Important, But Not Above Reproach

Guest Post by Nick Eberlein

Now that UNC and Chapel Hill are prepping for new discussions over zoning and campus expansion, it seems like the editorial pages in the local papers have been handed their collective wet dream: "contentious negotiations," always ripe fodder for the opinion pages.

Woe is me, however, when I read rants like yesterday's editorial in The Daily Tar Heel entitled "Hostile Intention." I'm now convinced that what hampers both UNC and the town the most during these times of critical decision-making and long-term planning is the tendency of some in our community to blindly hop to one side of the fence or the other in reaction to either side's "hostility."

As both a UNC student and town native, I take strong issue with the DTH editorial board's assertion that "town residents would ideally like to live in a college town without the students." Nothing is further from the truth.

All five people that read my column are aware that I'm critical of UNC's administration at times, but that is no reason to assume that there is love lost between myself and this campus.

Here's a quick disclaimer. My dad's put food on the table as a faculty member here since 1973. I learned how to do BMX tricks in the Pit as a preteen on the weekends. I remember the first time I met J.R. Reid and his Kid 'N Play flat top on Franklin Street. When I was five, I remember how mad my mom got when Uncle Dick (Richardson), former provost, laughed from next door as he watched me disassemble the family car's head- and taillights without trying to stop me.

If the University crumbled, nothing would make me weep harder other than the same fate befalling my wife or family. But even though I love them, as I do UNC, it doesn't mean I never disagree with them.

Such is the dynamic of the symbiotic relationship between UNC and Chapel Hill. Yes, before UNC turned over control of local utilities to private business in the 1970s they virtually owned the town. But the area's population and borders have grown and the old paradigm no longer prevails.

Of course, UNC reins in a vast amount of intellectual capital that invigorates the town. But the slew of artists, civic leaders, local business owners and, well, lovable wackos the local area has produced often have nothing to do with the UNC community -- yet they serve it well by endowing the town with a unique charm that attracts scholars and faculty to UNC as much as the campus does.

Do I want the planetarium to expand and improve? Hell yes -- it was my favorite field trip spot as a kiddie, and the Pink Floyd laser light shows were a staple of my acid-washed teenage years.

Do I want the hospital's cancer center expanded and improved? Damn right, even if my ugly mug above suggests otherwise.

What I don't want is for any improvement to be ill-conceived, rushed and result in unnecessary degradation to the town.

Diana Steele, a 1956 UNC graduate and owner of Willow Hill Preschool on Mason Farm Road, knows this all too well.

Since construction of new student housing began on Mason Farm, she's lost more than $1,000 a month because her livelihood is invaded by bulldozers and debris dumped at the edges of her property. UNC's shot itself in the foot, too, considering nearly all of the kids she looks out for are the children of UNC staff or scholars.

Of course all of us townsfolk want the University to succeed, just not at the cost of our failure.

It's laughable that yesterday's editorial relied on a letter from UNC's administration that stated the town's desire to lengthen the review period for development modifications would be a "broken commitment." Like when UNC promised a "bed for every head," but the off-campus student population keeps skyrocketing and the moderate-income neighborhoods downtown become more and more gentrified.

Town officials will break a committment to residents if they allow poorly thought-out growth to continue breeding exclusivity.

The town and UNC have approached this newest round of deliberations in a spirit of collaboration because both know that the next spurt of institutional growth will have a drastic impact locally and must be well-planned, not rushed.

It is not hostile for the town to ensure that it doesn't become a bland enclave surrounding UNC. People who request time to talk are not hostile. Only ill-informed journalism that skews delicate issues to suit an angle is hostile.

Nick Eberlein is a senior Journalism and American History major at UNC. He writes the "The Village Megalomaniac" column for the Daily Tarheel. This column was originally published there on March 5, 2004.

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5 Comments

UNC says "broken commitment"

UNC says "broken commitment" to lengthen the review process for development modifications. What about the "broken commitment" to neighborhoods such as Diana Steele's under the OI-4 zone. Where is the neighborhood protection here, mitigation of impacts? What can one meeting only in the Planning Board do in digesting large amounts of information-- and no requirement for a recommendation? How can the council weigh information in a timely manner for both town and university--timely meaning within 90 days. The council, I am sure, would like to look at what is best for both--90 days is not enough time. The university cannot have a blank check for whatever they want to do, when they want to do it. They may be considered a developer as all others and the impacts of their development must be felt by the town in which it exists. Hopefully UNC administrators are NOTthe only ones making the decisions for our collective futures. For who are "we?"

We are citizens of Chapel Hill first, employees or affiliates or students of UNC second. We live here in Chapel Hill, on or off campus.

I agree with the wonderful article written by Nick.

I thought Nick did a great

I thought Nick did a great job of expressing my feelings. Love the university but don't like the attitude they are currently taking. I meant to write and congratulate Nick on his excellent summary earlier--thanks for the prompt Ruby.

What's up with no-one

What's up with no-one responding to this? When I write about UNC, you all complain about my tone. Here Nick has made some similar points and put them in a much clearer light, I think.

So have you given up on challenging the University steamroll? Or all we all in agreement and finding nothing to debate against int this column?

Many people have pointed out on OP.org how much the University contributes to our community, and it's absolutely true. Do you think this should give them a free pass for development? Do you trust UNC administrators to make right decision for our collective future?

What would you say to the Chancellor or the Mayor if you had their ears?