On February 14, 2023, the Carrboro Town Council met for a work session to discuss the long-awaited public engagement process for Phases 3 & 4 of the Bolin Creek Greenway.
We liveblogged the work session (and wrote an analysis afterwards). The purpose of the work session, if you didn’t tune in, was for Carrboro council members to relay their thoughts about the public engagement phase of the next phases of the Bolin Creek Greenway to town staff, who would then write a draft scope of work for the public engagement phase and come back to council for approval.
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The staff-written draft scope of work was published on the Carrboro Town Council website late on March 24, 2023. We read through it, and it falls short because it doesn’t capture much of what was said during the 2/14 work session. (We encourage you to read Patrick McDonough’s excellent post on the same topic, which includes a proposed scope of work and schedule that align much more closely with the comments we heard at the work session.)
Here are five major things the draft scope of work as conceived by the town misses:
It’s way too broad and leaves too much for the consultant to figure out
The project purpose in the draft scope of work is described as “engag[ing] the community in determining its vision and expectations for consideration of Phases 3 and 4 of the Bolin Creek Greenway.”
That’s way too broad and there are no deadlines, meaning this could go on for years. The community has been engaged, and engaged with this idea, for more than a decade. Council wants to vote on which alignment to build. (As Council Member Slade pointed out on 2/14, council has already approved the greenway – the discussion we’re having now is on which alignment is preferred.)
Council is looking for input that they haven’t yet received about the greenway so that they can move forward and make a decision. This was repeatedly stressed during the 2/14 work session: how to bring in new voices and new input that hasn’t already been heard.
The purpose, in other words, should be to gather new and different voices, on a clear schedule with clearly defined deadlines, in order to help Town Council select an alignment for the Bolin Creek Greenway and start building it as soon as possible.
It doesn’t mention renters
During the Council work session, we were pleased to see many of our council members center renters. Renters make up more than half of our town residents (58%) and Council Members Posada and Nowell wanted to make sure renters were included in the public engagement process.
There is currently no mention of renters in the staff-written draft scope of work. This is a glaring oversight that we hope will be corrected.
As written it would require a lot of work to be repeated that’s already been done
The memo suggests completing a number of tasks that have already been completed. Many of the tasks it wants to repeat are those that opponents to the greenway have used to stall and stop the project for more than a decade.
For example, it proposes that the hired consultant should once again examine the alternative alignments for the greenways that had been proposed in 2009. That work has already been done, by residents engaged in the prior public engagement process, the town, OWASA, and UNC.
In a meeting with Town of Carrboro staff, UNC and OWASA, for instance, staff from UNC expressed their desire to see the greenway installed along the OWASA easement near the creek so that additional trees would not be felled for the project.
UNC has said it prefers a creek side trail on the existing easement. Going back to square one and having these conversations again will not give us new information. It will just delay our ability to move forward.
Another example: the memo also says that the consultant needs to assess whether there are plans to move the sewer easement. We can say this definitively: There are none. (This was an argument made by opponents to the greenway back in 2009; there was and still is no evidence that OWASA plans to move the sewer easement in the coming decades. There is a capital improvement project planned for a small portion of sewage pipe along Bolin Creek at some point in the next decade; if any paved path is disturbed, it will be managed in the same way OWASA manages other capital improvement projects along the existing Bolin Creek Greenway in Chapel Hill: they’ll repair any paths as part of the project.)
The memo also says the consultant needs to examine the future of the rail corridor, and do all sorts of assessments around stormwater and water quality. The rail corridor is a separate project, and not within the scope of public engagement. (We also already have much of this information. An analysis by a graduate student at UNC in 2020 notes that “rail-to-trail construction is not currently feasible due to ongoing freight operations.” There are no plans for UNC to stop freight operations any time soon — and waiting 100 years for this to happen essentially stops the project. And EPA data shows that the water quality has not changed along Chapel Hill’s built Bolin Creek greenway trail.)
The Bolin Creek Greenway Conceptual Master Plan report already acknowledges that ecological, erosion, etc issues will need to be understood better through the process of design and engineering. There are many examples of how to build greenways in more difficult terrain, including right next door in Chapel Hill — and in Hillsborough, Durham, Raleigh and hundreds of locations across the country. Design teams that work on greenways are used to designing with existing regulations in place — and they can mitigate any impacts that may arise, as they do in every other jurisdiction they work in.
Besides, this is outside the scope of what the ask is: to gather public input that hasn’t already been given during the decade+ long process of trying to build this greenway.
As part of this project, if council votes to move forward, actual implementation would need to be determined through later field work, design, and engineering. It should not be done during public engagement — that’s simply a stall tactic to delay this vote.
It centers the “significant controversy” and opponents to the greenway
The scope of work starts off by mentioning the “significant controversy” over the greenway. This centers a very, very small group of people who have worked for the past 14 years to block and delay making Carrboro more connected and more environmentally sustainable.
But for most of Carrboro, this project isn’t controversial. We know this because the town has surveyed residents through the Town Survey about greenways — that survey is statistically significant and represents all census tracts across town.
We talk to people every day who are thrilled that developing our greenway network will help make our transportation to school network more resilient in the long run. People understand that this greenway is on an existing sewage easement.
The draft scope of work currently recommends that the consultant review all past meetings and materials where the project has been considered, including emails to council. Opponents to the greenway have mass blasted out email campaigns asking people to write to council — many of whom don’t live in Carrboro. Reading through every single email — and not simply pulling out themes — is a delay tactic that doesn’t provide our council with new or different information to make their decision. Not only that, but e-mails to council, and participation in advisory board/commission meetings are an opt-in, self selected means of public input. Council made clear in the work session that this is NOT the goal. Reviewing every single meeting – there have been dozens – will not tell the consultant anything other than the same people appear at every single meeting.
Moreover, reviewing meetings will show very few conversations about the greenway, and there’s a reason for this: there has been a “restriction” on discussion of the Bolin Creek Greenway Phases 3 & 4 since at least 2016 at the advisory board level, as well as during the 2019 Bike Plan Update and the Carrboro Connects Comprehensive Plan. (In other words, advisory boards and steering committees/task forces were told that they couldn’t discuss the greenway!)
So, readings of meetings and emails will privilege loud voices of those who had time to write to the Town in opposition of the greenway and create controversy around even discussing it, while leaving out those who may have wished to advocate for the greenway at a board/commission meeting but were “restricted” from doing so.
If an outside consultant were to read planning documents from the town dating back to at least the 80s, the Carrboro Citizen Surveys from 2021, and the comments that were collected during the Conceptual Master Plan process, they will find a more balanced set of perspectives and the constant push for a built-out greenway network.
The purpose of this engagement is to hear from new and different voices, in a timeboxed period of time, so that the public engagement process informs council so that they can vote.
It would lengthen the engagement process beyond what is reasonable for this stage of work
Opponents of the greenway want to stall progress on decision making which means this project will never get started, or get voted upon. But as Mayor Damon pointed out in the 2/14 work session, the council has already heard many, many arguments for and against the greenway.
Rehashing them isn’t useful – but hearing new perspectives is. The scope of work should focus on hearing from that new sample of people, and ensuring that representative voices are heard, so that council can make a decision.
This isn’t a process that needs to take years — it’s for public engagement so that council can ensure that they are hearing from all voices and make a decision regarding the alignment of the greenway.
We’ll never move forward if we delay a council vote forever.
Obfuscating or delaying a project happens a lot in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. We often hear:
- More time is needed, or
- More studies are needed, or
- We must wait for our understaffed town staff to answer a long list of questions before proceeding.
Delaying or stalling a project stops progress. It makes projects more expensive, delays our democratic processes, and suppresses conversations that our community should have.
We call on Carrboro’s Town Council to move forward and set practical and streamlined parameters around discussing greenways that our community wants and needs to have.
The discussion around the greenway has been going on for nearly fourteen years, because a small group of people have tried to stop the project. Whatever the community input process looks like, it should have an end date and a vote to move forward or not.