February 15: Future Focus

By Scott Sherrill, UNC MPA Student

February 15 marked the beginning of a two-day Future Focus event for Chapel Hill. The goal of the sessions was to get a better idea for how the citizens of Chapel Hill want the town to grow and what they want the growth to look like. (link to scenario maps is at the bottom of this post)

Introductory presentations by David Parker, Associate Vice Chancellor and Deputy General Counsel of the University, and Dwight Bassett, Town of Chapel Hill Economic Development Director, painted a picture of UNC’s growth and development on the 4,000 acres it owns outside of central campus and some ideas from the Downtown Framework and Action Plan.

David Parker’s presentation not only focused on the potential growth and development opportunities for the campus, but also the forces that help to guide, direct, and limit the nature of that growth. David pointed particularly to the University as an agency of the State of North Carolina, its nature as a constituent of the 17-school University of North Carolina System, its status as a nonprofit, educational institution, its constraints under the regulations that accompany the 804 million dollars of federal investment, its role as a partner of the community, and its function as an engine of economic development. The essence was that the obligations that come along with each of these positions make the school very slow to move, and limit its ability to develop in one way or another.

The University is still a major player in the area with 29,000 students, 11,909 full time employees, and an annual budget in FY11 of in excess of a billion dollars, less than 20% of which came from the state, and just over 20% came from the federal government. Meanwhile the vast majority of funds is expended on instruction, research, and supporting students. And the University is accompanied by UNC Healthcare with 7,215 employees, 37,124 discharges, and 918,524 clinic visits. The end message was that the University is not a typical developer, but its fortunes are closely tied with the Town of Chapel Hill, and it is dedicated to being a community partner.

Dwight Bassett’s presentation focused on the Downtown framework, which he talked about at length in an earlier presentation. The elements focused on for the purposes of this event were the four key ideas of a Compact, Connected, Anchored, and Green downtown. The presentation also focused on some still viable ideas from the draft framework including a downtown gathering space, areas of potential future investment, where the land values were higher than the building values, and the idea of additional cross streets to make the blocks more pedestrian friendly.

The evening concluded with a visioning exercise where participants were shown 50 images and surveyed on whether or not the images depicted were appropriate or not appropriate visions for Chapel Hill. The presentations continued on February 16 on five areas outside the downtown: MLK South, MLK North, 15-501 South, 15-501 North, and NC 54.

About 180 people participated in the Thursday sessions.  The used three scenarios as a starting point for discussion and input:

  1. Existing conditions + business as usual
  2. Moderate investments in transportation connections and growth
  3. Transit-focused investments in connections and growth

The maps from the session are availble here: https://picasaweb.google.com/105827290421826126685/FutureFocusWorkshopScenarios

If you’re interested in the results and the analysis of indicators, please join us on February 23rd at Estes Hills Elementary for an open house and further discussion from 4:30-6:30 pm.

5 thoughts on “February 15: Future Focus

  1. Pingback: 15/501 South Land Use Discussion Group |

  2. Lynne Kane says:

    I re-enter my comment today here from the Dwight Bassett Economic Development Presentation:
    Addressing Jeanne Brown’s comment alleging lack of green space in the Ephesus Church Rd-Fordham Blvd. small area plan: Most of the surrounding homes have lawns, garden areas. The apartment buildings in the area also have considerable entrance/common space. There is a small park on Ephesus Church Road and public tennis courts and a ball field (that maybe part of American Legion land but used for ball games) within the area between Ephesus Church Rd. and Fordham Blvd.
    As a resident for 12 years in this particular area – though I’ve traversed most of Chapel Hill several times campaigning – I know what Chapel Hill needs most is retail and office-based businesses.
    Too many, including a man who had a Letter to the Editor in this past week’s (March 2012) Chapel Hill News (Joe Buonfiglio I think), have a knee-jerk reaction to any development that is not full of green/park space. Small pockets of shade trees with a few ergonomic benches are all the additional “green space” that most of Chapel Hill needs, and a few of such spaces are already included in the Eastside Small Area Plan.
    This is probably a good place and time to remind Chapel Hill residents that in the 2009 Town election our current mayor won by approx. 67 votes, and that happened after several dirty maneuvers were used by the “Old Guard” usual characters. In other words, about half of Chapel Hill’s voters wanted a Harvard MBA to be mayor, while the other half voted for the Sierra Club/Independent Weekly customarily endorsed candidates. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt has demonstrated an awareness of the newer interests of Chapel Hill residents, and therefore I endorsed his re-election in 2011.
    In addition, those who have demanded more and more public transit (which we residents of Chapel Hill & Carrboro plus UNC pay for) have traditionally opposed dense developments. More height, at least to four floors, in more spaces are necessary to bring in the resources and riders to support more buses, more frequent buses, more night runs, and perhaps eventually light rail or rapid transit buses.
    Our long overdue new Comprehensive Plan must deal with the marketability realities of life along with the needs of an aging population as well as an increasing population: a variety of goods and services available around town (also increasing local jobs), more apartment dwellings, and homes priced for salaried working people.

  3. Joe Buonfiglio says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with John Schmidt’s critique of the process. Throughout this whole 2020 process, the pro-development agenda shamelessly marches along as if all the citizen-participants and stakeholders have agreed this is the best path for the town, while environmental and neighborhood concerns don’t make it past the theme groups beyond useless generalities. They get white boards full of broad environmental goals; the pro-development juggernaut gets five sites already earmarked as best for development. It’s patently absurd how obvious a farce this process is. It’s clearly designed to swiftly trash any environmental protections for the southern area found in the current comprehensive plan in order to expedite getting the bulldozers gassed up and out to Obey Creek as soon as possible. The “just ignore the environmental and neighborhood concerns as if they had never been voiced” strategy is working so well, they barely try to even hide it anymore. I’d laugh at what a joke this process is if not for the fact that it probably means the destruction of the environmentally sensitive area which is Obey Creek, as well as the quality of life in the small neighborhoods surrounding it. Considering this, the deliberate agenda being pushed in CH2020 isn’t funny; not by a long shot.

  4. At the Feb. 20th, 2012, Council Meeting there was discussion on the topic of suspending NCD (Neighborhood Conservation District) applications while the comprehensive planning process is underway. The resolution, to continue with NCD applications already in process, but not to entertain any new applications was appropriate. The discussion around NCDs, however, was concerning in light of our comprehensive planning process. It was noted that the NCD is a “blunt instrument” and more than one Council member expressed hope that the Chapel Hill 2020 Plan would yield clearer direction and guidelines for neighborhood conservation. My reaction is that there is a tremendous disconnect between this expectation and what is happening in our group meetings. We have not addressed any details of what the term neighborhood conservation means, although my group, Good Places, Good Spaces, has certainly stated that we desire to preserve and conserve our neighborhoods. Clearly this can and should mean different things for our many, diverse neighborhoods. Hammering out what rules to preserve and protect our neighborhoods, especially in the older, in-town areas will vary from neighborhood to neighborhood and will take a great deal of time and thoughtful process. If this is, in fact, what Council is expecting us to provide, I’m wondering when we’re going to do that? It does not appear to be in the current schedule.

  5. John Schmidt says:

    During the morning session on February 16th, at the Friday Center, the group that I was in covering the Southern area along 15-501 was “packed” with the Obey Creek developer’s son, the director of the chamber of commerce, an architect interested in high density, and the developer of Meadowmont and Southern Village. The maps we were shown besides one for “no change” were for medium and high density. Medium density included up to 4 story buildings. The facilitator kept rushing us. Since the preliminary presentations by staff and consultants took over one hour, there was little time left for meaningful discussion, and even that was constantly interrupted by exhortations and prodding to move along briskly. The architect grabbed the colored markers and starting drawing in high density spaces. Ordinary people representing our Southern area were outgunned, and the map was left as he drew it. I was totally disgusted by the loaded representation in our Southern area group by people with a vested interest in high density development on the Obey Creek property. It is obvious that the town staff set this up so that high and medium density were the preferred outcomes.

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