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The Daily Tar Heel

Town, UNC Join Up on Plan's Issues

And Diana Steele, owner of Willow Hill Preschool, should know.

But Steele, who lives in the threatened Mason Farm neighborhood, said it is tactics such as these that the University originally planned to use when discussing the future for several Chapel Hill neighborhoods.

"(UNC's) initial approach was what appeared to be bullying," Steele said. "They dismissed our interests as having an ax to grind, and I think it felt as if the neighbors were a real nuisance."

But Steele said the University now is softening its approach toward the town about UNC's Master Plan.

"Although the town and the University have grown up together over centuries, it was as if they were operating separately," she said. "It was good to see the formation of the town-gown committee."

That town-gown committee, composed of UNC and town officials, was established to facilitate communication between the two parties regarding the Master Plan.

The Master Plan, UNC's 50-year blueprint for campus growth, is expected to dramatically increase the existing campus size, as well as to expand the Horace Williams tract on Airport Road.

Chapel Hill Mayor Rosemary Waldorf said the town-gown committee is meeting daily to finish up a mutually beneficial proposal for main campus growth by May 24.

"From what I hear, those meetings are going well," she said "I'm feeling good about the town-gown process."

Waldorf said the focus was entirely on the future between the two parties and not on any past misgivings. The Town Council has made it clear that negotiations with UNC are their top priority for the coming months.

"I think it took us a little while to get down to work," she said. "It seems to me that for the town and the University, failure is not an option here and the only way we're going to work this out is for everyone to be open-minded and fair-minded."

But Steele said she thinks communication between the residents and the town is better than with UNC. "I think they are listening well and being an advocate for the people who elected them," she said.

"The University wobbles. They'll tell us anything to keep us quiet. The town is trying to be honorable."

Compromise also has played a role in making the decisions. Last month, the Chapel Hill Town Council decided to lift the square footage cap, providing UNC with more room to grow but also doing so on the town's terms.

"I guess what we realize is that the concept of the cap is something that was causing a lot of misunderstanding, and we felt it was better to have a square footage allowance," Waldorf said.

The new cap will be set at 110 percent of what the University submitted as its capital needs for the next 10 years. Officials estimate the Master Plan will add 5 million more square feet to UNC's existing 13.7 million.

But Town Council member Joyce Brown said no plans were final as of yet.

"Everything is still in the stages where we don't have the final answers as to how it is going to be played out," she said.

The issues that local officials and residents want addressed include transportation, stormwater management and affordable housing.

Town Council member Kevin Foy said some of these issues will need to be cleared up by the University, including ensuring that UNC employees can afford housing in the town.

Foy said a major accomplishment is that both the town and the University have agreed to a process of review of building plans.

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"The University is the largest employer in town," he said "It dwarfs all other activities so what the University does or does not do has a big impact on the town, not because of its physical size but because of its economic size."

But Chapel Hill and UNC are not the only groups affected by this potential expansion.

Carrboro Board of Aldermen member Jacquelyn Gist said she is concerned about what the Master Plan's impact on Carrboro.

"What I see in the future is something that differs from what anybody else envisions," she said.

"For Carrboro, my concern is the impact of the Horace Williams development on our schools and our whole social infrastructure."

The expansion of the 575-acre Horace Williams tract would bring a state-of-the-art mixed-use complex that would include research facilities, residences for students and families, retail and recreation.

Gist said UNC officials need to realize the potential implications of their designs.

"The only good thing about it is that it's not all happening at once," she said. "I understand why they have to do it, but I think all sides need to focus on the community in a meaningful way."

But the proposed growth, which is expected to enhance the University by providing state of the art facilities, comes with a price tag some residents fear they will have to cover.

Elaine Barney, a resident of Westwood Drive, said the plan would affect more than the University.

"If the University is allowed to destroy a neighborhood and put in a plan or road or transit corridor, then that sets a frightening precedent," she said. "We're waiting for the other shoe to drop. We're hoping the town will continue to support the neighborhood and the town."

Waldorf said based on the new aggressive schedules, the town-gown committee expects to have a plan developed by early October.

In the meantime, Steele said there is no alternative other than to continue with life.

"I'm enrolling 4-year-old girls now," she said. "There are so many intelligent minds involved in this, there should be ways to resolve it gracefully."

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