Tomorrow the Town Council will hold a public hearing describing the basic framework for managing Carolina North’s development over the next couple decades. This is the second meeting discussing the framework. The first was Sept. 25th. Unfortunately, I was the only citizen not directly involved – as either a representative of the Town, UNC or the media – there. Here are my [remarks [VIDEO]].

The proposal couples two legal strategies – zoning and a North Carolina development agreement (authorized by NC Statute 160A-400.20 [DOC]) – to set conditions for the proper build-out of the 250+ acre Carolina North project. Under a development agreement, a developer can be bound to conditions – like fiscal equity – that lie well outside the purview of the zoning process. In return for being bound to what is hopefully measurable performance based goals that have specific remedies for non-compliance, the developer can be confident that the rules of the game won’t change mid-stream.

Other benefits and concerns are covered by Prof. David Owens’ excellent Sept. 25th overview.

The development agreement process is new to North Carolina but has been used extensively elsewhere to create a flexible approach in dealing with large projects instead of insisting on piecewise approvals – a process which tends to introduce uncertainty. If I’ve learned one thing about local development in the last ten years, it is developers – and the University is a major developer – want more certitude in Chapel Hill’s approval process. We’ve had folks willing to jump through as many hoops as necessary to push their project forward but, in the end, have decided on a more mediocre approach because of inconsistency in the current process.

A Carolina North development agreement coupled with one or more potentially new zones could be quite effective and mutually beneficial in managing growth of this 50 year project.

Still, there are questions surrounding the application of this process to UNC’s Carolina North project that must be answered before firmly committing the Town to this approach:

For example, here’s a couple from an email I sent Town Manager Roger Stancil and Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos today:

Hello Roger and Ralph,

I have a few quick questions about tomorrow’s meeting and the proposed resolution the Council is being asked to adopt.

First, will citizen comments on the development agreement framework be taken?

Second, as far as the language of the resolution, does proposing the agreement as the “preferred tool” give the Council some wiggle room if they decide the process isn’t working out? In other words, does this mean there is a built-in “escape clause” or will the Council be bound to follow this approach?

Using a development agreement coupled with a new base zone (or zones) seems like a good and equitable strategy but there are some issues – for instance, how one sets measurable performance goals linked to specific remedies for noncompliance or establishing long-term requirements, like green space preservation, beyond the agreements term – that I would like see resolved before the Town commits whole-heartedly to this approach.

Finally, has anyone considered extending the coverage of the development agreement beyond the borders of HWA?

Along those lines, has anyone explored the legality of including a project approved outside of the Carolina North process, like the Innovation Center, into the agreement? The University is developing the Duke Energy property. Last night, UNC described putting a small power generation center on that property to support their Airport Dr. facility. Any discussion on incorporating the development of that property or of the anticipated modifications at the Airport Dr. facility that will support the Carolina North project into the agreement?

Basically, my concern is that once the physical dimensions of the development agreement are established, any supplementary development in support of the Carolina North project outside of the described property cannot be included under that agreement’s provisions. Because various performance goals, like mitigating water runoff, controlling air/light/noise pollution, managing traffic impacts, etc. are expected to be defined as part of the agreement, I want to understand how these secondary projects can be brought under the same umbrella. If these secondary projects don’t require a SUP or zoning change, I don’t see how the Town has any leverage to encourage a voluntary assumption of the development agreement’s obligations.

I know you both are quite busy but it would be great to have an answer prior to tomorrow’s meeting.

Take care,

Will

encl: Resolution language

“NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Council of the Town of Chapel Hill that the Council establish the development agreement, with a base zone, as the preferred tool for guiding development at Carolina North; and concurs with the Trustees’ request that June 2009 is a reasonable target date for having established the process for guiding development at Carolina North; and sets the next joint work session with the representatives of the University Trusts for Wednesday, October, 22, 2008.”

http://townhall.townofchapelhill.org/agendas/2008/10/15/1/2008-10-15_r1.htm

I’ll let you know what they have to say. I also have planning to pull together my notes and remarks from the Sept. 25th Special Carolina North Meeting – I’ve got a backlog of posts but I’ll try to get them out ASAP.

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