Live Blog: Sierra Club-Chamber of Commerce Carrboro Candidate Forum

The Orange-Chatham Group of the Sierra Club and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce are jointly hosting a Carrboro candidate forum this evening at Carrboro Town Hall. Sleep-deprived OP editor Damon Seils attempts to live-blog.

Live-tweeting the forum: @carolinachamber



Welcome, everyone! The Sierra Club-Chamber of Commerce forum for Carrboro candidates will begin in a moment.All of the candidates have arrived. There's nothing like a Friday night forum to bring out the crowds. The rain has stopped, and a dozen or so enthusiastic audience members dot the room.

Barbara Jessie-Black is moderating.

CHILTON: Running to continue work of last 6 years. Planning to make this his last term as mayor. Feels need to follow through on town manager hiring, expanding sidewalks/greenways/bike lanes, and planning process for appropriate commercial growth.COLEMAN: Organized a forum many years ago jointly with Sierra Club and NAACP. These kinds of connections are important. Connection between economy, ecology, and community deeply understood here.FOUSHEE: Uniquely qualified because of previous service. Carrboro is wonderful, but not all stakeholders well-represented.JOHNSON: Experience as staff and board member in nonprofits and in schools as social worker. Wants to bring knowledge and experience to the board.LAVELLE: Environmental and economic development issues come up in her duties as liaison to Planning Board. Also liaison to regional transit boards.


How do you balance econ dev and environmental protection priorities? Which should be the priority for our community at this time?CHILTON: Hard to imagine this is anything but a trick question. Sets up a false dichotomy between the two. Carrboro is trying to achieve econ dev that does protect the environment.COLEMAN: Economics is about how we measure well-being, and nothing is more fundamental to well-being than the health of the planet. Local examples: Chapel Hill Tire has done wonderful green innovations with the renovations at their business. Another example: Sammy Slade was local environmental activist who became chair of Economic Sustainability Commission because he knows the two issues are connected.FOUSHEE: They go hand in hand, but econ development goes first. Need to relieve problems with tax base, which will require bringing in large, clean economic development, including the infrastructure.JOHNSON: Also sees this as false dichotomy. Example is Energy WISE program in Carrboro, in which homes and businesses can undergo efficiency assessments and seek loans for upgrades. People from our community can do those upgrades.LAVELLE: Question is one we're constantly balancing. One way to achieve balance is through financing of Chapel Hill Transit—better for environment and supports local economy and events downtown.


What will do you to create local work opportunities?COLEMAN: Brought in Michael Shuman to bring perspective on how to create value through local entrepreneurship. Looks ahead to the town helping local businesses networking, use revolving loan fund to sustain businesses. Also need to look at development process and zoning to optimize local econ dev.FOUSHEE: Town is doing a fairly good job of attracting businesses. Must continue those endeavors. But missing opportunity with [?] building. Support of sales tax will make county and town attractive to businesses.JOHNSON: Revolving loan fund is good example of how to support new businesses. Believes in local living economy, people working and living in same community. Affordable housing is important to achieving this. Community events like music festival and art walk attract people and support local businesses.LAVELLE: We work to do this by reviewing developments in light of need for new commercial space -- such as Ballentine and Claremont developments. Another way is by supporting the quarter-cent sales tax to improve schools, which prepares our children to get good jobs.CHILTON: Need conversation with county commissioners about the sales tax. Supports the tax, but we need to ask the question, Are there funds there to solve some of Carrboro's infrastructure problems? For example, the water line under Hwy 54.


Climate change. Agree it's a crisis? If so, what steps should we take to reduce our CO2 emissions?FOUSHEE: Agree. First, provide better safety and more bike lanes. Walking opportunities. We should have clearly defined walk/bike separated paths to provide safe transport btwn Carr and CH.JOHNSON: Agrees; married to an ecologist. Walks to work and lives in heart of downtown. Need to support local living economy and sustain local businesses. Also, regional transit. Finally, programs like Energy WISE.LAVELLE: County reports provide evidence of local emissions issues. Transit is important, and green building is also very important to addressing emissions. Also, open space requirement in developments creates smaller building footprints.CHILTON: Sees this as a consumption issue first. That's where emissions come from. Clearly it's a crisis situation. This is something we have local control over. Public transit tax in 2012 would be big step forward to support public transportation, reduce consumption of fossil fuels, and support appropriate land uses.COLEMAN: Raising a child. Deeply concerned about his future with respect to climate change. Has been involved in leading town staff to apply for stimulus funds for energy improvements. Also agrees with economic localization as a way to reduce impact on climate change. Has been a leader on this issue.


How will you help small enterprises thrive?JOHNSON: Local living economy and the Our Local Deal are good programs that keep money local and encourage people to support local business. Economic development director has good relationships, should be fostered. Also, mutual support among local businesses should be encouraged.LAVELLE: Our new econ dev director will be one of the catalysts behind these efforts. We should look at ways to use revolving loan fund to help local businesses expand. Econ dev director can help educate on loan fund. Second, a lot of business get upfront help, but we should also stay engaged with them.CHILTON: Number one thing as mayor on this issue is keep door open to business people, understand their challenges, and help them navigate the system. Real power of the office, however, is like what he was doing last night: went to OWASA board meeting to advocate for Main Street business owners to resolve a sewer problem. Not sexy, but important work for a mayor.COLEMAN: Alderman leads by example: shop at local businesses for as many of your needs as possible. This sends message to businesses that the town cares. When new business opens, he visits, meets owners, tells them about econ dev office. Serves on the town's Economic Sustainability Commission because he is deeply concerned about business success in Carrboro.FOUSHEE: Revolving loan fund is fine, but should enhance it by putting out more information about how the fund operates. Especially needs an emergency component. When disaster strikes a business, loan fund could be good way to support business coming back. Also wants to inject tax funds into the loan fund because he thinks the fund is low.


Raise hands if you support the sales tax referendum.They all raised their  hands, of course.


With expansion of towns over next 20 years, how do we keep water supply clean and adequate. Specifically, any changes to Jordan Lake allocation needed, or are there alternatives to this?LAVELLE: We have recently been in disussions with OWASA about this issue. The conflict is that we want to retain a clean water utility. Don't want to go to Jordan Lake unless we have to. Right now, we have the ability to access water through Durham and other regional partners. The new proposal is not yet acceptable to the Board of Aldermen because the definition of emergency kicks in too soon.CHILTON: We have a reservation at Jordan Lake, our level 2 allocation. This is a reasonable position for us to be in. Wise to stay in that position, have possibility to use it if needed. Shouldn't pursue direct access right now. We have an adequate water supply. OWASA's own projections show only a small possibility of a problem, and only if we grow at the maximum projected rate. But we aren't growing at that rate and aren't likely to grow at that rate.COLEMAN: Current level 2 allocation is over 30-year time frame. OWASA's projections do not support notion that we need water from a higher-level access in the shorter term.FOUSHEE: Doesn't want any changes in the OWASA agreement, just need an understanding of the agreement. Supports the agreement.JOHNSON: Emergency situation already gives us access to other water. Doesn't think we need to amend the agreement. Need to focus on conservation first. Carrboro citizens have shown they can do this well. Look for ways to subsidize costs for lower-income communities.


Modifications in rural buffer?CHILTON: Doesn't support changes in areas adjacent to Carrboro. Hasn't heard proposals to do that. Chapel Hill may be considering something, but he has reservations about that.COLEMAN: Big fan of the urban services boundary and the rural buffer. Environmentally proactive measure. Antidote to sprawl, as the Sierra Club has recognized. Rural buffer helps us do smarter econ development, density that is smart for the environment and puts people close to businesses.FOUSHEE: Doesn't see making changes.JOHNSON: Agrees. No changes. Protects the environment and controls sprawl. Forces us to be creative.LAVELLE: Agrees. Don't mess with the rural buffer. Controls sprawl. Promotes infill, reuse of existing properties, creative ways of working in existing footprint.


Based on current construction projections, SAPFO will be triggered and no certificates of adequate public facilities will be issued, thus stopping new residential construction in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. If this happens, what should Board of Aldermen do?COLEMAN: Relates to county's ability to construct new schools. Carrboro can do little more than advocate. What we have done successfully is, when county creates new schools, we have expedited permitting and approval process through our town's system. This is the best means at our disposal to help move school construction along.FOUSHEE: Puts us in an interesting situation. Golden opportunity to pass the new sales tax, get econ dev house in order, and relieve that situation.JOHNSON: As former school social worker, values our high-quality education system. If we grow, we risk increasing class sizes and affecting education quality. Our children are a valuable export if/when they leave the community. Curious about impact of large faimilies moving here for schools then leaving when they no longer need them.LAVELLE: Though it is an agreement between the parties, it relies on the school district's projections. We need to be responsible about development to support them, especially as a community that tends to grow more residentially that commercially.CHILTON: Question is fatalistically worded and depends on a lot of variables. Last time we were facing this possibliity, as mayor he got together with school board and county commissioners to advocate for expedient construction of Morris Grove school. Raises the real question: Is purpose of SAPFO to keep building at reasonable pace or to limit growth to the pace at which the school system can be expanded?


Support regulating use of lawn fertilizers to improve water quality?All raised hands in support.


Regional transit can help reduce community costs and emissions. How will you maintain and improve regional rail and bus transit?FOUSHEE: Need to seek light rail by working with Republican controlled General Assembly. State and federal govts are the only source for adequate funds.JOHNSON: Should follow Durham example of putting transit tax on ballot. Light rail will take long time, but immediate impact of that tax would increase transit service. Sidewalks and bikeability also important, and support folks in community who don't have access to these services and infrastructure, such as Rogers Road neighborhood.LAVELLE: Is a commuter herself. Transit is a challenge for commuters here. Is on regional transit committee (TAC MPO) and recognizes there is much buy-in required from other regional partners for rail and other regional transit to become a reality. Need Durham to succeed with the transit tax referendum so Orange can feel comfortable with moving ahead.CHILTON: Chapel Hill started trying to build rail to Durham in about 1851; we're still in the middle of planning that. In all seriousness, the solution is to pass the transit tax. Exact proposal not final, but looks like tax will get us rail to Durham and improve 15-501 corridor, 86 to Hillsborough, etc, etc.COLEMAN: Once we have any kind of regional transportation, important factor is for Carrboro to have access to that system. Large parts of our town not in walking distance of buses. Park and ride is thus important. There has been proposal to charge fee for these lots, but he believes we are already paying for those lots through our property taxes. Our access should be preserved.


Can we streamline our development review process to get sooner approvals while still maintaining standards?JOHNSON: Has sat through many BOA meetings and understands this process. It is a thorough process that gives citizens and advisory boards input before coming to aldermen. One kind of streamlining would be to use a green checklist to expedite those kinds of development.LAVELLE: Our planning department is one of most overworked in town government, because we are so thorough. We have tried to improve process, such as using concept plan review before advisory boards. Recently eased up on some early engineering requirements to allow quicker process. But it's important that end products are what the community really wants.CHILTON: We could improve in a few ways. For example, looking at processes like the one used in Austin for expediting certain kinds of projects that meet special criteria. Need more formal way to put developers before the board sooner for a gut-level reaction.COLEMAN: Changes in engineering requirements mentioned by Lydia came about in part because he talked with town manager about this not being an important part of the review process that could be moved to the construction planning stage. Developers appreciated this. Also need to be more proactive about what we want as a community. There's concern about the Lloyd property development, for example. Town should provide strong vision to shape what happens there as a way to help the developer do well.FOUSHEE: Would not want to change the process drastically. Only change in ways that won't be detrimental to the community.

Time for audience questions!


Why are there no parking meters in Carrboro? And why don't police enforce parking laws?CHILTON: Very consciously not charging for parking. See that as an advantage of our downtown, compared with some other downtowns in our region. Consumers expect it, and given the scale of our parking operations so far, it is appropriate. We don't spend a lot of money of public parking.COLEMAN: We don't like to say aloud that parking regs aren't enforced, but so far we've been fine. A parking study by grad students recently showed that parking is adequate. We may need to start enforcing these regs, but this is an area that should involve intergovernmental enforcement with Chapel Hill should we need to go in that direction.JOHNSON: Increases accessibility to our downtown, including for people like her mom who have mobility issues. Also, as a downtown business owner, doesn't want her clients to have to pay for parking.LAVELLE: Great that we have free parking. Dan alluded to recent conversation about university charging for park and ride lots. If that happens, it could push people into our lots.FOUSHEE: How much revenue are we missing by not having parking meters? A study of this would be useful to the town.


What issue are you willing to lose an election over? Please, no spin.COLEMAN: Part of why being alderman is enjoyable is that he's interested in sustainabiility. And the majority people of Carrboro care about that. So he's not likely to lose an election over an issue he cares deeply about.LAVELLE: Likes to consider everything fairly and open-mindedly. But when it comes to LGBT rights, she would gladly lose an election in the cause of securing equal rights for LGBT people.JOHNSON: Issue of the day laborers raises concerns, and she feels that an entire group of people is being targeted on the basis of a few folks' behaviors. Tricky issue, and a lot of people's needs need to be balanced.


Why only commercial density downtown, not residential?COLEMAN: That's a misunderstanding of what's actually been approved downtown over the past several years--including mixed use with residential. Other projects coming forward with mixed-use residential. Therefore, it is not true that board doensn't support residential downtown.CHILTON: The question is completely off base. We've been receptive to residential, just not exclusively residential growth. We've been saying to developers, include commercial and residential, not just one or the other. Need to move town revenue from commercial instead of relying largely on residential. And the aldermen have been urging commercial with residential.COLEMAN: Wants to add illustration: Lydia alluded to Ballentine project. They came in for permit extension. BOA agreed to extend the permit on the condition that they modify the project to include commercial component. Ended up with denser residential that includes a commercial piece in northern Carrboro.


For Foushee: What role should local government play in the Amendment One debate? Are there local economic outcomes to this issue?FOUSHEE: There could be local outcomes to the issue. We could lose some business in the area. Doesn't agree with the amendment. North Carolina is already covered under that now. What the GA is trying to do is expand that, and he doesn't agree.COLEMAN: Baffled about why question was asked only of Foushee. Should ask such questions of all the candidates. Yes, there are econ impacts, and he will work hard to defeat it.LAVELLE: There will need to be massive educational campaign. Carrboro was first town in North Carolina to offer domestic partner benefits, and those are in jeopardy if the amendment passes.JOHNSON: This issue affects all of us. There are economic implications to our community if we don't organize against the amendment. Also relates to our values; should not discriminate against our neighbors.CHILTON: This measure is a political stunt by the GOP to give red meat to their base. Cynical move on their part. It is appropriate for town to play role in opposing the amendment. Plans to use his office to oppose it, as he already has, along with other NC mayors. Doesn't know about econ implications for Carrboro, but places with marriage equality end up with economic benefits of being able to cater to all married people.COLEMAN: Given who is sponsoring this forum, we shouldn't leave this question without acknowledging the role of the Chamber in advocating against the amendment.

The forum has ended. The final question provided an unexpected opportunity for the entire panel to speak in solidarity against Amendment One. Nicely done, despite the weird question. See you all in Durham tomorrow for NC Pride.

Very through and clear - which is hard to do live. Thanks, Damon. 

Bigs thanks to Damon for keeping us informed while we watched Chapel Hill beat Carrboro High School tonight. Both teams played a great game....we have some awesom kids in our two towns....


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