The Chapel Hill Town Council held its business meeting Monday and heard from UNC representatives on the semi-annual main campus development report, as well as an update from GoTriangle discussing the Durham-Orange Light Rail Project and its integration with the bus systems.
The Ephesus-Fordham District was also discussed, regarding opening up public hearings about amendments to form-based code.
Anna Wu, UNC assistant vice chancellor for facilities, spoke about the demolition of Odum Village apartments and the University’s master plan. Wu said it would not be cost efficient to upgrade the buildings for new uses.
“We were planning to redevelop that, but given our housing situation, we have that on hold for the time being,” Wu said.
Chapel Hill Town Council members expressed growing concern for the number of students moving off campus. Council member Donna Bell asked about UNC’s plans to get rid of 287 parking spaces.
“Parking has become the other dirty word in Chapel Hill,” Bell said. “In the end, I’m trying to encourage the belief that parking can change people’s behavior and the decisions that they would make.”
Wu said the parking spaces in question would not be going away in the near future, but council members said they were concerned about how more students living off campus would affect the town.
“We can encourage a certain behavior, but our students have the opportunity to make their own choice,” Wu said.
Council member Maria Palmer pointed out that the University could affect how many students decide to live on campus based on affordable prices for living in residence halls and apartments.
“I think part of the reason students are moving out is the cost,” Palmer said. “If the University doesn’t address that, we can’t do anything about that.”
Palmer said when an apartment on campus costs over $1,000 and students can rent apartments in town for $850, parents and students would find it more reasonable to move off campus and potentially save $200 a month.
Patrick McDonough, manager of planning and transit oriented development, gave an update regarding light rail plans connecting Orange and Durham counties. McDonough said GoTriangle was coming up with a comprehensive plan to create bus routes that would help the most people get to light rail stations in Orange and Durham counties.
There was dissension from Duke professor Robert Healy and UNC professor Eric Ghysels. Both said GoTriangle had kept a 200-page document discussing light rail transit versus bus rapid transit out of the hands of the public. They said this report’s findings found bus rapid transit to be more cost effective than light rail transit.
“It will take 10 years to build the light rail,” Ghysels said, according to the estimates by GoTriangle. “During those 10 years, the technology will have been made obsolete. (Bus rapid transit) is less expensive and very flexible and adaptable to new technologies.”
“We’re talking about the light rail being this magic bullet that’s going to solve all our traffic problems. I don’t know that that’s necessarily the case if we’re not gonna capture the people who actually work at the hospitals,” Council member Nancy Oates said of the light rail’s goal for Orange County.
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