OP Candidate Questionnaire: Carrboro Candidates for Mayor

This election year, in addition to the two online forums we held, we have asked the candidates for Carrboro Mayor to complete a brief questionnaire. 

Here's a reminder of who's running:

  • Mayor Lydia Lavelle is seeking her third.
  • Challenger Mike Benson

Below are the answers from both candidates to each question in turn:

1. What role will infill play in Carrboro’s housing strategy? Do you support the addition of duplexes and/or accessory dwelling units in existing neighborhoods? If so, how would you encourage their construction?

Mayor Lavelle:

The use of infill development could play a major role in increasing our housing stock in the town. It could also help address affordability by not only creating new housing, but providing an income stream for current home owners. Like other jurisdictions in Orange County, our Board has discussed a “tiny home” concept that may be allowed in infill projects. Additionally, although we currently allow accessory apartments and detached dwellings on lots in our town, I believe there is room for expansion of what we allow, and I have discussed this specifically with our town staff. This came to my attention when I had a citizen contact me who wanted to add an accessory apartment to his house, and when I learned about the complications he encountered. It is my understanding that expansion of the Land Use Ordinance in this manner would have implication for much of the downtown; thus we would need to act deliberately as we consider this type of change. However, expanding the LUO in this manner is one of the objectives our recently adopted Affordable Housing Task Force report addresses.

Mike Benson:

I support trying to find property that we can build free standing "tiny Houses". Home owernship builds equity and stops flight. We should also look at the possibility of building "up" above shopping centers as we redevelop them to upgrade them. Carrboro is the most densly populated town/city in North Carolina. Land is at a premium and going up over these existing shopping centers (as they get a facelift and upgrade) makes good sense for housing.

2. How often do you ride your bike, take the bus, or walk to where you need to go?

Mike Benson:

I ride my bicycle several times a week. I also own a motorcycle that gets great gas milage and is easy to park. I live downtown, so walking is easy and I do that daily.

Mayor Lavelle:

Not as often as I want to! Living in northern Carrboro and working an erratic schedule in both Durham and downtown Carrboro does not make it easy. A bus ride from my home to my Durham workplace requires four different buses, and takes close to two hours. Sometimes I get a ride downtown and ride the bus from there, but only when the stars align in terms of my schedule for the day. As for biking, it takes me half an hour to get to downtown Carrboro. I do this on occasion, but only if it means a daylight return as I do not want to ride on either Homestead or Seawell School Road at night. Still, I love to ride my bike and join rides in town (and at my workplace in Durham) as often as I can. When in town, I generally park once in a lot a few blocks away from the center of downtown Carrboro and then walk to multiple destinations from there. 

3. What specific economic develop strategies would you promote for our town?

Mayor Lavelle:

Our town budget is based on commercial and residential property taxes, as well as sales tax. Property taxes fund the large majority of our budget.  Carrboro is too small to attract a “big box” store or a large plant; it is essential we support our local businesses to ensure their success.  The Board of Aldermen works hard to drive visitors and residents to local businesses by having downtown festivals, and supporting our downtown destinations. As a member of the Orange County Visitors Bureau Board of Directors, I am constantly touting Carrboro as an arts town, and advocating ways to include Carrboro as a destination for visitors. Our Board approved construction of a second hotel downtown; this will result in more visitors, and generate hotel tax that goes toward marketing and tourism efforts. We also are in the process of discussing a possible affordable commercial project that would be built on land owned by the Town off of Old 86. We are considering this in an effort to keep our local businesses here that want to expand in Carrboro. We also have been exploring how we might make Highway 54 more accessible for various types of commercial businesses. I also would like to see approval of a plan for the Lloyd property in Carrboro that includes a commercial component.

Mike Benson:

I will work on attracting and retaining more high tech startups and entrepreneurial ventures.    Such as internet/app content related developers, renewable energy companies, and life sciences related entities. I would create a series of small grants for independent businesses (that they would apply for) as a type of rainy day fund to address seasonality and special needs. These grants would help our local businesses in the dead of Winter and the dead of summer when foot traffic is slow and even $1000 can mean making a payroll or closing. Supporting our local businesses is key to our growth not killing the heart of our town.

4. Are you in favor of keeping the rural buffer in place? What would convince you to vote to change it?

Mike Benson:

No. The rural buffer was created over 30 years ago when Carrboro  was still a small community with affordable houses to rent or own. 

Mayor Lavelle:

Our urban boundary has minimized sprawl as well as protected our watershed, and I would not support efforts to change that boundary. It would be many years out, and we would be much more developed, before I would support adjusting (not removing) the rural buffer.

5. How would you rate the town’s approach to parking so far, and if (re-)elected, what would you like to see change in the future?

Mayor Lavelle:

Citizens, residents, and visitors often complain about their ability to find parking in Carrboro. Our downtown is compact, and we actively work to make it walkable, bikeable and transit-friendly. In some respects, it would be counterproductive for us to make parking too easy and too ample, as that encourages car travel, something we prefer to minimize for health and environmental reasons. This being said, we also recognize that walking, biking or taking transit are not practical or possible for all people.  Therefore, in an effort to gain an accurate understanding of the parking situation in Carrboro, the town commissioned a parking study which was recently completed. It revealed a great deal of available underutilized parking in Carrboro, most of which is in the private sector. The study also identified the need for better signage and wayfinding. One of our challenges is to create public-private partnerships to open up this private parking, such as found in the report titled “Maximizing Urban-Core Parking with Private-Public and Private-Private Parking Agreements” from the Urban Sustainability Director’s Network Convening in Burlington, Vermont in 2015. One case study in that report addressed how these type of partnerships came about in New Haven, Connecticut. Another one of our challenges is to improve people’s ability to find the parking we do have. Although spaces may not be available right in front of a motorist’s destination, parking can usually be found within a block or two if folks know where to look. We can do a better job of helping with this.

Mike Benson:

We NEED to address the parking in our immediate downtown shopping/dining/art district. People drive their cars and when they cannot park close to their destination… they will go to Southern Village, Meadowmont or any other area where they can park and get their shopping (etc) done. We need free parking that accomodates the businesses downtown… or they will close from lack of walking traffic. I have a plan for a two story parking deck that spans the area from behind Armadillo Grill to the Open Eye Café. Low visual impact with a solar farm on the roof.

6. Do you see greenways as transportation infrastructure? Should they be paved in order to best serve the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists?

Mike Benson:

We need to preserve the Bolin Creek Forest. Paving a road (which is what the Greenway is) through the last protected greenspace of significance in our town, is not a solution to our transportation infrastructure. We can build bike lanes along the railroad tracks that would serve linking north Carrboro to the downtown… without cutting down the woods. The forest has trails that people ride and jog… that are maintained by volunteers… and that work with keeping the forest wild.

Mayor Lavelle:

Greenways can serve many purposes – they can be recreational as well as serve as transportation corridors. I do believe, when paved, they provide a better experience for bicyclists, especially for recreational bicyclists. However, there are different types of trail surfaces that hold up as well, similar to paving. For example, our Board was recently made aware of a new recycled tire material that has been used as a trail surface in several places across the country. I have ridden my bike on many greenway-type trails throughout the eastern United States, including the Virginia Creeper Trail in Abington/Damascus, Virginia, the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway in Athens-Nelsonville, Ohio, the C&O Canal Towpath Trail in Washington, D.C., and the carriage trails in Acadia National Park near Bar Harbor, Maine. These all have a variety of hard surfaces that can easily accommodate bicyclists.

7. What efforts have you taken to advance racial equity in your current job or position?

Mayor Lavelle:

I have been through racial equity training offered by REI, and have returned on one occasion as an alumni of Part 1 of the training. Our board has asked our Town Manager to have town staff attend equity training. Our Board retreat agenda a few years ago focused on how we could address equity in town policy, and in ways the Board governs the town. I work to consciously and proactively look at policy and issues through an equity lens. I am proud that our town has an annual Frederick Douglass 4th of July reading. I believe this exercise raises awareness and attention to equity in a powerful way. Our Board has also given financial support to a program set to coincide with the 200th birthday of Frederick Douglass next year. This program will enrich the public’s understanding of why we equity issues persist in our culture.

Mike Benson:

I was a restaurant owner in downtown Carrboro for 11 years with a regular staff of over 50 people. My employees were a varied mix of all ethnic backgrounds and religions. Working together promoted harmony and understanding. I currently work as a freelance photographer, covering news stories, live music, documenting peoples lives and travel. By displaying this work in the public, people get a better visual idea of the world around them. By seeing the how other people live. By seeing lands very different from there own (exotic and/or frightening). And to want to understand the images further so that they can make sense of the world they knew before and after seeing them.



Total votes: 0

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