By Scott Sherrill, UNC MPA Student
February 15 marked the beginning of a two-day Future Focus event for Chapel Hill. The goal of the sessions was to get a better idea for how the citizens of Chapel Hill want the town to grow and what they want the growth to look like. (link to scenario maps is at the bottom of this post)
Introductory presentations by David Parker, Associate Vice Chancellor and Deputy General Counsel of the University, and Dwight Bassett, Town of Chapel Hill Economic Development Director, painted a picture of UNC’s growth and development on the 4,000 acres it owns outside of central campus and some ideas from the Downtown Framework and Action Plan.
David Parker’s presentation not only focused on the potential growth and development opportunities for the campus, but also the forces that help to guide, direct, and limit the nature of that growth. David pointed particularly to the University as an agency of the State of North Carolina, its nature as a constituent of the 17-school University of North Carolina System, its status as a nonprofit, educational institution, its constraints under the regulations that accompany the 804 million dollars of federal investment, its role as a partner of the community, and its function as an engine of economic development. The essence was that the obligations that come along with each of these positions make the school very slow to move, and limit its ability to develop in one way or another.
The University is still a major player in the area with 29,000 students, 11,909 full time employees, and an annual budget in FY11 of in excess of a billion dollars, less than 20% of which came from the state, and just over 20% came from the federal government. Meanwhile the vast majority of funds is expended on instruction, research, and supporting students. And the University is accompanied by UNC Healthcare with 7,215 employees, 37,124 discharges, and 918,524 clinic visits. The end message was that the University is not a typical developer, but its fortunes are closely tied with the Town of Chapel Hill, and it is dedicated to being a community partner.
Dwight Bassett’s presentation focused on the Downtown framework, which he talked about at length in an earlier presentation. The elements focused on for the purposes of this event were the four key ideas of a Compact, Connected, Anchored, and Green downtown. The presentation also focused on some still viable ideas from the draft framework including a downtown gathering space, areas of potential future investment, where the land values were higher than the building values, and the idea of additional cross streets to make the blocks more pedestrian friendly.
The evening concluded with a visioning exercise where participants were shown 50 images and surveyed on whether or not the images depicted were appropriate or not appropriate visions for Chapel Hill. The presentations continued on February 16 on five areas outside the downtown: MLK South, MLK North, 15-501 South, 15-501 North, and NC 54.
About 180 people participated in the Thursday sessions. The used three scenarios as a starting point for discussion and input:
- Existing conditions + business as usual
- Moderate investments in transportation connections and growth
- Transit-focused investments in connections and growth
The maps from the session are availble here: https://picasaweb.google.com/105827290421826126685/FutureFocusWorkshopScenarios
If you’re interested in the results and the analysis of indicators, please join us on February 23rd at Estes Hills Elementary for an open house and further discussion from 4:30-6:30 pm.