Commentary

Parker, Ryan: A Central West plan the town can take pride in

October 20, 2013 

On Monday, the Steering Committee will present the Central West Small Area Plan to the Town Council. This Plan is the work of 17 dedicated individuals, representing a cross-section of the town: eight area neighbors, land and business owners, members of advisory boards, and others. It is the result of some 32 Steering Committee meetings, nine subcommittee meetings, nine community outreach events, and countless hours of individual thought and consideration. We are proud of it.

As our vision statement explains, the plan’s goal is to create “a vibrant, diverse, and safe community that embraces Carolina North and the surrounding neighborhoods and provides a visible gateway to central and downtown Chapel Hill. The development of the area enhances the quality of life for the Town of Chapel Hill and those who reside in the surrounding neighborhoods.” We believe that it can and will succeed in these goals.

Among the many features of the plan are a local retail area, with an adjacent green public space, to create walkable destinations and a gathering place for neighbors and those who will live and work at Carolina North. We’re calling for connecting greenways, parks, and natural spaces throughout the area. We’re recommending a range of housing options to meet the needs of our growing and diverse town – multi-family, university-oriented, single-family, senior and workforce/affordable – and to capitalize on proximity to a prime transit corridor.

We’re especially proud of our bicycle and pedestrian plan, which includes major upgrades on Estes Drive that materially improve safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, schoolchildren and drivers and substantially enhance the connectivity of the town’s bike and greenway system. We call for safeguarding the area’s natural beauty, especially its tree canopy. And we’re also recommending stringent stormwater standards, including creation of a stormwater master plan for the area, to make sure we don’t add to existing problems that recent flooding rains made evident.

During our outreach efforts, the committee clearly heard community members’ concerns about traffic and compatibility with existing neighborhoods. We listened, and the plan caps density at a level that will keep Estes flowing as freely as it does today, while adding only one more lane to Estes at the MLK intersection. We also made sure that adjacent uses are similar to what’s already there, that we have substantial green buffers between new and existing development, and that heights of new buildings are compatible with what’s in place – three stories over the great majority of the area.

The committee has reached consensus agreement on the foundations of the plan – our vision statement and the 13 principles and objectives to guide growth in the area. Other elements, primarily density, have been more contentious, as might be expected. But while there were differences on precisely how to achieve our vision, in the end, a supermajority of the Committee – including four of the eight neighborhood representatives – enthusiastically endorsed the plan.

As we go to Council for a public hearing process that will last until Nov. 25, we urge all town residents to familiarize themselves with the plan, form their own opinions based on its merits and not the rumors that continue to circulate, and share those opinions with the council. You can see the plan at townofchapelhill.org/index.aspx?page=2020 and find details about attending one of Monday’s Meet the Plan sessions.

We are confident that when community members see and understand the plan, they will be as proud of it as we are.

Michael Parker and Amy Ryan are co-chairs of the Central West Steering Committee.

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