Published: Dec 11, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Dec 11, 2012 05:55 PM
Almost three years ago, we presented a concept plan proposal to Town Council for the Obey Creek property located on 15-501 across from Southern Village.
Around that time, our town leaders responsible for balancing the budget while providing a high level of municipal services foresaw troubling times. Without a significant increase in our commercial tax base and recapturing some of the sales tax revenue lost to Durham, Wake and Alamance counties, we would face increases to our state-high property taxes and/or budget cuts impacting our quality of life.
For those three years, this dynamic has not changed except the time we have left to address the issues.
Back then, the opposition to our proposal organized largely consisting of neighbors outside town limits enjoying many of the benefits of Chapel Hill residence without the concerns about taxes.
They were understandably troubled by the suggestion that the downzoning of the Obey Creek property over 20 years ago might be overturned without a reasonable amount of public input.
We reached out to this group to initiate the dialogue they requested. Sadly, our offer was declined, and instead, they appeared at Council meetings to decry the lack of public input.
Ultimately, we were asked by town leaders and staff to wait while the Town commissioned various economic development studies and, eventually, a full update of the Towns Comprehensive Plan.
After three years of the Towns work, producing multiple studies and the Chapel Hill 2020 plan which included vast public input, we regrouped and did our best to combine these loosely guiding and often conflicting documents into a vision for Obey Creek.
We never expected to please everyone, but we delivered a plan that significantly scaled back the earlier concept, conformed to the Chapel Hill 2020 plan and would ultimately deliver a viable project that meets many of the Towns stated goals. We again tried to start dialogue with the projects opponents, but our offer was again declined while we faced more complaints about the lack of public input.
Part of the 2020 plan included a 15-501 South Discussion Group to gather public input on the area including the Obey Creek site.
We, as a representative of the areas largest land owner, were given one of the 10 seats on the panel responsible for combining hundreds of public comments into a single set of design principals.
Also represented was a member of the opposition organization who lives outside the town limits.
However, our single voice out of 10 has been unfairly portrayed as proof of a bias during these discussions to question the validity of the outcome.
At recent Town Council meetings and in guest columns in this newspaper, it has been stated as fact that there was consensus that big box retailers be prohibited and that no building should be taller than any building in Southern Village. This is untrue.
Those opinions were present but clearly in the minority. There was broad consensus that any commercial development at Obey Creek should be experienced as an extension of Southern Villages Market Street, and decisions on specific building height and large format retail design would be left to the Towns professional staff and consultants after providing further opportunities for public input. References to big box retail and specific building height are conspicuously absent in these design principals.
As we have stated at previous hearings, we simply want direction from the Town Council and staff on how to proceed with an approval process that includes significant public participation and an opportunity to gather all relevant data in a transparent fashion. We are prepared to accept whatever comes out of that dialogue.
After three years of stalling, our town deserves a prompt and conclusive discussion.
In the meantime, Chatham County is doing everything it can to recreate 15-501 north of our town limits on the south side of our border, giving Chapel Hill all of the additional traffic with no ability to require good design or environmental protections and none of the revenue.
Roger Perry is president of East West Partners.