The agenda just went online (a full 5 1/2 hours before the meeting 😉 ). The good news is that the various foundational studies are nearing completion.

The Council and Trustees have concurred that the current Carolina North discussion should build upon rather than replicate this prior community, Town, and University work. The additional background data and analysis requested in these prior discussions is now complete or nearing completion. The ecological foundation studies are complete and will be formally submitted by the University next week. The University has revised its long range development plan and will also submit that next week. The consultant reports on fiscal impacts and transportation are nearing completion and will be submitted over the next six to eight weeks.

Two major areas of discussion tonight: schedule and scope of work.

Now that the schedule is laid out, my concern on both managing the workload and dealing with community outreach effectively has grown. For instance, both the tardy fiscal and transportation studies are slated to be delivered November 26th and December 8th respectively, which doesn’t jibe with the 6 to 8 weeks quoted above.

If these studies are as comprehensive as Council, the BOT and community requested then time needs to be built into the process to evaluate their contents. These studies haven’t been characterized as “foundational” on a whim.

The schedule references “public comment” periods but no community outreach events. I’ve asked the Carolina North Joint Working Group to go beyond the normal “invite and we’ll listen” approach to community involvement. If we are going to serve the public well, we need to get out in the streets and bang the drums loudly. Time needs to be allocated to make this extraordinary effort.

The first public hearing is scheduled for May 11th, 2009, really late in the process. We shouldn’t backload a public information dump but feed a steady stream of updates – via the website, community outreach, roundtables, charrettes – as the particulars of the development agreement come together.

It isn’t clear if the informational meetings scheduled Nov. 20th (before the studies are submitted), Jan. 29th, March and April 1st are one way affairs or if the public will be able to participate actively. Mayor Foy did suggest “workshop” type events.

As far as scope of work, there is high level outline that needs to be further fleshed out. Big bullets like “traffic”, “parking”, “sustainability” have to broken down into workable subcomponents.

The biggest omission? The new “base” zone. Dr. Owens, our UNC mentor, suggested that the “base” zone could be simply constructed – basically saying that this zone’s requirements are controlled by the development agreement and any secondary legal obligations the development agreement is contingent on.

I respectfully disagree.

We need a “base” zone that acts as a safety net. Unlike traditional land use management, where property can be rezoned to tighten or loosen restrictions at nearly any point in the development approval process, the Carolina North development agreement will lock the Town into a particular set of requirements that cannot be modified.

The most prudent course is to design a catch-all zone that establishes baseline conditions for developing Carolina North. This way any issues not anticipated by the development agreement will be managed successfully using the “base” zone safety net. While UNC’s master campus OI-4 zone should inform the development of this new “base” zone, I don’t believe it is an appropriate model for the new “base”. OI-4 was developed to manage growth on a nearly mature, well-encapsulated campus going through its last major building throes.

The new zone needs to manage piecemeal growth spanning decades. Not an equivalent task.

There is a lesson to be taken from OI-4 – we must avoid the mistakes made in its creation process. If Council decides to create a new zone that will act as a safety net, it will have to do so fairly rapidly. As I suggested at last weeks meeting, the zone should be sketched out independent of but in cooperation with the existing Planning Board. A new task force – hopefully with a few members of the Horace-Williams Citizens Committee who helped develop the Carolina North guiding principles – should work concurrently to establish this “base”.

The other night I found out that while I was the only citizen to speak, I wasn’t the only community member at the first development agreement meeting. Bob Henshaw, Cindy Henshaw’s husband, a resident of Piney Mountain Road – the neighborhood first affected by Carolina North development – came in a little late.

I’m hoping that more folks join us this evening.

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