By Adam Powell
On Wednesday evening, Jan. 17, the Chapel Hill Town Council spent more than two hours going over a variety of topics in its first work session of the new year.
It was the first opportunity for the recently sworn-in town board members to familiarize themselves with the town’s land use management ordinance (LUMO), which will be heavily modified and revised in the coming months.
The Jan. 17 work session also allowed long-standing members of the council, such as former board member turned newly-elected Mayor Jessica Anderson, to get reacclimated to the LUMO work after a couple of months away from it.
“Some of us have been part of the LUMO work. Some of us haven’t,” Anderson explained. “Even for me, as someone who’s been part of the LUMO work, I have now lost track a little bit of where we are. So it’s not just the new people.“
Last fall, before going on holiday break, the council decided to begin working to modify its LUMO this year with a series of public meetings and hearings, along with sessions to define the specific types of housing that Chapel Hill is trying to add in the coming years.
“This is something we’ve been working on for many years. We’ve taken some important steps by updating our future land use map and adopting the transit-oriented development strategy,” Anderson explained. “We are trying to make our development process more streamlined and more effective.”
Anderson indicated that the council is looking to determine the various definitions and needs of local housing and begin completing the initial components of the LUMO by June.
Tasmaya Lagoo, Principal Planner for the town, went into detail about how the project has developed over the past year and where things are headed in 2024.
“This [LUMO process] has been going on for a long time,” Lagoo explained. “The LUMO rewrite was technically first approved by council back in 2017. Change over time has led to different planning processes, but we know that the sooner we get this finished, the sooner we’ll actually start to see the outcomes that we want.”
Lagoo presented to the council a week-by-week plan of how the town’s Planning Department intends to process the LUMO work throughout 2024, with the goal of completing much of it this calendar year.
From January through May, the town will be working on its draft LUMO, a process that includes consultation with staff, community, the town’s various planning commissions, and the council itself. In June and July, town staff will be refining the draft through additional work with the various consultant teams assisting the town with the project.
From August to October, once a draft is refined, the town plans to share the revised LUMO with the larger community through various public meetings and engagement sessions. This work will include advisory boards, and staff.
Additional timelines include January’s housing discussion, which is based on the concept of how the revised LUMO can encourage more missing middle housing around Chapel Hill. The next concept, anticipated to be completed in March, centers around uses, and how the revised LUMO can strategically encourage and manage local commercial and residential growth.
The focus will move in April to design standards, and how the LUMO can promote excellence in the public realm. The final step of the initial draft process, taking place in May, will focus on procedures, and how the LUMO can establish more equitable and efficient development approval procedures within town management.
If everything stays on its current track, the town’s plan is to adopt the revised LUMO in November after an additional series of public hearings at the council level.
Although a couple of board members expressed some questions about the rapid rate of the staff’s plan, they expressed willingness to move forward along the proposed timeline.
“It seems really ambitious, this timeline,” said Board Member Paris Miller-Foushee. “But if you all are really comfortable with it [this proposal] – if we can do this – then I say let’s go full steam ahead. I like this timeline. I liked the way they [town staff] broke it down. I am concerned with how overwhelming it can feel, because it is such a huge theme. But yeah, I’m really happy with it.”