|This path looks like a dead end|
Bermuda Botanical Gardens
Light rail proponents brought their big guns and a Powerpoint presentation to the February 2017 meeting with Aldersgate, or so it seemed. My memory is that there were about ten of them, including representatives from the Town of Chapel Hill. Most Aldersgate members and constituents came, a “crowd” of about 25.
Here are my memories of the meeting:
The transit folks were both serious and soothing. They said, in essence: Assuming the pieces fall in place for funding, light rail is coming, and it’s coming very close to your church building. There is nothing you can do to stop it, but we will help to mitigate its impact by rebuilding the steps of your sanctuary. Light rail cannot cross to the other side of Fordham until after it passes in front of your building because it would impact the N.C. Botanical Gardens, and federal law prohibits that. They said: light rail is a good thing, a progressive thing, something our area needs desperately, according to our research. They said that right now, our area must depend on overloaded buses.
“What overloaded buses?,” one church member demanded. “All the buses we see running between Durham and Chapel Hill are half-empty!” Certainly, the free buses that run all over Chapel Hill can be full at times – but these buses don’t go to Durham.
One church member pointed out that if light rail were moved to the other side of Fordham, it would only impact the Botanical Garden’s gravel parking lot. It didn’t matter, we were told. Federal law prohibits it if there is a reasonable alternative. Apparently the front yard of a small church is a reasonable alternative.
Church members asked: What about Fern Avenue being relocated? That’s not what you told us last time we met with you!
Transit people denied having said anything different, and replied: The piers for light rail will go into the ground where Fern Avenue is currently located. Fern Avenue will be moved closer to the church building, impacting the front steps. But we will rebuild your steps off to both sides and install an attractive vegetative barrier between the sanctuary and the light rail. They showed us an artist’s drawing of this.
Several church members pointed out the town had required Aldersgate to significantly set back its new sanctuary from Fern Avenue. Light rail was about to violate the town’s own rule about set-back distance! Apparently, that was okay.
What about the church’s playground?, other members asked. What parent in their right mind would bring a child to a preschool whose playground was mere yards from heavy construction? The transit team replied, “Preschoolers like to watch heavy equipment!” This off-hand comment ratcheted up the congregational anger growing in the room.
An Aldersgate member addressed the person representing the Town of Chapel Hill and asked, “If you’ve known about light rail all along, why didn’t you warn us about it when we were seeking the (expensive and time-consuming) permits for our new sanctuary?” The man had no answer, and church anger began to overflow. The meeting threatened to degenerate into a shouting match.
I wanted to prevent this, so I stood and said to the light rail people: “I think what you are hearing is the grief and anger of this church because we feel construction of the light rail is going to mean the end of this church and our preschool.” The room grew quiet, and the transit people had no reply.
The meeting ended on neither a positive nor totally negative note. It convinced some members to actively fight the possibility of light rail. Others believed there was nothing to be done but wait and hope the funding fell through. Some members felt that all would be fine if the church got the sideways steps and vegetative barrier.
My take-away from the meeting was this: These people are hell-bent on having light rail.