After over 30 years of advocacy to build a library in Carrboro, and several efforts in the last decade to site the library downtown and add additional beneficial public components, there has been a final decision made to build the 203 Project, which will include the library, the Orange County Skills Development Center, a teen center, and it must be said, an inappropriately large number of parking spaces.
While NEXT members have consistently advocated for reduced parking as part of the project, and we hope that the 203 Project includes the last public parking deck ever built in Carrboro, it is also impossible to overlook the significant benefits of the 203 Project that make supporting its construction a key vote in support of better design/town-building, transportation choice, and equity outcomes. Those include:
Positive Design/Town-Building Elements
The 203 Project incorporates several positive design elements that will strengthen Carrboro’s downtown. The front face of the building honors South Greensboro Street as the major thoroughfare that it is, and provides visibility to inside activities along the sidewalk to the street.
Supporting Transportation Choices
Among all of the non-university library facilities in the county, the 203 Project will be by far the most accessible by transit, biking, and walking when it opens. Three separate Chapel Hill Transit bus routes either pass directly by the 203 Project or come within a one-block walk of the site, as does the GoTriangle 405 bus, which is Carrboro’s fastest connection to downtown Chapel Hill, east Chapel Hill, and Durham.
Any map of incomes in Orange County shows that the lowest-income Census Tracts include the Census Tract in which the 203 Project is located, and that the others are located along Main St and Franklin Street which have walk and bus access to the library. The level of effort required by low-income residents to take advantage of library resources, not to mention the Skills Development Center – will be greatly reduced when the 203 Project is complete.
The Votes and Outcome
This evening included three key votes, all necessary to advance the project. Each passed by a 5-1 margin (note: there is currently a vacant seat on the town council, left when Damon Seils was elected mayor).
We are excited to report that Mayor Damon Seils and Councilmembers Susan Romaine, Barabara Foushee, Randee Haven O’Donnell, and Danny Nowell all voted in favor of the project. We thank them for their commitment to seeing Carrboro’s first open-to-the-public building in 100 years to fruition- this is a great accomplishment!
NEXT’s Vote Analysis
Based on the benefits identified above, NEXT considered an AYE vote in support of the project to be most aligned with our goals.
Councilor Sammy Slade voted “NAY” on each item because the town has not yet allocated enough funding to meet its goals of reducing per capita emissions by 80 percent by 2030, and he asserted that commiting funding to the 203 Project would make it harder to invest in climate action in the near term.
We agree with Councilor Slade on the need to address climate change, and we appreciate his consistent focus on spotlighting and raising the issue. But we are disappointed in his NAY vote because this vote was not a choice between building the 203 Project or taking climate action; it was a choice between finishing decades of work and multi-governmental diplomacy, that DOES place a new library in the part of our town with the highest chance of reducing transportation emissions (which Slade acknowledges in the Daily Tarheel) and doing NOTHING.
Most importantly, in this case, doing nothing would also have invalidated the participation of hundreds of residents over decades to bring this project to fruition.
In terms of reaching Slade’s laudable goals for climate action, NEXT notes that our tax base is dynamic, and that zoning and regulatory reform in the Carrboro Connects Comprehensive plan have the potential to significantly increase economic development, particularly in our downtown and along our commercial corridors. As the Comprehensive Plan moves towards adoption, we would encourage Councilor Slade and the Council as a whole to ask themselves repeatedly, “how can the Comprehensive Plan allow us to grow in a way that generates the financial resources to support our ambitious climate and social justice goals?”