Chapel Hill has 20-ish advisory boards and commissions. Carrboro has almost two dozen plus some task forces. Orange County has a few dozen.

Why are advisory boards and commissions on our minds?

  • They’re often the first civic step someone takes in our town, and many board members go onto run for Town Council and other positions.
  • They make decisions and offer perspectives to Town Council and County Commissioners.
  • (In the case of development-related boards) advisory boards can make recommendations for a project to proceed. As their name implies, any recommendations are advisory. Council members can and do ignore their recommendations.

Who appoints boards?

The Town Councils of Chapel Hill and Carrboro appoint their respective boards. Membership criteria for each board is available on the board and commissions website.

Who serves on advisory boards in our towns?

NextNC recently held a conversation around equity, civic engagement and advisory boards in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Erika Richmond, a postdoc at the UNC Center for Civil Rights, and Danny Nowell from the Carrboro Town Council presented on the demographics of our boards in town, and the results were disappointing – our boards skew:

  • Older
  • Homeowner
  • White
  • Male

How do board appointments align with Town Council elections?

Advisory board members serve on a three-year-long cycle (and can be reappointed for another term – so people can serve on the same board for six years altogether.) Town Council members serve a four-year term. It is fairly common for advisory board terms to span across several election cycles.

Which boards are important for planning and development?

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

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

How has the number of advisory boards changed over time?

They’ve increased over time.

Advisory boards in 1985


A partial list of advisory boards in 1987
Advisory boards in 1995
Advisory boards in 2023

How do advisory boards impact our development process?

They make it take longer, in some cases, a long longer. Last year, town staff studied just how long it takes the town to even consider a new development for approval. The chart below shows how long affordable housing reviews took:

Gosh, that seems like it would make it very difficult to do anything in Chapel Hill.

Yes. Boards are each assigned a council and staff liaison, and take up considerable staff time. They often replicate the work of staff, who are trained professionals in their fields.

Despite efforts to recruit for diverse membership, the intense time commitments means that the majority of boards are not representative of our town’s population and function as a blocker for any change – even small ones.

It also makes our housing more expensive.

Does rethinking the advisory boards mean citizens have less of a voice?

No. In fact it will make sure that all of our community is represented. People who care passionately about the future of community ALWAYS have a voice via a variety of means:

  • You can still send emails to the town council
  • Attend and comment at public meetings
  • Petition the town council
  • Vote
  • Respond to surveys
  • Go to community engagement workshops
  • Build political coalitions that can support candidates for local elections.

Do other towns have fewer boards?

Yes. Apex has 9 boards. Hillsborough has 9 boards. Cary has 8 boards. (Cary has 8x the population of Carrboro, and many fewer boards.)

Should I join a board? How does that work?

A number of TBB writers are on advisory boards and are happy to help you should you be seriously interested in joining a board. Email us: [email protected]

Another first step is emailing a town council member and expressing your interest.

Am I right for an advisory board position?

Yes. Of course you are!  There are some boards that require some specific skills or backgrounds. However, for most of the boards, including the Planning Commission, you just need to have an interest in the future of our town, and a commitment to take on the position with earnestness.

In the last municipal election cycle, we helped increase turnout by over 20 percent. We're all volunteers who care deeply about Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and we're working to make Chapel Hill and Carrboro more vibrant, accessible, fun, and sustainable.  Please consider a small donation to help us keep our digital lights on, host events, and hire students to do data deep-dives.