Published: Aug 21, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Aug 21, 2012 04:34 PM
This letter is a response to the towns request for feedback on my experience as a participant in the CH2020 process. The brief survey did not seem to me to address what I care about most, which is whether the process resulted in much of anything useful for the town going forward. My fear is that it did not.
I very much appreciated the opportunity to meet and learn from citizens and town staff. A great deal of effort was expended on all sides, and I feel uncomfortable being so critical, but the stakes are very high. My concern is that the 2020 process was designed to be, and will be used going forward, as a signal of citizen consent/support for radical changes in Chapel Hills comprehensive plan. The final documents from the theme groups have many admirable goals and details, but the end result is a chaotic wish list. The really significant differences of opinion and goals among the stakeholders are elided and effaced rather than effectively addressed. A process has not yet been set in place to adequately deal with these differences.
If one looks away from the 2020 draft itself, and pays attention to signals from developers, the Chamber of Commerce, town staff, and some members of the council, an underlying impulse to fast-track large-scale development becomes clearer. I believe this shows a disregard for environmental concerns and the towns distinctiveness and liveability. These changes are presented as the solution to the towns budget problems, and a way of keeping tax rates in check. I do not think enough attention has been paid to what the real financial impact is of large-scale development. There is evidence that the town can lose money in the process, after infrastructure costs are taken into account. This is not in itself a reason to reject all development, including large-scale, but it is emphatically a reason not to write developers a blank check. For example, I would be interested in seeing the details of the impact on town finances from Meadowmont, after factoring in needed schools, fire protection, law enforcement, road and transport etc.
The problem with buzz terms like smart growth and transit-friendly is that they are used to justify very poor end results, lacking any reasonable land ethic. Eben Fodors piece posted by Steve Salmony on the CH2020 Buzz site speaks eloquently and in detail about this. Smart growth is part of the culture of growth that perpetuates the endless growth model, says Fodor.
In the 2020 process, charetteswere used, and more are envisioned. I feel strongly that those included in the 2020 process were deeply flawed. They were hasty, biased, and lacked crucial information, and therefore were unable to reflect meaningful citizen input. In contrast, the long process of the Glen Lennox re-development was an exemplary case of getting all stakeholders in the room to hash out reasonable compromises, producing a very good end result.
I do not believe there is a single recipe for good development. Good development can be high rise, low rise, large scale, small scale, dense or dispersed, but its quality is likely to result from a fairminded, deliberative process, with reasonable checks and balances.
James Carnahans op-ed piece (CHN, Aug. 1, bit.ly/NzL6ZN
) makes a very good case for building taller rather than sprawling, and for a resulting lower consumption and lower carbon footprint that would make it possible for 7 billion and counting to live reasonably on this planet. He also does a good job of calling out the confused and contentious development drama that is going on in both Carrboro and Chapel Hill. I agree that small-town character is a poor term to hang our hat on, even though I would argue that we can make a reasonable effort to respect and protect existing neighborhoods. And with new development, we can re-double our efforts towards projects that are walkable/bikable/public tranport-connected, friendly, and thoughtfully, non-generically-designed.
No one can predict with much certainty where the world, and our community, will be in the years 2020, 2050, and on out. But right here and now, in the year 2012, we can give our best effort to the realities and promise of the place we live its people, buildings and landscape. Moving forward into finalizing the new comprehensive plan, I urge the council to think carefully about what is being set into place.
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