1. The door of Town Hall says “Participate, put your ideas into action.” Do citizens have real ways to help direct Town government and if not, how can effective participation be assured?
George Cianciola Yes, I believe that citizens can help direct Town goyernment in several, real ways. First, they can volunteer to serve on advisory boards or task forces. Although our advisory board system is expected to be revised and simplified in the future it still offers an opportunity to help shape Town government and affairs. Second citizens can attend or watch Council meetings and then share their opinions with their Council persons, Town Staff, and advisory boards. Third, citizens can keep abreast of what’s happening by signing up for the Town’s list serve or visiting the Town’s website. And finally, if a citizen is seriously committed to helping direct Town government they can run for elected office. Effective participation requires that the citizens engage both each other and their government officials, either in person or through digital communications – it does not happen through osmosis.
Ed Harrison The town’s public hearing and petition processes, which are the fullest I’ve encountered as someone who has spoken many times in four jurisdictions, can be used effectively if members of the public consider objectively what the Council and advisory boards (notably Planning and CDC) would find most helpful to hear in considering issues. It often sounds as if speakers are at the microphone to vent or to hear themselves talk. Research ahead of time can be especially helpful, including interviewing board members. I try to make myself especially accessible for questions – as possible, given the major legal constraints on Council members in the SUP process – but I can’t speak for others on the Council or on boards. Some members of advisory boards have become especially knowledgeable about their board’s issues over time, and are worth approaching as well; contact information for them is not as readily available as it is for Council member. My wife, Pat Carstensen, who because of our neighborhood’s location, continues to operate in Durham County circles, says that participation in Chapel Hill government is particularly helped by the rich community networks we have, of which FOBC and NRG are two of the best.
Loren Hintz There are numerous ways that citizens can participate: Public hearings, advisory boards, email, surveys. However, Council and staff at times should go to places in town (restaurants, churches, parks, street fairs, community centers) and listen to feedback. The issue is how Council uses that feedback. Council needs to listen to recommendations, make a decision in a timely fashion and if they reject the recommendation should explain to the citizens why they did not use their feedback. Also it is important that individual meetings and boards for specific development not last too long as it is hard to for volunteers to attend all the meetings. While the staff or developer needs to present a professional plan, it is important to leave opportunity for other ideas to be presented and considered.
Sally Greene Citizens do have real ways to participate. The award-winning Chapel Hill 2020 process set a new standard and expectation for community participation. The town has stepped up its social media participation in order to get the word out about meetings, and this year’s budget authorizes hiring a new social media person. Yet we can do more. We should be thinking, for example, about ways to use technology to accommodate parents with young children who are reluctant to sign up for town boards because of the burden of leaving home for meetings.
The Rosemary Imagined project has succeeded in drawing from the student population by holding an event at Tru, near campus. That’s one example of a creative approach: meet target communities where they are. Other nontraditional forums were used during the 2020 process. We should encourage more of that. On the other hand, in my experience online surveys are not very useful. It’s hard to know how representative they are, and the questions are often decontextualized, hard to answer thoughtfully. I believe that when we establish citizen-led steering committees, the town could more thoroughly train them in how to work with community members who come to the meetings to speak
Gary Kahn (transcribed from hand writing) I have seen many citizens go to town council meetings and voice their opinions on issues, but a major concern of mine is how many of them actually vote. I have attended community meetings and have talked to a few citizens and after introducing myself they tell me they don’t vote – their voice is not being heard unless they vote.
Paul Neebe Yes, I think citizen participation is very important. Citizens can and should participate by speaking up. This can be done by email, telephone and by speaking in person at the Advisory Board and Town Council meetings. I think participation can be assured by electing leaders who are good listeners and who put citizens’ ideas into action.
Maria Palmer Certainly. Citizen participation is evident in all the advisory boards, the many task forces, and the comments that Town Council receives before and after any vote or decision. Because we are a small town and elect our representatives “at large,” I believe they are highly responsive to citizen input. The problem is that not all segments of the population know how to give this input or feel welcomed.
Amy Ryan I’m a strong believer in citizen participation in public processes. This involvement is especially critical at a time when we’re considering substantive changes to the way we plan and review development.
Over the past year, I’ve advocated successfully with the town to establish citizen committees for two major areas in town — Central West and Obey Creek. Getting community voices up front in the planning process is an important first step in insuring meaningful participation. I think community members can have much greater impact on the outcome of a plan or policy if their input is involved early in the discussions, where it can shape the direction of town decisions.
D.C. Swinton From what I’ve seen, there are a number of opportunities for the citizens of Chapel Hill to get involved – boards, Town meetings, et cetera. However, I believe the Town can do a better job at promoting its desire for participation. In my opinion, that would include ads in the paper, signs and fliers throughout the Town, discussions on the buses, and, most importantly, visits to neighborhoods and the University. If we go directly to the citizens, they will know we want to get them involved as much as possible.
2. Money Magazine put Chapel Hill in the top ten best places to live in America. “Locals refer to Chapel Hill as a town within a park. The roads wind through tunnels of arching trees, and the area has a rain forest-like charm.” How would you promote your definition of Chapel Hill’s brand?
George Cianciola Chapel Hill is a community of generous, compassionate and involved citizens who strive to provide the best quality of life possible for their families, their friends, their neighbors and those who come here, whether to visit or to stay. Its citizens have the pleasure of enjoying the vitality and cultural enrichment of a world-class university while living in a beautiful location and actively engaging the world around them, whether it is as business persons, community activists, philanthropists, or interested parties.
Ed Harrison As someone who serves (and chairs) regional boards and sits on the statewide municipal committee dealing with planning and land use, I express my definition of Chapel Hill’s brand relatively frequently to a room full of people who don’t live here. This definition is far more than visual – in fact, not much of it is. The description give above doesn’t apply to every residential area in Chapel Hill; as a former municipal tree planner, I expect that the relative maturity of our neighborhoods accounts for the well-developed forest cover. My brand always includes “university town” – and that’s more than UNC, because in any given neighborhood there are people who are faculty, staff or students at other places. But the massive impact of UNC is always in the brand: the remarkably high number of Carolina blue buses, of remarkable cultural amenities and events.
The “university town” brand includes an approach to community that emphasizes hard and sophisticated thinking about solutions to problems, and vigorous public processes. Nothing about this excludes a “town within a park.” In fact, I actively include it. I would promote this brand by emphasizing town-gown understanding of complex issues – something goes both ways, by continuing the search for ways to optimize public participation in data-driven processes, and by emphasizing the policies that keep so much of the town looking “green.”
Loren Hintz “Chapel Hill, a place to learn and enjoy.” We have a great university, schools, library and interactive community. We have greenways, parks and lots of trees. We have numerous restaurants and innovative businesses. We have a network of public transportation, sidewalks and bike routes. We have residents from all over the world and long -time Chapel Hillians. We have traditional neighborhoods and innovative mixed developments. I think implementation of the 2020 plan will achieve this vision. Council needs to listen to citizens ideas on how to do this. Staff needs to efficiently use the resources given them.
Sally Greene From the penthouse of 140 West looking north, all you see are trees: except for the new Northside Elementary popping up out of them. The Chapel Hill that I love has a beautiful and health-giving tree canopy, and it exists within an even more wooded environment: the rural buffer. Because I strongly support retaining the rural buffer, and because I also embrace the prospect of growth and change, I welcome thoughtfully planned growth, including urban density where sensible. The residents of the affordable condos in 140 West include a Chapel Hill parks and recreation employee, his wife and their toddler. This child will walk to Northside Elementary. It will be a beautiful walk through a neighborhood that the town has expended lots of resources to protect.
My “brand” of Chapel Hill maintains a park-like fabric, but, in all, the town is a richly textured fabric, with urban parks (the plaza at 140 West for example) as well; also with strong cultural offerings (the restaurant scene; the university’s programming); and with opportunities for people of all ages and income levels to live here for their whole lives.
Gary Kahn Chapel Hill is a place for a learning experience and to have fun.
Paul Neebe I’m not sure Chapel Hill needs any more promoting. If we oversell Chapel Hill, then it may become overrun with too many people and may no longer be a great destination. I think we need to improve Chapel Hill by a connected Greenway system, Bike Paths or Cycle tracks that are off the street. By preserving the open spaces in Chapel Hill and improving the alternative transportation we can remain a wonderful place to live.
Maria Palmer Money Magazine does a good job explaining the atmosphere here in Chapel Hill. I say it is a beautiful town with character and fabulous resources, engaged citizens, a liberal bent and a great cultural life.
Amy Ryan Part of promoting the brand is first defining what it is. I think that it’s time for the town to discuss what our “brand” is, what characteristics are important for us to protect and enhance, and in what areas we want that brand to grow. I would encourage the town to learn from the UNC campus expansion efforts of the early 2000s. They began by developing a specific plan for identifying the place-determining features of the campus, planning proactively for their protection, and growing in ways that respected and enhanced those features.
My Chapel Hill “brand” has many different components, such as the tree canopy, the campus, the Historic District, and Franklin Street. It also includes a “locally grown” component – a commercial landscape with a health proportion of businesses that were born and raised in the area, like Southern Season and Phydeaux. I also think that our brand needs to evolve to meet the challenges of the future. Perhaps we can also become known as the local entrepreneurial center of the Triangle if efforts like the Rosemary entrepreneurial hub prove successful.
D.C. Swinton Chapel Hill is a beautiful town with a sense of community that grows stronger everyday. The Town’s environmental awareness continues to improve, and it entices its citizens and visitors by creating an expansive park and greenway system. Chapel Hill’s collaboration with the University of North Carolina and the adjacent Town of Carrboro provides an atmosphere unique to the Triangle and central North Carolina.
3. Chapel Hill has state and local ordinances for water quality, storm water management, impervious surface limits, stream buffers, steep slopes, and trees, that apply when the Town Council approves projects. If you favor policies that prevent flooding and improve water quality, what changes would you make? Do you think the present ordinances are implemented effectively?
George Cianciola I do favor policies that prevent flooding and improve water quality. I would not make any immediate changes in the current policies until I had sufficient information to indicate where our current policies are falling short or where our current policies could be strengthened by utilization of newer technologies or methodologies. I would favor increasing control over and surveillance of ongoing construction sites as these sites can be quickly transformed into problems by sudden and extreme weather conditions. I am not certain that our present ordinances are being implemented to their fullest possible extent because, I would guess, of inadequate staffing and education. I believe that finding the fiscal resources to improve upon both staffing and education should be a priority moving forward.
Sally Greene As a consequence of Chapel Hill 2020, we are embarking on a process of LUMO revision that includes reevaluation of our stormwater rules. There are some discrepancies between state and local laws, even in the ways in which things are measured. Moreover, even within LUMO these rules were written isolation. We have discovered over the years that they could be improved for more effective implementation.
While understanding the interest in making sure that these different regulations speak to each other in the same language, I will advocate for continued high-quality stormwater controls. As a Planning Board member more than a decade ago, when the LUMO was being written, I advocated for strong environmental rules in all of these areas: impervious surface limits, buffers, steep slopes, and tree protection. As a Council member I was involved in strengthening the tree ordinance, and I support current efforts from the Historic District Commission to gain more regulatory control over trees in historic districts. I will continue to be a strong advocate for stringent, uncompromising, and effective environmental regulation.
Ed Harrison As has been the case for more than 35 years, as an environmental management professional and now as a policymaker, I favor local and state rules that prevent flooding and improve water quality When I researched and wrote about water quality protection for the Conservation Foundation of NC (1986-88), Chapel Hill was already a statewide leader in these areas. As a Council member, I’ve learned much about the impact and implementation of environmental ordinances. I worked with the former planning director on drafting both our steep slope and stream buffer provisions. It’s important to realize that making an ordinance more rigorous doesn’t necessarily protect the environment more, although it certainly does in many cases. Because every land use applicant has to comply with ordinances, a very small project – adding a deck to a house – can be make far more expensive by an ineffectively implemented ordinance.
Overall policy changes I would work for: More detailed stormwater management planning on a sub-watershed basis (e.g. Lower Booker Creek); requiring a far clearer justification from staff for recommending approval of variances in Council-level development applications, especially for steep slopes and stream buffers; eliminating the staff-driven proposal for weakening buffer depth on our larger creeks – an issue I flagged for Council and the public.
Loren Hintz This is a very important issue which is complicated by HB 74. I do want to prevent flooding and to improve water quality. I would like to see homeowners receive a small rebate from their storm water fee if they install a green roof, rain garden or preserve trees and undergrowth. Unfortunately a number of structures have been constructed in the floodplain. Signage should be required to warn residents and shoppers of the potential for flooding. In general I would like storm water to be held in the area and filtered through soil before release. I want to maintain wide buffers, reduce impervious surface and protect the tree canopy. We need to encourage planting trees especially by sidewalks, bus stops and greenways. After attending the LUMO workshop, I can see how implementation of the regulations can be confusing and that they should be made clearer. We need to teach the importance of these rules, ways citizens can protect the watershed and ways staff can be more proactive rather than reactive to reported problems.
Gary Kahn The change that I would make is to include looking at each of the ordinances and think of how we can improve them, and if not effective how we can change them. Present ordinances are used effectively as was (shown) by the gas spill on MLK.
Paul Neebe Yes I am wholeheartedly in favor of policies that prevent flooding and which improve water quality. We need more stringent standards and ordinances for storm water control. I think this past summers flooding is a big red blinking danger light that demands immediate attention. There is technology to fix this. One example of which I am aware is the St. Thomas More Church which uses rainwater for their toilets in their new addition. This is just one of many solutions.
Maria Palmer I think we can do better. We need to engage the talent we have in our universities and local businesses and non-profits. We need to be more innovative, including putting vegetation on top of buildings and parking decks and creating more urban gardens.
Amy Ryan I appreciate the importance of our creeks and streams to the health of our land, for water quality, wildlife habitat, and ecosystem services. In my positions on the CDC and Planning Board I have consistently voted to protect our RCDs and provide good storm water management for town projects. The town is currently reviewing its RCD rules, and I have supported, and will continue to support, retaining our current RCD dimensions and not limiting our stream protections to those provided by the Jordan Lake rules (if these rules are ultimately implemented).
The recent failure of the BMP at the town library indicates that we need to do a better job with our storm water infrastructure. Once the reasons for the failure are determined – whether it was poor design, poor construction, or other factors – the town needs to enact measures to make sure that such failure does not occur again.
D.C. Swinton Chapel Hill absolutely has to invest in improving its infrastructure in an environmentally friendly manner. We must invest in permeable sidewalks and roads to diminish stormwater runoff and prevent or diminish flooding. Had such systems been in place, the damage we experienced months ago would not have been as severe.
4. Suggest steps Chapel Hill could take to improve collaboration with Orange County and neighboring jurisdictions.
George Cianciola It is imperative that we improve our collaborations with our neighboring institutions and municipalities, including UNC, Carrboro, Hillsborough, Orange County, Durham County, and Chatham County. To begin with, Chapel Hill residents comprise nearly 50% of Orange County’s residents so whatever benefits Chapel Hill will benefit Orange County and vice versa. Furthermore, if what benefits Chapel Hill benefits Orange County, then it will also benefit our neighbors in Carrboro and Hillsborough. In a similar fashion, whenever UNC and the Town are successful, it benefits all of us.
We need to examine where our Town services (such as public safety, solid waste, social services, various types of inspections, etc) overlap with our neighbors and find ways to share such services where possible and thus begin to realize the cost savings that can be achieved by minimizing redundancy. These types of collaborations between municipalities might require changing the mindsets of various individuals but I believe the potential benefits will help drive that process. I think everyone is beginning to understand that cuts at the Federal and State levels are hurting all of us and that future progress will require working together.
Sally Greene Regarding Orange County, I believe we enjoy strong collaborative relationships. The Public Library is a good example. After years of getting nowhere, a negotiating committee I served on resulted in a breakthrough new agreement. County funding is up by 37 percent over where it was stalled for a decade, and a formula is in place for that percentage to rise. Next for discussion is the subject of interoperability. I’m hopeful about that.
The regional transit plan is another area where we have seen excellent collaboration, resulting in the passage of a sales tax referendum. Already with the results of that funding, we are seeing improvements to Chapel Hill Transit service. Under Holden Thorp, the university’s relationship with the Town became stronger and more cooperative. As an example, the Ackland has become a key player in the work the Downtown Partnership and others are doing to put downtown Chapel Hill on the map as a cultural arts destination. Regional collaboration on affordable housing is evident in the emerging proposal from DHIC of Raleigh to produce low-income tax credit housing on Town-owned land. Results like this come about, and can continue to happen, when people work together openly, in good faith.
Ed Harrison Before I was even on Council – exactly 12 years ago – I requested a process of joint review of land use projects and policies between Chapel Hill, the Durham jurisdictions, and Orange County. This was referred to and implemented by the existing Durham-Chapel Hill-Orange Work Group. Not long after that, the WG began including detailed presentations and discussions of land use and transportation planning processes, with participation by both elected officials and engaged staff members.
On the full range of issues, especially those involving Orange County’s relationship with Chapel Hill, policy decisions should best be made in discussions between policy makers themselves. This has been hard to accomplish in recent years. The most significant issue where this has been the case is the expensive one of solid waste, including next steps on recycling, a high priority for Chapel Hill.
The periodic Assembly of Governments meetings between Orange and the towns too often don’t deal with issues that are actually of major importance to governments besides Orange County. This has been driven for years by County administrative priorities, which, while important, often omitted a chance for Town input. In this regard, major change could happen this week, as Michael Talbert takes the County Manager’s job (as Interim) after Frank Clifton leaves.
Loren Hintz I know the region well by serving on the Orange County Commission for the Environment, working in the Chapel Hill Carrboro City School System, working with CHT, having graduated from UNC and my involvement in community organizations in the region. Chapel Hill needs to increase meetings with staff and elected leaders from other jurisdictions. We need to look for increased opportunities for collaboration for example: share school and town recreational areas. We need to also meet with Durham and Chatham County and share long term plans.
Gary Kahn Better communications between county and neighboring jurisdiction through joint public hearings.
Paul Neebe Appoint a liaison to work with the Orange County commissioners and the other neighborhood jurisdictions. This liaison would report back to the town. If this already exists then clearly it’s not working. We need to figure out how to make this work.
Maria Palmer We need to reward town/county employees for ideas that foster collaboration and save money. We need to talk to each other systematically and study what we can do better together.
Amy Ryan Increased collaboration between towns and Orange County could produce significant benefits for both groups. As Hillsborough, Carrboro, and Mebane grow, Chapel Hill may not remain the only large population center. It will make less and less sense to duplicate (quadruplicate?) our efforts, for example by having multiple library systems. By identifying areas where cooperation can provide economies of scale and save on redundant administrative costs, the towns and counties could substantially improve their financial bottom lines. Such cooperation would take time, and negotiating shared jurisdiction and costs would be a considerable undertaking. But ultimately citizens throughout the county would benefit.
D.C. Swinton My top goal is to make Chapel Hill a town with zero tolerance for sexual and domestic violence. In order to obtain that goal, the Town must collaborate with other jurisdictions. For instance, we must engage Orange County to allow our Magistrate’s Office to provide domestic violence protection orders, making them more accessible for survivors. Next, we need to collaborate with Carrboro to provide funding for a domestic violence shelter in the next three years. Finally, in collaboration with Orange County, Carrboro, and Durham, we can establish a child advocacy center, which is paramount for young survivors of domestic or sexual violence. The closest CAC resides in High Point, and that is unacceptable.
5. Recommend what the Town should do to provide workforce housing and affordable rentals.
George Cianciola Citizens of Chapel Hill have consistently said they want more affordable housing, whether it is owner-occupied or rental. Our current approach of requiring developers to provide such housing as part of any approval process has provided us with a limited number of units but in the process has raised the prices on market-rate units and thus made the overall housing market even less affordable. We need a different approach.
If we as a community really believe that our teachers, our public safety personnel, our Town employees, our University staff (including young professionals) should be able to live in the same town they work in, then we need to stop talking the talk and begin walking the walk. If that is our vision for a truly generous, compassionate and socially-responsible community then we should be willing to make sacrifices to achieve it. We should be willing to invest some of our taxes into developing affordable housing, preferably in some sort of public-private partnerships (Town-developers) or some sort of public-public-private partnerships (Town-UNC-developers). It is time that we stopped putting the responsibility of creating affordable housing on one single group of business persons and instead begin, as a community, to find solutions to this issue.
Sally Greene Donna Bell and I have completed several months of convening a mayor’s task force on this topic. We will soon bring forward a draft affordable rental strategy for Council consideration. The first and most timely is a recommendation to begin the approval process for a low-income tax credit rental housing project by DHIC, Inc., a Raleigh nonprofit with a track record of success in this area. It would include approximately 80 senior apartments and 60 family/workforce apartments, built on Town land. We will be asking our colleagues to work quickly on this project in order to meet rigid tax credit deadlines.
We will also propose dedication of an income stream from tax dollars to affordable (our definition includes what is sometimes called “workforce”) housing: rental and ownership models. And the task force supports the idea of expanding the public housing board to all affordable housing. We need such a board as well as a staff person dedicated to championing and seeking out opportunities for collaborations (public and private) on affordable rental opportunities. We are also proposing to make the application process less burdensome for projects that include a substantial amount of subsidized affordable rental units.
Ed Harrison What’s needed the most for developers of these two housing types – sometimes the same – is affordable land, in our very expensive jurisdiction. The town itself has most likely built all the public housing it will build. Because of the high expense of land, affordable and workforce housing will tend to get built at higher intensities than what’s been built nearby in the past. I will work to create a free-standing affordable housing board that has a focus on helping applicants work with existing neighborhoods adjacent to potential sites to understand issues for them. The charge to that board should make clear that it does not advocate for particular housing projects, but instead works with affected existing residents on optimizing the proposed developments.
With almost no new single-family homes being built here anymore, the model of single family needs to change if we are to expect any such workforce housing to be built by private or non-profit developers. Our community’s neighborhood advocates are already making this an issue. For multi-family housing, design needs to be much more carefully considered because so much of it will be near or next to existing single-family homes.
Loren Hintz This is tough to do with the limited resources. The Town needs to encourage the School Board and the University to look for ways to create workforce housing. We should consider using some of Town land for affordable housing. We need to point out that the local services of public transportation, public school aftercare and energy efficiency requirements reduce expenses and allow a larger share of the family budget for housing. The Town and other agencies need to pay a livable wage to employees. Also the town needs to continue to work with developers and NGOs and continue to create incentives for affordable housing.
Gary Kahn Build public housing on lots owned by the Town for low income and seniors.
Paul Neebe We must make affordable housing a priority. The town planners know how to make this work and there is a company in Raleigh that’s very successful with affordable housing. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel; we just need to learn from and emulate other towns’ successes.
Maria Palmer Everything. We need to encourage responsible and green development and also build joint town/non-profit projects. We need to push UNC to build workforce housing at Carolina North using the Land Trust model.
Amy Ryan This is an extremely difficult issue for the town to solve, given the desirability of the town as a place to live and our subsequent high property values. One important step is to preserve the moderately priced housing stock that we have. I voted against the Bicycle/Lux Apartments when it came in front of the Planning Board in part because it was replacing a significant number of moderately priced units with high-end student housing.
I would also continue to support our Neighborhood Conservation Districts, such as the one in place at Northside, which also offer some protection of our affordable and workforce housing stock. Another important step is to recognize that affordability is about more than just a housing payment. Locating moderately priced housing on major transit routes and within walking and biking distance of employment centers means that families have the option of saving money on car expenses. Responsible fiscal planning that keeps tax increases in check is another factor that can help make living in town more affordable for a broader range of our community members.
Another important step is to recognize that affordability is about more than just a housing payment. Locating moderately priced housing on major transit routes and within walking and biking distance of employment centers means that families have the option of saving money on car expenses. Responsible fiscal planning that keeps tax increases in check is another factor that can help make living in town more affordable for a broader range of our community members.
D.C. Swinton Chapel Hill must work with developers to created mixed-income housing and mixed-income neighborhoods. Separating our citizens into the well-to-do neighborhoods and workforce neighborhoods is not conducive to the idea of community that I have in mind. I would like to establish an ordinance that would require all future development plans that include housing to provide a wide variety of options at different rates.
6. What kind of commercial, business or industry growth does the Town need?
George Cianciola We need businesses that will increase our tax base as well as those that can generate revenue from sales taxes and provide those items that we either cannot find in Chapel Hill or that are difficult to find in Chapel Hill. We need more offices downtown in order to provide enough daytime traffic for our downtown businesses to not only survive, but to thrive. We’re currently doing a good job of getting more people living downtown but we now need to focus on getting more people working downtown.
An additional question is not what does Chapel Hill need but what does the County need. Even if a particular business or industry doesn’t fit Chapel Hill, it might fit well in the County. If the County benefits then so does Chapel Hill. We need more incubator space, including wet lab space, in order to support our start-ups, including but not restricted to University-originated ones. We need to determine what businesses are missing from the current mix and what businesses would synergize with our existing ones and we then need to actively recruit them. We cannot just put out a sign “Open for Business” and expect them to knock on our doors.
Sally Greene We need to support the Downtown Partnership and the Visitors Bureau in their efforts to bolster Chapel Hill’s reputation as a cultural arts, dining, and entertainment destination, but those efforts are well launched. To address the goal of moving some of the residential tax burden to commercial, we need to concentrate on a diversity of commercial activity with enhanced retail. We should target, as we have been, those areas where the community already tolerates some level of commercial activity and would tolerate more—such as Ephesus/Fordham. Within the constraints of the flood plain, University Mall is a good candidate for redevelopment to higher value. We have a strong candidate for potential new commercial development, and even perhaps a siting of light industry, in the area south of I-40 north of Eubanks Road.
In these discussions we should remember that it’s in our interest to support Orange County’s economic development program, because most of the tax burden that we all shoulder is the county’s tax. The Council has been supporting the county’s economic development work and should continue to do so.
Ed Harrison In all cases, growth that’s actually development: spends private funds on needed infrastructure (transportation, water management); provides services not available in a particular area of town, and does not impair the quality of life in that area or town-wide.
All types of growth cited can add to the non-residential tax base, which is a lower percentage of our taxable property than almost anywhere in NC. Commercial (various forms of retail) can add sales taxes, an easier source of revenue for the public to understand since it comes from tangible acquisitions. This type of growth is also prone to create the largest traffic impacts. Business development can occur in a wide range of sizes, from tiny start-ups to major office/mixed use redevelopments as is likely at the Blue Cross property.We’ve a shortage of affordable spaces for all types.
We don’t have true “industry,” although parts of UNC mimic it (the cogeneration plant). With the exception of truck traffic, “light” or “limited” industry appropriately located (ideally in the 1-40 “noise contour”) will have very few impacts and could pay substantial property tax. It’s unclear that we even have zoning rules for this category, and that’s something I would be eager to work on, having done so many years ago as chair of the Durham City-County Environmental Affairs Board.
Loren Hintz Everyone agrees that the current residential/commercial tax ratio is too weighted toward residential. Realistically given the large build out of Chapel Hill, that ratio cannot improve very much. I think there is some potential for light industry near Eubanks Rd. Personally, I am able to buy almost everything I need in town but I know others want more retail. I would continue the downtown trend of having higher density residential, office and retail. I think that it is appropriate for there to be more office/retail/institutional in the focus areas. The impact on traffic, storm water etc. would need to be mitigated.
Gary Kahn This should be be discussed at local committee meetings.
Paul Neebe We need to find out how to attract businesses that give us maximum tax base, but which also affects the town in positive ways. We need a business incubator project like Raleigh has. This could keep companies in the area. We need to make it easier for companies like Blue Cross and Blue Shield to stay in Chapel Hill. I would like to see enough retail, so that I can buy what I need in Chapel Hill without going to Durham or Raleigh. Perhaps we need to see how we can support the retail centers we have, such as University Mall. I do not support manufacturing industry in Chapel Hill unless it is very green and does not harm the environment.
Maria Palmer We need innovation. I would like to explore a partnership with Google like the one Durham’s Underground just won. We need to support small businesses and provide loans and incentives to locally owned businesses that provide living wages and needed services.
Amy Ryan A primary rationale for supporting business growth in town is that it will help to take some of the pressure off residential property taxes and make us more fiscally sustainable.
An important part of determining the kind of growth we need is accurate data about the costs and revenues that can be expected from specific types of commercial development. The town commissioned a general study on this issue from Mitch Renkow, a professor at NCSU, a few years ago, but it does not go into detail about the effects of different commercial and industrial uses, which can vary greatly in the revenue they bring to town and their demands on services. Armed with more detailed information, the town could make intelligent choices about development that would actually deliver the promised increase to our fiscal bottom line.
Another effort that should be instituted is to conduct evaluations of built projects, to see what their true fiscal impacts have been. I would like to see a study conducted of some recent large projects, such as Southern Village, Meadowmont, and East 54, to see whether their promised benefits to the town have been realized.
7. The Town has identified six focus areas for potential new development with separate planning for each. Do you think that these six focus areas can be planned independent of each other? If not, how would you insure that planning for each location adds up to the best comprehensive Town-wide plan?
George Cianciola I do not think these six focus areas can be planned totally independently of one another. On the other hand, neither can they be planned concurrently. There is not enough staff, not enough meeting space, and not enough energy amongst the citizens to do six simultaneous projects.
I think both the Town staff and the public has a reasonably good idea of what might or could occur at these six areas and participants in these discussions can begin to use those basic ideas to develop some sense on how one area might affect the other.
Sally Greene The 2020 plan sets the framework for looking at all areas of town holistically—for considering townwide impacts. Each of the focus areas, while having definite boundaries, is going to have externalized, ripple effects: for example in Central West it is clearly traffic (in Ephesus/Fordham, it appears to be at least equally an issue of stormwater). As part of working on each focus area we need to think more broadly about these ripple effects and plan for how to handle them.
Given our resources of staff time and available public money, it is unrealistic to aim to go about all of these focus areas at once. Rather, they should be thought of as drilling one level down from the 2020 plan, always with the goals and values of that plan in mind. The way to end up with the best results is to constantly keep those larger goals in mind.
Ed Harrison I don’t see any choice except to have a certain level of autonomy for development of the small area plans that should emerge from focus area processes.
The word “focus” implies that we are doing independent processes specific to the non-residential areas that are the center of the focus areas and the clusters of neighborhoods directly affected by development or redevelopment. To get at issues of true local importance, we have to do that focus. I’ve attended many of the planning meetings for the two focus areas currently in the process. It’s obvious to me that there’s an uneven knowledge by staff of some critical neighborhood-level issues which are directly relevant to thinking about plans for future land use. I strongly commend the residents who have highlighted these issues.
Since the six processes are not entirely simultaneous – given staffing levels, they can’t be – all have different calendar end points. If and when small area plan results call for a shift in scale of future development from what other plans (transportation, above all) call for, a comprehensive plan approach could in turn call for an adjustment of the overall future picture. It may not, but that has to be evaluated, or else, we’ve dropped the ball.
Loren Hintz I have attended at least one meeting each for four of the six focus areas. Each of them are unique. I think they do need to be planned independently. I think staff and citizens are learning which methods work better for planning. However, the 2020 plan already has placed some general restrictions and goals on all of the areas. For example these are areas that should create more nonresidential tax revenue for the town. They also require careful consideration of improved connections for pedestrians, bicycles and buses, open space and for storm water management. The development mix, time for build out or complete renovation and height of buildings will vary at each focus area.
Gary Kahn No issue should be solved with (without?) full community input.
Paul Neebe Clearly we need to look at Chapel Hill as a whole. Light Rail is coming yet we don’t have any standards in place for what we need in the areas of the light rail stops. This would be Step one. I think maps are very helpful with Master planning. They should be all over the Town Hall walls instead of hidden away.
I do not support manufacturing industry in Chapel Hill unless it is very green and does not harm the environment.
Maria Palmer These areas need to be planned independently because they are so different and there is no way to do everything at once. The needs are different and the constituencies are somewhat different. However, the development of each needs to fit into the whole plan for Chapel Hill. This iw where town staff, the Planning Board and Town Council come in.
Amy Ryan Doing a better comprehensive planning would be one of my chief goals during my tenure on Council. I agree that the town needs to do a better job of making sure that our development decisions aren’t made in isolation, but in a way that will produce plans that together meet the anticipated needs of the town as a whole. Comprehensive planning will, for example, make sure we’re actually preparing to house the population growth and retail and office demand we’re likely to see.
To accomplish this, it’s important that we have good projections of future growth, and that figures that involve policy choices in town (such as how much commercial growth we want to see) are arrived at after open, public discussions. As a minimum first step toward better comprehensive planning, the town should begin to keep a tally of the cumulative population and square footage proposed in each Future Focus plan as it’s finished, so that subsequent areas can use these details to inform their decision-making.
D.C. Swinton I think all development plans should be aware of one another as there could be consequences unseen by one plan, negating the intended effects of another. It would be good for all those involved to communicate either monthly or every 60 days.
8. Many people feel removed from town decisions because there are so many complicated long-range town processes underway. They cannot track them all. Most with busy lives cannot attend multiple long meetings. How can people have their say in decisions that affect them under these circumstances?
George Cianciola As much as I want to see the visions of CH2020 implemented as quickly and efficiently as possible, I believe that the current process of simultaneously moving forward on multiple processes is both undesirable and unsustainable. It is not only taxing the abilities and stamina of the Town’s staff but it is very difficult to keep the Town’s citizens actively and effectively engaged when there are so many meetings involving so much information in such a short period of time.
I believe that we should move forward with only 1-2 processes at a time so that the public can be more effectively engaged. However, I also believe that the processes that are being moved forward need to have a reasonable timeline laid out at the beginning so that the public understands how the process will proceed, at what pace, and when it will conclude. Although there can be modifications in these parameters along the way the public should have an expectation that these processes will have a timely conclusion. A long, drawn-out process not only consumes valuable resources but it diminishes the desire of citizens to participate and results in a less-useful product.
Sally Greene This is not a new issue, though perhaps the intensity of the issue is new. Chapel Hill has a very high participation rate, and in my experience it always has. Just as not all Council members develop the same areas of expertise, yet when we come together we bring a broad range of expertise, not all community members are going to be interested to the same level with every planning initiative. For example, the Rosemary Imagined project draws a different crowd than does the Central West project. So while it is unfortunate that they may meet at the same time, it is not disastrous, for two reasons: one, it’s a different crowd (though surely with some overlap); two, the Town is doing a better job than ever in recording and reporting on events, when possible via video, so that people can view them any time. Some meetings have included on-site day care. Other meetings can take place in non-traditional forums (see 1 above). Email is always available for citizens to give feedback, as, of course, are Council members.
Ed Harrison In almost three decades as a neighborhood activist – I didn’t stop being one when elected to Council – I’ve found that a solution to this is elusive. I’m willing to consider every potential solution.
Town government has begun in recent years to move to internet-based surveys, and all of them have been problematical. Council members have stated preference that budget issues, for example, should get survey results only from Town taxpayers. Because, “on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog” – or a Carrboro resident – this appears impossible to manage (account numbers on tax bills is the only approach I see).
Community groups can give more people “their say” through carefully organized public presentations. But that places so much of the burden on volunteers, those with “busy lives.” The increasing use of listservs and/or blogs appears to have helped information dispersal in major ways. But it’s rare that government staff at any level utilize internet approaches as fully as they can. So often, the obvious questions aren’t addressed. But I’d still advocate for more and more use of the internet and the many ways we now receive its products. Overall, I’d say that local government needs to get better at explaining its processes and products, and better and more focused about informing residents who have little time to deal with them.
Loren Hintz The town needs to do a better job of summarizing in one place all of the activities and their purposes. The town should create a spread sheet with topic, contact info, link to detailed info, purpose and implementation time line. No one individual can attend all of the meetings. This is why community organizations are important. Members of organizations can attend different meetings and report back. Also some task forces are neighborhood specific. I don’t think we should try to get a moratorium on the activities, but in some cases certain deadlines may need to be postponed.
Gary Kahn They can check newspaper and websites and then (send) email or letters.
Paul Neebe This is where I think elected officials come in. If a citizen has a concern, they should be able to contact their elected officials and receive some sort of personal response in a timely manner. Perhaps there could be a community update meeting planned every month with at least one Council member present.
Maria Palmer We need more transparency and everything needs to be on line and downloadable. Nobody (except perhaps Julie McClintock), can attend all the meetings, but we can still be informed and involved.
Amy Ryan The current pace of the 2020 implementation schedule is demanding at best, and it does restrict the ability of citizens to participate, as multiple events are now being held at the same time throughout town. The Planning Board is petitioning Council about this very issue, requesting that they slow down some of these processes so that there is more time for the public to understand and engage in discussions on the various issues and to attend the public meetings. I fully support our petition and hope that Council will take action to spread out the meetings so that community members will be able to engage on all these important issues.
DC Swinton A potential solution for this would be creating a list-serv for the carious projects transpiring in the Town. Citizens could sign up for updates regarding the events that interest them, and there could be separate e-mail in this system for comments, questions, and opinions.
9. The Town has hired a consultant to revise the Town’s land use ordinances. He recommends “form based code” for the Ephesus Church – Fordham focus area and other areas of Town to replace the special use permit and public hearing system of review. Please discuss the good and bad points of this proposed new method of development review.
George Cianciola A form-based code system, as being proposed for the Ephesus Church-Fordham focus area has the advantage of providing both citizens and applicants alike a clear idea of what the community wants to see be developed in a particular area. For instance, it can describe for an area what its future development’s mass should be, what its heights should be, what its setbacks should be. What it doesn’t usual do is define what a development’s design should be and, in Chapel Hill, that could be a serious drawback. The best laid-out and functional project will not be well-received if it does not ‘fit’ the area because of a less than desirable design.
I like the potential for clarity that form-based code can provide but I believe that we need to figure out where the design review might fit in and how that can be accomplished while maintaining the efficiency of such a system.
Ed Harrison There are many unanswered questions about how we would proceed with this. As usual, I’ve researched the experience of other communities. The most readily available example is the experience in Durham’s Ninth Street District, which I’ve so far reviewed with applicants and neighborhood advocates – both unhappy with it.
Most notable “good point”: a much shorter development review process, which matters much for projects of significant public benefit with tight exterior time constraints (e.g. proposed affordable housing on Town land). A Special Use Permit (SUP) can take a long time – but it’s increasingly puzzling to me why a project which may have less than an hour of Council hearing and discussion takes more than 6 months to be approved.
Most notable “bad” point: the significant reduction in public/Council review of specific development proposals. Our balky SUP process at least facilitates consideration of how a proposal matches our community priorities and values as shown in the comprehensive plan. Others: no clear way to rezone only limited parts of the district; no obvious rationales for proposed specific standards, which often seem arbitrary; no minima for vegetated area percentage; no addressing (even by reference) of tract-by-tract stormwater management, since an overall area plan for that does not yet exist.
Loren Hintz I have attended a number of meetings and studied documents about from based code. The current special use permit does allow the town to obtain some social benefits from new developments which the form based code does not permit. Also the current method allows a large amount of public participation. For most of the town I think special use permit process (but with a shorter time line) is appropriate. However, I think a carefully written form based code for the Ephesus Church- Fordham is appropriate with the modification of required analysis by a Community Design Review Board. This area is already very developed and difficult to navigate. I accept the argument that form based code will help it to become a better place in appearance, bike and pedestrian access and a boost to our economy. The Community Design Review will allow some public input which I believe will be useful. I don’t think the area needs the traditional site by site permit process. I also think that although we will not be able to require all of the desired social benefits, some, such as transportation, will be implemented because they will be advantageous for the success of the project. Finally, I think that over the long run this area, when developed, will actually generate more revenue for town projects such as affordable housing.
Sally Greene The advantages of form-based code to developers are that it gives assurance that they can anticipate costs and timeframes for their projects: and time is money. The advantages to the community are that creating the form-based code itself is a community process in which physical features of size and scale, etc. are determined. The community is the driver of the form. The disadvantages are in the public benefit part of the equation. Because the forms are just that—formulaic—there is no room to negotiate for benefits such as affordable housing or energy efficiency.
In Ephesus/Fordham, it makes sense to try this approach, for two reasons. One, we need every tool available to attract quality commercial/residential redevelopment. Two, we have a good chance of replacing a lot of the affordable rental that we’ll lose with the closing of Colony Apartments if we have the DHIC tax-credit project, which is in this area; also there is potentially another affordable residential project that is in the pipeline. So, thinking of the area as one whole, we can have an affordable housing solution and use form-based code. But I would want to be very careful about where else we were to use it.
Gary Kahn The good and bad points should be discussed at committee meetings.
Paul Neebe The good part of form based code is that a developer knows what the town wants in advance and can decide if they want to bring their project here.
The bad part about the current planned form based code is that it is too generic and doesn’t address many of the needs of Chapel Hill. For example: Form Based Code should have something that says a developer needs to yield to proposed Greenways. Another example, is that form based code should include a bicycle track (separated from traffic) and not just say that the complete streets program will take care of this. Of course these are my focus areas and I know there are other examples that need to be included in this form based code, if it is ever to be used with a beneficial effect on Chapel Hill.
Amy Ryan There are good reasons for Chapel Hill to make its development review more efficient – our current process is expensive in terms of staff time, advisory board time, and development costs. It also allows projects to get far along in the planning process before the public has a chance to weigh in on them, which reduces the effect and impact that community members can have on change in town.
It makes sense to me to plan proactively for the kind of growth, with meaningful citizen input from the beginning. But changes to the review process must be planned carefully, and I don’t support consigning project review to an administrative check-off. It’s important that we retain some public review, involving either a town advisory board or Council, and that there is still opportunity for public comment before a development receives the go-ahead.
I think a trial of this system at Ephesus-Fordham is a reasonable step to exploring new options for development review. If it proves successful, it could be adopted in other suitable areas in town; if we’re not happy with the results, we can look for better ways to improve the process.
Maria Palmer There are many good points to this system. The main one being the hope that the ugly eyesore that is Ram’s Plaza will become a great place to shop and live. We need to increase the amount of rental property and affordable housing as well as the commercial base. The plans seem to indicate this is possible and can be expedited with form based codes.
D.C. Swinton At this time, I do not have much knowledge regarding this particular Town subject. However, I do believe that all future development of Cahpel Hill lands must be environmentally sustainable.
10. How would you characterize your leadership style? Give an example of a successful project or process you led or participated in. What did you learn?
George Cianciola I believe in keeping an open mind, listening to what people have to say, and then trying to build consensus within a group. However, when it becomes clear that true consensus is not possible I believe in trying to find some common ground(s) by which opposing opinions can still be brought together to forge a position that everyone can live with.
I believe that the Special Transit Advisory Commission (STAC) and the Chapel Hill 2020 (CH2020) process, both of which I co-chaired are good examples. The STAC was a 29-member commission, with members representing six counties of the RTP area, which forged the beginnings of a regional transit plan for the area. Although true consensus was not always possible, a plan emerged from a year’s worth of meetings in which everyone got at least part of what they wanted. I think CH2020, with a significantly greater number of participants, posed a different sort of challenge. Nonetheless, at the end of the process there emerged a vision of what Chapel Hill should look like over the next decade that a majority of citizens could embrace.
Sally Greene Thoughtful, collaborative, inclusive, and informed. To fulfill my 2003 campaign promise of enacting an inclusionary zoning ordinance, I proposed to set up a stakeholder task force. Membership included interested citizens, developers, nonprofit housing providers, a real estate professional and a real estate attorney, and one other Council member as co-chair. I learned as much as I could about the way inclusionary zoning ordinances worked around the country, and how they could work under NC’s legal constraints. I consulted with planning staff in Davidson, NC, which already had such an ordinance. We brought in local attorneys and land use professors to advise us. We brought positions to the table, assessed trade-offs, and reached common ground.
After the task force concluded its work, we still needed professional help to bring the ordinance into formal shape. First we hired an out-of-town consultant, who only consulted with us once by telephone. His result was not well received; it was as if he had ignored the task force’s work! We tried again with a local consultant who respected the format and the substance of the work, and he knew the community. Much better result.
Ed Harrison In four words, low key and deliberate. It’s not my style to come into a community committee, give an oration on how the group is doing, or might be doing, and then leave. I try to have a large number of systematic and intentional phone conversations with the full range of stakeholders on an issue. In a land use case, it’s best to do this early on in a process, because the SUP process eliminates almost all stakeholder communication for Council members.
In the public’s hearing, I try to get key issues on the record for all parties to hear, and then listen carefully to any reaction from involved parties.
The most memorable recent example of this approach was my leadership role in forcing the relocation of both a major future transit alignment (rail or rapid bus), and a major future road, away from both the state-significant Little Creek Natural Heritage Area and Meadowmont. The impacts to the latter were far more severe than had been contemplated in the late 1990s; the impacts to the former had not even been considered until I brought them up starting in 2008.
I had (and have) the multiple roles of Council member, regional Transportation Advisory Member, Triangle Transit Trustee, and plant community ecologist. I worked with many in all four categories to establish a major priority shift in a regional long range plan. What I learned (again) is that plans are not necessarily cast in stone if the facts – and committed people – show that they can be changed.
Loren Hintz I listen, analyze and try to create consensus of the group. If consensus is not possible I want to make sure everyone understands the rationale of minority opinions and that everyone is polite. I was a member of the Fordham Blvd Safety Task Force. We had town staff support, university pedestrian safety consultants, and citizens from the neighborhood. We worked together to come to a series of recommendations for improvements to the intersections but also how to improve pedestrian safety around town. I used my position on the Neighborhood Association Board to explain to our neighbors the plan. I repeatedly talked to the Town Traffic Engineer and the Town Council to advocate for timely implementation. Eventually the lighting, pedestrian walk and sidewalks were installed. The Bridge/Tunnel was placed on the town priority list. I learned that it is difficult but not impossible to get DOT to agree to some nontraditional installations. I also learned how expensive relatively simple changes cost and how something like a bridge is beyond normal budget. I also learned that unless citizens continually remind staff and Council about our research, it often is not incorporated. (I recently shared with the Obey Creek Compass Committee members our pedestrian safety research.)
Gary Kahn I am not afraid to say what’s on my mind by going to Town Council meetings. I addressed the Town Council on the cell phone ban, Yates Building, bus sign ads, Obey Creek and Southern Village Hotel. I learned how Chapel Hill works.
Paul Neebe I have two different leadership styles. One is to empower people do their jobs and find great people to do those jobs. When this is unsuccessful, then I take over to find those wonderful people and if possible do their job until suitable replacements can be found. When I joined the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board we had several vacancies and a problem of rarely having a quorum. This hindered our ability to be effective. Staff was unable to change the rules, so that we could just have a majority of members and call that a quorum. Consequently I spoke every bicycle rider that I saw when driving around and told them we needed them on the Board. Now we have a group of wonderful people.
I could also elaborate on music projects that I have done which encompasses many skills that can be transferred to all aspects of life and government.
Maria Palmer I believe in facilitative leadership. I practiced this as a group co-chair for Chapel Hill 2020 with great results. I try to listen to all sides and work on the points where we agree and build from there. I learned that we agree more than we disagree, and that we can find better solutions through compromise than we initially brought to the table.
Amy Ryan In general, I’m most comfortable working collaboratively with others in trying to reach a solution that is acceptable to the group as a whole.
This approach was very successful during the organizing phase of the Central West process, where I helped to lead the meetings where the community drafted their recommendations to Council for the framework of the Central West process.
I’ve also been a leader during the main phase of the Central West process, as one of the steering committee co-chairs. This new process is much more complex than the organizing phase and been more demanding of me as a leader. We have a group of 17 very diverse town stakeholders, and we face the difficult task of making hard, specific decisions about change in the area.
I have tried through my leadership to be open-minded and listen to all the different stakeholders and weigh all the different trade-offs we must consider. The Central West process has taught me about how important it is to make people feel heard, and how challenging it can be to keep a group working effectively when there are so many different stakeholders and so many difficult trade-offs to be weighed.
D.C. Swinton I would describe myself as a strong, attentive leader who incorporates the opinions of my peers into my decision making. I do the “boring, dirty work,” delegate responsibilities, and hold my peers accountable. While in South Carolina, I was a member of the Palmetto Environmental Action Coalition, a statewide college group that focused on educating the public and the protection of South Carolina’s natural resources. In 2009, we collaborated with the Coastal Conservation League and the League of Conservation Voters to fight the establishment of a new coal-fired power plant along the Pee Dee River. The coastal customers of Santee Cooper were to foot the bill with a rate hike, with low-income and minority communities suffering from more mercury in their water and sulfur dioxide in their air. In this effort, I went door-to-door to collect support for hearings, organized conference calls discussing PEAC’s plan of action, and personally spoke out against the plant at a Myrtle Beach hearing. With our hard work, Santee Cooper canceled its intentions.