Nowhere has the battle of local green space been more contentious than deciding the future of the Greene Tract. The conversation over the land — just off Rogers Road — is being deterred by misinformation, improper framing and lack of dialogue.
Last week, the Orange County, Chapel Hill and Carrboro governments held listening sessions to hear community concerns about the future of the property. Town staff gave an overview of the property — including its extensive political and environmental history and future land use plans.
They opened the floor to community members to ask questions and share their comments — sentiments largely revolved around the preservation of the Greene Tract.
“I would just like to go on record with my disapproval for any developmental plans of this land other then to preserve it as green public space used for recreational purposes,” one community member said in the Zoom comments.
“There is a lack of emphasis being placed on green space in the future planning of the Chapel Hill / Carrboro area,” said attendee Jonathan Rader.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with a desire for green space in our community, the issue of the Greene Tract is not simply about parks and trails, it’s about a historically marginalized community in Rogers-Eubanks being continually silenced — a silence perpetuated by the idea that Chapel Hill is somehow devoid of green space entirely.
There is a rhetoric, like the one expressed at these meetings, that the Town is ripping up our beautiful trees for the sake of rampant development in Chapel Hill. It’s been pushed by community groups like Friends of the Greene Tract Forest and recently elected Town Council member Adam Searing.
False narrative #1: Not enough local green space
Earlier this month, Searing published an op-ed in the News and Observer arguing that green spaces should be preserved and proximity to parks should be increased.
“We are rock bottom in our region in percent of town land used for parks, percent of low-income residents near a park, and percent of our total population within a 10-minute walk of a park," he wrote.
The problem with Searing’s argument is that it is based on data from the Trust for Public Land, a national greenspace advocacy organization that uses crowdsourced data to show that Chapel Hill ranks last among its regional peers for parkland use.
The organization uses Open Street Map, a digital map database that relies on volunteered geographic information. While this information is useful for many things, it is not reliable for drawing conclusions about land use. The use of this data in Chapel Hill paints an incomplete picture of how much park and recreational space there actually is in town.
For example, TPL’s map of Chapel Hill does not consider Mason Farm or Merritt’s Pasture as a park in Chapel Hill— despite them being preserved green spaces with walking trails and greenways. Other green spaces like portions of the Carolina North Forest, Battle Park and the Botanical Gardens are also not considered in TPL’s analysis.
It’s clear the data presented is incomplete and Chapel Hill is actually quite full of green space. Relying on data such as TPL’s is like citing Wikipedia in your research papers — it’s a good place to start, but anyone can contribute to the data and it shouldn’t be taken at face value.
False narrative #2: Rushing a vote to decide the future
This week, Chapel Hill Town Council, Carrboro Town Council and the Orange County Board of Commissioners will vote on a joint draft resolution about the Greene Tract.
The resolution does not approve any development, rather it simply affirms what the three governments agreed upon back in April of this year — modifying county-owned boundaries on the property. It also said local officials will “continue to solicit input from the public, governing boards, specialized staff, and housing partners, during the master planning and development agreement process."
Despite this resolution not accomplishing a whole lot, community members urged their peers to stop the vote. Friends of the Greene Tract Forest said, “the rush is on to enshrine this development plan as quickly as possible!”
This is no rush. This is hardly a step.
The history of the Greene Tract goes back to 1984 — when the land was first jointly purchased by the Town of Chapel Hill, the Town of Carrboro and Orange County. All that time, the people of the Rogers-Eubanks community, where the Greene Tract is located, have been repeatedly betrayed and ignored.
All the more reason why it is incredibly disheartening to see this message of Chapel Hill being last among its peers in park space be spread like wildfire. This point was mentioned nearly a dozen times during the meetings last weekend. It is just one of the ways louder voices have pushed conversations about the Greene Tract in the wrong direction.
The people of the Rogers-Eubanks neighborhood, a historically Black community, have been shut out from this conversation, and we are letting them down again by pushing false narratives. They are the voices that need to be the most heard because they are directly impacted by the future of the Greene Tract.
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