How we refer to land in Chapel Hill matters

It took 37 years to agree on a plan to put housing on the Greene Tract, Kirk Ross wrote last year.

When a development project moves slowly, it can be hard to remember all of the little details. Those details — like how we name things — can be used by opponents of the project to mislead community members about what the land’s purpose is or could be.

Take, for instance, the Greene Tract. The Greene Tract is a tract of land that community members have fought for decades to develop.

As council started debating the project last year, opponents of the development started calling the town-owned land the Greene Tract Forest. This was strategic, as Caroline Dwyer noted, because it “mak[e]s it seem like the Tract is protected, public land.”

The way we talk about land and land use shapes how we understand it. And who we let determine the terms we use is also important.

We see this happening again with the American Legion property. When the land was purchased in 2017, our elected officials resolved to use some of the town-owned land for park space. Council Member Parker also proposed an amendment to make clear that the council “did not intend for the entire property to be used as a park and that the town would explore other options through the master planning process,” wrote Blake Hodge back in 2016. That motion passed 8-1.

Almost immediately, opponents started referring to the land as “Legion Park.” It’s on the CHALT website, in the petition that they put before town council, and in op-eds that have been written about the project.

Naming the land before a use has been decided is an attempt to negate our democratic process.

Chapel Hill Town Council has made it very clear that they want to use part of the American Legion property as a world-class park — it’s in the petition that five council members brought forward last week. They also have a responsibility to serve multiple constituencies when making decisions about land use. The American Legion site was purchased in part with park bonds  intended to be used for an arts facility and upgraded parks and rec offices. We desperately need more housing, including subsidized affordable housing — hence the consideration of other uses in addition to park space on the land.

Last week’s petition responsibly balances these needs. Those who want to call the site “Legion Park” are not interested in acknowledging its complex history.

But it’s our responsibility — and that of our media organizations — to use correct terms and to understand the little details along the way.