’s meeting of the Committee was to see which items in the plan—which has been discussed since January—could be agreed on. The first motion to vote on an item was finally called more than two hours into the meeting. A representative of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Board, Jared Simmons, motioned that the committee vote on the bike and ped plans that had been discussed, which he said he believed the group agreed on.

After close to ten minutes of discussion, the motion got lost, and co-chair Amy Ryan asked the Chapel Hill Police Department’s staff legal adviser, Matt Sullivan—who was brought in to be a facilitator of the meeting—to get the meeting on track.

“We have this meeting and the next meeting before we have to go to the Planning Board, and we have to bring them something,” Ryan said. “I’m hoping to bring them decisions, not just ‘these are things we’re thinking about’. So, if you could help us, maybe, move forward with that.”

“Well, I think he’s actually moving in the right direction,” Sullivan said.

More discussion ensued and the motion was removed with a different motion to make the bike/ped portion of the plan an agenda item for discussion at the committee’s next meeting.

With only 15 minutes left in the meeting before the committee had to allow for ten minutes of public discussion and adjourning, the second motion was called by land owner, Whit Rummel.

“I would like to make a motion that we accept the performance-based standards for traffic on development…on the basis that David and the staff can come up with a feasible way of approaching it,” Rummel said.

David Bonk is the town’s long range and transportation planning manager. He took time to explain that the performance-based standards are industry standards for these situations, and still the committee could not agree to vote on the item. Despite nearly reaching a vote, that item too got pushed to the next meeting with the request for more information from town officials.

Before opening the floor to public comments, Sullivan told the committee he is confident that it can come up with some items on which the members agree.

“I think it would be a shame that you invested all this time, energy, and effort to have it flounder,” Sullivan said.

A major hold-up for the committee is that there are now six proposals on the table for it to work on. The fifth map was presented last week by a group that expressed its items of concern were not being heard. That proposal was presented to the group Thursday and received mixed opinion.

The co-chairs of the committee also took the past week to meet one-on-one with almost every individual of the group to discuss the issues. The chairs then put the discussion together into a map, which the committee realized at the meeting ended up being a combination of concept A2 and B2. Both those concepts were heavily disliked by the committee.

*Update: Co-chair Ryan told WCHL on Friday that the goal of the one-on-one meetings was not to pick and choose what items from the four A and B concept plans were the best, but instead to just name the areas of concern and what they wanted to see in the plan. She said the performance-based standard will likely produce a less dense plan than the A and B concepts that were heavily disliked.

Last week’s public session saw more than 200 community members show up to give their input by placing a green dot on plans they agreed on and red dots on plans they were against. Town officials, members of the committee, and members of the public said Thursday there was evidence that people were seen removing dots and otherwise compromising the project, so the data was not submitted as official information.

*Update: Chapel Hill Housing and Neighborhood Services Planner, Megan Wooley, told WCHL on Friday that the dot exercise will be used, it’s just not going to be tabulated into numerical data. She said it was always meant to just be a visual representation.

The town survey received close to 450 entries and was given to the committee to review.

The Central West Steering Committee meets one final time before submitting a plan to the Planning Board. Tuesday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., the group will have to come up with something to present.

MLK Pre-Construction; OCPL Fine Forgiveness; H’Boro Sidewalks And Greenways

ORANGE COUNTY – Motorists driving south on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Chapel Hill should expect delays due to lane closures this week.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation is performing maintenance activities in areas of the road to prepare for an upcoming resurfacing project. The project was scheduled to begin Monday, but did not due to rain. More rain is expected Tuesday and could have the same effect. However, rain days were built into the project and at this time it is not scheduled to go past Friday.

Delays are scheduled during non-peak traffic times between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.

For real-time travel information, you can call 511 or click here.


The Orange County Public Library is offering a fine forgiveness and free replacement library cards now through May 12.

“No matter how late,” all fines will be waived when you return overdue books, DVDs, CDs, and magazines. If you can’t find your library card, you can also get a free replacement until the 12th. Any other time, a replacement card is $2.

You can take advantage of both of these money-saving events at the Main Library in Hillsborough, the Cybrary, and the Carrboro Branch.

For more information, click here.


The Town of Hillsborough is preparing to design and construct its sidewalks in its CMAQ (Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality) Sidewalk Connections Project and is seeking from engineers.

The project needs NCDOT Pre-qualified private engineer firms who can construct a series of sidewalks and a portion of paved greenway to connect various neighborhoods to the Riverwalk Greenway in a safe manner.

CMAQ is funding the project; letters of interest are due by 1:30 p.m. June 3.

For more information, click here.