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February 2008

Building a new campus for UNC

The process for the town of Chapel Hill's consideration of Carolina North has begun, thanks to the leadership exhibited by Mayor Kevin Foy and Board of Trustees Chair Roger Perry and the collegial cooperation of the town and university staffs.

Town and gown came together last month in an unprecedented informal session where all agreed that the time had come to discuss the process for considering the new mixed-use academic campus two miles north of Carolina's main campus. At its meeting earlier this month, the Town Council kept the process moving by authorizing joint staff work with the university to devise and propose a review process for Carolina North. Adding to the anticipation about the new campus, Dean Jack Boger recently announced the intention of the UNC School of Law to relocate to Carolina North.

At the same time, the university is putting together its request for a special use permit to build the Innovation Center, a business accelerator for faculty members who have formed small companies to develop products or services based on their research. This partnership with Alexandria Real Estate Equities, a leader in business accelerators, and the companies it creates, will pump new tax dollars into the community and support the local economy.

Later, these new companies will create products and procedures that improve human health and the welfare of us all. Because of the faculty's urgent need for this facility and the university's desire to partner with Alexandria because of its previous successful work, we are applying now before submitting the full plan for Carolina North. However, the Innovation Center is planned as an integral element of the Carolina North campus. We consider its prime location at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Municipal Drive the front door for Carolina North.

It is an exciting time for the university and the community as we stand on the verge of creating a whole new campus for the nation's oldest public university. Rarely does a university have the chance to expand in such close proximity to its main campus on a piece of property that includes natural resources to be preserved and developed areas to be improved. We have that opportunity at Carolina North, a unique opportunity to make a statement about UNC and its role in the 21st century, in our stewardship of the Horace Williams Tract.

We have already set certain goals for how we build Carolina North. One of the most important goals is that we want to limit construction over the next 50 years to only 250 acres of already developed land, leaving the nearly 750 acres that remain -- mostly forests, trails and wetlands -- undeveloped yet managed for recreational use by the public. Our planning staff and consultants Ayers Saint Gross have also worked diligently to create a master plan that is a model of sustainability: incorporating public transit, alternative sources of energy, green construction methods and water reclamation.

With the fundamentals of the design's infrastructure well established, now is the time to turn our attention to its external features: how it will look. Both the UNC Board of Trustees and Town Council -- as well as various citizens speaking at public meetings or commenting in local newspapers -- have expressed a desire that Carolina North make a statement in its appearance. We want it to make a statement, too. But what statement will it make?

Our planning staff and consultants are turning their attention to this challenging task. They have been asked to develop a framework to guide the design of future development. The framework will examine issues of buildings and landscape to assure that Carolina North will be aesthetically pleasing, forward-looking in vision, reflecting an institution with roots deep in history and yet enabling an important mission of future service to the people of North Carolina.

It is a very exciting moment, and I am glad it has finally arrived.


James Moeser is chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He welcomes readers’ messages at

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