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The Daily Tar Heel

Town Will Still Have Issues\For `Next Guy'

On all sides they were uncertain as to how to handle it.

A decision about Carolina Power & Light Co.'s waste storage expansion seemed imminent, and everyone was certain how to handle it, but no one could agree.

As I finish up, Chapel Hill and Carrboro residents and officials still don't know what to do about rapid expansion; the University's neighboring towns still see the Master Plan as a threat, and Orange County and local activists are still fighting CP&L tooth and nail.

When the new guy takes over this space in August, the status of all that will most likely not have changed drastically.

One of the most pressing concerns Orange County has is its school systems. Expansion that is the result of the Triangle's general growth and expansion as a result of University growth will affect Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and Orange County Schools profoundly.

As they already are, the school boards, towns and Orange County Board of Commissioners need to work together to avoid a problem before it occurs. But their solution should not be halting expansion. Growth is inevitable, and it will hold benefits for the Triangle, but those benefits will, of course, come with headaches.

The issues Orange County's school systems will face will not be limited to simple overcrowding and classroom size. With its population expanding, the Triangle also is seeing its population change.

More Spanish-speaking students will be moving into the districts, and schools need to have programs in place that will help those students learn English and adapt to an environment that is quite possibly very culturally different than the one they're used to.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system has gotten a good start on this through its proposal for a pilot program that would have classes taught in English and Spanish at certain elementary schools in the district. The Orange County Board of Education is looking to add six full-time Spanish teachers so that each of the seven elementary schools can have one.

For its part, the University needs to respect the town's desire to have some control over its own fate. The University might have eminent domain, but it doesn't have to use that fact as a bullying tactic.

In early town-gown relations talks, Chancellor James Moeser has seemed willing to take the "I'm-bigger-and-stronger-than-you" approach. That could work, but it will do little for community-University relations.

The same is true for CP&L. Despite the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's ruling that once all Orange County's appeals are exhausted CP&L would be allowed to expand its Wake County Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant's waste storage facilities, the power company needs to remain open to community concerns. It would be easy to take the victory and run, but why alienate the community you're supposed to be serving?

There are countless other issues Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County will have to face as a result of growth. One of the biggest is Meadowmont -- a mixed-use community -- and other communities like it.

As far as smart growth goes, Meadowmont, which is slated to be completed in the next few years, is the way to go. People living, working and going to school in the same place is as smart as growth gets. But Meadowmont is, at best, controversial with town residents.

It proves, though, that all the issues that Chapel Hill and Carrboro will face are resolvable.

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

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