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Chapel Hill residents voice concerns over Town Council development plan

Arthur Finn has lived in Chapel Hill for 43 years, but he has never been more disappointed in the Chapel Hill Town Council than he is now.

He was one of more than a dozen residents to speak at a meeting Tuesday in which the council approved a plan that will guide development along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Estes Drive.

“No matter what is said by the speakers tonight, it’s likely that eventually you’ll follow the wishes of the developers, as you’ve been doing for some time now and, in my opinion, continue to lay waste to Chapel Hill as we have known it,” Finn said Tuesday night to the council before members voted unanimously to adopt the Central West Small Area plan.

According to the draft of the plan, the Central West area is home to neighborhoods, office buildings and small businesses as well as two schools, the public library and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA.

The plan was developed over the last 11 months by a 17-member committee that included residents, business owners, liaisons from UNC-Chapel Hill and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and representatives from the Bicycle and Pedestrian, Planning and Transportation boards.

The Central West Small Area Plan called for retail, dining and mixed-use development with buildings that could reach eight stories. Smaller residential development would also be a primary component. The plan also called for an off-road trail for bikers and pedestrians and emphasized the need to maintain both trees and open space in the area.

The plan will neither cost nor make the town any money, according to project manager Megan Wooley.

Community members who spoke at the meeting raised four issues with respect to the plan: little space left in schools, serious and worsening traffic issues, severe stormwater concerns and high taxes.

Councilman Matt Czajkowski said the plan will only makes these problems worse.

“Why not take a little break to see how some of this stuff works out?” he asked. “What’s the rush?”

The area’s heavy traffic congestion would make the plan’s implementation difficult, said Chapel Hill resident Janet Smith.

“I would have been here sooner had it not been for the traffic on Estes,” Smith said to nods from audience and council members.

The Southern Human Services Center, where the Town Council is meeting temporarily, is a right turn and a stoplight away from the intersection of Estes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Though the plan was approved with several amendments based on input from council members, community members and the Planning Board, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said he will make sure to get plans on the agenda for completing town-wide traffic modeling and stormwater management studies.

Town Council members-elect Maria Palmer and George Cianciolo, who were the candidates most openly supportive of the Central West Small Area Plan, attended the meeting Tuesday and spoke in support of the project.

“Chapel Hill voters have said this is what they want,” Palmer said.

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