Ya Basta!

Ruby Sinreich's picture

If you have been following this site (3/1/04 & 2/27/04), you know that on Monday, the Chapel Hill Town Council stated clearly that they felt the 90-day review period for UNC Development Plan Modifications is way too short. In fact, it amounts to little more than a rubber stamping of UNC projects. UNC Administrators' insistence on the lighting-round review is a clear indicator of their negligent attitude toward the Town. Chapel Hill would never make a decision that would affect UNC this much without extensive hemming and hawing and making sure everyone was happy.

Now the Chapel Hill Herald reports that not only does UNC have yet another development plan modification in the works, but they are in fact rushing to get it in, in spite of the fact that the Town clearly asked them to wait. The changes they want go way beyond reconfiguring, they include eliminating some proposed parking, building an entirely new building never listed on any plan, etc. Many of these changes are in the "perimeter area" that the Town is supposed to have more control over. As if.

The university's request will also include another large, new project, a 130,000-square-foot physician's office building for the cancer center to be built on the south side of Manning Drive. That project ... is not in the existing development plan. ...

[Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Bruce] Runberg declined to discuss the details of some of the projects, saying planning isn't yet complete. But he did emphasize the university's desire to see the town move quickly on the request.

"We want this to happen in a timely manner," Runberg said. "We want to submit it and get the clock started."

Thanks Bruce, that's real helpful. Now who is being "hostile?"

At the council's Monday meeting, Kleinschmidt said he was disappointed it had taken the town until March to hold a public forum to hear residents' thoughts on the OI-4 district.

Chapel Hill Planning Director Roger Waldon sent an e-mail to Town Manager Cal Horton last month, stating that UNC apparently planned to submit a modification proposal "in the next six months." Waldon gave a list of possible projects, most of which Runberg confirmed on Tuesday.

In fact, Roger has had this information since at least January, and yet even when directly questioned Monday night he could not give the Council a straight answer about it. The staff are doing a great job of keeping the Council in the dark. And the Mayor is doing what? Having private meetings with the Chancellor and personally conveying this thoughts back to the Council.

The Town of Chapel Hill is being abused by our partner, UNC. How much more can we take before we have to walk out the door for our own safety?

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22 Comments

Ruby, No I don't think you

Ruby,

No I don't think you misunderstood the conversation. I think it's notable that although the letter from staff that is being discussed on this site was shared with the Council after the January 23rd meeting, it did reflect what appears to be substantial knowledge about a possible UNC application to amend the 2001 development plan--information that was in the hands of staff before the Janurary request. So, I suppose you are right.

My intention was to clarify that Council had received some communication from staff prior to last Monday's meeting. That said, rather than demonstrating any degree of "slickness" on the part of staff, the delay in getting this on the table is more reflective of the lack of an adequate mechanism through which this kind of information is shared with the community. I am disappointed in the Council's (and I readily include myself) failure to ask about the status of the OI-4 petition in a more timely manner. Although we couldn't have anticipated an application coming so quickly, we should have moved faster to address this problem. I am sorry.

Mr. Clapp, I never said town

Mr. Clapp,

I never said town staff were "incompetent" or under "sinister outside influence." Those are your words. In speaking about government staffs in general, and not one specific staff, I simply said they're often stingy with information and sometimes need reminding who their bosses are. But thanks for the lecture and the stirring defense!

Mark, I appreciate your

Mark, I appreciate your defense of the staff. So many of them work their butts off and get little recognition or reward for it. But I am confused about this particular situation.

Last Monday night, a few Council members asked the staff what they knew about a modification request from UNC rumored to be coming up soon. The staff disavowed any knowledge of any such thing. It's obvious from Roger's letter to Cal that not only did they know it was coming, but they had some idea what was in it. Did I misunderstand the conversation on Monday or what?

I don't understand UNC's

I don't understand UNC's business plan. I asked in an earlier discussion why UNC is building their own research park when they supposedly were in partnership with Duke and State at RTP. No one was able to provide a response. Did that partnership fail? If so why? What makes them so confident that they can do better in a non-partnership facility? Was that partnership designed to be taken over by profit seeking business orgs? I'd like some assurance that we won't eventually have the pharmaceutical companies, etc. moving into town if the university is not able to maintain such a large endeavor. I'd also like to know how the university plans to staff all the new buildings they are currently building/proposing since they don't have the resources to provide secure jobs and regular pay increases to current faculty/staff.

Maybe I was more naive back in the 1970s and 80s, but there seems to be a markedly different relationship between the town and the university today--not just citizens toward university, but also in university toward town. The impression I have of the current university administration is that they don't see themselves as citizens of this community. Their national rankings have dropped dramatically and I'm assuming some of the motivation to build CN is to regain earlier status/reputation. But when they decide to build something so large as to encompass two towns, I think they need to be more accommodating to the local governments. This is not a community in which hegemony will be quietly accepted, although that appears to be the university administration's belief, as evidenced by their behavior. For example, how can they expect a fully informed, endorsement in only 90 days given the impact such construction will have on the town--financially and culturally? The implications for such expansion are too enormous for the town to simply rubber stamp whatever the administration proposes, and the administration should recognize that. Why are they so unwilling to work with both town council's to ensure that local residents understand the benefits university expansion offers? The residents are being asked to forfeit many aspects of the quality of life citizens came here to enjoy without any assurance that the trade off will be worth it.

I know the university has been holding public hearings to inform citizens and collect feedback, but where is the evidence that feedback from those hearings is being factored into their plans? I understand that both Carrboro and Chapel Hill need the university in order to exist. But the university needs the towns too. It's time to see some evidence that the university administration sees themselves and the institution as part of the community.

Terri, I totally agree. It

Terri, I totally agree. It seems the adminstration's attitude has changed even from just 10 years ago, when they saw the town and UNC's interests as tied together. As I've said before, how can one thrive without the other?

Bobby, I totally agree with your point that the commmunity stands to gain a lot from Carolina North. In a letter I wrote to the Chancellor a few years ago, I noted that it could be one of the best things to happen to the community - but only if it's done right. It also stands to be the biggest disaster. Like a mall that kills a downtown, the infrastructure can't be rebuilt, the damage can't be undone.

As for your points about my tone, you have to understand that I did not just wake up one day and decide to be pissed off at the University. I spent four and a half great years as a student at UNC, and like Nick Eberlein I grew up here with the campus as my playground. ( http://www.dailytarheel.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2004/03/05/40489b8965551 )

The fact is that I have come to this point of frustration after years and years of participating in the process of planning and developing the Horace Williams tract. My time and energy spent is an investment of trust in that process, and I (and many others) now feel quite violated by the University actions. I feel that it's sometimes neccesary to use strong language to express the extreme frustration I am experiencing. I want to make sure that people understand how very wrong I think the University's behavior has been.

However, I think you and others have make good points about the consequences of such rhetoric, and I will try to be more mindful before I hit the publish button in the future.

As I'm reading the latests

As I'm reading the latests posts, I realize that some of you are thinking staff is hiding the ball on this. I hesitate to slam staff on this. Yesterday I received a resend of an email that was originally sent to Council in January. The day after I asked about the petition's status in January, Council received the email you are referring to.

As I said, I didn't know

As I said, I didn't know what happened in this situation, but it gave me an occasion to voice my general objection to a phenomenon I believe I've observed in local governments here and elsewhere. I could be wrong, not being an actual elected official myself, so I'm happy (really!) to be corrected.

There are many of us who

There are many of us who happen to think that Carolina North and other UNC developments can actually improve Chapel Hill as a community. If we can provide well-paying, knowledge based jobs in our own community, along with additional affordable housing, then perhaps the 40% of all Chapel Hill residents who pollute the air on their daily commute to RTP/Raleigh will be able to ride the existing public transportation to a job in the local community. They'll eat lunch in Orange county, shop in Orange County, and keep their sales tax dollars in Orange County. I don't understand how Southern Village and Meadowmont can be embraced by many of the same people who are so vehemently opposed to Carolina North. Those developments have increased traffic congestion, reduced air quality, crowded the public schools, and destroyed large tracts of land in this community, while inceasing the average cost of housing and providng little in the way of professional job opportunites.

I have a suggestion for a

I have a suggestion for a change to the LUMO that all parties

might find equitable. My change is based on the experience

that the town found itself in when UNC proposed a change

to its Development Plan, then made an application on which

the town needed to act within 90 days. Then during the course

of the 90 day review period, UNC amended the request, causing more work in an even shorter time for the town staff and boards. I would propose that the period be lengthened a small amount, perhaps to 120 days, but any significant amendment by the applicant to the proposal would restart the 120-day clock.

I also agree with the concept plan review proposal that

some council members are promoting, but eventually the

concept plan must be reduced to more specific descriptions,

and it is at this time that most of the external impacts will

be known.

Gee, all of this was a bit

Gee, all of this was a bit hard to wade through. A few comments from my own viewpoint...(a) generally, I see Mark K.'s point in terms of a thorough review and the 90-day review being short for such a review, (b) I too noted the negative comments about town staff contained in these postings - this is way out of line - town staff have some of the toughest jobs in the State and are well intentioned - people need to stay off their backs and stop implying that the staff are somehow incompetent or under some sinister external influence! (c) those who are critical of UNC need to realize that many believe that solid improvements in support of UNC (done right) can be a good thing for Chapel Hill - to use the word "abused" in the context of UNC and town relations is not rational. Some may not like what the university proposes, but UNC nor the town leadership has "rationalized worse behavior" (bad behavior has been reserved for folks who bring irrational charges of scandal and mahem), and finally (d) maybe UNC and the public are tired of a process which seems to go on and on with no resolution, or worse yet, the continued cycle and counter charges with no end...

Well...I guess we already

Well...I guess we already know that a lot of people have a lot of thoughts on these matters...and that no one is necessarily "right" or "wrong". But there is one mirage in all this I'd like to comment on, and it is typified by folks comments about the picture of the work on Mason Farm Rd.:

Every man-made object we have around us came from somewhere; it was either dug out of the ground or cut off a field, drilled out of a whole or perhaps sucked out of the air. Orange County is, on average, a very affluent community and we "export" a lot of the activities that we do not find pleasing in our enviornment...but we still take all the benifits for granted.

For folks that are not used to seeing construction sites, felled trees and raw dirt are emotionally distressing. But every hospital, airport, residence, and, yes, University building you have ever been in looked like this when it was being built,whether that was 50 years ago...or next year. It is part of the package, folks, and it comes with all the benifits that we take for granted everyday.

I think a healthy dialogue about using "best practices" and thoughtful design are in everybody's interest, but dumping the distress that comes with actually seeing the price we pay for these improvements into the mix is like shooting the messenger. If folks want to talk about cost vs. benifits, then lets have a healthy public policy discussion. Implying that the University some how lacks moral character because building stuff causes the destruction of other stuff doesn't look deep enough to be a fruitful debate.

Tear, you question whether

Tear, you question whether UNC administrators are just stupid rather than malicious. I have often wondered this myself. But I know for a fact that some of them are very smart. I really don't think they're ignorant enough to not realize what the consequences of their actions will be. (But if they were, wouldn't that be kind of negligent?)

I will say again, my frustration is a result of years of trying to be reasonable. I have sat on town and university advisory boards since 1997 or so trying to make something good happen here. I tried to participate in UNC's process by serving on their Carolina North Advisory Board, and even on Monday I was advocating compromise with the University. (See my comment above.)

There have to be limits to what's OK, otherwise that's not very resaonable is it? I don't think it's fair or healthy to continue to proceed as if we are negotiating when in fact we are being told what to do. And I don't think it's useful to sweep this under the rug when UNC's behavior is so consistently an egregious violation of our neccesary partnership.

Of course it's unfortunate that things have gotten so bad, but please don't blame the messenger.

Can the Town Council somehow

Can the Town Council somehow require that the University reimburse the woman whose daycare business was severely interrupted by construction on Mason Farm Rd.? She evidently lost significant income & it seems fair that some compensation be made.

Mark

I'd like to know why the

I'd like to know why the staff didn't share the news of the new requests with the Council when they received it. They've had it at least since January 23rd.

I don't know what happened here. But as a general rule, staffs don't have a right to horde information from the elected body they serve, and they shouldn't forget who employs them. Too often I get the feeling that various staffs around here feel that they have to manage the members of their elected body, choosing only to tell them what they think they need to know when they think they need to know it. Anyone who has worked in large organizations knows that the power rests with those who hold onto the information, and so I object to unelected graduates of our nation's city and regional planning/management programs deciding they know better than the elected body how to run the f----ing town/county/city.

Ruby, I still don't think

Ruby,

I still don't think it's right to criticize UNC for following the agreed process. They have a responsibility to spend all that money on the purpose for which it was raised. That means not just building what they need but also doing so as expeditiously as possible so those needs are met in a timely fashion and costs don't rise any more than they have to because of delays.

Their goals will sometimes (maybe often) be at odds with neighbors, and the competing interests will play out in the approval process. That's not surprising and, in some ways, is as it should be. They need to advocate for their needs; others need to advocate for competing needs. As taxpayers, ironically, we actually have a stake in both sides.

I just don't think it helps find mutual ground when either side casts aspertions on the motivations of the other. UNC isn't being malevelant, it's just doing its job. If the Council thinks the harm outweighs the good, they can say so. If it looks like it's going to take more time to agree on something, both sides will agreed to spend more time.

I expect this Council will be a bit fiesty. Hopefully it will be fair, too. If so, then don't be so sure the end product won't be a good compromise.

Duncan, I think that's a

Duncan,

I think that's a good question, though I wonder if it's true staff didn't tell Council (or the Mayor). There have been rumors about this going around for at least a month. It wasn't that much of a secret.

I think what's more interesting is that the staff is having some preliminary involvement with this. Don't get me wrong, I think it's their job to answer questions, etc. when anyone is thinking of bringing a project to the town.

However, it's been widely reported staff was told not to cooperate in any way on Carolina North. That includes helping with data and sharing plans on transportation issues. I happen to believe that's not right. I think the preliminary plans on CN would have been different, and better, if UNC was being permitted access to town staff during its plan formulations.

But, I am curious, why shut out the University on CN but not on main campus issues?

Mark, I was reacting to the

Mark,

I was reacting to the thrust of Ruby's post. "UNC Administrators' insistence on the lighting-round review is a clear indicator of their negligent attitude toward the Town."

You may be right that UNC would be well advised to treat potentially controversial changes differently, so as not to risk losing all for the benefit of a speedy trial. But, it is their right to ask for what was agreed to before.

Somehow, this kind of vitriolic attack on the process (above) just smells of trying to preemptively taint public opinion about whatever change UNC requests. Sort of like, 'If they insist on only 90 days, they must be afraid of something, which means it must be really, really bad.' Especially when the 90 day limit is described as "it amounts to little more than a rubber stamping of UNC projects."

I think UNC ought to do a lot more education up front about their need for changes and why the changes are responsible and smartly designed and how the impact is minimized, etc. I think the Mayor's proposal, that it would help everyone if they did a concept review first, is a good idea. Just because UNC is an institution of higher education doesn't mean it doesn't have a lot to learn.

Still, I cringe when I read stuff like the post that started this thread. Call UNC stupid for wanting to use the 90 day period, if that's what someone thinks. But don't call them evil for it. Civil discourse if awfully difficult with rhetorical salvos like that.

UNC has the nerve to abuse

UNC has the nerve to abuse OI-4 just prior to them requesting it for Carolina North. No doubt they'll ask for it so they can start the bulldozers' engines as soon as possible. Just look at Ruby's "as if" link to see what they can do. If they were smart they would have shown themselves accordingly just prior to their biggest project ever in the history of Chapel Hill.

Tear Up, I don't think

Tear Up,

I don't think anyone is implying that the problems with the 90 day review period are the University's fault. In fact, I think that's a very odd read of our experience with this provision so far.

Should last year's process be the model for future reviews of major changes in the development plan? Probably not. Last summer's experience almost resulted in the rejection of the UNC proposal outright. (CM Bateman was not at the June meeting. Given that she voted against the "compromise" chillerplant/Jackson deck/Mason Farm Housing plan, is some evidence that had the full Council been present for the first vote, nothing would have been approved.) It took extraordinary measures to bring members of the Bd of Trustees together with Council members to iron-out a modified proposal that garnered 6 votes. We ended up scrapping the process last summer, what evidence is there that it will work in the future? Remember: the only kinds of changes that will come before Council are those that are deemed Major -- to be Major they must involve perimeter areas of the campus, or have an effect on traffic circulation, etc. These kinds of changes are very likely to be controversial and, again relying on our experience to date, seem likely to require more time to adequately assess.

No one is arguing that the projects that received approval in 2001 should be scrapped. We're talking about things that reflect CHANGES to that plan. Existing elements of the plan will continue without protest by the Council. Neither I, nor CM Greene's petition calls for changes to the substance of the plan. Just witness all the construction currently in progress on campus. We haven't expressed even the smallest comment on these projects. I find the suggestion that critiquing the 90 day provision is somehow blaming the University for something to be irresponsible. I suggest it's just an attempt to throw gasoline on the flame of a relationship that has experienced some difficulty in recent years.

The Council knew changes

The Council knew changes were inevitable.

They agreed a 90 day review period was appropriate.

If they don't like the change, they can vote it down.

What's part of this don't we understand now?

And why is the University's fault?

What part of that

What part of that description do you think doesn't apply to this situation? I thought it was pretty accurate, especially regarding how the Town has gradually learned to tolerate and rationalize worse and worse behavior. It has come to the point where the University does pretty much whatever it wants without regard to how it will affect the long-term health of the community. This is not acceptable.

Lest you think I am simply being partisan, ask Linda Convissor (or the Herald http://www.herald-sun.com/orange/10-453697.html ) what I said Monday night about OI-4. I am trying, so very hard, to be reasonable. I am continually disappointed by UNC's unreasonable insistence on steamrolling our future.

The University is taking advantage of the fact that the Town can't get a divorce. In spite of what I said above, we *can't* leave. So how can we restore balance in the relationship?

Look, I try to avoid

Look, I try to avoid sounding University-centric and look at the big picture. I'm concerned with what's good for Orange County and what's good for North Carolina.

The University isn't always right, but your rhetoric is a little ridiculous. Including a link to a defintion of spousal abuse? That's crossing the line.

-Matt