From 2005 to 2015, 70 percent of major development projects within Chapel Hill went through the special use permit process.
David Owens, professor in the UNC School of Government, questioned the use of special use permits and discussed resident input in these projects, including their dissatisfaction with traffic conditions and property value.
“With special use permits, it is sometimes frustrating for citizens to make a policy objection because their opinions are highly irrelevant when it comes to special use permits,” Owens said.
Rezonings and development agreements use a legislative process while special use permits go through a quasi-judicial process, which involves much more involvement from the Chapel Hill Town Council.
Council members all expressed concern in making sure that citizens understood the differences between the types of hearings, depending on the type of development review it undergoes.
Council member George Cianciolo agreed that education about these processes was important to remember while making this decision.
“We need to do a better job of educating the citizens on the differences between evidentiary hearings and legislative hearings,” Cianciolo said.
Mary Jane Nirdlinger, executive director of the office of planning and sustainability at Town of Chapel Hill, discussed fees related to building, development and life safety.
She explained the cost drivers of these fees, which include complexity of the project, the length of the review by the council and the levels of involvement within the project. Nirdlinger said that fees were waived for affordable housing projects.
The council discussed the controversy of charging those who failed an inspection to have an inspector come back to their business for a re-inspection.
“Since we require those who fail an inspection to pay the re-inspection fee, many business owners believe we want them to enter this cycle of failure,” Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said.
Fire Chief Matthew Sullivan said additional fees could eventually provide for two additional positions within the fire department in the safety and inspections departments.
Sullivan said these fees could help provide leadership and alignment within the fire department and increase safety in Chapel Hill buildings as a result.
“My main goal is to make sure our life and inspection safety departments are aligned to be sure that all buildings are safe,” Sullivan said.