OP Live Candidate Forum: Carrboro Board of Aldermen Special Election

Kirk Ross's picture

Thanks for joining us

Hello and welcome to the Orange Politics forum for the special election for the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. Voters will be asked to choose between three candidates to fill a vacancy on the board created last fall when Lydia Lavelle won election as mayor.Thanks to our candidates for participating.In general, you’ll have about ten minutes to get your answers in, but I’m going to reserve the right to some follow ups and you can expect a lightning round at some point.First question for our candidates:What are the challenges facing Carrboro that you want to focus on should you be elected?

Major Issues

First of all I'd like to thank the Residents of Carrboro, Kirk, Orange Politics, and my fellow candidates for this debate.

 

Since declaring my candidacy and speaking with residents, business owners, and both town employees and members of our current administration, it seems clear that the major issues facing this Town are:

1. Change Management - dealing with the accelerated population growth as it pertains to:

  • Parking
  • Zoning/Development
  • Balancing the Essence of the Town

2. Affordable Housing - It is hypocritcal to say that Carrboro advocates affordable housing when in fact it is in the top fifth percentile Statewide in terms of effective property tax rates. This has to be solved by realigning the tax base (through the encouragement of diverse businesses)

3.  Attracting Businesses and Entrepreneurship - This is through ease of land use ordinences and encouraging incubators and proposed Urban Economic Zones (I can go into detail on this)

4. Increasing Civic Engagement, especially among Young Voters - Most residents I've spoken to don't know who the Aldermen are or how this town is governed/run. I would like to increase education and promote more engagement.

Challenges Facing Carrboro

First: The need for more affordable and diverse housing in Carrboro, particularly for lower-wage families, seniors who want to age in place, people on fixed incomes and with special needs.  This will require a dedicated source of funding, ideally collaboratively with the County.

Second:  Expanding the economic base and our local living economy, not only to increase tax revenues, but to create meaningful jobs and income for people who live in and near Carrboro.  This requires a strong infrastructure, including updated, effective stormwater management systems; technological capacity (fast fiber optic, expanded public wi-fi); and parking systems that work for employees and customers.  These things will help make our economic base more resilient and sustainable.

Third.  The town is growing, the landscape, treeline/skyline is changing, and there's been a lot of discomfort and even some conflict as this has happened.  I support shifting energy away from engineering change tomanaging change.  This requires some humility, patience, and constructive community engagement.  Small area planning could help with creating clarity for neighborhoods and developers as to expectations for the future.  
  • I also support creating a citizen's guide to zoning and development, a recommendation from a recent community dialogue series, would help residents know when and how to enter a development process before it's too late.

challenges

1.      
 Affordable Housing – we need to explore how
affordable housing is being offered and its pricing structures for
residents.  Often, residents can be
pr8iced out the current  pricing
structures because the available affordable housing is sometimes too expensive.

2.      
Roger’s Road Sewage and Water project – We need
to address how structures are approved for this low income area.  Often, residents in this section of the town
are adversely impacted by growth and development new the interstate.

3.      
Sustainability/Environment – While Carrboro has
made reasonable progress in this area, we need to evaluate how well plans are
established in implemented relative to the continuing large population growth
of Carrboro which has doubled in size since 2000.

CVS

The CVS issue taught us a couple good lessons:1- Zoning issues are convuluted and take a long time to solve. If hurdles imposed by the differences between conditional use, special use, etc. etc. are too difficult for a national corporation to navigate through, how can we expect to attract any business that may challenge our current land use permits? I hope that the same issues don't face the new Woodhill development on S. Greensboro or entrepreneurs/manufacturing that wants to bring long term and high quality jobs to the area. 2- Carrboro residents are passionate about their town. The buy-in from the residents is extremely important. I think residents want to see more forward thinking and smaller stores as opposed to large corporations that we believe to be unethical or threatening to the social fabric of our community.

CVS Process

My takeaway is that the Conditional Use Zoning (CUZ) process chosen by the developer did not serve either the developer or Carrboro well in this instance.  A CUZ application can give the Town some flexibility to entertain, say, a creative idea for a particular parcel.  If a decision can be made on that permit application that simultaneously takes into account design and the appropriateness of the rezoning portion of the application, then it can work well. 

In this case, the application was complicated by other issues--the polarization over CVS itself, for example--that distracted the Town from the process.  For about a year and a half, decision makers like the Planning Board, on which I serve, focused on design issues, or form.  We should have asked the question first about whether rezoning could be tolerated.  That was a mistake.  We could have avoided a lot of community anxiety by addressing rezoning first, because this larger question of conditional use would have been settled early in the process.

CVS

The takeaway is that Carrboro residents can be very vocal and persistent in their opinions. I think that Carrboro learned that a much better way to communicating proposed business and the community is needed, particularly through public forums.

Parking - The Issue with Charged Parking

Carrboro is growing at a pace that surpasses the current infrastructure for parking, especially in downtown Carrboro.Charging for parking will hurt the business owners, who have invested most of their time, energy, and capital in our town and provide a (still small) but significant portion of our revenues. This town CANNOT sustain itself with an 80/20 split of Property Taxes/Sales Taxes, and charging for parking will only make that worse. We are also going to lose the 300 spots that we are leasing from the 300 E Main garage in 2018. It is leased at $90,000/yr and most of our municipal lots are leased by the town, with the exception of the 203 S.  Greensboro St lot (next to Open Eye.)It is also clear that a "Parking Sharing" agreement is not going to work, because the competition for finite land and spaces is only going to grow more fierce (Solution upcoming)   Prosper Carrboro!
www.talalforcarrboro.com
www.facebook.com/talalderman
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parking

It is very obvious that parking in Carrboro will continue to be a challenge, particularly because of the ever increasing population within Carrboro and in the surrounding community.  It will be more difficult over time to not have to charge for additional parking.  There needs to be a public forum regarding managed parking and town directed parking so that we can strike a reasonable balance between the small town feel of Carrboro and the push for continuing growth and expansion.

Parking

A really good question, and I'm not sure we can answer this well until we have all the data from the parking study that was recently authorized.  I support master planning for parking, which is beginning to happen, with an eye to changing car and transit usage.  I'm not sure we know what impact the 300 East Main parking deck has had yet, and we don't know whether a collaborative approach to using privately-owned lots during off-hours or even peak hours to fill the need is possible.  This could require subsidy of some kind.  From my perspective, the jury is out.  I'd like us to concentrate on a thorough planning process that examines data, that takes into account pending developments, transit changes, and so on, before discounting any option to accomodate parking and encourage transit use.  Eventually this could include some managed parking that is not free at all times. 

Parking is never free...taxpayers and businesses pay for it now.  The question is whether we want people to pay at the meter or pay with their tax dollars in the future. 

Kirk Ross's picture

Interesting

Thanks. a quick follow up: How is the town going to afford the deck and will it have any commercial spaces in it?

 Great question, but I'd

 Great question, but I'd like to follow up with How can the town NOT afford the deck with the projected increase in population and current strain on the business owners? Revenue streams will need to be generated from the deck by selling Commercial and Permitted spaces and Electic Vehicle Charging stationsThe solar array will be completely paid for by investors looking to achieve the tax credits that only private business are eligible for (This project has been discussed with local solar companies and business owners). It is a perfect example of Private-Public partnerships.The other costs will have to be achieved from financing and consolidation of less performing lots that we currently lease.  Prosper Carrboro!
www.talalforcarrboro.com
www.facebook.com/talalderman
www.twitter.com/talalderman

Kirk Ross's picture

Question 4 — Library

Where do you think would be a good spot for a new branch library that would serve Carrboro and southwestern Orange County? What types of programs must it include?

 Seeing how passionate

 Seeing how passionate Carrboro residents were at the last Proposed Library Meeting at Hickory Tavern was encouraging.I think the prposed location as part of the 300 E Main complex is great as it satisfies the parking needs, which would be nightmarish. (Proposal calls for expansion of the current 300 E Main deck) I think we need to work with Chapel Hill library systems in a book/resource sharing agreement.   Prosper Carrboro!
www.talalforcarrboro.com
www.facebook.com/talalderman
www.twitter.com/talalderman

Library

I opposed the first site proposed by the County on Hillsborough Road, because I felt strongly that we needed to place this community asset closer to lower-income neighborhoods and someplace with more accessible transit and pedestrian options.  I like the proposed Brewer Lane site, although I am concerned about its visibility.  I like it because it's close to Manley Estates, close to Northside, the Hargraves Center, and the Pine Knolls community.  It's also accessible by any mode of transportation without much inconvenience, even for rural residents.I attended the first of the two Engagement meetings sponsored by Friends of the Library and Orange County, and I loved ideas to make the library a center for ideation, a place with open access to digital learning and discovery, and for learning about Orange County and Carrboro history.  The Friends of the Library are an excellent resource for a wealth of cultural arts programs that would bring the community together.  With the ArtsCenter nearby, there are lots of opportunities for cross-polination and for engaging public schools.  And I wouldn't mind some coffee.  The project is exciting and I hope the Board of Commissioners and Aldermen are able to move forward together to make it happen.  Great work so far.   

Library

Two options for a new branch library could include West Highway 54 and Lower Smith Level Road.  The minimum types of programs really need to include specific children’s programs, programs for Carrboro’s growing retired populations, reading programs, computer literacy programs, small business workshop programs, worker skills programs, and research programs.

Affordable Housing

Unfortunately, according to State Law, the municipal government does not have much leeway in terms of dictating affordable housing ordinances. The Town is not allowed to cap rents or limit rent increases.However, the Town has the ability to continue providing its wonderful services without sacrificing its revenue streams by diversifying its sources of income away from the home and property owners.Carrboro currently has one of the state's largest effective combined property tax rates (ranks 32nd out of 730 municipalities or the 96th percentile).It is hypocritical for Carrboro to bill itself as a town that is dedicated to affordable housing, when in fact it has a higher property tax rate than Charlotte or even Chapel Hill.

  • Realign the tax base of the city back to the businesses.

In order to provide public services, the Town earns about 80% of its income from two main sources, property taxes and local businesses sales taxes, of which 78% of those two sources are property taxes. A healthy ratio should be around 65%/35% property to sales tax.Looking at trends from 2008-2012, adjusted for inflation, property taxes in Carrboro have remained nearly stagnant with only a slight decrease while sales taxes have declined significantly, to the order of 16.6%!As a percentage of total revenue, the share of property taxes has increased about 4% while the share of elastic revenues (such as sales tax) has decreased 4%. The burden is clearly on the home and property owners in this case.The formula is very simple: increased sales = increased tax revenue. The Town must encourage business and commerce. The Town has to stop stifling growth over bureaucratic red tape, parking, zoning, and planning issues.

  • Pledge a percentage of yearly budget surpluses to the Affordable Housing fund.

The Town of Carrboro does a wonderful job of accurately forecasting costs and balancing their budget. So well, in fact, that the Town has had operating revenue surpluses in the last 6 fiscal years!On top of the funds that are appropriated to Affordable Housing, a portion of yearly surpluses should be made in the next fiscal year to the fund.

  • Work for Carrboro? Live in Carrboro!

Carrboro should incentivize town employees (Aldermen excluded) to live in town by providing tax breaks or other means to keep public employees in the town they serve.A greater sense of community can be fostered and this would affect the likelihood of encouraging a greater sense of urgency and pride for those who work so hard to keep our town running smoothly and safely.

Requiring housing

Actually, Kirk, the town's inclusionary zoning policy is entirely voluntary, but is incentivized with a density bonus that currently isn't all that attractive in this market.  Zoning isn't the trigger.

Kirk Ross's picture

hmmm

OK. I'm probably focusing too much on my experience covering the town next door. Zoning certainly gives towns more leverage to ask for it. 

First is that we need to

First is that we need to move forward on the recommendations that the BoA's Affordable Housing Task Force will present later this month.  Among these, the one that is most important is establishing a meaningful, dedicated funding source.  I think this needs to be done collaboratively with the County.We also need to be aggressive and creative about identifying land, rehabilitation, or redevelopment opportunities for affordable housing, and work with a non-profit developer to attract Low Income Housing Tax Credit resources to help finance it.  In general, working with the Orange County Affordable Housing Coalition will be really key to being proactive without overburdening our limited staff and resources.Finally, we need a diverse housing stock that reflects the spectrum of economic means here.  The Task Force recommendations reflect this understanding, suggesting that we review how to encourage density, innovative housing models, small houses, "granny flats," cooperative models, etc.  This may require land use changes in the future, but I'm eager to start looking at the possibilities in earnest.

Affordable Housing

We need to explore how affordable housing is being offered and its pricing structures for residents.  Often, residents can be priced out the current pricing structures because the existing affordable housing is sometimes too expensive.  We need to have business/housing community forums where the need for jobs and affordable housing can be more thoroughly discussed and examined.  We need to help businesses grow so that more jobs are available.  Additionally, we need to advocate for better ways to link affordable housing residents with more job opportunities.Additionally, we need to explore to see if there is a better way to encourage and incentivize landlords, especially landlords of large apartment buildings, to have a percentage of their units be available to lower income residents.  Work more closely with landlords encouraging them to be part of solution for affordable housing in our community.

 Absolutely! This is such a

 Absolutely!This is such a huge service for our fellow residents as well as our close neighbors in Chapel Hill. Bringing the two towns together allows for greater access, which is a cornerstone policy of my campaign. This also reduces the burden on traffic and parking. In fact, we should increase hours operation and bus access. Making this resource available to all is beneficial and promotes the Town's ethos of sustainability and promoting a diverse culture.  Prosper Carrboro!
www.talalforcarrboro.com
www.facebook.com/talalderman
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Oh gosh, yes, we need to

Oh gosh, yes, we need to remain fare free.  I support creative ways to help Chapel Hill Transit make up for the lost dollars, in addition to adjusting our budget in the most moderate way possible.  Are there other grant dollars out there that we are missing?  Are there other fee-for-service activities that make sense? (Game day shuttles...)  Are there supplementary services we can provide in other ways, like reintroducing some sort of trolley circuit supported by grant funding, sponsorship dollars, crowdfunding, or nighttime riders looking for a safe alternative to driving?  I don't know all the answers, but I do know that  Brian Litchfield already has demonstrated terrific leadership and I'll welcome the opportunity to work with our sister funders to find the right-sized solutions.

Transit

I do support an increase in the transit budget to make upfor dwindling federal dollars. Unfortunately, it is a necessary reality because of our current situation.  Beside of that reality, it will be very difficult to continue the fare free policy, and begrudgingly I would support a very small rider fee in order to not increase taxes somewhere else.

Height Restriction

Yes, I support the current restriction of five stories.  It's a suitable to the human scale and to encourage density in underutilized, high-traffic areas. I personally don't want to see every new building at that scale.  When carefully and wisely placed, buildings of five or fewer stories can complement the downtown landsape, offer at-scale spaces for larger businesses (including office and commercial), and can include residential components.

Slow

Yes.  Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeessssssssssssssssssss.  Slow is good downtown.  Let's all go to Open Streets and see the possibility!

Connector roads

Yes, although I understand the concerns that residential neighborhoods have when the connectors are abused by drivers who speed and use them as "cut-throughs."  I think these concerns can be mitigated with traffic calming, but residents need to be engaged to find the right calming solution.  Speed bumps, humps, spikes, whatever...they aren't for everyone.  We need other options.

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