By Taylor Sisk
Citing concerns with cost, outstanding title issues and a less-than-inclusive search process, the Orange County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night to reject a lot adjacent to Carrboro Elementary School as the site of a future southwest Orange County library. The vote came at the boardâ€™s first meeting after a summer recess.
While declining to pursue the 2.79-acre property at 210 Hillsborough Road, the commissioners reaffirmed their commitment to finding a site for a library branch in the southwest area of the county.
Pursuit of the property had been an issue of contention since it was announced last October that the county had agreed to pay $610,000 for its purchase. In April, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen approved a rezoning request for the lot.
While advocates for the site stressed its convenience, opponents expressed concerns about increased traffic and its effect on safety around the school and about preserving the character of the residential neighborhood.
Those concerns and others were raised during the public-comments session of Tuesday nightâ€™s meeting.
Bethany Chaney of 217 Hillsborough Road, across the street from the proposed site, said title issues outlined by the county attorneyâ€™s office concerned her. These included easement and access issues and a potential issue with the right-of-way.
Chaney also said that in planning to place a new library in a predominantly white residential neighborhood, the county was missing an opportunity to apply social-justice lessons learned in its dealings with the Rogers Road community over solid-waste issues.
She further stated that she believed the process used to select the site was flawed.
â€œIt was neither inclusive nor collaborative,â€ Chaney said, â€œand both the Town of Carrboro and Orange County government hold responsibility for that.â€
Gary Barnes of Chapel Hill expressed a different concern, regarding the â€œconstruction of more bricks-and-mortar capacity at a time when what we also need and will need increasingly is ebook lending capacity. Itâ€™s very limited now.â€
Barnes said that as he read about proceedings for this library and Chapel Hillâ€™s plan to more than double the space of its existing library, â€œI felt a little bit like I did when my wife, in the year bit like I did when my wife, in the year 2000, said she really wanted to buy a set of Encyclopedia Britannicas.â€
â€œIf you own a Nook or you own an iPad,â€ he said, â€œyou can check out a book without ever going to the library.â€
Itâ€™s time to reassess how to meet the communityâ€™s needs, Barnes said.
Commissioner Earl McKee said that he had opposed the site due to the cost, feeling that it was overpriced at $610,000. He also had concerns, he said, regarding the location and layout of the site and more recently with the title issues.
â€œJust because we can, doesnâ€™t mean that we should,â€ McKee said of the purchase. â€œSo, therefore, I think that we should walk away from this site and look for future areas.â€
Commissioner Barry Jacobs stressed that the board stands by its commitment to pursue a southwest branch library. He acknowledged that a more inclusive process was needed.
â€œI think itâ€™s important for us to have a partnership with the Town of Carrboro and invite them to participate with us in helping to site a library thatâ€™s suitable for Carrboro and southwest Orange County, and that we also involve the citizenry,â€ Jacobs said.
â€œThere are few things that people get more passionate about in our county, other than things like schools and animal control,â€ Jacobs said, â€œthan libraries.â€
The commissionersâ€™ decision, he said, was based on what were perceived at the time as limited options. With more options now having been presented, he said, â€œperhaps new ideas will come forward about what a library ought to look like or where it ought to be,â€ mindful of the cost.