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The Daily Tar Heel

Chapel Hill town council revisits comprehensive plan

The town’s comprehensive plan dominated discussion at the Chapel Hill Town Council’s annual retreat, with council members pointing out the need to update the document more frequently and better incorporate town services.

The last comprehensive plan was finalized in May 2000, and the plans traditionally focus on land-use patterns, said Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt in an interview.

He and council member Penny Rich said they would like Chapel Hill’s new plan to integrate use of services like the police, the fire department and schools.

“I certainly want to make sure that the process for creating it is an inclusive one,” Kleinschmidt said. “And that the community has adequate opportunity to participate and influence the outcome of the plan.”

The comprehensive plan outlines community priorities, helps set policy direction and serves as a guideline for future decisions.

David Owens, a professor in the UNC School of Government who discussed the plan with the council at the retreat, said the comprehensive plan should look 10 to 20 years down the road.

“You need that longer time perspective to provide the critical context for individual decisions,” Owens said. “It’s hard to step back and look at the big picture and look at the long term.

“It’s difficult to make it concrete, but it’s extremely important.”

The current comprehensive plan is organized around 12 themes, which include conserving and protecting existing neighborhoods, planning with the University and developing strategies to address fiscal issues.

Rich said 2000’s comprehensive plan fell short because it was not updated.

The plan was supposed to be revisited every five years.

“The importance of comprehensive plans is really that you’re planning for the future,” Rich said. “It needs to be a living document because everything changes.”

She cited the economic downturn as an unforeseen circumstance that the plan could have addressed in updates.

Turning to the future comprehensive plan, Rich said zoning is an important focus because new development in Chapel Hill will likely be renovations of existing commercial and residential spaces.

There is no deadline to complete an updated plan, but Kleinschmidt said he hopes to finish by summer 2012.

The council will work with town staff and the community to accomplish this, he said.

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