Greene Tract plan gets a needed nudge for­ward

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Triangle & N.c. - BY TAMMY GRUBB [email protected]­ald­sun.com

An ef­fort to de­velop and pre­serve parts of a pub­licly owned, 164-acre for­est north of Chapel Hill is mov­ing ahead af­ter a curve ball last sum­mer left two gov­ern­ment part­ners un­cer­tain about its fu­ture.

The Greene Tract, pur­chased in 1984 for a land­fill ex­pan­sion that never hap­pened, is in Chapel Hill’s plan­ning ju­ris­dic­tion. Or­ange County owns 60 acres — also known as the Head­wa­ters Pre­serve — and jointly owns the re­main­ing 104 acres with Chapel Hill and Car­rboro.

This week, the gov­ern­ments agreed to get the process mov­ing again, but only af­ter more last-minute changes from Chapel Hill. They’ll talk at an Assem­bly of Gov­ern­ments meet­ing Tues­day, Jan. 28, in Hills­bor­ough about how to work to­gether, a time­line for get­ting the work done, and their goals for the land.

For at least 30 years, the Greene Tract land was seen as space for fu­ture hous­ing, a school and recre­ation. Mul­ti­ple plans have been cre­ated with the ad­ja­cent Rogers Road com­mu­nity, who have lived with the neg­a­tive ef­fects of the county’s land­fill for 40 years.

The con­ver­sa­tion grew more ur­gent two years ago when devel­op­ment started threat­en­ing nearby mo­bile home parks. In July, the process was de­railed af­ter Chapel Hill’s coun­cil met with neigh­bors con­cerned about den­sity, road con­nec­tions and how devel­op­ment could af­fect the for­est.

Chapel Hill re­vised its agree­ment, still des­ig­nat­ing a cer­tain num­ber of acres for each planned use of the land but no longer show­ing where each could hap­pen. Neigh­bors were told com­mu­nity meet­ings would be held in the fall.

The change was big enough to send the agree­ment back to Car­rboro and the county for an­other vote. Both had ap­proved it ear­lier with the un­der­stand­ing Chapel Hill was on board. The pub­lic meet­ings were post­poned as of­fi­cials met with me­di­a­tors to restart the process.

CHAPEL HILL’S JULY DE­CI­SION

Or­ange County Com­mis­sioner Mark Mar­cop­los said it’s not clear why the process went off the rails, but it “was a set­back” that cost him faith in the part­ner­ship with Chapel Hill. He is now “hope­ful but cau­tious.”

“We’ve got one shot to do some­thing re­ally im­pact­ful and his­toric on the Greene Tract,” Mar­cop­los said Tues­day. “We own the land, we can build more for less money there. The (Rogers-Eubanks) neigh­bor­hood has had the road stubbed out from the cur­rent res­i­den­tial area for years and years and years, and noth­ing has hap­pened. We have an af­ford­able hous­ing cri­sis and we’ve had it for years, and noth­ing has hap­pened.”

Chapel Hill of­fi­cials raised their con­cerns in Fe­bru­ary but had no way to get them ad­dressed, Coun­cil mem­ber Jes­sica An­der­son said Wed­nes­day. They didn’t break the agree­ment and aren’t try­ing to slow things down, she said.

“The faster that we can get [a sep­a­rate agree­ment for how to work to­gether] in place sounds great,” An­der­son said. ”I hope that we are all also think­ing about the prag­matic re­al­i­ties of what it’s go­ing to take to get in­fra­struc­ture out there and to ac­tu­ally be do­ing the things that we’re go­ing to have to do in or­der to re­al­ize the vi­sion that I think folks have had for so many years.”

EN­VI­RON­MEN­TAL STUDY, WORK­ING AGREE­MENT

The next step is hir­ing a con­sul­tant for en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact stud­ies and fi­nal­iz­ing a me­moran­dum of un­der­stand­ing that out­lines how plan­ning, de­ci­sions, costs and dis­agree­ments will be han­dled.

The meet­ing with Greene Tract neigh­bors and the pub­lic is on hold un­til there’s an en­vi­ron­men­tal study that looks at wet­lands and streams, plants and an­i­mals, cul­tural and his­toric fea­tures, and how the site could be con­nected to the greater com­mu­nity. The study and the staff re­view could take six months. The plan is to pre­serve the 60 acres that are the most en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive.

Chapel Hill and Or­ange County each has agreed to pay roughly $17,200 for the study; Car­rboro would pay about $5,600. The study will be made pub­lic as soon as the con­sul­tants turn it over, Com­mis­sion­ers Chair Penny Rich said.

Although many con­ver­sa­tions and pub­lic meet­ings are ahead, the part­ners have agreed to hire de­vel­op­ers to de­sign in­di­vid­ual build­ing projects and guide them through Chapel Hill’s ap­proval process. They ten­ta­tively have agreed to 22 acres of open and recre­ation space, 16 acres for a fu­ture school site and 66 acres for mixed-in­come hous­ing.

A crit­i­cal piece will be how to con­nect the Greene Tract to the sur­round­ing com­mu­nity, since the only ac­cess now is a two-lane road through the Rogers Road neigh­bor­hood. Cross­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive ar­eas that cut through the for­est also could be a chal­lenge.

HOW TO MOVE FOR­WARD

Or­ange County At­tor­ney John Roberts, who has drafted a me­moran­dum, said elected of­fi­cials could get the fi­nal draft this spring. The draft sets an 18-month win­dow for de­cid­ing pos­si­ble devel­op­ment, and if there’s still no agree­ment in 18 months, he said, the par­ties could get six more months to re­solve dis­putes.

“If they can’t reach an agree­ment, there’s al­ways the nu­clear op­tion, which is par­ti­tion [the land] and with­draw it from the other gov­ern­ments’ ju­ris­dic­tion and get it back in Or­ange County’s ju­ris­dic­tion,” Roberts said Tues­day.

A time­line will be crit­i­cal, Com­mis­sioner Mark Dorosin said.

“Since we’ve had such dis­sen­sion among the par­ties, I un­der­stand the goal is try­ing to get us to agree on some­thing, which I think is laud­able, but Chapel Hill passed their al­ter­nate res­o­lu­tion in July,” he said. “Six months later, we’re get­ting to this. I just don’t know how long it will be un­til we get to the next thing where we fig­ure out the dates.”

The gov­ern­ments are “go­ing to con­tinue to work well to­gether,” Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hem­minger said Wed­nes­day. The plan is com­pli­cated, but the part­ners al­ready have ac­com­plished a lot, from pro­vid­ing Rogers Road res­i­dents with wa­ter and sewer con­nec­tions to build­ing a com­mu­nity cen­ter, she said.

“It’s not like we’ve been stand­ing still, but we have more work to do,” Hem­minger said.

WHAT’S NEXT

Or­ange County, Car­rboro, Chapel Hill and Hills­bor­ough will meet at 7 p.m. Tues­day, Jan. 28, for the Assem­bly of Gov­ern­ments meet­ing in Hills­bor­ough. The meet­ing will be held at the Whit­ted Build­ing, 300 W. Tryon St.

A meet­ing agenda is avail­able on­line at tinyurl.com/sqbg7uo.

TOWN OF CHAPEL HILL Con­trib­uted

A re­vised map ap­proved by the Chapel Hill Town Coun­cil pre­serves the same amount of land (green and teal) as a plan that Or­ange County and Car­rboro ap­proved.

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