Published: Mar 09, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Mar 09, 2013 08:41 PM
CHAPEL HILL - Town Councilman Gene Pease said he doesn’t know the next step in his disagreement with the town’s Planning Board chairwoman, but he thinks it raises important questions.
“I don’t have an issue with disagreement. I don’t have an issue with suing the town,” he said. “I do have a big issue with a member of the Planning Board disagreeing with a decision and suing the town over that when they’re still involved” in the town’s business.
Planning Board Chairwoman Del Snow is a participant in a lawsuit against the town over the council’s approval of the Charterwood mixed-use development on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Snow, whose house is next to the Charterwood site, signed a protest petition last year, and in April, she recused herself from the Planning Board’s vote. The Planning Board advises the Town Council on development issues.
Pease said Snow’s part in the lawsuit is a problem, and that a Feb. 28 email from her to the mayor and the Town Council objecting to another approved project was the tipping point.
Snow wrote that the council was wrong to approve the Bicycle Apartments project near downtown. The Planning Board found the proposed 608-bedroom student-oriented project did not reflect the town’s 2020 Comprehensive Plan goals for growth and development, she said. She also was distressed that the council brought up “legitimate concerns” but acted without getting answers, she said.
“If the Planning Board’s attention to the Comprehensive Plan and fact-based information is the wrong approach, I would appreciate knowing that so that we can act with that knowledge,” Snow wrote.
Pease responded with his own email asking Snow to resign from the Planning Board. He also questioned whether she and other board members’ requests for “fact-based information” mask personal bias instead of relying on actual facts to consider town business.
Residents who argue about “fact-based information” to oppose developments but say they don’t oppose growth usually can’t explain what responsible growth is, Pease said.
“They can’t articulate how we pay for the increased costs of running the town, they don’t want our town services cut, nor do they not want their taxes raised, but consistently they are against growth in any form,” he said.Board debates role
At its meeting Tuesday night Planning Board members reacted to the emails with a debate about how to separate their private and official roles. Board members said they thought Pease was directing his comments at the board.
“It wasn’t just an angry response back to you Del, they’re seeing that as an extension of the Planning Board,” board member Kimberly Ann Brewer said.
Pease said he is not angry with the Planning Board but is tired of hearing from members who criticize projects without offering solutions. Planning Board recommendations have been out of sync with decisions from other advisory boards and the Town Council for some time, he said.
Board member Neal Bench said Snow’s email inaccurately reflected the board’s opinions.
“Even though when signing you didn’t say Planning Board chairwoman, by representing the hopes and specific opinions of Planning Board members, it would have been appropriate to run it by us,” Bench said.
The Planning Board recommended denial of the Bicycle Apartments rezoning application in 6-2 vote and of the special-use permit in a 7-0 vote. Two members who supported the rezoning said student housing near downtown was consistent with the 2020 Plan. Snow said her comments only referred to the special-use permit vote. She offered in the future to share her correspondence and get feedback before sending it.
Board member Amy Ryan said she didn’t think Snow meant to represent anyone else. Members should feel free to speak publicly but also draw a clear line between personal and official opinions, she said.