The Chapel Hill Town Council discussed possibilities surround light rail in Orange County.
The town council received an update from GoTriangle on the community workshops the organization had been holding. The meetings were meant to give GoTriangle and elected officials a better idea of how the public felt about the Durham-Orange Light Rail plan. Gateway Planning founder Scott Polikov said the meetings focused on four main aspects.
“We focused on the concepts of neighborhoods around the stations,” Polikov said. “And I think the word neighborhood is what our work is about and, obviously, that is what Chapel Hill is about.
“And we focused on connectivity, local character, economic development and equity.”
Polikov said those areas were chosen from what had been gleaned as the “bottom-line, guiding principles” of Chapel Hill.
GoTriangle and its representatives proposed a number of possible ideas, including retail space, park and ride lots and affordable housing units. However, public comment during the council meeting focused on the merits of the Durham-Orange Light Rail project as a whole. The vast majority of residents who spoke came out against the project. Robert David was one such resident.
“I now have moved from supportive to ambivalent to against,” David said. “And the reason for that, by and large, it does not accomplish many of the things said up front.”
Despite the criticism of the project, councilwoman Maria Palmer again showed her support for light rail in Orange County.
“I ran on it,” Palmer said. “I supported this before I ran for office. So, some of us don’t need to continue to revisit decisions that we’ve already made.”
Palmer did acknowledge that the increasing local cost burden of the project could derail the light rail line before it gets started.
The final decision whether to continue with the project will be made at the county level by both Durham and Orange County. Councilwoman Sally Greene said the conversation about what to do with land surrounding any possible stations was critically important.
“Tonight, we’re talking about land-use planning,” Greene said, adding that it was important to do this now because, if the line comes to fruition, price of land surrounding station stops is expected to sharply increase.
“If we’re going to have meaningful planning, particularly for the affordable housing part, we have to be doing it now,” Greene said.
Orange County Commissioners will hear the findings of an independent financial advisor in their meeting April 4.