Commentary

Kirk Ross: 10 things to watch in 2014

December 20, 2013 

No doubt that 2013 was a year of change, but it was just the beginning. The next trip around the sun promises to be even more eventful, especially around here where it’s decision time on a lot of items left hanging while the municipal elections sorted out who will be the decision-makers.

That said, here’s a few things to keep an eye on next year arranged in no particular order.

1. Obey Creek — Right off the bat the newly constituted Chapel Hill Town Council will have a major decision to deal with. The council will still have decide if it really has the stomach for up to 1.6 million square feet of development across 15-501 from Southern Village. After extended discussions, values-sharing and challenge-identifying there’s still a wide gulf between developer East West Partners’ concept plan and what a town committee looking at the site sees as feasible.

2. Chatham Park — The giant development and employment center could dwarf anything that’s happened in Chatham County to date and would have a tremendous impact on southern Orange County.

3. I-85 Corridor — As UNC demographers recently pointed out that the I-85 corridor from Charlotte through Durham is likely to become a megalopolis by 2050. Orange County’s stretch has been relatively quiet compared to most of the rest of the the corridor, but as the economy recovers this could be the year the dam bursts.

4. The New Dean Dome — It may be a shrine, but the Smith Center, now pushing 30, has been a costly building to maintain and there are rumblings about replacing it. Should those conversations get serious expect the rumblings to turn into a full-scale quake.

5. Carrboro Parking — The town board wants to solve a number of long-running parking issues. This year, with very little notice, the town decided to prohibit parking from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m., a move that encourages all kinds of bad decisions by participants in its vibrant nightlife. If that’s any guide to future problem-solving, well, we’re doomed.

6. Teacher Pay — After taking the state from 25th in pay nationally to 46th in a few short years, the General Assembly and the governor now say they want to do something about teacher pay in 2014. Regardless, the low pay will continue to have a big fiscal impact in districts like Chapel Hill-Carrboro’s where local supplements are the only way to keep top educators on board.

7. UNC “Reforms” — As warned in last month’s column, there’s an interest in Raleigh in tinkering with the university system. No specifics yet, but the governor (B.A. Catawba College 1978) says UNC needs to work more closely with business and recently said he wants to see the state’s universities do a better job of branding and packaging their research “to sell to venture capitalists.” Heaven help us.

8. Whatever the Legislature Dreams Up — There’s no predicting what will show up in next year’s short session of the General Assembly, but you can bet a wholesale retreat from policies that have rankled most of us here in the land of latte-drinking, ivory tower socialist elites is not in the cards.

9. Jordan Lake and Regional Water — The legislature threw out the Jordan Lake water quality rules and the state is now contracting to install giant water mixer-uppers in Jordan Lake. This legislature, bent on dialing back environmental regulations, has shown a keen interest in the lake and in mandating rules on water systems in general. Stay tuned.

10. Elections — Next year may not feature a presidential contest but a lot is on the line and there’ll be so much money flooding the airwaves you’ll wish Philo Farnsworth had never been born. Try not to let it discourage you. Every vote counts.

Kirk Ross is a longtime North Carolina journalist, musician and public-policy enthusiast. Contact him at kmr@rossalmanac.com

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