Oh no! Sound the ?. Rev up the NextDoor!

You just got some scary news. A new project is coming before Chapel Hill Town Council that may result in new housing being built in town.

First things first, take a deep breath and practice self-care. Pour a rosé and remind yourself that what you are about to do – block housing for people who need it – is vitally important. There are a half-dozen trees to be saved and ambiguous neighborhood character to be preserved.

And no one but you can defend your neighborhood from outsiders who, if not stopped, will build homes that you might have to see in your peripheral vision when driving to Wegmans. Do not let self doubt – that little voice telling you it’s hypocritical to keep people from moving to Chapel Hill just like you once did – creep in.

Let’s get started.

Chapter 1: Assess the threat

First, ask yourself: Does the project contain affordable housing units?

IF NO:  Decry that there’s not enough affordable units. (See: Meadowmont, Aura, Columbia Annex)

IF YES:  Express why you’re not against affordable housing, but it can’t be that housing in that place. (See: Weavers Grove, Jay Street).

Chapter 2: Form a group, get your branding down, and round up the neighbors

Now that you know what you’re up against, it’s time to form your Friends of An Alliance of Neighbors of Not this Project. This is a group that is definitely NOT related to any other existing group in town, even though it may share an IP address and people and even a PO Box with other groups. You are totally majorly-separate ™ and your lawyers can testify to that in any lawsuits you file against the town.

Ok, you have your name, website, and listserv. At this point, you also want to send out talking points to any faux “grassroots” listservs you may have built or joined over the last 30 years with a message designed to instill fear that what they value about their quality of life here is in grave danger and going to end immediately when a dozen new people move in. Urge them to email council, sign a petition, and brush up on their long-held grievances.

Chapter 3: Time is your friend. We must stay in the present. 

At this stage, you want to ignore any prior decisions or decades-long processes that may have set the stage for this development, because those are so December 2021 and are no longer relevant in January of 2022. New year, new you, new tactics!

In fact, now’s a good time to remind council members that they “aren’t listening”, “lack transparency”, and have “ulterior motives”. Add in that the process is “being rushed” or “pushed through”. Never mind that the process started eight years ago, and has had several charettes, meetings, inside assessments, outside assessments, and resolved lawsuits that involved several of your closest listserv pals.

Remind council that they only have a short period of time to take action. If it’s too soon after they’re seated, they’re still getting up to speed and need more time to assess the issue. If it’s too soon after an election, they’re trying to shove something through with a lame duck council. If it’s in a month with 31 days, well – that’s just part of their WORKING FOR DEVELOPERS playbook.

Rationally, council should only make development decisions within one week of a total solar eclipse. We realize that’s a small window of time, but October 14, 2023 is approaching quickly….

Chapter 4: Please include at least half of the following phrases in your communications plan.

<Project> will not solve our housing crisis, we need to do X; I didn’t move here for this, trickle-down economics, we need more research, I’m a resident not a renter, As a taxpayer, upscale, luxury condos, tax dollars, livable, my taxes, per my last petition regarding my last email, per my last email concerning my second-to-last petition, noise pollution, old growth, new growth, adolescent growth, Joni Mitchell, four-toed salamanders, lungless salamanders have five toes, eyes of Newt, flooding, impervious surface, too short, too tall, too medium, our children, my children, a hypothetical child, traffic, flooding, stormwater, neighborhood character, concerned citizens, I will be watching, homeowners, when I moved here in 1972, I have a PhD in leadership management, eight years is not enough time, where are the parks, park problem, problem park, stand up for the trees, I am The Lorax, I am the Walrus, short-sighted. Preserve the town’s character, I am not a NIMBY, but…

More comms reminders:

Remember, if it has no parking, it needs parking to protect existing street spaces. If it has parking, it’ll have an unacceptable impact on traffic. If it has big units, we call them luxury units. If it has small units, we call those luxury units. No matter the size, it’s not suitable for families. The families will burden our schools. It needs to protect mid-block open space and honor rear setbacks, but if it has a backyard, then the loud parties will disrupt the neighborhood peace.

That parking lot is where we discovered a new species of giant water lily floating in an oily pond. It must be protected at all costs.

Chapter 5: To the advisory boards!

Every development project in Chapel Hill goes before a number of advisory boards, which is GREAT! Every advisory board you go before is an opportunity to stall a project, especially because advisory boards are appointed by town council (and not on the same schedule as town council!) and you, yourself, may have had a hand in selecting (or blocking!) who sits on important advisory boards. (See: Geoff Green’s tweet.)

The advisory boards that have input into development decisions in Chapel Hill are:

  • Planning Commission
  • Transportation and Connectivity Advisory Board (TCAB)
  • Community Design Commission (CDC) (for Blue Hill, they are the only board)
  • Environmental Stewardship Advisory Board
  • Housing Advisory Board (if project has a housing component)
  • Historic District commission (if project is in or borders a historic
  • Stormwater Management Utility Advisory Board (at concept plan stage
    if project is over five acres and/or will intrude into an RCD)

And the CDC often sees a project three times: at concept plan, during Council review, and during ZCP process.

Chapter 6: To the media (you know which one!)

At this point, you want to engage the media organization you may have formed a few years ago. Also, NextDoor has no character limit — and that both refers to letters and the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.


As the council decision nears, amplify the impending crisis to be rained down upon us, in the form of traffic, flooding, or environmental ruin. Fire up NextDoor! Open up the Hotmail! It’s time to increase that urgency.

Chapter 8: Well done! You collected more email addresses for the next time a completely-unrelated group opposed to housing forms!

Following the vote, tout your success (regardless of actual impact on outcome), and update your email list, which you will in no way use when another development project comes before town council next week.

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