Chapel Hill News

County, Carrboro discuss library, farm businesses

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen and county commissioners found much they could agree on last week but differed on whether agricultural businesses belong in the rural buffer.

The rural buffer is 37,248 acres surrounding the towns. The people who live there do not get urban services like trash pickup, and the area is meant to remain rural in character with very low-density homes.

Orange County officials have proposed a plan that would allow “agricultural support enterprises,” similar to what farmer Bob Nutter was allowed to do years ago when he established the Maple View Farm Store and the farm’s agricultural center. Other potential uses include large-scale composting, garden centers and supply stores, microbreweries and bed and breakfast operations.

The changes are meant to support local farms and continued use of the land for agriculture. The Chapel Hill Town Council could discuss the proposal this fall. All three governments have to agree to make changes in the rural buffer.

The aldermen have talked about the issue a few times and have some concerns, Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle told the Orange County Board of Commissioners in a joint meeting Thursday night. The aldermen suggested a five-year moratorium, so the community can evaluate the results before making any changes permanent.

The biggest concern is protecting the buffer from changes that might put the rural character and environment at risk, Aldermen Sammy Slade and Randee Haven O’Donnell said. Slade said he also would like to hear more from the community about the plans.

“The list is far more intense and commercial-based than any of us anticipated. We know that there’s interest in the rural buffer for folks to have more cottage industry-type businesses, but we didn’t see anything like that before us,” Haven O’Donnell said. “The sunset clause is giving us time to reflect on ways to sensibly address a serious change in land use. Once you change that landscape, you really can’t go back.”

Carrboro’s board is not in complete agreement that a sunset clause is the right move, Alderwoman Bethany Chaney said.

Commissioners Vice Chairman Earl McKee said a sunset clause could discourage farmers who own substantial amounts of land from making major business investments.

“Any of these enterprises that are going to be financially viable require a substantial amount of investment, and they require an investment over time and require an expectation to be able to grow,” he said. “Ask yourself if (Maple View farmer) Bob Nutter would have spent a million dollars on those buildings, plus a couple more million on the processing facility, if he had no idea if he was going to able to operate past five years or expand that operation.”

The issue could come up again at the county’s Assembly of Governments meeting in November with Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough.