There were signs on Tuesday night that the Bolin Creek greenway was back on the agenda in Carrboro. Every spot in the town hall parking lot was full and not because of the weekly dance class at the town commons. By the time the town council meeting kicked off at 7 p.m., both the meeting room and a separate overflow room were filled to capacity, with a half dozen spectators standing in the hallway. More than 40 residents had signed up for public comment, many with sheets of prepared remarks in hand.
In March, Carrboro Town Council publicly re-opened the long-running Bolin Creek greenway debate by directing town staff to conduct a six-month public engagement process regarding potential greenway alignments. In July, INDY published a deep dive on the history of the greenway debate. Earlier this month, Carrboro concluded its public engagement process, with two thirds of responding residents favoring a creekside greenway alignment.
“Of the 1,735 survey takers, a majority, about 66 percent, selected a creekside alignment,” said Catherine Lazorko, Carrboro’s communication and engagement director at Tuesday’s meeting. Lazorko noted that existing “obstacles for ability to use trails in Carrboro are lack of connections, followed by unsafe street crossings and accessibility concerns.”
Public engagement included a survey available in six languages and town staff’s presence to provide information and answer questions at 16 community events. In light of the creekside alignment’s broad support, town staff drafted a motion asking the town council to move forward with development of a creekside greenway alignment. Over 80 percent of community members that spoke during the public comment period advocated for the creekside greenway alignment. Many residents claimed affiliation with the Carrboro chapter of Democratic Socialists for America, which conducted a door-to-door campaign advocating for the creekside alignment, or the Carrboro Linear Parks Project, which was instrumental in the greenway debate’s resurrection.
“Thank you to everyone who has spoken up about the need for an accessible greenway network in Carrboro. This is what it looks like when we work together, and when the end goal is progress,” said Alyson West, one of the leaders of the Carrboro Linear Parks Project. “Everyone in town should be able to access this space as a place to move a little, a place to move a lot, or a place just to be.”
West opened her comments by thanking Lazorko and town staff for their work on the public engagement process, a sentiment that other supporters of the creekside alignment echoed. Supporters also noted the importance of children having alternative routes to local schools, as well as the greenway serving as part of a broader transportation network that eases the area’s dependence on cars.
“I want my kids to be able to walk and bike to school. For their health, for their brains, and for them to be able to experience nature on a daily basis,” Triangle Blog Blog board member Melody Kramer said. “And I don’t just want this for my kids, I want this for kids across Carrboro.”
Not all residents, however, were impressed with the town’s survey or saw the creekside alignment as an environmentally or fiscally wise choice.
“The creekside alignment is not only the least ecologically friendly of the options, it’s also the most expensive, and the longest for people who want to get to school in an efficient manner,” Carrboro resident Brian Moynihan said. “The town did an amazing job of outreach…but unfortunately it was focused on this survey that was incredibly biased… I think some of this public support is misleading, partially because of the way these [survey] options were framed.”
Town Council member Susan Romaine, whose perspective on the Bolin Creek greenway alignment has changed over the course of the debate’s lengthy lifespan, offered her reasoning for supporting the creekside alignment.
“Over the past four years my position on the best alignment for the Bolin Creek greenway has slowly evolved,” she said. “My education has been through many of you in this room… I’ve learned that the creekside alignment does have very serious environmental risks, I’ve learned that it can be hugely expensive. I also now believe that the creekside has the potential to deliver the most powerful benefits [and] to offer … community members of every age and physical ability and socioeconomic background safe and affordable spaces to commute, to recreate, to reflect, socialize, and really enjoy the awesome beauty of Bolin Forest.”
Friends of Bolin Creek member Diane Robertson said the decision to pursue a paved creekside greenway is a selfish one that will carry dire consequences.
“The insistence on destroying the riparian buffer is a conquest in a colonizer point of view… The abuse of resources to support a small group that can be only defined as privileged is not surprising but certainly disappointing,” Robertson said. “The vote taken tonight … will be done by a lame duck council that will not be responsible for the fallout of this project.”
The council voted to approve the resolution sent over by town staff, with council member Randee Haven O’Donnell as the lone dissenting vote. An addendum that further planning of the creekside alignment should factor in the town of Chapel Hill’s plan for a greenway extension to Estes Drive was added onto the resolution. Town council member and mayoral candidate Barbara Foushee expressed wariness of the town’s divisions over the greenway, and stressed the importance of moving forward as a united community.
“I know that this decision is gonna create angst and more divisiveness, which is something I don’t want,” Foushee said. “I am asking that community stays at the table, and be engaged no matter what happens. There’s more layers and processes to go, and community engagement will be key. And let’s try to move forward together. We’re better together. We really are.”
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