On Wednesday, the Chapel Hill Town Council met to discuss the creation of a criminal justice debt fund, the Greene Tract and the process of rewriting the town's main development regulations.
The meeting began by giving retiring Chapel Hill Fire Chief Matthew Sullivan a key to the city and declaring Jan. 29, 2020 to be Matt Sullivan Day in recognition of his 32 years of service and leadership in the community.
“We send our thanks as well to your family for allowing you to work as hard as you have,” Mayor Pam Hemminger said to Sullivan. “You have put in tireless, tireless amounts of time doing many things and helping so many people, not just in our community, but outside our community in many different ways.”
Criminal Justice Debt Fund
Council Member Karen Stegman said last year there was a realization that the Town of Chapel Hill has been profiting from the town courthouse’s fines and fees for years.
These fines and fees prevent defendants, particularly those who are poor and/or people of color, from successfully reintegrating into their community.
James Williams, a retired public defender, advocated for the implementation of this program.
“I was concerned because I have been, as an attorney, involved in addressing issues related to indigent clients,” Williams said. “In representing client after client, it was clear to me that poverty was a significant factor in the outcome of those clients cases and the likelihood that they would successfully reenter society."
The Fund for Criminal Justice Debt would provide criminal justice-related debt relief for people who are unable to pay their debt to the court. The proposal requested $20,000 to establish a pilot program that would last for at least six months. A committee would give updates to the council throughout the duration of the pilot program.
The council passed the pilot program unanimously.
The Greene Tract is a 164-acre lot, 104 acres of which are owned by the towns of Carrboro and Chapel Hill as well as Orange County. The lot was purchased in 1984.
Since the 2002 Greene Tract resolution was adopted, several different land-use needs have been suggested, but no development has started on the lot. In 2017, the mayors of Chapel Hill and Carrboro and the chairperson of the Orange County commissioners decided to update the resolution and figure out, "the next steps for [the] preservation and development of the Greene Tract".
During the meeting, the Chapel Hill Town Council followed the Carrboro Town Council and the Board of Orange County Commissioners in adopting the revised 2020 Greene Tract Resolution and a resolution to allow the town managers to sign an agreement and provide funding for an environmental assessment of the area.
Delores Bailey, executive director of EmPOWERment, urged the council to not forget about public involvement.
“I applaud you all for the efforts that are going on,” Bailey said. “My concern is this, the question Karen (Stegman) kept asking: When is public engagement going to happen? It is so important.”
An Assembly of Government meeting on Jan. 28 will talk more about the 2020 Greene Tract Resolution.
Charting Our Future
The Land Use Management Ordinance regulates almost everything to do with development in the town, like parking lots and building height. Its rewrite was under discussion because the General Assembly passed legislation in 2019 to modernize the statutes for planning and development.
The legislation requires the rewrite to be in accordance with what is outlined by Jan. 1, 2021, said Alisa Duffey Rogers, LUMO project manager for the Town of Chapel Hill.
The LUMO staff presented the board with three different options. Option one included a basic analysis and public engagement level, option two included more in-depth analysis and engagement and option three included more visioning and options for implementing more town goals.
“I have said, privately and publicly, that there probably isn’t going to be anything more important that I’m going to do on Council than LUMO rewrite,” Council Member Michael Parker said.
The Council adopted option three by a vote of 8-1, adding an estimated cost of $652,000 to the current budget for the LUMO rewrite to be spread over four years.
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