Election 2007: Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

This year the NRG decided to vet the candidates via email. In 2005 they held interviews and presented the audio responses. Trying to be thorough, I went a bit overboard this year. Figuring no one would want to wade through 10 pages of answers, I tried to boil down this final response to the NRG.

In its Comprehensive Plan, Chapel Hill is committed both to denser urban development and to protection of existing neighborhoods. Do you see any conflict between these goals and what do you feel is the best way to achieve them?

There are trade-offs, thus conflicts between the goals of high density and neighborhood protection.

To start, in any discussion of density we need to establish the limits of growth. I’ve been using the concept of “carrying capacity” as a guide.

Carrying capacity is a multi-dimensional evaluation of an ecosystems ability to maintain a particular population. In biology, this usually means water, food and habitat. In Town, we need to add, for instance, the ability for to maintain a diverse and healthy socio-economic balance within our community. We all can’t live in million dollar condos or pay an extra couple hundred bucks in taxes each year.

We don’t currently assess density to that level of detail. I believe we should at least start thinking within those terms as it will help us create a more sustainable outcome.

Another general problem with our comprehensive plan is that our process for upgrading our goals as our understanding improves is broken.

We need to implement a continuous review process, as suggested by the former chair of the Planning Board, to review our goals in light of achievements to-date, successes and failures. Not only do we need to be more nimble in managing our Town’s comprehensive plan, we need to be much more inclusive in drawing upon our community’s expertise.

Three recent omissions in our planning process provide examples of where we need to improve.

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