The importance of collective vision in long-range planning

Last month Chapel Hill 2020 Co-Chair Rosemary Waldorf asked a group of former Chapel Hill Planning Board Chairs to write short essays about why they believe the Comprehensive Plan is important. In addition to my response, replies from the Mayor, the Manager, the chair of the Sustainability Committee, and 3 other past and present Planning Board Chairs were posted on the Town web site and in The Chapel Hill News.

What I wrote follows, please visit the Town web site to see the others...

During the years I served on the Chapel Hill Planning Board, we reviewed some proposals that included tall buildings and dense footprints such as East 54, Greenbridge, and others. Often the  public comment about these proposals included remarks like “this would ruin Chapel Hill” or “this isn’t the character we moved here for.” But to the contrary, many of us involved in long-range planning felt that such urban land uses are what we need to save Chapel Hill from sprawl and auto-dependence, and we thought they were roughly consistent with our vision for the future.

This stark difference in goals was what led our board to ask the Town several years ago to revise the Comprehensive Plan, or at least create a new community vision statement, to provide a space for us to come together and have this conversation about our future. Without a shared vision, advocates will simply dig in their heels as they get further entrenched in their positions. What is needed instead is a community dialog that allows us to openly share our hopes and concerns about development (and the many other issues in the Comprehensive Plan).

If we really listen to each other, I suspect we will find that there are at least as many areas of agreement as disagreement. We all love Chapel Hill, and we all chose to move here or stay here for a reason. I do want to see more dense, urban land-use patterns in Chapel Hill, but I also want to preserve our beautiful environment, our open-minded values, and our high quality of life. The reason I have been passionate about this Comprehensive Plan revision years before it even started is that I think it is the best chance to get the best ideas from all of our residents, and to craft the best future for Chapel Hill - in 2020 and well beyond.

We need a future we can all believe in, not a plan that feels imposed upon us. That’s why we all have a responsibility to participate in the Chapel Hill 2020 process, whether it’s at meetings, online, or in our own communities. I hope to see you at the working session on January 12th, or on the blog at



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