A Look Back, a Look Ahead


It’s been quite a year. And The Local Reporter has been there for it.

Exactly 12 months ago, on this date, The Local Reporter, your nonprofit, relentlessly local news source, published its first articles.

What had been an amorphous idea in the minds of a few local activists — to head off what they feared was becoming a news desert in Chapel Hill and Carrboro — took solid shape. Since then, a group of committed volunteers have worked to fill that information gap and to show what a real community newspaper could be.

We’re not there yet; we’re still a work in progress, a prototype, but with your help we can get there. With your help so far we have already published an array of important and interesting news and features, often looking below the surface and behind the curtain. We’ve offered, as well, a unique forum for opinions that have focused exclusively on our community and that have told the tale of a year like no other.

We’ve examined development and traffic, the pandemic’s effects, racial concerns and high school sports and much more. We’ve offered advice on how to garden, where to bike and ways to eat healthy.

Here’s a look at some of what we’ve done during this year. And here’s a plea to support The Local Reporter now and in the future with your donations, which will help it become the community newspaper this community deserves.

Why Businesses are Leaving Chapel Hill

Despite recent efforts by UNC-Chapel Hill and the Town of Chapel Hill to stop the exodus, many emerging companies built on technologies created by university faculty and students continue to locate their facilities outside the community.

A few local entrepreneurs point to several reasons why, including lack of appropriate space, lack of efficient transportation, including parking availability and public transit, and lack of a high-tech ecosystem.

Is Traffic Worse, Better or the Same?

All of the above

Traffic clearly is getting worse in Chapel Hill. Alternatively, traffic actually is getting better. Then again, maybe vehicle traffic is pretty much the same as it’s been. 

In fact, all those statements might be accurate — depending on how traffic is measured in the community.

Town staff provided The Local Reporter with a copy of the enormous Excel spread sheet compiled by NCDOT. This particular spread sheet listed sensor counts for the years 2002 through 2017.

At East, Music is Sweet Jam

A lot was going on backstage in the last hour before East Chapel Hill High School’s final A Cappella Jam.

The practice rooms bustled with students in disco-themed costumes and sunglasses. The tech crew staffed the empty auditorium, giving singers last-minute directives on performance logistics. Friends waited in the music hallway, listening to the snatches of “Stand By Me” that kept escaping from the women’s dressing room. It was vibrato-filled, organized chaos: a perfect preview of the energetic show to come.

Dark Times Require Leadership, Action

Charles van der Horst, internationally known HIV researcher, esteemed medical professor at UNC, committed activist and community leader, died earlier this summer. Shortly before his death, during a marathon swimming race down New York’s Hudson River, van der Horst contributed the following opinion column to The Local Reporter.

The Little Art House that Could

The Chelsea movie theater — on the verge of closing just a couple of years ago — is thriving and growing.

Memberships in the now nonprofit theater are approaching 1,200, and the Chelsea’s “financial status is good,” says Tom Henkel, a retired college professor who served as the theater’s first board chair. “We still have to raise money to have a better operating reserve, but our ticket sales have improved.”

Growth and the Risk of Flooding

Over the past three years, 1.1 million net square feet of impervious surface has been added in the town of Chapel Hill. Another 2.2 million net square feet is being added as a result of construction in progress.

What does that mean?

Currently, there are at least 10 more approved projects in Chapel Hill which, when fully built out, will add another 1.5 million square feet of impervious surface.

Jack Whitebread: Lessons From an Anti-Hero

We all know that Carrboro is an unusual place. For most of us, this unusualness figures heavily into why we have chosen to live here. We’re weird like Austin, wacky like Berkeley, freaky like New Orleans … and, like all these more famous places, we have our beloved town characters: icons who live a little more loudly and colorfully and unusually among us — reminding us that the anti-hero, in the end, may in fact deserve a more generous helping of our love and loyalty and respect than the squeaky-clean, untouchable, vainglorious Eagle Scout. 

Jack Whitebread was such an icon.

Yes, There are Plants We Cannot Grow

“What is it about echinacea? Why can’t I grow it?” my neighbor asked me.

I assured her that for some inexplicable reason I had trouble growing most echinacea cultivars. I like echinacea, I would like to grow a wide variety of echinaceas, and nurserymen have assured me over the years that I’m the only person in the whole wide world
(besides my neighbor) that has trouble growing this forgiving plant.

Riding with Kids: Trailers, Tag-a-longs and First Bikes

One of the great joys of being a parent for me has been riding with my kids over the years. Our children create the opportunity for amazement in addition to often being a handful, and bikes have figured prominently in the former category for our family.

As a former bike shop mechanic and longtime cycling advocate, the most asked questions I get from friends involve getting kids out on bikes. From carting children around when they are still at the tot lot stage to getting on their first real bike, there are lots of choices out there from the wildly expensive to quality hand-me-downs just waiting for some more use.

How Should 15-501 be Reimagined?

U.S. 15-501, the major road linking Chapel Hill and Durham, is likely to undergo significant change in the years to come. The question now under debate by several different organizations is what that change will look like.

The Reimagining 15-501 Corridor Study has taken on increased urgency with the termination of the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project.

The Dangers of Deer Hunting in Town

When you go for a walk around Chapel Hill, do you wear blaze orange for safety? You may wish to consider it. Hunting — both legal and illegal — is occurring in unexpected places in town and reflects a need for the town to revise the Deer Management Program.

Arlen Park Cemetery Vandalized

Southern Village’s Arlen Park Cemetery has been desecrated and a cross with a rope noose draped over it was part of the vandalism. 

Carole Labrum, formerly of Southern Village, first came across the demolished head stones that had been toppled and broken while walking her dog on her usual route through the park. The next day she noted a cross made of sticks with a noose hanging off to the left side, just on the upper corner of the outside wall.

Chapel Hill (Finally) Pins Orange

“Stay behind the line.”

As Tripp Price’s mind was racing, with raucous pandemonium unfolding around him, that was his first thought. His wrestlers at Chapel Hill High had just accomplished something that no Tiger team before it had done in 32 years.

Diary of a Coronavirus Nomad

I’m just a Carrboro girl from the pre-Weaver-Street-Market days of Golden Skillet fried chicken, Sparkle Car Wash, A&P and Marathon Restaurant. Chapel Hill High class of 1987.


High-density Projects: Are they working for Chapel Hill?

Is Chapel Hill’s experiment with high-density development working? Have large, mixed-use projects lived up to expectations?

The Local Reporter has examined town documents and interviewed current and former town leaders and developers to try to answer those questions.

Feeding Schoolkids When There’s No School

Thousands of K-12 students in Orange County rely on free and reduced-price school meals. Thanks to groups like TABLE, these students won’t be left hungry while school is out.

School closures, because of the coronavirus outbreak, have forced volunteers like Eri Bauers to deliver meals directly to students’ homes.

When the Pandemic Hit Home… in 1918

COVID-19 is not the first pandemic to strike our community.

When the influenza pandemic of 1918 hit Orange County, it arrived to a remarkably different place. Carrboro was a mill town, the University of North Carolina had fewer than 1,000 students and Chapel Hill had about as many residents. There was one infirmary, on UNC’s campus, and four doctors. World War I was in full swing and dominated life in Chapel Hill.

Churches Have Faith They’ve Found a Way

Local churches have adapted to social distancing and shelter-in-place orders by offering regular services and other ministries online — but not without a few challenges.

Social distancing because of the coronavirus pandemic may have moved religion further into the digital age. To be able to continue offering services, several churches in the community have opted to videotape their regular services and broadcast them to congregation members via YouTube and other platforms.

Happy Anniversary, A Look Back, a Look Ahead, The Local ReporterLocal Domestic Violence Incidents on the Rise

With families forced to remain at home because of the coronavirus pandemic, incidents of domestic violence are rising in Orange County.

“We have seen an increase in numbers this March over last year’s,” said Susan Friedman, associate director of Chapel Hill’s Compass Center for Women and Families. “We served 231 last year in 2019, and in 2020 we’ve [already] served 269.”

Happy Anniversary, A Look Back, a Look Ahead, The Local ReporterKeeping a Business Alive During the Pandemic

Driving to my empty store on a Saturday in mid-March, physically hurting from two weeks of manic bookselling, I made the usual 30-minute trip in 20, cruising through an empty college town that should be full of life. As I drove, I tried to prioritize what to worry about. I imagined a flow chart. Health is at the top. Then there is emotional well-being — and don’t forget about money.

How can I satisfy my personal and company debts with no or greatly reduced income? Moving forward, how will I provide for my family and my staff? How does the bookstore stay relevant and connected to our community while our doors are closed?

Happy Anniversary, A Look Back, a Look Ahead, The Local Reporter

Homeschooling? Advice from those who’ve been there.

Anjanet Thomas normally sends her ten-year-old daughter to Estes Hills Elementary and her three-year old son to Holmes Childcare Center. But since March 30, she’s had to help teach them both from home. Thomas said the experience has been difficult for her son.

Homeschooling has been on the rise across the state and locally for the last couple of decades. But now it’s become more than just a trend. Ever since the closure of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in mid-March, due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s become a necessity for families.

Why I Love My Hometown Newspaper

May 1985, Kenan Stadium, there’s UNC President William C. Friday watching as graduation speaker Charles Kuralt takes the podium. I’m covering the event for The Chapel Hill News with pen and camera, as Kuralt says, “It was on this campus, all those years ago, that I first became faintly aware that there is, in this state, and in this nation, and in this world, an association of men and women, who, while they may not even know one another, might still be called a conspiracy of good people …”

‘I cannot express how scared I am for my son’

Dear neighbors, 

It has been a joy living in this neighborhood for the last seven months. By now many of you at least know our dogs, Petey (the little tan one) and Pablo (the gray one). The reason for this message is because I want to share a little about who we are and how we are feeling in the midst of the much-needed but still frightening social unrest.

I want my black son to be safe in our neighborhood, which may be easier if you know who we are. 

Working to Save the Monarch Butterfly During a Pandemic

One of my dreams is to live in a small town with colorful milkweed lining sidewalks and trails, with golden monarch butterflies dancing across each and every flower.

This town could very well be Chapel Hill. Just imagine every year many monarch butterflies passing through Chapel Hill, laying their eggs on the milkweed. Wouldn’t a large population of monarch butterflies flying in the sky be a great addition to this already beautiful town?

That’s what the East Chapel Hill High School Monarch Butterfly Club, which was formed during the 2019-2020 school year, is trying to do, promoting the well-being of monarch butterflies.

Real Estate in the Time of Corona: Buyers Beware, Sellers be Happy

Chapel Hill real estate agents say the coronavirus pandemic has made a tough market tougher for home buyers in the area and a sweet market sweeter for sellers.


What changes in store for local police?

Orange County leaders and citizens gathered virtually Saturday to talk about what they have done lately to improve local police departments and what else should be done.

“We have to do better,” said Anna Richards, president of the local branch of the NAACP, which hosted the virtual meeting. “We have to do better.”

Changing Carrboro’s Namesake, Not Its Name

I am rising senior at Chapel Hill High School who loves the Carrboro community, and I am hoping to affect positive, local change. Over the past few decades, Carrboro has become one the most dynamic and forward-thinking towns in the South.

However, an unfortunate history looms over our town, rooted in the community’s name. Shortly after Carrboro’s incorporation in 1911, textile mill owner Julian Carr negotiated to have the town renamed after him.

Marching for Black Lives

Thousands of local residents — black and white, old and young — marched up Franklin Street Saturday in a peaceful protest to “honor lives lost to police violence.”

Carrying signs proclaiming that “black lives matter” and chanting, “No justice, no peace,” the crowd stretched nearly a mile from North Roberson Street, where demonstrators had gathered, to Peace and Justice Plaza, the end of the march, at Henderson Street.

Tigers Wait, with High Hopes

Could the coronavirus pandemic actually help the Chapel Hill High football team? Coach Issac Marsh thinks it might.

Since reaching the 2014 Eastern Regional final, Chapel Hill has won just 10 varsity games. And now, the team doesn’t know when it will next be playing.

Council OK’s Road Extension

Despite a rising price tag but with little apparent choice, the Town of Chapel Hill is going ahead with plans to extend Elliott Road.

The controversial extension was given the go-ahead at a special Zoom meeting July 29, when the Chapel Hill Town Council voted unanimously to approve a contract for extending Elliott across Fordham Boulevard to connect with Ephesus Church Road.

Safety Nets Gone, Residents Face Financial Pressure

In March, state and federal authorities issued moratoriums on evictions and utilities cut-offs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic downturn. But in late July, nearly all those moratoriums ran out. Now, many Orange County residents are facing extreme financial pressures without those protections.

Never on Sunday? Not CH Transit

A sanitizing wipe snuggled under his hand, Chapel Hill resident Philip Stephens savored the feeling of a Sunday morning bus ride. Stephens knows the bus routes so well that he rings the bell a half-block before his stop. At the beginning of this month, to Stephens’ delight, CH Transit started offering Sunday transit services for the first time in nearly 40 years.

Cops in our Schools: Are They Needed?

Before introducing the final discussion topic at the July 23 Chapel-Hill Carrboro school board meeting, Assistant Superintendent Patrick Abele felt moved to issue a warning.

“I do want to recognize with this topic coming before us this evening, there’s a wide range of comments from individuals who certainly have had positive experiences, but adverse experiences, as well,” he said. “We know this can be difficult and it can be challenging, not only for the school district but for the community.”

Leading up to the meeting, the CHCCS Board of Education had received hundreds of emails from current and former students, staff and community members who felt passionately about the upcoming decision to renew or cancel the contracts of the seven school resource officers — specialized police deployed in schools — employed in the district.

So Many Cooks, So Much Good Food

What happens when you put a group of people passionate about healthy, whole food, plant-based eating together? What if they are competitively elected because they know how to effectively teach and know and keep learning more about nutrition?

And what if a pandemic is raging where the need to get good food and nutrition information is more important than ever, but having a gathering around food may not be a good idea?

Neighborhood Focus: Ridgefield/Briarcliff

Located just south of University Place, with a northern border of Fordham Boulevard and eastern boundary of Ephesus Church Road, the neighborhoods of Ridgefield and Briarcliff are highly sought-after by buyers looking for a good combination of a lower price point for Chapel Hill, convenient location and a strong sense of community.

Local Latinos Struggle with Risk of Eviction

There was a four-foot-wide gap in Marvin Cruz’s mobile home. Splintered plywood, insulation and the beige panels that were once siding covered the ground. Even the tarps meant to cover the damage lay in the dirt.

For weeks, his old home stood there, destroyed. The debris wasn’t his main concern, though. He’s more worried about the land underneath — and how to pay for it.

How New Construction is Changing the Community

As Chapel Hill evolves from a small university town into a medium-sized town with a university, growth means significant change is coming to the community.

Residential development currently under construction, according to the town website, will add 1,951 living units to Chapel Hill. It’s a total that does not include developments already approved but for which ground has not been broken, nor does it reflect possible projects which are in the review or concept plan stage. 

But it doesn’t mean a lot of affordable housing is on the horizon.

Trading (Parking) Places

Anyone who has played Monopoly understands you don’t trade Park Place to the player who owns Boardwalk in exchange for Tennessee and New York avenues, especially if you don’t already own St. James Place.

Yet that is what Grubb Properties is asking the Town of Chapel Hill to do — and expecting the town to throw in extra cash to cover an imbalance in the appraised property values. 

What a New Parking Deck will Mean for Chapel Hill

Over the past 10 months, the Chapel Hill Town Council has been discussing proposed redevelopment along East Rosemary Street that would include construction of a parking deck by the town and development of a new 200,000+ square foot office/research building by Grubb Properties.

This project represents a rare opportunity for Chapel Hill to increase our commercial tax base, consolidate parking to free up underused parcels to redevelop, and to anchor an innovation hub that brings hundreds of year-round jobs downtown. 

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