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.