The Chapel Hill Town Council discussed a petition requesting a plan for the American Legion Property to accommodate both public and private use in their meeting on Wednesday.
The American Legion Property is a 36.2-acre parcel of land that is located on 1714 Legion Road, near Ephesus Park and Colony Woods. If enacted, this plan would be the first use for the land since the Town purchased it in 2017 for $7.9 million.
The petition, brought forward in May by Chapel Hill Town Council members Camille Berry, Tai Huynh, Paris Miller-Foushee, Michael Parker and Mayor Pro Tempore Karen Stegman, recommends that the front portion of the site be sold for private and commercial uses, such as commercial office spaces and middle-income housing.
It recommends that they dedicate the generated tax revenue from that development to fund a park and affordable housing in the remaining portion of the property.
Assistant to the Town Manager Ross Tompkins said the front portion of the site would be about nine acres.
Stegman said that the discussion of selling a piece of the American Legion Property to recoup some of the costs of purchasing it was the plan for the land before she joined the council in 2017.
After the presentation by Hopkins, the council addressed two questions regarding the petition.
The first question discussed was whether or not to proceed with the potential uses requested by the petition.
Amy Ryan, one of the council members who did not sign the petition, was not in favor of selling part of the land. She said that she would rather hold onto the land, even if selling part of it would speed up the development of the park.
Chapel Hill Town Council member Adam Searing also said that the decision to sell off portions of the land for private use is not the right one.
“I think we should be talking about how we can make this park bigger not make it smaller," he said.
Miller-Foushee, an advocate for housing justice, stressed the non-conflicting relationship between affordable housing and the park.
She said that parks should not be at odds with Chapel Hill's growth and development.
“The reality on the ground is that community members who are struggling to meet their basic needs or finding housing that is affordable don’t have the privilege to see the American Legion Road Property framed in zero-sum terms,” Miller-Foushee said.
She added that she is excited about the potential to build an inclusive community where a diverse group of people of all socioeconomic statuses can thrive.
The second question addressed was whether the timeline suggested in the petition was feasible.
The petition expects public engagement to be initiated this fall and a fully developed plan to be brought forward to the council for final action in the first quarter of 2023.
Council member Jessica Anderson said that the timeline for the development of the land felt more political than practical.
“If we’re trying to get something done before the next election or because of previous decisions, then that’s never going to be a good way to make policy,” she said.
At the end of the meeting, Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said the project was not a priority over the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
She added that the timeline proposed in the petition was "a little unrealistic," but it could be a possibility if done correctly.
More discussion on the American Legion Property will take place in the fall.
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