The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday December 2nd

Development Plan Evolves

A year ago, University officials had a rough idea of what they wanted the UNC campus to look like 10 years from now.

But after negotiations, debate and several heated public hearings, their plans have been modified and spelled out in much greater detail.

Town officials' considerations were incorporated into the plan. Residents added input. And now construction tools aren't far out of the University's grasp.

The Chapel Hill Town Council approved UNC's eight-year Development Plan on Oct. 3, giving the University permission to begin the largest growth project ever approved in the town of Chapel Hill.

But the process was a long and laborious one, often placing a heavy strain on town-gown relations and ultimately pulling several key projects -- transportation, housing and new research facilities -- into the spotlight.

Starting From Square One

In September 2000, UNC officials unveiled a revised edition of UNC's Master Plan, which charts campus growth for the next 50 years.

Although the Master Plan is a campus document, it presented ramifications for the town as well. Dialogue between town and University officials began in October 2000 to assess effects the town might feel. Officials discussed issues of mutual concern, namely UNC's desire to grow.

"We recognized that, first of all, the University is not an ordinary developer," said Mayor Rosemary Waldorf. "They operate under a state mandate, and we realized we needed to work with them a little differently."

It quickly became clear UNC would need to request a new zoning ordinance, one allowing the University to stretch beyond its 14 million square foot cap.

The square-footage cap existed under the University's Office/Institutional-3 zoning ordinance. But UNC sought to add an additional 5.8 million square feet to the 13.6 million already on campus.

Through discussion, town and UNC officials developed a new zoning ordinance, OI-4, which would remove the cap and allow UNC to expand. "We realized the old (square footage) ordinance was insufficient," Waldorf said. "The ordinance was in direct contrast to the University's Master Plan."

But the town also benefited from this change because the ordinance required a development plan be submitted in lieu of the cap. The Development Plan put issues such as transportation management, stormwater management and noise and lighting guidelines under the microscope.

"We now have a pretty good predictability about what will happen on the University's main campus," Waldorf said.

Originally, the University requested the rezoning of all property on the main campus. But the University eventually reduced the scope of its request after the rezoning of several areas was hotly contested.

On July 2, the council voted to adopt the new OI-4 zoning ordinance. In a second vote, members agreed to rezone just 582 acres of UNC's main campus.

Three days later, UNC submitted an inch-thick Development Plan, which the town had 90 days to review.

Bridging the Divide

Transportation quickly became a main issue of debate. Key players agreed that University growth would only add to an already bad traffic and parking situation on and near campus, at least in the short term.

Town residents expressed concern at past meetings, sometimes vehemently, about a proposed road that would connect South Campus and Fordham Boulevard.

Residents worried this potential four-lane highway would ruin their neighborhoods. "We're still upset about the placement of the road," said Claudeline Lewis of 505 Oteys Road. "We feel it will be dangerous for the children."

UNC officials responded, saying they needed the plan to allow for the possibility that a road could be built later, perhaps once they acquired the properties that now abut the southern boarder of campus. "We were working to obtain the most flexibility we could relative to the interests of the town," said Bruce Runberg, vice chancellor for facilities planning.

In the end, the access road was not included in the Development Plan. UNC officials said they were hesitant to make plans for property they did not own yet.

Because the town approved the Development Plan, the University now only has to get the town manager to sign the site development plan.

A New Crop of Residents

Another sore spot for residents has been the potential construction of housing along South Campus. UNC has planned housing expansions designed to accommodate 3,300 additional students expected to enroll during the next 10 years.

A new married student housing complex will be built in the Baity Hill area. Eleven three-story units will be built and eventually will replace the Odum Village apartments, which will serve as undergraduate housing while Morrison and Hinton James are renovated.

Eventually, Odum Village will be torn down, and the space will be used to construct more undergraduate housing and additional UNC Hospitals facilities.

The site slated for new housing prompted concern from residents.

A special-use permit was removed by the council on Oct. 3. The permit, created in 1980, ensured that a 200-foot vegetative buffer would protect residents from the University.

Looking Toward the Future

Although the plan often pitted town residents against University officials, even the plan's harshest critics recognize it has some merit. "There were a lot of things that we liked about it, particularly in the arts center," Lewis said, referring to a new arts corridor set to be constructed near Hill Hall. "We like a lot of the plan."

The plan also includes additions to Memorial Hall, the replacement of Venable Hall and three new UNC Health Care buildings. Another key component of the plan is the Ramshead project, which will provide new parking, student dining, recreation and grocery facilities.

Breathing Easier

Now that the long and intricate process of gaining Development Plan approval is complete, both town and University officials are breathing a sigh of relief.

"I'm really glad it is over," Waldorf said. "Looking back on it, I think -- all in all -- it was a successful process."

Runberg expressed a similar sentiment. "On both sides there's been give and take. I think we are all very pleased that we are through with the process."

The City Editor can be reached

at citydesk@unc.edu.

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