By Jess Anderson
When I ran for Council eight years ago, I promised to work on a plan for a sustainable future for all of Chapel Hill.
Since then, I’ve worked hard to make good on my promise. And over two terms, I’m proud of the progress we’ve made.
We’ve significantly rebalanced our tax base, including landing one of the County’s highest sales tax producers, Wegmans. We’ve invested in parks and greenways, including purchasing the American Legion Property and passing a new recurring “Penny for Parks” funding stream. We’ve created record amounts of affordable housing. We’ve implemented our Town’s First Climate Action and Response Plan, which earned us an “A” from the Carbon Disclosure Project. We also got through COVID in “excellent fiscal position” as one of only 13 municipalities in North Carolina with a triple-A bond rating.
And we’ve been working hard to tackle one of Chapel Hill’s biggest challenges—growth.
For me, this work actually began within months of taking office, when I took on trying to fix the Blue Hill form-based code—a set of district zoning guidelines that weren’t delivering on connectivity, public spaces, and affordable housing, among other things. In all, this journey took six years, crossed three different councils and resulted in five sets of code amendments. (I write extensively about the code and this journey in my blog).
Then, in 2021, the Town conducted a joint housing study with UNC—the first of its kind. This study uncovered some “harsh truths” about the way our Town was growing:
- Young professionals and their families, first responders, and empty nesters were having trouble finding housing they could afford in Chapel Hill.
- Our growing traffic problem was not the folks living here, but the 40,000 commuters who were driving in and out of Chapel Hill for work every day.
These two experiences made me realize that to grow in a way that aligns with some of our deeply-held values—inclusivity, equity, and sustainability—we needed to transform our approach to development entirely.
So, I convinced my colleagues that we should bring in one of the world’s leading experts in planning to work with the Council, our staff, and our community on an approach to more effectively managing growth—tailored to our local context. After months of work, the Council voted to adopt this new framework.
It’s called Complete Community. And It’s a plan that will help us manage growth, instead of continuing to let it manage us.
Building Complete Communities aligns with global best practices on how to grow inclusively and sustainably. It also fosters connection.
And I want that for all of Chapel Hill.
The best example we have of a Complete Community is Southern Village. This neighborhood contains a mix of housing types — condos, townhomes, single-family homes, and apartments. It also includes parks, forested areas, and stretches of greenway. All you have to do is spend a weekend watching folks connect in various gathering spaces to see how well it’s working.
As we move forward with this vision for Chapel Hill, there are three key priorities:
- Preserve areas where we don’t want to build so we protect ecologically sensitive areas, maintain and healthy streams and a healthy tree canopy, and mitigate risks like flooding.
- Add 25 miles of new greenway in town. We’ve already earned a $1 million planning grant for this “everywhere-to-everywhere” network of linear parks. My initial priority will be safe neighborhood connections to schools.
- Build diverse housing types along transit corridors so folks who teach our children, care for our sick and keep our town running can live here, too.
It’s an exciting plan. But our most important work – implementing it – lies ahead. To get it right will take a mayor with experience in our local government, expertise in policy analysis, and a track record of successful collaboration with the Council, School Board, County, and UNC. It will take a mayor who will work with everyone, and for everyone.
My record of achievement and collaboration has earned me endorsements from leaders spanning our local government and beyond, including 17-term Congressman David Price, Senators Eleanor Kinnaird and Howard Lee, as well as five Chapel Hill Mayors spanning 1969 to present day. I’ve also been endorsed by INDY Week, The Daily Tar Heel, both of our local environmental organizations (NC Sierra Club, the Sunrise Movement), and local social justice groups (EqualityNC, the Breakfast Club). Lastly, I’ve earned the support of over 70 residents and families across our Town.
Eight years ago, I promised a plan—and I delivered. With your vote, we can make this plan a reality. Let’s move forward, together.