The latest chapter in the town-gown drama deals with a proposed town ordinance that would require school board approval for any development project. Last week, a University spokesman voiced opposition to the proposal at the Chapel Hill Town Council meeting.
But despite UNC concerns, the town should move forward and pass the ordinance. Once the measure is approved, developers would have to go before the local school board to get a Certificate of Adequacy of Public Schools -- meaning that there is enough room in local schools for the influx of new students. It's an excellent step toward responsible growth.
As more housing developments compete for the limited amount of space in Chapel Hill, more and more school-aged children will stream into the local school district. Unfortunately, there is a finite amount of space in our school facilities -- and usually the demand outnumbers classroom chairs.
Already, overcrowding has forced Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools to seek millions in additional funds from an upcoming school bond. But officials have had to pare it down from $72 million to $42.8 million in order to make it more palatable to the county. It will help build two new elementary schools -- and expand two existing high schools. But this could become a temporary fix if growth isn't closely controlled in the town. That's why the school board should have a say in future developments.
Critics fret that this proposal gives the school board too much power in future town growth. But the school board's task is to provide a quality education for the children within its jurisdiction. They have a vested interest in long-term growth -- and their input would be valuable to the local governmental boards, where the ultimate approval for any development still lies.
One of the University's concerns, voiced by Aaron Nelson, UNC's liaison to the town, is that the ordinance would raise housing costs in the area, hindering faculty retention. But the cost of living in Chapel Hill is exorbitant already. Most students pay twice what they would in other towns for an apartment. And most staff members could never afford an abode in town limits.
Giving school boards a say in development will not hurt affordable housing -- an area that the county is rightfully focusing on.
It will help make the inevitable population growth in the county more manageable.