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Complete Community Framework

Successful implementation of the Complete Community Framework is a key component of my platform.


I believe that Chapel Hill finally has an excellent roadmap to achieve responsible growth, but its success depends on our ability to understand and execute the plan.


I drafted the information on this page as a resource to help residents understand the context of the Complete Community framework, and its implications. It's based on my notes from many meetings and presentations over the past two years, as well as my own views and understandings. Please let me know if you notice factual discrepancies so that I can correct them. Relevant source materials can be found elsewhere online.

What is the Complete Community Framework?

It's a high-level framework (or governing vision) for how and where to grow.

How did it come about?

In 2021, the Town and UNC jointly commissioned a Seattle-based consultant named Rod Stevens to assess the Town's housing needs through 2040. The study was intended, in part, to help resolve a longstanding debate about whether the Town's growth was too fast or too slow in relation to housing demand.

The study ultimately called for a 30% increase in the rate of housing production, from approximately 350 units per year to approximately 485 units per year. Otherwise, the study argued, we would become increasingly "precious" and homogenous, like Palo Alto. The study noted that the most acute need was for more owner-occupied multifamily units (condos, townhomes), to address currently underserved segments such as young professionals, single people, empty nester, and seniors looking to age in place. Over the previous 20 years, the Town's growth had primarily taken the form of single-family houses (early 2000s) and then multifamily rentals (since 2010).

Unexpectedly, Stevens also sharply criticized the Town's project-by-project planning approach, which he deemed worse than not growing at all. Instead of producing "nice, walkable neighborhoods," the Town was, according to Stevens, churning out disjointed, car-centric projects ("half cruise ships turned on their sides") that unnecessarily degraded the Town's appeal, without yielding sufficient housing, environmental, or other community benefits.

Overall, the study could be viewed as a vindication both of housing growth advocates and of those who had for years criticized the Town's development patterns.

Stevens recommended that the Town engage a top city planner experienced in development of walkable cities, perhaps from Scandinavia or Canada (where walkable cities are more common), to advise us on how to grow more thoughtfully.

Who developed the framework, and how?

Following Stevens' advice, the Town then hired consultant Jennifer Keesmaat, formerly the chief planner of Toronto (and of Dutch descent!), to develop the Complete Community framework. Keesmaat and her team spent six months collecting data and information about the Town, working with the Council to define the Town's housing priorities, developing a preliminary framework, and then refining the framework through community focus groups, stakeholder workshops, and feedback from the Council itself.

In December 2022, the Council unanimously approved a resolution adopting the Complete Community framework.

What are its key principles?

The Complete Community framework calls for:

  • Diverse housing types (rentals and owner-occupied) in denser configurations

  • Mixed use buildings and neighborhoods, such that residents can meet more of their daily needs without driving

  • Prioritization of pedestrians and cyclists, instead of cars, in design and infrastructure decisions

  • A signature greenway system, routed differently from the street network, that connects all major "nodes" around Town -- thereby enabling the denser development

  • Funneling of growth toward greenways, transit corridors, and both large and small infill sites


These are largely my (Jon's) words and paraphrasing. For exact language, please consult Jennifer Keesmaat's December 7, 2022 presentation (oral and written) to the Council, available here.


The framework draws an explicit contrast to typical suburban design, noting that even high-density residential development can be suburban in nature.

How does it compare to what we were doing before?

We were doing fairly suburban, car-oriented development of varying density levels. In some cases, we gestured toward walkable neighborhoods without really achieving them. From an infrastructure perspective, our approach was not scalable without massive street widenings.

How does it compare to what other towns are doing?

A lot of other forward-looking towns are dabbling in "walkable urbanism," mostly for specific districts (e.g., downtowns) and developments (e.g., retrofitting old shopping malls into mixed-use centers). The unstated goal there is usually "drive-to urbanism," meaning you drive there and then walk around. Chapel Hill is trying to do something more ambitious that requires an unusually extensive greenway network. If we can pull if off, we'll be one of the first in the United States to do so.

As far as I can tell, among towns our size, Davis, CA (home of UC Davis) has by far the best cycling infrastructure in the country. It may be the closest comparison from the perspective of cycling infrastructure. Not long ago, it apparently exceeded 20 percent bicycle mode share, similar to bike-oriented towns in Denmark and Holland.

How easy or hard is it to pull off?

Very hard. That's why my campaign emphasizes execution. Consider a neighborhood like Southern Village, or Meadowmont. These are fairly walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods, thoughtfully executed (especially for the time). Each was master planned by a single developer. How do we develop neighborhoods like that, with even more density and walkability, and make them more connected to the rest of Town, when there are multiple private landowners and developers involved? Continued debate about values and general policy will not get us there. I'm optimistic that we can do it, but we need to start demonstrating more capacity and determination to execute. Otherwise, our terrific vision isn't going to show up in people's lives as we intend.

How do we implement it?

Here are ten things we either are doing or should do over the next few years (in no particular order) --

  • Overhaul the Town's Land Use Management Ordinance, which defines the Town's zoning districts and related standards and processes.

    • This is in process.​

  • Redesign the conditional rezoning application and approval process.

    • This is in process.

  • Design, prioritize, and begin to fund an unprecedented expansion of the Town's system of greenways and linear parks.

    • Town staff has developed a revised future greenways map.

    • The Town recently won a $1 million federal grant to fund initial planning and feasibility work related to 25 miles (!) of new greenways. This does not guarantee construction funding, but it's a positive sign.

    • We should explore ways to decrease cost-per-mile, currently well over $1 million. For example, the standard approach of having one firm design and another build a greenway may inflate the total cost. Some firms can perhaps design and build greenways more economically when allowed to control the entire process. Additionally, we should consider natural surface trails in some areas. These can subsequently be paved as funds become available. Asheville is doing this.

  • Identify the Town's highest value natural areas, and evaluate our options for preserving them.

    • This is in process.

  • Finalize and implement the Town's Affordable Housing Plan and Investment Strategy (separate but related to the Complete Community framework).

    • This is in process. [update: This plan has been approved]

  • Coordinate among multiple landowners, developers, and neighbors to assemble actionable plans for walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods in various parts of Town.

    • Town staff pioneered this process for the "Gateway" area between Wegman's and I-40. We need to incorporate lessons learned and replicate the process in other neighborhoods.

  • Continue to build internal staff capacity and expertise to manage these processes effectively and efficiently.

    • The most recent budget includes modest planning and transportation staff augmentation. We probably need to do more. The scope and sophistication of planning work needed to implement the Complete Community framework is highly unusual, possibly unprecedented, for a town our size. We should be prepared to pay to retain and attract talent.

  • Rationalize the hodge-podge of inconsistent Town planning documents.

    • This is not yet in process (to my knowledge). Chapel Hill has a lot of plans: the Parks and Greenways Plan; the Climate Action and Response Plan; the Transportation and Mobility Plan; the Central West Small-Area Plan; the Future Land Use Map; the Transit Oriented Development Plan; and many more. The plans accumulate over time. Some of them now conflict, either with each other or with the Complete Community framework.

  • Set up comprehensive, public-facing progress reporting on everything above.

    • This is not yet in process (to my knowledge). Currently there is no single place one can go to understand the current status of Complete Community implementation. We've made progress on many fronts, but we seem to lack an end-to-end plan for implementing it. In addition, it's not clear what timelines and metrics we're holding ourselves to.

  • Establish comprehensive oversight processes for Complete Community implementation, as well as clear accountability and incentives at the staff level.

    • This is not yet in process (to my knowledge).

That's it!

Wow, I'm genuinely impressed that you care about this stuff as much as I do. I didn't expect anyone to read this far down the page!

Since we have so much in common, maybe you should consider volunteering or donating to my campaign?

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