Monday, July 15, the Chapel Hill Town Council and members of the public will discuss a resolution that, if passed, would mark a first small step forward for development on the Greene Tract adjoining the Rogers Road neighborhood.
Community leaders and residents from the working-class, predominately-black Rogers Road neighborhood are asking for local officials to support development of a portion of the Greene Tract, in order to bring affordable housing and commercial vibrancy to a neighborhood long-neglected by local officials.
But before planning can begin, Carrboro, Orange County and Chapel Hill, which all own land in the Greene Tract, must reconfigure ownership of the land in order to prepare the 164 acres for future use. Carrboro and Orange County already passed resolutions doing so last February, but Chapel Hill has delayed its vote on a similar resolution.
Orange County Commissioner Chair Penny Rich says she hopes Town Council members will vote to move forward so that early stages of planning can begin.
“We’re nowhere yet,” Rich says. “People are saying, ‘Well, what about this and what about that?’ We’re nowhere near even a concept plan yet. We just need to know that we can move forward and that we can start the planning process.”
Fellow County Commissioner Mark Marcoplos says he is excited by the opportunity the Greene Tract represents for innovative development and affordable housing.
“I’ve mentioned that we ought to try some community solar there and experiment with that,” Marcoplos says. “I’m thinking of community gardens, too. I mean the sky is the limit on the type of innovative things we can do, since we own the land and we can bring our expertise to bear on that.”
Marcoplos says he and other commissioners will be in attendance at Monday’s special meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 7:15 pm in the council chambers in Chapel Hill Town Hall.
Nearby residents have raised concerns, however, over the loss of green space in the currently undeveloped Greene Tract if the project was to move forward.
Rich says there is a lot of confusion around the Greene Tract. She says she can assure residents that large swathes of land in the Green Tract will never be developed.
The Headwater Preserves, which is around 60 acres of the Greene Tract, will remain owned by the Orange County, according to the proposed land use map in the resolution passed by Carrboro and the county.
“We do know there is going to be a large portion of the Greene Tract that will not be developed, and people just have to understand that,” Rich told WCHL. “The county commissioners said it was going to happen; it’s going to happen.”
Marcoplos says preservation of the natural environment on the Greene Tract was always part of the plan. As of now, he says, it looks like at least 82 acres of the Greene Tract is to be preserved. That would make the Greene Tract Chapel Hill’s largest public green space.
In weeks leading up to the July 15 special meeting, Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger says she has been trying to find common ground between residents asking for development and those asking for preservation.
Hemminger says there is opportunity for agreement, and that both sides share similar values.
“We don’t need to be divisive. We found a lot of common ground this week,” Hemminger says. “We’re still formulating that to be ready for Monday and bringing more people back to the table to have these conversations. We want a plan. We want to make it work.”
What that plan will look like remains to be seen, but could become more clear on Monday.