Terri Buckner: Time to get SMART about development

January 17, 2014 

I like to make New Year’s resolutions. Goal setting, whether for personal or professional purposes, is one of those much touted habits of successful people/organizations as long as the goal setter is smart about the targeted goals. SMART goals are Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound, according to Peter Drucker in his Management by Objectives theory.

This year, I challenge the town of Chapel Hill to make a New Year’s resolution to create an economic development plan with a set of SMART goals that aligns to their stated economic development strategy: “The Town of Chapel Hill will innovatively and proactively diversify local economic opportunities by retaining and supporting existing jobs, and attracting new, desirable jobs in locations convenient to transit and housing. Our goal is to build a sustainable economy within the context of the Town’s adopted Comprehensive Plan which places importance on the built and natural environment, community character, transit orientation, social equity and quality of life.”

For the past few years, the town’s planning focus has been on “locations convenient to transit and housing,” but as plans begin to come forward for development within those targeted focus areas, we need a measure for judging the alignment of those developments with the Chapel Hill 2020 comprehensive plan. The plans for Central West, Obey Creek, Glen Lennox, and Ephesus-Fordham are for mixed-use developments, combinations of residential, retail, and office space. Rather than allowing developers to decide what businesses will locate within these new spaces, I’d like for the town to be more proactive in specifying to developers the type of businesses the community has highlighted in Chapel Hill 2020.

In the Place for Everyone theme group, one action item is to create new living and studio space for artists. Can we convert this into one or more SMART goals? If so, what process do we use? How will the resulting goals be communicated to developers and how will development plans be evaluated? For an arts community to be successful there must be an active market for finished art. How do we involve the community in developing a vibrant market? FRANK is a great venue for our community’s wealth of artists, but they struggle financially.

The Community Prosperity and Engagement group advocates for integrating tourism with economic development strategies. We’ve seen more action around tourism over the past several years and those actions have had a positive impact on town in my opinion (although I’m not sure we really need a hotel in every new development). Will new developments recruit the kinds of businesses that appeal to tourists? What guidance is the town providing to developers for the kinds of businesses we want to help support the growing tourism industry?

A repeated emphasis in the Town and Gown Collaboration theme is to work “collaboratively to develop innovative, new ideas and concepts to support start-ups and encourage retention of intellectual capital in the community.” We now have a business incubator on Rosemary Street and a couple of smaller, private incubators along Franklin Street. Hopefully, those start-ups will grow and need new operational space. Has there been any planning to determine what kind of space will be needed to accommodate that growth? Does the office space in current plans meet those needs? Do we have the right mix of retail and residential options within those new developments to encourage business owners to locate within them?

This isn’t an easy-to-achieve New Year’s resolution for the town, but fortunately, the research tells us that challenging goals are more motivating than easy ones. And I suspect that I am not alone in preferring an economic development plan aligned with the comprehensive plan over the default status of letting developers make all the decisions.

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