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Despite residents' concerns, call boxes, lights get OK

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It’s been six months since the UNC Student Government Association, led by President Eve Carson, gave the Town of Chapel Hill $80,000 generated by student fees, to install extra lighting and emergency call boxes in several downtown neighborhoods.

And two months after Carson’s murder in one of those neighborhoods, the Town Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve the plan, over the objections of several residents.

The plan now moves to the Historic District Commission for approval.

Under the proposal, pedestrian-level lighting would be installed on existing poles along McCauley Street, in the Northside neighborhood and along Rosemary Street between Hillsborough and Boundary—all of which flank the main drag of Franklin Street.

Emergency call boxes would be set up at Mallette Street and Colony Court, Church and Short streets and at a third location to be determined.

“Violence doesn’t ask you what kind of ID you carry before it impacts you,” said J.J. Raynor, who succeeded Carson as student body president. “It just impacts you.

“Since March 5, we’ve asked ourselves if there is anything we could have done. I hope we never have to say to ourselves that we missed an opportunity to save a life.”

Some of the pushback from residents stems from typical town-gown tensions; residents see the university encroaching on their historic neighborhoods as it has cut down trees and changed the look of the area.

Councilwoman Sally Greene acknowledged that the lights need to be designed to fit the historic aesthetics of the neighborhoods. “What would they look like? It’s a valid concern.”

And still others contend they’ve been excluded from the decision-making process.

According to town staff, 700 residents were notified about an April 8 public forum on the plan; 34 people attended, the majority from the Northside neighborhood and McCauley Street areas.

Bret Dougherty, who lives on McCauley Street, said he hadn’t been notified about the call boxes or lights, adding that safety education programs might better address the issues.

“What are some of the education programs such as buddy programs, bike patrols?” he asked. “What about walking home at 3 a.m. inebriated?”

Fellow McCauley Street resident Adrian Halpern questioned the accuracy of crime statistics in those neighborhoods, telling council members that he had placed more than a dozen 911 calls to report loud parties.

“Had students bothered to survey property owners from the beginning, I and others wouldn’t need to raise objections at this stage,” Halpern said. “What happened to enjoying the evening stars on a walk? . . . The evening mystique should be saved from this ill-conceived program.”

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