June 2009

On Tuesday, June 16, 2009, our last BOA meeting before our summer break, we invited area farmers to our board meeting to discuss their concerns.  The reason we held this meeting was because misinformation was going out to the farmers.  They were in a general state of chaos, and many of them were getting riled up.  We wanted to hear from them. 

It should be noted that much of the recent farm publicity has centered around a lawsuit that was filed against Marilyn Kille by the town of Carrboro for a violation of the town’s prohibition against accessory apartments in the University Lake watershed (a judge ruled in favor of the town in this lawsuit). 

But putting aside the Kille matter for now in this posting, what the farmers have gotten very upset about is hard to articulate.  For example, they expressed concerns that Carrboro is trying to regulate fertilizer that farmers can use.  But, as noted in The Chapel Hill News (click here for article:  http://www.chapelhillnews.com/front/story/50609.html),   “the only recent change the town has made in its regulations requires a permit and notification for fertilizer applications over 2 acres or more.   … [Town Manager Steve] Stewart said the new rules affect only four or five properties and are part of the town’s federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.”  Nearly all, if not all, of the farmers present, had farms located in the ETJ, not the town.

Additionally, the farmers were upset that the town wanted to investigate creating a “Farm Code,” a set of regulations for farming, when in fact, the town has proposed no such thing.  I noted at the meeting that I believe that the term “Farm Code” can be a semantic one, and that any regulations we have regarding farms are simply found in our Land Use Ordinance, and not in a separate “Farm Code” as is perhaps done elsewhere.

Several audience members also got very upset that while Carrboro had planning jurisdiction over the ETJ, the persons in the ETJ did not have the right to vote, and they found this unfair.  They were of the impression that Carrboro was responsible for this inability to vote.  Mayor Chilton pointed out that persons living in the ETJ did not pay town property taxes, and that it was state law that they could not vote.  The town attorney confirmed that persons living in the ETJ did not have the right to vote for Carrboro elected officials.

Karen McAdams, an agricultural agent from the Orange County Cooperative Extension office, discussed a farm protection plan that Orange County has been working on, one in which municipalities might have an interest, and I asked that staff look into this for us. 

On a personal note, I want to say how interesting and entertaining several of the farmers were, a few telling stories that had the entire room chuckling.  It should be clear to everyone what a treasured part of our community these farmers are, and we should do whatever we can to help these farmers and preserve these farms so that this way of life can be sustained and continue for future generations. 

Finally, returning to the specific issue raised by the Kille matter, I think it is important to separate the personal matter of Ms. Kille from a reasoned, articulated discussion of the policy that was being advanced many years ago when the BOA decided to not allow accessory apartments in the watershed.  I could support some revision of this ordinance, but not at the expense of ultimately increasing the amount of building that could take place at the current time in the watershed.  Likewise, I would like to investigate whether it is possible to allow families to keep their family members living on their farms within a re-writing of the rules that would not be detrimental to the watershed.  I look forward to receiving a report from our staff about this in the fall.

After we voted to reject the NCDOT proposal on April 21, 2009, and passed a resolution in favor of doing only the bike lane and sidewalk improvements, DOT came back to us with three scenarios, and told us we had to pick one.  One was their original plan, which we had rejected.  The second was to pursue our plan of only adding bike lanes and sidewalks, which meant, according to DOT, that our funding that was in the DOT “road” budget would disappear and we would have to apply through the meagerly funded “bike-ped” fund, which meant our preferred project would have to start all over in the budget process and would most likely be many years away.  The third option was to have DOT build the project with the two lanes, three lanes (appropriate turn lanes), and roundabout, but with a catch:  under this option, after completion, Carrboro would have to take over ownership, maintenance and further improvements of  the nearly one mile section of Smith Level Road where the four-lanes would not be constructed.  In other words, this state road would be turned over to the Town, an unprecedented move by the DOT.   

 At our BOA meeting on June 2, 2009, we discussed these options, and rejected all three.  Instead, we adopted a fourth option, to ask DOT to keep our funding in place while we talked with persons in upper level administration and policy levels at DOT about our concerns with the proporsed DOT project, one which we feel encourages increased use of automobiles instead of encouraging other means of transportation.  We do not feel that we should be penalized for encouraging alternative transportation behavior, and we believe this is what our citizens prefer, and what will be best for our region (indeed, for most municipalities) in the coming years as we try to reduce our carbon footprint.  Here is a story from The Carrboro Citizen recapping our conversation that evening:


 One point I made during the meeting was that rather than call it a fourth option, we could simply say we prefer the third option, minus the attempt by DOT to push the financial burden of this road onto us.  I find it disingenuous that DOT would even present this option; it obviously is a reflection of the current economic condition of the state.  When I asked under what rationale they proposed passing this continuing cost on to us, the answer I received was in part that a new environmental study would have to be done.

I also find it interesting that supposedly, the type of project we are asking for cannot be built with “road” funds, but that DOT is offering to build that very project with “road” funds, with the financial caveat.  Well, we want it without the caveat.