UNC announced a new committee whose functions the new leader Ken Broun describe in this Jan. 11th column and current UNC Chancellor Moeser described in this subsequent Jan 22nd column.

Two years in the making and as a sign of good faith UNC released their response to the 2004 Horace-Williams Citizen Committee’s Report.

I applaud this first step though I’m a bit disappointed that, given two years and substantial debate over those ensuing years, the response to the HWCC report wasn’t more thorough.

The Daily Tar Heel published my response and suggestions on how to move the process forward in their Feb. 1st edition:

There are many questions surrounding the proposed Carolina North project.

Will it be as vital to North Carolina’s economic development as Chancellor James Moeser has claimed? Are the financial assumptions for its capitalization sound? What are the true environmental and neighborhood impacts of this $1.5 billion, 50-year project?

And, chiefly, how do we move the planning and design process forward?

My interest in Carolina North is not academic.

I’m a 14-year neighbor of the Horace Williams Citizens Airport, and a vocal watchdog of UNC’s development plans.

I’ve joined the town’s Horace Williams citizens committee. As a 2005 council candidate, I called for a drastic rethinking of UNC’s predicate parameters for the project.

And I volunteered to join UNC’s new community leadership advisory committee for Carolina North.

Echoing the rhetoric from my campaign, professor Ken Broun, former Chapel Hill mayor and new leader of UNC’s advisory committee, said, “Let’s start from the beginning and have a full discussion, as if we had a blank map.”

If we’re entering new territory our citizenry will have to put some old hurts and hard-earned lessons, for now, off the table.

The disappointment of UNC’s failed 1997 community outreach on “Outlying Parcels Land Use Plans,” the outrages along Mason Farm Road, the high-handed behavior during the 2003 chiller plant negotiations, the recent muddled planning process and the other bumps and bruises throughout recent years should not be forgotten but, instead, be put aside in good faith as we attempt to craft a new process.

UNC also will have to put aside something – its well-honed tactic designed to quell dissent – faux community engagement. The University must adopt a new transparent, collaborative approach with a resolvable end product.

Already UNC has made a few, I hope forgivable, missteps.

Starting with Moeser’s initial “leaking” and retraction of the committee idea, to the confusing announcement of Broun’s role, to last week’s tardy, mild and somewhat vague response to the town’s 2004 citizens committee report – UNC is retracing a path that previously has led to failure.

Development advocates, and vice chancellors, Nancy Suttenfield and Tony Waldrop approached Broun, a past critic of UNC development, to solicit his ideas on creating a new cooperative process. Lamentably they don’t appear to have secured the trustees’ involvement.

While Broun “hopes (the) Board of Trustee members are involved” in his new role, he’s spoken with only one BOT member.

Troublesome revelations considering that earlier efforts floundered for lack of BOT participation.

Ill-prepared, Broun was a bit testy during his first appearance before the council when he couldn’t answer some very straightforward and reasonable questions – including the council’s request for a written proposal laying out the whys and wherefores of the committee.

Like previous efforts the proposed committee’s composition is diluted. Having a Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce member, representative of a particular segment of our business community, seems to make sense, though the objectivity of its representative must be evaluated in light of the chamber’s enthusiastic praise for the projections made in 2004 about Carolina North’s impact on the economies of the area.

Yes, Orange County, Carrboro and our local business community are stakeholders, but Chapel Hill’s three members are not representative of the burden the town will bear as Carolina North expands to the size of modern Hillsborough.

Last week, council member Bill Strom was dead-on when he said, “There’s a lot of shifting sands here.”

The question, as it has been, is how to firm those sands.

Time will tell if “Carolina North will expand the University’s multiple missions, boost innovation and redefine our engagement with the region, state and world,” as our chancellor claims – but we’ll never get there without a firm, collaborative procedural foundation.

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