OP Live Candidate Forum: Hillsborough Board of Commissioners

Hi all - Thanks for having us, OP, and for moderating, Vanessa. I am, in fact, in my pjs. Haven't used this format before, so I hope you will all bear with me.  Jenn Weaver

Hey guys. Welcome to the Hillsborough town board forum. I'm Vanessa Shortley, and I'm the editor of the News of Orange. Let's get started, shall we?

Hillsborough elections haven’t been contested much lately. Do you think this is because people are happy with what the town is doing or are they just disengaged? If the latter, how can the town get more people involved in local government?

I think we have several things going on here. First, I do think that many people feel disengageed. There is a sense that the Historic District gets a lot of the attention, and that our other neighborhoods don't always get the same hearing. I do not think that has been intentional, but many residents do express this. I think it's very important for us to make sure residents from all of our neighborhoods feel heard, because each neighborhoods has different needs and desires. I also think that people are generally satisfied with the job the Board has been doing in recent years. Not without complaint, but generally satisfied. They guided us through a tough economic time and HIllsborough emerged in many ways even better than we were pre-recession (though I would note not everyone is feeling like they have emerged from the recession). Finally, municipal elections just aren't terribly glamorous. We hold ours on off-year elections when there is often - like this year - bothing else on the ballot.  Jenn Weaver

How would you try to reach out to residents who feel like they haven't been heard?

How can we get more people involved? One of the ideas I've been kicking aorund that has gotten a good response form voters is that members of the town board might take turns, on a quearterly basis, hosting community meetings out in the neighborhoods. It would be good for commissioners to get a chance to go out in different parts of town, and give residents a chance to chat about their concerns on their own turf, in an informal setting. People are busy, and even in a small town, trucking over to the town barn for a meeting on a Monday night is not something many people are eager to add - especially if there is not something directly affecting them. That said, when there IS something that will directly affect any given neighborhood, people show up. That has been great to see during my tenure on park and Rec. Jenn Weaver Hillsborough

Sorry - typing is not my strong suit!Jenn Weaver Hillsborough

Your responses are editable during the forum so if you have time, you are free to go back and correct typos. We also encourage candiates to have a scribe who can take dictation if you prefer not to type.  

Though I have to say that getting citizens engaged is one of the challenges of a long-standing democracy. We are so fortunate to live here, and are all so busy with our own lives, that it seems easy to *not* engage as long as things are going well. We have a higher percentage of participation in our small town, and that is a good place to start. But we should all try to do what we can to encourage more connection, more engagement, more community. It starts with each person. I think the three of us have stepped up to the plate, and I am encouraged by some citizens I've talked to while canvassing who also are considering doing at least a little more to participate. Baby steps are all we need to make real change possible.

I have to say that running for office has been one of those ways in which I've had the chance to reach out. It's been a wonderful experience to walk through all of our neighborhoods and meet neighbors; I feel like though we all do have differences, there is much more that we share in common- and finding those common values and common priorities is a great place to get started. Rallying neighbors and residents together. It's also very important to ensure that the needs of all citizens have a place at the table. We are better off with a solution that takes into account as many voices as possible. 

Vanessa,I believe that the fact that we've got three smart, engaged candidates who are passionate about our town says a lot about the kind of town we live in. We as candidates are not unique- I think we represent well the kind of community we have; one that is engaged and committed to doing what's needed to keep things moving forward for Hillsborough. It's great to me to see more than enough good candidates stepping up to service. 

I've been hearing from people that they haven't been heard. How would you go about engaging them?

I really think reaching out is important. The mayor and the current board are all very approachable, and things are open, and minutes are posted in a timely manner, etc. Citizens have many ways to go TO the board, but I think having the energy go the other way, the Board reaching out TO the community, via methods such as my community meeting idea mentioned above, could really be helpful. One of the bitter truths about holding elected office is that it is rare that all parties will be pleased with board decisions, and sometimes that itself leads to people who got a less-than-desired outcome feeling they were not heard. But solid efforts at communication help alleviate that.  Jenn Weaver

With respect to citizen engagement, my experience has been that our Town has a high percentage of highly engaged citizens who very much care about Town decisions and who have been pleased withthe preponderance of decisions that our elected officials have made, myself included. Having said this, there are citizens who do feel left out - either because they felt they received poor follow-up from the Town or because they felt they weren't included in the decision process. I believe the more elected officials and staff reach out to the neighborhoods and Town, the more all focus on follow up, the more I believe more citizens will feel included.Kathleen Ferguson

I agree with you Kathleen. We are certainly not perfect, and we need to keep moving forward, focusing on continued improvement. The new Board members will come to their seats with fresh eyes and perspectives of what it means to be a citizen and a neighbor, and this is always good. We each as town citizens (not just the three of us) have a commitment to our community to plug in in whatever way works for us. We can all encourage one another to build community.

The issue of being heard is related to one reason why I chose to run in this election - For years, our Town Board membership has been disproportionately comprised  of Historic District residents. With Frances Dancy stepping down, no remaining Board members will be residents outside the central district. Materially and symbolically, we need more residents from our neighborhoods to be on the Town Board to help prevent groupthink and to demonstrate in action that we truly are an inclusive community (which we are).   Kathleen Ferguson

All right, let's move on to the next question. How can Hillsborough change and become more modern while still embracing its history and character?

Preservation of the physical structures, continuity of history as cultural conversation are key components of ensuring our history lives on.  Continuity of the look and feel of our Historic District is important. Just as continuity of our neighborhoods are important. However, homes will be updated, new businesses will come in and the nature of both will reflect current and future trends, as they should. Where citizen input is needed most as well as Town communication is where that change is abrupt.Kathleen Ferguson

Over the years, the historic towns I've loved most were those whose central districts preserved the history (buildings/look/feel) while also embracing modernity (thinking places like Frankllin, Tenn). Older neighborhoods remain intact but infill and outside the historic center include both commercial development and newer neighborhoods to provide for employment/commercial needs of the town and residential options for newcomers.Kathleen Ferguson

I think this needs to happen in a thoughtful, yet organic way. There can't be a planned modernity pushed down from town officials- but the town can recognize trends and embrace and encourage positive change. Hillsborough has done this successfully for centuries. We celebrate our past, but it does not hold us in one place. We both preserve history and create new history. There is a pride of place here that keeps us moving forward without losing the integrity of who we have historically been.

Continuing to embrace the character of Hillsborough is important to all of us. Whether people are living in an apartment in Patriots' Point,are families whose family worked in the mills here for generations, or people in the HD, people in every neighborhood say the small town character is important to them. The character is also important to the thriving of the town. No one is going to drive here from Greensboro to spend money here to visit a chain restaurant downtown. That said, there is a need to have business tax dollars constitute a stronger element of our tax base. The Churton Street Commercial Corridor provides a good vision for this. The train station, the area around the hospital, and eventual redevelopment of Daniel Boone Village provide terrific opportunities for us to make choices that do both - maintain character and modernize, so to speak. We can absolutely capitalize on River Walk and being the only municipality on Mountains to Sea Trail as part of our overall amenities that support that vision. I would like to see HIllsborough really think creatively and be visionaries for small town sustainability - thinking long term about how we can incorporate renewable energy efforts into our living and economy.   Jenn Weaver

Hey excuse the quick technical question, but I keep losing comments right before I'm about to post. (Perhaps when the page auto refreshes?) Any way to prevent this?

Remember, you must respond using the reply button directly underneath the question or comment to which you are responding -- both to keep the conversation threaded and to avoid losing your words when the page refreshes.

We will continue to relocate comments if they end up in the wrong place but as Meighan pointed out you risk losing your comment if you write it in place instead of on the reply page.

Where do you think growth should happen in Hillsborough: around the edges of town, in the downtown core or Historic District, in West Hillsborough or somewhere else entirely?

I support the Strategic Growth Plan overall - Waterstone is ideal for commercial development and it makes sense to focus residential growth south of downtown given the bottleneck of downtown.  Development of the Highway 70 corridor also makes sense. We need the services businesses for that area of Town and like Waterstone, it respects existing East/West traffic patterns.  In speaking with citizens across Town, I anticipate that infill will be the most challenging in that as a town our Visioning process identified higher density residential growth and neighborhood commercial services as a desired thing --- but when the conversation turns to individual neighborhoods, NIMBY becomes very visible.  To this end, really listening for consenus, acknowledging citizen voices, and high levels of communication are essential before decisions are made.Kathleen Ferguson

Agreed, Kathleen. Listening to the concerns of all our citizens is the most important thing we can do as we make decisions about our future. We certainly cannot please every citizen, but we will make our best, most collaborative decisions when the needs and concerns of everyone are heard and considered.

For readers who may not know, what is the Strategic Growth Plan?

There will naturally be some growth in each of the existing areas in order for us to attain the walkable, small-town character that we all love. This means there will be some higher density options and thoughtful infill incorporated into historic areas, like West Hillsborough (redevelopment of the mill) and the Historic district, as well as new mixed-use communities, like the Waterstone development, which include a variety of resedential options and commercial spaces. Additionally, redevelopment of areas of town, like business 70 corridor should also include thoughtful planning to promote our small town character and engourage prosperity for residents.

I think there is a natural inclination to floow the Churton Street Corridor. As I alluded to previously, the rail station, redevelopment of Daniel Boone, and the new hospital create a natural path. The hospital provides the opportunity for things with easy access off I-40,especially such that would augment and serve people working at and visiting the hostpital. And as mentioned before Daniel Boone and the train station present us with what will likely be a challenging, yet ultimately fruitful opportunity to create a multi-use development area that still keeps the character of town. I think we should also keep in mind the Cornelius St Corridor up by Hwy 70. It's an award-winning plan (to the credit of Kathleen and her cohort), and residents up that way strongly express the need for more development. I know the town is in general focused on developing south of town, and that is wise, given traffic concerns, but that needn't mean Fairview and Hillsborough Heights shouldn't have the benefit of some redevelopment up that way. Jenn Weaver

All that flows nicely into my next question. The town Planning Department is talking about ways to redevelop the S. Churton Street corridor to give people coming off of Interstate 40 a better first impression of town. Would you support such a proposal? Why or why not?

Apologies for choppy responses - still getting used to how this works and keep typing into ether!It's an important conversation, because it not only sets the first impression and visual tone and experience of our Town, it also impacts viability of the land for commercial development. Careful balancing will be necessary so that one is not sacrificed on behalf of the other.  Kathleen Ferguson

(Me too Kathleen! I think that as long as you make sure to hit "reply" BEFORE you post a comment, you will not lose your responses.)

The other consideration is that Orange County already has a repuation for being anti-business (although huge strides against this past have been taken and are in progress).  So how we engage in the redevelopment conversation is equally important from both resident and business perspectives.Kathleen Ferguson

As Hillsborough grows into a larger small town, and with the arrival of the hospital, there will be no way to avoid *some* kind of development in the S. Churton street area and around I-40 in general. If we can agree that this change is a possibility, we can get on to the larger question of what makes the most sense here. Again, inclusion of the voices of all our citizens is what we need. Cornwallis Hills, Beckett's Ridge and eventually Waterstone will be most impacted by these changes, and we should actively include them in the planning process, but we also should engage other citizens as well. We are a small enough town that all changes affect the whole. 

I am in favor of improving the asthetic value of that area of Churton St. Though it may be a somewhat painful process, I think it would serve all parties well in the end. It is very important, though, that all the businesses down there feel they are being treated equally and with fairness through out that process.  (sorry so slow, I managed to lose a comment too) Jenn Weaver

Hillsborough has a reputation for approving more new and big box development than Chapel Hill and Carrboro, like the Walmart and The Home Depot in Hampton Pointe. Would you suggest any changes in HIllsborough long-range land-use planning?

I support the 2013 Land Use Plan, which I know I great deal of sweat and possibly tears went into creating on the part of both the county and the town. Specific to the notion of big-box stores - when considering locating any development projects on that scale it is really important to weigh that against the need to maintain Hillsborough's character. We have all seen small towns across our state whose downtowns have flat-out died after big box stores have come on the scene. We have managed to avoid that, in no small part due to our residents' desire to shop locally when they can and support our local businesses.  Jenn Weaver

The town's 2013 land use plan was thoughtfull and carefully crafted with the intent of balancing the varied needs of our citizens. There should always be the possibility for review and revision when it comes to long-term planning, as needs and opportunities may change. However, I think that the intent of town and county leadership is to create a balanced and pragmatic solution to development that preserves our character, protects and promotes our current businesses, and provides future opportunity for our citizens. This means we need to look at both the positive and negative consequences of each decision we make, and try to find the middle path that provides the best solution for the most people. Regardless of what businesses come into town, the standard should be their alignment with our town's values and culture. 

I support our Strategic Growth Plan and the consensus ideas that were derived from the Visioning sessions conducted by the Town's Plannind Department. The issue of big boxes point to other issues.  In speaking with citizens over the years, my experience is that we are split community, with a sizeable chunk of citizens wanting such stores coming to town, while an equally sizeable chunk of citizens favoring local alternatives and other types of businesses.  To this end, I would want to have data in hand before making a decision WRT to expected tax revenues, jobs (quality and quantity), market saturation, expected business longevity, and such.   Kathleen Ferguson

I can also say, having worked with the Habitat community in Orange county for 4+ years, that principled decisions to keep out "big box stores" have created a high cost of living in our neighboring towns that disproportionately affects lowever socioeconomic comminuties. Though the decision was made with good intent, its negative consquences have not been adequately addressed. Is there a more clever solution? I think it's important as a town that we not just say "no." We need to figure out what to say "yes" to- what is the creative solution that meets the needs of all our citizens? How can we support our local businesses, maintain a reasonable cost of living and not overburden our citizens with taxes? I am interested in having these conversations- I want to help find workable solutions that benefit all.

The land use question was posted 20 minutes ago and I'm only seeing my reply, and Meighan's. Am I missing something or do I just need to be patient :)?  Jenn Weaver Hillsborough

It's up now!

I'm seeing my reply twice as well as yours and Meighan's  - Kathleen Ferguson

Sometimes the site has a Drupal glitch where identical content gets double-posted. We're deleting those as they happen. 

Let's change gears. The county recently purchased the Eno River Parking Deck, which is free to park in. Even so, many people don't use it, saying it's too far from downtown destinations. How would you and the board go about changing attitudes about the deck?

We definitely need to get folks using that deck. Once River Walk is
complete, it is highly likely the need for that deck will become more
obvious, as more people from both within and out of town use that deck as a home base for exploring River Walk. I discussed this with some of the downtown merchants a few weeks ago and they suggested that putting up some additional signage within the deck directing people to exit past the library would make that trek a bit closer instead of walking all the way around Weaver Street and the fire station - it does make a difference.Jenn Weaver

Having talked to many citizens about this issue, I personally believe that a large chunk of the problem is awareness- I know are people who think it's too far, but my conversations with residents make me feel like there are many folks who still don't realize (or are just beginning to realize) that the deck is free. Better marketing of the message, better signage, and even clever signage could go a long way towards changing use. I find with most issues, presentation is key. How could we promote the parking deck's usage in a clever way? It's worth thinking about, as this provides access for residents and visitors to a key business district, which translates into revenue for our businesses and the town.

It speaks to how small we are that the distance from the parking deck to Radius Pizza is a long way - although it certainly feels like miles if it's cold, rainy, or hot! It takes time to change habits, and like many things, a multi-prong approach likely will be most effective - Downtown Business Owners using it; locals using it.  Taking the carrot approach before the stick --- having the Town and Downtown Merchants providing incentives (maybe discounts to local stores for owners of cars selected at random which are parked in the deck).  Better signage likely would help (how many people drive past the Margaret Lane entrance thinking that it's closed off?).  Repetition of reminders in the paper and on our public access channel as well as reminders at each of the businesses. Kathleen Ferguson

What should Hillsborough do to take advantage of the future train station being located in town, and how can the town help ensure its success?

Just wanted to let you know I've "replied" to this question twice and lost both responses. I will try again!

Oh no! As long as you use the reply button under Vanessa's question and don't type your answer directly on the forum page this won't happen. But a good back up is to compose your response in a text editor and then paste it in when you're ready. 

Thank you - lost quite a few earlier in the evening - Kathleen Ferguson

I have two small children so anything with the word "train" in it brings excitement to our household. Broadly, ensuring that development/redevelopment around the train station is multi-use and in keeping with Hillsborough's character will go a long way toward helping that area thrive. We must also be sure that there are safe routes for pedestrians exiting the train to access downtown. We might also use our relationships with other nearby municipalities that have stops on the line - Durham and Burlington, for example - to promote the rail experience as good for family outings and commuting alike. Some regional coordination/cooperation could be benificial to everyone. HIllsborough specifically has an opportunity to market our status as a destination - ride the train to experience River Walk, ride the train with your backback to head out on the Mountains to Sea Trail, etc.  Jenn Weaver

I'll just add that we'll need to put forethought into being sure it's properly linked to existing and proposed transit infrastructure to tie it to Chapel Hill/Carrboro and Durham.  Jenn Weaver

The first element is a consensus definition of what success looks like.  Connectivity between the station, Downtown, and our neighborhoods will support and encourage usage.  Marketing will play an important component as will collaboration with other cities and towns along the rail route to generate and support ridership. Mixed use development in which residences and businesses surrounding the station have to be highly desirable in order to attract people as well as to generate revenue ROI for the Town in terms of tax revenue and maximum multiplier effect.  Kathleen Ferguson

Successful train stations require a paradigm shift in thinking about transportation. Hillsborough is the right kind of town, at the right time in history to embrace this kind of change. We have perennial traffic problems in town, which can be improved somewhat, but will always be present because of natural and geographic limitations. Again, like the parking deck, presentation is key, and a successful plan for promoting and implementing usage will be critical. Even more critical, however, is the availability of connected, regular and reliable public transportation. We must make the train accessible to all of our neighborhoods, and make our neighborhoods accessible to train riders. Ease of use is critical for success. This *is* doable though, but it will take vision and critical, creative thinking. Hillsborough should look to other successful communities to see how this has been done well in similar towns. I look forward to the thoughtful town leadership that will execute on this plan.

Moving right along. All of you mentioned cooperation and collaboration with other municipalities, such as the towns, the county and other regional entities. How do you see that working? How do you avoid giving the other boards too much say in what happens in Hillsborough?

The relationships that Hillsborough has with other municipalities is based on our shared regional responsibilities and opportunities. It does not have as much to do with our town's decision about town matters, but rather about our obligation to the larger community (in protecting and maintaing our shared watershed for example) and our mutual participation in decision making and resource sharing. I see those relationships as critical to our larger success, as those entities have a direct impact on our town's budget. As all citizens and neighborhoods in Hillsborough should have a seat at the table when it comes to town decisions, all local towns and cities should also have a seat at the table when it comes to regional matters. Approacing these groups with a collabrative spirit and thoughtful pragmatism ensures the mutual success of all our communities. We should stay open to the voices of all, with a firm commitment to advocate for our citizen's needs.

Collaboration and regionalism are key to the success of towns our size, especially in an era of reduced services from the stateand increasing costs. Hillsborough and our surrounding localities need to work together - creatively and collaboratively. It is my belief we can do this and still allow each locality to maintain its unique nature. Conflict will inevitably arise, and when it does it is very important that each governmental entity remain committed to fostering a good working relationship even in the face of disagreement.Keeping those relationships in working order goes a long way to avoiding other boards having too much say, as that allows for creative problem-solving, collaboration, and negotiation.  Jenn Weaver

We have good infrastructure for formal collaboration in that we as a Town have a seat at the table across a number of county and regional organizations. To this end, except for the legislature, board/organization structures is such that there are structural limits WRT to outside decision-making imposed on the Town.  Participation on/with those organizations is only one element though. Informal relationships with decision-makers and influencers are equally if not more important---reaching out to them, engaging and maintaining communication. Having these relationships in place before a crisis hits is what provides the best opportunity to ensure our Town's needs are met.  This means reaching out to more than just our own representatives and community leaders. This is especially important given that our legislature does have the power to impose its will on municipalities. While relationships likely will not prevent undesirable decisions imposed by the legislature, they can mitigate undesirable impact, through proactive understanding and communication.  Kathleen Ferguson

Last question: Is Hillsborough adequately served with public transit? Would you support funding for additional routes and service? Would you change the route of the Hillsborough Circulator?

This is a concern of many of the citizens I have spoken to in recent months, especially those who are in need of regular public transportation. It's a hard balance to strike, considering the size of our town, capacity of service ,and relative cost. I do think we have more work to do, but we are on the path- we are much better served than we were years ago. Change is a slow process sometimes, but we must be committed to the process. Especially considering the train station and the hospital; there will be an increased need for and use of service, and we must work towards a more effective solution for more citizens in the upcoming years.

Real quick - No, we are not adequately served, but I am please with the plans for TTA, the Circulator, Chapel Hill transit, et al to improve the situation. People need to be able to get where they need to go in a timely manner, and the Circulator, while better than nothing and quite useful for many of our elderly residents, takes too long for people who want/need to use it to get to and from work. More bus routes with improved timing would better serve those who most need to use them.  Jenn Weaver Hillsborough

No - we are not served adequately.  Too many of our residents simply can't get to where they need to go because of too few routes, poor timing of routes.  We have a foundation to build on but more is needed adn I would support.Kathleen Ferguson

Thanks OCP, Jenn and Kathleen- Once again, it's been a pleasure to spend time with you all.  

All right. Now's the time for any closing remarks or edit your posts. We'll leave the forum open for the next 15 minutes, so you have time to get them in. Thanks for joining us tonight.
Vanessa out.

How do we edit previous posts?Kathleen Ferguson

Under each comment there is an Edit button, right next to the Reply button. 

Yes, thank you all - good questions and discussion.  Jenn Weaver

Thank you for this opportunity and for your patience with us adapting to this type of forum!Kathleen Ferguson

I really enjoyed this forum, and I hope some Orange Politics readers who don't live in Hillsborough will check out this thread to get an idea of what your neighbors up the road are up to. And I hope Hillsborough OP readers will share this with friends as another way for Hillsborough voters to make the difficult choice before them this November. I hope to have the opportunity to serve as one of Hillsborough's five town board commissioners, and that you will vote for me this fall. Thank you all.  Jenn Weaver


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