Published: Jun 23, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Jun 22, 2012 01:50 PM
Regardless of whether you think Charterwood would be a boon or a disaster for the northern entrance to Chapel Hill, it’s hard to find much fault with Laurin Easthom’s description of the current state of the proposal and the process that got us here.
“I think this is a mess,” said Easthom, a member of the Town Council, during last Monday’s long discussion of the project.
She got that right. So did her colleague, Penny Rich, who lamented the interminable development review process that has forced the project to come before the town for at least six public hearings over the course of five years.
World War I took less time to fight than this dispute has taken – and there’s no telling how much longer it might go on.
The council is scheduled to consider Charterwood – once again – this week. But given the tangle of legal and logistical complications at issue, there’s no guarantee we’ll finally wind up with a once-and-for-all vote.
One of the arguments made by opponents, in fact, is that the process is moving – better sit down – too quickly.
The council turned Charterwood down in January (by a 5-3 majority
, actually; because a protest petition had been filed, the project needed a super-majority of six votes to win), and opponents say town rules require the developer to wait a full year before resubmitting.
“This application is back too early,” said the attorney hired by the neighborhood group.
So who knows? Generations may come and go before Charterwood is resolved.
“This is a horrible way to be doing business,” Rich said. “You can understand why people don’t want to build in Chapel Hill.”
They do, of course, because this is a lucrative market – otherwise we wouldn’t have Charterwoods to endlessly debate.
But she’s right in her characterization. It is a horrible way to do business, and it is exactly why we have the reputation we do as an anti-business town that micromanages projects to death.
The Charterwood developer, William Christian, changed his plans time and again in response to concerns from the town and nearby residents, only to find that each time he did so he was met with a whole new round of demands.
Since the January vote, he and the opponents have been engaged in protracted maneuvering for advantage.
He has redrawn the boundaries of the project in order to keep it alive in spite of the January denial and to preclude the possibility of another protest petition.
They argue that his rezoning and permit applications are invalid, and on Monday they introduced a new wrinkle: a flood of emails from residents of the Lake Forest neighborhood saying silt from Charterwood’s construction would clog Eastwood Lake.
Our map doesn’t show any waterway running from the Charterwood site to Eastwood Lake, but we’ll leave that to the engineers to determine. It does seem odd that Charterwood has been in the works for five years, and only now does anybody detect in it a looming threat to Lake Forest.
The larger point is that it should never have come to this. Whatever the fate of Charterwood itself, we hope the town draws some hard lessons from this mess.
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