Estes Neighbors has moved!

We reach out to all citizens living and working near Estes Drive, now called the Central West Focus Area, Our new site is called Central West Citizens.

                           Please move to our new website for up to date content.

Council October 24th Actions

We’re happy to report that last Wednesday, October 24, the Council — after a lengthy discussion of our focus area proposals — accepted most of them. This endorsement of a community-driven process would not have been possible without your support, particularly the petition 213 of you signed in just three days! Thanks also to those of you who attended this exciting Council meeting to support our speakers.

Here are the main points that were endorsed by the Town Council.

  • Purpose of study: to create and deliver a small area plan for the Planning Area for Council consideration.
  • A geographic study area (a planning and an impact area) similar to the one adopted at the community meetings with the addition of a focus on undeveloped properties – an area that can be expanded.
  • Focus area study was renamed “Central West Focus Area”.
  • Steering Committee will be composed of a diversity of representation including, business owners, landowners, and residents from the planning and impact area.
  • All are invited to apply for the steering committee; council committee to recommend slate. Those with active development applications are not eligible.
  • Schedule of study and meetings: December 2012 – December 2013 with a report in June. All meetings will be open and your participation is invited.

We think the well-organized presentations of our speakers encouraged several Council members to take positions a bit different from their past orientations, and we will continue to encourage the Council to adopt a community-driven approach to considering how growth is to occur in our “Central West” area of Chapel Hill.

As events unfold, we will keep you informed about the small area study process, including possibilities for you to become more involved, for example, by making your views known directly to the Steering Committee, volunteering to serve on study groups addressing key issues, and talking with your neighbors about the overall process.

Applications for seats on the Central West Focus Area Steering Committee are currently being accepted. The application deadline is Monday, November 12, 2012, at 5:00pm. For a copy of the application and for more information about application process, please visit

For the resolution that the Council adopted for the Central West Focus Area from the October 24, 2012 Business Meeting, please click here. This information has also been posted on the Town webpage which can be found at

Community Recommendations

We are proud of the Community Recommendations we produced.

The October 22 Round Table meeting announced by the Town will afford an opportunity for further dialogue among Community members, the staff and the planning board before the Town Council makes the final decision on the project design.

Come to the Council meeting October 24. The staff recommendations sent to the Council differed significantly from what was decided at the community meetings. Town webpage is here.

Quality Growth

Central West Citizens for Quality Growth
October 17, 2012

Based on conversations with citizens from the Central West Focus Area, Alan Tom drafted this mission statement.  The statement was revised and edited by those who live in the 12 neighborhoods which are in this focus area and we invite comments.

Working from the premise that high “Quality Growth” is desirable for the Central West Focus Area and ultimately for all of Chapel Hill, we identify and describe five considerations which make such quality growth possible:

  • The Character of an Area – Determining the best ways to integrate higher density developments into our traditional single family neighborhoods, soon to be joined by Carolina North
  • Need for Development  — Analyzing the need for development to reduce the risk of building out excessively, resulting in commercial and apartment vacancies and a declining Town image
  • Cost Effectiveness – Making sure that new development really produces more tax revenue than the costs such development imposes on infrastructure and Town services
  • Transportation – Attending to implications of new development for automobile traffic, bike travel, and pedestrian safety, all within the context of the traffic to be generated by Carolina North
  • Environmental Impacts – Anticipating and remediating the effects of new development on storm-water run-off, including the impact of storm-water diversion on downstream neighborhoods.

Addressing each of these considerations, while evaluating development proposals, makes it possible for development projects in our area to be of high quality, which in turn fosters the quality of life for the entire community of Chapel Hill.

The Central West Citizens group is composed of homeowners and renters from over ten neighborhoods in Chapel Hill.  Membership is open to any person who endorses the view of “Quality Growth” which follows.

While preparing this statement of our core beliefs on development in the Central West Focus Area, we found a blog which indicated that our orientation is misunderstood.  This blog suggests that our interests are narrow in scope — essentially limited to guarding our neighborhoods — and that we are anti-development in orientation.

We admit to having great pride in our neighborhoods but also believe that our concern for high quality growth is good not only for our neighborhoods but also for all of Chapel Hill.  Our view is longterm.  We are conscious that in the not-too-distant future our location adjacent to Carolina North will place us in the center of the northern gateway entrance to Chapel Hill.  New development in our key location, therefore, must be of the highest possible quality.

Introduction.  Fifty years ago the vicinity around the intersection of Estes Drive and Airport Road (now Martin Luther King Boulevard) was on the perimeter of the single family housing surrounding the University.  Some roads were not yet paved.  Over time, as the university and the medical center expanded, more single family homes were built on half-acre and up to two-acre wooded lots that eventually covered the hills around Eastwood Lake, both sides of Estes Drive from Franklin Street to Phillips Middle School, and the high land in the Mount Bolus area, with a few apartments and some commercial properties extending along Airport Road.

About 25-30 years ago, as the Town’s rate of growth accelerated, the whole community had a long dialogue about the downside of sprawl: increased driving distances, more cars on the road, more pollution, and so forth.  There was general agreement that the Town should focus on infill and increased density.  Land use planning and special use permits reflected this revised thinking; newer housing developments in the area are on smaller lots.  Now we are a mixture of single family housing and apartments, along with some commercial development, but the dominant tone of our overall area remains single family housing.

Today we are at a critical juncture as a number of high density developments are being proposed for our Central West Area; other proposals are sure to follow; and four undeveloped properties on the south side of North Estes are currently for sale.  We – the residents of the Central West Area — are homeowners and renters who have come together to address the situation we now face – what is the proper approach for the continuing development of our area.  As a group, Central West residents are dedicated to the “Quality Growth” of our neighborhoods and our Town.

This statement, of course, raises the question of what we mean by “Quality Growth” and what implications our concern for “Quality Growth” has for our neighborhoods and our Town of Chapel Hill.  We believe that the following five considerations are an excellent basis for evaluating the quality of proposed developments.  “Quality Growth” occurs when there is a focus on:
•    Character of an Area,
•    Need for Development (demand analysis)
•    Cost Effectiveness (of development)
•    Transportation (broadly construed)
•    Environmental Impacts (of development)

These five considerations identify when development is the intelligent choice for our neighborhoods and our Town.

To explore these considerations further, we provide detail and examples about how these five considerations can work to help us identify “Quality Growth” proposals when we see them.  We use examples primarily from our focus area; however, other examples could be drawn from the Town as a whole.

Character of an Area. Our area is soon to be affected by a new presence – the creation of Carolina North.  As planned, this campus will be welcoming and stately; it will add to the beauty and attractiveness of the community.  But we do not know what the future holds for the surrounding area.  Will Martin Luther King Boulevard along Carolina North ultimately become a second Franklin Street?  Will North Estes Drive and Extension be totally overcome by the future flow of traffic?  These and other questions have yet to be answered, but we do believe that if development is prudently pursued our homes can be part of a new vital urban area, with Carolina North at its center.

For this reason, our home values may well increase, but only if the area remains attractive, traversable, and safe.  To insure that successful development is achieved, we are prepared to work directly with landowners interested in the development of their properties if these landowners are committed to pursuing development that enhances the overall appeal of our neighborhoods and the safety of our corridors.  We can and must work together to find an intelligent balance between retaining and enhancing the extraordinary, livable quality of our single family neighborhoods and the benefits and amenities that infill and higher density development can offer.  We owe it to ourselves and to our future generations.

Need for Development.  How quickly development is needed in Chapel Hill depends on whether the kind of development being proposed makes sense in light of current demand for such development; we are calling this kind of assessment “demand analysis.”  A typical demand analysis for commercial space should look at what commercial space is needed, what similar development is already approved but not yet built, and what existing commercial space is currently vacant.  The same kind of demand analysis can be performed for other kinds of development, ranging from undergraduate student housing to single family apartments.  Ironically, such demand analysis data are amazingly hard to come by; one would think that the Town of Chapel Hill – or the local Chamber of Commerce – would have data on currently available space, but we have not succeeded in locating comprehensive data on the vacancy rate, Town-wide, for commercial and apartment space.  Assessing the demand – particularly the future demand – for space is difficult, but it must be attempted if we are to achieve “quality growth” for future development in Chapel Hill.

“Quality Growth” occurs when demand analysis is a central focus in assessing the need for commercial and housing development.  In our part of Chapel Hill, such demand analysis needs to pay special attention to the anticipated demand vis-à-vis Carolina North whose future unfolding has already been approved by the Town in the form of a development agreement.  We know that the “apron” surrounding Carolina North will have enormous and varied demands made on it over the next 20-30 years, yet some potential developers with properties on that apron do not seem to be considering how their prospective developments might fit in with the growth of Carolina North.

Cost Effectiveness.  Towns which grew up – as did Chapel Hill – with a predominant focus on single family housing and only a modest amount of commercial development typically face pressure to raise local property taxes.  High property taxes are never popular, and many towns and small cities look to increased development as a way to broaden the tax base.  Thus Chapel Hillians should always ask: Will this particular development generate more tax revenue than the costs imposed by the increased demands on town services and infrastructure, particularly on the road system which is already stretched to capacity in some parts of Chapel Hill?  Longer term, we must also consider the increased pressure new development places on everything from the OWASA water supply to enrollment in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Public Schools.

“Quality Growth” occurs when a developer is able – and actually does – demonstrate how a particular development project is a net plus for the overall financial condition of Chapel Hill.  Such estimates require developers to complete additional work – particularly for new businesses and apartment complexes – but obtaining any development approval should be conditional upon this work being performed in advance with results that are persuasive.

Transportation.  Chapel Hill developed with a road structure well suited to single family homes spread around a downtown core area.  As the Town grew, it became increasingly clear that this web-like road structure placed capacity constraints on automobile traffic that does not occur in communities with a more grid-like road structure.  Roads such as Estes Drive (North and Extension) that were designed to connect neighborhoods have evolved into cross-town arterials which often lack attention to biking and pedestrian safety and to other alternatives to automobiles.  Additionally, the traffic generated by an ever increasing number of vehicles on these roads is a direct result of incremental approvals of development along these corridors; this increased traffic has generated a variety of traffic bottlenecks.

“Quality Growth” occurs when the constraints of our road structure are recognized and addressed prior to (or certainly concurrent with) new development proposals.  For example, the Town employed this concurrency principle when negotiating the Carolina North Development Agreement.  As Carolina North is built out, the University will be required to make improvements to the existing transportation system.  Applying this principle of concurrency means that at times it is not prudent to proceed with a development proposal due to our inability to make needed changes to our transportation system.  At other times the nature of a development can be altered in consultation with the affected neighborhood interests which understand at a personal level the likely traffic implications of a particular development.

Environmental Impacts.  While a variety of environmental impacts are possible, storm-water run-off is one of the most pressing.  Water quality and creek ecology are dramatically affected when trees are removed and those same areas paved over as part of new developments.  With the percentage of paved areas increasing over the years, storm water is less able to be absorbed into the remaining ground to replenish groundwater supplies.  As a result, urban creeks can become raging torrents of water which both cause erosion and carry sediment into water bodies, compromising both water quality and stream habitat.

“Quality Growth” occurs when the Town pays close attention to storm-water impacts during the concept plan stage before proceeding with a development that could result in unforeseen downstream impacts.  Town storm-water ordinances and Jordan Lake rules must be applied to all new development to avoid costly mistakes.  Greater densities in development pose particular challenges as a certain amount of unpaved land area is needed for storm-water control.  The most aggressive controls should be employed when multiple commercial and apartment development are being considered because of the large number of impervious surfaces they typically employ.  Additionally, a proper storm-water impact study should consider how storm-water is redirected through existing neighborhoods as new developments are introduced into the area.  The cost to mitigate unintended storm-water run-off needs to be included as a cost of implementing the proposed development.


In conclusion, the above five considerations illustrate how we are dedicated to the “Quality Growth” for our area and our Town.  Our interests are long-term; we have purchased homes with the desire to stay here for an extended period of time.  However, we do worry about the short-term perspective so many – but not all — potential developers seem to hold and the reluctance of some developers to engage area residents in helping them plan the use of their property so that the result is both profitable to them and appropriate to the Central West area.  We are ready to engage.

So with this perspective, we look forward to participating in the impending study to produce the Central West Small Area Plan.  We invite any resident – homeowner or renter – to join us to work within the framework of the five considerations which support our vision of “Quality Growth.”  Making these considerations central to the Town’s small area planning may increase the effort a potential developer needs to gain approval for a proposed development, but in the long run following these principles will help ensure  that “Quality Growth” is achieved and reflected in the neighborhoods and that the Town can augment its tax base.

Community Meeting #4

Recommendation Meeting #4 for the Proposed Central West Focus Area (formerly the MLK/Estes Drive Focus Area) will be held on Monday, October 1, 2012, from 7:00-9:00 pm in the Large Training Room at the Transit Building, 6900 Millhouse Road, Chapel Hill, 27516.  The purpose of this meeting is to continue to develop the recommendations about the Steering Committee structure and purpose as well as the scope and schedule for the planning process about to begin for our area.

These recommendations, when complete, will be combined with the recommendations about the name, boundary, and Steering Committee and presented to the Town Council on Thursday, October 11th.

Estes Neighbors community meeting

Join us at our own Community Meeting on Wednesday evening, September  5, 7:30 – 9 pm, the Fellowship Hall at the Orange United Methodist Church, 1220 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514.  We will provide time for questions and answers and discuss what is important to you in the design of the process.

The Town held several open houses to share information on  August 28 and 29 and announced three meetings for the public to design the community planning process.  See the  Town web page for more information from the Town.

Our Dream Planning Process

So what is a planning process? When applied to the MLK-Estes focus area it is the definition of the tasks and the sequence of those tasks necessary to fulfill an objective – a set of recommendations to guide future zoning.  The important thing is that the process must deliver a product of value to the Town. But that is not enough; the objective of the process must align with community values and Council goals.

Send a comment about what you think about what is important in deciding on a collaborative planning process.  Here  are our ideas about a dream planning process to begin the discussion.

The focus area boundaries have not yet been determined.  We think the area needs to be large enough to account for the cumulative impacts of new development, including Carolina North, and last long enough to analyze the data and agree on recommendations that reflect community interests.

Our draft plan for the MLK-Estes focus area process

Estes Neighbors makes recommendations for a Community-Driven Focus Area Planning Process
DRAFT August 20, 2012

Let us know what you think. Come to the community meetings.

1. Obtain professional facilitation services. The facilitator will be neutral and help the group of participants toward the goal of consensus. The facilitator should ensure that agendas for process and meetings are set by participants.

2. Establish a Steering Committee to work with the Facilitator and Town staff. Neighborhoods and other participating interests should select their own Steering Committee representatives. Consider this structure of interests: 5 members of adjacent neighborhoods, 2 Planning Board members, 1 developer, 1 parent or School Board representative, and 1 UNC representative. Other suggestions include a bike-pedestrian person and a Town Council representative. The role of the steering committee would be to plan meeting agendas with the facilitator and staff, take community input, stay in touch with their respective neighborhood(s)or organization, review and approve documents, and make recommendations to the Council.

3. Prepare to Plan: August Community Meetings.

  • Review previous planning processes and apply what we have learned in doing small area plans, South 15-501 and Glen Lennox processes
  • Develop draft Focus area process with community participants beginning at August 27-28 meetings: put forward and discuss ideas about draft timelines, format and final outcome with participants and get feedback.
  • Set geographic boundaries of study area: recommend a quadrant for the study to include south on MLK to Hillsborough Rd and north to Homestead Rd.; west to Sewell School and East to Franklin Streets on Estes Drive
  • Rename process to MLK-Estes Focus Area
  • Timeframe: recommend 9 months
  • Facilitator assists formation of steering committee and agreements on these process elements: Decisions on how meeting summaries will be gathered and communicated; How relevant data will be provided and processed; Mechanismnfor taking comment and approving final document; Decisions about how group decisions will be made” (voting or consensus); Agreements on what final product looks like
  • August meeting input and feedback will give valuable input to the design of the process which will be sent to September meeting for Council approval.

4. Phases:

Phase 1: Ground rules, objectives, and plan for the process are adopted, then a series of community- wide events and small group conversations based on the 1990 Southern Small Area Plan and the Seattle model are organized to understand and gather data on the elements of the study area: transportation, air and water quality, identify retail, commercial and housing needs

Suggested time period for first phase: 6 meetings September through November:

  • Clarify decision-making, clear specific objectives, and final product first;
  • Decide on how the final product will be used and will fit into the comprehensive plan;
  • Air people’s concerns and issues and document them;
  • Survey neighborhoods for preferred development types; best time and date for meetings;
  • Survey and provide growth trends, housing,commercial and retail needs
  • Compile and prioritize recommendations for area development;
  • Analyze the study area in the context of over-all Town needs and capacities;
  • Ensure all relevant data and studies are brought to bear on discussions such as Town- sponsored retail and office studies; consider how much office and commercial space the community needs list projects with square feet already approved and not yet built, including Carolina North; identify transportation capacity; determined traffic impact assessment study boundaries; information on water resource constraints; stormwater regulations and locations of low lying areas.
  • Identify group study areas, such as transportation, open space and parks, neighborhoods and buffers; public safety
  • Close information gathering discussions with an interim report.

Phase II: Facilitated series of community meetings composed of subcommittees organized by Facilitator, Steering committee and staff with focus on developing alternative plan scenarios while continuing outreach efforts. Include Town Council and UNC representatives.

Suggested time period: January through March; small groups can meet more frequently than twice a month or as they decide.

  • Smaller study groups focus on chosen topics such as transportation, open space and parks, neighborhoods and buffers; public safety; designate facilitator, note taker for each group
  • Steering Committee ensures that small group regularly share results; schedule joint community meetings to arrive at agreement on general approach
  • Study and compare alternative plans using estimated infrastructure costs, projected impacts, tax revenue potential, and over all town needs
  • Invite public to several community meetings to comment on final alternatives
  • Ensure affected neighbors who have participated in the process have a majority voice in final report.

Phase III: Final report in April: Possible organization:

  • Area as it is today,
  • Goals and objectives,
  • Design concepts,
  • The Plan,
  • Projected impacts,
  • Estimated infrastructure costs,
  • Tax revenue potential of the plan,
  • Recommended strategies,
  • Specific descriptions for what the Town wants to see for undeveloped and redeveloped properties in study area.


Southern Small Area Plan

Facilitating a Planning Workshop

Seattle Planning Workshop

Council passes 2020 Comprehensive Plan, June 25

On June 25  the Town Council approved the Chapel Hill 2020 Plan.  Alan Tom presented our statement which requested a MLK/Estes planning area  which would look at a larger area than just Estes Drive.  The Council directed staff to prepare a plan for a process this summer and to bring it back for the Council to review on September 5th.

Earlier in April, the Town Council critiqued the concept plan for Carolina Flats, a plan calling for a hotel, parking and seven apartments designed for student housing at the corner of Estes Drive and MLK. View the materials, the concept plans, and the video hereWe said this project runs counter to the residential character of Estes Drive and would increase traffic and jeopardize the safety of school children and pedestrians.

Estes Neighbors have been discussing what kind of development they would like to see in the future.  Take the online survey.  We will send the results to the Town to incorporate in Chapel Hill 202o.

Comprehensive Plan

The final draft of the 2020 Comprehensive Plan is out.  Please review here.  The future focus chapter language has improved. The chapter on Estes/MLK is appropriately neutral in tone.

When we met with Town staff we explicitly requested that the community discussions be held in the fall.  The staff language on page 45 refers to an Estes Drive Corridor study occuring in the summer.

“With Council endorsement, the Town staff will initiate a review of the policies and regulation, including land use, for the following specific area in Chapel Hill:  Estes Drive Corridor – An  immediate priority for the summer of 2012 with in-house support and external facilitation and/or consultant support”.

A bit of background:

On May 21 Watson Bowes, on behalf of Estes Neighbors, presented a petition to the Council requesting a small area planning process to take a broader look at the MLK and Estes Drive planning area.  Earlier in April, the Town Council critiqued the concept plan for Carolina Flats, a plan calling for a hotel, parking and seven apartments designed for student housing. View the agenda materials, the concept plans, and the video hereWe said this project runs counter to the residential character of Estes Drive and would increase traffic and jeopardize the safety of school children and pedestrians.

Developers also ask for small area study for Estes-MLK area

Members of the Estes Neighbors Coalition have been asking the town to implement a small area study for the Estes-MLK area (the MLK South future focus area, with specific parameters yet to be determined).  On June 6, several neighbors met with the town’s planning staff to discuss these issues.  At that meeting, we learned that Scott Radway, on behalf of the developers of the Carolina Flats proposal, has already contacted the town to request a small area study — but an accelerated process that would consist of 3-4 meetings and be completed by September 2012.  (The developer’s proposal is at  2012-06-01 Estes-MLK Study Proposal.) Estes Neighbors has asked the Town for studies of the area to be conducted at deliberate pace, beginning in the fall of 2012, with broad participation from all relevant stakeholders.  While we are pleased that the developers have expressed an understanding of the need for good communication, we will emphasize that this process must be guided by a focus on the larger good of the town and community, and cannot be rushed to serve the interests of one group.

It is rare indeed when all parties, the neighbors, the Town and the developers agree a conceptual planning process is needed. It is our hope that everyone involved in this planning process will be willing to take the time to do it right.