Chapel Hill’s LUMO ‘Open Houses’ Offer Public a Role in Data Collection


By Terry E. Cohen

Interwoven in the discussion of changes to single-family zoning at the Jan. 25 Town of Chapel Hill Council meeting, the local government’s lack of a neighborhood contact listing for outreach scored a bit of attention.

As Town Planning Manager Corey Liles outlined in the next-to-last slide of the staff presentation, his department is seeking engagement with the public and local neighborhoods on a major text amendment proposal to the Land Use Management Ordinance (LUMO) that would allow small multi-family units in areas zoned for single-family dwellings only.

One of the opportunities mentioned on that slide is a “Virtual Community Open House” scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 31, from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. The public can attend by registering for the online meeting at this link. An in-person “open house” meeting is also set for Feb. 2 at the Chapel Hill Public Library, Room B, from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.

As the presentation indicated, the department’s next action is “preliminary mapping of neighborhoods impacted” by the proposals to change the zoning, as well as clean up definitions, set-backs, parking and other requirements in the local code.

Mayor Pam Hemminger started the round of questions from council members, noting that 247 neighborhoods had been identified. She asked if the planning department had been able to establish how many and which ones would be impacted since Neighborhood Conservation Districts (NCDs), those with homeowner associations (HOAs) and others with restrictive covenants (with or without HOAs) are proposed to be exempted.

Senior Planner Tasmaya Lagoo spoke of the difficulty of “digging into county records” to find the restrictive covenants that would have a bearing on the proposal’s application to a specific neighborhood. While a ballpark figure might be attainable in the short-term, the comprehensiveness and accuracy of the data would depend on the timeframe allowed in which to acquire the information.

At 51 minutes and 35 seconds into the meeting (video here), Hemminger asked about methods for informing the public about the LUMO rezoning proposal.

“We did have a Neighborhood Liaison Program. We had a contact in the different neighborhoods. Have we looked at that as an avenue for connecting with neighborhoods [so] that you have could have conversations with them?” Hemminger inquired.

Liles responded, “We’ve heard about that program being a feature in the past. We’ve not come across a contact list or anything of that sort. If anyone has information—but, you know, we are connecting with more people and making connections with neighborhoods, so we’re optimistic that we could be rebuilding some of that capacity.”

Both members of the council and a number of those speaking in public comment expressed an interest in knowing which neighborhoods would be impacted. Most homeowners likely know the status of their street based on their purchases, but renters may not know unless the property owners divulged such information in their leases. The department had deemed a mass mailing to “20,000 units would be needed” and that “better results” could be obtained through digital outreach and community connections.

Since the planning department consists of only 14 people, with a fraction of that devoted to this particular project, it stands to reason that the open houses can afford the public an opportunity to provide some information to the local government needed to answer some of the outstanding questions and rebuild “some of that capacity” for neighborhood contacts that Liles referred to. Similarly, the public can learn more about the proposals from planning staff.

In addition to the two meetings, the public can visit the project webpage for information, provide input via this link, or email the planning department.

Terry E. Cohen is the editor of The Local Reporter. She also writes articles for a global media firm on topics related to Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) in business and industry.

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