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Council votes to approve CH2020

By Susan Dickson
Staff Writer

CHAPEL HILL – Emphasizing that plan adoption is just the beginning of a larger process, the Chapel Hill Town Council voted unanimously on Monday to approve the Chapel Hill 2020 comprehensive plan.

Exactly how the plan will be implemented has not yet been determined, as town staff and others will work over the summer to begin to craft detailed implementation plans and processes. Implementation was a source of concern for some residents, who lined up to offer their criticisms and praise of the plan Monday night.

Chapel Hill 2020 was launched last fall as a process to reexamine the vision for the town and craft a plan for what Chapel Hill’s future should look like. From the outset, one of the primary goals of CH2020 leaders was to involve a large, diverse group representing all niches of the community.

“This was a great process, and I do believe that the community did what you asked us to do, which is give you a vision of the future,” CH2020 co-chair Rosemary Waldorf said.

The plan was intended to serve as a planning and visioning document creating a framework for the community to guide the council in managing the town’s future over the next decade. The document (available at chapelhill2020.org) lays out six themes – A Place for Everyone; Community Prosperity and Engagement; Getting Around; Good Places, New Spaces; Nurturing Our Community; and Town and Gown Collaboration. For each theme, the plan identifies goals and an action plan.

At this point, town staff will review and analyze each goal and action item and report back to the council with recommendations by June 2013, when the council will begin determining policy and priorities for implementation.

CH2020 also includes six “Future Focus” discussion areas – Estes Drive corridor, Ephesus Church/Fordham, downtown, north Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, south Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, N.C. 54 and north 15-501 – with key considerations, action steps and community comments for each.

Land-use decisions – the source of concern for many residents – for these areas are not outlined in CH2020, as those determinations will be made through individual processes as the plan is implemented.

The Estes Drive corridor – which both council members and residents said they would like renamed for clarity, since the scope won’t be limited to a narrow area – and Ephesus Church/Fordham areas were both identified as immediate priorities, with work to begin this summer. Some residents were particularly concerned that land-use decisions regarding the Estes Drive area would be made while many residents were out of town over the summer.

Assistant planning director Mary Jane Nirdlinger assured council members and residents that work over the summer would simply be to outline a process for those areas, including developing a timeline and gathering data.

“It’s not decision-making time,” she said, adding that staff would report back to council in the fall with information regarding those processes.

Council members emphasized the need to maintain the momentum that the CH2020 process has started in order to make decisions that make the plan a more complete decision-making tool.

Members of the Chapel Hill Planning Board extensively reviewed previous drafts of CH2020 and recommended changes to the plan, including outlining a detailed charrette process – with an intense series of public discussions – for each future focus area.

“Implementation is a critical element,” planning board member John Ager said. “It should be done with plenty of forethought and adequate reflection.”

Other residents asked for clarity on how future land-use decisions will be made for the outlined future focus areas, but Nirdlinger said each process will be determined in accordance with the particularities of each area.

Council members emphasized that public involvement would continue as the plan is implemented, noting the high value placed on public input in Chapel Hill.

“We have a track record … of proving that we’re not just going to invade the neighborhoods privately without public input,” council member Gene Pease said.

“Obviously, the way we move forward is by coming up with clarity and definition in regard to the small-area plans,” council member Matt Czajkowski said. “So we have this extraordinary document that came out of the extraordinary effort that clearly defines themes and goals … and now we have to move forward. And I would say it is absolutely critical that we preserve the good faith and the enthusiasm of our citizens as we move through that process.”

  1. Del Snow

    Thank you for a thorough and accurate reporting of the discussion of the new 2020 Comprehensive Plan.
    The Planning Board especially appreciates your correct reporting that we had extensively reviewed and submitted recommendations on previous drafts of the plan. The final plan incorporated most of our recommendations, were accepted by Staff, and the revised document was the one approved by Council.

    There were only 2 additional changes that were up to the Council to enact – one was the “sample citizen comments” on the Future Focus maps. We advocated for objective descriptions rather than comments that were tilted one way or the other. As an example, the Downtown comments included “Downtown could primarily support 4-6 stories with some 8-12 story buildings on Franklin and Rosemary Streets.” This was one comment chosen out of many, some comments with the opposite view, suggesting a more small scale village type approach, were made as well. One can only imagine the furor if the comment referenced and codified in the Future Focus chapter were those less growth oriented remarks! The Planning Board requested that subjectivity be removed.

    The other change involved the implementation process. Without implementation, there is no plan…only a vision document. For example, if a proposal is presented in Septemeber, when Council returns, I wonder if they will have a clear path on how to proceed.

    The Planning Board’s charge is to prepare and recommend revisions to the Comprehensive Plan for the physical development of the Town. The tremendous amount of extra work and dedication put in by the volunteer Planning Board, many of whom faithfully attended all the 2020 sessions as well, ultimately improved the adopted plan greatly and we are proud of our work.

    Del Snow-Chair CH Planning Board