The Board of Aldermen voted unanimously Tuesday to proceed with phase 1B of the Homestead Road-Chapel Hill High School Multi-Use Path.
According to the resolution, there could still be changes to the project, possibly substituting crushed stone or a rubberized surface for asphalt on portions that intersect or run concurrently with the Chapel Hill High School cross country course.
Town staff will also investigate modifying the path’s alignment to connect with school property on the west side of the Smith Middle School tennis courts, avoiding the cross country course.
The project is a phase of the Bolin Creek Greenway master plan. The multi-use path crosses Bolin Creek once after going under Homestead Road, runs next to the creek for several hundred feet, and then heads east perpendicular to the creek to connect with nearby schools. The section of the trail that has generated controversy is segment 1B, running from the Claremont neighborhood past Chapel Hill High and intersecting three times with its cross country training course.
Phase 1B is expected to cost more than $1 million. The project is funded largely by state and federal grants for programs that, in part, make natural areas more accessible to bicyclists, walkers and people with disabilities. About 25 percent of the cost will be covered by the town through bonds and payment in lieu of taxes paid by the Claremont developer.
The contractor, said Town Attorney Bob Hornick Jr., has assured the town that he can begin working on the project, treating changes that may come later as “change orders” which are common in such projects.
Hornick met with the cross country coaches, Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese, the contractor and town staff to sort through possible changes to the project. He said LoFrese told him said school officials preferred having the multi-use path completed and then letting them sort out what’s to be done with the cross country course, possibly reducing the number of intersections with the multi-use path.
Hornick said the schools don’t want to spend money on changes to the cross country course.
In an email after the meeting, MaryFaith Mount-Cors, parent-chair of Chapel Hill High’s School Improvement Team, said the school district supports the possibility of re-routing the multi-use path away from the cross country course, so long as the schools are not footing the bill.
“The school district doesn’t want to be put any position in which the town can ask them to pay for something or provide money at all,” she wrote.
Longtime Greenways commission member and cross country parent Rob Crook supports the phase 1B segment of the multi-use path but criticized the town’s handling of the process.
“You’re blowing up bridges left and right,” he said. “The last few weeks made it appear no one on the board understood what they were approving. Cross country runners are thinking ‘we’re not going to let your screw-up get in our way,’” he said.
And then there’s the water.
Carrboro homeowner Carlos Garcia Velez said his property is now routinely affected by storm water and the impervious surface of the multi-use path will exacerbate the flooding.
“This will have a huge impact on my property,” he told the board.
He also complained that the path was approved and he was not contacted for feedback. Planning Director Trish McGuire said affected homeowners were notified of the proposed project in 2009, before Velez moved to Carrboro.
Velez detailed for the board the extensive efforts that he has made in mitigating flood damage to his property – replacing trees and clearing debris. He said he would like for the town to compensate him for any flood damage to his property the multi-use path causes.
Though speakers in public comment are typically limited to three minutes to make their case, Mayor Pro Tem Michelle Johnson allowed Velez to continue well beyond that time constraint.
That extension prompted Patrick McDonough, a supporter of the multi-use path, to use his time to scold the board on process. When stepping to the lectern, he verified that he’d be timed for three minutes and asked to be interrupted if he went that long.
“I love you guys, but we need to run these meetings better,” said McDonough. He reminded the board that the project had already been through years of review and approvals. “We’re talking substance now? Where does it end? You guys need to move on.”
McDonough said that there were many parents and concerned citizens who might like to come to some of the aldermen’s meetings, but could not because discussions on matters that should be settled can go on for hours.
Mary Parker Sonis, another longtime Greenways commission member, compared the board’s decision to the night before surgery.
“You check into the hospital, they do one more final x-ray then tell you that what they thought was one thing on the xray is something else – it’s just a shadow and you find out that you don’t need surgery,” she said. “Then your doctor comes to you and says I’m afraid we’re going to do the surgery anyway ‘cause you’re on the schedule.” (Note: Sonis writes a monthly nature column for The Chapel Hill News.)
Sonis said that the board was moving forward because of previous approval despite flooding that she said has worsened since the 2009 decision. “When these plans were made, we didn’t have flooding like this. ... You’ve all been sent pictures of this by me and other people,” she said. “We brought it up in the Greenways Commission. It’s the effect of climate change and development. It’s like a double whammy.”
Alderman Damon Seils took issue with that representation and with the stated concerns about flooding in general.
“The concerns that we’re hearing about were brought up when the project was designed and engineered,” he said. “These concerns informed the design. This is not a new issue. I don’t think it’s correct to simply say that everything has changed.”
Seils said there are many checkpoints along the way in a project like the 1B multi-use path and that these are built into the process to allow for adjustments. The aldermen agreed to call a special meeting during their summer break if necessary to approve changes without delay.
Mayor Lydia Lavelle did not attend the meeting due to the death of her father Sunday in Athens, Ohio.