Published: Feb 05, 2012 02:00 AM
Modified: Feb 03, 2012 05:53 PM
Chapel Hill's Comprehensive Plan and Northern Area Task Force identify the northern stretch of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard as an appropriate area for relatively high-density, mixed-use development, as long as it protects environmentally sensitive areas.
In 2007, developer Bill Christian brought forth a proposal for just such a project in that area, called Charterwood.
When he presented his initial concept plan, the Town Council complained that it would remove or threaten too many trees - one large tree in particular.
So Christian redesigned his plan to save that tree.
Still not good enough, he was told. So he changed the plan again, to protect still more trees.
And so it went. For almost four years, in response to a long series of requests by staff and Town Council and concerns expressed by residents, Christian made a long series of concessions. He increased the buffers, decreased the density, lowered the building heights, eliminated the single-family dwellings, scrapped the hotel. All in all, he said, the process of trying to meet the town's requests wound up costing him more than $1 million.
All of this, remember, on a site that the town itself had specifically identified as ripe for precisely this kind of project.
Last week the Charterwood proposal finally came to the council for its vote.
Town manager Roger Stancil, noting that the development "proposes a minimum density to promote transit and create economic opportunities while protecting the environmentally sensitive areas" and "attempts to provide a balance between the guiding principles of the Comprehensive Plan," recommended approval.
So did the Planning Board. So did every one of the town's relevant advistory boards, by overwhelming majorities.
The Town Council's decision: No.
The case of Charterwood is extreme in its particulars, perhaps, but hardly unusual in its general outlines. Ask Carol Ann Zinn, who put her Aydan Court project through one hoop after another only to have it turned down in the end, too.
The point isn't whether we think Charterwood or Aydan Court or any other specific project is necessarily desirable where they were proposed.
The point is that there's a disconnect between what the town tells developers it wants as spelled out in the Comprehensive Plan, Small Area Plan and other guidelines, and what it actually wants. Too often developers bring us what we're on record as saying we want, only to discover that we won't take yes for an answer.
That's not responsible, or fair.
Chapel Hill gives a lot of thought to what kinds of development it wants to see, and where.
That's a good thing. Towns that don't exercise that sort of planning and oversight tend to wind up defined by strip malls, hodge-podge development and poorly designed and ill-sited projects.
But we have a problem when developers bring proposals that by any objective judgment meet the town's own criteria, when they willingly and at great cost change their plans to accommodate the town's requests, when they respond positively and cooperatively to public concerns - and then get turned down anyway.
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