Northern Area Task Force begins meeting

Growth in the northwest part of town has been one of the most discussed issues in Chapel Hill during this Council business year.

I expect that the Council will approve a six month moratorium on development in this part of town at its meeting on Monday night. During this time the newly appointed Northern Area Task Force will craft a new vision for the area.

I am serving on this task force as are fellow OP'ers George Cianciolo, Marc ter Horst and Laurin Easthom. It is being ably chaired by Del Snow.

We had our first meeting last night, and I was pretty happy with it.

A few key goals that folks enumerated:

-Taking measures to make the area more friendly for bicycle and pedestrian uses.

-Ensuring that as redevelopment occures in this quadrant, folks are not priced out of town.

-Taking a direction with new development that emphasizes transit more.

One question I am particularly interested in is the issue of residential development within close range of I-40. When the University Station proposal came before the Council in March, they made it pretty clear that highly dense residential construction close to 40 wasn't going to cut it. I'm curious as to whether there's really any good use of this property. I guess that's what one of the questions we'll be trying to answer.

As Kevin Foy has pointed out this area is a 'gateway' to Chapel Hill, and right now it's not particularly inviting. The work this Task Force does and whatever the Council adopts as a result of it could potentially impact development and redevelopment in the whole of Chapel Hill down the line.

Anyway, we are really looking for broad public input. So what do you think should be happening in the northwest part of town?



Thanks Tom!
I appreciate the question that you asked of the community-it's important for the Task Force to get input so that the vision statement we craft is one that reflects citizen values as much as possible. The feedback we recieve will enable us to come up with recommendations to Council for holistic planning that serves not only NW CH, but the community at large.
Think about it-what is YOUR vision for our NW Gateway entrance and surrounding area?

OK, I'll take a crack at this. My wife Daisy and I moved to the Northwood neighborhood (not to be confused with Northwoods with an "s," which is south of us and inside the town limits, which we are not, even though we're basically surrounded by them) from Raleigh about a year ago. Our homeowners association president, Suzanne Haff, is also on the NATF. She's great, and I expect she will represent our neighborhood's interests very well.

Northwood is in an extremely critical and sensitive section of the Northern Area. We're impacted by traffic and development on Eubanks Road to the north, Martin Luther King Dr. to the east, and Weaver Dairy Road to the south. To our west is the relatively new Larkspur neighborhood and the soon-to-come Chapel Watch Village, not to mention the park-and-ride lot (which I bike to daily) and the also-soon-to-come town operations center and county waste transfer station. As such, pretty much every single car, truck and bus that gets off at exit #266 and goes south passes by our neighborhood. We are, for all intents and purposes, the gateway.

We more often, however, appear to be an afterthought. At this point, there isn't even a sidewalk on the west side of MLK, or, for that matter, anywhere on Eubanks Road. There is no pedestrian crosswalk in either direction from the northwest corner of the MLK/Weaver Dairy intersection. I'm aware of the long-standing political and bureaucratic reasons for this, being that Northwood has been there for 30 years while the town limits have only recently started to creep around it. But the bottom line is this: it's a pretty stupid situation. And it needs to be remedied. Northwood and every other neighborhood on the west side of MLK needs to be able to access Chapel Hill North and Timberlyne safely at MLK/Weaver Dairy by foot or by bike. And it needs to be obvious that ped/bike traffic is a priority there.

What I'd *really* like to see is a big fat sidewalk along the west side of MLK and a cool-looking elevated bike/pedestrian bridge that goes over the MLK/Weaver Dairy intersection from all four corners and makes a truly meaningful "gateway" statement. In my dreams.

That's my .02 for today. Thanks for listening. CAC

Sorry I couldn't make the meeting last night Del. Was there any discussion about how far the gateway extends? My gut says we need a framework for discussing growth fro Exit #266 slightly North all the way to Hillsborough St. on the South.

For instance, the key traffic hotspots are going to be those major intersections - Eubanks/MLK, Weaver Dairy/MLK, Homestead/MLK, Piney Mountain/MLK, Estes/MLK, maybe Airport Rd./MLK and Hillsborough/MLK that will channel traffic from surrounding areas. And then, of course the roads feeding into them. Possible neighborhood mandated modifications in the flow one place will shift the load elsewhere.

Does the NATF have the charge to discuss that issue?

I'm concerned that areas along MLK currently "natural" in character will be displaced by high density, mall-like development. The Planning department has already identified parcels - like the ones near the YMCA - for that type of development. Is it going to be Walgreens and Wendys from Weaver Dairy on down? What's the vision for MLK facing development - Fayetteville Rd. near Southpoint or Walnut in Cary?

Tom- you said "broad," so let me throw out a big idea. The auto orientation of MLK and difficulty of crossing it as a pedestrian is one of the key problems that needs to be overcome from Rosemary St to I-40.

NCDOT has recently (Alston Ave Durham, and Jones Ferry Rd, Carrboro) seemed to be backsliding when it comes to the needs and desires of local communities.

Chapel Hill may wish to consider taking over ownership/maintenance of MLK from the state in order to better pursue the many opportunities for ped/bike/transit in this corridor that NCDOT, generally speaking, is under-equipped to work on effectively.

Then the town could create a 5 to 10-year plan to rebuild MLK as a boulevard, and begin orienting land uses towards the street accordingly over time.

Patrick, what about an electric trolley right down the center of MLK ;-)?

Actually, I'm surprised that you are surprised! I've been publically against auto-centric design for years. I worked with CARR from its inception to keep Weaver Dairy Rd at 3 lanes. I spoke out against the original design of 17,000 parking spaces at HWT/CN before there was ever a HWCC.

No, the "Northern Area" did not get this way because of lack of connective streets. It got this way because each development was approved without consideration to how it fit into the greater whole. As each parcel was developed, no one looked at the domino effect on pedestrian and bicycle mobility and human connectivity.

When I started on the moratorium journey last year, that was my mantra-look at the area holistically-something that hadn't been done. By stopping further development we can see how the interrelationships between the areas left for development can work not only for the developers, but for the community. Even those in town and the Southern area.

Besides, in this day and age, shouldn't we be doing everything possible to de-emphasize auto use? By making the CWV-Larkspur cut-through possible, what incentive is there to use the park and ride? If we don't start discouraging
auto use now, when will we?

So, I attibute the tangled mess to short-sightedness, not lack of roads.

The NATF charge has been easily accessible:

•Develop a vision statement for the area.
•Prepare recommendations for the Council's consideration on development regulations, design standards and appearance guidelines for the implementation of transit-oriented development along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Weaver Dairy Road and Eubanks Road.
•Develop recommendations on pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements throughout the study area.

The boundaries, as you know, are Homestead to Eubanks, and the Railroad corridor to the western side of Carol Woods.

We have a lot of work to do, in a very small amount of time.I think that we will do a great job, but we will not, nor is it our job to, reinvent Chapel Hill. We will however, hopefully, create a vision statement that will be able to be transferred to other parts of Town. You know that this is a topic that I have been emphatic about, but by setting the bar as high as you have, I think that our accomplishments on the TF will be minimized.

You must know that I don't want to see the scenario you described on MLK Jr Blvd, but I don't believe the Mayor and Council want to see that either. The TF is certainly concerned about the natural areas, the environment, traffic, affordable housing, bike and ped mobility, and how to direct development. Just try to remember that we are constrained by the time limits of the moratorium.

Del, I'm confident that you will keep the train on the tracks. I'm also sure, with your guidance, the results will be more than acceptable. I know time is "the" factor but, as you know, I believe your charge is too narrow.

Yes, I'm setting a bar here but it's more for Council than your team.

For Council, the challenge is to not only integrate your results effectively into their longer term plans but to look at the necessity of the NATF as a catalyst to re-engineer the planning process vis-a-vis citizen involvement.

If they're not committed to those goals then the NATF's excellent work will probably end up, like many citizen-led efforts, as a footnote to an already decided outcome.

I'd love to hear your ideas about:
"If the NATF could make plans that lead to the Eubanks-Homestead section of MLK SAFE (not just better, but SAFE) for peds/bikes/transit users, that alone would be huge"
I value your opinion.

Will- I agree with you that electric streetcars (aka very light rail) might make excellent sense for MLK.

On the most recent Village Project comments regarding Carolina North,we mentioned such a streetcar concept extending to the Horace Williams tract. I see no reason why it could not extend further north to the Eubanks/MLK area.

If the NATF could make plans that lead to the Eubanks-Homestead section of MLK SAFE (not just better, but SAFE) for peds/bikes/transit users, that alone would be huge.

Mo Money Mo Money.
Pavement/Bridges/etc. square foot costs are in the $220 range
just for local highways and not Interstates.
That includes pre-site surveys to marking/striping.
Maintenance is another $18 per square foot per year.
"Million Dollars a Mile" is now old and busted.
what would i like to see for CH's northern gateway?
1. less road signage. more than that, less signs throughout
CH-C....including any sign in the right-of-way.
2. less panhandlers at the exits. there's a way to do this.
design of the exits and lights synch eliminate this
safety problem.
3. finally, non-skid pedestrian on-highway markings.
the "glued-on" crosswalk stripes are SLICK even
in dry weather. of course, this means Mo Money.

I am taking note of all of your input and we will discuss and weigh all of it-as long as it falls into the parameters of the charge.
It's important to keep it coming!

Del, I was really surprised to see you speaking out against connective streets at the Town Council meeting on Monday. Isn't that part of how the Northern area got so tangled in the first place?

Del, I applaud your attention to non-auto transportation. Unfortunately, the vast majority of your neighbors can't get to work or even to the grocery store without driving. Unless you are going to create much denser development (more than Southern Village or Meadowmont) up there, you are going to continue to need a well-planned road network as well as other modes of getting around.

If you look at the only truly pedestrian-friendly parts of our county - UNC campus and our downtown areas - you will find almost no cul-de-sacs. Connective streets aren't just for cars. They also share the right-of-way with sidewalks, they make transit service efficient enough to be viable, and they keep arterial roads like MLK and Weaver Dairy from becoming clogged highways.

I also look at the big picture, the northern area is largely a bedroom community to Chapel Hill and RTP. It can't be planned in isolation from them. I support this moratorium as an opportunity to stretch our brains and our planning capacity to envision the Chapel Hill of the future together.

A great many neighbors in the Northern Area CAN get to shopping without driving. It's just too dangerous to cross the intersection of Weaver Dairy and Martin Luther King Blvd. I send my husband off on bike to get small grocery stuff all the time (he wants to go for the exercise). Our family walks to restaurants sometimes and even the movies. Aside from Meadowmont and Southern Village, we are one of the densest neighborhoods In Chapel Hill (Northwoods/Parkside/Vineyard Square/Larkspur). I hope that we can improve the safety of those that wish to take advantage of their ability to walk and bike ---and if there isn't an adequate facility for biking and walking, work to incorporate those into future planning/development.

Ruby, I am sure that we will all benefit when we work together in creating an overview of the area. I want to answer and comment on a couple of your points.
Yes, we need a well-planned road network. But I think that it is preferable to work on improving the existing roads rather than creating new ones. We want to emphasize those "other modes of getting around," such as bus service improvements/additions, pedestrian improvements, and bicycle improvements. And, yes, density will be increased.
The existence of the cul-de-sacs may be part of the problem-maybe they should have never been approved, but we can't eliminate them. We can make sure that new developments, however, don't include them in their plans. That said, "auto-roads" are not necessary for pedestrian and bike connectivity-safety and sidewalks are. By improving the area mobility, we will cut down on some of the clogging traffic.
The one point that you made that I had real trouble with was that the northern area is a "bedroom community to Chapel Hill and RTP." The last time I looked, we were all paying Chapel Hill taxes...I really don't believe that most people think that Chapel Hill is defined only by the downtown. Are the Meadowmont residents a bedroom community by virtue of their location on the eastern border? Or Southern Village to the south?

One of the important issues facing the Northern area and ALL of Chapel Hill is the economic tax base. For the burden to be lifted off of homeowners' shoulders, we have to increase the commercial tax base. Attracting commercial development to NW Chapel Hill will benefit everyone, as those tax dollars will go into the general coffers-not the NW coffers. But, calling this area a bedroom community is not the best way to attract new business to the area...

I would never advocate planning for NW CH in isolation-the more holistic the better. Logically, the Task Force should be working with Carrboro because most of the Homestead Rd, Eubanks Rd, and Rogers Rd. development in Carrboro are going to shop in NW CH and use MLK.

Chapel Hill and Carrboro are filled with people with great vision and I hope that we all will be creative together.

I can't speak for people in the Northern Area being able to get to work without driving, (although I don't drive to work, and I work in Raleigh), but most everybody can certainly get to one of the two grocery stores, along with two movie theaters, a number of restaurants, a hardware store, a drugstore, etc. in Chapel Hill North and Timberlyne without having to drive. It's just not particularly easy or safe to cross MLK from the west, as I mentioned in my earlier post (and in prior letters to the Town Council). MLK is like a wide, fast-moving river that can only be crossed by car.

As for people getting to work, I do wonder if there is any sort of analysis out there about where people in the Northern Area go during the day. I hope everyone realizes what a great resource the Eubanks park-and-ride lot is. Easy to get bus service to downtown Chapel Hill or Raleigh. The TTA would be wise to have service from there to Durham and RTP (which I don't think they do, but I could be wrong).

I see both sides of the connectivity issue (car connectivity vs. ped/bike connectivity), and think there are good arguments either way. It hits close to home since I live near the ped/bike connection between Larkspur and Northwood. So, for example, I have to drive kind of an unnecessarily circuitous route to get to Carrboro, but I can also slip out quite easily the back way through Larkspur to get there on my bike. When Chapel Watch is completed, it'll be easier for me to get to the park-and-ride on my bike too.

Best of luck to the NATF. I'm very thankful for the work they're doing, and appreciate the difficulty and magnitude of it. CAC


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