Published: Dec 25, 2011 02:00 AM
Modified: Dec 23, 2011 01:38 PM
Town wants plan to include all
Chapel Hill 2020 to decide community's growth, goals and spending priorities.
CHAPEL HILL - As the town figures out exactly what kind of place it wants to be, it's been a challenge to hear everyone's voice, and to get some people to speak in general.The town is working on a new Comprehensive Plan, Chapel Hill 2020, which will guide development, services and priorities for the next decade. Meetings have drawn some of the largest crowds a town meeting has ever seen, said Catherine Lazorko, the town's public information officer. The fall kickoff had 400 people.Despite those numbers, there are groups in Chapel Hill that are difficult to reach, said Faith Thompson, the town's community outreach coordinator.Thompson has visited neighborhood meetings, sat in on meetings of the NAACP and a Latino mothers club, and ridden Chapel Hill Transit buses, talking to commuters about the Comprehensive Plan.She's heard a lot of misconceptions about the community planning process. And while the town has engaged many residents, it's been less effective drawing a variety of ethnic groups to the table, she said."I think that there's been some dynamics between government and the racial groups ... where there may be some mistrust or there may be a fear," she said. Some residents from underrepresented racial groups have asked things like "Do they really want my opinion or is this something they're doing because it's an election year?," she said.Thompson said she approaches all residents the same and that consistent asking is key to convincing people that their opinion counts.It's important for leaders and volunteers in the 2020 process to, "suspend that arrogance, for lack of a better word," she said. "We're interested in your opinion, not just because you're an African-American woman living in Chapel Hill."This year's efforts have been more successful than past attempts at forming a unified vision for Chapel Hill's future, said George Cianciolo, a co-chairman of the Chapel Hill 2020 process and former chairman of the Planning Board, Community Design Commission and Transportation Board.Cianciolo also served on the town's 2009 visioning task force, which fizzled after months of meetings after its members couldn't agree on their purpose, he said.Diversity was an issue in the 2009 committee too. The Town Council increased the task force's size from 16 to 24 to add minority and other residents. Division over how the town should grow led to a stalemate, Cianciolo said.The 2020 process has been much more successful, perhaps because more may be at stake, he said."I think people in Chape Hill are now worried about our future because ... (of) the fact we've been in this prolonged recession," Cianciolo saidOne of the 2020 outreach committee's co-chairs, Ruby Sinreich, editor of the Orange Politics online forum, spurred a discussion on diversity in the planning process when she resigned from her 2020 position because of two controversial Tweets she wrote about a lack of diversity in the planning process.In a meeting with downtown business leaders Sinreich Tweeted that she would need to take a shower after attending the meeting because she felt "slimy." She was asked to remove the Tweet and apologized for her comment, because she had made it while acting as co-chairwoman. She has no ill will toward the downtown business community, she said."You have to, or at least give the impression that you're open to any group, whether or not you're open to any group ...you have to at least indicate that everyone is welcome at the table," Cianciolo said.In the other Tweet, Sinreich wrote that one day she hoped to attend a meeting where "straight, white affluent men don't have the assumption that their ideas are a gift to the world."Sinreich remains involved in the process as a participant."The town is trying, I just don't know if this is what they're really good at," she said. "They really want to do more outreach but they don't have that many tools in their tool box" including social media."I think they could be more strategic," she said. "Anyone can look at it and see that it's not succeeding fully, even though they're trying really hard."