From today’s Rob Shapard Herald-Sun article covering a Carolina North “October surprise” :

The Board of Trustees voted unanimously Thursday for a resolution that set the October ’07 date a day after trustees chafed at the pace of the latest Carolina North committee and said they were keen to “get off the dime” and get the project going.

Even though the BOT’s May 24th agenda listed Carolina North as an “information only” item, the BOT took action and passed a confusing resolution directing

the Chancellor to submit zoning and land development applications for Carolina North to the applicable local governmental jurisdictions no later than October 1, 2007.

The resolution has several meandering bits I’ll try to deconstruct.

The putative need for Carolina North has shifted with the years; yesterday the BOT proferred the following justifications:

there is now an urgent need to develop Carolina North. Conditions have evolved from 17 years ago, when the University first identified the importance of developing this tract of land and commenced the planning process for the property. Federal funding for research is declining and facilities for public-private partnerships are needed. In addition, there are very few new building sites still available on campus. And, many of our existing buildings do not lend themselves to the kinds of faculty interaction, interdisciplinary collaboration, and government and business engagement that are needed if the University is to use its resources most effectively and efficiently to address society’s pressing needs and attract jobs and economic activity to the entire state.

Wow! We surely wouldn’t want our local elected officials to stand in the way of UNC’s urgent desire to use its educational might to “effectively and efficiently … address society’s pressing needs and attract jobs and economic activity to the entire state.”

Whoa! Isn’t that the same kind of rhetoric we heard about other big ticket (read: expensive tax-payer supported boondoggles) projects like the Kinston’s Global Transpark, NCSU’s failing Centennial campus and the (currently contentious) Kannapolis North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC).

The NCRC got approval for $9. 4 MILLION from the NC Senate (and an additional annual promise of $8.4M) because Gov. Easley:

Hartsell said the proposed funding for the research campus was a suggestion from Gov. Mike Easley’s office.

He noted that the research campus is not only important for Kannapolis and Cabarrus County, but for the whole state.

Why? Well there’s an expectation that the new campus

should generate about 2,200 jobs in just its first 2 1/2 years of operation, according to an official with the firm that’s developing the biotech hub.

Hmmm, aren’t the developers aware they’re making the UNC BOT’s claim that “facilities for public-private partnerships are needed” look a bit askew?

And what of UNC’s need for new facilities?

The current $1.5 BILLION Main Campus buildout (not to mention the hundreds of millions of dollars of UNC Hospitals growth)

do not lend themselves to the kinds of faculty interaction, interdisciplinary collaboration, and government and business engagement that are needed

Are they kidding? What are NC taxpayers to think of the BOT?

It’s interesting that the BOT cooled their recent touting of biotech as the primary focus for Carolina North’s research mission. Maybe between recent NCRC recruiting efforts

With its ‘dream team’ of partners, the North Carolina Research Campus is helping to keep the Tar Heel state a step ahead of the national and global rush to grab a piece of the $63.1 billion biotechnology industry. At the Biotech 2006 conference today (May 22) in Winston-Salem, the campus’ project manager, Lynne Scott Safrit, will discuss the resources coalescing at the campus and the power and appeal of the bona fide biotech corridor developing in North Carolina.

their own observation that “Federal funding for research is declining” and UNC’s vice chancellor for research and economic development, Tony Waldrop, pointing out:

UNC Chapel Hill landed about $579 million for research in the last fiscal year. But he said about 52 percent of that federal money came through the National Institutes of Health, and that funding from NIH has flattened out and begun to decline in recent years.

HS

they realized that biotech, as a justification for the $1+ billion Carolina North project, was a non-starter.

Waldrop’s claim that “our faculty will continue to compete very well, but there’s going to be a smaller pool of money,” is dead-on – it’s competition from the new NCRC – but his further assertion that “we need Carolina North to continue to be a great research university” doesn’t logically follow.

Another interesting bit of the resolution involves citizen participation.

the Chancellor has established the Carolina North Leadership Advisory Committee to provide the University with a wide cross section of community thought on the principles that should guide the University in preparing for the development of Carolina North

Last LAC meeting, one of our town’s representatives, Council member Strom, told the Carolina North Leadership Advisory Council (LAC) that “Chapel Hill did not agree to hear outside groups’ ideas when it joined the advisory body” in response to a citizen’s group’s Carolina North presentation (the Village Project’s presentation).

At the same meeting, Ken Broun, the leader of the LAC said the committee will use information from other groups to inform its views but will not put those proposals in its report to UNC.

And, of course, there’s both the LAC’s two minute public comment rule (which I’ll be trying out soon) and UNC’s Broun’s comments about UNC not wanting to entertain 10 minutes of public Q&A (after their recent presentation).

All this seems to undermine the BOT’s desire for a wide cross section of community thought. Maybe the BOT’s resolution reaffirming a

commitment to seek out and listen to community input regarding the principles that should guide the development of Carolina North

will cause a general rethinking in the LAC on citizen participation.

Citizens need some venue as participation through Chapel Hill was certainly severely curtailed when Council abruptly dissolved the Horace-Williams Citizen’s Committee. This advisory board not only developed a number of principles underpinning the LAC’s current discussions on Carolina North but had also started working to flesh-out and fill-in-the-gaps in those guiding principles (the HWCC had presented Council a fairly extensive list of tasks they were taking on, on behalf of the town’s citizenry, to complete its mission).

In the end, what are we to make of this new timeline?

A case can certainly be made for Carolina North – but not the current case.

North Carolina’s taxpayers deserve a measured and reasonable evaluation of their return on this investment.

The underlying reasons for developing the Horace Williams tract change over time – as we can see from the BOT’s latest resolution.

Biotech is out. Vague assertions of promoting state-wide economic growth are back in.

The State appears to be a bit confused – both funding the new NCRC and making similar claims as to Carolina North’s state-wide efficacy.

The process needs time to unfold – and the BOT, for all its irritation, needs to be patient.

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