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Plan May Put Neighborhood Buffer at Stake

The Development Plan, which includes portions of the University's Master Plan, details campus growth for the next eight years. UNC officials hope the Chapel Hill Town Council will approve the plan by early October.

One immediate worry residents have is the University's desire to drop its special-use permit for the Smith Center.

Under the permit, which was granted in 1980, the University must maintain a 10-foot barbed-wire fence around the Smith Center to keep UNC from encroaching on residents. There also must be a 200-foot vegetative buffer along Mason Farm Road, which maintains a park-like setting in the residents' neighborhood.

But University officials plan to ask for the special-use permit to be removed, which would allow them to take the fence down and build in the buffer if they choose. "(The permit) will be handled at some point by the University in a separate letter asking for the special-use permit to be abandoned," said Bruce Runberg, associate vice chancellor for facility services.

Residents voiced concern to the Chapel Hill Planning Board this week, saying removing the buffer could jeopardize their protection from the Smith Center, citing potential parking and traffic issues along Mason Farm Road.

"The Smith Center is one of the most attractive magnets in the Triangle," said Ruby Sinreich, a member of the planning board. "It's already a burden for the residents in the area to deal with that traffic."

Under the Development Plan, UNC plans to add 5.9 million square feet to its campus, with most of the development occurring on South Campus. Eleven housing units are scheduled to be built by 2005 -- all along the Mason Farm Road area, adding 1,950 more students to South Campus residence halls. But for three of these units to be built, the buffer zone must be removed.

University officials say placing student family housing in the buffer zone could actually improve the area.

"I think it might be an even better buffer than what exists right now," said Dean Bresciani, associate vice chancellor for student services. "We want it to stay as quiet and safe and park-like as possible. I think the neighbors will be very pleasantly surprised."

But Sinreich said this is not a good option for residents. "I don't think buffering with large buildings is adequate," she said. "I am concerned that the University is lessening its commitment to the town and to their neighbors."

Anita Wolfenden, who has lived on Mason Farm Road since 1970, said the buffer is crucial to keeping UNC from encroaching on their property.

University officials hope to get things done in a timely fashion to combat projected growth in enrollment.

"There are several of the projects that have tight schedules," Runberg said. "We have to keep moving forward, so we're anxious to get an overall approval."

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