Reform OI-4

Here are the comments I made to the Chapel Hill Town Council tonight about the OI-4 zone:

I believe that UNC is a major part of what makes our town great. And it goes without saying that Chapel Hill is a major asset to UNC. Since we are inseparable, UNC and the community share a common destiny and common needs. That is, what is good for one is good for the other.

I also believe that one of the things that has made Chapel Hill so prosperous and good for UNC is our excellent quality of life. While some deride us for it, the highly deliberative nature of our local government has been crucial to ensuring that the community grows in a thoughtful and well-planned way.

While I regret the occasional expense of our development review process on moderate-income homeowners, I think we call all see the fruits of good planning in our highly functioning transportation system and civic areas. I’m glad we take the time to review and improve projects before we approve them. In fact, I think we usually take more than 6 months to review a typical Special Use Permit application.

Six months (or sometime up to a year!) for the staff to analyze the proposal, to get input from advisory boards and town residents, to negotiate improvements, and finally for the Council to deliberate and ultimately approve a development. While I understand this can sometimes be expensive, I think most of us agree that it’s worth it.

How then can we justify spending so much less than 6 months on much larger proposals? Most of these Development Applications that we have seen and expect to see in the future, will have a much bigger impact on our town than 10 typical SUPs put together. If you rezone the Horace Williams to OI-4, you will be expected to review the biggest development in town’s history in 90 days or less. Is that really a good idea? Is 120 days significantly better? I don’t think so.

Now that we have some experience with applications in OI-4, I think it’s clear that it doesn’t work well for either the University or the town. Now we are beginning to see the difficulty in even determining what constitutes a complete application that starts the clock ticking. These Development Applications (and their “modifications”) have typically been over 300 pages. I don’t think a single one has come to us where the planning staff didn’t need more information to evaluate it, or when there wasn’t information in the proposal that had to be later corrected by the University. Should this be going on while the sands flow through the hourglass in an insanely short review period? That is not deliberative. That is not good for us. Or for UNC.

And here are the notes I made on OrangePolitics.org while I was waiting to make these comments.

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