The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday December 8th

Local government fails to include Rogers Road on joint public hearing agenda

Zack Kaplan  is tired of the Rogers Road neighborhood being swept under the rug.

Kaplan, a junior pursuing an American studies and political science double-major who volunteers as a tutor in the Historic Rogers Road neighborhood, said he admires the perseverance of residents in the community. 

The community was promised sewer and water hookups and a community center more than 40 years ago in exchange for housing the Orange County Landfill there — but local officials have yet to deliver on the promise. 

"Living here in downtown Chapel Hill you would never guess there's a community down the road where they have to look and think before drinking their water," Kaplan said.

Though officials from Orange County and the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro say they're committed to making changes in the neighborhood, they failed to include it on the agenda for a joint public hearing being held tonight. 

The governments are sharing costs for the improvements in the neighborhood, so each step in the projects must get the approval of all three municipalities.

"When the governments meet like this, it's really hard to move something forward," said Alderman  Randee Haven-O'Donnell.

Chapel Hill's Rogers Road Small Area Plan Task Force was organized in 2002 to do just that, and it released its final recommendations in September.  

Before construction of a sewer system can move forward, the town of Carrboro must approve an outreach program that Chapel Hill and Orange County have already authorized.

Chapel Hill cannot legally contribute to the projects until the current joint planning agreement between the county and the town is revised. 

"Until they do that, we can't really move forward," said Barry Jacobs, chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

Jacobs said staff at the county manager's office prepared the agenda for tonight's joint public hearing based on discussion with the Chapel Hill town manager, then sent a copy to the mayor and board of commissioners, who reviewed and approved it.

He said his guess is that Rogers Road will come up, even though it's not on the agenda.

Kaplan said it's easy to get frustrated with local governments, but the community has persevered despite the repeated delays.

"They know it's a struggle," he said. "They know they're going to get there someday and they just want to make it a better place for their children."

Kaplan said the community is asking for basic items — a community center, water, sewer and sidewalks — that were promised them.

In 2012 , officials from the town of Chapel Hill closed down a center the community was using because it didn't have the proper permits and was violating fire and safety codes.

"All of a sudden the local government came and took that space away," Kaplan said.

County Commissioner Penny Rich said the Board voted last year to appropriate $650,000  for the community center, though the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro may chip in later. 

The Rogers Eubanks Neighborhood Association came to an agreement with the Board in February over how it will operate the community center.

The architects for the center are currently fielding bids from contractors for the center, which could open as early as this fall. Commissioners will award the bid on April 1 and proceed no later than April 18, according to an email sent from Jeff Thompson, asset management services director of Orange County, to Michael Talbert, interim county manager.

When the community center closed, Kaplan had to volunteer elsewhere. But he's back in Rogers Road this year tutoring some of the same kids at the Faith Tabernacle Oasis of Love International Church Inc., which he said started programs to fill the void left when the community center closed.

"It just provides that space for the community," he said. "The kids go there so they're not just hanging out on the street."

Kaplan said the children are the ones who suffer the most from the lack of action taken by local governments. 

"They have nothing to do with the problems, but they are affected by them," he said. "And that's just unjust. That's injustice."

city@dailytarheel.com

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