Chapel Hill News

Mediator to assess Lloyd Farm situation

CARRBORO The Lloyd Farm development project found its first point of agreement this week as the Board of Aldermen and the project’s developer agreed to hire the Dispute Settlement Center to conduct a “situation assessment” and share the cost of that work.

It was the first intersection of all interested parties on the topic of how to move forward. Last month the aldermen tried to schedule a public hearing for the project, but lacked the votes to get it done.

Residents at the October meeting said the $90 million to $100 million project off N.C. 54 across from Carrboro Plaza would go against the values and quality-of-life goals in the town’s “Vision 2020” planning document.

Ted Barnes, a partner in Argus Development Group, LLC, told the aldermen in writing that he would agree to work with the center’s coordinator of public disputes, Andrew Sachs. He and the town will split the cost of the $15,000 assessment, which should be completed by the end of January.

Sachs will meet with the stakeholders and recommend whether mediated meetings among all parties is advisable. An estimated price tag for that second phase of work would be part of Sachs’ report.

Usually, the Board of Aldermen decides whether or not a property can be rezoned and issued a conditional use permit. The board takes into account the pros and cons voiced at a public hearing.

But a public hearing is not a good tool for resolving conflict, Alderwoman Jacquie Gist said last month. She asked for information on using the Dispute Settlement Center to possibly “smooth out some rough edges” between the developer and the neighbors.

Letters from each side submitted to the aldermen provide some insight into that problem. The developers want to avoid repetitive review by advisories boards. The neighbors simply want to block the project. Not every project, they say, just this one.

Geoff Gisler, a Carol Street resident, wrote: “We believe the proposed development is fundamentally inconsistent with the Town’s policies and values and that its adverse impacts on the neighborhood cannot be mitigated.”

The neighbors are willing to talk with Argus, The Design Response (architects) and the Lloyds, Gisler said, but only about reassessing the acceptable uses of the property and investigating “opportunities for innovative planning and design in line with the Town’s policies and values.”

Barnes wrote that he is looking for “appropriate town representation” to provide balance in any discussions “as otherwise there is a distinct possibility that it will disintegrate into a non-productive venture.”

Gisler said he had confidence in the town’s effort to use mediation. “We assume any process will be fair,” he wrote.

Gist agreed. “I trust the integrity of the Dispute Settlement Center,” she said. “I’d like us to go forward with the first stage.”

Town Attorney Mike Brough advised the aldermen at this week’s meeting to avoid direct participation in the assessment in order to preserve the board’s objectivity in issuing or denying the permit for the project. The board agreed, voting 7-0 Tuesday night to send in the mediator and have him report back.