A tactic used by businesses in bad faith came to mind as I read about the Chapel Hill Town Council’s (CHTC) rejection last week of the Charterwood project.

It’s known as “bait & switch” and it has to do with a prospective customer being lured into  spending money under false pretenses.  I don’t know the people behind Charterwood but based on what I’ve read, I wouldn’t be surprised if it occurred to them as well.  

The project was located where the town itself had identified for just such a development,  the developers had responded to feedback with several design changes, scaling back the plan significantly.  Further, the town’s own boards and commissions were deeply involved and, in the end, gave overwhelming approval.  

I’m not writing about the pros and cons of Charterwood; I’m writing about the process that led a company to play by the rules it was given only to find out there was no chance of winning. 

“Bait & switch” is illegal and is considered a form of fraud.  I’m not suggesting anything illegal happened in this case; I’m sure this was not planned by CHTC.  The very lack of that planning, while ensuring legality, shows the capriciousness of the town’s permitting process.  It is not fair to ask any entity to guess which way the wind will blow.  

This is a cautionary tale for the 2020 Comprehensive Plan.  If the hundreds participating in the planning process believe their work is subject to later whims, I have to wonder why we would bother.  

Whatever plans, ideas, agreements come out of the 2020 process, I hope they are backed up with a less arbitrary method to see them through.