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Thursday January 20th

Moeser's Approach Frustrates Some Residents

During his first year at UNC, Moeser's tenacity again has drawn mixed reviews.

And like at UN-L, his tenacity has played an integral role in shaping town-gown relations during his time at UNC, particularly in regards to UNC's Development Plan.

The Development Plan, an eight-year strategy for managing campus growth, has been the source of considerable tension between residents and University officials.

The Chapel Hill Town Council approved the plan Wednesday night -- a victory for University officials, including Moeser, who has stressed the importance of campus expansion. But the victory has come at the expense of some residents, who think the University is prepared to disregard their concerns. And some residents have attributed what they see as an increase in the University's aggressiveness in part to the fact that Moeser had taken the helm.

"University relationships with the community and with the neighbors have gotten worse," said UNC professor and former Chapel Hill Mayor Ken Broun. "(Moeser) and his staff have not handled things in a way that would improve relations, either. I'm not assessing blame, but things have gotten worse in the past year."

When Moeser arrived at UNC in August 2000, campus plans for massive expansion already were under way. In May 1998, the UNC Board of Trustees began drafting UNC's Master Plan, a 50-year blueprint for campus growth.

In October 2000, Moeser helped start a discussion of how the University could collaborate with the town on campus expansion.

"He should be credited with working with the mayor in devising the process that allowed the town to consider the University's Development Plan," said Jonathan Howes, special assistant to the chancellor.

Despite the fact that both University and town officials moved forward with the approval of campus expansion, some residents began to feel alienated by the process.

Residents' discontent with Moeser was apparent in May when a bill that would have exempted UNC from Chapel Hill zoning laws was drafted into the state budget by Sen. Tony Rand, D-Cumberland. Although it is unclear what spurred the legislation, it is clear that Moeser supported it.

Although Moeser later asked for the bill to be removed, the action did not fare well with Chapel Hill residents, some of whom raised questions about the University's willingness to work with the town.

"It was an arrogant and insensitive move to involve the state legislature," said Diana Steele, a resident of Mason Farm Road, one of the neighborhoods that will feel the effects of campus expansion. "It cast doubt on the University's sincerity in pursuing good relations with the town."

But University officials defended Moeser, saying the chancellor has tried to balance town concerns with the University's need to expand.

"It has been tough in the sense that the Master Plan did propose expansion to South Campus in a town like this that values its neighborhoods," Howes said. "But it's been one where the chancellor has been steadfast in looking at the needs for the University's long term."

But this is not the first time Moeser has experienced a tense relationship with residents that centered on campus expansion.

In 1996, when Moeser arrived in Lincoln, UN-L began work on the Antelope Valley Project, a 20-year traffic and floodwater plan to reshape the UN-L campus and downtown Lincoln.

To complete the project, the city needed to buy homes, displacing families close to campus. Although the process was not completed before Moeser left Nebraska, residents said their concerns were not always taken seriously.

"About the time Chancellor Moeser came -- and whether or not he is the cause of this, I don't know -- (UN-L) became much more aggressive and heavy-handed in their approach to the neighborhoods," said Barb Morely, who lives on the eastern boarder of UN-L's campus.

"(Chapel Hill residents) are not alone in the fact that Chancellor Moeser was very condescending to the people who lived in the neighborhoods. He wouldn't talk to us. He thought the best thing would be to bulldoze our neighborhood."

But Moeser said his role at UNC could not be compared to the situation in Lincoln. "The University is not the dominant institution in Lincoln as UNC is (in Chapel Hill)," he said.

Faculty Council Chairwoman Sue Estroff also warned against comparing the situations in Chapel Hill and Lincoln, stressing instead that Moeser has had only a year to adjust to Chapel Hill. "It takes a while for people to get to trust and know each other," she said. "It's only been a year. And it's been a challenging year."

The City Editor can be reached at citydesk@unc.edu.

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