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The Daily Tar Heel

Meadowmont: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Meadowmont, a mixed-use community a few miles from campus off N.C. 54, is scheduled to be completed and opened in three years, but it already looks as though residents (at least the ones who live in Chapel Hill now) won't know what to do with it.

As a mixed-use area, Meadowmont's planning is not consistent with Chapel Hill's 1986 Comprehensive Plan, which called for the preservation of the rural N.C. 54 entranceway. But Town Council members recognized that the best use for 435 acres of a former dairy farm in a growing town with a dire need for affordable housing was not preserving it just for the sake of preserving it.

Members passed 7-1 a resolution to amend the Comprehensive Plan to allow the area that is now Meadowmont to be rezoned for mixed use. The Chapel Hill Town Council showed it was flexible if it would mean smarter growth when it approved several special-use permits for Meadowmont in July of 1997. These permits allowed East West Partners to start building a village center, an apartment complex, an elementary school and a swim club.

But at the same time they were revising the Comprehensive Plan to make way for better growth planning, Town Council members were appeasing residents in the form of continuing exactly what Meadowmont was intended to avoid: urban sprawl.

In response to residents' protests that Meadowmont would decrease the property values of nearby homes and increase traffic in that area, the section of N.C. 54 near Meadowmont is being expanded from four to six lanes to help ease the burden of more traffic.

But the way to ease the burden of more traffic is not making a road bigger. That's not a sustainable solution.

If you expand a road, you can accommodate more traffic for a little while. But Chapel Hill is a growing town, and Meadowmont is not the only root of that growth. With or without it, there will continue to be more people moving to Chapel Hill every year.

So N.C. 54 is bigger, but what happens when people keep coming in?

Pretty soon six lanes won't be enough to accommodate the new traffic. What's next? Eight lanes? And when eight lanes aren't enough? Ten? Then 12?

With the kind of planning that results in road expansion, you take N.C. 54 and turn it into the New Jersey Turnpike.

The whole point of a mixed-use area is to allow growth to continue without creating symptoms of which one is road-widening.

When it's completed, Meadowmont will have single-family homes, apartments, a Harris Teeter grocery store, restaurants, shops, an elementary school and corporate offices.

People who live there can live, work, shop, eat and take their children to school without even having to get in a car.

Of course, they won't stay in their self-contained community, and when they leave to, say, go to a movie, they will be creating more traffic. But it won't be this huge amount of rush-hour traffic Meadowmont's opponents would have you believe.

And the idea of Meadowmont decreasing its neighbors' property values seems a little classist. As Chapel Hill Mayor Rosemary Waldorf pointed out to The Daily Tar Heel, Meadowmont's high-end houses will be quite expensive, and there's no reason to believe the development will decrease anyone's property values.

What nearby residents seem more concerned about are the apartments. Yeah, they want affordable housing, but not in their neighborhoods. People who live in "multi-family" dwellings are not all crack dealers or wife beaters.

Meadowmont has the potential to be a model development for smart growth if only residents would see that it might actually improve their lives.

Columnist Erin Mendell can be reached at mendell@email.unc.edu.

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