Published: Nov 10, 2012 04:35 PM
Modified: Nov 10, 2012 04:37 PM
CHAPEL HILL - The Town Council set the stage in separate, unanimous votes last week for advancing two large projects, each at its own pace.
The first vote Monday allows Town Manager Roger Stancil and Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos to hire a consultant and initiate a development agreement process with developer Clay Grubb for the Glen Lennox community on N.C. 54.
Grubb worked with the community for two years to plan the redevelopment project. It took a lot of time and commitment, he said, but came up with a far superior plan than they would have working in vacuum.
In contrast, council members agreed the proposed $500 million, mixed-use Obey Creek project on U.S. 15-501 South has had little community input. They voted unanimously for town staff, developer Roger Perry and a consultant to draft a process for more community discussion.
The applicants will pay for the consultant, and staff will update the council about both discussions.
Most of the 17 residents who spoke at last weeks council meeting said they were worried how much say neighbors would have in Obey Creek, which they said would have huge effects on traffic, noise, the environment, schools and other public services. Several suggested Perry should reduce the projects density and building heights.
The town appears to be meeting behind closed doors to decide on one of its most important developments, resident John Schmidt said. Everyone should take part in a data- and fact-driven process, he said.
This is not the time to be driven by big-box envy or a rushed desire for dense growth at all costs, he said. Build it on a human scale and in a manner that everyone can feel good about for years to come.
Town officials sought to reassure residents they would have a voice. Talking about the process doesnt mean there will be an agreement, they said.
Council member Ed Harrison said a huge difference between a development agreement and a special-use permit process is that the latter severely restricts the councils ability to talk with residents.
Thats what one of most admirable attributes is from the councils point of view about a development agreement, he said. I think with Glen Lennox, there was a great deal of acceptance that thats the way to go. Right now, with Obey Creek being a newer project, theres not quite the community acceptance, but it certainly looks like the way to go.
The town previously used a development agreement for UNCs Carolina North project, which took more than a year of public meetings and discussion.
David Owens, a professor of public law and government at UNCs School of Government, said an agreement is more binding on the town and developer than more traditional processes.
While common in other states, North Carolina only established development agreements in 2006, he said. They create certainty and predictability, although they dont offer as much flexibility, he said. Another advantage is that the agreement can be reviewed regularly and amended, and it offers the opportunity to seek more concessions and environmental protections, he said.
Town Planning Director J.B. Culpepper said the agreements are appropriate for projects covering at least 25 acres and taking up to 25 years to develop.