What is a comprehensive plan? Why does Chapel Hill need a new one?

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Rosemary WaldorfGeorge Cianciolo and I are well into our fifth month of serving as co-chairs for Chapel Hill 2020, our community-based effort to create a new Comprehensive Plan for Chapel Hill. We remain amazed by the level of engagement; every stakeholder meeting is drawing more than 150 participants.

Five months in, we still run into people who ask, What is a comprehensive plan? Why is it important? Why do we need a new one? To help the entire community better understand Chapel Hill 2020, we decided to ask some local experts to answer these questions.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Town Manager Roger Stancil describe a comprehensive plan from their perspectives. We also asked four Chapel Hill Planning Board chairs -- George Cianciolo, Ruby Sinreich, Michael Collins and Del Snow (Del is the current chair) -- to define a comprehensive plan and explain its importance.

And because a good Comprehensive Plan is also a sustainability plan for the community, we asked Josh Gurlitz to chime in as well. He chairs the town's Sustainability Committee.

Come join us for the next community meeting of Chapel Hill 2020, which will be held from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12, at Glenwood Elementary School, 2 Prestwick Road. This meeting will be a working session when the theme groups meet simultaneously to develop their parts of Chapel Hill's future Comprehensive Plan (goals, strategies, actions).

For more information about Chapel Hill 2020, visit www.chapelhill2020.org or www.2020buzz.org. Would you like to schedule a speaker to attend your club or group's next neighborhood meeting or luncheon? Please contact us at compplan@townofchapelhill.org or 919-969-5068.

         --Rosemary Waldorf

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt:
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt
The Chapel Hill 2020 Comprehensive Planning Process promises to define a vision for our next decade. It will provide guidance for our Council and community as we address the known challenges ahead and prepare us to meet those that are still undefined.

The new plan is a significant change from those adopted in the past. For the first time, we will be incorporating the full scope of Town services into how we imagine our future. No longer just a land use plan, Chapel Hill 2020 will inform all aspects of Town services and where these services connect with the community.

As a Town, we are committed to maintaining our long tradition of high quality municipal services and wise planning, but new times require new approaches. I am confident that the wisdom of our community will rise to the occasion and provide Chapel Hill with the tools necessary to preserve our character, as well as prepare us for the challenges of the future.

Roger L. Stancil:

A Comprehensive Plan

•  Sets the Vision of a community, by identifying 
    o The look and feel we seek 
    o The governance that will achieve the Vision 
    o The Town’s services consistent with the Vision 
    o The assumptions upon which the Vision is based 
    o The community partners and stakeholders involved in the Plan’s development
•  Moves the community to a sustainable future.
•  Establishes the preferred future of the community to guide the decisions of the Town’s elected officials and staff about budget, land use, asset management and workforce planning decisions
•  Establishes measurable outcomes that the community can use to evaluate whether it is achieving the Vision
•  Provides for a process to continuously improve the Plan with experience as assumptions change and outcomes produce new information.

The Comprehensive Plan should be renewed to adjust the community’s course based on current aspirations and reality.

George Cianciolo: Chapel Hill 2020 Co-chair George Cianciolo

A Comprehensive Plan (CP) is, in some ways, like a travel guide. Whereas a travel guide points out the best places to see and visit in a community, and gives directions for getting there, a CP not only highlights those aspects of a community it considers best and most desirable, but provides a vision of how the community wants to see those aspects protected, improved, and added to going forward. A CP also provides a roadmap, i.e. guidelines, for elected officials and staff to enact that vision and thus provides a clear picture of the community vision for current residents, developers, and future residents.

Chapel Hill’s last CP was begun 13 years ago. In a continuously-changing world and in a community that attracts many new residents, a 13-year old vision has limited utility. A new updated vision, with a clear and usable roadmap, is essential to insuring the future of Chapel Hill.

Mike Collins:

Mike CollinsEveryone needs goals and a philosophy of life – and that goes for towns and cities, too. Without these, we carom blindly from decision to decision, without any consensus on who or what we want to be.

Chapel Hill is at a crucial stage in its history. Our region is becoming more urban, more gentrified, and is feeling greater economic stresses. We face change whether we like it or not. The only question is whether we will proactively manage that change to become a better community or whether we will spend our future reacting.

The Comprehensive Plan is our guide to managing that change, our statement of our collective vision about who we are, where we want to go, and how we get there. A good plan, created with wide community input and vetted by us as citizens, will serve as our guide to the future.

Josh Gurlitz:

Josh GurlitzA “comprehensive plan” is a powerful and effective synthesis of community expression. It is powerful because it has a direct effect on decision making.

1) A ”comprehensive plan” is the product of a community discussion. It should be a reflection of community sentiment on key civic issues. The value of the plan depends on the accuracy of and identity of the key issues (we have called them ‘rocks’).
2) A “comprehensive plan” should be an important factor in civic consideration of future policy, program, and growth decisions.
3) A “comprehensive plan” is a living document in that it is revisited and revised periodically to reflect changes in the civic consensus.

A “comprehensive plan” is not a nuts-and-bolts set of directions for assembling a town. It is a statement of values.

As a committee chair: I look for statements, goals and objectives in the comprehensive plan that refer to the mission of my committee. When my committee considers an issue we factor in those comprehensive plan guidelines as well as our own opinion.

As a citizen: I expect the decisions of elected officials, appointed citizen leaders and town staff to be consistent with the values of the comprehensive plan.

As a professional: I believe that i should configure my projects to be consistent with comprehensive plan values, statements and objectives to ensure their success in the community.

Ruby Sinreich:

Ruby SinreichDuring the years I served on the Chapel Hill Planning Board, we reviewed some proposals that included tall buildings and dense footprints such as East 54, Greenbridge, and others. Often the public comment about these proposals included remarks like “this would ruin Chapel Hill” or “this isn’t the character we moved here for.” But to the contrary, many of us involved in long-range planning felt that such urban land uses are what we need to save Chapel Hill from sprawl and auto-dependence, and we thought they were roughly consistent with our vision for the future.

This stark difference in goals was what led our board to ask the Town several years ago to revise the Comprehensive Plan, or at least create a new community vision statement, to provide a space for us to come together and have this conversation about our future. Without a shared vision, advocates will simply dig in their heels as they get further entrenched in their positions. What is needed instead is a community dialog that allows us to openly share our hopes and concerns about development (and the many other issues in the Comprehensive Plan).

If we really listen to each other, I suspect we will find that there are at least as many areas of agreement as disagreement. We all love Chapel Hill, and we all chose to move here or stay here for a reason. I do want to see more dense, urban land-use patterns in Chapel Hill, but I also want to preserve our beautiful environment, our open-minded values, and our high quality of life. The reason I have been passionate about this Comprehensive Plan revision years before it even started is that I think it is the best chance to get the best ideas from all of our residents, and to craft the best future for Chapel Hill - in 2020 and well beyond.

We need a future we can all believe in, not a plan that feels imposed upon us. That’s why we all have a responsibility to participate in the Chapel Hill 2020 process, whether it’s at meetings, online, or in our own communities. I hope to see you at the working session on January 12th, or on the blog at www.2020buzz.org.

Del Snow:

Del SnowEvery Town’s comprehensive plan should provide specific guidelines for how it grows. Chapel Hill’s comprehensive plan has an additional responsibility – to define the Chapel Hill “brand,” and identify ways to protect and support it. This first step ensures that the comprehensive plan upholds the singular qualities that make Chapel Hill desirable, unique and sustainable. Secondly, the plan would formulate a balanced and holistic growth pattern, setting the stage for the next 10 years. It would be a document with clarity of vision, specifics about the wheres, hows, and whys, and with quantifiable goals, to allow the Council to reflect Chapel Hill’s declared values.

The current comprehensive plan is used to defend competing goals. Its ambiguities lead to muddled development scenarios as the Town approaches build-out. A document that incorporate an overall vision, values and strategies for growth will give both Town boards and Council guidance in development approvals.

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