Candidates for Chapel Hill mayor and council agreed on community values such as affordable housing, environmental protections and increased commercial development at recent forums. They differed in how they want to achieve those goals.
Three people are in the race for mayor: Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, Pam Hemminger and Gary Kahn. Nine candidates are seeking four open council seats: incumbents Donna Bell, Lee Storrow and Jim Ward; and Jessica Anderson, Adam Jones, Paul Neebe, Nancy Oates, Michael Parker and David Schwartz.
Forums were sponsored respectively by the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town and the Orange County Council on Aging, and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, Sierra Club, and WCHL and Chapelboro.com.
Neebe was out of town last week and missed both forums; Jones was absent Thursday.
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Early voting for the Nov. 3 municipal and Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board elections begins Oct. 22. Chapel Hill also has a $40.3 million bond on the ballot.
Hemminger, in the mayor’s race, said she challenged Kleinschmidt because of the “huge disconnect” between town decisions and community desires.
The former Orange County commissioner wants to make it easier to get development permits, bring in more office space and attract creative industries. She also wants more green space, energy-efficient buildings, affordable housing and collaboration with the county, UNC and other partners, she said.
The town has already streamlined the development process, Kleinschmidt said. He’s also proud of stronger erosion controls and some affordable rentals and projects, such as the Carolina Square redevelopment, that will add office space.
Kahn described himself as an alternative candidate who would give every resident a voice. He considers the 24 percent of the vote he won in an unsuccessful bid for the county commissioners’ District 1 seat last year a “mandate” for his mayoral run.
Two camps have emerged in this year’s council race: those who support the town’s current direction, and those who think the council is trading community values for more tax dollars.
Incumbents Bell and Storrow said the council has worked hard to balance competing interests and needs.
Bell cited her work as co-chair of the Mayor’s Committee on Affordable Rental Housing, which has developed a plan for working with nonprofit, development and government partners. Changes to the Northside community near downtown also are aimed at preserving lower-cost homes, she said.
Other positive changes include planned and completed bike, pedestrian and transit amenities, she said, and dense development that will bring financial benefits to the town.
Storrow cited the council’s work to get more affordable apartments, help establish entrepreneurial incubators and strengthen local transit and stormwater standards.
He touted, among his individual accomplishments, an aggressive push for office and retail space, collaboration to build the Rogers Road Community Center and seeking citizen input through office hours and community meetings.
The council has done a good job identifying where more dense development is possible, Ward said, although he rejected the Ephesus-Fordham form-based code district because it didn’t include an offer to swap density for affordable housing.
While the town also did a good job navigating the economic downturn and is wrapping up a long-term financial study of Chapel Hill Transit, Ward said, the dialogue with citizens could be better. He also plans to continue pushing for UNC and UNC Health Care to join the housing discussion, he said.
The council is not perfect, Parker said, but he challenged critics who say members have not listened to citizens or town advisory boards. Many different opinions fed into the Central West small-area plan, for instance, said the former steering committee co-chairman.
Jones agreed but said he also understands why many citizens feel frustrated. The town is run well on a daily basis but has become “a concrete jungle,” he said.
The town also relies too heavily on consultants, he said, instead of its advisory boards and council members. He urged limiting council members to two consecutive terms, or eight years.
Parker said his focus, if elected, would be creating more and better jobs, more housing for local workers, expanded local and regional transit and a responsive, responsible government. He called the Obey Creek negotiations “flawed.”
While the developer had a clear vision for the land, Parker said, council members appeared to be reacting rather than pursuing the town’s own vision. A stronger project analysis still could have ended with the council’s approval, he said, but made residents more comfortable with the decision.
Schwartz pushed during the Obey Creek and other development discussions for more details and analysis. He wants the council to consult local experts and pay more attention to citizen and advisory board recommendations, he said.
The council needs members who will protect the town from development that ignores fiscal and environmental effects, creates exclusive homes and pushes out small, local businesses, Schwartz said.
The Ephesus-Fordham district lacks specific design guidelines and strong incentives for affordable housing, green space and other community needs, he said, while Obey Creek does not reflect what nearby residents wanted for their neighborhood.
Anderson and Oates cited both development decisions as examples of how the council needs to show more consideration for crowded local schools. Developer and government claims that few children will live in new apartment buildings are baseless, Anderson said.
She expects the next five years to provide many opportunities to grow and build on the community’s strengths and values, she said.
That future, Oates said, should include affordable housing for local workers that isn’t at risk of flooding. The town also needs affordable spaces for offices and light industry, such as a business that uses 3-D printing technology to manufacture its parts, she said.
The grassroots citizen group Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town – CHALT – announced at a news conference Monday that the group would support three candidates for Chapel Hill Town Council – David Schwartz, Jessica Anderson and Nancy Oates. The group decided not to endorse a fourth candidate, although four seats are on the Nov. 3 ballot.
CHALT members also agreed to support former Orange County Commissioner Pam Hemminger in the Chapel Hill mayor’s race.
Hemminger is challenging Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, who has been endorsed by two organizations so far: Equality North Carolina and the Triangle Labor Council of the AFL-CIO.
Both groups also endorsed Donna Bell, Michael Parker, Lee Storrow and Jim Ward for Town Council. Storrow and Kleinschmidt also were endorsed by the Victory Fund, a gay and lesbian political action committee.