This piece was written by Melody Kramer, Caroline Dwyer, Martin Johnson and John Rees.
Chapel Hill and Carrboro’s Town Councils are wrapping up their first six months in office and will be taking their annual summer breaks during July and part of August.
And what a six months it’s been.
Despite our occasional criticisms, we at TriBlogBlog are big fans of our local elected officials, who spend countless hours doing the hard work that keeps our towns chugging along.
In the first half of 2022, both Town Councils have achieved significant accomplishments
In Chapel Hill, we had a chance to observe three new members—Paris Miller-Foushee, Camille Berry, and Adam Searing—adjust to their new roles, as well as newly re-elected member Karen Stegman step into a new role as Mayor Pro Tem.
In Carrboro, we have a new mayor, Damon Seils, who’s skillfully presided over what has been at times a contentious Council. Meanwhile, 32-year-old Danny Nowell – Carrboro’s first DSA Council member – took the place of Jacqueline Gist, who served on Council for 32 years. Nowell quickly became one of the leading voices on the progressive side of the Council (which is already pretty progressive). In May, Eliazar Posada won a special election, joining the Council as its first openly gay Latino member.
Being on Town Council is like running a marathon. Except sometimes it’s a sprint. Over hot coals. With angry people chasing you. Sometimes, we are those angry people. But, today, we come to heap praise on the Council for the following.
Chapel Hill and Carrboro
Kudos to the Town of Chapel Hill for directing $250k from the surplus to bicycle and pedestrian projects and an additional $75k from budget. We believe the Town should keep funding at a continued level to work down the backlog of greenway and other bicycle and safety projects. We also look forward to more success from the Vision Zero working group.
IFC funding: A stop-gap, not a win
Both Carrboro and Chapel Hill funded IFC — but we’re not sure if we would count this as a total win. A total win would be finding a sustainable mechanism for funding the county’s homelessness services, rather than a stop-gap measure for funding.
Jay Street Apartments
Both Jay Street and Trinity Court apartments were successful uses of the Town’s recent experiment in an expedited development review. While the costs to a large commercial applicant to attend all the development reviews and hire consultants to research, prepare and attend these reviews may constitute a rounding error, they can eat into the success of the project and amenities that might otherwise have to be eliminated due to costs in a modest project.
We consider this a triple win for these two projects: Two approvals for significant in-town increases in affordable housing and a successful trial of a new review process. 48 units for Jay Street and 54 for Trinity Court
Trinity Court Apartments
It was hard to see this not getting approved. They still need to get the funding. However, since Trinity was being built on a site that already had once housed affordable units, the land had already been defined and historically used for the use. We hope the Town listens to the suggestion by the planning commission and builds the walking path and stairs that will provide a safer route out of the project for all residents but especially school-aged children, walking to Northside Elementary School.
Issues the Town still needs to address
- Further improve the process. Especially for modest affordable projects like Peach Apartments. This project needed every dollar to build units.
- Move forward to refine the process to repurpose town-owned land for other purposes. This is an issue that came up for Jay Street and it will be an ever present matter for the town-owned Legion Road property.
Franklin Street curb running bike lanes
While we learned a lot during COVID, one of the more encouraging lessons we learned locally is that Franklin Street doesn’t need to be five or six lanes wide (counting the parking lanes). While the orange cones that temporarily narrowed the street came up earlier this year, the Council worked with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to include curb-running bike lanes when they restripe the street this summer. These bike lanes will be protected by parked cars, creating safer streets for all.
After the Council made its decision, the NCDOT came back with a few concerns, prompting a last-minute discussion about whether the Council was really going to support this permanent change to Franklin Street. The Council stuck to their original position, and as a result we’ll have a better Franklin Street this fall.
1800 MLK (the police station site)
Since 2013, when coal ash was first discovered on the site where the Chapel Hill Police Department headquarters is located, the Town has had to deal with what policy nerds like to call “wicked problems.” (Wicked because they’re bad and hard to solve, not because it’s the 90s and you’re in Boston and wicked means cool).
Should the Town spend $10M+ to remove the coal ash? If so, where should it go? Will the harm moving it—and storing it in a community poorer than ours—outweigh the benefits? If we contain it, will that solve the problem? How do we know?
If this were a task in a video game, you’d just give up and move on to something more fun. And, the Council could have easily decided to do what comes easiest to all of us—to wait it out, leaving the problem for some future Council to solve.
Instead, they took the courageous step of not just moving forward with addressing the problem, but imagining what could be done with the site after it is remediated. (Related: The Real Story About Coal Ash).
Could we move our municipal service there? Could it be housing? Thanks to the Council’s work, the site will be reviewed by North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ), and they’ll return to the issue in the fall.
American Legion site
We have written a lot about the American Legion site, which was sold to the Town of Chapel Hill in 2017. It’s refreshing to have progress in moving the future of the site forward — five members of the Town Council signed a petition that asks the Town Manager to develop an implementable plan for the property by this fall.
This is great news. We’re looking forward to the plan the Town Council suggests, which would add a new community park to Chapel Hill, as well as much needed affordable housing, possibly for those with developmental or other disabilities.
The new Town library
We’re thrilled that after 30+ years of community support, Carrboro is getting a new branch of the Orange County Library. The library will be downtown, on several bus lines, and easily accessible — and the building will also house much needed civic space for our community.
Great comms and translation (!)
Eliazar Posada, the newest member of Council, has started Twitter roundups of Council meetings which are super useful. Thanks Eliazar! We also appreciate how comprehensive the Town’s meeting minutes are for each meeting and that there are plans to offer professional interpretation at future Town Council meetings. Really thrilling how transparent and easy to follow along everything is, which will allow more people to participate. Thanks, Carrboro!