Make Orange County More Sustainable by Equitably Balancing Development and Environmental Protection

This Monday at 7:30 p.m. the county commissioners and planning board will be conducting a public hearing at the courthouse in Hillsborough on the proposed comprehensive plan update. Ideally, the plan will firmly establish the county on a path toward sustainability that balances environmental health, social equity, and economic vitality. The draft plan can be accessed from

In the first chapter many encouraging phrases are found such as: "Mixed-use districts are being actively encouraged, and locations are being identified, providing live-work-shop opportunities that minimize travel needs ... (T)he identification of growth opportunity areas near transit corridors and along major thoroughfares encourages more public transportation use by County residents. ... (P)lacing public water and sewer facilities near areas targeted for dense development can reinforce a more sustainable land use pattern ... (P)ublic investment will be focused to stimulate and accommodate (economic) development in strategic locations that can be served by transportation systems and be convenient to housing opportunities."

This development pattern, coupled with targeted conservation measures, is the best path to social equity, affordable housing, economic vitality, and a balanced tax base. Five years from now will we be on the way to achieving this? One decisive factor will be that the goals and objectives among the different elements of the plan reinforce each other rather than work at cross purposes.

More to the point, the commissioners must be as committed to investing in "infrastructure that supports desired development" from the beginning and throughout the plan's 20-year horizon as they have been to protecting the natural environment over the past 20 years.

However, it's not clear that the current proposal equitably balances the goals of sustainable development and environmental protection. I encourage the planning board members and commissioners to do everything they can, including not rushing the plan's adoption, to make sure it's implementation will result in significant increases in the housing options available for county residents, more job creation and retention within the county, and a growing commercial tax base.

NOTE: This letter was published in Chapel Hill's News and Herald, May 18, 2008


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