Ryan: Growth is by far the most important issue facing Chapel Hill today. There is a big push for what could amount to transformative change, almost doubling the amount of retail and office development in town. I think we need to do a better job of evaluating how much growth we want, how much growth our infrastructure can actually accommodate and how to plan for that growth in ways that don’t degrade the character of our town.
When big change was coming to UNC in 2001, the University first identified the places and things that were special about campus, then planned for their protection and designed growth that respected and complemented those features. Chapel Hill needs to institute this kind of comprehensive planning — where we decide what to preserve, what to enhance and where we can best meet our town goals for things like expanding our commercial tax base and making room for more moderately priced housing.
DTH: In your platform you say you don’t support the proposed changes to the town’s Land Use Management Ordinance. How then do you respond to evidence that the town’s development approval process triples the length of its peers?
Ryan: I’m not sure which document you’re referring to, because I do in fact support making changes that would streamline the town’s development process. As you point out, the current system greatly increases the length (and expense) of building in Chapel Hill. My concern is that as we work to streamline development review, we don’t throw away important protections that the current process offers.
It has been proposed that the town consider moving to a system whereby we proactively upzone land that’s likely develop, put form-based codes into place that would mandate design standards like heights and setbacks and then let town planners approve projects through administrative review. This system would remove the opportunity for public oversight and input into specific projects as they came up for approval (no review by our elected representatives or advisory boards or opportunity for public comment in open hearings). It would also make it impossible for Council to negotiate for concessions (like a percentage of affordable housing) with developers.
I’d like to see the town find a third path to a better development process. This would involve (1) including citizens in proactive planning, as the town is now doing in the Central West Future Focus area, to create specific visions for the development we want; (2) where appropriate, using those plans to “right zone” areas of town likely to see development; and (3) allowing developers who fulfill the requirements of a small area plan to proceed through a streamlined development process — but one that still allows for review and/or approval by a special advisory board or Council and that offers opportunity for public comment to be considered before approval is given.
DTH: What experience do you have that prepares you to be the best for the job?
Ryan: I’ve spent the last 10 years serving on various town boards and commissions. I’m currently on the Planning Board and am a co-chair of the Central West Focus Area small area planning process.
Town service summary:
Central-West Focus Area Steering Committee co-chair, 12/12–present
Planning Board liaison to the Community Design Commission, 9/12–6/13
Central-West Focus Area Organizing Committee co-facilitator, 9/12–10/12
Planning Board Subcommittee on 2020 Plan Revisions, 4/12–6/12
Chapel Hill 2020 Comprehensive Plan stakeholder (Good Places group), 9/11–6/12
Planning Board, 7/11–present
Sustainable Community Visioning Task Force, 6/09–6/10
Community Design Commission, 5/03–6/09 (two terms)
Morgan Creek Trail Conceptual Plan Committee, 1/02–5/06