What’s Ahead: The new Comprehensive Plan

Jeanne Brown delivered this thoughtful petition before the Council broke for the summer.  Food for thought.

June 27, 2011
Mayor Kleinschmidt and members of Town Council:

Good Evening:  It is exciting to hear that the Initiating Committee report will be reviewed tonight – setting the stage for public discussion and formulation of Chapel Hill’s new Comprehensive Plan.

This year Council has faced many ad hoc development decisions. Based on recent comments by developers, council members and citizens, I believe that everyone agrees that the new Comprehensive Plan will provide an updated guiding document for council, developers and citizens.

But creating a new Comprehensive Plan is not all that is needed. As citizen groups watched Aydan Court and similar development decisions unfold, it has become clear that the Concept Plan and Development Application Review processes need to be improved and strengthened in order to avoid similar situations in the future.

To begin with, a publicly created and vetted Comprehensive Plan is only effective if it is used as the basis for guiding staff, council and developers from initial Concept Plan discussions through building of approved projects.

Council Woman Donna Bell expressed the concerns many of us share when she observed that the Aydan Court project had first been proposed as a project that “spanned the entire property” and then had been “whittled down” from there.

The whittling down process was based on council input to the developer during both Concept Plan and Application Process review meetings. In watching Concept Plan and Public Hearing videos I feel certain that the Aydan Court discussion would have proceeded much differently if stronger guidelines and processes were in place.

Knowing that you all have a busy night, I’ll give just a few examples tonight.

First, if a project to be discussed meets certain criteria such as significant deviations from town ordinances or environmental sensitivity then council and staff visits to the site would be warranted prior to presentation of the Concept Plan.

Such a step would allow council and staff to give more constructive comment to the developer AND to understand the concerns of neighboring landowners.

Second, to help citizens follow the progress and details of each project under consideration, Town staff has posted a Development Activity Report on the Planning Department’s website. The report is well organized and allows individuals to view meeting notices and project related documents. But there does not seem to be a mechanism in place for keeping project-related data up-to-date. In the case of Aydan Court, video of the February 21 public hearing is posted. But the subsequent May 25 public hearing is not.

Third: Wednesday evening the town will hold its first “Joint Advisory” meeting. The goal of the meeting is to streamline the Development Application process by allowing the developer to make single presentation to several groups rather than having to meet with each group individually.

Streamlining this process seems to make sense; however, it is essential that, in doing so, all necessary steps are taken to ensure that citizen participation in the process is not sacrificed for expediency.

Holding the meeting in Council Chambers provides the added benefit of allowing the meeting to be broadcast. For those not able to watch during meeting time, posting the video, just as you post council meetings, will allow citizens access as well. To make it easier for citizens to follow a project, the video should be linked to the project presented.

Mr. Mayor and members of council, improvements to the Concept Plan and Development Approval process are needed. Tonight I ask you to invite citizens, staff, and developers to participate in a review of these processes so that appropriate guidelines and procedures are in place as we move forward with our new Comprehensive Plan.

Thank you.

Jeanne Brown

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