Candidates: Remember, you must respond using the reply button directly underneath the question or comment to which you are responding to keep the conversation threaded.
Welcome to the Orange Politics online candidate forum. My name is Lisa Sorg. I am a freelance journalist and former INDY Week editor.
Tonight, we will talk with the nine Chapel Hill Town Council candidates who are seeking to fill four seats: Michael Parker, Paul Neebe, Nancy Oates, Jessica Anderson, Lee Storrow, David Alan Schwartz, Adam Jones, Jim Ward and
I’ll post a new question every 8–10 minutes; candidates will receive 12–15 questions. I'll then ask for any closing remarks and any edits to posts. The forum will close no later than 9 p.m.
Candidates, we’ll start with opening statements. Ready, set, go!
I'm playing single dad for the next several days, so I will participate as I am able tonight. I'm ready for a new direction for Chapel Hill. One of smart growth while keeping the character of our fine town. Growth for the sake of growing is not the answer.
Many thanks to everyone involved with Orange Politics for hosting this forum.
I, Paul Neebe, am running for Town Council because I love Chapel Hill and want to preserve the great parts of our wonderful character. I have lived here since 1967 and have seen many changes happen to our town, some for the better and some worse. My experience of growing up and living in Chapel Hill since my Glenwood Elementary days gives me a wide perspective and viewpoint. In addition, my work as a professional musician encourages me to listen, think outside the box, and be creative. As a real estate broker I understand the importance of economic value, income production, and the tools of negotiation. My work on various Boards in our community keeps me abreast of what we need to do to keep Chapel Hill progressing in the right direction. I promise to do my very best to listen to what you, our citizens have to say and make the right choices. Thanks for your vote!
I'm looking forward to the questions tonight. You can learn more by visiting my website paulneebefortowncouncil.com, or find me on facebook.
I’d like to thank Orange Politics for hosting this online forum.
Five years ago, my husband and I chose to move back to North Carolina and start our family in Chapel Hill because of its commitment to unique, local businesses; environmental stewardship; social justice; community; and education. I am running because I have a vision that will allow us to build on these values, retain our originality and become a cutting-edge community as we continue to grow.
I am a K-12 education policy analyst who has a Master’s in Public Policy from Duke University. I have participated in and led evaluation and research projects at the federal and state levels, working closely with our State Superintendent and education leaders from across our great state. Because of my role as an evaluator, I have experience approaching problems with an open mind and a collaborative spirit.
As your council representative, I will support development that addresses the problem of school overcrowding; supports local, unique businesses; keeps Chapel Hill affordable for its current residents; adds walkability and cyclability; protects green spaces and our environment; promotes buildings that are human scale; and results in a more vibrant downtown.
I am a firm believer that the best decisions come from having access to the most accurate data; having different points of view represented at the table; and having people on the council who are willing to share their ideas and listen and learn from others. I believe that the fact that most of the current town council’s major decisions have been either unanimous or nearly unanimous speaks to the need for greater diversity on the current town council. As an experienced policy evaluator and mother who fully understands the impacts of development on public services—especially education—I will add an experienced voice that is currently underrepresented on Town Council.
Thank you, and I hope to earn your vote in this coming election!
This is Donna Bell. I currently am serving my 6th year on the Town Council. I have worked as a strong voice for affordable housing policies and sustainable development that allows the town to grow in an intentional way that provides benefits to the town and all of its citizens.
I'm Nancy Oates and I'm running for Town Council to continue to be a voice that empowers the community, to restore balance so that the people who work here can live here, and to pay attention to where we build as we grow so that we don't flood out our neighbors and drive out local businesses.
Thanks to Lisa and the OP team for hosting tonight's forum.
I’m proud of my track record and individual accomplishments as a council member over the last four years. I've spent the last four years working with Orange County leaders to promote social justice, transparency in government, and economic development. My record shows a history of bringing diverse stakeholders together and working to find solutions to problems both big and small in Chapel Hill. I'm running for re-election to because I want to keep working to build a vibrant, thriving community.
I started on the Council as someone who above all else values the health of our environment, so keeping the forests and streams clean and healthy was my number one concern. Over my 16 years of experience on the Town Council, I now have embraced the concept of sustainabilty. So, I continue to work hard and be a voice for environmental protection AND policies/support for actions that increase social justice for all, and especially those least able to speak up for themselves; and for economic vitality - in the form of additional office and retail in CH, to reduce tax burden on residential property owners.
I'm running for town council because I love CHapel Hill and I want to protect our neighborhoods and local businesses from what I see as irresponsible overdevelopment; irresponsible because it neglects to consider adverse fiscal, environemental, and traffic impacts.
I'm runnig because I want to promote the kind of development that makes CHapel Hill better, stronger, greener, more attractive, and more inclusive, not simply more expensive and exclusive.
Finally, I'm running because I want to empower the citizens of Chapel Hill to have a stronger voice in town givernment deicsions than they have had recently.
I will contribute ibute several things to the council: First, I know Chapel Hill well. I grew up here, attended UNC, and am now raising my own children here. I understand what makes this ton special and what we need to do to keep it special.
I am trained as a scientist and educator. I will delve into the details of town budgets and land use palsn to understand the challenges and choices that we face. I'll ask tought questions to make sure the citizens and taxpers are getting a good deal. And I"ll insist that we base our decisions on fcyts and analysis rather than on myths and wishful thinking.
As a council member I will
encourage development that rpovides housing for our public school teachers, artists, town staff, and other moderately paid workers.
work with unc to recruit high wage high skill commercial research and light industry enterprises to provide employment for UNC graduates and help finance government services
seek cost savings by making bettr use of local expertise
implement a town-wide boike plan to make biking safer and more convenient.
Over the past years, through my service to the Town as a member of the Planning Commission, Chair of the Transportation Board, Co-Chair of the Central West Steering Committee, and a member of the Rosemary Imagined Project Team I have come to believe that affordability is perhaps the central issue facing Chapel Hill.
If am fortunate enough to be elected I intend to tackle this challenge by focusing on:
I believe that in the course of my professional career as a consultant to not-for profit healthcare organizations, biotechs, and pharmaceutical companies I have developed a number of skills that will help me in addressing the challenges above and add value to the Town Council: strategic and facility planning, economic development, negotiation, consensus and team-building, and financial analysis, as well as an entrepreneurial and creative approach to solving complex problems. I am a fact-based and pragmatic decision-maker whose guiding principle in all of my service to Chapel Hill has been and will be to do what is best for the Town as a whole.
I am convinced that working with the residents of our Town and the other members of the Council we can accomplish great things so that the Chapel Hill of tomorrow is even better than it is today.
Let's get this party started.
Carrboro has a $15-an-hour wage floor for its town employees. What should the minimum wage be for Chapel Hill town workers? How can the town incentivize private businesses to pay a living wage?
When the town puts out RFPs, its expectation should be that the work will go to companies that pay a living wage, and there should be a way to verify that the money is going to the workers. State law prohibits that being written into the RFP, but businesses that compete for contracts know the work goes to the best fit not the best price. Town needs to let it be known that a living wage is what makes the best fit. Local businesses tend to pay higher wages and have more humane working conditions than corporations. We need to make policies that are hospitable to local businesses.
Although Chapel Hill's efforts to promote a living wage have been laudable, the wage index currently utilized does not create a wage that meets the local housing needs of our employees. I believe Chapel Hill should move away from the living wage model and towards a housing wage model.
A housing wage is generated by determining what would be needed to afford average rental costs, in a local community, at 30% of income for a full time employee at a forty hour work week. The current benchmark wage for the Town of Chapel Hill is 13.35 and is indexed at 7.5% above Federal Poverty Guidelines. Using a standard forty hour work week, subtracting taxes, it would be next to impossible to find a unit a individual unit at this rate. The rough rent rate a person living on this wage could afford would be 640.00 USD a month. I believe our workers should be paid a wage that allows them to live and work independently in the Town of Chapel Hill.
I believe the National Low Income Housing Coalition offers a useful index that could help guide this conversation. I am not married to a particular model or index but the current model does not meet the desire that there be the opportunity to live, work and play in Chapel Hill.
It depends on the job and the situation. As the owner of Mill House Properties, I pay my full-time staff very well, however my hourly employees make $12 an hour. Of course, these are students or folks who are not working in these positions as a career. To earn a living wage folk must have the education to justify their income. The town could offer education incintives tied to pay increases. As an example, I pay for employees to get their real estate license or other license designations and, when successfully completed they get a raise that reflects that new level of education. Employers can't afford (and should not be forced) to pay uneducated employees a higher wage just because. More education is the answer.
The minimum wage for Chapel Hill town workers should also be at least $15/hour. It actually should be the minimum housing wage, that is, the amount necessry to afford market rate housing in Chapel Hill. I'm told that $15/hour is in the ballpark for a Chapel Hill housing wage, but it may need to be higher.
Because the Town can not require private businesses to pay a wage higher than the federal minimum, we can follow the example of Asheville, where they invite businesses to voluntarily adopt a higher minimum age and celebrate those businesses that choose to do so.
The minimum wage should be enough so town workers can afford to live in Chapel Hill. $15 an hour will not buy much in Chapel Hill! I know the town workers could benefit with a housing package in addition to a living wage. The combination of these two should give town workers a chance to live, work and thrive in Chapel Hill.
If we create for private businesses the space and the means to be successful, they will be paying more than minimum wage due to the workplace supply and demand equation.
Chapel Hill Town Council directed the manager several years ago to ensure that all Town employees are paid a living wage, and this is still the case. The living wage was determined to be approx $12/hr, if that person was working 40 hrs/week and had full health coverage. Regardless, I will continue to support this effort, as the TOCH can not be part of the problem, we need to and will be part of the solution. Yest we can encourage, incentivize businesses to follow our lead, most easily those that the TOCH contracts with for various purposes.
so I expect this is still has
Chaepl Hill's current living wage is about $12.20/hour, 7.5% over the poverty level. This is clearly too low. The actuality is somewhat better, as the lowest wage any Town employee is receiving is about $13.50/hour, still too low -- about $27,000 per year -- still difficult to live on in Chapel Hill. The $15.00/hour wage seems reasonable. Chapel Hill's options are limited in terms of the private sector as a recent State law precludes us from, for example, imposing such a wage on firms that contract with the Town.
Nonetheless the Town can, for example us its bully pulpit and publicize wages of private employers, as a means of getting employers ot pay better wages. A Town-level minimum waghe law would be imp[racticval due to our size unless we were able to get other municipalities to join in.
In addition to working to increase the town wage, I also think we need to recognize non-government efforts to address wage inequality. We are lucky to have the leadership of Vimala Rajendran in Chapel Hill, she's been working with other to launch at project to recognize businesses who pay living wages. See more at-
I think that the living wage should also be $15-hour in Chapel Hill. We've seen this trend across the country in places like Seattle, where this has raised a lot of public debate as to whether raising the minimum wage drastically is sustainable for small- and medium-sized businesses. I believe that the evidence so far indicates that the increase in productivity, attendance and worker morale--as well as the reduction in need for public assistance for the individuals who benefit from the increase--has made raising the living wage worthwhile. I believe we would need to do a thorough analysis specific to the impacts on Chapel Hill using qunaititative methods as well as case studies before making this decision. Assuming that our analyses confirmed what I suspect to be the case, then we could move forward.
As far as incentivizing private businesses goes (with above mentioned analyses in hand), the first step would be to raise the wage to $15 for public sector jobs to provide a leadership example for what we want to see across town. Additionally, we could work with the AFL-CIO, the university, the Chamber of Commerce and other important in-town partners to effectively communicate with businesses that raising the minimum wage is beneficial to all involved, including private businesses.
As the state legislature continues to target UNC for budget cuts, the university could have fewer resources to devote to town-and-gown relationships, such as the $3 million loan for Northside.
How should the town plan for reduced support from UNC, whether it be jobs for residents or more direct resources?
I don't accept the premise of the question, as it is in the University's AND UNC Healthcare's best self-interest to be part of the solution, that will make it more affordable for all of their employees. Local housing options at all pay-grades is a better business practice. Employees can get to work when the roads are bad..., and they can tend to their family affairs - PTA teacher conferences, etc.
Budget cuts or not, we need to continue working with UNC for a harmonious mutually beneficial relationship. If we are both working towards a common goal then funding can be found either from public or private sources.
With more commercial development, that should also help the town's budget to help make up shortfalls.
Town and gown must work together. Both were born together and must grow in tandem. Town must cultivate strong relationships with leaders of UNC, and from alumni. Encourage alumni to move businesses here or support existing businesses. Also CH leadership and UNC leadership must understand how decisions by each affect the other, such as student housing, on-campus fast-food outlets competing with local businesses and work together to solve transportation issues.
The town should identify those areas of service and expenditure that are most vulnerable to a decrease in support from UNC and develop alternative revenue streams that can offset reductions. THe more successful we are at developing a commercial tax base independent of UNC, the less vulnerable we'll be to UNC's changing circumstances/funding. For example, the town can be much more aggressive in recruiting commercial research and light industry enterprises that will provide high skill high wage employment and generate tax revenue to fund govt. services.
There are many ways in which UNC can help even if cash is reduced. The key here is for UNC to use its balance sheet rather than its income statement to provide support. Ways in which this can be carried out include contributing or long-term leasing land for use in affordable housing (e.g., cooperatively with developers) and the creation of entrepreneurial spaces; continuing to make loans (which can come from its endowment and stay as assets -- this is what is being done in Northside); and using its Foundation, which is how the Carolina Square development was structured.
While things are curently difficult for UNC, it still has a number of arrows in its quiver that it can use -- if the resolve is there.
UNC plays an important role in supporting our community. In addition to the Northside initiative, UNC donated land to IFC to build the new shelter, made a major contribution to that effort, and has financially supported capitol campaigns of many worthy non-profits in recent years.
Large and small employers play a key role in supporting worthy causes in a number of ways, and I hope council members will continue to play a role in connecting those businesses with our community. This also reinforces the need to ensure that we have the space and opportunities for businesses to grow, stay, and move to Chapel Hill.
Similar to other funding streams such as federal and state-level grants, we need to expect that the University funding stream may dry up at any time. I believe we always need to have a back up plan for how to sustain projects that we feel are important but may be funded by entities external to town government. Not only do we need to be putting away money for a "rainy day," we always need to be on the lookout for other funding opportunities that may replace those that get cut at the state and federal level. I commend the current council for their efforts to secure grant funding for much needed projects and I would encourage us moving forward to do a better job of saving as we go for projects we know we may have to fund in the future. Finally, I believe we can find areas for collaboration with the University so even if their budgets are cut we can find ways to work together on certain inititaves to keep them going.
I feel the town should not rely on money or support from UNC...that's like hoping your parents will bail you out of a jam. That way, if money or other support is actually provided it is a windfall rather than a scramble because we assumed support was there. The University and the town need to work together more closely in regard to economic development...not just UNC development or Chapel Hill development. We are one and the same, or at least I feel we should work that way, hand in hand for the betterment of all. Carolina is Chapel Hill and Chapel Hill is Carolina. We need to feed off each other, support each other and plan our futures together.
The Town has a high level of communication between the town and university through our Mayor and the Chancellor. This provides many opportunities for UNC to share any relevant information that would significantly impact its relationship with the town. I have also experienced our town's abitlity to respond to major changes in the environment as seen by our response to recent recession. The flexibility and financial planning created by our town structure should allow us the ability to respond quickly to any changes while maintaining a high level of service and committment to town values.
Let's switch topics to social issues, specifically homelessness: Evaluate the progress of the town’s 10-year-plan to end homelessness. What needs improved? How should those improvements be made? What obstacles, challenges are preventing its completion?
Homelessness will never be "ended." We must chip away at it, as we are doing. Transitional housing helps. Supporting social service agencies, especially those that work with the mentally ill and people with addictions will help. Planning the next steps at each phase, examining why people are homeless, and creating an environment that will allow people to succeed at each of the next steps is basic. The problem with homelessness is that it's not so much people don't have a place to live, it is systemic -- read the N&O's recent series on the commissioner of labor not going after businesses that cheat workers out of pay, and read the domino effect that has on people's lives.
Homelessness was, is, and probably will continue to be a problem for our Town. Progress has been made, as exemplified by the opening ofd the new IFC shelter, which was a collaboration between many parties, including the Town, UNC, the IFC, Orange County, and many donors, including SECU. But it is not enough.
First, we need to ensure that there is adequate housing for individuals and families when they leave shelters, which, as we know, there is not. This is something that more projects that use the principles of the Legion Road project can help with. Second, we need to expand our outreach services and work to ensure that all those who need help avail thmselves of it. We need more and better services in terms of mental health, even as the State makes this more difficult. And we have to have more regional cooperation to ensure that not only Orange County and Carrboro are committed, but that the Triangle as a whole is addressing the problem so that we do not become a "favored destination" for those in need.
One of the problems in finding a solution to homelessness in Chapel Hill, it the lack of visible homeless people. I think first we need to educate the public that this is still a problem. This will help with broad support of a solution.
We should continue to support the organizations making progress in this area. Such as the Womens & Mens Shelter and the Community House, IFC.
The new transitional housing shelter is a great step toward dealing with the issue of homelessness in Chapel Hill. I would also advocate for an emergency walk-in psychiatric clinic so anyone, but particularly the homeless with mental illness, have a better chance of making their way into stable housing situations.
The new shelter and space for the IFC on MLK is a critical piece of infrastructure that was needed to adequately address homelessness and make sure we partnered with residents to help them transition into housing and employment.
Other than the men's and women's shelters and the IFC kitchen, I am not familiar with specific programs that the town has in place to combat homelessness. I recently spoke with Garris, a homeless man who is often seen at the post office and other places around town. He told me that since the men's shelter "closed" he has no place to get food. I told him the shelter moved and that the IFC kitchen is still working out of that space for a few more months. If the town does not have folks "in the field" to educate the homeless than more will flounder just like Garris. I have taken him food, given him money for new clothes and told him where to find more help, but a social worker needs to be his case worker. Educating the homeless on what Chapel Hill has to offer is paramount...and that means being on the street to communicate those options. Also, many of the homeless are here because of the University and they know that the students are a good source for donations. Educating students to NOT give out money would help too.
The opening of the new IFC transitional shelter greatly improves the range of services the town can offer to the homeless population and I congratulate those who played a part in bringing it to fruition. It remains to be seen how effective this new approach will be at moving homeless individuals into more permanent stable housing situations.
One irony of programs to address homelessness is that the more services a community provides, the more homeless individuals are attracted to that community. So we may have a larger population of homeless in the future. So we shouldn't be thinking so much in terms of ending homelessness but rather continually improving our ability to serve those who need shelter. People become homeless for a variety of reasons. The solutions will need to be equally varied. It's important that town staff coordinate with other social service organizations and agencies, such as substance abuse treatment programs. That is, we should strive to continually improve communication and coordination across different socialk service organizations that serve the homeless population.
10 year plan - is meant to energize effort, which it has, but the problem, which has been with us for ever, will be one we can make progress on but it will require dedication, which I've been able to help supply for the last 16 years. Housing First was/is a great improvement, IFC is a terrific partner, that I and CH Town Council have been proud to support. We need on our existing partnerships with Orange County, Carrboro, Chamber, UNC, UNC Healthcare, CHCCSS, and fantastic local and regional NGOs, because none of us can do this alone. The fact that CH is know around the country as a great place to live, makes the problem more difficult, AND it also can help us amass addtional resources.
We're lucky to have the Partnership to End Homelessness leading a county wide approach to homeless issues. The town recently increased our annual allocation to support this effort. Council member Sally Greene serves on that committee on behalf of the town.
Chapel HIll has been a strong participant in the Partnership to End Homelessness with Carrboro, Hillsborough, and Orange County. Annual counts are not a precise way to measure the level of need in the community. However, they do offer qualitiative information that supports the understanding that for many people homelessness is a chronic problem. It is people's ability to remain in homes while dealing with the challenges of increased living costs, fewer living wage employment options, and scarce resources that offer a safety net in times of crisis.
If fares aren't feasible, how would you ensure the financial viability of Chapel Hill Transit? Candidates, what public transit do you use, and where do you take it?
Fares are not feasible. Period.
We have studied multiple long term efforts to build sustainability, and the cost to accept fares and subsequent decrease in ridership that would decrease federal and state support would have a negative impact to the system. UNC's relationship would be likely to change as well. They provide more funding to the system than either Chapel Hill or Carrboro, largely because their students and staff are able to ride for free.
I think we should move to the MetroCard model similar to NYC. Student ID's allow them to ride "free" since they pay a fee through the University. Folks who use the buses can buy a day, week, month or longer card to use...the more rides you buy the cheaper it is. The combination of fares and advertising will be needed (among other avenues) to raise money to fund the transit system. I do not use the transit system. I either drive my car or walk as I live in the downtown area. I do think it is silly to have a full-sized bus go to Hillsborough and to be used for the Robertson Scholar bus. A passenger van should be used as I never see more than three or four people on those 65(?) seat buses. Smaller vehicles for these routes could save on fuel and maintenance.
If we're not going to start charging fares, and I don't think we should, then we should fund our transit system through a combination of taxes and contributions from the university. We are currently levying a half cent sales tax to support our local public transit system. Much of it has been going toward Light Rail. Given the uncertainty about whether state and federal funds needed to build the LRT will be forthcoming, we should explore reallocating some of that revenue to support our bus transit system. For example, we should we reintroduce routes that were cut during the downturn. We should also increase frequency on nights and weekends. I regularly take the bus to get to campus.
First let me say that the Fare Free System in Chapel Hill is one of the best ideas ever and we should continue to support it. The more people that ride, the more money we can get from Federal and State sources.
Perhaps we should have a ride the bus to work day with incentives to increase ridership.
Chapel Hill Transit is on the right track shoring up their finances, by going with Clean Diesel buses instead of Hybrids.
The bus service I use the most is Triangle Transit to get to RDU Airport. For around Chapel Hill, I prefer to bike whenever possible.
There's been a lot of doom and gloom written about the transit system, much of it untrue. Chapel Hill Transit will purchase over a dozen new buses this year through a combination of outright purchases and leasing over a period of time. We recently hosted a meeting of the Chapel Hill Transit Partners and Congressman Price to discuss long term funding efforts.
CH Transit has been getting help from a consultant to assist us in creating a sustainable financial path for short and long-term. The Orange County 1/2 cent sales tax has and will help alot. When light rail comes online, CH Transit can relocate existing resources in that corridor to other priority transit needs in CH, Carrboro and UNC. CH Transit has been and continues to work with Congressman Price at the Federal level. CH Transit is partnering with our regional transit neighbors for our next bus order so everyone can get a better unit price. I occasionally ride the HS bus to get to downtown, then bike to work (NC Botanical Garden, then put bike on bus to get up the hill via S or HU then HS or bike the rest of the way home to Ironwoods..
Assuming fares are not feasible, Chapel Hill and the municipalities that are buses run to and from, as well as UNC, are going to have to pick up the slack. One way to infuse much needed $$ into Chapel Hill Transit would be to dedicate some funding that is currently earmarked for light rail to the cause. Although I am not ideologically opposed to light rail, I do have some concerns about the current route and the implementation timeline as well as who will actually be served by this new transit option. I don't advocate for abandoning light rail completely, but our transit system needs funding now and unfortunately we do not have town money put away to replace and repair enough of our aging buses.
I currently work from a home office, so my commute is minimal. I grew up in the Boston metro area and took the bus and T from elementary school through college, I've also lived in DC and rode the DC Metro and buses. I would be open to taking public transport in Chapel Hill if it was better suited to those of us outside the UNC community.
A recent study, part of the ongoing financialfeasibility study for CHT indicated that due to the fact so many fares are prepaid (UNC studnets and employees) that charging fares would not generate significant new net revenues due to the cost of collecting the fares and would likely decrease ridership. Where can money come from then?
First, we need to relook at the formula by which half-cent sales tax funds are distributed. While the Town is receiving funds -- which have helped to expand service and allow for the acquisition of new buses -- we need more. The bulk of the funds are going to light rail. While I certainly support light rail, if two or so million dollars were diverted to CHT, it would have a minimal impact on the LRT but help CHT a great deal. This will require cooperation from Triangle Transit, the MPO, and Orange County, but it is feasible.
Second, the Town and University will need to step up support if they believe, as I do, that CHT must be strengthened. And finally, we could look to create Transit Improvement Districts for the new transit-friendly developments coming along. Such districts would pay a modest additional property tax to help fund the transit that is crucial to their success.
I use CHT more rarely than I would like -- largely to go to and from athletic events. I live Downtown and so don't need it to go to campus and it is simply not designed for people like me who need to go elsewhere, something we need to address.
Make public transportation a priority in the budget, over, say, dressing out town executives' offices in luxury finishes and other upgrades to Town Hall, making transportation a prioirty over subsidizing private developers' projects that don't benefit the town. We have a choice of how we spend our money. Public transportation is critical as we add density. Take the bus from downtown to the hospital to avoid parking problems at the hospital. Yet another reason why we need parking downtown.
If fares aren't feasible then tighten up the bus routes with fewer buses or smaller vehicles in low ridership routes. Since the federal funds are drying up it will be a real struggle to meet the transit needs without bonds, taxes or some surcharge through the University's fees to students. Light rail is not the answer...move some of those funds to the bus system...HOV lanes should be experimented with first before blowing $2Billon on light rail.
In my time living in Chapel Hill, I'm pretty sure I've ridden almost every bus line in our community. As a student at UNC, I rode Chapel Hill Transit buses to internships at Prevention Partners and Planned Parenthood. I ride the NS, T, NU, and A on a fairly regular basis, and occasionally ride GoTriangle buses to downtown Raleigh.
Funding for our current transit system comes from multiple sources. With Carrboro and UNC as our transit partners, we have been able to leverage our resources to remain a high-use system with both state and federal transit dollars. Transit is not just about getting bodies from one place to another. It is also about decreasing the need for impervious surface required for large parking lots, reducing the number of cars on the road, as well as reducing the number of additional streets to manage traffic. Transit is not a single bullet answer. Along with having a transit system that provides a wider range of service, we need to help educate our citizens about how to live a less car-focused life. It is not simply a decision to put down the keys. I know...I drive to work more often than I should, but I also walk and strive to create a life that takes advantage at all this transit friendly town.
How often to do you bike in Chapel Hill? Do you do so for recreation or commuting? Assess the risks and benefits of biking in the town, and what needs to be done to improve infrastructure for cyclists.
I only bike in my neighborhood with my girls as they are learning how to ride. As I said, I live close enough to downtown so I walk when needed or drive if the distance is too far to walk. I think the town is doing good things for bikers, but we need to do more...more dedicated lanes, signage, etc. Also, education about biking in town should be a seminar the town sponsors. Many of the accidents over the years have been due to bikers not following traffic laws or wearing appropriate reflective clothing at dusk or dark.
I'm sad to say I no longer bike in Chapel Hill now that I have a small child, not only because of logistics, but because I don't feel it's safe. Pedestrians and cyclists take their lives into their own hands when they walk or bike without bike lanes or sidewalks, as we tragically saw just two days ago when a pedestrian was killed in a hit and run on Homestead Road. We have an excellent bike plan that we have yet to implement which should one of our top priorities moving into 2016 so events like this don't happen as frequently.
I bike for recreation now. I've tried biking when I work onsite for clients, but it isn't feasible because there often isn't a place to lock up my bike, and changing clothes in a restroom stall is a pain. Risks are the chance of being on the losing end of a bike-car interaction. Most drivers slow down or move toward the center line. Those that don't terrify me. Need more bike lanes and bike paths, some sort of physical separation between bikes and cars. Green sharrows don't do the job. If people felt safer biking in Chapel Hill, more would do it.
Before my children were born I biked regularly for commuting and recreation, and I continue to bicycle recreationally.
We've had a number of accidents and even fatalties recently, which clearly indicates we don't have safe enough bike routes in town. Intersections and the major transit corridors pose the greatest risks to cyclists. The town commissioned a comprehensive bike plan that describes the kinds of infrastructure we need to implement to make cycling safer. I'd like to see us move forward more quickly. For example I'd like to see protected bike lanes on 15-501 and Franklin, MLK, and Estes Drive. Sharrows like the one on S. Columbia above the James Taylor Bridge aren't going to make people feel safe -- or be safe.
I'm seeing a theme in these responses, and I agree with it. It isn't' safe enough to bike in Chapel Hill right now, and we need to implement the bike plan. One of the reason I'm such a strong advocate for the bonds on the ballot this fall is that they will fund needed bike and ped projects. I do not bike on a regular basis.
I am a recreational bicyclist. I bicycle largely for errands around town as much as I can. Bicycling in CH is clearly a challenge. We have precious few good bicycle paths/lanes, particularly those that are well separate from cars. Bicycling simply is not as safe as it needs to be, as evidenced by the tragic accidents we have had.
To its credit, the Town has adopted a bicycle plan, something of which I was a part when I chaired the Transportation Board, which lays out an overall plan, as well as priority projects. I am encouraged that the proposed bonds include significant funding -- nearly $8 million -- for bicycle (and pedestrian) infrastructure. Separation of bicycles from cars is key and much remains to be done. It will take many years until CH is as bicycle-friendly as I would like to see it.
I bike occasionally as a commuter to/from work (see Q.# 4). I am also a recreational bike rider, with my wife throughout CH and C'boro, and less frequently to Maple View. We also drive with our bikes to Tobacco Trail and have gone N/S to both ends. I have more 'want to' than 'have done', but I think my efforts are going in the right direction. Hopefully the community will approve the Bond, which has significant funding for top priorities within in recently completed Bike Master Plan. We also have made some progress in increasing the level of enforcement by CH Police, of bike/ped/auto conflicts. In my opinion, the CH Police need to be more supportive of bike and peds, as it is the vehicle drivers that can end up killing. The Wikimap is a step forward, and needs to be used in more ways. Finally, the Town Council voted to remove the local language regarding bikes using roads - from, as "far right as practical", which ended up putting bike users in greater danger.
I don't bike as often as I would like in Chapel Hill because I don't feel safe.
Chapel Hill has a Bronze designation from the League of American Bicyclists. This is pittiful for a town as progressive as Chapel Hill is and needs to change.
We already have a Bike Plan that recently came out that the town paid a lot of money for.
We should have an express implementation of this Bike Plan, starting with having a dedicated Town Staff person to work on this project. We are sorely lacking in this respect.
In the Bike Plan there are many recommendations for physically buffered or protected bike lanes, which keep Autos and Bicyclist separate.
We also need to educate our staff, and developers that just putting a bike lane on the side of a road where the speed limit is 35mph or greater is not a solution. Off-Road Multi-use paths, Greenways and physically protected bikelines are the solution.
I bike fairly often during this time of year, as I live in one of the more flat areas of town and the weather makes the ride to work do-able. In the heat of the summer, in a building without shower facilities, walking to work is more of an option than riding Having lived in both Berkeley and San Francisco, I am also more confident in the busy traffic between Chapel Hill and Carrboro. There has been much discussion over the past decade about what biking facilities needed to make biking more accessible and safer for people who want to use it as a part of either recreation or commuting. I trust that the Bike Plan that was approved by the Town, and that is seeking support in the current Bond Referendum, will create a safer biking experience for our citizens.
Do you do so for recreation or commuting? Assess the risks and benefits of biking in the town, and what needs to be done to improve infrastructure for cyclists.
Chapel Hill is often compared to Durham and Raleigh, which are experiencing significant growth in the tech and entrepreneurial sectors, and in the cultural amenities that those workers tend to demand. What is the Chapel Hill brand and how should the town distinguish itself economically and culturally from its neighbors? What does Chapel Hill offer that no other Triangle city can?
Quite simply, Chapel Hill should not be competing with Durham or Raleigh. We need to be the best Chapel Hill we can be, not a smaller Durham.
To me what makes our Town so special is not only its beauty, although we have that in abundance. And it’s not just what our buildings look like and how large they are, although that is certainly important.
What makes us special is the people who live here and what goes on in our buildings. And in this we are incredibly fortunate. We have a residents who are committed to social justice, to sustainability and environmental protection, to helping the less fortunate among us, to tolerance and equality, and to excellence in education.
And we have so many things to do, whether it’s eating in our great restaurants, attending the many athletic events at UNC, going to concerts or theater at our many venues, taking advantage of our parks and recreational facilities, or working with our many non-profits. This is what Chapel offers that our nearby neighbors do not.
That said, we need to grow our entreprenurial and tech sector -- something that can be done through Town, UNC, CHCCS, and Durham Tech collborations.
Chapel Hill to me is a relatively small town that offers the best of both small and big town living.
I don't work in marketing and I don't think in terms of brands. That said, the values that have defined Chapel HIll over the past 50 or so years include education, environment and inclusion. I don't think we need to see Chapel Hill as being in competition with neighboring communities. We are the only college town in the Triangle and rather than try to emulate our much larger neighbors, we should stick to our knitting and be the best college town we can be. That means maintaining our high standards and our values. It's enough to meet the needs of those who live here. We don't need to compete for new residents.
Sad that Chapel Hill used to be a community and now it's a brand. What sets us apart is that we are intertwined with the university. In recent years, Town Council apparently is trying to "market" the town. People will come to Chapel Hill because of what we offer. When council decisions lead to eroding our best features, we will have lost what draws people here and what keeps people here. The B&B proposal is a good example. We have wonderful historic neighborhoods. Why turn them into bustling commercial centers? Recently I've talked with people all over town. To a one, they mention that what keeps them in Chapel Hill is the sense of community and that that quality of life is being destroyed by too much traffic, flooding, chain stores replacing independent businesses. too many "show" stores instead of useful stores. If we try to be Anytown, USA, we won't have anything that distinguishes us from other Triangle cities.
I don't think Chapel Hill has a "brand" other than being know the town where Carolina is located. I don't think we need to compete with our neighbors on branding. If we make downtown a fun, vibrant, exciting town rather than a five lane thoroughfare then our brand will take care of itself. I think Carrboro just did a wonderful job redesigning it's logo and town sign. It screams Carrboro as a funky, fun and open community. I think the Chapel Hill logo and signs (when you can see them) suck. They scream Chapel Hill as a stale, snooty and uptight community. I think a redesign of the town logo (I know that was done within the past 5-10 years) and new signs (where you can actually see them) are due to give us some semblance of a brand. You need to start somewhere.
I disagree. While there is more work to be done to make our downtown even better, we have amazing restaurants, great entertainment venues like DSI Comedy and Local 506, and are starting to see an exciting influx of stores that provide everything from upscale women's clothing to comic books. We're frequently recognized as one of the great small towns in North Carolina and one of the best college towns in the country. Does UNC play a big role in that? Of course. But I think Franklin Street and the density of great restaurants and amenities can compete with any town our size.
Downtown Chapel Hill is awesome, and we should all be shouting that from the rooftops.
While we are often compared to Durham and Raleigh, I think we need to acknowledge that we also have national peers like Berkley and Ann Arbor, and we're competing for the types of spin-offs and important academic leaders who bring new jobs and ideas to communities with major universities.
We have a James Beard award winning chef and amazing restaurants that support our thriving foodie scene. UNC (especially athletics) drives a dynamic and revenue generating tourism industry.
When you look at the types of policies we've passed on a local level, I believe you'll see us being more innovative than our peers in the triangle. An inclusionary zoning ordinance along with consistent payments for affordable housing for rental developments and a transit system larger than BOTH Durham or Raleigh.
We are Chapel Hill. We don't need to be any place else. I think we have lived through an era where some of our surrounding neighbors did not have the amenitites that Chapel Hill offered. But now they do. But they are still not Chapel HIll.
Chapel Hill's "brand" if we are going to use marketing terms, involves a tier-1 research university, excellent K-12 schools, an appreciation for local businesses and a small town feel amidst dynamic and exciting cultural events that celebrate diversity and the arts. We shouldn't be Raleigh or Durham, although I appreciate having them as neighbors. I am concerned that our current development trajectory is slowly turning us into a less creative, diverse and original place. I think we need to make sure we keep Chapel Hill affordable for artists and protect our local businesses, or we risk turning into just another bland, affluent community.
The way I see ourselves still distinguishing oursleves from our neighbors is with our public schools. A huge part of my platform involves applying my experience as an education policy expert to strengthen the town's partnerships with the school board and education leaders in Chapel Hill. I believe this is critical as many of us come here for the town's excellent public schools, and their is evidence that their performance will decline if we continue to develop residentially without planning for how to accommodate all the new children who will live in the number of new developments that are approved. We also have to support our schools by supporting initiatives like TABLE and PORCH that feed the 30% of children who suffer from food insecurity and we must find creative ways to find affordable housing for teachers who deserve to and should be able to live in Chapel Hill and not just work here.
I see the Chapel Hill Brand as a complimentary flavor working in conjunction with Durham and Raleigh.
Durham and Raleigh have the space that we will never have, so we must distinguish ourselves by the quality of life here.
I see Chapel Hill as a Town within a Park, something great to offer.
CH is a great college town! To a great extent, UNC is who we are, but we're much more. Our unique competitive advantage is UNC, so we need to grow an already strong partnership with UNC and UNC Healthcare to help identify and nurture innovation and ideas coming from the students and faculty. We are also unique, compared to D and R, in that we are much smaller, and that appeals to all age levels. We've made some progress (LAUNCH...), and together we made a compelling and successful sales pitch to Google - high speed is on the way to CH, and that is a critical piece of infrastructure for entrepeneurials and the rest of us. CH has great night life (I'm told!) - music, improv, food, and a growing amount of downtown housing. I think the University, and Orange Co, hold the key to helping us provide more, affordable office space for start ups, as they have important d'town property, as does the TOCH. We need to work on a fast-turn around plan for how to shift current uses to these more strategic need.
It’s 8 p.m., and we are halfway through our Council forum.
Several candidates have mentioned the bond referendum. Explain your position on the referenda items. If each passes, what are your spending/project priorities for: streets/sidewalks, trails/greenways, sewer, solid waste and stormwater?
I support all five bonds on the ballot, and strongly urge community members to vote for them this fall.
I know addressing stormwater needs isn't the sexiest topic, but I think implementing our long term stormwater plans is vital, and I hear from residents about this frequently. The $5.9 designated for stormwater will help make drainage improvements, flood control projects, and water quality improvements.
I strongly support all five Bond Referendums. They will allow us to do many things right away instead of waiting years.
I do support all the items on the bond referendum, but to me the bigger issue is that we are asking to issue a bond for things that should be considered "regular maintenance" instead of large, one-time capital projects. This speaks to the need for better planning so we don't have to take out loans for things we should have been saving for all along. It's one thing to finance a new roof on your house, it's another thing to finance cleaning your gutters.
I am in favor of all the bonds this year and I have told my supporters to check YES for bonds too. I don't always vote for bonds when they come up, but I think much is needed right now and the money can be put to good use. My main priorities are a better transit system...routes, bus maintenance, etc., continuing the work on the Bolin Creek Greenway, making biking safer with designated bike lanes, signage, etc. as I mentioned earlier. And, updating the schools that are in desparate need of maintenance or renovation.
I support the bonds, with an asterisk. Much of what the money will go toward should have been part of the town's regular budget: repairs for streets, for instance, and stormwater mitigation. I'm concerned that if present council decides on how the money will be spent, it will go toward things like state-of-the-art convenience centers, when moderate upgrades would suffice. Even Ken Pennoyer, the town's financial director, doesn't know the details of how each bond will be spent. That lack of transparency makes me nervous. Not to mention that because we have use our debt capacity for standard maintenance, we won't have it for special projects or emergencies. And we still have set nothing aside for OPEB.
Bonds should be used for major capital improvements, such as building a new police station or extending sewer service. Infrastructure maintenance, such as road resurfacing, should be paid for out of the annual operational budget, anf it concerns me that the Town has diverted funds that should have been spent on infrastructure maintenance and defered the maintenance work for so long so that now the taxpayers are being asked to spprove a bond to pay for it. This is not good fiscal management.
Given where we are, I would like to see the town continue streetscape enhancements to the downtown area, expand our greenway network, carry out maintenance of trails such as the Battle Creek trail, and come up with a plan to dispose of our solid waste more locally rather than sending it to Durham and beyond.
I support all of the items in the bond referenda. I think we are fortunate that we will be able to raise these much needed funds with no tax increase (except for an increase in the stormwater fee). In terms of priorities:
Streets and sidewalks ($16.2 million): my priorities include implementation of as much as the bicycle plan as possible, with an emphasis on those elemnts that will improve safety; sidewalks in areas in which it is likely that there is enough latent demand such that the sidewalks will be heavily used. It is not clear to me that the Downtown streetscapes require as much improvement as is budgeted.
Trails/greenways ($5 million): The priorities outline by the Town -- Morgan Creek and Bolin Creek trails are sensible, paricularly as they will improve connectivity and create alrternate means of transporation, especially for bicyclists.
Solid waste ($5.2 million): This is for a needed transfwer station that should be built as a collaborative venture with Orange County, Carrboro and the University. That is the way in which I support it.
Stormwater ($5.9): This is vital. I hope that as these funds support the implementation of the Stormwater Master Plan, emphasis will be placed on areas upstream of the areas that are currently most flood-prone, e.g., Eastgate.
Recreation Facilities ($8 million): I support improved facilties, especially a new HQ building. I have reservations about a performance/cultural space given existing resources at UNC and elsewhere that can be more effectively shared.
BTW, no funds are earmarked for sewers.
I support the passage of the entire bond package. The Bike Master Plan is the best tool to use on how to identify spending priorities. We need to focus on sidewalk, greenway improvements that complete physical connections for those biking and walking (and therefore not in their cars) to town destinations (parks, schools, library, retail centers, etc.) We have 200 years of catching up to do when it comes to building stormwater infrastructure, and we have a great Advisory Bd and staff to help us identify priorities. An obvious priority for me is working on the Eph/Fordham watershed area, but there are many needs. Enforcement during construction is an area of need, so I support additional TOCH enforcement staff (though this can not be paid for by bond $). Regarding solid waste - this is a work in progress. The current venue for much of these discussions is the Solid Waste Adv. Group, which I serve on with the Mayor, representing the TOCH. I prefer that we find a site within Orange County, but I don't think there is enough support w/in County Commission - but it would be the right thing to do. I do not support creating a transfer station on Millhouse property that serves all of Orange County, as it would bring too much traffic to Rogers Rd neighbors.
Candidates, could you be more specific about some spending priorities for the bond?
I think I gave some specific examples earlier...AND it is bedtime for my girls, so I will need to drop off for a bit. I will try to come back and respond with a martini in hand...shaken, not stirred.
Bike lanes and greenways, stormwater quantity and quality controls, road maintenance and repair, sidewalks and crosswalks at dangerous intersections and common crossings.
The link that Donna Bell provided helps answer this question.
To me it's pretty clear where the money is going.
While some of the bond topics have room for future councils to make decisions about specific projects, the greenway bond is very specific, and it's going to be awesome! The $5 million is designated for extensions of the Morgan Creek Trail and Bolin Creek Trail to increase connectivity on our greenway system. I use the Bolin Creek trail on a weekly basis, usually for recreation but occasionaly to get to the Chapel Hill Library for books or meetings. Increasing our greenway system is something I think we can all agree is exciting for Chapel HIll.
I believe that I was reasonably specific. My priorities are bicycles, stormwater to address flood-prone areas, greenways, and a shared solid-waste transfer station.
Thanks, Michael. You were quite specific.
Construction of protected bike lanes should be a priority, So should improving the downtown streetscape. Also finishing the final segments of Morgan Creek and Bolin Creek trails. Stormwater projects to reduce flooding in the Booker Creek and lower Bolin Creek watersheds are essential.
Which of the 5 bonds are you interested in, specifically? For instance, in the Streets & Sidewalks bond, I support bike lanes and sidewalks, but would put downtown streetscape at a lower priority. In rec facilities, we have neglected the Parks & Rec office for years. Put that at a high priority. We don't need state-of-the-art convenience center. As for stormwater, ask developers to help with mitigation.
I think I provided some specifics. If time allows I will articulate additonal specificity. Or if there is a specific question.
Thanks, Jim. Your answers were specific.
Should Chapel Hill grow more slowly? What are the consequences of a slower pace? What are the consequences of a faster pace? Explain your position.
I think we need to be careful that we don't outgrow our infrastructure. It's ok to grow, but we need to figure out how we are going to handle the additional traffic and congestions of this growth. One way is to promote alternative transportation, which includes Light Rail, increasing bus service and greatly improving our walking and biking infrastructure. Currently we are heading towards being out of balance with too much building and not enough supportive infrastructure.
I’ve brought a pragmatic approach to new development proposals in Chapel Hill during my first term on council. While we might have disagreement about individual projects, I hope that there is agreement amongst the candidates that new development is needed to increase retail and office space, increase housing to address cost, both through market forces and the construction of affordable housing by private developers, and infrastructure benefits like new sidewalks and public spaces. We're growing at a moderate rate compared to many of our peers.
The growth rate in Chapel Hill has been remarkably consistent over the past 40-50 years -- about 1-1.5 per cent per year. This seems to me to be an appropriate rate. Towns that cease to grow or grow very slowly often wither away as insufficient new employment opportunities are created to attract the young people and families that allow towns to renew themselves. I believe that we need modest growth to allow Chapel Hill to be vital and vibrant.
I understand that the recent approval of a number of new projects makes it seem as if growth is accelerating out of control. But we should remember that these projects will not be built out for a number of years -- in the case of Glen Lennox it could take as long as 20. Based on my calculations and looking out over the next 10 or so years, it appears that the new projects will add residences and, hence population, at a rate that is consistent with our historical rates.
The question is vague. What kind of growth are we talking about? Residentail vs. commercial? As we all know, residential growth places further strains on our infrastructure, services, and finances. Any future population growth needs to be coupled with sufficient commercial growth to offset the costs associated with residential growth. If we don't do this, we will increasingly gentrify and become an exclusive enclave for thew affluent. That's not the klind of town in which I want to raise my children. If we are unable to significantly expand our commercial tax base, we may need to consider planning for a stable population rather than assuming or encouraging endless growth.
If the commercial tax base grows but not the population, how will the businesses be sustained?
Lisa, I think this is an important thing to note. The council has approved several mixed use projects, partially because we know that residents in close proximity to new retail and office space help both to success and generate revenue for the town. When Southern Village was built, the residential component was built first so those residents would help support retail at the village square.
I voted against the Charterwood development because of environmental concerns, negative impacts on adjacent neighborhoods, and a lack of evidence that the project would positively impact Chapel Hill economically. I’ve also expressed strong objections to the proposed 1609 East Franklin project during the initial concept design.
The Ephesus-Fordham district and Obey Creek development both included strong standards to address environmental concerns and infrastructure needs, and those standards evolved and changed through the process based on community input.
The Obey Creek development includes some of the strictest stormwater controls ever passed for a development in Orange County, and included extensive discussion and debate from our stormwater advisory board. By placing 2/3rds of the property in a permanent conservation easement (as recommended by our stormwater advisory board), the council made a responsible decision to support the long-term health of Wilson Creek and advance environmental goals.
The new Ephesus-Fordham district and Obey Creek development will address other council and community priorities. Both projects provide opportunities for desperately needed new office space, and advance community goals of increasing connectivity for pedestrians and cyclists.
Discussion needs to be on how Chapel Hill can evolve not so much as grow. Growth will happen as we have jobs in the region and continue to be a place that attracts people to live here. For decades, good schools have been the primary reason for people to move here, and that should drive our growth. When we build communities that are good for children, we end up with communities that are good for everyone. A recent poll found that Chapel Hill residents believe the ideal size for our town should be 80K residents. At the pace we're building, we'll reach that in 6 years. Then what? We need to take a breath, catch up the infrastructure and refine our vision for what we want the town to be. And community input on that discussion is paramount.
Nancy, Based on the title of your comment, I was expecting to hear about the newly renamed Charterwood project (now named Evolve). I think we both agree they could have come up with a better name.
Agreed. "Bicycle" is still available.
I do believe that Chapel Hill could benefit from slowing down a bit, but not because of the pace of its growth. I think we need to rethink how we are growing and that will involve some time to reassess our currently approved projects and future goals. We desperately need more commercial, retail and flexible office space, but building luxury housing is easier and more profitable at this point in time. We also need moderate and low-income housing options, but we aren't seeing enough of those in major developments like Obey Creek, E-F, The Edge, Evolve 1701 North, etc.
I think that we are already seeing some negative impacts on our regular town services, like road repaving and increased traffic (which will only get worse when some of these big developments are complete). A number of our K-12 schools are already over capacity, yet there is not even a site for a new elementary school. This means our children will have to deal with busing, redistricting and learning in trailers. If we don't take these types of issues into account before we build new residential, we are going to see a degradation in services.
Conversely, if we don't quickly focus on the types of development we need, we risk losing even more diversity and our tax base will suffer. We need to create a more balanced mix of business v. residential. We need flexible office space for startups and the next step after LAUNCH, and we need convenient and affordable shopping options as well as housing to keep valued members of our community.
I see no good reason to grow more quickly. I think our current growth rate of 1+% per year is about right. With the commitment to protection of much of rural Orange County, via Rural Buffer, we need to carefully grow more dense. This type of growth means each new developrment is often, redevelopment, in a location with nearby neighbors and activities, which need to be heard and incorporated into eventual outcome. So slow is good. School capacity is a key part of how we grow, and that is why I was part of those on Council in support of SAPFO (Schools Adequate Public Facilities Ord.), to ensure development doesn't overwelm our school capacity. Water - is another key. All of the past Councils that I have been a part of, have been keenly aware of the need to make sure (via OWASA) that our capacitiy to provide drinking water all year is a number one priority.
Growth should not be a discussion of slower or faster; bigger or smaller. Rather, Chapel Hill should support smart growth:
Durham is considering selling some of its property for affordable housing. Does Chapel Hill have the land resources and the political will to do this? If so, what would it take to make more significant gains toward affordability? If not, what incentives (density bonus, parking) should the town use to encourage the development of affordable housing? Who should be served and where?
Yes, the town has land available, and town residents, at least, have the political will to make workforce housing a priority. Apparently the current Town Council does not. Form-based code is a perfect example of the community wanting to give a density bonus and expedited review in exchange for affordable housing and green building, but council gave the developer perks and asked for nothing in return. New leadership with a strong vision and a sensitivity to community members shaping our town would go a long way in getting the workforce housing we want and need. The people who work in town should have the option of living here. That makes for a stronger community because people feel invested in the town.
The town council has made major strides toward affordable housing goals, with new affordable units coming on-line supported and paid for by private developers, along with the partnership with DHIC to build affordable housing on town owned land I've already mentioned. We also added the equivalent of one cent of the tax rate to our budget to support affordable housing, putting our money where our mouth is.
During the Ephesus Fordham process we considered requiring affordable housing as part of the code, but after doing extensive research we found that peer communities with density bonuses in form based code saw that the did not lead to the creation of affordable units. I'll note that it's important to consider that we're talking about peer communities, some states have seen success using density bonuses, but in a political landscape VERY different from NC. I did extensive research on this topic with my colleague Sally Greene, a leader on the council on affordable housing.
This is Chapel Hill. We're different. We should have at least given it a try, and if no developer stepped up to give us the workforce housing we need, then we could tweak the form-based code. But to not even try was a mistake.
Chapel Hill has already done this by selling for $1.00 town owned property to DHIC for their affordable housing development. I commend the Council for this wonderful achievement!
Unfortunately, we are running out of land to give away so we need to work with developers by offering density bonuses and other incentives to create affordable housing. We should also work with the County Commissioners for options in Orange County. It doesn't hurt to try to think outside the box, with ideas such as tiny houses, and accessory apartments in single family zoning neighborhoods.
We need make sure that our Teachers, Firemen, Policemen and town workers can afford to live in Chapel Hill. They serve us, so we should make it a priorty to serve them.
The town does have the political will to sell land for affordable housing. We've already taken steps to do this on town onwed land along 15-501.
I would like to see Chapel Hill follow the example of Asheviulle and other NC cities with expensive housing markets that have teamed up with civic-minded financing partners to build permanently affordable housing for moderte income households. In Ashville, for example, Buncombe County donated land and the State employees Credit Union Foundation is providing a no-interest loan to build permanently affordable apartment housing for public school teachers. I would like Chapel Hill to explore doing something similar, not only for our public schjool techers, but for local artists, public safety workers, and others moderte income members of the community. Let me also say that I was very disappointed in the Council majority's decision not to include inthe Ephesus-Fordham form-based code incentives for devloper to provide affordable housing. The code should be amended as soon as possible to intrroduce such incentives.
Chapel Hill has limited land within its Town limits to sell or otherwise deploy for affordable housing. However, an inventory with these uses in mind should be undertaken, as about a year ago the Town was soliciting ideas for use of what it deemed to be excess property.
We need to be creative. The Greene tract is an area that could be very effectively used for affordable housing, although it is not Town owned. Further, UNC has a role to play in this. UNC and UNC HealtrhCare are major creators of the need for affordable housing. UNC has far more land than the Town in locations ranging from Downtown, to Carolina North, to Mason farm. If UNC can contribute or lease land to developers and the Town can wiave some permitting/inspection fees, then it will be possible to start getting to scale in meeting our needs as the costs will be reduced enough to enable construction of affordable housing. Further, these kinds of collaborative developmets can, in many cases contain a mix of market rate and affordable housing to align with our goals of inclusion.
Where possible, such projects should be built on transit corridors and serve as broad a range of folks as possible -- from below 30 percent of AMI yup to about 80 percent.
Other means should also be used, including density bonuses and, perhaps, tax abatements. This is a complex problem and there is no single solution that will solve it. We must use all means and all resources at our disposal if we are to have a real impact on the problem.
I certainly hope Chapel Hill has the political will to do what it takes to create affordable housing. We have a number of opportunities to encourage the development of affordable housing, specifically when dealing with rezoning. If a property owner comes to us to request that their property be rezoned for higher denisty, we should negotiate for affordable housing and energy efficiency before agreeing to higher density. Modifications to form based code could facilitate this type of negotiation. Not only has Chapel Hill done this in the past, but municipalities across the country continue to do this successfully.
We need workforce housing and subisidized housing options. Ideally, these units would be in mixed-income developments on transit corridors convenient to schools, affordable shopping and green spaces. One issue we rarely talk about is how we define affordable housing -- I believe that we should talk about affordability in a broader context, including cost of utilities, convenience to affordable shopping, and transportation.
I am a Council member who does have the political will to invest more Town owned land to help us address our affordable housing needs. The Green Tract is the most obvious opportunity, which I will be urging us to begin specific conversations with the co-owners of the property (Orange Co, and Carrboro) to do a master plan for this property and nearby property owned solely by the County. Removing the land costs by using Town property is an effective way to lower housing costs. In additon to the Green Tract, I, and I'm sure others will take the opportunity to make affordable housing an important part of UNC's new Master Planning effort which will be a work in progress over the next 12 months or so. A big part of why I voted against Eph/Fordham is because the majority of the Council gave away our ability to trade additional density for one or more Town priorities, such as, affordable housing. I hope and will be working to get a majority of the Council to make such a change to the exisitng Eph/Fordham plan. A range of long-term affordalble housing needs to be built - from 30% to 80%.
I think many communities would be impressed by the success Chapel Hill has been able to accomplish. Affordability and Affordable Housing is a major priority for me. As a member of the Mayor's Committee on Affordable Rentals, I was able to work with staff and stakeholders from across the spectrum of housing in Chapel Hill. From the work of this committee, we were able to present a strategic plan that was accepted by the Council which included: long term and short term goals, clear objectives for the role of the Affordable Housing Committee, and a strong commitment to a predictable income stream for affordable housing. The "Penny for Housing" program is a success of that process.
As the market has taken a shift from developing units for homeownership to rental units, we have had to create innovative programs to generate affordable rentals. The creation of these programs within the legislative restrictions at the state level makes their existence an even stronger indication of the Council's commitment to affordable housing.
I support continuing our enforcement of the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, looking for new incentives for developers to help add affordable housing stock, and continuing to be mindful of best practices nationwide...all while developing and refining the work we have set off to accomplish in our Affordable Housing Strategy.
Chapel Hill is not as "land rich" as Durham, but we have shown a willingness to leverage our current inventory with the Low Interest HousingTax Credit project in partnership with the developer, DHIC. We continue to explore our inventory of existing land parcels to support the town values around affordable housing.
The bond calls for a new transfer station. What are the environmental justice issues regarding the siting? How does the town plan to address those issues?
The waste transfer station clearly carries a risk of environmental inequity. While most such stations are fully enclosed, we can't assume that there will be no adverse effects in terms of noise, odors, or other problems. And there is a real potential for traffic problems as well. We finally closed the landfill and are still a long ways from taking care of all of the problems it caused in the Rogers Road community. We can't have a repeat of this kind of situation.
As I understand it, the site currently under consideration, although not finalized, is in the Milhouse Road area. Before any plans move forward a thorough analysis of potential impacts must be carried out and full and frank discussions with potentially affected residents must be had. If there are issues then a new location needs to be found. We must not leap out of the landfill frying pan into a transfer station fire.
It's pretty clear we need to reduce our waste and find a way to incentivize this without penalizing lower income residents. We should use all the newest techniques and technology for the new transfer station to minimize it's impact on the community. Just as it is possible to live near a sewer plant, it should be possible to live near a transfer station with minimal impact.
Paul, would you live next to a sewer plant? A waste transfer station?
That question needs input from people who live nearby the proposed site and from solid waste officials. SW people I've talked to said there would be no odor or groundwater problems. I don't know whether that is true, and it may be that the town has lost credibility because of promising to fix problems at the landfil for decades and ignoring them. Presumably there still would be noise issues with a transfer station. If neighbors object, their input is of utmost importance, and ALL of their concerns need to be addressed.
Historically the town has a poor record, and it's taken many years for the Roger Road neighborhood to resolve problems created by the town's decision to site a landfill there. We should be working a lot harder on waste reduction -- for example, plastic bags and clamshell packaging -- we should have a way to recycle these products. The transfer station should not be put in residential areas, and most of Chapel Hill is residential. Thus we may need to work with the County to identify a site outside the town limits, or perhaps in the vicinity of the Town Oprations Center.
I do not support the creation of a transfer station on the TOCH owned property located on Millhouse Rd, that is built to serve all of Orange County, as it would put the Rogers Road Communtiy back in the middle of the major impact - garbage truck traffic. From what I know now, I think a transfer station in that location that only served Carrboro could be built without additional garbage truck traffic. The addition of UNC and/or UNC Healthcare - maybe, maybe not. Regarding other locations for a transfer station, environmental justice is a key consideration, and for that reason, I support finding a landfill site within Orange County, that way we know and see the impacts and those living closest to it know the elected leaders. That is better than shipping our garbage to some unknown backyard in NC or Va... Siting of a transfer station or landfill needs to be done in such a way that each elected official would be 'ok' living next to it.
We cannot repeat the Rogers Rd. situation. Millhouse Road may experience not only pollution, noise and smell from the proposed transfer station, but there may be traffic implications as well. We need to evaluate this project much more comprehensively and look at our past mistakes and lessons learned before moving forward.
I've heard from residents in the Rogers Road neighborhood that they are concerned that if the transfer station is built near the town operations center, trucks are likely to use Rogers Road as a cut thru. They have concerns (that I share) about more trash trucks driving through their neighborhood just a couple years after we closed the landfill.
The Town Council has these concerns and has had some of these conversations - obviously much more needs to be done in terms of talking with neighbors, etc. A well run transfer station does not smell, and as long as the transfer station only serves CH (and maybe C'boro), we can control which roads are used and when. The number of trucks won't be any greater than the number being used now to pick up the garbage.
The site that is currently being looked at as a possible location for a Solid Waste Transfer Station is on Millhouse Road, near the currrent Public Works and Transit Centers. Town staff and Council have been doing indepth research to understand the need and impact of a Solid Waste Transfer Station. We are well aware of the inequitable treatment of our neighbors in the Rogers Road community. It is in the forefront of everyone's mind as we consider our options. But the very reason a transfer station is being considered is so that Chapel HIll will control it's waste and be able to create transfer relationships that will not exploit other communitities.
This is the final question, and then we will have time for closing statements.
The main employers are in the public sector: UNC, school systems and the town government. But many job opportunities are also geared toward students: low-paying service jobs in the hotel, food service and retail industries.
How should the town work to diversify the employment base?
We should keep nurturing start-up businesses with our program Launch. Then we need to figure out how to keep these businesses in Chapel Hill instead of moving away. One way is to work with them to develop the commercial space that they need. This is a step in the right direction. We could also work on the town process to make it as business friendly as possible.
There is not one magic bullet to create new jobs. I'll note two specifics efforts I led to create new jobs in our community.
- Increasing the amount of office space and retail required at Obey Creek. I introduced a proposal during the development agreement process that requires a greater percentage of the development to the office space and retail. Office and retail bring in greater tax revenue than residential units, and are important components to diversifying our tax base. (I'll note, as I stated above, that residential components are still needed, mini-office parks and strip malls are not part of my vision for Chapel Hill.) The developer limited the amount of office space that could be built in the development.
- Petitioning for a better food truck ordinance. The council rewrote our food truck ordinance prior to my election in 2011, but the fees and restrictions were so cumbersome that no food trucks applied for a permit over the next year. I petitioned the council to revise our food truck ordinance, believing it’s important that we support entrepreneurs and folks just starting out in their careers. The council successfully rewrote our ordinance to decrease barriers to entry. Since then, we’ve seen local Chapel Hill restaurants like Sutton’s and Time Out begin to expand their market by opening food trucks, and churches and nonprofits hold food truck rodeos as fundraisers and community gathering spaces. This fall, Captain Poncho’s is opening a brick and mortar restaurant in Southern Village.
We hear from developers that they can't attract retail, so let the economic development officer know it's time to shift the focus. We have huge intellectual capital coming from UNC, startups and spinoffs that would like to stay in Chapel Hill. Recruit developers who will build flexible, affordable office space with shared conference rooms and reception areas and month-to-month leases. Recruit builders who will build affordable housing units and microunits so people who work in these flex spaces can live here. Be creative. Try live/work suites of essentially home offices in multi-unit buildings. We can't exect a diverse workforce if we don't have a diversity of housing options for them.
The first step to addressing this issue is creating space for higher-wage, high-tech jobs that can accommodate students coming out of UNC with these types of skills. We need places for startups to not only start, but expand within our town. As I've campaigned, I've been amazed at the number of people who long to see free shared workspaces and affordable private office spaces, similar to what's available in The Frontier in RTP. I'm determined to work hard to make that happen. We also need to work with our biggest partner, UNC, to make this mutually beneificial type of space a reality.
I've also heard some conversations about how wonderful tourism is to bolster our tax base, but I think the premise of your question explains why tourism and hospitality have their downsides as primary drivers of economic policy. If we can continue to support Chapel Hill being a diverse, unique and special place, the tourists will come, regardless. We don't need to focus our energies on tourism as a primary economic driver.
I propose three ways to address this challenge. First, we need to work to create affordable office space for the entrepreneurial companies that are starting in Chapel Hill but cannot take root here due to the lack of appropriate and affordable office space. We have incubators, but we don't have next stage spaces. We need collaborations among the Town, UNC, and private developers. UNC could contribute land, the Town could waive selected application or permitting fees, and the developer could agree that a significant percentage of what is constructed will be affordable for start-ups (about$16-18/sq. ft. at today’s prices).
Second, we need to work to make training in coding and other technology driven skills more widely available to our residents. People who complete coding “boot camps” can earn $60-70,000 per year – in many cases working in the entrepreneurial companies for which we’ve built space. We can do this by working with our schools, Durham Tech, UNC, and companies such as Iron Yard to make this happen. Perhaps we could even start a revolving loan fund to help students pay for these programs -- investing in our residents as well as our businesses.
Finally, we need to work to bring employers such as Costco and other firms that pay a living wage to Chapel Hill. Not only do these companies provide living wage jobs, they also offer food and other products at lower prices, thereby improving our Town’s affordability, and reducing the outflow of retail tax dollars to Durham and Chatham counties.
None of these efforts will be easy, but if we collaborate with a range of organizations, I am convinced that we can make real progress in diversifying and expanding our employment base.
Given the town's limited land area, and how much of it is already developed as residential, we're not going to be building major manufacturing facilities. However, we can work to attract the kinds of high-skill high-wage jobs that have historically located in RTP. RTP is now building housing, so perhaps we should start trying to recruit research and light industry to our predominantly residential town. The redevelopment of Ephesus Fordham was an opportunity to pursue this kind of commercial development, but the code in its current form will allow it to redevelop as residential. That needs to be changed. We have limited land available. We shouldn't lose our few prime commercial sites to residential development as it would merely exacerbare our existing imblanacre between commercial and residential land use.
We diversify by working with UNC, UNC Healthcare, Orange County... to nurture the ideas of UNC students and faculty, so these ideas become start-up businesses, and some grow larger. All of those I mention have significant land holdings close to downtown CH, and we need to figure out ways it makes good business sense to create affordable, flexible space for these efforts. Further down the road and more broadly we need to work with the same partners and private sector to create spaces for small-med businesses. The local Chamber of Commerce also has a role to play, when it comes to working with the many service jobs associated with existing small businesses. This is one of those 'big rocks' which we will be able to move (in the right direction) by making many, many small steps, to find that element of self-interest for everyone involved. Diversity of employment base comes from a more diverse business sector, and in particular, we need to create places for small to medium, clean, green businesses.
Candidates, whenever you finish Question 11, you have an opportunity for closing statements. The forum will close at 9:15, but you can always make additional comments in the open thread.
Early voting starts Oct. 22; Election Day is Nov. 3.
Hire me for Town Council because I bring all the traits of a successful small-busines owner: creativity, flexibility, strong work ethic, and resilience. I ask hard questions and persevere to find answers. I have a track record of empowering the community. The people who live here need to be part of the decision-making process. I am attuned to affordability, to evaluate what the community is getting for the costs that residents are asked to pay. I am an advocate for the strong sense of community that results when people live in the same town where they work. I pay attention to what development goes where, so that Chapel Hill can be leafy and livable as we grow into the future. I am asking for one of your four votes for Town Council. Together, we can shape Chapel Hill as it evolves. Thank you, OP, for providing this interesting venue for people to select who will represent them in decisions council makes.
P.S., OP. Election Day is Nov. 3.
Many thanks again for hosting this forum! I promise to do my very best to listen to what you, our citizens have to say and make the right choices.Thanks for your support and vote. Sincerely, Paul M. Neebe
First, I want to thank Lisa and everyone at Orange Politics for this unique and challenging experience.
We’ve learned quite a bit this evening about the differences among us, particularly in terms of growth, development and the direction in which the Town is heading. And I don’t want to minimize these differences. They are real and they should be weighed as residents decide for whom to vote.
But I’d like us not to forget about the things on which we – candidates and residents alike – agree: the things that make Chapel Hill so special. To me what makes our Town so special is not only its beauty, although we have that in abundance. And it’s not just what our buildings look like and how large they are, although that is certainly important. It is our people and our values that make us so special. It is certainly why I chose to live here.
Regardless of the outcome of the election, I hope that the new Council will be able to come together and work collaboratively to do the people's work. I believe that we are all running, whether for the first time or as incumbents, because we want to ensure that Chapel Hill is the vibrant and wonderful community that we all want to live in.
It has been an honor and a privilege for me to be asking for voters’ support throughout this campaign. And beyond the issues that I want to focus on or the ideas that I’ve shared, what I offer is a deep and abiding commitment to our Town, a desire to be a Council member for all of our residents, a pledge to be a fact-based decision-maker, and a promise to do everything in my power to ensure that our community is as special for the next generation of Chapel Hillians as it is for us.
The voters in this election have a clear choice. If you like the changes you have seen in Chapel Hill in recent years, and want to see more of the same, vote for the incumbents who are responsible for bringing about these changes. If, however, you would like to see Chapel Hill develop in a different direction, a path more consistent with our values of environmental stewardship, inclusion, and respect for citizens, a path that seeks to protect and improve Chapel Hill's character as a leafy and livable college town, vote to elect new leadership. I thank Orange Politics for hosting this forum, and I ask for your vote on Election Day.
Thanks for hosting. This is always a fun way for discussion.
As a council member, I've focused on building a just community, listening to all voices, and developing a better Chapel Hill for all.
I've been fighting for the Rogers Road neighborhood since I was a student at UNC, championing a community center and sewer infrastructure. I've also been an advocate for policies that promote women's rights and the LGBT community. I've engaged residents of the community with regular open office hours and frequent town hall events. These sessions have allowed me to stay in touch with the needs and visions of our community. I'm hosting open office hours at Vimala's tomorrow in downtown from noon- 1 PM, stop by to chat local issues!
I also work with residents in support of projects that enhance our quality of life and reduce our property tax burden. I'd appreciate your vote during the early vote period or on election day!
Thank you again, to OP and Lisa Sorg for our conversation this evening. I think these were great questions and I was happy to see the variety of answers.
Chapel Hill is at a pivotal time and we need good leaders to move us forward in a way that will reflect our values as a community. I come to this challenge with an open and inquiring mind, a collaborative spirit, and a respect for the ideas of others, even if they run contrary to my own. These qualities are not only required by my choice of profession, but demonstrated by the broad range of formal endorsements I have received for my campaign—from elected officials across the political spectrum, artists, professors, retirees, educators and families (you can see the entire list here).
I believe strongly in representative government and how that translates to decision-making. That means I highly value community involvement and input and listening to those who will be affected by a given decision. At the end of the day, it matters less how I feel about a given initiative or project, and more what the citizens want to see in their own community.
I am looking forward to applying my experience in teaching, social work, policy and evaluation—both here and internationally—to the challenges and opportunities before us.
I hope that my passion and commitment to setting Chapel Hill on a strong course for future generations earns your vote on November 3rd.
I continue to be supportive of polices, programs, etc. which deepen and widen social justice in our community, which protect and nurture our environmental resources, and which grow and diversify our economic health. I think my words and work on the CH Town Council during the last 16 years demonstrate my commitment to those priorities. If you do as well, I appreciate your support. Thanks to OrangePolitics, and our moderators. Sincerely, Jim Ward
Thanks to OP and Lisa Sorg for creating this forum to share our ideas and what we feel we have to offer the citizens of Chapel Hill.
I have worked hard for Chapel Hill for six years. In those years, my one year old is now a soon-to-be seven year old. We are closer than we have ever been to a light rail system. We have completed the renovation and transition to the new Library. There is more affordable housing. We have faced issues of racial inequity in the Northside and Rogers Road neighborhoods. We have survived a recession and a flood. I believe I am part of a strong Council that has made decisions that create affordable housing and walkable, bikeable streets, as well as being responsive to community concerns with an eye to the future. If you believe we are moving towards a future that serves not only our current community but also the generations to come, please vote for me on November 3.
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