OP Live Candidate Forum: Hillsborough Town Board

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Welcome to the Orange Politics online candidate forum. My name is Amanda VanDerBroek and I am the new editor of The News of Orange County. Tonight, we'll be talking with the candidates who are running for the three open seats for Hillsborough Town Board of Commissioners. I'll be posting a new question every 10 to 15 minutes and at about 8:50 p.m. I'll ask for any closing remarks and any edits to posts. The forum will be closed promptly at 9 p.m.

Why are you running for town board of commissioners?

I'm running for Hillsborough Town Board of Commissioners because I’m passionate about Hillsborough and all the communities that make our little town one of the best in America. I have substantial experience working and leading several town advisory boards, as well as statewide experience in my professional career bringing various healthcare stakeholders together to solve complex problems and achieve common goals. I believe I have the right balance of purpose, experience, and ability to join the Town Board of Commissioners and quickly make a positive impact.

I have served as a Town Commissioner for three four year terms and one two year appointed term. During that time I have gained a lot of experience and have been involved in significant progress during my tenure. I would like to be re-elected to another term in order to continue being part of the progress.

Hello, everyone! 

The reason I am running for office is a simple one: I want to eliminate barriers to economic prosperity. I want to ensure that the citizens of Hillsborough get to live their lives to the fullest in a free and fair place.

Although I love Hillsborough and have great respect for the town boards of present and past as well as those who work for the town, there are a few areas where I see room for improvement, especially in regards to policies or regulations that may inhibit citizens from pursuing their dreams. Specifically, I am concerned about restrictions on mobile food vendors (food trucks), the sharing economy, and the town (and county) land use policy. Restrictive land use policy, as I've discovered recently, can not only make Hillsborough unattractive to new business (small business and entreprenurship disproportionately so) but it can also have the effect of raising the cost of living. I want to keep a life in our wonderful town attainable to people of all economic means. This likely means working with the BOCC to prevent property tax increases and added debt. Hillsborough is not an island, after all, and misguided policies in the aforementioned areas will benefit a few who have already experienced economic success at the expense of everyone else.

As a member of the Town Board, I will put regulatory reform at the forefront of the conversation. I will ask our town government to evaluate the potential economic impacts of all regulations before they are approved, and I will work to eliminate any regulations that effectively act as a structural barrier in the way of upward mobility and entrepreneurship. For added insurance against harmful regulations, I will also encourage a requirement that regulations fall off the books without explicit reauthorization by the Town Board, commonly known as a sunset provision.

Hillsborough is an awesome town, and I want to help ensure it keeps pace with our Triangle peers while maintaining its special historic character.


What are your priorities for Hillsborough?

My top priority for Hillsborough is to smartly manage our impending growth while preserving our small town character and enhancing our sense of community. To accomplish this, I will work to promote affordable housing, be good stewards of our economic and natural resources, balance growth and quality of life in all neighborhoods, efficiently manage transportation and traffic needs, and promote the overall quality of life for Hillsborough. A critical component to accomplishing these priorities is to attract more businesses and employ more local citizens and reduce our rate of poverty from almost 20%, which is significantly higher than the state and national averages. Our town is growing fast and we need to promote excellence in all these areas and look for new ways to efficiently serve residents and the needs of our town.

Acquiring more economic development

Addressing traffic issues in town

Managing our growth in a responsible manner

Making Hillsborough truly walkable by pursuing the building of more sidewalks

Maintaining and overall low crime rate

Revitalizing the Highway 70/ Cornelius street corridor.

Hillsborough is predicted to grow 37% in the next few years, so my priorities reflect adaptation and preparation to further growth.


  1. We need to look back at traditional development patterns as we move forward into the 21th century because, historically and now, that best provides the ideal residential vs. commercial tax-base, wealth, and cultivates opportunity for individuals, families, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. Most citizens of Hillsborough value a traditional, compact town that fosters community; we need a development pattern that inspires us to feel glad to grow and will encourage newcomers and businesses to want to stay here and invest. We will also need to work closely with Orange County and North Carolina in order to retrofit our existing street infrastructure in anticipation of a need for mass transit.
  2. If we want Hillsborough to be resilient in event of another recession or shifting federal and state budget priorities (e.g., the Chapel Hill-Durham light rail), it’s necessary  to transition away from 20-year loans for infrastructure improvements toward creating capital reserve funds and optimizing our fund balance.
  3. The next priority is safety. People want to live and locate their businesses where they feel secure, and the town should invest in police and fire department positions, training, and technology and maintain a close relationship with Orange County emergency responders as we grow.
  4. We also need to measure the impact of land use restrictions on housing prices. Over 20% of Hillsborough’s population lives in poverty while the average house price is above $250,000. We begin to meaningfully address attainable housing scarcity by examining our zoning practices. Do height restrictions and minimum lot size, for example, create artificial shortages and raise prices? There’s evidence that zoning ordinances can have these unintended consequences. By relaxing zoning restrictions, affordable tiny houses could become an option. Zoning and permitting processes must be nimble to keep construction costs down. Hillsborough should also encourage the Orange County HOME Consortium to devote a higher percentage of funding to rental programs, as some beneficiaries don’t desire homeownership maintenance costs.

What is your opinion about the words "Confederate Memorial" on the Orange County Historical Museum? Do you agree with the vote to remove the letters?

I feel that the words remind some residents of a very racially turbulent time here in the south and for that reason some folks decided that they wouldn't go the Orange County Historical Museum where the letters are located above the door. I voted unanimously with my colleagues on the board of commissioners to remove the letters because I feel it was and still is the right thing to do.

I agree with the Town Board's recent decision to approve a request from the Orange County Historical Museum to remove the "Confederate Memorial" lettering from the town-owned building currently housing the Museum. There is anecdotal evidence the letters were added as the result of a fundraiser to help pay for the construction of the building as a WPA project during the Great Depression, but there is no hard evidence to date that this was the actually case. The letters were placed on the building when it was a whites-only public library, and I believe the letters belong in the museum, not on the museum.

There is no doubt that the words "Confederate Memorial" invoke a painful past for a significant part of Hillsborough's population. However, as a former scholar of contested commemoration (MA in Public History from NCSU in 2009), I have studied ways in which difficult historical subjects can be interpreted successfully. That is why I initially suggested that the town leave the lettering on the Confederate Memorial Building but contextualize it with an exterior panel that explained how it was a whites only library at one time (not so long ago) and strongly encouraged a community conversation about the issue. 

I still do not agree with the vote to remove the words "Confederate Memorial" from the Confederate Memorial Building. Its deletion means far more than taking down lettering. It is the destruction of a memorial. Some may cheer the action; others not. Nevertheless, that is what is happening.

In large part, August’s confederate flag rally was a defensive reaction to the Town Board’s treatment of the memorial controversy. The event may not have occurred had the town expressed interest in a community conversation - authentic dialogue between opposing sides - when the removal request was first made. A few Town Board meetings during which people talked at each other without opportunity for listening and exchange left us more divided over this incredibly complicated, emotional issue than we started.

In such cases, the UNC School of Government recommends that town leaders host a series of events that include different viewpoints, clear rules for respect, recognition that commemoration is not a zero-sum game, and - most importantly - small group discussions. Our town missed an incredible opportunity to strengthen community by avoiding this method. Regardless of the outcome, anger on both sides could have been diffused by a town-led process of seeking understanding amidst differences. I’ve independently spoken with others who oppose my analysis of the issue and have learned a great deal. 

Should the Colonial Inn be saved or torn down? If saved, what are your ideas for saving it? If you feel it should be knocked down, why and what should be done with the property?

The Colonial Inn is one of Hillsborough's most important structures and without question, it should be saved. I have advocated for the preservation of this building for many years and have had numerous dealings with the current owner both privately and publicly when I was a member of the Hillsborough Historic District Commission (HDC) and the property and the owner came before the HDC for a variety of reasons. I believe the property is endangered and that the owner is not capable of acting in the best interest of the property itself. I believe the Town should perform "honest" repairs to the envelope of the building before the end of the year to prevent further decay and charge the owner for these repairs. If he can't pay for the repairs and any accrued fines, the Town should place a lien on the property and force a sale to recover its expenses and fines.

The Colonial Inn is a Historic structure in which I know that many people would love to see restored to its former glory however in its current condition I honestly don't know how it can possibly be saved without a significant capital investment costing millions of dollars which no one to date has indicated that they are willing to put fourth, The deplorable condition that the structure is currently in and the danger that it poses for residents and business nearby have created a huge liability for the owner and the town if the structure were to catch fire or collapse. We are faced with having to make some decisions immediately for the health and safety of everyone around the structure. As much as many people may not ever want to see the former Colonial Inn torn down, That option must be put on the table along with any other options that may be viewed as viable. If the Inn were to be torn down I cant say at this time what I would like to see done with the property as it's still privately owned and controlled. I'm sure that if the decision was made to actually demolish the structure then the community at large would have significant opinions on what should be done with the land.

Saving the Colonial Inn is an emotional issue for many; it has, in fact, become a rallying cry of sorts. When I worked at the Hillsborough Visitors Center, at least one patron per week asked about the status of the Inn, usually citing a personal connection: they ate Sunday dinner there after church; they had been a waitress; they regaled me with tales of their friend’s wedding reception. Everyone thought it was a shame to let a beautiful building like that fall apart. And it truly is disgraceful.

Earlier this year the Development Finance Initiative from the UNC School of Government presented its proposal for the Colonial Inn property. It evaluated many approaches - from purely private sector investment, to grants, to tax credits, to eminent domain. The DFI found that a public private partnership would be the best, most marketable option for going forward, and I felt that could be a workable solution (despite some concern that its estimated cost for rehabilitation was far too low). I really hoped that the Inn's owner would like the DFI's recommendation and the issue would finally be settled.

However, that did not happen, of course, and we're left with the sword of eminent domain hanging over our heads. I divided eminent domain into two common types: public use (e.g. building a reservoir) and economic development (e.g., Kelo vs. New London). If the town seized the Inn on the basis of economic development, I would reject that. That  process very rarely works to the public entity's benefit. Although the Constitution requires the payment of just compensation, there can be no such thing as just compensation when the transaction is not voluntary, so some vague promise of economic development is not a good enough reason for me to confiscate property, however historic.

Some issues are more important than just transaction, primarily public safety. If the building is truly a public safety hazard, I could see the need for the town to either demolish the entire structure or parts of it (which can be done without eminent domain) or to use eminent domain to purchase the property either for its destruction or restoration. The restoration option would come down to dollars and cents, for me. I don't think I could justify a considerable property tax increase or bond to finance the multi-million dollar restoration. 


What are your feelings about growth? Do you see Hillsborough growing and keeping that small town charm as well?

North Carolina is the 5th highest growth state in the nation, and Hillsborough is projected to double in population in the next 20-30 years. We will grow and change, but there are limiting factors to our growth, such as constraints on our water, sewer, and transportation infrastructure. I recognize we will grow, and that one of our biggest challenges as a town will be to preserve the things that make Hillsborough such a great place to live while growing. "Small town charm" and "sense of community" are the things I hear most often to describe living in Hillsborough. The Hillsborough Strategy Map says this about our vision for Hillsborough: "We envision Hillsborough as a prosperous town, filled with vitality, fostering a strong sense of community, which celebrates its unique heritage and small-town character." If elected to the Town Board, I will work hard to continue achieving this vision because the quality of life in Hillsborough is why I choose to live here, and I want everyone else in Hillsborough to feel the same way about our town.

Yes, I absolutely think that growth and small town charm can go hand-in-hand. We just need to be smart about it.

If elected, I would work with our extremely knowledgeable Planning Department, Planning Board, the local business community, and other interested citizens to ensure that our land use plan does not disadvantage small developers who really "get" the character of our town. Although much progress has been made over the past several years to streamline the development review and permitting process, I do see evidence that larger firms can better weather the time and fees that the arduous review and permitting process necessitates. If we really want a level playing field for small developers (and the small businesses or individuals who hire them) the Unified Development Ordinance needs to ensure a swift and nimble permitting process.  

Also in regards to land use policy, I think it's wise to simplify the zoning code. Hillsborough has 30 zoning districts, many of which are single-use zones. Hillsborough hasn't experienced too much sprawl in comparison to other towns, but if we really take off (and I hope we do), single-use zoning will lead to sprawl. I'd like to see more mixed-use districts that will encourage compact, walkable growth and a meshing of businesses with everyday life. By simplifying the zoning code we can maintain a cohesive, unique feel to our town. Our children and other future residents will thank us for it.

Finally, I think that subsidiarity - the theory that decisions are best made at the most local level that can competently made them - is so important to preserving a sense of community and a strong town. Levels range from the individual household, to the block, to the neighborhood, and up tot he town. Ownership of roosters can be decided by the block. Parking pads can be decided by the neighborhood. Citizens in the impacted area convene for a charette; their decisions are then deliberated and codified by the Town Board. This system is used elsewhere (San Diego, Washington, D.C., Perth, Australia) with much success. Contentious issues are usually resolved long before public hearings. Subsidiarity is very sophisticated, yet simple, and the delegation of power an dresponsibility and the geniune community-building that results is worth the town's effort.

I would like to manage our impending growth as responsibly as possible. We know that the growth is coming to Hillsborough and Orange County at Large and we must figure out a way to embrace it yet not let it change the things that we love so dearly about Hillsborough. Our growth should happen at the southern end of town close to the interstates to provide easy on and off access for those going east and west of town. We should continue to monitor our water and sewer capacity so we know when we are reaching our breaking points. We we must work closely with the State DOT to acquire a bypass around Hillsborough so that approved development north of town both both in and out of the town limits can have an alternate route to get south of town.

How do you think the town should address traffic and parking issues in Hillsborough?

Parking in Hillsborough is not so much as issue as is traffic along the Churton Street corridor during morning and evening commutes. Many commuters come through Hillsborough from north of town to access I-85 and I-40 because there isn't a bypass or a significant alternative route. The proposed Elizabeth Brady Road extension turned out to be a costly ($30m) and not very effective (10% reduction in downtown traffic) solution that was abandoned. Several of the main roads in Hillsborough, including Churton Street and King Street are  state roads, and so any substantial solution to our traffic needs must be coordinated and planned in conjunction with the NCDOT. For example, there is a plan to expand Churton Street to multiple lanes south of the Eno River to I-40 in 2023, but it may not help with overall delays during morning and evening commutes because Churton Street cannot be widened through the downtown corridor. If elected, I would ensure the Town Board directs town staff to continue working with NCDOT as effectively as possible to pursue all potential solutions to our traffic issues.

The town has done a good job with addressing parking in town. We have recently resurfaced our leased Bank of America Lot and reconfigured the parking spaces to provide more and easier maneuvering throughout. The addition of the free parking spaces at the now county owned parking garage has gone a long way in providing significant parking for our downtown businesses, residents and visitors. We have also placed new signage on the streets downtown to manage parking better and we also still provide free parking in all of our lots. As far as traffic goes I have indicated that a significant amount of traffic on Churton street are pass through vehicles that are trying to get north or south of town and if we work with the DOT to restart the discussions of building some sort of bypass around town that would help with our traffic in town.

Traffic is certainly a top concern for many residents of Hillsborough, both from congestion and pedestrian safety perspectives - and those concerns extend beyond the boundaries of downtown to the north and south, which are our fastest growing areas. 

The NCDOT has scheduled two congestion mitigation projects that will affect the southern end of town most directly: extending Orange Grove Road to US 70 Business and widening Churton Street to four lanes from I-40 to the Eno bridge. Neither project will begin until 2023, however. Adding a reverse route to the Hillsborough Circulator bus is the most cost-efficient expansion of public transit that could reduce traffic through downtown. In the meantime, Hillsborough must not obstruct (beyond public safety assurances) risk-taking entrepreneurs from inventing solutions to our congestion. For example, we will need services like Uber to provide that "last mile" transportation option from the coming rail station to downtown. I'll work to make sure that independent solutions are not regulated out of existence in Hillsborough. 

I don't view our traffic situation in an entirely negative light; the cars that flow through downtown every day on Churton Street carry people who see our shops, restaurants, and art galleries, and many come back to patronize those establishments. 

With regards to parking, I think we're fortunate to have a free parking deck downtown. We will lose on-street parking with an upcoming downtown streetscape project, but I trust that the Planning Department has taken that loss into account and determined that we will still have ample parking. 

How do you think affordable housing should be addressed in Hillsborough?

I think affordable housing is a huge issue because as Hillsborough becomes a popular destination and grows to meet demand, housing stock will need to be added and it will be tempting for developers to build only what will sell, rather than in a balanced way that preserves our small town character. The Town has a responsibility to ensure its vision and policies foster growth for all, and not turn Hillsborough into just a bedroom community for commuters to the Triangle. The Town Board should approve development and redevelopment projects that meet the goals of the town as a whole.

Affordable housing in Hillsborough is something that must continue to be monitored and addressed as our town grows. Although we are still the least expensive of the three municipalities in Orange County, We are quickly catching up with our neighbors to the south with the building of expensive homes. The crucial questions must be asked as each development proposal comes before us regarding plans for affordable housing and more importantly the town should consider a comprehensive affordable housing plan that requires a certain percentage in each new development.

Thank you for participating in the Orange Politics candidate forum. If you have any final thoughts, please post them now. Also, your previous posts can be edited until 9 p.m. 

Thank you to all of the candidates who participated this evening, and a big thanks to Amanda from the News of Orange for moderating this evening!

Candidates, if you have any thoughts you didn't get a chance to post in tonight's forum, please feel free to post them in our open thread.


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