For the past 25 years, I have both observed and influenced the ways in which our community has grown and changed. Before there was a Southern Village, I walked and explored the woods that eventually turned into the homes and businesses that became a neighborhood. Many years later, I helped facilitate a town committee that considered what might happen as southern Chapel Hill grew, acknowledging that Southern Village came about upon a 1993 understanding that the area around it would remain undeveloped for the foreseeable future.
Like many of us who live here, when my wife and I first set eyes on Chapel Hill we knew it was for us. What we didn’t know was that it had yet to feel the development pressures that came later. When I first confronted development in Chapel Hill, I resisted it for the reasons that we should and still do: there is no reason to change unless it is change for the better. I hold to that standard when evaluating the current Obey Creek plan.
There are several things to consider about the Obey Creek plan. First, it is a proposal for development of land outside the original area of Southern Village. When I was mayor, several developers proposed ideas for the Obey Creek property. I rejected each of them. The reason I rejected them is that they did not meet the standard of making our town better as a result.
The Obey Creek plan now being considered by the council differs from earlier plans. Of the 115-acre site, development is focused on 35 acres along 15-501. The rest of the property would become a town-owned park. The benefit of this is that, unlike the original Southern Small Area Plan, which left the surrounding downzoned properties vulnerable to future development, this 80 acres would be permanently preserved. In addition, both the park and the development would be connected to Southern Village by a pedestrian and bicycle bridge over 15-501, providing connectivity that is currently lacking.
The developed portion of the property will be dense, but that density is in close proximity to the town’s major employment center, which is the university and UNC Hospitals. The development also includes affordable rental housing, something that is now an unfilled need.
The current proposed plan came about because of a thoughtful and inclusive process. The result meets the standard of being a change for the better in our community. That is why I support the Obey Creek proposal, and I encourage the council to support it.
Kevin C. Foy
The writer was the mayor of Chapel Hill from 2001-09.