The Greene Tract and the Value of Putting Community First

The members of NEXT Chapel Hill-Carrboro Action Fund, a local organization that advocates for affordable and diverse housing options and transportation alternatives, call upon local leaders to support the Greene Tract development process. The Greene Tract offers a once in a generation opportunity to create affordable housing, foster economic development, and provide access to parks in a historically Black community that has long been neglected and overburdened. 

Over the last year, Friends of the Greene Tract, an organization with few ties to people who live in nearby neighborhoods, has led a misleading and increasingly negative campaign to convince Chapel Hill and Carrboro residents that there is a clear and present danger to the property. We believe that the “Friends” campaign harms our civic process and attempts to sideline community members who have long engaged in a good faith effort to reach an equitable solution for all parties.  With this statement, we hope to re-establish a few facts about the piece of land that we now call the Greene Tract.

The Greene Tract and the Historic Rogers Road Area

History of the Greene Tract

In 1984, Orange County, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro purchased 164 acres of land in north Chapel Hill with plans to build a landfill. This landfill was to be the latest in a series of environmental injustices inflicted upon the Rogers Road-Eubanks community, whose Black and immigrant families have long borne much of the costs of population growth while receiving little of the benefits. Families who lived in our community for generations were denied access to municipal water and sewer, but were forced to put up with a large landfill on Eubanks Road that polluted their well water and decreased the value of their land. 

Neighborhood activists organized  to convince local governments to forgo their plans to build another landfill, which would have been located on part of what we now call the Greene Tract. Instead, for the last two decades, the three governments have worked with the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association to produce a path forward for this land that preserves green space, provides affordable housing, creates jobs, educates young people, and builds community. NEXT values the ‘community-first’ orientation that led to the Mapping Our Community’s Future report regarding potential uses for the Greene Tract.

The Future of the Greene Tract

Orange County, The Town of Chapel Hill and the Town of Carrboro, are working on possible uses for this land that balances local needs while also attempting to repair past harms. Potential uses of this land include mixed-income housing, green space, a recreational center, and a public school. To be sure, a portion of the land will be preserved for recreation and preservation of sensitive natural areas. In fact, 60 acres is already set aside for a Headwaters Preserve. Providing for affordable and diverse housing options is essential, and should be part of any plan for the future of the Greene Tract. 

Members of Friends of the Greene Tract continue to misuse a detail from the Mapping Our Community’s Future report to suggest that the neighbors called for 80 percent of the Greene Tract to be preserved. This is a willful misrepresentation of the outcome of that process. During public hearings in 2019, Hudson Vaughan, co-founder of the Marian Cheek Jackson Center and one of the facilitators of that community-first effort, noted the following in his remarks to the Chapel Hill Town Council:

The Friends of the Greene Tract have been using one bullet in the plan which says, in parenthesis, that ~80% of the Greene Tract should be preserved. This number is taken out of context in several ways. First of all, at the time, we were talking about the Greene Tract as a much smaller piece of land (before the recombination, it was more like 64 acres, I believe). Neighbors were also estimating important conservation areas, which have since been further researched.  Furthermore, the neighbors hoped to see the densest development on the Neville Tract adjacent to the Greene Tract, which would have given significantly more acreage to affordable housing and other uses supported by folks.  Since that plan, I believe both the development of the Neville Tract has been found to be much more difficult than we thought, and research has pinpointed more specific environmental areas for conservation, including the headwaters preserve. These factors are critical to the conversation, and would likely have changed the conversation about percentages. Certainly, they should going forward. Regardless, this 80% figure should not be used as some benchmark that came from neighbors when it is taken out of context like this.

We look forward to a continued ‘community-first’ public engagement process that centers those most affected by changes to this land: the residents of the Rogers Road-Eubanks area. Through this process, our community will be able to provide input into how the land should be used. There are NO specific plans for the land’s use yet. Changes to the land will not come for a number of years. Any current activities on the land are simply to maintain the trails. No one is bulldozing the land.

The Greene Tract is a unique opportunity for our local governments to provide a number of resources for our community using publicly owned land. NEXT believes that local elected officials, as well as candidates for local office, should commit to working within the negotiated memorandum of understanding between the county and towns, and refrain from making specious attacks on neighborhood residents, local leaders, and government employees who are trying to follow a community-centered process.  

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