Commentary

Platts-Mills: Leadership needed in Central West debate

October 29, 2013 

Tim Platts-Mills

Mr. Mayor,

I am a resident of Chapel Hill, a father of three, and a faculty member at UNC. I have a degree in environmental science and public policy from Harvard.

On the evening Monday, Oct. 22, I attended the Town Council meeting on the Central West development.

Two things are clear:

First, the plan presented by the steering committee is overwhelmingly opposed by the residents in the area. This was clearly articulated by the many speakers in the open speaker session and by at least four resident-members of the steering committee, each of whom stated that public opinion has been consistently ignored in the development of the proposed steering committee plan.

Second, you support the plan.

Since your primary responsibility is to protect the general welfare of the town and its citizens, the contrast between the public opposition to the plan and your support of it raises an obvious question:

What do you know that we don’t?

If you wish to lead the town and continue to support the plan proposed by the steering committee, which we can call the Davis plan since it appears to give her free license to develop all of the developable land in the area of concern with essentially no restrictions, than you should articulate your reasoning. The people deserve an explanation from you. In preparing your comments, please consider the following observations:

Traffic is a major problem on Estes Drive. The Davis plan is expected to add 10,000 car trips daily to the area. The steering committee has said that the traffic problem can be addressed by adding a left turn lane from Estes to MLK, changing the timing of the light at the junction of Estes and MLK, and routing traffic through the new neighborhoods.

None of these are real solutions. The traffic that backs up on Estes every evening is mostly people going across MLK to their homes in Carrboro. A left hand turn signal will not fix this. Changing the timing of the lights might slightly mitigate a traffic problem on Estes but create a problem on MLK. If the timing of the light isn’t already optimized, why not? If it is already optimized, how can it be improved? Running traffic through side roads will negatively impact the new neighborhoods and will not help the main group of drivers going across MLK to their homes in Carrboro.

The ridge of land east of the power lines and south of Estes is a unique and beautiful area that is one of the only remaining hardwood forest in the area. It should not be developed. Are we so poor that we need to cut down this forest in order to feed our children? No. Is the land owner so poor that this is the only option she has to avoid becoming destitute? Hardly. Green space is one of the most valuable things that Chapel Hill has to offer its citizens. If we protect the ridge, a more appropriately scaled development in Central West, as defined through the Citizen Plan, will benefit greatly from this protected land. If you develop the ridge, this unique resource will be gone. You are uniquely positioned to protect this land.

Please tell us what you know that we don’t. If you can’t, than you need to follow interest of your constituents and not approve the steering committee plan. The people of Chapel Hill look to you for leadership on this issue.

Tim Platts-Mills lives in Chapel Hill.

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