From correspondent Tammy Grubb
The Carrboro Board of Aldermen voted 6-1 Tuesday night to rezone a 2.69-acre parcel at 210 Hillsborough Road for the county’s new southwest branch library.
Alderman Jacqueline Gist said she could not support the rezoning, because she thinks the site is in a residential and not a transitional commercial district. No one is opposed to a library, she said, but the process feels rushed, with little transparency or cooperation between the county and town.
“The citizens of Carrboro for generations have been paying the same taxes as everybody in Orange County,” Gist said. “It is very disconcerting that all of a sudden, after 24 years, it’s hurry up and pass this, and it’s all this or nothing.”
Mayor Mark Chilton disagreed, saying that while he’s not convinced the site is the best, the move would be “a show of good faith from town government” that Carrboro and the county could work together to resolve the concerns and talk about other viable sites.
“There’s plenty of reason for suspicion, but I hope this project is going to be an opportunity to change what our relationship with the county has been in the past,” Chilton said.
County planner Michael Harvey said they chose the site because of its proximity to downtown and accessibility to alternative transportation, including bus, bicycle and pedestrian routes. The county also valued the site for being adjacent to Carrboro Elementary School, creating the potential for jointly sponsored programs, he said.
Neighbors who opposed the project again expressed concerns Tuesday that rezoning would be the first step toward more traffic and commercial uses in a residential area. The site is located a block from existing businesses on West Main Street.
Assistant County Manager Gwen Harvey said the county will hold several charettes and meetings with the town and neighbors to iron out the details after the roughly $500,000 purchase is completed. No money is available to build the library now, although the construction is expected to cost up to $6 million, officials have said.
The county asked for a one-story, 20,000-square-foot library, however, the aldermen added a condition to the rezoning that would give them the option of two stories with the same square footage. The library would be a full-service facility with programs for children, teens and adults, as well as computer access and a reference section.
It would replace a smaller library at McDougle Middle School and the Cybrary in Carrboro’s Century Center. County Manager Frank Clifton said the county could break ground in three to five years, paying for the work through its capital improvements plan.
Neighbors of the site filed a protest petition in March, making it necessary for six of seven aldermen to support the rezoning. Additional conditions could be added during the conditional use permit process, including a solid buffer between the library driveway and homes on Hillsborough Road, as well as options for mitigating the noise from traffic. The aldermen wanted to add those conditions to the rezoning Tuesday night, but town attorney Mike Brough said state statutes require the county to agree to those conditions first.
The conditional use permitting process also requires the county to submit detailed traffic and stormwater analyses. The county plans to work with officials from the town, N.C. Department of Transportation, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and Carrboro United Methodist Church to mitigate the effects of additional traffic on the largely residential area.
Three different Library Services task forces and library advocates have tried to get a library built in Carrboro for more than 20 years. The idea is also supported in the town’s 2020 Vision plan, which calls for a “centrally located and conveniently accessible library.”
Nerys Levy, who represents Friends of the Carrboro Branch Library, said she was excited to see a free-standing Carrboro library beginning to take shape.
“We welcome all the residents of Hillsborough Road” to participate in the design process, Levy said. “It’s our library, and it belongs to the community.”