Published: May 26, 2012 12:00 AM
Modified: May 25, 2012 06:54 PM
To the extent that it is possible to gather a population of some 60,000 diverse souls under one umbrella, the draft Chapel Hill 2020 comprehensive plan strikes us as about as accurate and articulate an expression of the community’s values and vision as is possible.
It reflects the active and sustained participation of only a small fraction of the whole community, of course, but that’s the nature of the beast. Even so, organizers say the process of creating Chapel Hill 2020 far surpassed its goal of “touching” 10,000 people, making it certainly the most successful public participation process of its kind.
The result is a wide-ranging piece of work – perhaps, in some areas, more wide-ranging than is advisable. We agree with those who argue that Chapel Hill 2020 is not the place for defining land uses for specific locations within the six “Future Focus” development areas (the section on 15-501 S., for example, includes a map that labels various sections “This will be a green gateway” and “This area should be like the Village Core.”)
That sort of development plan for those critically important areas would be better left to a more focused Small Area Plan process.
Chapel Hill 2020 necessarily includes a lot of vague and indisputable aspirations: “A range of housing options for current and future residents,” for example, and “A welcoming and friendly community that provides all people with access to opportunities.” Anybody care to disagree?
Chapel Hill 2020, of course, also features more specific goals and action items, ranging from the simple – “Market better” – to the more detailed, such as – take a deep breath – “Incorporate equity indicators and household or lifecycle analysis into a comprehensive planning matrix when determining transportation priorities or deciding on such measures as user-fees, to ensure that the system meets the needs of all individuals.”
As a broad-based statement of community principles and “guide to decision-making in Chapel Hill,” the draft Chapel Hill 2020 plan is a valuable document.
Decision-making in the absence of an overall strategic plan tends to produce poor results. At the municipal level, that’s the kind of thing that gets you strip malls and ugly, disjointed development.
So we applaud the organizers and participants who drove this process, who brainstormed and hammered out differences to produce Chapel Hill 2020.
The challenge lies in what comes next. Town halls across the nation are littered with ambitious inches-thick documents that required enormous numbers of hours and effort to compile but don’t do much but gather dust.
So perhaps the most important section of Chapel Hill 2020 is the one called “Council Implementation and Policy Guidance.” Because if the principles and values incorporated in the plan aren’t effectively and energetically implemented, then what was this all for?
And assuming the Town Council formally approves Chapel Hill 2020 when it considers the plan on June 25, it’s important to keep in mind that the plan will continue to evolve afterward.
It is intended to be, as Assistant Planning Director Mary Jane Nirdlinger said, “a living document,” and we’re happy to see the plan itself acknowledge the need for regular updates and evaluations so the town can test its assumptions and learn from its experiences.
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