Don’t cross cross-country runners.
Students, parents and coaches from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro high schools packed Carrboro Town Hall on Tuesday night, calling out the Board of Aldermen for a paving project for the 1B section of the Bolin Creek Greenway’s “Creekside” trail.
By Thursday evening, fierce opposition to the plan led to town officials saying the trail would likely be sidetracked.
“I’m not hearing anyone saying ‘let’s go forward with this plan as is,” Carrboro Board member Jacquelyn Gist said at a Thursday night information session.
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The planned path for the paving project, set to begin May 16, consists of 2,100 feet of paved surface, about 10 feet wide, that would would intersect three times with the cross-country running trail used by the high schools’ championship-winning teams for training and competition.
Twenty speakers took to the lectern to express their sense of betrayal by the town. All of them complained they were inadequately informed of the project’s imminent initiation, and all of them were angry and baffled by the prospect of three planned intersections between runners and cyclists.
No one spoke in favor of the project going forward as planned.
Some opponents of the paved path expressed alarm Thursday morning to discover a path bulldozed into nearby woods. Carrboro town staff members, however, said the muddy path was unrelated to the 1B section of Creekside trail.
“Town staff went out to Homestead Road to see what was going on,” Alderman Damon Seils emailed Thursday afternoon. “The work you saw there was related to the Claremont South development. No work has begun on the Phase 1B path.”
Carrboro Planning Director Patrica McGuire emailed the aldermen: “We have confirmed with Fred Smith Construction that they have not mobilized any equipment for the project and are not carrying out any activities at this time. ... Construction plan approval has not been granted; any construction activity will be stopped if it is underway.”
The town hosted a public information session Thursday evening in the Carrboro Town Hall. About 50 citizens showed up, including Chapel Hill cross-country coach Joan Nesbit Mabe and team members, several members of Friends of Bolin Creek, and four members of the Board of Alderman – Gist, Beth Chaney, Randee Haven-O'Donnell and Sammy Slade – and town attorney Bob Hornik. McGuire told them some of the history of the project. Jeff Moore, a Cary-based engineer from the consulting firm of Kimly Horn & Associates, was on hand to explain some its technical aspects.
The 1B paving project was first considered almost 15 years ago, approved by the Board of Aldermen in 2009, and planning began in 2010. The 1B segment of the paving is a phase nearest the Claremont neighborhood and runs across property owned by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools.
After several negative comments, some of them impassioned, spectators at Thursday’s meeting were asked for a show of hands on who wanted the 1B section delayed or revamped. All but a few raised their hands, including Gist. Even some of those who supported the path objected to the lack of communication between the town and people affected by the 1B plan.
“I cannot make you any promises, except that we’re going to fix this,” Gist said, adding later “I don’t think this is the plan that will go forward.”
Hornik noted no notice to proceed had been given. The soonest the matter could proceed would be at a Board of Alderman work session at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday evening, May 10, in the Town Hall.
Gist invited all concerned parties to attend, and she said board members would bump other items off the agenda if needed. “We will make time for you to speak.”
‘Schools signed off’
The conciliatory tone Thursday was different from the emotions expressed at Tuesday’s Board meeting.
The speakers all said they received emails from running coaches just days before, saying they had just learned of planned route. Nesbit Mabe, a two-time national champion and Olympic runner, was among those stunned and upset.
“I love our team. We love our course,” she said. “We came here a few weeks ago to argue against paving in phases three and four (of the greenway trail). You must have known then that this was about to happen. It’s time to set the record straight and restore trust.”
“The schools signed off on this,” said Carrboro Town Manager David Andrews.
Nesbit-Mabe said in an interview that neither she nor previous cross-country head coach Ron Olsen had been told of the path of the 1B trail. Olsen had received a single email about a proposed path in 2010, she said.
The aldermen themselves said they were unaware of three intersections with the running trail, which is unpaved.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Chapel Hill High School varsity runner Daniel Kleissler produced a 2012 email from Olsen that said he understood that the proposed path would intersect with the cross-country course one time. “If that is correct, then I am good to go,” Kleissler read from the email. He said Olsen told him that was his only contact with the planners.
The crowd groaned when someone said a later email was sent to Olsen that showed the current path plan, and his lack of a response was interpreted as his consent.
“That is not due diligence,” Ron McClure, a member of Friends of Bolin Creek, commented.
All speakers Tuesday night, including the aldermen, expressed concern for the safety of runners and cyclists with the routes overlapping.
McGuire said the project had been through multiple layers of town advisory boards, public meetings (in 2009) and reviews. She will assemble a timeline for the board’s use in evaluating its next steps.
McGuire’s representation of routine public scrutiny left many speakers cold Tuesday night.
Linda Haac, former chair of Carrboro’s Transportation Advisory Board, said she never knew about this path. The neighborhoods outside of downtown don’t get the same consideration as those near the business district, she said.
“We’re spending taxpayer money – people don’t want this,” Haac said. “I would urge this board to abandon this and phases three and four. This is tearing the community apart.”
When the applause faded from Haac’s suggestion that the board abandon all phases of paving in natural areas, the aldermen themselves began weighing in.
“This is the stakeholder family that has been missing from the conversation for the last dozen years,” Randee Haven-O’Donnell said, referring to the audience. “I want to know how, from the initiation of this (plan) with one crossing, how the hell did it end up with three?”
O’Donnell said the northern neighborhoods and those, including herself, who have been advocating for the preservation of urban forest areas have been bullied into submission on multiple projects.
“No more,” she said, emphatically to rousing applause.
Alderwoman Bethany Chaney expressed regret that the process had failed, suggesting that the school system had some culpability.
“We have to rely on the schools to reach out to their stakeholders,” Chaney said. “We’re all responsible, but we’re all sort of flummoxed.”
The aldermen planned to receive legal advice on the matter and could make a decision about going forward, pausing or cancelling the 1B paving project at their next meeting on May 10.
Sports editor W.E. Warnock contributed to this report.
The aldermen plan to receive legal advice and could make a decision about going forward, pausing or canceling the 1B paving project at their next meeting on Tuesday, May 10.