Carolina North: Nov. 18th Meeting Notes

Tonight’s meeting (background) was well attended . Many of the folks attending were there to send the message “No Airport!”. Chapel Hill News reporter Eric Ferriri did a pretty good job covering that part of the meeting over at OrangeChat.

The Chancellor was missing in action. I think that is two of three meetings now.

The Council-Trustee sessions allocate two public comment periods, before and after the main meeting. Jim Ward, responding to tonight’s turnout, suggested doubling the time for public commentary from 10 to 20 minutes. I believe the 8 folks signed up had adequate time to get our points in (though I could easily spend a few hours going through the detail divergences in UNC’s proposals, ways to flesh out the development agreement, setting goals/metrics/methodologies to measure compliance, etc.).

After thanking staff for producing a nearly complete agenda a few days before this meeting (unlike the few hour lead times of the last two meetings), I took a few moments to ask some questions and add some suggestions to my earlier list.

Design standards.

I noted that UNC’s new Carolina North draft design standards [PDF] were more “expansive” than those discussed either during the Carolina North Leadership Advisory process or the Carolina North community outreach effort.

Specifically, instead of the originally floated 2-3, 3-4 story “human-scale” (see Christopher Alexander) village-like designs, UNC’s new proposal expands the maximum height to 8 stories.

Roger Perry said that they had “listened very closely” to our current Council’s desire for tall and dense which resulted in this previously undiscussed upgrade.

He has a point. The majority of this Council has approved tall/dense without, I believe, due consideration to either foreseeable off-site impacts or ability to sustain development within our Town’s current carrying capacity. Council opened the door. UNC is walking through it. There is no guarantee, as of yet, that 8 stories won’t expand to the 10 or more allowed by TC-3, a zone created by Council for Downtown. If Council is comfortable with that scale within the Downtown district, that scale on Main Campus, I can see an argument for that kind of scale on Carolina North.

That said, there is not a community consensus on tall and dense, especially near the Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard corridor.

As UNC omitted the planned street cross-sections from their draft design proposal, it is difficult to determine if they have decided to expand parking allocations via on-street parking. Parking ratios – which throttle car trips on and off Carolina North – continue to be difficult to determine.

Website status/community outreach.

I have asked several times that citizen, Council, staff and Board of Trustee questions be listed on either or both of the current Carolina North websites (Chapel Hill’s and UNC’s).

Both of these sites are coming along providing video of previous meetings and agenda materials. While they are a good source for some material, when it comes to tracking progress and outstanding issues, they both need work. Minutes of the last two meetings, for instance, have not been posted.

For some reason, Bill Strom decided tonight would be a good time to ask for a question/answer spreadsheet. I’m hoping that staff will start with the first few meetings and work forward.

Innovation Center.

I asked the UNC representatives (Jack Evans, Roger Perry) if the delay in rolling out the Innovation Center meant that they would bring that project back under the proposed Carolina North development agreement process. Subsequently both Roger and Jack indicated that the Innovation Center should, and probably would, be part of the agreement. Roger said the timing was “fortuitous” and the standalone request for a SUP might be rescinded.

I also asked how the Innovation Center delay affected the planned airport closure.

No answer this evening. I hope there will be a follow-up. Logically, it would seem HWA’s closure is now contingent on the new Law School project (projected for Summer 2009).

Fiscal equity/transit studies.

Chancellor Thorp’s letter [PDF] seem to suggest that these long delayed reports might not be ready for consumption Dec. 3rd. I asked if the reports would be released to the public even if Council was out-of-session. UNC’s representatives said the reports would be publicly posted – with no delay – as soon as they were finished.

Development standards.

I once again noted that the development agreement framework gives the community the ability to set environmental and other controlling standards above-and-beyond those of the current LUMO (land use management ordinances), comprehensive plan, local/state/national laws. I was concerned that in the Town’s proposed scope of work (David Owen’s memo on “Discussion of Process for Addressing Issues and Initial Categorization of Issues”) , many of the requirements started with LUMO as a baseline.

My take? Ask for best-in-class standards and negotiate back down to LUMO’s requirements if necessary. UNC is a world-class University and has the capability to easily exceed these common baselines. If you don’t ask for excellence, you don’t get excellence.

The examples I used this evening, as before, involved light and air pollution. Recommended particulate counts and specific lighting targets are measurable goals with well established “best-in-class” standards.

For light pollution, I asked the group to consider the International Dark Skies Model Lighting Ordinance and both Arizona/Hawaii’s state-wide mandates.

The HWCC sub-committee on environment suggested a number of possible metrics for particulate and other emission standards. While these suggestions were never incorporated into the final HWCC report, I believe staff still has a copy of the draft proposals.

Overflow Campus

I noted that the suggested list of projects, sans Innovation Center, had the feel of an overflow campus. A new Law School. A new Public Health School. Carolina North infrastructure. Possible private development and housing to follow. My concern is that existing facilities being moved off of main campus wouldn’t trigger those community benefits promised by UNC.

Jack Evans answered my concern by outlining the two-fold approach to development: core campus epitomized by the new Law School and the new multi-purpose academic build-out with public/private research facilities, commercial opportunities, staff and graduate student housing, etc.

Incremental community rewards

Roger Perry reiterated, more eloquently, my previous point on tying community benefits to performance goals instead of to a specific time-line. This echoes his statement of Oct. 22nd.

In a previous meeting, he tied significant transit investments to a build-out of 2-3 million square/feet (he said this evening he hadn’t suggested this Oct. 22nd but the discussion here (video: starts 35:00 minutes in) captures Roger’s comments covering these thresholds at 42:45.

I once again asked Council to develop a list of possible public improvements tied to square footage developed, car trip counts or other metrics. For example, I would like to see an enhanced bus stop on Martin Luther King, Jr. with multiple points of access, extensive bicycle racks, etc. at 100,000 square foot developed. This point was discussed at some length Oct. 22nd but was not reflected in tonight’s materials.

Carrying capacity

Finally, I asked UNC to try to delineate the resource impacts of each of their proposed buildings.

Like triggering community benefits based on smaller steps than the 750K, 1.5M, 3M figures, the cumulative impacts of each facility on water use, transit use, additional car trips, impervious surface, etc. need to be assessed at each step of the process.

The Law School, for instance, with 750 students, supporting staff and faculty will require so much water, generate so many car trips, cover so much land, have so many parking spots, create so much solid waste, etc. While I know that these numbers, by necessity, are estimates, they will give the Town some sense of how much our citizen supported infrastructure will have to scale as each piece of the Carolina North puzzle is played.

Miscellaneous observations.

Paying for the Town’s investment in the development agreement process was not raised. The cost of co-developing the plan will be borne by the public and not reimbursed until the projects are built. That is a financial burden that needs to be shared.

Loren Hintz asked UNC to make the planned investments in greenway/pedestrian/bicycle infrastructure upfront.

James Carnahan stressed the importance of housing at Carolina North. This was one of the more contentious issues before the Carolina North Leadership Advisory Council – one which was far from resolved.

Tonight’s meeting was spent mainly reviewing UNC’s proposal with discussion of specific elements of the development agreement deferred. It’s apparent that the schedule is already slipping.

Basic housekeeping – publishing minutes, publishing agendas, tracking questions and answers, etc. – must improve in order to fulfill the group’s commitment to involve our wider community.

On a personal note, Granicus’, which provides the Town’s on-line video feed, reliance on Microsoft technology sucks big time. The Town is limiting participation by not providing timely, comprehensive minutes and relying on proprietary technology which doesn’t work well on Linux or Mac OSX.


Leave a Reply