Obey Creek committee needs more time

October 18, 2013 

Terri Buckner


Obey Creek is one of three projects the town has designated for a Development Agreement rather than a Special Use Permit (SUP).

The development agreement process allows town officials to interact with the developer from concept through completion, avoiding the quasi-judicial process of public hearings to approve an SUP application and subsequent revisions.

Town staff has developed a two-phase project plan for development agreements. In phase 1, technical merits and community input are collected and evaluated. The output of that effort is a detailed project proposal recommending whether or not to pursue a development agreement and describing the key issues for negotiation. If the council accepts the report, they enter phase 2, negotiation of the details.

A “Compass Committee” was appointed to speak for the community’s interest in phase 1; its members are supported by staff and consultants. On Wednesday night, the committee held its first, and only, public forum to review the developer’s proposed plans before it must submit its final report to the Town Council.

The developer’s plan has several merits: all development is constrained to the 30-plus acres of land west of Wilson Creek creating a compact design; there are several parks, a greenway, and a large swath of open space; and a pedestrian bridge crossing 15-501 connects the new development with Southern Village.

However, there was only one plan offered, and it calls for 1.6 million square feet of construction, excluding the multiple parking decks illustrated in the plans.

For comparison, The Streets at Southpoint is 1.3 million square feet (excluding surface parking). The proposed plan creates a destination retail mall with at least two major anchors, one of which is a big box store. No traffic or economic impact data was available at the forum for discussion although the Compass Committee has been promised data before its appointment ends Nov. 4.

This process, which was intended to create a model for future development agreements, has not worked. The committee has not provided the developer with clear, unambiguous design requirements, or what they are calling guiding principles. In the absence of such concrete requirements, it’s no wonder the developer has proposed his preferred plan rather than a choice of options to address the expectations of the community. And in the absence of any traffic or economic analysis data, a large part of the committee’s recommendations to council have to be made on preferences rather than facts. That’s why this process needs to be extended.

This is an intelligent, committed group of citizens, but they are not professional planners. If pushed to conclude their work by Nov. 4, the report they produce will be well-thought out and comprehensive within the constraints forced upon them. But is this rushed process what the council wants as a model for future development agreements?

The town has spent decades avoiding destination malls around its perimeter. Don’t we need to understand the traffic and economic impacts of changing that history? Why is there such a rush to change now?

If the members of the Compass Committee were professional planners whose sole responsibility was this project, perhaps the timeline would be realistic. But they aren’t planners and they are giving their best effort in the service of the community. It’s in the best interest of the community to extend this timeline and allow them to complete their work so that we all end up with a project we can support and be proud of along one of the town’s major gateways.

Chapel Hill News is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service