15/501 South Land Use Discussion Group

15/501 South Land Use Discussion Group -updated 3-15-12

After the Future Focus workshops in February, both town staff and several 2020 stakeholders suggested that we establish a parallel discussion group to develop a recommendation on the 15/501 South corridor. George and I discussed this with Mayor Kleinschmidt and the Town Manager, who endorsed this idea, and we also took the proposal to the 2020 co-chairs at our meeting with them last Thursday. The co-chairs agreed that this would be worthwhile.

Over the last several days we have worked on developing a charge, a composition for the group, a schedule, and meeting agendas. We are fortunate that former Mayor Kevin Foy has agreed to chair this discussion group. He will be an impartial moderator and will keep the group on track. The Future Focus consultant, Urban Collage, will provide professional support, the data and background information that citizens have said they need to strive for consensus on a land use recommendation for this corridor

Keep in mind that the work and conclusions of this discussion group will be reported back to the Chapel Hill 2020 process and stakeholders.


  • The charge of this work group is to attend three meetings to develop a land use recommendation for the Southern 15/501 area of the Chapel Hill 2020 Future Focus work sessions.
  • The work group will work with the Future Focus consultant to devise a land use recommendation to be presented to the Chapel Hill 2020 Comprehensive Plan stakeholders.
  • The work group will receive public comment at each meeting.
  • The work group will make a recommendation to the 2020 Co-Chairs and participants before April 24, 2012.
  • This process will be a model for civil discourse on a topic of community-wide importance.

Scope and Schedule The scope and schedule for the work group meetings will be:

Wednesday, March 21, 8-10 am  -105 Market Street, Rooms 3 & 5 Chapel Hill, NC 27516

  • Existing Conditions
  • Development Opportunities
  • Issues
  • Annexation
  • Access

Wednesday, April 18, 2012, 5-8 PM Location TBD

  • Alternatives

Thursday, April 19, 2012 5-8 PM Location TBD

  • Guiding Principles
  • Framework
  • Preferred Alternative to 2020 Process
  • 3D Visualization
  • Policy
  • Land Use

Composition of the Group  Membership of the discussion group is modeled after the composition of the Northern Area Task Force. Membership will reflect the interests of the community and the Chapel Hill 2020 process:

  • Kevin Foy – chair
  • 2 Planning Board members: Kimberly Brewer & John Ager
  • 1 Bicycle and Pedestrian Board member- Rainer Dammers
  • 1 Transportation Board member- Whit Rummel
  • 2 Southern Area Residents – Susan Duke & Jeremy Purbirck
  • 2 Southern Area business or land owners or land owners representative: Lori Eichel & Ben Perry
  • 1 Southern Area ETJ resident: John Schmidt

25 thoughts on “15/501 South Land Use Discussion Group

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  3. John Jaynes says:

    As a long-time resident of the Southern Area and its extraterritorial zone (ETJ) in particular, I’d like to reinforce some of the ideas expressed (here and in the meetings) about the non-typical character of this area and how that might affect planning.
    The recent “census” of the Southern Area posted by Jeanne Brown (April 9) makes a good starting point, showing how some of the most significant effects of Chapel Hill’s planning decisions are felt by people, families, and larger groups here who have no direct, voting control over it — 37% to 46% (without, and with, residents here in Carrboro’s ETJ) of our area by her estimates. While townwide, that number is only about 3%. That’s impressive, but still not the whole story.
    Southern Village, by itself, makes up a near-majority of our population, between 37% and 42% (with and without Carrboro ETJ) by Jeanne Brown’s numbers. And much of our land area. It’s all town, 0% ETJ. So everything else, the rest of our area from farms on Smith Level Rd. to high-density areas, is then between 73 and 65% ETJ (with/without Carrboro ETJ). There, we’re a clear, but nonvoting, majority.
    That’s why an open planning process like this one is so important to us, maybe even vital. Where others hold the power of shaping our future, potentially in ways that could damage or even destroy our way(s) of life here and the things that are most important to us (and that brought us here or kept us here), the basic “gatekeeping” function of government looms large — the same way police or fire protection is one of the foundations of a stable, comfortable life. We depend on it, on its stability and consistency, very deeply.

    In many ways, we’re still a fundamentally rural area, with pockets of higher density— which really means that we’re a diverse local community (or even a community of smaller communities), interacting and assisting each other in both obvious and subtle ways, right across the urban-rural spectrum from working farms on Smith Level Road to the high-density “New Urbanism” of Southern Village. Our “green space” of field and forest, for instance, is not merely “undeveloped land” — it’s a fundamental, functioning part of our way of life (and not only for the people who own and maintain it).
    We haven’t lost that basic character (even while other nearby and far-away areas have been busy doing just that) — and many of us would likely say we want to keep that character and diversity for the long term (where our “long term” runs considerably farther into our future than just 10 or even 20 years). Actually, to judge from the notes from the meetings on April 18-19, more than a few of us already have.
    Even if that isn’t seen as conventional, or greeted as familiar (even our Southern Village was a bold experiment in its day). If someone said we’re going to become (or remain) some strange, unconventional experiment in urban-rural co-existence and diversity, many here would probably agree — or even cheer.
    The “stewardship” of such a place can be a formidable (or even ferocious) challange, even by comparison with a more “typical” area composed largely of residential and mixed-use developments, and land that’s about to become more of the same any day now. There are so many different viewpoints and ways of life that have to be understood and reconciled with sensitivity and insight. But it can pay dividends in diversity and creativity that can only some from a highly non-homogeneous area like ours. Like ways to balance, or even combine, preservation and development that could be pioneered here and then applied elsewhere if successful and “portable” enough — not just to make a better life for us right here.

    The documents from last week do seem to have “captured” much of this basic set of ideas and attitudes from the people who’ve participated in the process so far. Hopefully with the continuing participation of them and others in our small community here, we can see that translated successfully into policies and even particular suggestions for how to move forward towards a future that really represents “progress” for us, and not just more of what we don’t want and less of what we do — like we can see across so much of our larger Triangle area today.

  4. jeanne brown says:

    Many thanks to Kevin Foy for the way in which he presided over the initial South 15-501 Discussion Group meeting. Although the agenda indicated that public comment would only be allowed at the end, it was beneficial for area residents to share knowledge, insights, questions and concerns as the discussion progressed rather than trying to keep track of everything until the end.
    Thanks also to town staff, for beginning the conversation with a presentation of the area’s history. The Southern Orange County Jurisdiction maps gave the group a sense of the many layers of zoning jurisdictions present in the southern area (Rural Buffer, Chapel Hill ETJ, Carrboro ETJ, Joint Planning area….) and pointed to the importance of joint planning between the four entities whose zoning jurisdictions come together in this area – Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Orange County and Chatham County.
    In addressing issues of growth and development, one piece of data that was missing was a discussion of how many residents live here and where their homes lie within the area. That information can help us in many ways – providing an understanding of the “current” situation, guiding us when making specific recommendations and can serve as a way to gauge the impact of growth and development choices.
    Using GIS and information from neighborhood contacts throughout the area, my husband and I put together a snapshot of the southern area which includes 22 subdivisions and many other residences on smaller neighborhood streets in addition to homes located on the main road.
    Southern Area neighborhood analsis (rough estimates using GIS and HOA counts)
    In-town residents: 1,358
    (Culbreth Road 343, Mt. Carmel 90, Southern Village 925)
    ETJ residents (Chapel HIl): 820
    (Dogwood Acres/Merritt Rd. 198,Mt. Carmel 451, Old Lystra 114, south 15-501 57)
    ETJ residents (Carrboro): 350
    (all along Smith Level Road, across from undeveloped CH ETJ lands)
    Totals: CH only 2,178; southern area 2,528

    Furthermore, during the March 26 discussion, information was provided about the Southern Small Area Plan, the Urban Services Boundary and the Rural Buffer; but, aside from questions regarding representation, no information was provided about the Extraterritorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) which makes up a significant portion of the land mass and a between 37 and 46% of the residential population in this area.
    As we move forward, an understanding of the history and purpose of the ETJ as well as a better sense of the makeup of the southern area might help us better understand the southern area community.
    David Owens of UNC’s School of Government has published a paper on the topic of the ETJ which is entitled “The North Carolina Experience With Municipal Extraterritorial Jurisdiction”. It can be found on-line.
    The cliff notes version is this:
    The ETJ allows Chapel Hill to control the impacts of growth and development in the areas immediately outside their corporate limits. In addition to allowing the town to control impact on the town in terms of gateway appearance, environment, infrastructure and more, the ETJ has also been seen by town government as an opportunity to have developers and new neighborhoods bear the cost of infrastructure in cases where annexation may be deemed economically beneficial in the future, thus saving the town that future expense.
    ETJ residents pay county and school taxes. They do not pay city taxes and, as a result, they do not receive services from the town (fire, police, trash, road repair, snow plowing….) In addition to contracting with outside agencies for those types of services, newer ETJ neighborhoods pay for and maintain town-required street lights, sidewalks, greenways, etc….
    ETJ residents do not have the right to vote for town council but they are entitled to representation on many town advisory boards, task forces… in order to have a voice on important matters that will impact their homes and families.
    ETJ residents are included in the census numbers that the town uses to qualify for federal and state funding for various projects and programs that benefit the area as a whole.
    ETJ presence town-wide (3%); Presence of ETJ in southern area (38 – 46%) as seen above.
    As was mentioned above, the vast majority of undeveloped lands in southern area lies in and is bordered by ETJ residences which explains the level of interest shown by ETJ residences in this discussion.
    It appears, from the initial round of comments, that most area stakeholders (in-town, ETJ or other) recognize that this area will grow and change in the future and that all area residents are interested in using a representative community-wide discussion to help shape growth in a way that enhances the southern area which we all call home.

  5. Buddy Kelly says:

    Myself and my two children live in the Dogwood Acres neighborhood. We are concerned in regards to the proposed development on the east side of 15-501. We feel another high density development in this area would bring increased traffic to our neighborhood. Dogwood Acres Dr. is a narrow, winding 2 lane residential road, that would become a cut throught or a short cut to this proposed development. We are also extremely concerned about overcrowding in the public schools in this area. Mary Scroggs is already full, and had to add 2 trailers just this year. Where will all these children go to school ? Our 3rd concern would be losing the great views of Chapel Hill one gets as they head north on 15-501. We’ve already lose ,the ,view of Gimghoul Hill heading west on N.C. 54 thanks to 54 East development.

  6. John E. Schmidt says:

    At the March 21 South 15-501 Discussion Group Meeting we were asked to provide additional information helpful to the discussion Group. I don’t favor getting into specific details prior to our next meeting, and one reason is that people tend to very much stick to their positions stated in writing, which makes concensus building more difficult. Therefore I don’t plan to say anything more now than what I’ve already said publicly, which is based on general feelings shared by a number of others in our Southern area:

    What’s different about the Obey Creek area? It is on sensitive land with steep slopes and perennial streams with drainage and environmental concerns. It is next to residential areas to the East where houses were built with the idea that Obey Creek and its rural surroundings would be a buffer against traffic, noise, and dense development.

    Yes times change, but retail development that mirrors what was developed in the center of Southern Village would be far more appropriate. Any commercial area has to have an appropriate transition for the adjacent residential properties. What is especially not needed is a development plan like 54 East on steroids, or an 8 story hotel, or 1200 condos creating an immediate negative impact on schools and traffic. Plenty of southern neighborhood input is needed before any plan is developed or rushed through.

    John Schmidt

  7. jeanne brown says:

    Thank you, Whit, for taking time to walk along 15-501 to become better acquainted with the area.

    With connectivity as a major goal of the CH2020 process and given citizen concerns about roadway infrastructure, it seems as though roadways and other transportation issues should play an important role in South 15-501 Discussion Group decisions.

    As residents discussed on Tuesday, decisions about growth and development in this area need to take into account area roadways and intersections including the connector roads (Dogwood Acres, Culbreth Road, Bennett Road, Old Lystra) and both Smith Level and Mt. Carmel Church Roads which run (mostly) North/South. For those unfamiliar with these roadways, I urge you to take a few minutes to drive the area in addition to walking it.

    One of the goals of the CH2020 “Getting Around” theme group is to improve multi-modal connectivity throughout town. As is the case town-wide, there is no safe means for pedestrians or bicyclists living on the east side of 15-501 to access the schools, businesses, church, transit stops and parks on the west side. At present, there is not a single pedestrian activated change to the light to cross 15\501. Nor are there sidewalks along Bennett Road or any of the stretches of Mt. Carmel Church Road. Both areas are on the Chapel Hill sidewalk project list and the need for a pedestrian crossing has been identified but their importance should continue to be reflected in future planning efforts.

    With careful planning, southern Chapel Hill can offer many opportunities for pedestrian and bicycling activities. As the town’s greenways maps show, (the backbone for connectivity has been laid in the form of the Morgan Creek greenway and the Fan Branch Trail. http://www.townofchapelhill.org/index.aspx?page=830), The Morgan Creek greenway runs from Merritt’s Pasture under 15-501 toward Carrboro. The Fan Branch trail runs through Southern Village to the Southern Community Park. It is my understanding that there are plans to connect the two greenways in the future and to extend the Morgan Creek greenway to Carrboro. However, current plans do not solve the problem of getting safely across either Mt. Carmel Church Road or 15-501 at Bennett Road.

    New opportunities for residents to bicycle to campus safely will come with the work on the southern stretch of Columbia Street. In fact, prior to the widening of 15/501 many area residents used to bike to work or school on campus. The anticipated improvements on South Columbia will include bike paths, offering opportunities for area residents to connect to campus again given appropriate bike lanes and greenway connections on this end.

    With regard to “connector roads” I hope that residents from various areas will give input on their specific areas. My neighbors and I live off Mt. Carmel Church Road. Mt. Carmel Church Road is a winding rural road which is used by commuters from southern Wake County (Cary, Apex, Morrisville) as well as Governor’s Club.
    Many of us use the intersection at Mt. Carmel Church and Bennett Roads as the means of entering and exiting our neighborhoods. The intersection is the site of several accidents each year (at last count we are up to 18 or 19). The accidents are due to the fact that it lies on a blind curve and because speeds along this stretch of road average over 20 mph above the posted speed, according to NCDOT studies.

    Last year, the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) recommended that the Mt. Carmel Church/Bennett intersection be listed on the state’s Transportation Improvement Plan for 2014 – 2020.

    At peak times, traffic backs up from the James Taylor bridge to Bennett. Bennett Road also sees significant backups at those times. (For more information about traffic projections, the MPO website has long range transportation and traffic maps which look out as far as 2035: http://www.dchcmpo.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=65&Itemid=35)

    With regard to the town’s bus system, southern Chapel Hill is served by two bus routes: NS and V. There is a Park and Ride lot at the south end of Southern Village and some buses travel through Southern Village.
    There is also a stop along the east side of 15/501, just north of the Bennett intersection. As was mentioned previously, there is no pedestrian crossing at this intersection for those riders using the transit system.

  8. Whitcomb Rummel says:

    I spent Tuesday afternoon walking much of the property along the eastern side of 15/501 across from Southern Village and the park in order to get better acquainted with it.

    If anyone has an interest in doing the same, I recommend you do it within the next week or so; vegetation in growing thick fast and the pecker brush will make it next to impossible shortly.

    • John E. Schmidt says:

      I agree with Whitcomb about doing it now. Along with one of my neighbors I also recently walked both sides of Wilson Creek and along the 15-501 right of way to get a personal idea of the topography. Brush and vines do make it fairly slow going in places.

  9. david welch says:

    I would like to stress the need to include design, scale, and access of any land use development discussion for this area of Chapel Hill. Stan Harvey of Urban Collage touched on these elements on Wednesday’s meeting. Institutions called ‘form-based codes’ are one way planning departments can craft ways to ensure public input to ensure developments that are walkable, have a human scale, and can enhance the lives of residents.

  10. jeanne brown says:

    Having sat through the Future Focus discussions tonight, it is my hope that CH2020 and Discussion Group leadership will consider including broader public participation in Future Focus charette or other exercises if those are in the plans for the Discussion Group as such an exercise is really intended to reflect the opinions and visions of area residents.

  11. jeanne brown says:

    I would like to make a few comments and suggestions regarding the Southern 15-501 Discussion Group.

    1. During a meeting on March 12, CH2020 leadership specified that the initial phase of CH2020, which is slated to end in June, will result in a “Visioning Document” that presents general goals rather than specific land use recommendations. After June, they have indicated that an “Implementation Phase” which includes smaller group discussions such as Small Area Plans and Corridor discussions, will be recommended and begin.
    Given these assertions, I feel that the charge of this group to “to develop a land use recommendation for the Southern 15/501 area” should be changed. Since the inception of CH2020, citizen groups have been requesting the opportunity to evaluate data and assumptions being used to drive CH2020 decisions so this is a welcome step. However, it does not seem appropriate, at this stage in the process, for this group to make land use recommendations or to focus discussion on specific properties.
    Instead, it would seem beneficial for the group to use data to comment on topics such as need for retail, commercial or housing in the area, goals for traffic/transportation/connectivity, suggestions with regard to the RCD and other environmental protections…. Those types of comments can be integrated into the goals of the Theme groups and can be used, in the future, to inform other exercises such as Small Area Plans or Southern Area public participation processes.

    2. As a CH2020 stakeholder and southern area resident it was surprising to read about this process in a Chapel Hill News article rather than having an opportunity for open dialogue at this week’s CH2020 meeting. From the beginning, CH2020 leadership has indicated that this is a “citizen-led” process. As I recall, there were between 40 and 45 citizens who participated in the Future Focus charettes and the followup meeting. At each meeting, e-mails were collected. In light of the interest and concern shown, it seems that waiting a week and offering an opportunity for southern area discussion as part of tonight’s Future Focus would have been more inclusive. Waiting a week would also have given area residents enough notice so that more could attend the kick-off meeting.

    3. While it is clear that thought was given to the makeup of the “group”, no opportunity was extended to area residents to put their name in the hat. The makeup of the group, by title, (resident, advisory board member….) suggests rhyme, reason and balance however, the makeup includes four southern area residents – three of whom represent a single neighborhood. There are, certainly, many neighborhoods in the area. Representation by other neighborhoods would have provided additional perspectives.

    4. At present the group is scheduled to meet three times for two to three hours. The charge mentions that Public Comment should be accepted at each meeting. What will the format be and how much time will be allotted? How can the committee ensure appropriate format and time for meaningful public input?

    5. It is my hope that a listserv will be created to allow area residents to receive updates and to be sent links to data that the Discussion Group will be using so that we, too, may be constructive participants in the process.

  12. Pingback: South 15-501 Discussion Group: Materials |

  13. Another process request.

    Could you open comments on the Draft Comprehensive Plan post?

    Could you create a set of ‘blog pages with each section of the draft displayed directly (not PDF) with comments opened in order to facilitate community comment?

    Could you please provide either a post or page for attaching comments like this, which are on general process, so they aren’t buried on non-topical posts?

    Thank you.

  14. Quick note on commenting. When staff responds the tag is 2020buzz. Would you please extend us the courtesy of identifying who is responding and “sign” your response so we know who provided the answer? Thank you.

  15. How about holding 3 special CH2020 charettes focusing exclusively on 15-501 S. We can try to apply the goals and themes developed to-date to the area. This means all interested parties have a chance to weigh in and the gives the community anopportunity to reflect on how the principles being developed will apply elsewhere – essentially a pilot project to test assumptions.

    Thank you for adding an existing conditions element to the first meeting.

  16. 1) There needs to be non-advisory board “at-large” representation as well.

    2) Materials for the effort need to be posted beforehand.

    3) Why the consultants if this is a “high level” review of the area? We’ve been told numerous times that detailed reviews have to wait until after the June report is delivered.

    4) The task force seems to be focused on changing the current status. There’s no agenda item for discussing the current conditions, the reason this land is zoned as it is (Southern Village trade-off), etc.

    Shouldn’t the first order of business be a review of relevant traffic impact studies, environmental conditions, the history of the property vis-a-vis Southern Village, RCD and other zoning considerations?

  17. david welch says:

    I am organizing interested neighbors in the Dogwood Acres community. We are documenting our concerns about future development in southern Orange County such as traffic, pedestrian and bicycle usage, schools, and design. So far about a dozen households have shown interest in participating. Given our proximity to Obey Creek and the corridor, we want to be involved in this discussion. I would be interested in participating.

  18. The 4 advisory board members will be representing town-wide interests and the entire group is asked to make a recommendation to the town-wide Chapel Hill 2020 process on this topic of community-wide importance.

  19. John E. Schmidt says:

    I have asked to serve on this committee. I am an ETJ resident, and was on the original southern area planning group when the last comprehensive plan was developed.

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