Live Blogging the Chapel Hill Sierra Club Forum

The Chapel Hill Sierra Club forum is tonight from 7-9 at Chapel Hill Town Hall. I'll be live blogging. You should be able to watch it live on cable as well.

Feel free to share your thoughts!

Issues: 

Total votes: 109

Comments

Pretty good crowd here. Looks like around 20 people at 10 to 7. I think that's more folks than came two years ago.

Bernadette Pelissier is moderating the debate and is currently doing introductions. Information from the forum, interviews with candidates, and candidate websites and brochures will be used to help make the endorsements. Endorsements are expected toward the end of the first week of October.

They're beginning with opening statements. Kevin Foy gets five minutes because Kevin Wolff isn't here. The rest of the candidates get two minutes each for opening statements.

Kevin Foy thanks the Sierra Club for hosting the forum and for the work they do throughout the year to bring to the Council's attention the issues that we should be focusing on.

Kevin says it's an honor to be the Mayor of Chapel Hill. He's proud of specific accomplishments; bus system, affordable housing, emphasis on energy efficiency in new developments. He's particularly proud of the way we have worked together as a Council and a community. Says the hallmark of this Council has been civility. Sometimes Council members and the public leave meetings angry and that's the reality of democracy. But this Council has never let its differences and perspective spill over into insults and personal attacks. When you have to confront issues like Carolina North and panhandling you're under a lot of pressure to think carefully, be accurate, and have good judgement. He says he can't accomplish anything without the rest of the Council. His accomplishments are the accomplishments of his colleagues and the Council as a whole.

Over the next two years the pressure on our community is going to mount. Environmental pressures and the population will grow. Kevin says he'll make decisions based on three principles: respect the natural environment, respect the quality of life of our neighborhoods, respect our tradition of education- broad continuing public education for all people. He will continue to adhere to these principles. We can't predict our future but if we can have civil discussion we'll continue to grow and change and the community will continue to reflect the best values of Chapel Hill.

Penny Rich has lived in town for 11 years. She and her husband looked at the trees and saw the colors changing and decided this was where they wanted to be. She applied to be on the Technology Committee, then decided to get involved with Owasa. She values the fact that we can safely drink our water. She has just completed six years on the Owasa Board. She chaired the Natutral Resources Committee and the Human Resources Committee. She made sure we now have year round conservation for water.

Jim Ward looks forward to serving more if we deem it appropriate. He says folks wonder why he does this. To him it is a labor of love. If the secret got out everyone would see the energy you get from talking to members of this community. Anything he might identify as an accomplishment is an accomplishment of the Council and the whole community. We have 100 new affordable units. We have new sidewalks and greenways. He's proud of the first self imposed conservation easement on nearly 100 acres of land. It's an important template he hopes UNC will follow at Carolina North. He thinks there's a strong connection between the new Economic Development office and the environment. Public transit gets people off the street- much has been accomplished.

Will Raymond thanks the Sierra Club for his 2005 endorsement. He came to Chapel Hill in the late 70s and has lived here since the late 80s. They live near the airport and have for nearly 15 years. He's served on town boards including the Technology Board, where he worked on municipal networking. He was on the subcommittee for environment for the Horace Williams Citizens Committee, where he was an advocate for modeling. He was on the Downtown Parking Committee- people driving in circles is bad for the environment. He had a results oriented approach. He says he has built up credibility with UNC as a citizen on the issue of Carolina North. He says they would describe him as tough, fair, and honest. He helped elected Sally, Cam, and Bill four years ago. He says he's here because he has a distinctly different view of how our town should grow.

Matt Czajkowski hopes people will learn how to pronounce his name. His family has lived here for nine years now. They were here by coincidence. He and his wife looked at each other and said this would be a great place to live. They are thrilled to have done it. He has been in finance for his entire career. He has been the CFO for several biotech companies. He works to find cures for diseases for which there are currently no cures. He has been involved with a solar energy company they believe has cutting edge technology that will make solar competitive. He rode his bike here which is why he is not wearing a suit and tie. It's his mom's 87th birthday.

Cam Hill says for fifty years people have said saving the natural environment is too expensive but that is wrong. Sound environmental policy has proven to be good fiscal policy. The last six years have been the undoing of 40 years of environmental regulations thanks to the federal government. If we're going to make progress in reducing global warming we have to do it at the personal level. Chapel Hill was the first community in North Carolina to sign onto the CRed program. The Council was one of only two local governments that supported the Jordan Lake rules. He is proud of that. Lot 5 is a high density, transit oriented development that is the direction we should be going in.

Sally Greene came to Chapel Hill twenty years ago this fall as a miserable corporate lawyer getting her PhD in English. She's just another one of those graduate students who never left town. She has taught, done legal work, academic scholarship and served on the Council since then. She has a commitment to social justice and progressive values. UNC and Chapel Hill represent a version of the South that as a southerner she wanted to embrace. Environmental stewardship is one of the values she enumerates.

Bill Strom's slogan in 1999 was ‘we can be exceptional.' He can't get through all of the achievements of the Council. Environmental stewardship has worked itself into the culture of the town. Every decision that is made takes the environment into account. Chapel Hill is a Sierra Club ‘Cool City.' We've grown more slowly and more wisely than our neighbors. We value clean water, clean air, and preservation of open space. This progress has been the worked of a focused Town Council and staff. The population is going to double by 2035 in this region. Carolina North must be negotiated carefully. Chapel Hill Transit has remarkable capacity for expansion. Meeting our carbon reduction goals is going to require innovation. Downtown redevelopment has great potential.

Would you spend Chapel Hill money to increase transit service?

Czajkowski: Has a fundamental and passionate view on transportation. It should be primarily by bicycle, he says. There are lots of reasons not to ride your bicycle but at the end of the day he believes we could have the most significant impact on our carbon emissions if we all rode our bikes more. He says our streets are not safe for bikers.

Raymond: We are going to spend more money on Chapel Hill Transit, but are we spending it effectively? He wants to address the misconception that Chapel Hill taxpayers pay for most of CHT- it is actually UNC. In 2005 he brought before the Council questions about our routes. People don't like the spoke system. We need to rebalance our routes and make them more usable for students. Rogers Road needs a transit route.

Rich: We should spend whatever money we need to increase bus service. She is very pleased with the Council; transit in this town is a complete success story. We should spend the money we need to keep it free. We need connections between other towns- to places like Durham, Hillsborough, and Chatham. Commends the town for using hybrid buses. We need more building along transit corridors.

Greene: We need to continue spending money for mass transit. It's part of a sustainable Chapel Hill. We got legislative authority to ask developers when they are doing mixed use to get contributions to the transit system.

What should Chapel Hill do to reduce the environmental impacts of Carolina North?

Ward: Transit is very important. We need to keep single occupancy vehicles off the road. The footprint needs to be maintained in a more urban style. The permanent protection of a sizable part of the property is very important. 50 years of protection is not preservation. We need to see the value of open space protection.

Strom: Has pushed for Carolina North to be transit oriented mixed use. We should get the best transit system for a town our size in the country out of this. Fiscal equity is important. Carolina North will be six or seven times the size of Southpoint. The impacts for the town to provide services are enormous. Open space ought to be permanently preserved with a compact design.

Raymond: The first thing is to have credibility- do as you do and not do as I say. With our Lot 5 development we have hurt our credibility. To negotiate fairly with the university you can't give UNC representatives hell and act surprised when you're not really surprised. Agrees with preservation and density. Putting too much density on MLK worries him.

Chapel Hill is one of nearly 700 Sierra Club Cool Cities. What additional things would you do to work toward this goal?

Ward: We need to give people more incentives to have buildings that make their own energy. Chapel Hill is about to start selling power back to Duke Energy. This needs to be something the whole community does and not just the town or the university. We need to continue giving people better options for getting out of their cars.

Czajkowski: Goals and momentum are what make things happen. Solar energy currently costs 25 cents a watt hour. Solar Energy is not a cost effective solution. We need to do more to conserve. Duke Energy should tell us how much power Chapel Hill is using every month. That should be broken down by neighborhood so that there can be a competition. That is the current most viable solution.

Rich: Conservation is the goal and educating people about alternatives is very important. The School of Public Health is pushing the active living project. This encourages people to work, bike, or scooter to places. It would help the environment and get people exercise. People should do everything locally and stay out of their cars.

Hill: We need to keep doing what we've been doing. Encourage density downtown and on transit corridors- cut vehicle miles traveled. We need to insist future development in town be more energy efficient. We've offered incentives to projects that are LEED certified. We are insisting on that for the town's own projects too.

How should the town's tree protection ordinance be revised?

Greene: I think it is reasonable to regulate the cutting of specimen trees on private property. They're one of the reasons that people love Chapel Hill. The Planning Board is working on regulations that would require a permit for cutting trees.

Strom: Tree protection has been a priority for me since I've been on the Council. He fought for stronger regulations in LUMO. When the Greenwood NCD was discussed they talked about protecting trees in the setback. We need to inventory trees and put in additional protections for them. They are a community asset. Our tree ordinance needs to be enhanced.

Raymond: I am for tree protection but this is a very strange inversion of responsibility. We're talking about going onto someone's land and telling them what to do. If this was a priority we wouldn't have the dirt parking lot that we do at Southern Community Park. We should have committed to replacing trees that were removed at the Town Operations Center. He has worked to get UNC to protect its trees. It's premature to ask citizens to have an invasion and assay of the trees on their property.

Ward: Yes, it needs to be improved. We need to be able to protect the roots of these trees. We sometimes are fooled into thinking if we protect the tree that we see, that's enough. We need to put teeth into the existing regulations that actually protect trees on a construction site. An educational component is also important.

How do you see the Jordan Lake rules being implemented?

Rich: We need to clean up Jordan Lake but the near 2 billion dollar price tag is steep. The rules are not flexible enough for each municipality to take advantage of. We need more information about how they are going to handle runoff into the lake. It needs to be fair.

Hill: Last night Al Rimer said the cost for Chapel Hill and Owasa to comply with these rules will be somewhere in the 300 million dollar range. Jordan Lake was never supposed to be a reservoir but because of the terrible land use planning in Wake County we now have to clean it up. It is a cost that will be borne over 20 years and we need to absorb it. We created an environmental problem and we need to deal with it.

Czajkowski: His focus is how we are going to pay for a lot of things. The price tag is daunting. We can't have 86% of it be covered by property taxes. Chapel Hill has made much more significant improvements in term of its waste water runoff. We deserve credit for that.

How can Chapel Hill increase connections to TTA?

Strom: He is the Treasurer of the TTA Board. They have established all day long hourly service between Chapel Hill and Hillsborough. There is a dynamic express service back and forth between Raleigh. Evening service has been greatly improved. TTA should work with Chatham County and create some Pittsboro routes.

Hill: What Bill said pretty much covers it. We need to strengthen service to the airport. We need to get TTA to take the emphasis off of people in their cars. The decrease in federal funding for transit is a problem. A new President would help!

Rich: Service needs to increase a bit more. We need to be in tune with people who get back and forth between work. Likes the ideas of airport and evening service. We need a bus system that can take us to and from our activities.

Greene: All of the above. TTA should also go fare free like our transit system. Makes it easier for riders if they know both services are free. Need to expand vanpool options. Need to increase incentives.

What have you done on the environment that distinguishes you from other candidates?

Ward: Has worked at Botanical Gardens for 30 years. Proud of Merritts Pasture conservation easement. Often a voice for getting rid of invasive exotic species. Helps to improve landscape plans.

Raymond: Has been involved in Haw River and Eno River cleanups. For the last six or seven years he has made a specialty of cleaning up campaign signs. At his website you can see pictures. Picked up more than 2,000 in 2006. He pressed for metrics on the HWCC Environment subcommittee. He says this is something important he will bring to the Council. We should know whether we have reached our goals.

Czajkowski: Hard to distinguish from other candidates. Wants to go on a tangent. Says Chapel Hill is inwardly focused. We have the opportunity to become much more of a thought leader. We have intellects amongst us working on reducing the cost of sustainable energy to the point where it's competitive.

Greene: I think of sustainability and historical preservation together. I want us to do more with that (I missed the start of Sally's answer)

How can the town improve affordable housing as it relates to sustainability?

Strom: Our affordable housing policy requires 15% of units to be provided by the private sector. We are encouraging LEED certification. We give expedited review to LEED silver projects.

Hill: Has spent two or three years on the Inclusionary Zoning Task Force. Chapel Hill is the national leader in permanent affordable housing. Few communities have as detailed and successful a program as we do. Land Trust units will remain permanently affordable. Inclusionary zoning ordinance we are working on will make affordable housing predictable and standardized.

Ward: We need to make sure physical structures of affordable houses are energy efficient, which reduces utility bills for our low income residents. We need to tie public transit to our affordable housing units. There's a correlation between using day lighting and public health.

Czajkowski: Density and the size of the housing are key. Density has its drawbacks. Smaller houses aren't as nice as bigger houses. We are not really being true to our stated principles unless we are willing to accept density and smaller spaces. Carolina North is an incredible opportunity to provide more affordable housing because the cost of the land is free as opposed to virtually any other land in Chapel Hill.

Question about building heights and density in Chapel Hill:

Raymond: I was horrified by new zoning district adopted by the town. Council gave variances to that allowing their own project to exceed those limits and double the density. Greenbridge is a great environmental building but inappropriately sited. If they had put Greenbridge down by Eastgate or University Mall I wouldn't be complaining. If we're going to increase density the public needs to be part of that conversation.

Strom: We've grown to the end of the urban service boundary. When you look downtown there are many NCD's and Historic Districts. We need to build in a way that is environmentally sustainable and that requires looking to downtown. Our zoning text amendment process was not changed when we approved Greenbridge. The process was completely transparent.

Rich: Rural buffers were created in 1985. I would not like to see them amended. We need to stop sprawl, which means building up. I have no objection to the height of the buildings that have been approved. Greenbridge is a good thing. She hopes to see Lot 5 succeed as well.

Greene: Height is an element of smart growth, which creates mixed used and walkability. We need it to support transit. The Council is headed in the right direction. How high to go is a community conversation that we will continue to have.

How would you encourage water conservation?

Ward: Owasa has done a good job. The other thing that has been apparent is urbanized people are not using as much water as our suburban associates. That urban nature will help us conserve water.

Raymond: Conservation of water begins at home. Town needs to set specific goals and measure its achievement on them. Could we set a goal of 5% fuel reduction each year? We need to do the same thing with water. At same point there is a carrying capacity to our town. We can only feed and maintain so many residents with so much water. We have a problem with sending our problems out of town.

Hill: Owasa and UNC are partnering on a gray water reuse program that has the potential to save vast amounts of water. Water can be used for irrigation, flushing toilets, etc. This is a concept that needs to be encouraged and promoted for private development. Higher density development does use less water. We need to prioritize water based activities and be more stringent about uses.

Czajkowski: My view is goal based and economically driven. Town should ask Owasa how much water it's using every month. Again we should create a little competition between neighborhoods so that folks can focus on achieving their goals. We should have incremental pricing.

What measures will you take to ensure UNC stays within its promised footprint for Carolina North?

Rich: Town and university need to create an environment of mutual trust. We need to wait for the studies to come back. At that point we can think about the next steps. University has a basic commitment to the environment.

Ward: 250 acres for 50 years should be pretty easy to hold them to. We need to make sure that future growth on Carolina North property is confined to some part of the 1,000 acres. Without a commitment the whole thing will likely be developed eventually.

Greene: I have nothing but the university's good interests at heart. The University could be a true leader by setting aside 75% of the land permanently. Would be good for the town and the university.

Raymond: We need to limit the growth to 250 acres. We need to be good partners with the university. They have their own reasons for doing their development. They need to set performance goals. We need good negotiators. We need to negotiate a development agreement and not just within the zoning process.

What will you do about excess traffic besides increasing transit use?

Hill: We have SAPFO. There could be a similar ordinance for similar areas of infrastructure. We could have one based on traffic conceivably. This is a very complicated issue. Chapel Hill has been good stewards but much of our traffic is out of our control: Chatham County growth is one culprit.

Czajkowski: Too many people get in their cars. It's our habit because gas even today is cheap. As a community if we really pull together and have a set of goals we can begin to reduce use of automobiles. As for 15/501, Hill is right. There's nothing apparent we can do about that.

Strom: Chapel Hill has a fantastic traffic engineer and we know where the problems are. We have an outdated traffic signal system and we are going to get a better one in 2009. This will help with a lot of the problems. Reducing parking requirements may lead to more development in places that can handle it.

Raymond: All roads lead to places we have ignored in terms of economic development. We need to build at Eastgate and University Mall. That's where the roads lead. By rebalancing our transit system we can improve utilization within our town.

Please address water availability and growth:

Rich: I was on the Owasa Board when we adopted year round water conservation regulations. The reclamation system Owasa is doing with the university is the way to go. We should think about how to do this with Carolina North also. We might need an additional pump station up north.

Greene: This subject came up at the Assembly of Governments. We hope to always be able to use our Owasa resources and not have to tap Jordan Lake. We need to keep conserving our resources. The community has done a reasonable job of remembering water is a finite resource.

Hill: If there's anything that validates Chapel Hill's land use planning it is our comparative lack of infrastructure issues compared to other local governments. Chatham County has a mess with water, Wake County has a mess with schools. Owasa is theoretically in great shape with water for the plotted rate of growth. Jordan Lake is not a solution. The reclamation project is the future. He washes his garden and bushes out of rain barrels.

Czajkowski: His family has turned the backyard into a grass free zone. The challenges are daunting. When the suggestion is made that we limit growth it is a persuasive one. We can't do that without raising the cost of living in Chapel Hill though. We need to find solutions. Jordan Lake is the solution we have.

How can we increase bicycle use?

Ward: I have worked to make intersections safer for bicyclists. We need to have a continuing conversation with the community on this issue.

Strom: The new traffic signal system can have some significant positive benefits. He has been a strong proponent for the greenway system. If you go along Bolin Creek you see it makes for pretty easy bike travel. They have a master plan and have done preliminary engineering on Morgan Creek and Dry Creek. Bond money is in place. In the next couple years we have an opportunity to build these greenways out.

Hill: I've been riding bicycles in Chapel Hill since I was 6. In some ways it's gotten easier and in other ways it's gotten harder. Mostly it's just gotten harder because I've gotten older. There is an eternal debate about whether we should have bike lanes or not. Developers are encouraged to put in racks and showers. The current Transportation Secretary has decided that bicycles aren't transportation and that's wrong.

Czajkowski: What makes biking safer is having more cyclists on the road because cycling is not part of our transportation culture. He says he will ride his bike or take the bus to every Town Council meeting. He said something else that I missed.

Please cite studies that show the positive benefits of density:

Strom: Our land use planning and infrastructure planning are very carefully coordinated and advance our goals for having walkable, mixed use communities. Our public transportation policy makes it a viable option in our town to get rid of the car and use Chapel Hill Transit on a daily basis. We need more consistent service during the day so that people can do their daily chores without their cars.

Hill: Both of my parents are from Manhattan. It is the most energy efficient city in the country. It has the least cars per people and the best public transportation because it's a highly dense tall city. That's his study.

Raymond: You can check out his answer on his blog and see his thoughts on this for the last couple years. The studies are sometimes in conflict. Greenbridge is a good example, Lot 5 is a bad example. One of his concerns is MLK. Del Snow has done great work with the Northern Area Task Force. But it stops too short. Does the community have an obligation to build right up to its carrying capacity?

Greene: On her website there is a link to the Sierra Club's sprawl central which makes a direct connection between high density and using less carbon. There are direct linkages based on data.

Would you support buying land to remain wild and not for use by people?

Rich: Absolutely. People don't need to use all land. Let's leave some wild space and maybe fund an open space project that allows us to buy more spaces.

Ward: Yes. Values the National Park System, including the places that are so inaccessible that he will never see them. The reason he's comfortable spending tax money on this is that there is a great value to the community health.

Czajkowski: How could anyone say no to this question…but how can we afford it? He would like to see us use the Lot 5 money to buy open space.

Raymond: I was one of a growing number of people who saw the Southern Community Park build up as excessive. We should not have paved it and put in big ball fields. There are still opportunities in town but we need to protect the land sooner than later.

Closing statements:

Rich: I want to empower citizens and let them know they have a voice on the Council. Appreciates audience questions.

Raymond: Looks forward to an opportunity to continue to serve this community. Will improve communications. Says he has already walked the talk. You don't have to guess where I'm coming from. My viewpoints evolve and change. We need to measure progress on goals. Looks for opportunities. One is landfill gas. Bill, Sally, and Cam have been very nice to him. We need a diversity of opinions and he will bring something fresh to the Council.

Greene: Housing affordability, environmenal preservation, and a conversation about homelessness were some of her top goals in 2003. She has provided leadership to make significant progress on each of these goals. The Council has taken its responsibility seriously as environmental stewards.

Ward: I show my commitment every day when I go to work and over the last eight years I have proven it to the greater community. I have a balanced perspective that has served the citizens well.

Strom: It's a privilege and honor to serve on the Council. You have small personal victories and you have to deal with huge controversial issues that are stressful. I have learned during my service that is is important to listen to everybody and that make decisions in the best interests of the community.

Czajkowski: We have an incredible devotion to making Chapel Hill as good a place as we can. He doesn't think meaningful progress has been made in a number of areas. A walk down Franklin Street confirms that. We have to understand that developers who are willing to work with us have an option to go build elsewhere. This has happened many times with commercial development. Cites the Elliott Rd. theater in particular.

Hill: Has enjoyed working for the community over the last four years. Sound land use planning is reflected in everything around us. Wishes we could get all our neighbors to adopt similar regulations to the ones we have. Carolina North remains a scary proposition. Innovation Center is bad news...similar planning would require 700 acres of land.

And it's over. As always I tried to take down what candidates said as accurately as possible. I repeated their words verbatim to the extent I could but I apologize for any mistakes.

Tom, how many people can/will The SC endorse?

Fred,

I have no role in the Sierra Club's endorsement process anymore so someone from the local group would have to speak to that.

Unbeknownst to Czajkowski, OWASA is instituting what he called "incremental pricing" on October 1. Water will cost more at higher increments of useage. Check out
owasa.org for details. Very postive step for conservation.

I appreciate the Sierra Club's sponsorship of one of the few forums this year.

I'll have the audio up tomorrow. Loren Hintz is going loan me the DVD Sep. 30 - I'll push a copy up onto GoogleVideo (though they've become unreliable of late) or somewhere else easily accessible.

Thank you Tom. Well done.

Thank you, Tom! This is invaluable for those of use who couldn't be there.

 

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