A Thoughtful, Intentional Approach to Growth


By Jessica Anderson

In a recent message to the community, [Chapel Hill] Mayor [Pam] Hemminger shared information with the community about this new council-led work. Today, I wanted to provide some additional information about a defining aspect of this council-led process that will set it apart from the town’s previous efforts: a new pilot process for public engagement.

Over the past decade, the Town has engaged residents and community stakeholders on a variety of topics aimed at creating a vision for our Town’s future.  In so doing, we have heard from thousands of individuals but, despite monumental efforts, as our new consultants have pointed out: no one is happy with the outcomes.  This includes council, our staff, residents, community stakeholders, and the development community.

For the past six years, I and others on council have been working to address this disconnect which, based on my experience behind the dais, is rooted in the fact that we focus heavily on public input at the expense of critical community conversations, trade-offs and priorities.  Absent those conversations, we continually find ourselves arguing about “people versus trees” when, in fact, our community values both.

Now, with guidance from world-class consultants, the Complete Communities initiative will ensure that we have those critical conversations and, in the process of listening to one another, help us become stronger as a community.  As a result, we will be able to move away from parcel-by-parcel decision-making to a “city building” approach that lets us realize the inclusive, walkable, green place we want to be.

After years of lengthy processes, we’ve designed Complete Communities to be quick.  Additionally, we are basing the work on accurate information that will allow everyone to understand the trade-offs associated with various options.

The initial stage is the creation of a group of approximately 40 individuals – representing various stakeholder groups, interests, and points of view.  As the conversations get underway, we will continue to broaden the circles to make sure that all interests and perspectives being fairly represented. Opportunities for additional public engagement will follow.

Conversations will focus on:

  • Ensuring more diverse participation, including individuals who don’t have the time or ability to follow or engage in a lengthy, time-consuming process
  • Fostering authentic dialogue
  • Working together instead of being at odds

At the heart of this initiative is our understanding that Chapel Hill’s current plans and ordinances do not allow for the kinds of housing we need.   Council’s goal, in taking this step is to be thoughtful and intentional about how and where we grow.

I am excited that this work is underway and encourage everyone to visit the Complete Community webpage<https://www.townofchapelhill.org/businesses/complete-community> to learn more.

Jessica Anderson is a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council. She was elected to the Council in 2015 and served as Mayor Pro Tempore from 2017-2019.

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1 Comment on "A Thoughtful, Intentional Approach to Growth"

  1. Let’s not muddy the waters here. The issue is not “people versus trees” or affordable housing versus parks. It’s about developers, many of whom are not local, who seek to profit from what the Chapel Hill community has built over the years without providing ANY community benefits versus a local community with very reasonable requests that support affordability, climate action, walkability, green space, etc. It’s about a town government that has enabled these developers and the results are plain for everyone to see. As Ms. Gray accurately observes, it is the development community that is the “usual suspect” at the table where decisions on land use are made. And developers have gotten virtually everything they have desired.

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