Published: Jan 11, 2013 04:46 PM
Modified: Jan 11, 2013 04:47 PM
CHAPEL HILL - An Orange County commissioner has called for the resignation of Chapel Hill’s Planning Board chairwoman.
Commissioner Penny Rich, a former Town Council member, wrote a Dec. 29 letter to the council questioning Del Snow’s comments at a Dec. 11 commissioners meeting. She also questioned how Snow’s involvement in a pending lawsuit against the town affects her ability to serve.
Rich said it was “highly unusual” for Snow to represent the Planning Board at a county commissioners meeting without the council’s approval. She asked the council to ask Snow to resign.
Snow was elected chairwoman by her fellow board members in August 2011 and is serving her second, one-year term. Her three-year Planning Board term expires in 2015.
“Ms. Snow’s interests are in conflict with the town and the citizens of Chapel Hill and I don’t see how she can vote on issues to move the 2020 Comprehensive plan forward given her stated positions,” Rich wrote in her letter. The 2020 plan is a guide for how the town should grow.
Snow identified herself twice as the Planning Board chairwoman in her public hearing comments. Carrboro Transportation Board member Linda Haac and Carrboro Planning Board Chairman Damon Seils also spoke, although not in an official capacity.
Snow asked the commissioners to delay implementation of a half-cent sales tax for bus improvements and a future light-rail line between Chapel Hill and Durham, while looking more closely at a regional 2040 transportation plan. The Planning Board has “serious questions” about the plan’s focus and the data supporting it, she said.
The Town Council endorsed the plan in November after expressing similar concerns but also formed a workgroup to reconcile it with local land-use plans.‘Heightened’ concern
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said the council may discuss Rich’s letter but added that he values Snow’s contributions to the town.
“Commissioner Rich’s concerns about this were at a heightened level,” he said. “I think she felt they were very serious and needed to be considered seriously.”
It is unusual for an advisory board member to share an official opinion with another government body that differs from the opinion of the government they serve, he and Commissioners Chairman Barry Jacobs said.
Snow has apologized to the mayor for not contacting him first. However, she contends town rules outline circumstances for sharing Planning Board discussions with other government boards.
“I am certain that the Commission can appreciate the difference between an affirmative vote made by the Town Council and recommendations of an Advisory Board, and I did not detect anyone on the Commission who was unhappy or thought it inappropriate to receive them,” Snow said in her email.
Kleinschmidt said it is “perfectly reasonable” that Snow provided her credentials and addressed the commissioners, but only the council can set town policy.
“These credentials credit her as someone who’s worthy to be listened to and whose comments should be considered, but there shouldn’t be room for there to be misunderstanding about what the policy of the town is,” he said.
He agrees with Snow that her participation in a lawsuit challenging the town’s approval of the Charterwood project is “irrelevant,” he said.
But he also sees how some might disagree.
Snow, whose house is next to the Charterwood site, has steadfastly opposed the mixed-use project off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, signing a protest petition last year. In April, she recused herself from the Planning Board’s vote.
Rich declined to talk further about her letter but said her concerns are deeper than one statement. The town spends “too much time and too many tax dollars on fighting the negative … to get to the positive,” she said, and continued opposition to growth will hurt the town in the long run.
Jacobs said Rich’s letter did not speak for other commissioners.