Chapel Hill Town Council held a special meeting Monday night to discuss adopting a resolution for how to move forward with the 164-acre Greene Tract property jointly owned by the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and by Orange County.
The council voted to move forward with a proposal different from the resolution passed by the Orange County Board of County Commissioners and the Carrboro Board of Aldermen in February, delaying the 17-year-long process even further.
After over two dozen community members from across Orange County voiced their concerns and opinions, the mayor and town council passed a resolution and the meeting was adjourned. Many attendees left the Town Hall Chamber confused about what had just been approved, as real-time changes were being made to the three resolutions being discussed at the meeting.
The Greene Tract was purchased in 1984 by the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and Orange County. The county owns 60 acres alone and jointly owns 104 acres with the two towns. Now, over thirty years later, members of the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood and communities near the Greene Tract are having to deal with three jurisdictions to find a way to move forward with this space in their community.
“I’ll be honest with you, we put [the Rogers Road community] in this position of having to deal with three different governmental agencies,” Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said. “We did that to them. I don’t know how we ever undo that, but we did that and we made the process so much harder.”
It’s been a long, slow process. In 2002, the current Greene Tract Resolution, which designates 18.1 acres for affordable housing and 85.9 acres for open space, was adopted. Since then, conversations have been taking place across the three jurisdictions on how to use the space.
Council members were given three options for consideration at the meeting called: (A) the original resolution, (B) the alternative resolution and (C) the substitute resolution. After making real-time language changes to the substitute resolution and its map, the council approved a revised version of the substitute resolution, which was a product of last-minute meetings Council Member Donna Bell had Monday with representatives of the neighborhoods near the Greene Tract.
Bell clarified that the approved proposal is a rough outline of what space in the Greene Tract area could be dedicated to housing, a park and a new school, and leaves some of the forest in place for conservation. This proposal differs from resolution A, which was the plan that both Carrboro and Orange County had voted to move forward with, in that it does not specify what function should happen, where, or how many acres should be dedicated to those functions.
Bell said she hopes the approval of this resolution can get this process moving forward and back on track quickly. It does, however, require both Carrboro and Orange County to receive and approve moving forward with this resolution, as they have both agreed on resolution A.
Of the public speakers at Monday’s meeting, the vast majority spoke in favor of resolution A, urging council members to respect the work done by the Carrboro and Orange County government bodies and move forward with this process.
Community member Yvette Mathews asked the council to prioritize low-income housing in their plans for the Greene Tract property. Mathews is the office and community organizer for The Community Empowerment Fund (CEF), an advocacy organization that works to support individuals who are in need of jobs, housing and financial freedom in Orange and Durham counties.
Mathews spoke to the council about a group of people in the Chapel Hill community that they said are not being served.
“I’m talking about fixed-income, low-income and no-income people ... you have a population of people who are sleeping on the street who can’t afford Chapel Hill rent," Mathews said
Some discussion about the Greene Tract land has involved a desire to protect and preserve the environmental area, but Mathews said that should not be prioritized over providing affordable housing to the low-income population of Chapel Hill.
“These people need your help, and if you have an opportunity and you have some land to build where they will be able to lay their heads at night, you ought to make that happen,” Mathews said. “And I don’t see why you’re not.”
Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle was in attendance and addressed the council during the public comment section to encourage them to move forward with resolution A, as the Carrboro Board of Aldermen did in February.
“This resolution, which has no binding legal effect, identifies generally the amount of land we will commit to various uses and generally where those uses would go,” Lavelle said. “This resolution sets us all up to be able to move forward with this, for all of us to move forward with environmental impact studies and looking at density and looking at intensity and not delay us any further.”
Penny Rich, Orange County Board of County Commissioners chairperson, attended the meeting and addressed the mayor and council. She urged them to move forward with resolution A, and asked the council members to “trust the process.” Rich said the plans in resolution A had been discussed by Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County, they didn’t just appear. She asked the council to respect the work that had already been done.
“We are partners,” Rich said. “Nothing gets done on this land unless we all agree, unless we all work together. And that’s what we’re here to do, we are here to work together.”
Commissioners Sally Greene and Mark Marcoplos were also in attendance and made statements urging the council to move forward with resolution A. County Commissioner Mark Dorosin was unable to attend but sent a statement to be read by another community member, also endorsing resolution A.
Joal Broun, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education chairperson, sent a letter to Rich, Lavelle and Hemminger in May, asking that they continue to move forward with plans that include designating space on the Greene Tract property for a new school and to keep the district involved in the process.
Broun addressed the council at Monday’s meeting, reiterating what she stated in her letter. Resolution A arbitrarily outlines 11 acres for a new school, but Broun’s letter said the district has been advised by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction to have a minimum of 10 acres plus one for every 100 students when planning for a new school. She requested that the 11 acres be increased to 20 in future plans for the land.
“All of the school districts in North Carolina are required to have a certain class size by a certain date, and so the preservation of a school site on this property would be very helpful to us in making that in future times,” Broun said. “Right now we’re doing alright, but people, thankfully, continue to have children and bring them to the school system, and so we want to be able to build an appropriate school in an appropriate school size.”
Despite encouragement to move forward with resolution A from the public, county commissioners, CHCCS board chairperson and Carrboro mayor, the council voted 7-2 to move forward with option C, the substitute resolution.
Now, the approved resolution will go back to Orange County and Carrboro for approval before any tangible steps forward can be taken.
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