By Steve Fleck
Re: June 16 Council Meeting and its Agenda
First, I wish to thank [the Chapel Hill] mayor and council for the time and energy they have spent on Trinsic’s application for a Conditional Zoning Permit. It has become a deeply controversial process, aggravated and obscured by SARS-CoV2 restrictions on public meetings and information.
Second, I wish to thank mayor and council for excluding me from the agenda at last Tuesday’s council meeting. It affords me the opportunity to address you in writing.
Ours is a petition for delay. Its purpose is to allow time to garner unbiased assessments from outside experts; not to rely solely on our limited town staff nor on those paid through the developer; and to fully engage all parties impacted by this proposal in order to resolve the growing disquiet over council’s actions.
Had I been allowed to address mayor and council, I would have also addressed the town’s process in dealing with Trinsic’s application. This topic has never been on Council’s agendas, but I believe remains a thoroughly legitimate reason for addressing you on June 16. You of course didn’t know that the assistant planning director suggested (June 10) filing a petition expressing our views. Since I had been duly included in the published agenda, it was a shock to be excluded on the spot. I am therefore writing in support of the petition’s signers, but also solely from my viewpoint.
Concrete data remain incomplete pertaining to the hydrology of stormwater and traffic safety issues. Meanwhile, an inordinate number of documents relative to Trinsic’s application were dropped on council and the public on June 12 and even the 16th, well after public discussion had been shut off at council’s May 26 meeting.
These last-minute drops of information, coupled with closed-off public discussion are unconscionable and harmful to an open and democratic process. This alone justifies delaying a vote to reopen discussion that has been truncated and to gain objective and more complete information.
Please consider these points of process:
1. The Timetable: Appears to favor the developer in an unprecedented manner. Limiting input has halted the engagement of all impacted parties; does not allow for outside assessment that the building of the project will have on downstream environment, especially Bolin and Booker creeks; and has forced premature acceptance of a nascent traffic model.
2. The Conditional Zoning Permit application is dated Sept. 18, 2020. According to the assistant planning director, staff-developer discussions have gone on for long as two years.* However, plans only became generally known to a COVID-restricted public in early 2021.
3. Even in the midst of COVID, town staff has appeared highly accommodating toward Trinsic, especially in helping to generate the unprecedented application of Office-Institutional 3 zoning for a clearly Residential-1 project. Staff have stated that they proposed this choice after many discussions about zoning with the developer.
4. The integrity of the council itself has been implicitly called into question by the Community Design Commission chair, Susana Dancy, in stating that council members “encouraged” her to continue as both CDC chair and paid consultant to Trinsic.** The town has also ignored the fact that Ms. Dancy has advocated for Trinsic before her own commission and even after having been recused, as well as at various other town boards, commissions and council meetings.***
Is this the impression you wish to leave your constituents? Rushing through a highly controversial project, while dropping hundreds of last-minute pages of text on the public after having shut off public discussion? Meanwhile, inputs from highly qualified UNC and Duke faculty have been pushed aside. The solution is simple: create time to assess, explore and engage on the critical topics that have been repeatedly put forward to you but remain outstanding; and settle them with unbiased, outside expert opinion.
To paraphrase a 19th-century statesman, rushing Trinsic’s application through to a vote, as the town has been doing, would be “worse than a crime: it would be an error” — in fact, a Texas-sized error that risks costing the citizens of this town on a large scale for decades to come: in public safety, environmental degradation, public expenditures and congestion. We sincerely hope this will not be your legacy to our town.
We therefore respectfully ask that the council accept the petition’s request for a delay in this vote. Thank you.
* Judy Johnson to Planning Commission, May 4, 2021 (video approx. 49:40 to 51:10).
** Ms. Dancy at the Planning Commission meeting May 4, 2021 (video 01:02:03 to 01:03:34).
*** Ms. Dancy participated extensively at CDC after recusal on March 23, 2021 (video 00:49:14 to 01:28:47), as well as before Housing, Environmental, Traffic, Planning and council itself since March 18, 2021.