Zoning and mobility at Planning Board tonight

On tonight's Chapel Hill Planning Board agenda there are a number of interesting issues including rezoning the Horace Williams tract (the future home of Carolina North), rezoning the Greenwood neighborhood to prevent redevelopment, and a report on increasing health and mobility in Northside. Since I can't be there in person, I wrote the following to my colleagues on the board:

Horace Williams Tract re-zoning.

As you may know, I have been an advocate of this re-zoning as a member of the Horace Williams Citizens Committee. It's not just a good negotiating tactic, it's really good planning. No-one expects Carolina North to be developed with the current mix of OI-2, OI-3, and R-2 regulations. Until UNC requests a re-zoning, it it is the Town's responsibility to zone the land as we reasonably hope and expect it to be developed. With the current infrastructure, anything more intense than OI-2 would put an unreasonable strain on the Town's public facilities, especially the roads in that area.

After establishing OI-2 as a baseline, any negotiations about changing the zone can be tied to increasing our collective transportation capacity and other needed support for this to be a healthy and functioning development. This change is certainly in line with the Comprehensive Plan and it may also fall under the definition of changing circumstances.

Greenwood rezoning.

When I voted along with the rest of you to ask the Council to look at creating an NCD for the Greenwood neighborhood, it was to defend the neighborhood from the growing threat of "McMansions" and to protect the historic and attractive character of the area. I don't recall density playing a part in that discussion. Protecting the neighborhood does not mean sealing it in amber. The entire town is going through transition and it's not fair for one neighborhood to simply insulate itself in a bubble and expect others to bear the brunt of the community's growth.

Is extremely low density appropriate zone-for this neighborhood near the center of town? The decrease in density also seems to ensure that there will be little room for affordable housing in Greenwood. I think NCDs offer an effective way to address a neighborhood's unique needs. Although they do not happen instantly, NCD protections are exactly what Greenwood needs. Spot rezoning seems to me like overkill and not the right tool for the job.

Transportation Priority List.

As usual, I would like to emphasize the need for sidewalks in walkable areas like downtown. West Rosemary Street still does not have continuous sidewalks on either side (not to mention East Rosemary, which is less dense but also constantly full of pedestrians). I noticed that sidewalks on both sides of West Rosemary Street were recommended in the Northside mobility report.

Northside mobility report.
Note this bus stop with no place to stand or sit.

I have long believed that more sidewalks would make Northside residents safer. The report also suggests improving security. There is certainly room for improvement! The Chapel Hill Police Department's current solution to the established institution of dealing crack on the streets of Northside is to drive around and periodically shuffle dealers from one street to another. The police themselves will tell you that their current strategies are ineffective - if they arrest dealers, they shortly return to the streets. Can it be made any clearer that this is an outdated and ineffective approach to this problem?

I am really disappointed to see this report simply conclude that we need to "Increase police presence." If we really want to improve the security and walkability of our streets, the police need simply get out of their cars and establish regular foot patrols. It only takes a moment to see who lives here and who is walking or riding bikes aimlessly (a.k.a. "loitering"). In addition, officers would be modeling positive behavior by showing that it's safe and appealing to walk in the neighborhood. While there has been an increase in police cars passing the intersection of Sunset and Nunn street in recent weeks, I have never seen a single Chapel Hill cop on foot patrol in Northside in the past 4 years. (This is based on observation from my home office where I work full-time. I have a view of all of Nunn Street.)

Seniors live on both sides of my home on Sunset Drive and I have never seen any of them leave their homes other than by car. In fact, hardly any of my neighbors can be seen among the many pedestrians on our street each day. This is in spite of the fact that we are in short walking distance to dozens of restaurants, stores, and services. I certainly agree with the report's recommendation of a sidewalk for Sunset Drive.

All of these recommendations would be welcome changes. (In fact, I had hoped that last year's Northside NCD process would address some of these design issues.) I urge the Town to move swiftly from the 'study' phase into 'action,' and to dedicate the needed resources to make long-lasting changes. Many recent efforts have been handicapped by a lack of clear direction and staff support.

Here are a few pictures of Northside that I took as a part of the neighborhood Conservation District process in July 2003: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rubyji/sets/161831/

The Planning Board meets at 7 pm tonight in the Council Chambers at Town Hall.



I went to the meeting last night. The planning board admitted that the money to implament much of the plan just wasn't there. One cheep option would be to have the inspections department address some of the abandoned houses. If some money could be found, the best bang for the buck would be more street lights. Sidewalks would be fairly expensive and not all the home owners want them.

I don't live in Northside. When I walk through I've always found it fairly pedestrian friendly. There are few sidewalks; true. On the other hand. the traffic is so light that I feel safe walking in the street. I also suspect the crime problem is over blown. I think it's a fear of the unknown type of thing. I don't go there much after dark though.

Foot patrols could actually save the Town money in gas (albeit, not much). Did they not even discuss it as an option?

there was a brief mention of foot patrols. I wouldn't say it was "discussed".

"One cheep option would be to have the inspections department address some of the abandoned houses."

Detroit had/has an interesting way of trying to deal with abandoned houses. If the owners of an abandoned house could not be found or refused to take care of the abandoned house/property the city would condemn it, take possession, and auction it off with the stipulation that the house/property must be rehabilitated within a certain amount of time. The administrative aspect cost money, but it also put money back into the budget.

"I don't live in Northside. When I walk through I've always found it fairly pedestrian friendly. There are few sidewalks; true. On the other hand. the traffic is so light that I feel safe walking in the street. I also suspect the crime problem is over blown. I think it's a fear of the unknown type of thing. I don't go there much after dark though."

Clark, you are welcome to come hang out at my house one warm day and night. Drug runner on scooter going back and forth all day and night. Dealers and users at all hours of the day and night happily selling and using...watched it going on. I know of at least tree houses on my block alone being used to sell. And the dealers aren't all that scared...they talk loudly about it while walking up the street.

Regarding the Horace Williams Tract rezoning, I fully agree with the changing the OI-3 to OI-2. What I struggle to understand is the benefit in rezoning the northern R-2 area as OI-2. From what I can see in the latest published Chapel Hill North plans, this northern area is not even part of the planned development. This area is a fantastic natural resource to Chapel Hill and Carrboro and needs to be preserved. Why rezone the entire HWT? What would Chapel Hill lose by simply rezoning the OI-3 portions to OI-2? - Matt
(In the interest of full disclosure, I live on the edge of the HWT but on the Carrboro side. I'm extremely interested in seeing this development managed aggressively)

Got this email from a group called Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth. They propose that OI-3 be changed to OI-2, and R-2 be left unchanged, as Matt suggests. That makes sense to me.

Who is Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth??? I've never heard of them and they don't list any names on their website. This is an interesting development.

Laurin, I looked at the website. There are no names listed there. The description you pasted above could fit at least three other other local organizations that I can think of.

Who is NRG?

NRG, Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth, "is a grassroots organization dedicated to preserving our quality of life in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Orange County, and vicinity. By working constructively with neighbors, elected officials, UNC and all other members of our community, NRG aims to ensure that our environment and the well-being of our fellow residents are respected. NRG believes that our region can grow without losing its unique character. NRG is dedicated to:
* Providing a communication network so that neigborhoods can support each other.
* Keeping citizens informed about plans for the Horace Williams tract and other upcoming developments.
*Encouraging full community input for issues before local governnments.
*Working to see that our growth matches our resources--that we provide for adequate sewer, water, transportation, and classroom space for now and the future."
WEBSITE is www.nrg-nc.net

Great start. I think the next round is critical. In the latest proposals I see that light pollution is still getting short shrift. I imagine the Northern neighbors to HW will not be pleased losing the rest of the stars to UNC/North.

Who is NRG? From Rob Shapard's February 25, 2004 article:


"Along with [Mike] Collins, the steering committee for Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth includes John Ager; Kristina Ahlen; Anne Barnes; Elaine Barney; Joyce Brown; Al Burk; Laurin Easthom; Carmen Elliott; Charles Jones; Jim Kaiser; Estelle Mabry; Julie McClintock; Gene Pease; Fred Stang; Alan Snavely; Diana Steele; Lou Taff; and Sarah Tillis.

"We will work constructively with Neighbors, developers, government bodies, UNC and other members of our community to ensure that developments respect our environment, and the well-being of our fellow residents," the group stated.

"Members like Brown and Pease have been part of another citizens group that formed last year, known as the Coalition of Neighbors Near Campus. That group emerged in part out of the debate over UNC's Cobb parking deck and chiller plant, along with other campus Growth, and it endorsed Sally Greene, Cam Hill and Strom in the council race in November.

"Barney presented a petition earlier this year on behalf of the coalition, critical of one-on-one meetings between UNC officials and council members. The petition asked the council to consider a local law that would require various entities to register with the town before lobbying the council.

"Brown, a former Town Council member, said Tuesday that the Coalition of Neighbors Near Campus remains active, although it's somewhat smaller than the new group.

"The new group claims membership from neighborhoods including Elkin Hills; Mason Farm; Pinebrook Estates; Westside; Timberlyne; Gimghoul; Northside; Westwood; Colonial Heights; Homestead Village; Glen Heights; Coker Hills West; North Haven; Ironwoods; Northwoods V; and Greenwood."

NRG was founded about a year and a half ago. It grew out of the successful efforts by Elkin Hills to block the placement of the UNC Grounds and Maintenance facilities near a residential neighborhood.
Citizens from Elkin Hills/Colonial Heights/Pinebrook Estates also supported Gimghoul during the chiller plant controversy, and saw the potential benefit of interconnecting neighborhoods at the grassroots level.
We recruit contacts from each neighborhood, preferably with connections to the homeowners association (if any). They then help disseminate information to their neighborhoods. This makes the contact more personal.
Our goal is to be able to mobilize citizens in support of each other on quality-of-life issues, and to promote progressive approaches to resolving the problems facing our community.
The website is new and still under development and will get a makeover as soon as time permits.

Amazingly, this Northside Mobility report is finally before the Council for a decision tonight. I am eatching the meeting on TV. Delores Bailey of Graham Street has attended to again speak out against sidewalks on her street - in spite of the staff proposal to add them without taking ANY property from yards or encroaching on homes - and the Council certainly seems to be willing to back down and do what she wants. Fortunately, Jim Ward is pointing out that all of the advisory boards recommended the sidewalk and that at previous meetings neighbors have spoken to both sides of the issue.

It's certainly true that the people who have lived there the longest are most opposed to the sidewalks. It seems to me that without a connection between the density of Sykes Street to the amenities in Carrboro (ie: sidewalk on either Sunset Drive or Graham Street), I think all this effort will do is make more internal sidewalks without connecting the community to the crucial resources they need.

Mark Kleinschmidt proposed a compromise (which the Council accepted) to better utilize existing facilities (ie: sidewalk on Roberson) along with other creative solutions. I appreciate the sentiment, but I don't see how this will have much impact. I'm adding this meeting to the long list of moments when Jim Ward has impressed me me by holding true to principles we all claim to support. I've never supported his campaigns before, but this will be remembered if he chooses to run for re-election this fall...


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