Forum Open Thread: Chapel Hill Town Council

Welcome to the open thread for the Chapel Hill Town Council candidate forum happening on October 18, 2015. Comments on this post will open at that time.

There are nine candidates running for four seats:

  • Jessica Anderson
  • Donna Bell
  • Adam Jones
  • Paul Neebe
  • Nancy Oates
  • Michael Parker
  • David Schwartz
  • Lee Storrow
  • Jim Ward

You can observe the forum at

We hope you'll use this open thread to post your thoughts and reactions. Also, if you want to propose additional discussion topics, you can reach the editors during the forum via TwitterFacebook, or the contact page. The forum moderator will have final say in question selection.



Didn't the current Town Council use the Town's land next to the cemetary to gain affordable housing?  

Other than that, what land does the town have that could be used as you say?

Yes, the town did use land they owned to partner with DHIC to create affordable housing.  The town manager was tasked to do an inventory of all the land tracts the town owns so we could evaluate how to leverage them for the best benefit for the town.  The land near the cemetery was one of the tracts that was identified.

You're the only candidate not to clearly answer the question.

Does all residential growth cost us?  Did Greenbridge, which has a $50 million tax value, yet only one school aged child?  Similar ratios are evident for 140 West, East 54, and probably, for the the new apartments on Eliot Road.  

How does that hurt us?  

Does your neighborhood pay for itself?

Look at the tax valuations than look at the selling prices. Selling prices in many cases are less than half of the tax valuations. Does Greenbridge pay for itself? Not if youi own a unit. Bad press, bad example and bad for town reputation.

So let's assume that the tax valuations are way off and will come down when reassessment takes place next year. With (apparenrly) one school-aged child, no new roads requiring maintenance, no new transit service required due to its location downtown, what costs are the development imposing on the town? It's particularly cost-effeicient compared to, say, a single family development off Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. or Homestead.

Yes, prices in Greenbridge have come down significantly, thanks to the developer's foreclosure. That's on the developer for putting way too much money into Greenbridge. It doesn't reflect poorly on the town at all. Chapel Hill benefits from the fact that the developer built many housing units that cost buyers much less than they cost to build. It's a generious donation, courtesy Bank of America.

I conclude that it reflects badly on the town because 1) the town approved it 2) property values have declined precipitously and 3) The town and local hipsters keeps touting it as an example of successful urban density  While I do not think all of the criticism is necessarily fair, it does reflect badly on the town. It will be interesting to see if other like developments experience the same results. there is a lot for sale over on Environ way too. Buyers may be catching a falling knife.

While it might be cost efficient for the town; the proof is what the market thinks. Generally speaking people with kids and 300-700K to spend on housing do not want to live in an apartment sized condo with one parking space. They want a yard and some more living space. That is why Mebane and Chatham County are experiencing so much more growth among young families. Greenbridge will likely settle at lower prices and as a result be populated with transient folks that do not use a lot of services anyway. Again not necessarily bad, but hardly the same market demographic as a 3 bedroom house at a comparable price, and hardly something to hold up as a success in the way some people are.


I see the role of town government to use zoning to encourage a variety of different types of building.  One of those types is high density urban living.  In Chapel Hill there are plenty of low and medium density housing options, but comparatively few for high density.  Greenbridge was the first downtown, and as the first they made a mistake putting in too many expensive options, but they also came on the market in the worst real estate crash in a hundred years.  

Some people prefer houses, and most of the dwellings in Chapel Hill reflect this, but that doesn't mean there shouldn't be high density condos downtown and along transit cooridors as well.

While I agree there aren't many families with children.  Many of the people who live there aren't transient.  Many of them tend to be 55+ and and others tend to be professionals who don't have children.  I would suspect the ammenities of downtown are probably the draw, I would also suspect a lot of folks like not having yard work, not having to deal with home upkeep projects, and enjoy concierge service.  Once more for seniors I suspect there are advantages to living in a place with security, and an absence of multiple floors that aren't serviced by elevators.

If we were talking about Shortbread I would agree.

about who lives in Greenbridge. Those demographics are less expensive in terms of schools, but may also consume more social/community/transit/healthcare services per capita. The point is that holding out Greenbridge as an example of density providing less pressure on town resources does not stand up to closer examination. Density is not in an of itself a solution for tax revenue. Commercial does and I think almost always will, produce more tax revenue that the cost of communty resources it consumes.

It is also important to point out by way of example, that while Chapel Hill/Orange County is at the top of per capita income and has an extra half-cent extra to boot, it is near the bottom (80th percentile) of the 100 counties in sales tax revenue.

I think the point that promoting commercial development and especially space that encourages companies to employ people who live here is a much better plan for the community at large than the development that has been recently approved. From a profit perspective, it seems as if residential is what the developers want (and are getting). From a community perspective I think the town and county government could do a much better job protecting the tax integrity for the community by holding the line on the development of properties that have significant commercial potential. 

BTW transient can mean that older folks move on to assisted living or move for other reasons, Age is not the criteria, length of time living there is. Not sure if the turnover there is higher than other places or if there are a significant number of rentals, but I suspect there is.


Such as bikram yoga, the gift, rivers agency etc.

It also has nonprofits as well e.g. selc.

high turnover (H2O etc), a very small ratio and mostly boutique stores. Again, not criticizing just saying that Greenbridge is not the problem solution model that I hear some people say it is. The tax revenue is a temporary anomaly and the area has not seen any increase in walkability due to Greenbridge. One possible bright spot from my perspective is Carolina Square with what looks like about a 50/50 mix of residential and commercial: See slide 77.

Honestly, I don't think Greenbridge is a panacea for all the town's problems, and certainly it was problematic with Northside, particularly during the bankruptcy, but I don't think Greenbridge is bad or somehow a burden on the town and while values will likely go down I tend to think most of that can be attributed to the speculative housing bubble that was going on when it was built rather then the type of building it is.  

I also question whether the criticism of Greenbridge is reactionary because you can see it.  The reason I wonder about this is because you have a truly troubling development in Amity Station that is generally been ignored except by Northside residents, people who pay close attention to development, and people with ties to the Northside community.

IMO a lot needs to be reevaluated. "The Edge" is a prime example. If there is one property that has the potential for being light industrial, that is it. Obey creek, despite it taking six years is too big and has the potential to really overwhelm what is already pretty successful at Southern Village and be bad for the community at large. I think what people are asking for is more input and a knowledge that the developers are not getting away with profits at the expense of quality of life and community. That same sentiment includes Amity although I admittedly am less familiar with the concerns, I suspect they are the same.

At the end of the day that is really what sets Chapel Hill and Orange county apart in the triangle; the sense of community and decision making collaboration. I say it again and again, I do not begrudge a developer from proposing what is in the corporate best interests; I see governments role as attenuating that proposal in the best interests of the community at large and being the voice of those who vote. It is government I criticize for not fulfilling their role in the negotiation. When government fails at the task again and again, I am not at all surprised at the low turnout and cynicism from the electorate.

Just a few thoughts:

Those demographics are less expensive in terms of schools, but may also consume more social/community/transit/healthcare services per capita.

I should expect they're probably using more transit versus the average resident! It's right on several bus lines; I expect those folks are taking transit more often. However, I doubt they're responsible for the town being required to spend more money on transit.

That said, looking at the money side is, IMHO, a pretty shortsighted way of looking at things. These people aren't just vultures, sucking down town services, they're also giving back. Take Michael Parker, for example. Whether or not you're going to vote for him for Town Council, he has given a lot of his time back to the town through his service on various advisory boards and merely by his taking the effort to run for Town Council. If he doesn't have the option to live in Greenbridge, maybe he buys some other residence and so the person who lives there now doesn't get the chance. Or maybe he's priced out or lives  in Durham and the town doesn't get the benefit of his effort.  Or maybe he moves to Durham because Chapel Hill pre-Greenbridge didn't have the type of multi-story, downtown living accomodations that he wanted.

I also (modestly) take myself as an example, as a resident of another recent development that's the product of a greedy developer and is antihetical to what Chapel Hill stands for, Meadowmont. My wife works at UNC, recently received tenure, and I think is overall an asset to the town. I have a job too, formerly served on a town advisory board and sreve as my son's elemtnary school's PTA treasurer, and try to participate in the town's political dialogue. So I like to think we've benefited the town, even though we probably wouldn't have been able to live here if housing construction had stopped in the mid-1990's. (And also, we live here because my wife has a very short commute to work. Living in Alamance County and working at UNC wouldn't have been an option; living and working elsewhere would.) By the same token, we have three kids in public schools. So that's a cost that other taxpayers are probably helping carry (thanks everyone!), but that's how our tax system works.

By the same token, I appreciate that there are several senior citizen communities in the area, whose residents include  those who have lived in the area for a long time and others who are new to Chapel Hill (including parents of recent transplants to the area). I'm glad they're here, no matter their fiscal impact.

I would love to see more retail and commercial development of the sort that has a net positive financial benefit. Hopefully we'll see more of that in the future as trends shift and the demand for residential starts to cool. But I don't find the financial impact to be a compelling reason to prevent people who want to move to Chapel Hill from moving to Chapel Hill.

I am making the point that I made because I constantly hear what a success Greenbridge is. Closer examination reveals it is 1) not as successful as people would have you believe and 2) more than half of what little success it represents is a temporary accident of history.

I also agree money is not the measure of success; however you have to admit money does provide many of the services and advantages we take for granted. It strikes me that those advantages are both easy to use as a yardstick and at the same time take for granted when you have enough. The most compelling Chapel Hill/Orange County advantage to me is the diversity in things like ideas, culture, ethnicity and income. I think we are unique in that regard and I think that diversity is an advantage worth preserving and keeps us from living in an echo chamber. I think through that diversity we see the value of things beyond money, however I will say I am concerned that in many cases we are not being well represented and that misrepresentation can irreparably harm what we take for granted. The point is taxes and debt driven by bad decisions can quickly make Chapel Hill/Orange county unaffordable to all but the well off and that in turn would compromise the diversity I find important.

I also agree that volunteer time is horribly undervalued by both the towns and in the county. I am sorry to see that, but I am afraid that in the current environment participation has to be its own reward. If it helps at all I also volunteer a lot of time and I cherish and celebrate the volunteer efforts you and your family make.

I must have missed that.

I see some support in the answers for using Greene Tract for affordable housing.  Do the candidates support preserving the school site that is designated for this tract as well?

Yes.  The goal is to create uses that support each other.  What better to place near affordable housing than a school? While the town has spoken of nothing but support of this school site, in the end it will be the decision of the Superintendent and the Board to decide if it remains a viable site.


Some of your partners have not been as supportive in their discussions, so that's why I ask.  I agree with you, but it isn't a slam dunk for all your partners.

James, as I recall the school site was not the question, more so the housing. I think there can be a good balance of housing and open space on the tract and I am hoping we will hear about future plans during the BOCC worksession next month. It will be great to work with all the partners to make housing a priority for this property. 

Only speaking for me, but I agree with Donna's comments. 

The Greene Tract is 169 acres. Ample room for a school and affordable housing and more.

The stormwater bond, if passed, will require an increase in the stormwater fee.  Would candidates please comment on their view of stormwater fees vs using taxes?  Why a fee and not a tax?  In particular, taxes are deductable on income taxes for many individuals, and thus partially supported by state and federal funds, while fees are often not.  

Many CH resident travel to Durham for work, recreation, or other reasons, and Durhamites come here.  There appears to be a plan to build bike lanes along Old Durham Chapel Hill Road up to around Pope Road (slated for 2016 I think)  This still leaves no safe riding path between the two towns.  How will you work with Durham to complete a safe commuting path between the two towns for bicycle (and hopefully pedestrians as well)?   


Durham also has funding for their part of the bike lanes on Old Chapel Hill Road from Pope Rd to Garrett Rd. I met with the chair of Durham Open Space and Trails this summer to talk about improving connections between Chapel Hill and Durham, and the biggest issue (once the bike lanes are built) is Garrett Road. At this point, the path will just dead end there, and there is no safe crossing.

There's more information about the project here:

Thank you Erin.  What do you mean there is no safe crossing?  There is a light at Garrett and sidewalks on Chapel Hill Rd to the east, no?  Not ideal.  Any timeline for Durham's project?    

As I believe Erin and others know, I've been advocating for the Old Durham-Chapel Hill Road project since the 1990s. A comprehensive transportation for the the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization  in the early 1990s brought the route forth as the best east-west bike/ped connection from Orange to Durham Counties. It made no progress at all until I became a member of the MPO (upon election) in 2001. The project was the largest bike/ped project ever brought to NCDOT to that time by an MPO, and the agency was clearly over-cautious and slow in developing it. The City of Durham part of the project could proceed in 2016, and would include paying for the roundabout at Pope Road, a vastly safer way to negotiate that intersection than has ever existed. Chapel Hill's portion was complicated by Blue Cross Blue Shield, but issues there were resolved; BCBS effectively raised the price of the project. One use of future bond funds would be to complete the CH portion, but other funding sources are looking available. The City of Durham has influenced DOT to make bike movement at Garrett Road somewhat safer than before. 

Here are my endorsements for CHTC in this order, Myself for Mayor, Obviously,David Schwartz, Jim Ward,Jessica Anderson, and Nancy Oates. Gary Kahn


Submitted by PaulNeebe on October 18, 2015 - 8:40pm

It's pretty clear we need to reduce our waste and find a way to incentivize this without penalizing lower income residents. We should use all the newest techniques and technology for the new transfer station to minimize it's impact on the community.   Just as it is possible to live near a sewer plant, it should be possible to live near a transfer station with minimal impact.

Sewer plant

Submitted by LisaRSorg on October 18, 2015 - 8:42pm

Paul, would you live next to a sewer plant? A waste transfer station?

I think Paul lives down the street from OWASA Sewer Plant. Depending on the direction of the wind you can smell it in Highland neighborhood. (You can also smell it at times at the finley golf course and botanical garden.)


The Bolin Creek Greenway phase 3 trail extension project is underway. Some town residents have expressed serious reservations about the extension project and the impact it will have on the natural environment. On the other hand, it will provide a smooth and completely protected route for pedestrians and bicyclists that will eventually reach all the way to downtown.

I'm curious what the Town Council and mayoral candidates think of this project, in particular whether it's a good idea and whether the Town should make completing the entire route a priority. It's one thing to support protected bike lanes and other non-auotombile ways of getting around time, but this is an actual project with actual costs and benefits that I'd like candidates to weigh in on.


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