A new grassroots citizen group wants to make a change in local growth and town leaders.
The Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town, or CHALT, was founded in part by residents opposed to plans for the area around the MLK Boulevard-Estes Drive intersection and the Ephesus-Fordham district.
“We feel that a lot of folks in Chapel Hill are not too happy with the direction that the town is going,” longtime resident Tom Henkel said. “We feel that there ought to be a new way to do development and do other planning.”
The group will throw itself a “coming out” party from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday in Meeting Room B at the Chapel Hill Public Library.
It wants to talk with the community about what makes Chapel Hill a livable town and how to keep it that way, said Julie McClintock, a former Town Council member. The group is open to all opinions, she said.
It will also be looking for strong candidates to support in this year’s Town Council and mayoral elections. The group wants to preserve Chapel Hill’s university town charm, its trees, diversity, locally owned businesses and smaller-scale buildings, members said.
“There’s a lot more people in Chapel Hill than those who have already been involved, and we’re not going to foreclose the possibility there could be some really great voices out there that we just haven’t encountered yet,” David Schwartz said.
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt’s term and those of four council members – Matt Czajkowski, Jim Ward, Donna Bell and Lee Storrow – expire this year. None have announced campaign plans, but candidate filing doesn’t open until July 6.
Kleinschmidt was in Washington, D.C., this week for the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He had heard about CHALT and said he’s looking forward to the competition if he runs for re-election.
“I’m hoping for a high-road, civil level of engagement,” he said.
The community will change, Kleinschmidt said, but what’s important is how the council guides that change and reflects community interests.
“I think it’s great we have people in our community who want to have a conversation about our town,” he said. “I think it might actually make our elections even more interesting and engaging for voters.”
Many residents think the council isn’t interested in listening to them, Henkel said. It’s a big change from previous councils that, he said, used public comments to make town policies and plans better.
The result has been taller buildings – up to seven stories under Ephesus-Fordham’s new form-based code – but little public green space and affordable housing, CHALT members said. There is no comprehensive plan for how to improve flooding and other stormwater issues, they said, or handle the traffic that larger developments could bring.
The town, instead of using Chapel Hill’s wealth of UNC and community experts, has relied on expensive consultants, they said. A“bloated” communications office and difficulty paying for transit and other services reflect unwise financial decisions being made in Town Hall.
A “sizable group” of residents are looking for a new direction, Schwartz said. The group says it has 700 people on its mailing list.
“Hopefully, we will get people who have their own concerns and reservations about some of the changes that have occurred recently, concerns about the decisions our government has been making and the processes by which those decisions are arrived at, and let them know they are not alone,” he said.