OP Live Candidate Forum: Chapel Hill Town Council

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Welcome to the Orange Politics online candidate forum. Tonight we’ll be talking with the nine candidates who are running for four seats on the Chapel Hill Town Council.We learned a little from our first two forums and we’re going to try and be a little more predictable this time, but not too predictable.I’ll be posing new questions every ten to fifteen minutes. At 9 p.m., I’ll prompt the candidates for a closing remark and we’ll close the forum at 9:15.Here we go . . .

If you’ve been paying attention to these forums, you know I usually start off by asking candidates what they are hearing from voters. So let us know that and also let us know what interesting things you’ve heard from each other during the campaign.

When I have been speaking to voters, the predominant topic has been high property taxes. Many people worry that they will not be able to keep their homes with the current rate of taxation.I have also heard many people say that they worry that the town will grow too fast and that they will lose the things they love about our town.

I've heard a few candidates at other forums espouse the viewpoint that residential property taxes are the top concern they've heard from residents.  That's not what I've been hearing, at least, certainly not the only thing.  Yes, taxes are important, and we should do what we can to ensure that our budget is lean and well prioritized.  But the economic problems our community faces are much broader.  This new fiscal year that we are entering contains cuts that citizens are feeling, and are concerned about.  Whether it's the cutting the hours at the community center pool, or something more direct like the loss of transit service they had depended on to get around town, people are worried.  I think residents have concerns that as the council prepares to make the tough choices we must make in the coming budget year, that will maintain the quality of service and regard for those in need that are part of the reason they chose to make Chapel Hill their home.

I would also add that many residents recognize that Chapel Hill is going through a period of change, in a way that is testing the waters and causing many to questions whether we are still a large town, or becoming a small city. Regardless of where they would like to see us fall on that spectrum, I think the thing they have in common is that they all want to know that they have been heard and that their opinions have been considered. That's part of the reason why I'm so excited about the 2020 comprehensive plan process, because there are many conversations that will help guide those decisions that we've needed to have for years.I am running for town council because I believe I am in a unique position moving forward into the comprehensive plan process.  As an activist and leader in many local community groups, I know how important it is that we listen when citizens speak, and as a long-time advisory board member on the planning board, and before that the transportation board, I'm ready to hit the ground running on day one.

First off, thanks for holding this innovative online forum.

My team and I have knocked on over 1,000 doors in Chapel Hill so far. We’ve asked people what their concerns are.
Most in line with my three primary issues – Housing affordability,
sustainability both economic and environmental, and transparency in our local

Most of the focus would be on housing affordability. For a
lot of residents, they link affordability (the median home price in Chapel Hill is now approximately $390,000, beyond what an
average middle-class family, or aging couple, can afford) with rising property
taxes, which worries them about the ability to grow old in our town. 

Just got back from a meet and greet in Ridgefild (Thanks Jen and Ben) and once again I heard stories of how Chapel Hill was a community that people have chosen as their home, even when they have had other options. The biggest concern I have heard is about how Chapel Hill will grow and  develop.  They are concerned about creating sustainable communities that exist within the means of our resources, maintaining diverstity by being welcoming and affordable, and how tall is too tall.

I consistently hear that citizens are concerned with property taxes and understand that Chapel Hill needs to increase it's commercial tax base.  I am hearing the same from the candidates -- which is a change from the past.

The other two issues that I have heard from, far and above any others, have been focused on our property taxes and a desire for more economic tax base in Chapel Hill. Many residents desire to keep more of their shopping and purchases in town, and I can’t tell you how many working mothers who describe constantly shopping in Durham for the things they need to keep their family running.Our community has also spoken up on strong support for the environment in Chapel Hill and our public transit program. Even residents who acknowledge not riding the bus support it. Finally, I’ve had more residents than I expected very concerned about charging for library cards to orange county residents, and they oppose charging orange county residents at a rate of 4 to 1, based on my informal sample size of folks who happen to be home and bring the issues up with me.


  • Cost of living in Chapel Hill is too high.
  • There is a disproportionate tax burden on residential property owners. 
  • The developmental process is too long, resulting in high costs. 


  • Good school district
  • Fare free transit is appreciated


My sincere appreciation to Orangepolitics.org and to moderator Kirk Ross for this evening's Chapel Hill Town Council forumHere's what I've heard from citizens during my outings: the need for a visible and attentive voice to represent the interests of Chapel Hill residents. The juxtaposition of economic activities and development with social services provided by the Town.Carl SchulerOnline:  http:/www.carlschulerforcouncil2011.infoE-mail: mail@carlschuler.info

Both from citizens and candidates.  The consensus is that our taxes are too high or that we don't want them to go any higher. I think that as this year goes on and we continue our 2020 process we will be connecting the fees we pay for services (ie taxes) that we as a community want to support.  Hopefully some of those citizens who told me that they would welcome additional taxes to support our community will be a part of those conversations. 

I started knocking on doors on July 2nd, the day after I declared. As I talked to citizens in Chapel Hill, I’ve asked them what their most important issue was, and what they wanted to see improved in our community. Many citizens at first seemed surprised, and didn’t know what to say. Some simply felt like they lived in a great community, and wanted it to stay that way.I’ve heard a long list of things from citizens, from issues they cared about, to things they wanted to see changed. The number one local issue, BY FAR, has been our public schools. People want to see great schools in Chapel Hill. I’ve often engaged in a dialogue with these residents about our partnership with the school board, and why it’s important that we as a community support the sales tax on the ballot in November.

Jim WardI'm hearing from folks who are worried about cost of living (taxes) in CH/Orange Co.  Folks want the commercial tax base to grow, but concerned about what might pop up near their house...  Still hearing from some that CH needs to stop growing more dense even though they know suburban sprawl is awful - my/our job to help us all find the best answer/solution.  Those already involved in Comp Plan 2020 are hoping some of the answers will bubble up during this process over the next 6-8 months - me too.  Regardless, new comp plan will help us come together on many issues, so there'll be fewer surprises.

When was the last time you were downtown? What did you do?What do you think about the place?

I had dinner at Panera last night.

I was downtown Thursday morning. It was a delayed opening for the schools. I took my kids to Sutton's, and we had breakfast. We go to Sutton's about every other week. Downtown is great, but I do think there are a lot of missed opportunities to help our local merchants.

Orange politics held a meet and greet at the West End Wine Bar.  I walked from my house to pickup Olivia from her day care, we went to the Wine Bar (where she waited kind of patiently for her dear friend Izzy to arrive), and then caught dinner at Med Deli before heading home.  I spend a lot of my evenings downtown.  It is the part of Chapel Hill I love the most.

Aside from the OrangePolitics Happy Hour yesterday, and a few trips to my post office box, I think the last time was Tuesday. I went to go grab a burrito for dinner at Cosmic Cantina after the Carol Woods forum with my wife, parked for free since it was after six, and then made my way to my planning board meeting a couple of blocks down at town hall.I love our downtown. I lived for several years within walking distance in the Northside neighborhood, and I have to admit I'm a little sad that we moved further out so that a daily walk downtown isn't a possibility. I am excited about the changes that are taking place, though I think we need to be deliberate about protecting the character and affordability of downtown's closest neighborhood. We also need to work hard in our economic development efforts to bring the kinds of businesses to Franklin Street that will allow the many new residents coming to our downtown the ability to meet as many of their needs as possibly within walking distance of their homes. And we need to continue to support the efforts of the Downtown Partnership and the Chapel Hill / Orange County Visitors Bureau to bring more people downtown and help make their time there as pleasant as possible.

I was downtown on Thursday visiting a citizen who lives downtown.  They told me that earlier that week they had gone to pick up something at Frank,  The stairs up to the sidewalk were blocked by four individauls who were sitting on them,  They made no effort to move -- so this person just turned around and went home!

citizens felt they could not access downtown.  I hope no one was threatening to them and that they do not let this experience keep them from enjoying what is great about downtown.  As others have said, there are things to be improved, but we still have a wonderful treasure in our downtown.  We will continue to try to put more welcoming eyes on the street in residences and with Chapel Hill uniforms.

I was downtown on Friday.

I am also proud of one of our downtown merchants (Sugarland) supporting early voting on Thursday.  I did not make for my cupcake.

I was downtown yesterday for coffee. I love downtown and  said at the last forum that downtown was what sold me on Chapel Hill. I am always amazed when I go down there( which is almost every day) at how vibrant the streets are. How we maintain a modern and traditional feel.  Our downtown is a treasure that should be protected and promoted, which is why I donated 25k in development to the Downtown Partnership to build the "explore Downtown Chapel Hill" app.  This is not to say that there are not problems downtown.

I love downtown. We have amazing restaurants for a community of our size that are recognized throughout the region. When I sit on the roof at WineBar or have drinks at Lantern I sometimes I feel like I’m in a community that is significantly larger, yet we still provide a open and welcoming front porch to our small town. I heard during the first comprehensive plan meeting that we are a “small town that lives big” and I think that’s no truer than on downtown Franklin Street. To think that our university and community were able to attract the Russian Ballet is amazing!At the same time we have challenges. Residents are tired of empty storefronts and they feel like parking is inaccessible downtown. The downtown partnership has done amazing work to increase our parking in downtown, and we must also continue to work with churches and businesses to address our liability concerns. As a councilmember, I want to be strong advocate for the work of the Partnership to End Chronic Homelessness, which is working to find real solutions to our homelessness challenges.

Friday evening- as I attended the OP function. Earlier in the week, I'm in downtown b/c of proximity to my work at UNC-and utilize the convenience of  eateries, banking, and the post office-from time to time.

We ate at the Mediterrian Deli before I left town. We enjoyed the meal as usual. It's presence is an asset to our town.My family was also at Ye Old Waffle House on Franklin Street recently for breakfast while I was out of town... 

I'll be at East End co-hosting trivia tonight after the forum at 10:30!

It's an area that's changing and is on track for improvements. It has opportunity beyond late night carousing. Retail and dining-including  food/beverage/restaurants is an important aspect.

Jim WardThis past Friday night was the most recent time I enjoyed downtown.  In general I find myself downtown once or twice a week enjoying restaurants, bar scene, movies, or UNC events.Improved pedestrian environment  (crosswalks, sidewalk connections).  Landscape and lighting have been improved, but need additional attention.  General wayfinding signs and public parking signage much better for newcomers.  Visitors' Bureau has forged effective partnerships with UNC Athletics and local hoteliers and restaurants, increasing spending by visitors....  Addition of Kidzu on top of Wallace Deck will be tremendous asset.  New parking pay stations are an improvement to previous, with multiple pay options - include tokens avail from retailers. Lighting needs to be increased on w-end in particular.  Parking spaces have increased overall, plus valet service and recent contracts with private lot owners has increased parking options. Absentee landowners make it very hard to address high rental, which keeps more local businesses from being part of fabric.

Please remember to hit reply to my questions and not scroll down to the comment box. You folks are making Ruby work too hard.

We're all working...it's what we have in common!

Here's one from an OP reader:In your opinion, what does the Chapel Hill development review process do well? Provide one example of a successful project. Now list one example of a project where the review process, in your opinion, did not work as well. What should we change about the process?

We need to find ways to streamline the economic development process. Council has been making a good faith effort to do this over the last two years, and should be applauded for their efforts. Now is time to reflect on what worked as part of their changes, and what has not. Having multiple boards review projects in one night could be an exciting way to improve the process, but we need to make sure that when shifting dates and times, all citizens are still able to fully participate.  

I've said this before, but I think one project that made it clear to me that we need to change our process was Greenbridge. Whether or not you ultimately believe that buildings of that height are reasonable for downtown, and whether you think that expensive condominiums are a viable investment that will work for our downtown, it was clear to me from the response by residents that we need to work on being more proactive with our communications as a town. Simply being transparent is not enough - we need to actively work to make sure that neighbors and concerned citizens are updated regularly and in a format that works best for them.  Fortunately, I think we've made some great first steps in that direction, with the hiring of a community participation coordinator, the updates to the way current developments are being shared on planning department's website, and others. But we still need to work hard to make sure that citizens are able to have their opinion heard at the right time in the development review process. Ultimately, I think Greenbridge will prove to be a valuable asset to our downtown, but that doesn't mean we can't learn lessons from the process.

I think the process works okay. I am happy with most of the projects that have been approved in recent years. Maybe not 100% happy, but that's what consensus-building does - it leaves us with projects that hopefully everyone can live with. There is definitely room for tweaking the process, but not our standards. I had a good experience participating in the joint development review experiment this summer as a member of the planning board, and though I think we need to make some changes to it, I'm committed to making it work. As much as some may like to rag on our neighbors-to-the-left, I actually think Carrboro's join review process may be a good place for us to look at ways that we can make our own process more streamlined. I was also happy to support as a member of the planning board the changes in the SUP threshold limit to allow projects making renovations within an existing building shell to bypass the SUP process under certain conditions.

Chapel Hill has shown a commitment to creating affordable housing as we contine to grow as a town.  A good example of this is Greenbridge, which created fourteen additional affordable housing units in central downtown on current transit routes.  But I also believe with a large development like that, which brought many skilled workers and materials into the area, could have also helped maintain some of the existing affordable housing in the surrounding area by partnering with existing home owners and affordable housing organizations.

I’m supportive of the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, and I think the affordable units in Greenbridge are an example of a success. Requiring new developments to devote 15% of their units to affordable units is one way to insure we have affordable housing in Chapel Hill. I think Southern Village as a whole is a GREAT example of the outcomes of our development process. The development provided density, and a community that was a transit hub and provided basic amenities for citizens in close proximity. When I worked in Southern Village at Ipas, I could rise the bus easily to work, and get my groceries and bank all in one place.

I have said many times that I believe the process is completely broken. While it was built with good intentions, its design and thinking are too small for town our size. It is too onerous for our businesses, and one only has to look at Greenbridge to see that the process does not work.We are putting in many new luxury condos downtown. I am pretty sure the professors at UNC as well as the workforce will not be able to buy these. I am also horrified that we are not addressing infrastructure with all this building. How are all these new residents getting to and from work? I  We need sanity. We need to define how our town will look 20 years from now and zone appropriately. We need to define building policies that address all our needs including environmental protection and growth. Having clearly defined rules will allow developers to more easily meet our requirements, and more importantly, allow the council to lead. The current process turns the council into a group of managers not leaders. We need leaders, who know how to set the path and stay the path. Leaders that trust their team enough to let them do their jobs. This is how successful organizations run. Imagine what we as leaders could have done for the last 4 years if we had back the time wasted reviewing development plans.

There is very little data on approved projects, because there have been very few projects approved. The one I am most familiar with is Orange United Methodist Church, on MLK, which tried to add a sanctuary to its campus. It took the church over three years to get the project approved. It cost the church the ability to raise some of its financing and was a painful and arduous process. It shouldn't have been that big of a deal since it was an expansion of an existing non commerical, non residential facility with adequate buffers around it.I am excited about the new 2020 Comprehensive Plan. I have attended two of three sessions. I look forward to listening to citizens about how they would like to improve our process.

The advisory boards provide a valuable insight to the process from the citizens perspective.  An example of a successful project is Southern Village.How about two?  Ayden Court and Charterwood are examples of project developers following all the established guidelines and protocals but were denied approval by the Council.  It's worth noting that in the former case, the applicant invested almost $900,000 in two attempts while in the latter case, the applicant spent almost $1,000,000 with the approval of all the advisory boards, commissions and the Town's Planning Deptarment...

Charterwood is still under review before Council. They have not yet taken a final vote.

One large area of town that is major need of improvement is the area around Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard. I’m excited about that small area plan, and our chance to improve those shopping centers, but we have all at one point or another been caught in traffic at some of those intersections. The way roads intersect is a logistical nightmare, and an example of poor long term planning. We need to look at these types of developments as a collective whole in how they impact the community, and not just as individual pieces.

As land becomes scarce, we’ve seen the  continuing trend with condominium, denser housing developments and multi-use developments. An aspect done well is the community comment process. As the Town gains further experience with muti-use developments, better questions and in turn, better planning take hold. Steamlining the SUP process-while a generalized process, is something that i would work towards

By far the greatest success we have had with major developments in the last four years is Carolina North.  The reason is we had a deadline and were able to have an ongoing dialogue with the developer (UNC).  As I have said before, the SUP process is broken. It makes no sense to encourage a developer to submit two SUPs for the same project -- spend hundreds of thousands of dollars -- and then have it disapproved.  That would not happen if we have the courage to embrace a vision for the town and zone accordingly. Then develepors and neighbors will know what we, as a town, expect for a specific property

Jim WardExisting process provides thorough public review from multiple perspectives.  SUP provides leverage to Council that is useful in getting important additions (energy efficiency, afford. units, connected sidewalks, etc.)  There are elements, such as above, within all past projects.  On the otherhand, many if not all suffered from a complex, too often invisible process, which wasted time (=$).  We are already making changes, and others are on the way:  project status visible on the web, point person for each project to carry project thru, applicant can give project presentation to all advisory bds at one time.  Advisory boards are getting add'l training to help them focus on their area of interest, and learning the importance of having quorum...

Why is this food truck thing turning into such an ordeal?

Chapel Hill is very public and transparent about their process to create ordinance.  While in other places this conversation might have happened, only to be revealed once it is done, Chapel Hill goes through the work of creating community ordinances out in the open.  It is a process and most processes can feel like an ordeal while you are waiting for the outcome.



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This Week in Orange Politics

It'll be a busy week across Orange County this week. The Carrboro Alderfolks will discuss bicycle-friendliness and the Lloyd Farm propery mediation process, while the Chapel Hill Town Council will get an update on UNC-related development. Both school boards will review the student performance data recently released by the state, while the Hillsborough Town Board will get an update on the Colonial Inn. The county commmissioners will meet with the Mebane City Council on public transportation and the Buckhorn EDD, and will get an update on Southern Branch Library in a serperate meeting.

CHALT and the Sierra Club/Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce/WCHL will hold candidate forums for Chapel Hill candidates.

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