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The Daily Tar Heel

Town Council Begins Public Facilities Ordinance Talks

The primary purpose of the proposed ordinance is to alleviate overcrowding in local public school districts.

The Schools Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance would affect schools in both the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City and the Orange County school systems.

The measure must be approved by the two districts' school boards, the council, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen and the Orange County Board of Commissioners before going into effect.

Both school boards already have given a nod to the proposal.

At Monday's public hearing, the council opted to refer the proposal to the Chapel Hill Planning Board, which will consider the measure and offer recommendations to the council.

Chapel Hill Planning Department Director Roger Waldon gave a presentation outlining the goals of the proposal to the council.

Waldon told the council that the primary purpose of the ordinance is to alleviate the problem of overcrowding in local public schools.

After hearing Waldon's presentation, the council listened to comments from 15 citizens.

Libby Lovington, a teacher at Frank Porter Graham Elementary School, urged the council to put the ordinance in place as quickly as possible.

Several residents echoed Lovington's sentiments and requested that the council quickly approve the ordinance, which they said would relieve the long-standing problem of overcrowding.

"I do not see in any circumstance how this is not an ordinance that stops growth," said Nick Tennyson, president of the Home Builders Association.

A key feature of the ordinance stipulates that the developer of any new residential subdivision in Chapel Hill would be required to obtain a special certificate after gaining the council's approval for a project.

The certificate would only be issued if the developer could prove the proposed development would not exceed the capacity levels of the school system at the elementary, middle or high school level.

Orange County Commissioner Barry Jacobs said Tuesday that if the development would exceed the district's capacity, no construction could begin before a new school could be built. "If the capacity was exceeded, then a new school must be created, and that is a process that can take several years," he said.

Other concerns raised at Monday's hearing ranged from questions about which methodology should be used to determine capacity numbers to the effect the ordinance could have on property values.

"We need to ask ourselves, How will this affect mixed-use developments?" council member Pat Evans said.

Evans expressed concern that the ordinance would prevent downtown and University developments from being created for students and young professionals -- people who likely would not be adding children to the public schools.

The council referred the matter to the planning board, which is expected to give the council feedback in time for its March 25 meeting.

"This is clearly a step toward improving our schools," council member Bill Strom said. "It may be an imperfect tool, but we should be committed to the idea of pacing growth."

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