The North Carolina Chapter of the American Planning Association has presented Chapel Hill planning director Ben Hitchings with the organization’s highest honor, the Philip P. Green Distinguished Service Award.
The award is presented to a member who “has made a sustained and substantial contribution to the organization,” according to a release.
Hitchings has served in the state’s APA chapter since 1999, according to the town, holding roles as chair of the Legislative Committee and then as the chapter president.
The North Carolina APA was the first chapter in the country to establish a state-level Great Places initiative while under the leadership of Hitchings. That effort works to “recognize great main streets and other great places in North Carolina, and the communities that sustain them.”
During Hitchings’ tenure as president, the organization also launched a program to highlight the role of planning in building local economies.
Hitchings has been with the Town of Chapel Hill since August and previously served as the planning director for the Town of Morrisville.http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-town/chapel-hill-planning-director-honored-by-state-organization
Members of Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town, or CHALT, say they are fighting to “save the town they love, before it’s too late.”
David Schwartz is one of the organizers. He says CHALT grew out of residents’ dissatisfaction with the Town Council’s recent efforts to plan growth in key areas of Chapel Hill.
“A lot of these people came to us because of their participation and concern about some of the decisions the Town Council has made over the past year or two, particularly related to management of finances, comprehensive planning, changes in rezoning for higher density in certain parts of town,” says Schwartz. “People have felt concern both about the outcome of those processes but also about the way in which those decisions were arrived at.”
The Council has been tackling the questions of where and how the town should grow in coming years, but the process for incorporating resident input has some Chapel Hillians feeling left out in the cold.
“A number of people felt like the current Council is not being as responsive or welcoming of citizen input as Chapel Hill elected officials traditionally have been,” says Schwartz.
The planning process for the Central West focus area, negotiations for a development agreement for Obey Creek, and the rezoning of a broad swath of land in the Ephesus-Fordham area each drew criticism from residents who felt the pace and scope of proposed developments were a poor fit. In each instance residents expressed frustration that their concerns were pushed aside.
In response, CHALT supporters have crafted a five-point platform they hope will be the starting point for discussions about Chapel Hill’s future:
Schwartz says the group’s goal is twofold: first, to educate residents about town issues and second, to change the make-up of the Town Council this November.
“If there are people out there who want to run this platform, who share our vision of the new direction for the town, we would be interested in talking with them and perhaps support them when it comes time to run for office.”
With several hundred supporters, CHALT is a voting bloc in search of a candidate, or two.
The terms of Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and council members Donna Bell, Matt Czajkowski, Lee Storrow and Jim Ward are all coming to an end this year. Filing to run for office doesn’t start until July, and to date, none of the incumbents has signaled his or her intention to run again.
Schwartz says CHALT is not targeting specific council members; rather, they will encourage and endorse candidates who support their platform.
“We’re not determined to oust any particular person. If the people who are incumbents seek re-election and sign on to this platform, then we would have no problem supporting them. It’s really not about people. It’s about this particular platform and this particular vision for the town.”
CHALT organizers will present their platform at a workshop on Sunday titled “What Makes Chapel Hill A Livable Town?,” from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Chapel Hill Public Library in Meeting Room A. Refreshments and childcare will be provided.
You can find out more about CHALT here.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chalt-hopes-shake-chapel-hill-town-council
Hillsborough Planning Director Margaret Hauth led an Open House, on Thursday evening at the Town Barn, to discuss the “Vision 2030” project.
The early stages of the project involved collecting Hillsborough-centric data.
“If you don’t know what the current situation is,” she says, “you don’t know whether you’ve made any progress.”
There are several lofty goals as part of the development project: town-wide wireless internet by 2025, increasing residential density without losing small-town charm, all while maintaining affordable housing options.
But one item grabbed community member’s attention on Thursday night, the construction of a train station to re-establish Amtrak service and be open to commuter rail. Hauth says they are in line to receive funding from the state Department of Transportation for construction of that train station in 2019.
“We are building the platform, the building, and access to the site so that Amtrak trains can stop,” she says. “Any other trains that are running on that line – that choose to stop – we will welcome.”
The Town of Hillsborough already owns 20 acres off of South Churton Street where the train station will be built.
This is the second time Hillsborough officials have developed a long-term planning document, and they have seen major solutions come during the process.
“In 1990, when we wrote the first Vision 2010 plan, we did not have a reservoir,” Hauth says. “We were at a point where really we couldn’t tie on new water customers for any kind of large-scale development.”
Hauth says that they will have annual reports to update the board, and residents, with progress being made on the “Vision 2030” project.
The public hearing for the development plan is scheduled for next Thursday, January 15.http://chapelboro.com/news/development/hillsborough-vision-2030-open-house
Chapel Hill’s “Rosemary Imagined” project has expanded and become “Downtown Imagined” – and once again, the town is asking for your input.
Head to University Baptist Church on Monday, August 11, for a pair of drop-in meetings – one from 11:30 to 1:00, the other from 4:30-6:30. (The two meetings will be identical – come to whichever’s most convenient.) Town staff will deliver an overview presentation, but the primary purpose is to solicit community feedback on the project’s current status and gather ideas about future planning for downtown.
Town planner Megan Wooley and Meg McGurk of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership have been spearheading the project. They joined WCHL’s Aaron Keck on the air this week to discuss it.
For more information about the
Rosemary Downtown Imagined project, visit RosemaryImagined.com.
University Baptist Church is located at the corner of Franklin and Columbia Streets in downtown Chapel Hill. The meetings will take place in the church’s Great Room.http://chapelboro.com/news/development/downtown-imagined-wants
CHAPEL HILL- Thirty meetings, ten months, seven community outreach sessions and $230,000 worth of consultant fees- that’s what it took for a 17-member committee to craft the Central West small area plan, which outlines future development near the intersection of Estes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Susana Dancy was one of more than a dozen speakers on Tuesday who asked the Chapel Hill Town Council to support the committee’s plan.
“I believe the steering committee has produced a small area plan that is both forward-looking and realistic,” Dancy told the council. “It reveals significant compromises that defer to neighborhood concerns.”
The Central West plan calls for three- to five-story buildings with retail, office and a mix of uses along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard tapering to smaller residential development along Estes Drive.
Committee co-chair Amy Ryan said the group scaled down the plan following a community feedback session in September.
“We heard back loud and clear that this is too big and too dense,” said Ryan. “So when we came back and worked up the final Central West plan, you’ll see that our numbers have gone down considerably. We did hear that it was time to pull back.”
Still, some area residents were displeased with the committee’s final result, saying it will bring too much traffic to the already congested roads and threaten ecologically sensitive regions. David Tuttle served on the committee, but he said he said he could not support the committee’s plan.
“We strongly disagree with this picture that high density is needed to save our neighborhoods,” said Tuttle.
He and other neighbors offered what they dubbed a lower-density “alternate plan“, along with a 260-signature petition asking the council to study development impacts on traffic, stormwater control and the cost of town services.
Instead, the Council voted unanimously to adopt the committee’s plan, though they asked that the alternate plan be acknowledged in the official documents.
Although Council members said the Central West small area plan offered a balance between growth potential and neighborhood preservation, some worried it was too narrow in scope.
Early next year the Council will consider shifting the focus from planning small sections of town to wider studies of traffic and the economic impact of growth.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/council-unanimously-approves-central-west-plan
CHAPEL HILL- Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt made it clear at a work session on Wednesday that he wants to see big changes to the area around the Ephesus-Fordham Boulevard intersection.
“We have an under-performing strip mall there. We have intersections that are impossible to navigate,” said Kleinschmidt. “We have these dysfunctions there and that distinguishes it from about everywhere else. You know, other parts of town have their problems, but this has got all of them at once.”
Lee Einsweiler is a consultant hired to update the town’s land use management ordinance. He says if applied correctly, form-based code has the power to transform parts of town that are currently underutilized.
“We’re talking about going from an auto-dominated portion of the community to a mixed-use walkable portion of the community with a much more intense development pattern than is there today,” said Einsweiler.
The Ephesus-Fordham area is under consideration for Chapel Hill’s first experiment with form-based coding.
Using a community-generated small area plan as its base, the council would designate certain development parameters like building height, setback from the road and parking, but beyond that, Einsweiler says approving new development in the 150 acre area would be an administrative function.
“In an ideal world, a form-based code is the result of great small area planning, great, tight coding to that small area plan, and therefore, with very proscriptive standards you can simply have a checklist for approving development,” Einsweiler told the council.
This would be markedly different from the current rezoning and Special Use Permit approval process, in which the council often bargains with developers to add affordable housing, transit infrastructure and a host of other concessions. Einswieler called this the “Mother-May-I” approach.
But some on the council worry the new method would come at a cost, as the form-based code does not allow the council to specify density within a development.
There is also no mechanism for requiring a developer to provide affordable housing, traffic impact analysis or energy efficient technologies. Council member Jim Ward said that would be a loss for the community.
“To me this seems like a loss from what we have now, the exactions that we have now,”said Ward. “This process doesn’t allow us to get an exaction on energy efficiency and public art and those are important to this community. They’re important to me.”
But Einswieler suggested that the code could provide the predictability developers are looking for. He said it might be enough to change Chapel Hill’s reputation for being a tough place to do business.
He stressed that the code would not be town-wide, as it would be tailored to only apply to certain areas designated by the council for redevelopment. Further, he said the council could allow the public to give input on design, landscaping and building materials by participating in project reviews by the Community Design Commission.
Though Kleinschmidt said there are some specifics to be ironed out, he welcomed the concept as a way to revitalize a major entrance-way to Chapel Hill.
“There is regulation here, this is not, you know, Wild West,” said Kleinschmidt. “That’s not what’s going on with this form-based code idea. There’s a lot of code, read rules, that have to be followed if you want to build in this district. We’re going to be writing them into it; we’re not going to be having three-year conversations about what the abandoned Volvo dealership should be. What we know it shouldn’t be is an abandoned Volvo dealership. I mean it’s ridiculous.”
The plan to create a form based code is still in its early stages, with no action from the council planned until next spring. Town officials are seeking public comment on the proposal by September 17.
In addition, town planners are preparing to launch a process to update the land use management ordinance. Staffers will be accepting public comment and answering questions at a series of events later this month.http://chapelboro.com/news/development/chtc-eyes-new-zoning-tool-for-ephesus-fordham-area
CHAPEL HILL- Residents involved in planning the future of the Estes Drive/ Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard area unanimously endorsed a plan on Tuesday to create an off-street bike path to help children get safely to school.
The proposed path could run parallel to Estes from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Caswell Road, allowing students at Phillips Middle and Estes Hills Elementary to bike or walk to school while avoiding vehicle traffic on one of Chapel Hill’s busiest roads.
Members of the Central West Steering Committee agreed the multi-use path would be the top priority for bike and pedestrian improvements to the area. They also called for bike lanes in the street, along with a sidewalk that runs the full length of Estes Drive.
Although committee members agreed turn lanes might be necessary in some places to ease congestion, the group rejected a plan to add a third lane all along Estes, saying that would widen the road too much.
Transportation Planning Manager David Bonk said the town has about $2.5 million in federal grant money available to bring bike and pedestrian facilities in the area in the next few years.
The group also discussed land use plans for the undeveloped parcels on Estes closest to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Currently, the Horace Williams Airport Hazard Zone prohibits those parcels from being developed, but committee members said once the airport closes, they’d like to see mixed use development with a focus on retail that serves the nearby residential communities.
Committee members stressed that whatever is built on the corner should complement the Carolina North campus eventually slated for the other side of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The group is still in the early stages of land use planning discussions, with a goal of crafting a small area plan for the town council to review by December.
The committee will continue its work next Wednesday, meeting at 6 o’clock at the Chapel Hill Public Library.http://chapelboro.com/news/development/central-west-group-pushes-for-off-road-bike-path-for-estes
CHAPEL HILL – The future of the Central West Community needs your input during a workshop Saturday morning.
Two options have been laid out for the area west of Martin Luther King Blvd between the area just north of Estes Drive and extending south to Mt. Bolus Rd known as the Central West Community.
The workshop is open to the public. It begins Saturday at 9:00 a.m. at the Chapel Hill Public Library. It’s scheduled to last until 12:30 p.m.
“Its not that this project is, in itself, some sort of horrible, evil project, or that somehow the town code is just totally, horribly wrong for this block, it’s just that they’re not compatible,” said planning board vice-chair Damon Seils. “This particular proposal is just not compatible with what’s available to be done on this block.”
The project would fill almost the entire block bounded by North Greensboro, Weaver, Center and Short Streets. Plans call for a two story mixed use building on the site currently occupied by a vacant building. The rest of the site would be dominated by parking lots, with a “mini-park” at the northwestern edge of the property facing Center Street.
This is the second time the planning board has voted against approval of the project. Last year the board rejected the plan due to concerns about zoning, lighting and neighborhood protection. Developers put the project on hold for nearly a year while they revised the proposal.
This time, planning board members said the applicant had responded well to community concerns about aesthetics, lighting and building design, but that ultimately the project failed to provide a smooth transition from commercial to residential areas.
And while board members embraced the high-volume 24-hour retail center proposed for the corner of North Greensboro and Weaver Street, several argued that converting two nearby mill houses into a parking lot is not a creative use of valuable downtown real estate.
“If this plan had proposed to put in two brand new mill houses there, to be used for commercial purposes that ended at midnight or even earlier, I’d be leaping up to say ‘yeah, that’s a great plan,’” said Matthew Barton. “But that’s not the plan we have.”
Should the aldermen choose to approve the rezoning, the planning board suggested that they push for reduced parking on the site. But that proposal didn’t sit well with Nathan Milian, who manages Carr Mill Mall across the road where CVS is currently located.
“Whatever you do, don’t ask them to reduce the parking they have,” Milian told the board. “This is the number two CVS in the state of North Carolina, so there’s a big difference between the volume that this store does and the volume of the local drugstore down the street, which means tremendous parking issues. Carr Mill Mall has tremendous parking issues.”
The CVS project has sparked debate and even protest over the past two years about how and where Carrboro should grow. That debate will continue next Tuesday, when the Board of Aldermen holds a public hearing on the revised plan.http://chapelboro.com/news/carrboro-planning-board-votes-against-cvs-rezoning