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The Daily Tar Heel

School Board Shouldn't Have `No-Go' Power

The Schools Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance would require developers to submit a Certificate of Adequacy of Public Schools with their development applications.

The argument for the ordinance goes something like this: You can't blindly develop without taking schools into consideration.

And there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, that's smart growth.

But giving the school board the power to say "no" to development is going too far.

For one thing, it will make it much harder for the University to get town support for its Horace Williams tract development, a part of the Master Plan that calls for mixed-use development on the University-owned open space off Airport Road. The school board would likely say the development would have too much of an impact on schools.

The Horace Williams development plan is smart growth itself, so while it would have a big impact on schools, attracting more researchers and their families to the area, it makes up for that with its positive economic impact and its fairly small environmental impact.

An editorial in Tuesday's Daily Tar Heel argued for the ordinance, saying if the number of housing developments and apartment complexes increases, the number of school-aged children requiring classroom space will continue to increase as well.

Well, duh.

Where that argument goes wrong is in assuming the reason people move to Chapel Hill is that there are all these developments.

But it's not like there are people are living in Altoona, Pa., who one day think, "Gee, they're building all sorts of housing in Chapel Hill; we should move there."

People are moving here in such large numbers because it's an area with a lot of good jobs. Whether Chapel Hill has adequate housing will not figure that much into people moving here. But if the school board begins limiting development, the housing crunch that already exists in the area will become more acute.

So there will be the same amount of housing with more people, which means housing that's ridiculously expensive.

What it will figure into is who can move here and who has to settle for somewhere cheaper. The obvious conclusion is rich people could live in Chapel Hill and poor people couldn't.

Granted, it's not as if there's a whole lot of poverty here right now, but just imagine what it would be like if housing got even more expensive.

And where are all the people who want to live here but can't afford to going to go?

They'll end up living in other school districts and sending their kids to other schools. Yeah, so Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools will curb its own overcrowding problem by just passing it off to other school districts, ones that most likely can afford it even less than Chapel Hill-Carrboro can.

While probably unintentional, there is an element of classism in the proposed ordinance. It's true that Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools don't have unlimited funds, and they don't get everything they want or need, but neither does any other school district. It's not a stretch to say Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools get more of what they need than the other school systems in the state.

So now local schools have to face the same problems N.C. public schools have been facing for decades. Instead of getting some power over development approval, school board members should realize schools almost everywhere are overcrowded and be glad their schools are in a community wealthy and supportive enough to do something about the overcrowding.

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

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