The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday September 28th

Public Input Key to Plan For Carrboro

For Chapel Hill, the headaches stem from the University. Two issues recently popped up: a fiscal equity policy and UNC's Development Plan.

Last week, the Chapel Hill Town Council perused a memorandum of understanding between the town and UNC about who should pay what.

As UNC expands, it will require greater municipal services from the town, such as police and fire protection. The University -- owned by the state -- doesn't have to pay the property taxes which cover these costs.

Town officials have long complained about the University's lack of financial assistance, and they think it's time UNC pay its fair share. UNC protests, saying that a major research institution pays the community back in many ways.

They have a point. A lot of what makes Chapel Hill such a unique town (the people, intellectual climate, downtown vibrancy) can either directly or indirectly be tied to the University.

Many UNC faculty and administrators call Chapel Hill "home," providing a wealthy tax base for the town. After all, the average price of homes in the town is well over $300,000 - resulting in lucrative tax revenues.

And just this week, Oliver Smithies, a UNC researcher and professor of pathology, won the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research. The Lasker Award is considered "America's Nobel." Such national achievements bring attention and prestige to the town itself.

But as UNC brings in more students and expands the campus, awards can only go so far. The strain on municipal services will increase.

It would be best for UNC to agree to shoulder some of the costs. The bill should not be split 50-50, but UNC should help alleviate some of the problems it exacerbates.

The University just received the fiscal equity proposal last Friday, so it is taking more time to review it before agreeing to any changes.

On another front, a 29-page report on the town-gown committee's proposed equity policy was given to the council last week.

The report details many of the agreements between Chancellor James Moeser and Mayor Rosemary Waldorf during the past four months of meetings.

While most of its contents have been informally agreed upon by the two bodies, there were new propositions that raised a few eyebrows among town officials and residents.

One part of the University's proposal is intended to give the town notice: We plan on expanding beyond the southern campus border into already developed neighborhoods -- and we will acquire land in that path. The proposal asks that the town recognize that intent.

With Master Plan expansion, UNC plans on building more graduate student housing and a campus corridor along Mason Farm Road. Of course, the University doesn't actually own this property it has already planned to develop -- but minor details like that will be the center of a protracted battle between the town and UNC down the line.

Tonight at 7 p.m., the Town Council will have a public hearing on the Development Plan. The Town Council is expected to vote on the Development Plan on Oct. 3.

The University's "statement of intent" is a bad planning move. Not only is it banking on housing a good number of graduate students on land it doesn't even own, but it assumes -- unfairly -- that residents in the Mason Farm Road area should be willing to pack up and move because "We're Expanding."

Carrboro, on the other hand, has less drama in their development future. But officials are still planning ahead. Last weekend, more than 100 residents took part in discussions over the town's "Vision 2020," the urban development plan for downtown Carrboro over the next 20 years.

Such a large turnout speaks to the area's uniqueness -- since so many people were willing to shape the town's growth in the face of last week's events. There's no way such civic involvement would happen in my hometown.

While Carrboro's development may not hinge on two governing bodies butting heads, public input should be the blueprint for its future growth.

Columnist Jonathan Chaney can be reached at

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