Cam Hill's take on Carolina North

Cam Hill asked me to post his guest column in the Herald today about Carolina North:

For several years UNC has been talking about developing a research campus, Carolina North, which is slated to contain as many as eight million square feet of buildings. UNC owns the Horace Williams tract, some 900 acres that currently is the home of the Horace Williams Airport, a couple of toxic dump sites and the old town of Chapel Hill public works and transit facility locations. UNC wants to put Carolina North there. Because the property is largely undeveloped (with the above exceptions), surrounded by existing neighborhoods and not served by any existing (or planned) transit or large-scale utility infrastructure, and because this is Chapel Hill; there has been some considerable discussion about this. Oh yeah, and the airport is still open.

On June 14th a joint group of state representatives and senators heard testimony from the AHEC doctors about how they felt about closing Horace Williams Airport (which is the legislature's decision). The NC Area Health Education Centers is a program that flies doctors around the state to treat patients in their hometowns. The doctors were concerned that if they had to fly out of RDU instead of HWA it would take too much time and many would be forced to reconsider their participation in the program. Within that hearing room last Thursday the AHEC doctors certainly presented a compelling case that the airport serves the needs of North Carolinians in a way that Carolina North does not. Admittedly what happened in that room may be of no consequence given the way that decisions are made in Raleigh.

After six years of discussions UNC stands firm in certain aspects of their vision for Carolina North. They still want one parking space per employee, this in spite of the fact that this will almost certainly undermine any chance of the success of public transit (if you can park, you will take your car). After lots of wrangling about the transit study, it is finally underway but the initial planning for the site will be done before the results of the study are complete. Ditto the Fiscal Equity study. These foundational studies were meant to inform the planning but it is hard to see how they can, given their timing. Transit is a big issue; if access to CN is not handled thoughtfully it will be disastrous for the community. On other big issues UNC has done a lot to raise the level of greenhouse gases emanating from Chapel Hill but made no firm commitments. They steadfastly refuse to protect the undeveloped portion of the HW tract in perpetuity. On the issues of providing housing and other living amenities many of us deem necessary for the project, UNC has made only reluctant provisions and no real commitments. All along this has been billed as a research campus and then suddenly in May it became an overflow campus with only about twenty percent of its square footage slated for research. Starting sometime last winter, patient care became one of the activities slated for CN. This was never discussed anywhere before. The one thing that seems fixed is that the trustees will get a plan in July and it will come before the town council for concept review in October.

So, if it must be built, I say build it somewhere else (preferably in eastern NC, which can use the investment and jobs); like on the east side of town. It would be a lot easier to move Finley Golf Course than to move the airport. Finley is adjacent to the Friday Center and if you add the two properties and the other property that UNC owns contiguous to these two I suspect it come out well in excess of the 250 acres that the first fifty years of CN will supposedly require. This location is closer to I-40 and 15-501/54 the primary entries into and out of town. The Triangle Transit Authority has located future rail line stops at Meadowmont and behind the current University Motor Inn slated to become “54 East”, a large multi unit dense housing project. So the transit and access problems would be easier to solve. The housing and retail infrastructure is already in place at Meadowmont, 54 East and Glen Lennox. So those jobs that UNC doesn't want would be done for them. OWASA's sewage treatment plant is right there so the grey water reuse infrastructure is close by. Maybe turning Glenwood Elementary into the “First School” would make the idea affordable, where building it from scratch at Horace Williams was not. UNC owns other properties in the area that would make their presence on that side of town more synergistic. Basically, the campus could overflow right down the hill to Finley.

As to Finley, a new golf course could be built adjacent to the airport. The amount of traffic it would attract would be insignificant. When the airport is finally closed that land could be reclaimed or put to low impact recreational use more suitable to that part of town. We could restrict the development of the Horace Williams site to a minimum, which would really leave a legacy we would all be proud of.


Tim: "amazed to learn how few AHEC flights there are compared to other traffic at HWA."

Yes, amazing! I don't understand why the university didn't show these statistics to the legislature when the HWA hearings were held last month.

Surely, the data would have put a nail in the coffin for the airport.

In that same Talbert & Bright report, I just noticed a chilling detail - that the property of both Estes Hill Elementary and Phillips Middle School sits directly within a landing zone that the FAA warns should not be inhabited
(see slide 36).

Does the University need any better reason to move airport operations to RDU as soon as possible?

The University's concept plan for CN will be presented to the BOT this Thursday. Does anyone know whether any of the local news media are planning to cover this?

George (or anyone) -

Do you happen to know if the public is invited to sit in on the BOT meeting?

I'll be there.
Story on what's in the plans coming up in Thursday's Citizen.


Kirk -

Any word on what the legislature is planning to do about the airport?

The BOT agenda is here.

Part of these meetings are subject to the open meetings laws.

On Thursday, July 26- 8:00 A.M.
Chancellor's Ballroom East & West


1. Reconvene Meeting
2. Roll Call
3. Election of Officers
4. Consent Agenda
a. Approval of May 23-24 Minutes
b. Ratification of Mail Ballots dated June 20 (personnel) & June 20 (Acquisition by
5. Chair's Remarks
6. Chancellor's Remarks
7. Student Body President's Remarks
8. Carolina North Draft Concept Plan
9. Report of the Compensation Committee
10. Report of the Audit & Finance Committee
11. Report of the University Affairs Committee


12. *Report of the Audit & Finance Committee
13. *Report of the University Affairs Committee
14. *Legal Advice

15. Report of the University Affairs Committee
16. Adjournment

The public should be able to attend though seating might be limited. In the past, at least as far as I recall, there haven't been audio or video recordings of the proceedings so essentially you have to count on our local media folks to filter and highlight the salient points.

If you want to attend, I suggest contacting:

CHAPEL HILL, NC 27599-9150
Phone: 919-962-6961
Fax: 919-962-8464

Is the "Chancellor's Ballroom" in Morehead Planetarium? How's the wifi? ;-)

That's in the Carolina Inn, I believe. What's WiFi? :-)

The Carolina Inn - floor plan - and map.

I was over there about a month ago and the Wifi was spotty.

Bar doesn't open until 11am ;-).

I completely disagree with the Airport being an especially bad safety hazard. The risk of accidents due to increased traffic (whether it's cars, buses, whatever) and pollution from the traffic, will be a MUCH bigger hazard to those of us who live on the border of the HW tract (as I do) and to our children who must be transported to the schools near it (as mine are) than the extremely infrequent small crashes that may occur if the airport remains open. Look at the statistics of injuries and fatalities in traffic accidents vs. plane crashes.

Plus, the neighborhood growth has mostly occurred after the airport was established. The crash risk is so low, it did not deter people from purchasing the nearby homes and therefore placing our children in the nearby schools. Safety related to the airport should NOT be a factor in this planning process.

Judging from the just-published article on Carrboro Citizen's website, (see link below) it looks like we may get the worst of both possible worlds on the Horace Williams property after all. UNC's design committee will be presenting a plan to the BOT to start the development of Carolina North with an 80,000 square foot Innovations Center - which happens to out of the way of the airport approach.

Apparently legislative pressure to keep the airport open is forcing the University to alter its plans - which means we'll get to watch a lot of previously untouched land eaten up while the airport stays right where it is.

Clearly, this can't be what we as a community want. As was previously pointed out by an OP contributor, FAA guidelines clearly dictate that any major construction in that area should be prohibited for safety's sake.

The way I see it, the only way to avoid this nightmare scenario is for the town to rule against an airport in any new zoning it assigns to the HW tract --- BEFORE any construction begins.

Predictable move to the former municipal tract. It wasn't that hard to foresee but I'm sorry to see that I was right.... There might be some good in this as it will bring the whole Piney Mt./MLK traffic nexus to the fore and might force some kind of real analysis of that situation.

Kirk's article didn't go into the details but my recollection of the Innovation Center is that it was fairly parking intensive (so we're talking a building and some kind of major parking structure - a lot or a deck maybe?).

Tomorrow I guess it'll come into focus...

"Predictable move to the former municipal tract."

Will, I believe you're mistaken. The plan shows the building on the OTHER side of Municipal Drive, which currently is undisturbed forested land.

I just can't help thinking that what's driving this new agenda are some big time behind-the-scenes political shenanegans (sp?) that we'll probably never know about.

If the legislature wants to keep HWA AND the want CN built, does anyone think a Town of Chapel Hill zone process would be allowed to stop both or either from happening? Think about it.

So what do we do, Fred? Nothing?


In all seriousness, I was under the impression that UNC had agreed to abide by the town's re-zoning laws for the tract. Am I mistaken?

Good point. I took the diagram as a schematic and not as an accurate portrayal. If it is accurate, well, it would be sad to see those woods go. In any case, it's in the ballpark and will still require an analysis of the impact on Piney Mt., etc.

Maybe Kirk can clarify.

Who said do nothing? What UNC at Chapel Hill may have stated has nothing to do with what the Legislature through the UNC General Administration may order. This isn't a game of bean bag; they are playing for keeps. I would also assume that if they had to keep HWA operational lots of assumption that have been made would be off the table, and the cost of things is one of them.

Well gang, you got to remember — as the land is zoned now, the university could put a couple million square feet on it and the council would be sitting in quasi-judicial mode.
I'm tired, doncha all ever sleep?


Back from out of town (followed by several trips to docs for sprained ankle and bad wrist.... I grow old....) and am just catching up on things. I think we've just been given a glimpse of exactly how CN is going to go, and yes, it includes a working airport (as this Cassandra has ruefully expected all along).

Still, I don't suppose anyone has checked to see whether this spiffy "Innovations center" and any future neo-CN seedlings up there aren't still in a zone too proximate to a working runway to fall within recommended guidelines for land use around a runway? (See Wash DOT LUPI report above). I suspect a lot of internal self-convincing that building there is ok because there already were buildings there.

Nonetheless, it seems a truly uncomfortable "compromise," especially for the Town, with the clear implication that the keep-the-airport forces are winning or have already won. By the time the public hears about it, the dice are cast (more than one "die" here). Given the history here, I'm guessing the quieter the news story, the more implications about the realities of what we'll actually see up there. So, thank you, Kirk.

From today's N&O: "The university plans to seek a special-use permit from the town under the site's existing zoning for the center, Runberg said."
"Construction and operating costs will be borne by the private developer, who then collects rent from tenants."

So, if the University is applying for the SUP but a developer is building the building and collecting rents, who will own the building? Will it be taxable? And who will be responsible if something goes wrong? (haz mat leak, environmental issues, zoning violations, etc.)

Good questions George, maybe we'll get some answers this time around (there certainly was no clarity when I asked earlier this Spring).

Here's some further info I put together on the who, what and why of the Carolina Innovation Center. Essentially, privately owned, maintained but funded out of venture capital funds like UNC's endowment (I'd be interested in that %).

Incidentally, this center is quite distinct from the North Carolina Innovation Center [PDF].

From the "sales brochure":

National security used to be considered by studying foreign frontiers, weighing opposing groups of states, and measuring industrial might. To be dangerous, an enemy had to muster large armies. Threats emerged slowly, often visibly, as weapons were forged, armies conscripted, and units trained and moved into place. Because large states were more powerful, they also had more to lose. They could be deterred. Now threats can emerge quickly.

An organization like al Qaeda, headquartered in a country on the other side of the earth, in a region so poor that electricity or telephones were scarce, could nonetheless scheme to wield weapons of unprecedented destructive power in the largest cities of the United States.

The nation has committed enormous resources to national security and to countering terrorism. Between fiscal year 2001, the last budget adopted before 9/11, and the present fiscal year 2004, total federal spending on defense, homeland security, and international affairs rose more than 50 percent, from $354 billion to about $547 billion.

With its increased reliance and demand for technology, the military is an important market for technology development and commercialization. Homeland security needs also drive demand for similar technologies and products. In fact, Forbes magazine predicts, “…the money flowing into military and homeland infrastructure security will leverage revolutionary technologies and materials of the new digital age. This will fuel entrepreneurs and capitalists to combat terrorist threats, collaterally spurring a new round of basic innovation.”

The business opportunities in the fast-growing security and defense sectors are significant and North Carolina is well positioned to serve these markets.

Yumm! Got to get me a slice of that fear pie. Imagine trying to site that on MLK?

Fun quote from the May, 2007 TBJ article I cite:

"This project is going to make a sound and create a smell that is going to be attractive to the venture capitalists," he says. "It is an incredibly attractive way to introduce Carolina North to the community, and it's really starting to gain momentum."

That momentum follows years of frustratingly slow negotiations between UNC and the town of Chapel Hill regarding Carolina North, a proposed satellite campus that would provide a setting for public-private partnerships, research and development activities and academics.

The sound and smell I'm worried about is not as attractive as Crowell's. And "frustratingly slow"?

Trying to get details on the economic underpinnings of both the Innovation Center and Carolina North as a whole has been like herding clouds. Now that UNC is pinning down the physical facility it would be nice, at least from this NC taxpayers perspective, to get a full read on the value UNC is giving and the return on that investment to the public good.

Ms. Murphy:

In answer to your question, Is the Innovation Center in " a zone too proximate to a working runway to fall within recommended guidelines for land use around a runway?" --- If you look at slides 34 and 36 of the Talbert & Bright study done for UNC in 2005, it clearly shows the proposed site is in an area that should only have light industrial development with less than 100 people an acre. A building like the one they presented would undoubtedly have considerably more people in it that that.

The real question is, will the town council take a stand and refuse to consider any rezoning for Carolina North until the airport is gone? That's the only sensible - and safe - way to resolve this issue.

"The time of talking about Carolina North is over," Perry said. "It is time to do something. It is time to get it on the ground before it is too late."

N&O report on today's UNC BOT meeting.

Now focusing more on this and becoming increasingly convinced (and alarmed) that we are now seeing the "real" Carolina North -- and that all those public-information sessions were the smoke-and-mirrors some suspected, to the extent that they had not one thing to do with the reality of the next decade or so.

Moreover, the "private-public" description is the title on a door behind which almost anything can be justified when it comes to new development, including the airport, as has been argued from Day 1 -- which will, I suppose, contribute its own "sound and smell" to attract capital.

Are others as concerned as I am about the assumption that the Town will knuckle-under and zone as told to? I did a little Google-Earthing of the site, and that "cluster" of buildings seems to fall somewhere between 1400-1700 feet of the runway, which is a lot closer than -- oh, say -- the schools or houses in the area. Just for comparison, if you took the spot at Estes and (then) Airport where that one plane went down in flames, and you pin-point its mirror image to the north of the runway, wouldn't you be about at the utility road? Sure, let's zone that for mid-density development.

And who, by the way, is the putative private developer here? (Any odds on whether there's a plane at his disposal?)

Above all, I'm still concerned about the process here -- Oz-like, once again, IMHO.

If you'd like to see the Power Point that was presented at the BOT meeting yesterday, go to The discussion centered on transit, preserving the railroad corridor, sustainable development features, phasing, housing, etc.

The next community meeting is July 31, 4 p.m. There will be only one session. I've pasted in below the email notice. Hope you can attend.

Dear Friends and Neighbors:

Continuing our community sessions on Carolina North, we will meet on Tuesday, July 31 at 4:00 p.m. in room 2603 at the School of Government at the intersection of South and Country Club Roads, opposite the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery.

Parking is available at either the NC 54 Visitors Lot or the Rams Head deck on Ridge Road. Parking may also be available at the parking meters along South Road. Information on transit service to the School of Government is below.

Earlier today, a draft concept plan was presented to the university's Board of Trustees. It showed both a possible 50-year development footprint as well as a possible scenario for the first 15 years. You can view the Power Point that was presented at At the meeting on July 31, we will present this plan to the community for your comments and feedback.

For background information on Carolina North, visit and click on Community Meetings. Presentations and comments from the March, April, May and June community meetings are posted. Please note that we now offer an RSS feed for email alerts when the site is updated. To sign up for this service, go to

Please note that on July 31, there will be one community session rather than the two repeated sessions we have held previously.

If you are a neighborhood or community contact, please forward this to your group as well as any others who may be interested. We have had great participation from the community at the previous meetings and hope you can join us at this one. My apologies if you receive multiple copies of this email.


Please check the Chapel Hill Transit site at for routes, exact schedules and real-time transit route information.


Just took a peek at the slides from yesterday's BOT meeting. The overall plan looks great - and seems to assure the airport will be gone before any construction begins. If so, I'm all for it!


You said earlier, "What UNC may have stated has nothing to do with what the Legislature through the UNC General Administration may order."

Do you happen to know if the legislature took any stand on HWA, and if not, what that means for the airport?

Tim, I have neither heard or seen anything on HWA.



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