Free the Internet

Here's another chance for the town of Chapel Hill to catch up to Carrboro: free wireless Internet downtown.

It seems to have been a resounding success for Carrboro. Some businesses might worry about dozens of folks setting up their laptops for hours while only buying a pastry and coffee, but WSM has got plenty of space on the lawn, and more importantly having free wifi just adds to their role as the community hub. That attracts customers that aren't even using the wireless.

But Chapel Hill has a new angle on this. They are discussing covering the downtown neighborhoods like Northside where some residents can't afford high-speed Internet access.

Across the town line in Carrboro, officials decided last year to put a few thousand dollars into expanding the wireless network in the downtown area, enabling people to connect -- for free -- to the Internet with their laptop computers equipped with wireless cards.

Isn't that convenient?

In its effort to develop four neighborhood conservation districts at once, the Town of Chapel Hill is looking for some outside assistance. They didn't have to look very far. Recently retired Chapel Hill Planning Director Roger Waldon has been hired as a consultant on the project.

It's true the Town needs outside assistance to be able to do 4 NCDs at once. And clearly Roger understands the NCD rules - he helped create them. But I don't buy the logic that having worked on the previous Northside NCD qualifies one to work on future efforts. The Northside NCD process was not managed very well. Although a lot of people worked very hard on it, and some good regulations resulted, the process generally lacked clear vision and leadership. I would hate to see it repeated.

Also, this budget switcheroo is kind of weird:

Contemplating Carrboro's Campaign Issues

Chapel Hill Herald, Saturday June 04, 2005

Recently I was asked what I thought the issues would be in this year's Carrboro elections. I didn't have a ready answer. As I considered the question, it seemed that no one has been putting new ideas on the table for Carrboro lately.

Recent elections have functioned as referenda on the policies of the existing board, policies that have evolved over the past decade or so. This year, things have been pretty quiet.

Alderman Alex Zaffron hit a nail on the head recently when he suggested that the best thing the board had done lately might have been hiring Steve Stewart as town manager. Stewart has brought in his proposed 2005-06 budget without a tax increase.

It has long seemed that if there was an issue that could unite the diverse groups who are unhappy with the status quo, it was Carrboro's tax rate. Property taxes in Carrboro have tracked at some 20 percent above those of Chapel Hill despite the smaller town turning to its larger neighbor for a number of amenities.

This year, under Stewart's proposed budget and thanks to a modest increase in Chapel Hill, the gap will close a bit.

Neighborhood Conservation

After establishing Neighborhood Conservation Districts (NCDs) in the town Land Use Management Ordinance, the town of Chapel Hill started the process to create an NCD for Northside, the historically black neighborhood north of Rosemary Street and west of North Columbia Street. I was disappointed that the Northside NCD didn't do more to define and promote community design principles that could actually improve our quality of life. But it was a step in the right direction.

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.



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