The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday January 20th

Town, UNC Maintain Positive Ties as Plan Takes Shape

Despite many divisive issues surrounding UNC's Master Plan, Chapel Hill officials remain optimistic about the relationship between the town and University.

The Master Plan is a blueprint for future campus growth that has sparked controversy between UNC officials and town residents who fear UNC's borders will begin to creep into their neighborhoods. University and town officials have worked to ensure that issues of mutual concern over the Master Plan between the University and town are addressed appropriately.

Town Council member Jim Ward said it is not in the UNC's best interest to plan without town input.

He said the interests of the town and University are intertwined and neither side can act exclusively.

"The University does not benefit at all by trying to go at it alone and go against the town," Ward said. "Chapel Hill is a vibrant place to live because of the University.

"What's good for the town is good for the University, and what's good for the University is good for the town."

Chapel Hill Mayor Rosemary Waldorf said the drafting of the Master Plan is essential for the University so they can adequately project their needs and desires.

"A Master Plan is certainly appropriate," she said. "It's a good planning exercise to go through."

Town Council member Flicka Bateman also said UNC is doing what is necessary by planning for growth.

"(The University) is doing what they are expected to do by taking on more students," Bateman said. "They probably do need to expand."

But she said the plan does have some drawbacks. Bateman said UNC should further investigate other facets of the plan, including a special-use permit for the Smith Center.

A provision of the special-use permit states that there can be no construction within 200 feet of the University's property border, creating a buffer between UNC and surrounding neighborhoods.

"I have questions about the revising of the special-use permit for the Dean Dome to reduce buffering for the surrounding neighborhoods," she said. "Also, I'm concerned about the road change in the Mason Farm neighborhood."

But Ward said that while the plan is reasonable for the University to ask, it does have some problems such as additional traffic caused by more students and patients at the hospital and, of utmost concern, a proposed transit corridor, which would cut through neighborhoods to alleviate traffic on Manning Drive.

"I don't think that we all understand the traffic implications," he said. "The lightning rod for debate is the mass transit corridor."

UNC, in conjunction with Chapel Hill, Durham, Duke University, the Triangle Transit Authority and the N.C. Department of Transportation, is studying the possibilities for a transit system between Ninth Street in Durham and UNC Hospitals.

This could include a light railway commuter train, a bus-only roadway or a bus system similar to what now connects Chapel Hill to the rest of the Triangle.

Ward said the plan now includes a corridor which would accommodate the most invasive method - light rail. If adopted, noise levels in the affected neighborhoods could increase, the corridor would be wider and eight homes would be demolished. Ward said he is opposed to that option but would support a busway because the impact on Chapel Hill neighborhoods would be less.

"The technology being focused on has a restricted ability to fit into the rather tight community of Chapel Hill," he said. "My belief is that a dedicated busway is better for the community."

Town Manager Cal Horton said that although the University and the town have differed over housing and road improvements in the past, they have always found common ground.

"The history of town-University relations is that the University has always been willing to work together to resolve issues of mutual interest," Horton said.

Despite some drawbacks of the plan, Chapel Hill Planning Director Roger Waldon said one aspect of the plan he especially likes is its focus on preserving UNC's natural spaces.

"The emphasis on protection and restoration of the natural environment that the plan proposes is very helpful," he said.

Even with all the divisive issues surrounding the plan, Waldorf said UNC has not involved her or the council directly in the planning process. She said they have only participated in informal informational sessions. "I've been on committees and meetings," she said. "It is more the (Town Council) being exposed to the planning process."

Waldon said University officials have invited him to respond to each planning detail affecting the town. Waldon also said he has been to committee meetings to offer his input on the Master Plan.

"Everybody around here has appreciated the way the University has acted," he said. "There is a lot of communication between (UNC and the town)."

Horton said UNC's new chancellor, James Moeser, could create some new challenges in town-gown relations. He said it takes time to develop a good working relationship between UNC and town officials.

"With any new person taking the helm, there is always a period of adjustment," Horton said. "(Moeser) has to learn an awful lot of information."

Despite Moeser's new arrival, Waldorf said it has not been very difficult to adjust. She said he has been very helpful and eager to work in conjunction with town officials on all issues including the Master Plan.

"(Moeser's) great," she said. "I think he's very open-minded. He seems very committed."

Waldorf and Moeser formed a committee Oct. 18 composed of Master Plan Director Jonathan Howes, UNC Senior Counsel Susan Ehringhaus and UNC Board of Trustees member Richard Stevens as University representatives, and to represent the town, council members Kevin Foy, Lee Pavao and Bill Strom. Waldorf said she chose the council members because they have no ties to UNC.

Waldorf said the committee hopes to create a dialogue between town and University officials on long-term solutions to problems, specifically the Master Plan, housing and transportation.

Ward said UNC and the town need to work for lasting solutions on divisive items. Despite differences, the town and University need to jointly address many other pressing issues, including transportation and the Horace Williams tract, which is owned by UNC but houses many of the town's municipal services, he said.

"Both the University and the town have a number of other topics to discuss," Ward said. "While our agendas are different, we need to work together for our own interests."

The City Editor can be reached at citydesk@unc.edu.


Comments

The Daily Tar Heel for December 1, 2021

Special Print Edition

Games & Horoscopes

Print Edition Games Archive