These comments were presented to the Chapel Hill Town Council on November 8, 2010.
In 1992 the Town of Chapel Hill developed a Small Area Plan that created zoning and development parameters for the area south of 15-501. The two year process included all stakeholders in that area of Town. The Plan balanced a dense urban development with the preservation of surrounding environmentally sensitive areas and open space.
Today, this area contains both dense urban development, Southern Village, and a largely undeveloped area east of Southern Village along Obey Creek. Neighbors for Responsible Growth (NRG) is opposed to the Town Council pursuing a radical change for this plan and to the Town undertaking a Development Agreement for the Obey Creek area which was intended to be protected with low density zoning.
We believe the Development Agreement is the wrong planning tool as it would begin a negotiated process which assumes a high-density outcome. The Development Agreement is appropriate for those situations where the Town knows in advance that a large project occur, such as Carolina North. Dense residential development and “big box store” commercial areas were not intended for this area which was deliberately down zoned by the Town Council to balance the density granted for Southern Village.
NRG supports the existing Small Area Plan which applies low density zoning for Obey Creek. Any changes to that plan requires a full review of this Plan, including the promise that was made to the citizens when this Plan was adopted.
There is also another important principle at play here: Zoning. Zoning reflects the larger Comprehensive Plan and Small Area Plans that were derived from a public process. Zoning is a promise to neighborhoods and the community. It is how towns protect open space, farmland, environmentally sensitive areas and watersheds, designate areas for commercial development, light industry, retail and varying densities of housing. Zoning is also a promise to homeowners that they can count on an area developing predictably according to a plan.
We look to the Council to provide far-sighted leadership — not to submit to the temptation to throw out carefully conceived plans for ad hoc proposals that happen to “look good” at a given time out of context and without a public participation process. This proposal came to you under the Concept Plan process to provide input to developers about what might be appropriate within the context of current Town policies and plans, not potential ones.
If the Council now feels that the Southern Small Area Plan no longer meets the needs of the community, then it would be appropriate to begin another Small Area Plan Study of southern Chapel Hill, similar to the 1992 process and to revise the Plan if needed. As former Council member Art Werner has recently stated, “… it is the Council’s responsibility to be proactive in guiding growth of the community — not reacting to developers’ proposals.”