This morning, at an 8 am work session, the Chapel Hill Town Council came to an agreement on a $44 million bond for Fall 2024, allocating $15 million for affordable housing, $15 million for public facilities, and investments in parks, streets and sidewalks, and greenways.

The meeting began with a presentation by town manager Chris Blue, providing an overview of council discussions on the bond over the past few months, and an alternate scenario that included $20 million set aside for affordable housing. While this scenario had support from five members of the council  at last week’s meeting (Karen Stegman, Paris Miller-Foushee, Theodore Nollert, Camille Berry, and Melissa McCullough) , the expense of the town’s public safety needs ($15 million for two new fire stations) meant that very little money ($9 million) would be left over for spending on sidewalks, streets, greenways, and parks, as was clear from Blue’s presentation:

In her comments, McCullough explained her hesitancy about supporting a proposal that provided very little money for connectivity. She underscored the importance of the complete community vision, which includes a commitment to building an everywhere-to-everywhere greenway network, which had $2m of funding in the staff recommended proposal, but none in the alternative scenario.

Nollert proposed a compromise that would allocate $18 million for affordable housing, $7 million for streets and sidewalks, $2 million for greenways, $2 million for parks and rec, and $15 million for fire stations. Several town council members—Berry, McCullough, Stegman, Miller-Foushee—appeared open to this compromise, but it became clear in the discussion that this kind of “horse trading” would not produce a scenario that had the support of five members. (Amy Ryan effectively shut down the conversation when she said she was unwilling to vote for more than $15 million for affordable housing, and Berry questioned the cuts to funding for streets and sidewalks in Nollert’s compromise. She offered, as a compromise, $17.5 million for affordable housing and $7.5 million for streets and sidewalks, but it was not clear that she had support from other council members for this proposal, effectively killing it).

While council does not vote in work sessions, five council members—Mayor Jess Anderson, and council members Ryan, McCullough, Elizabeth Sharp, and Adam Searing—all gave a thumbs up to the scenario proposed by town staff at last week’s work session, which provides $15 million for affordable housing, $15 million for fire stations, and $14 million for streets and sidewalks, parks and recreation, and greenways.

Also on Friday, council learned that it might be possible to place a smaller bond ($10-20 million) on the ballot in 2028, just four years from now, which would allow the council to make further investments in affordable housing, greenways, parks, all things that council members see as priorities of the public. (Fire stations, for better or worse, do not have the same level of support).

The council will be presented with the bond proposal at the May 15 meeting, which will begin the process of officially putting it on the ballot for this fall.

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Martin Johnson lives in Chapel Hill. He teaches film studies courses at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also a member of NEXT Chapel Hill-Carrboro and the Bicycle Alliance of Chapel...