Less than 30 minutes after the approval, another burden was lifted from UNC's shoulders. In a separate 8-1 vote, the council abandoned the Smith Center special-use permit, which required UNC to set aside a 200-foot vegetative buffer between the Smith Center and Mason Farm Road.
The two measures will allow UNC to implement the first phase of its Master Plan, a 50-year blueprint for campus growth.
But with the council's approval of the Development Plan came 36 stipulations aimed at protecting residents. The additions were modified from the Chapel Hill Planning Board's recommendations. "We're pleased to see it approved with the stipulations that were added," said Bruce Runberg, associate vice chancellor for facilities planning. "We felt the staff in particular came up with a viable solution."
Council member Joyce Brown cast the lone dissenting vote in both decisions. "I think we let down the neighborhoods we've pledged to protect," she said. "This sets a bad precedent."
Several other council members expressed regret over their affirmative votes. "I don't think anyone is jumping up and happy about this," council member Edith Wiggins said. "We're doing this because it's practical and we don't want to risk any regulatory relations with the University."
The Development Plan, which was unveiled in July, details campus growth over the next eight years and explains how this expansion will affect the town. The plan proposes 41 new buildings and an addition of nearly 6 million square feet to the existing 13.6 million square feet already on campus.
The main area of contention became the Mason Farm Road area, which lies on the southern border of campus. Residents expressed concern about the location of a proposed road that would connect South Campus and Fordham Boulevard.
But University officials made it clear that plans for the road were not part of the Development Plan. "We have not made any specific plans for the main access road," Runberg said. "We don't have a project for it. We don't have funding for it. It's not in the plan -- period."
University officials, however, didn't want to rule out prospects for a road to be built later as part of UNC's Master Plan. "The access road is an important part of the Master Plan," Runberg said. "If, at some point, the University wants to come forward and gain town approval, they can do so under the ordinance."
The first step will involve hiring a planner-designer for new family student housing on South Campus, Runberg said. The University hopes to hire someone in the next several months and begin construction within 1 1/2 years.
With the approval of the Development Plan, the University will not need the council's approval for projects included in the plan. Instead UNC will need to submit a site development plan to the town manager for his signature.
Town residents expressed concern that this process will prevent their voices from being heard. "Blanket approval of the Development Plan will effectively remove residents' input," said Roy Fauber, of 311 E. Patterson Place.
But to encourage continued resident input, the council unanimously approved a resolution that requests UNC to conduct design workshops with town residents.
During the meeting, council members hinted that if they didn't approve the Development Plan, state legislators might get involved. "There's sentiments in both the House and the Senate in Raleigh that the town of Chapel Hill has been too hard on the University," said council member Bill Strom. "And there's sentiments that the Board of Trustees will take this to Raleigh if we don't approve (the Development Plan)."
State legislators expressed relief that the plan was approved and they wouldn't have to deal with the contentious issue during an already-overdue legislative session. "Legislators are really eager to get their work done," said Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange. "They wouldn't deal with an issue like this very carefully. That might not come out in Chapel Hill's best interest."
"The legislators have been watching that issue, and we're relieved that it was approved. I think it's good news."
Town residents left upset that the council was not in a position to watch out for their needs. "I'm disappointed, but I'm not surprised," said Floyd Fried, a 31-year resident of Chapel Hill. "I don't think they really looked after the well-being of the citizens of the community.
"But I don't think they realistically had a choice because of the issue of taking this to the state legislature."
The City Editor can be reached at email@example.com.
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