Chapel Hill Mayor & Town Council Candidates Questionnaire


Robert Beasley, Camille Berry, Vimala Rajendran, Adam Searing and Karen Stegman are candidates for town council. Hongbin Gu and Pam Hemminger are candidates for mayor.

1: Suppose you could have one of the following two superpowers: the ability to fly or the ability to make yourself invisible. Which superpower would you choose and why?

Chapel Hill Town Council Candidates:

Adam Searing: I’d choose to fly as I haven’t been on an airplane in nearly two years and it would make it much easier to travel.

Karen Stegman: Definitely fly. I love to travel and that would make it quicker and cheaper!

Vimala Rajendran: I would choose the ability to fly because I would be able to be like a bird and perch on trees and not have to look for a parking space in town. Flying would also allow me to get to places I could not get to in a car or with my two feet, like the tops of buildings and inside a cumulus cloud.

Robert Beasley: It depends. When you say ‘fly’ does that mean I can only fly directionally at variable speed, or does it include the ability to hover? And when you say ‘make yourself invisible,’ does that include my clothes or is it just me H.G. Wells style? If fly includes hover, then hands down, that is the one I would choose because that would be the most useful. But if I can only fly directionally, then I would probably take invisibility as long as I could turn my clothes invisible because that would be the most useful. H.G. Wells style invisibility would be my last choice, and, honestly, I’d probably pass on that superpower – too creepy to be useful.

Camille Berry: The ability to fly. Being able to expand one’s perspective from a discrete issue to the surrounding environment or get a more detailed view of the situation by flying closer would be an amazing superpower. As it turns out, we have that ability if we are willing to use and hone it with regular practice.

Chapel Hill Mayoral Candidates:

Pam Hemminger: To fly so I could rescue people who need help but, also, because it seems like a much more interesting, climate friendly way to get from place-to-place and see the town.

Hongbin Gu: I’d like to fly. If I can go to anywhere easily without the need to drive a car or ride an airplane, I will share this super power with others. They can go places that they want to go, reduce traffic congestion and global greenhouse gas emission by 29%!

Read Responses

2: What do you consider the 2-3 most important actions the town government can take to address the challenge of climate change? Explain your answer.

Chapel Hill Town Council Candidates:

Adam Searing: Climate change response urgently requires systematic action on the state, federal, and international level but, as a town, Chapel Hill can do its part as well. And our Climate Action Plan, while a good start, needs to go farther. Here’s where we need to act:

  • Chapel Hill’s budget reflects its priorities, and with 23% of the budget devoted to public transit, our free bus and related transit system is the single largest line item we spend money on as a community. Continuing this investment to make sure our bus system is efficient, comfortable (including decent shelters) and highly used is critical to our climate efforts to reduce automobile use. In addition, moving along construction of our North/South corridor bus rapid transit route is critical during the next Council term to improve our system even more.
  • We also need to complete more of the planned greenways and other connectors in the town’s bicycle and mobility plan in order to provide multiple, safer ways for residents and families to use bicycles and other alternative forms of transportation to get to grocery stores, school and work. We have a long priority list of projects for connectivity in that plan and we should continue to implement these improvements as funding allows and as we begin work on priorities like the Estes side path.
  • Deforestation should be at the top of our list of concerns. As development pressures result in more and more building on privately-owned land in town, our town must better prioritize preservation of our forests and trees, with a special duty to property that the town owns already. With more and more research showing the beneficial effects of forests and tree cover for the mental and physical health of residents we should also strive so that all our residents, regardless of income, have access to our cooling forests and beautiful streams and trails. Especially after the pandemic, itself arguably another manifestation of climate failures, we need to better conserve the public natural resources we have left here in Chapel Hill.

Karen Stegman: We must take urgent action locally, regionally, nationally, and globally to address the rapid change that is causing severe and lasting damage to the planet. This will require phasing out fossil fuels and, as rapidly as possible, and ending greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). The Council adopted a resolution to be a 100% clean, renewable energy community by 2050 and passed our first Climate Action and Response Plan (CARP) to chart our path to achieving that
goal. As such I believe that it is a very good plan, and I am proud to have been able to adopt it.

As a member of the Town Council, I have been a vocal and consistent advocate on climate issues, in particular for changes in how the Town thinks about transportation and land use. Reducing vehicle miles travelled (VMT) is a key strategy of our new Climate Action and Response Plan and critical to meeting our ambitious GHG reduction commitment by 2030. Per a recent NCDOT report on VMT reduction, on a per household basis, urban households produce much lower average daily VMT and much fewer trips than both suburban and rural households. In 2009, the average urban household in North Carolina drove 32.7 miles per day while rural North Carolina households drove 74 percent more miles, or 56.8 miles per day. Similarly, urban North Carolina households averaged 4.4 automobile trips per day while rural North Carolina households averaged 23 percent more, or 5.4 trips per day.

Smart growth approaches that combine dense infill development with access to multi-modal transit options will get people out of cars and offer significant environmental and health benefits for the community. I have worked hard to help raise the visibility of these important policy shifts by leveraging my role on Council to advocate at meetings, publish thought pieces on social media and in local media outlets. I have been a strong advocate for transit friendly projects; advocated for land use approaches in the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) that concentrate development along central transit corridors and intend to see this continued into our LUMO; and supported the development and funding of the CARP.

Moving forward, we must continue to invest in planning for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), transitioning the Town’s fleet to electric, including the addition of electric buses, as funding allows. Given the serious limitations of what we can do at the local level, we must also prioritize collaboration with neighboring jurisdictions and aggressive advocacy to get help at the State level. Additionally, as stated above, transportation is now the leading source of GHGs in the US. As such, careful thought about land use and transportation planning is key to reducing our carbon footprint. Investment in public transit will ensure that our community continues to grow in a dense, compact, and sustainable way that will minimize emissions from automobile travel.

Vimala Rajendran: The town government needs to take the climate crisis seriously. There should be a prohibition on clear cutting trees, and all new development should have an environmental impact study done. Priority should be given to green infrastructure. More permeable surfaces with open green spaces must be insisted upon.

There should be more funding for more public transportation that is accessible, more frequent, and that which runs all days of the week, because that will get people out of cars and reduce the carbon footprint. It is also necessary to improve and complete connectivity of bike paths and pedestrian walks to help people leave their cars behind and bike and walk more.

Robert Beasley: Chapel Hill has a Climate Action Plan, but I think it needs to do more in the short term – everything in it appears to be several years out. Specifically, the Town government needs to include an assessment of all development projects against a set of Climate Action Criteria to determine if the project (a) aligns with and progresses the Climate Strategy, (b) is neutral to the Climate Strategy, or (c) impedes the Climate Strategy. Anything that is impeding the Climate Strategy and runs counter to the Plan needs to be stopped and reworked so that it aligns with and progresses the Climate Strategy. Anything that is neutral should be evaluated for changes that will shift it into the aligns/progresses category. The second short-term action needs to be an assessment of the Town’s current Boards, Commissions, and Departments. The assessment needs to determine whether any of those as currently defined and operating impede or undermine the Climate Strategy and plan. And if they do, changes need to be made so that they are either neutral to the Climate Strategy and Plan or – ideally – they are positioned to advance the Strategy and Plan. The assessment should also recommend any new Boards, Commissions, or Departments that need to be established to advance the Plan and ensure execution of the Strategy; and the Town Government should implement those recommendations.

Camille Berry: Advancing the Town’s Climate Action and Response Plan that was adopted in April will be key. While upholding environmental justice, the Town government can take two important actions to address the challenge of climate change by:

  1. Decreasing our community’s dependency on personal fossil-fuel vehicles by offering viable alternatives (e.g., increased and faster public transit, safe bike/ped pathways, ample charging stations throughout Town, etc.)
  2.  Implementing green construction and renovations for residential and commercial structures

Chapel Hill Mayoral Candidates:

Pam Hemminger: A. Motivate our entire community to take action

Greening Town operations and facilities is important, and we’re moving forward to make it happen, but that constitutes only a small portion of Chapel Hill’s overall carbon footprint. We need to motivate our entire community to share our level of urgency and join us in this effort, forging partnerships and using the leverage we have in the development approval process to allow us to meet our goals more quickly.

B. Generate more renewable energy in Chapel Hill

One strength of our Climate Action Plan is that it identifies high-impact categories to help us prioritize this work. At the top of the list is “Greening the Grid,” which, when fully accomplished, will reduce town emissions by 30–31%.

In the big picture, the faster Duke Energy moves to renewables, the better. Currently, the governor and legislature are negotiating a timeline for making that happen – with 70% by 2030 and 100% transition by 2050, which isn’t fast enough. Wherever we can, we need to work with other organizations and governments in North Carolina to lobby for speeding this transition to renewables.

In the meantime, the town needs to be taking our own steps to create and use more renewable energy here. My top priorities are to have us create a community solar farm, install solar-powered EV charging and e-bike docking stations, and put solar on as many roofs as possible – including on town facilities and in affordable housing communities and build out our multimodal network.

C. Increase Chapel Hill’s bicycle and pedestrian mode shares significantly by building out the town-wide mobility network and updating our land use policies.

Currently, Chapel Hill has the highest jobs to housing ratio in the region and, as a result, almost 90% of the people who work here commute into Chapel Hill each day. According to the 2021 State of the Community report, over 43,000 people drive in and out of Chapel Hill each day for work, resulting in traffic and greenhouse emissions. Just 6,450 people live and work here.

To drastically reduce emissions and other impacts on our community, we need to attract more good jobs to town, so more people who live here can work here, and plan for transit-oriented communities with middle income housing – townhomes, duplexes, and triplexes – so that more of the people who work in our community can live here affordably too.

At the same time, we need to speed up the build-out of our Mobility & Connectivity plan to create a town-wide multi-modal network that will allow more people to bicycle, walk, or take transit to the places they work, shop, and play.

Hongbin Gu: 

  • We can retrofit our old buildings and public housing to meet the energy standards while improving working/living conditions for our staff/residents.
  • As the governing body to regulate land use, it’s important to have a comprehensive plan that incorporates best land-use practices to enabe easy access to fresh foods, biking/walking/transit and green spaces, protect our trees and creeks, and minimize storm water runoff. We need dedicated funding to improve our bike/walk/transit connectivity to enable safe reliable alternatives to automobile use.
  • We should promote a community-wide distributed stormwater management network by issuing small grants and tax incentives for people to retrofit raingardens and harvest rain water on their properties. 

Read Responses

3: What actions can the Town government take to help reduce traffic congestion on our major roads at peak travel times?

Chapel Hill Town Council Candidates:

Adam Searing: We are still adjusting to the changes the pandemic has made in our transportation use. Just to take one example, our Eubanks Road park and ride lot at the Northern terminus of our bus route that is designed to park over 400 cars usually only has about 40 parked there on any given day. Work habits are changing and we still haven’t seen the full effects. With this in mind here are my ideas for moving forward on dealing with our traffic issues:

  • We need to continue funding our free bus system and we should explore an East/West version of a bus rapid transit route as well as a way to better move UNC employees who live outside of town into downtown.
  • Raleigh’s expansive greenway system can serve as a model for us as to what success looks like when we fund and improve more elements of our connectivity plan and encourage more bicycle use. If I am a new council member, I would like to tour the newest parts of their system, meet with key players who got around funding and other barriers, and learn as much as I can in order to make more progress on our infrastructure here in Chapel Hill.
  • We need to solve the “big kahuna” problem for bicycle commuting in Chapel Hill in order to encourage more use, funding, and acceptance of alternative transportation methods: UNC and downtown Chapel Hill are only approachable via a fairly steep hill climb from any direction other than Carrboro. Over the years we have tried a variety of approaches to this problem. Our buses have front bike racks that can haul bikes up the hill, we have finally gotten bike lanes on one main approach road, and the sale of more electric bikes has made the climb more manageable. In addition, the Chapel Hill mobility plan has done a good job of detailing where new climbing lanes for bicycles may be possible on major routes and outlined a potential greenway route up through an OWASA easement. And when we turn the railroad bed bringing coal to UNC into a greenway that will be a big help as well – this should be a top priority. While these are good ideas, I think we need more options too. Potential ideas include building in significantly more bicycle carrying capacity as part of our bus rapid transit system development and maybe even some sort of shuttle service based on what has been developed in recreational areas.

Karen Stegman: Transportation is now the leading source of GHGs in the US. Currently, Chapel Hill has 42,000 people a day commuting in and 15,000 people a day commuting out. Only 7,000 people live and work in Chapel Hill. Our current transit resources, particularly our regional ones, are inadequate to meet this demand, hence the enormous number of cars coming in and out, bringing with them pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and traffic. As such, careful thought about land use and transportation planning is key to reducing traffic congestion as well as our carbon footprint. This starts with continued investment in public transit, including the BRT currently under development, and continued engagement in regional transit planning. We also need to continue to work with our colleagues in the region and the state to shift NCDOT funding away from building unneeded new or larger roads and toward increased support for multi-modal transportation, including transit.

Vimala Rajendran: Improving public transportation, offering more affordable housing within town, encouraging park and ride programs will help reduce traffic.

Robert Beasley: The Town government needs to stop approving development projects that overburden our already troubled roadways before the infrastructure is in place to address the traffic congestion the development will bring. Too often it seems projects get approved based on an assumption that a State or Federally funded infrastructure improvement will address the issue. And then that funding or infrastructure project gets cancelled, while the development moves forward and worsens conditions.

Next, I would say we need to take a fresh look at this from a Housing Strategy, Design, and Planning perspective. According to the Town of Chapel Hill’s Economic Sustainability Committee’s Housing Report that was released last month, two thirds of the residents in Chapel Hill that work, work outside of town. And 90% of local jobs are fulfilled by people commuting into Chapel Hill. So set aside the argument we hear that ‘we need to get the folks that live in Chapel Hill to stop using their cars and provide them with more mobility options,’ because the underlying issue is our housing situation in Chapel Hill. Our housing situation forces traffic congestion on major roads at peak travel times. If you want the Town government to take action to help reduce traffic congestion on our major roads at peak times, then push for a real Affordable Housing Strategy and Plan that delivers adequate affordable housing for the people that work in Chapel Hill with transportation and mobility options that make it easy for them to get to their local jobs without having to drive their car. Do that, and you reduce the number of local jobs that are filled by commuters.

You also reduce the number of working residents that commute to jobs outside of town. And you solve many other problems our Town is facing from the Affordable Housing shortage. The Town government’s approach to housing and its inadequate strategy and investment in Affordable Housing is a critical issue for the Town of Chapel Hill. And if we don’t start connecting the dots on this, and putting real, comprehensive strategies, plans, and ordinances in place to solve this problem, our town is going to face a major crisis of identity, services affordability, and cultural richness and diversity.

Camille Berry: Increase bus frequency and completion of the greenway connectors so that folks have other viable options to travel. Create/lobby for bus-designated lanes in main corridors to move buses more rapidly and safely through town.

Chapel Hill Mayoral Candidates:

Pam Hemminger: The Triangle is experiencing significant growth pressures. Chapel Hill has been managing this growth more conservatively than other jurisdictions, but traffic remains a concern for our residents.

In the past, any growth of people or businesses always meant growth of car traffic. We know that this model isn’t sustainable – from a traffic or environmental perspective — so we’ve been working hard to expand and enhance our transit system, build out our town-wide mobility network, and support other multi-modal options like e-bikes so that it’s safe and convenient for people to bicycle, walk, and ride the bus more often.

The town recently debuted our long-awaited town-wide traffic model, which now gives us the ability to predict broad traffic effects as the town grows. I’m excited to have this new capability, which will greatly increase Council’s understanding of traffic impacts during the development review process and allow us to assess whether any added car traffic would be manageable and to identify and require mitigations as a condition of approval. We can also use the software to look at effects on bicyclists and pedestrians, to make sure our roads and sidewalks are safe and effective for everyone.

Other efforts to mitigate traffic impacts include:

  • Implementing Vision Zero strategies to reduce accidents and make biking and walking safer.
  • Working with the schools to get more kids biking and walking daily.
  • Utilizing GoChapelHIll, the Town’s Transportation Demand Management (TDM) program, when new transportation services or facilities and connections come online to encourage or incentivize people to try new ways of getting to work and elsewhere.

Hongbin Gu: 

  • Improve collaboration with regional transit partners to create reliable connections from Chapel Hill to Duke, RTP and other employment centers;
  • Provide reliable Park and Ride service and transit service in town, reducing workforce parking on/near campus;
  • Work with major employers to develop affordable workforce housing to reduce the peak hour transportation needs;
  • Require high-density development to provide a multi-modal transportation plan with lower parking ratios and improvements to bike/walk/transit infrastructure.

Read Responses

4: Under what circumstances, if any, would you consider extending city water and sewer service into the rural buffer? Explain your answer.

Chapel Hill Town Council Candidates:

Adam Searing: The rural buffer is one part of our long-term land use plan adopted by Orange County, Chapel Hill and Carrboro back in the 1980s. It has been a successful tool to prevent the sprawl that surrounds some of our neighbors like Cary and North Raleigh by delineating where we should extend water and sewer services.

Unfortunately, some folks use the rural buffer to argue that we in Chapel Hill must approve all new development proposals that come before the town – no matter if that means town residents must give up our goals of great parks and any preservation of our remaining public forests and open spaces. Indeed, in recent years, some Council members seem to vote “yes” on every single development proposal. However, so many people I’ve talked to during this campaign have told me the importance of our woodland trails, our public spaces and our parks as critical to their desire to live in Chapel Hill. They want our town to have successful businesses, a great library, a solid police and fire department, and yes, more development. But they want that development to be include more housing like townhomes, duplexes and housing for residents of all incomes, all built in a manner where people are eager to buy and live in these neighborhoods. And our woods and trails are a critical part of this vision. Everyone in our town, regardless of their income, deserves to be able to enjoy a walk on our public land, in our public’s forest, by our public greenways and creeks – this is the very essence of what it means to live in Chapel Hill and exactly why people want to live here.

Finally, folks outside of town in Orange County have the same concerns as Chapel Hill residents. Orange County residents recently organized to successfully defeat a proposed 100 pump gas station that would have been built in rural Orange County. The project was defeated because of community concerns about traffic, environmental damage, stormwater, and other impacts – similar issues that Chapel Hill residents raise about development. In a time of worsening heat, drenching storms and after an awful pandemic we should all have a better appreciation of the importance of our public forests, trees and other green spaces – these are important whether you live outside or inside of Chapel Hill’s town limits.

The rural buffer is a critical land use tool that works in concert with our other land use policies. It should be used to improve our community and not as a political cudgel to force bad policies – whether within or outside our town limits.

Karen Stegman: In the late ‘80s, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Orange County created a rural buffer. This established a circle around the edge of town beyond which we agreed not to develop. The intent was to preserve the rural nature of Orange County while also preventing urban sprawl. This has proven to be a real success. The tradeoff inherent in the creation of the rural buffer, one which is now becoming more apparent as developable land becomes truly scarce, is that we need to use the land we do have in a way that accommodates anticipated growth while retaining community character and addressing the challenges of climate change. Chapel Hill continues to grow, albeit more slowly than our neighboring communities, with a demand for approximately 400 new dwelling units per year to accommodate this modest growth. In the past, our housing supply has not kept up with growth, and this inadequate supply leads to housing scarcity and increased housing prices. Because our supply has not kept up with demand, pressure on housing prices is intense. It is vital to the long-term health of the community that we reflect the implications of the rural buffer in our land use policies so that we can preserve the buffer while not pricing out the diverse population that we want and need.

Vimala Rajendran: City water and sewer will only need to be extended into the rural buffer if future developments are allowed. There is no need at this time to develop the rural buffer. The rural buffer is there for a reason, which is mostly environmental preservation. It is part of the town’s agreement with surrounding areas, and the neighbors within Chapel Hill.

Robert Beasley: Perhaps I do not understand the question. From what I have read, the Rural Buffer, and the rules and ordinances that define and protect it, preclude Chapel Hill (or Carrboro) from extending city services into that area. So as long as the Rural Buffer, and those rules and ordinances exist, the question is moot. (And please do not read into this that I am in favor of eliminating or dismantling the Rural Buffer, I am not advocating that in this response.)

Camille Berry: The Rural Buffer was created to contain development and protect our farmland and other green space in the more rural areas of Orange County.  I would advocate and support land use policies that continue to honor these two premises of the Rural Buffer. At this time, I cannot think of a situation that would cause me to shift on this position.

Chapel Hill Mayoral Candidates:

Pam Hemminger: I would be willing to extend water and sewer for park and recreation services such as bathrooms at the ball fields at Millhouse Park.

Hongbin Gu: The rural buffer protects our drinking water, prevents urban sprawl and maintains the agricultural character of Orange County. Any proposal to expand municipal water and sewer service into the rural buffer must include a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis that shows significant benefits and strategic opportunities to the Town/County. The analysis should include life-cycle costs for additional infrastructure, transportation, watershed damage and remediation, stormwater impact, social impacts etc. 

Read Responses

5: What do you consider some of the strengths of Chapel Hill Town staff? What changes or improvements would you like to see in the work of Town staff?

Chapel Hill Town Council Candidates:

Adam Searing: As a first-time candidate I am familiar with town staff work mostly through my advocacy around public land and parks and not as a member of the town government. The staff I have dealt with from our town have been generally been professional, helpful and responsive. I am concerned however that the enormous number of pending and soon to be proposed major development projects in town will test our staff and our council members’ ability to adequately review and consider these proposals. In addition, we need to change the unique special zoning district in the Ephesus area that removes the town council from final review of projects and shifts the responsibility to staff members and a single appointed board. This removes an important oversight function that has resulted in projects that do not fit into our town’s long-term plans and a lack of affordable housing requirements — but it adds to the workload for everyone because projects in this area will undergo more review. We need to develop a mechanism that allows our staff and elected part-time council members adequate time to review projects and gather key information in an environment where a new development proposal has recently been coming in almost once a week.

Karen Stegman: The Town has excellent staff, who are committed public servants. We are lucky to have them. That said, the range of topics and needs of a town is quite broad and ever changing so it is not financially feasible to have a subject matter expert in every area that we might need, which is why strategic use of expert consultants in specialized areas is a useful strategy to fill those gaps. Over the past year, we have identified a need for a data scientist to provide Councill and staff with the best quality data to guide decision-making across departments and topic areas and I am supportive of bringing this skill set on to staff in a full-time capacity.

Vimala Rajendran: The Chapel Hill Town Staff work very hard to support the Council and it must be appreciated, and recognized. I wish to see better and timely communication between the staff and the council, and to the public (e.g. update the website with public information in a timely manner).

Robert Beasley: I have had limited interaction with the Town Staff overall, so I do not think I can comment here. I am certain, as with any organization, there are strengths and there are areas of improvement; but I do not have enough information to provide an informed opinion in this case.

Camille Berry: Based on my interaction with the Chapel Hill Town staff as a resident and a former employee of one of the Town’s affordable housing partners, I would consider their strengths to be that they are: curious, dedicated, and service-oriented. I would like to see Town staff be given clearer expectations regarding the vision and goals set by the Council so that staff can move forward in their roles and duties with greater conviction and confidence.

Chapel Hill Mayoral Candidates:

Pam Hemminger: Chapel Hill is fortunate to have a dedicated team of long-term professionals who are passionate about our town and take their jobs seriously.

Over the past three years, we have hired a new Town Manager, Town Attorney, Deputy Town Manager, and Fire Chief to replace long-time employees who retired. Throughout these transitions and during the pandemic, we have seen how strong the teamwork and collaboration among our entire staff is.

When I took office in 2015, people were very concerned about the Blue Hill (formerly Ephesus-Fordham) form-based code, as was I. After working to update the code, the Town Council voted to add an Urban Designer position in the manager’s office to help us think differently about how future growth looks and feels. Our Urban Designer is now involved at the earliest stages of project review and has made a significant difference for a number of projects – including our new affordable housing community at 2200 Homestead Road.

Another new position on staff is our Director of Equity and Inclusion (DEI), who has been hired to help the town “advance and transform the Town’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion – both internally and externally.” One of her first tasks is to serve as project manager for efforts to reimagine community safety in Chapel Hill.

Council has also been working with the Manager to:

  • Add more analytics capabilities to the work we do. I’m happy to report that our Business Management Director has made that hire.
  • Hire an additional staff member in Sustainability to assist with implementation of our Climate Action Plan.
  • Work with our Town Manager and new Planning Director to help us be more proactive and less reactive to the tremendous growth pressures we are under and to complete our land use ordinance rewrite so that future development algins with our social, economic, and environmental goals.

Hongbin Gu: Our Town staff are dedicated public servants who care about our community. They respond to residents’ calls and address their concerns. They build partnership with community organizations and organize outreach efforts to solicit public input. However, the key staff department for planning and land use is significantly under-staffed, which prevents them from providing the high-quality professional service that we count on. As noted in the Chapel Hill Housing Report, we have inadequate data collection and analytical capacity and have been flying blind in recent years. We need a skilled urban planner who sees the big picture and can break down silos and propose a comprehensive plan to address multiple challenges across different domains of housing, economy, transportation, environment and disparity. We need staff to be able to provide a critical review of major projects, taking into account the financial, environmental, and social costs and benefits from the Town’s perspective, especially for discretionary conditional zoning and development agreement decisions.

Read Responses

6: UNC and UNC Health are the town’s largest employers. How might the Town government collaborate with UNC and UNC Health to address some of the challenges facing the town?

Chapel Hill Town Council Candidates:

Adam Searing: We are collaborating well with UNC on affordable housing to help maintain our Northside neighborhood for families, not students, and begin to build new affordable homes on Homestead Road with UNC Hospitals. I believe we should significantly expand this partnership. UNC is our town’s largest employer, providing over 40% of workers in town with jobs. UNC also employs a wide range of people with a huge variety of incomes. I’d like to explore working with UNC to create a new housing complex that is within easy bus service of downtown, extremely desirable and well-built, and can be structured to appeal to many different UNC employees who don’t have the ability to purchase a home in the current environment but need a beautiful place to live for themselves and their families. We could work with UNC’s housekeeping, food service staff, and administrative support staff as well as UNC’s newest faculty members and their families to find out what they would like in housing and what would be most helpful and at what price. An attractive complex near town with sliding scale rent and great family amenities could really help our housing crunch and be very attractive to many. Depending on size, this could take significant pressure off our other affordable housing efforts for non-UNC affiliated residents and provide an attractive new benefit to UNC employment as well.

Karen Stegman: When the Town and UNC-CH collaborate around a common cause, we can achieve amazing things – Chapel Hill Transit is a testament to that. With the new Downtown Together initiative, we have an opportunity to help revitalize our downtown and make it the center of our Town that it has been in the past. First and foremost, it is my hope that this initiative can help keep the amazing companies that are being spun out of UNC on a regular basis in Chapel Hill. All too often, we lose these companies for lack of growth space, particularly for wet labs. I also hope that this effort can help the Town create a true entrepreneurial ecosystem that has, in addition to start-ups, the companies that support these new firms: venture capitalists, attorneys, accountants, and marketing and communications firms, as well as the social structures that support the entrepreneurs.

By doing so, this will not only enhance our start up environment, but also provide the workers that can support our existing businesses downtown, which were, to some degree, struggling even before COVID and are struggling even more now.

UNC Healthcare is also an important partner in the community. A recent example of how effective collaboration can powerfully benefit the community is the new Horizons Homestead program. Horizons, a program of UNC Healthcare providing care to mothers affected by substance use disorders and their children, will provide 32 units of affordable housing for Horizon’s program participants and recent graduates. These units will be located within the new 2200 Homestead Road development, an affordable housing development led by the Town.

As the Town’s largest employers, I look forward to continuing to build on existing partnerships and collaboration on critical needs, such as development of housing affordable to their workforces.

Vimala Rajendran: UNC’s governance as an autonomous system, with their own police, trash disposal system etc. makes it hard to define the town-gown relationship. I believe in better communication between Chapel Hill Town and UNC and UNC Healthcare, particularly in regard to traffic, housing and using local businesses as major suppliers to the university. For example, UNC could take more responsibility for housing their upper class undergraduate students (i.e. sophomores, juniors and seniors), and graduate students. The responsibility for building affordable housing could be shared by UNC and the Town, as I know happens in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for students who have families.

Robert Beasley: Land Use Management and Affordable Housing / Housing for the ‘missing middle’ (as the Town government calls it) seem like the most obvious and important areas to me. The Town is struggling to define ways to increase Affordable Housing developments. The Town needs a comprehensive strategy, plan, and set of ordinances and standards for delivering Affordable Housing and housing for the missing middle (as well as several other neglected groups). If we do not address Affordable Housing adequately and soon, everything will start to cost more. It will be harder to hire Bus Drivers, because we will have to pay them more to lure them away from bus driving jobs in Durham and the surrounding areas. Why commute to Chapel Hill to drive a bus, when you can commute to Durham to drive a bus at a higher wage, or afford to live in Durham and drive a bus in your home town? And it won’t just be bus drivers. It will be University and healthcare administrators. It will be CNAs, medical technicians, maintenance workers, etc. These are all jobs that affect UNC and UNC Health, and they are facing this right alongside the Town of Chapel Hill. So I think there is a tremendous opportunity for collaboration between the Town of Chapel Hill and UNC / UNC Health to partner on building this comprehensive housing strategy, ordinances and standards. Much of our success will be grounded in legal constraints, and legally-minded mechanisms of land use ordinances and standards; and that too is an area of opportunity between the Town and UNC’s School of Law and School of Government.

Camille Berry: The Town, UNC, and UNC Health already collaborate, and I believe those relationships could be further strengthened. Some collaboration examples include: affordable housing (ex., Northside Neighborhood Initiative), community health matters (ex. addressing the pandemic), economic development (ex., business incubators), and bus transit.

Chapel Hill Mayoral Candidates:

Pam Hemminger: Since taking office, I have worked hard to establish better relationships between the University and the Town. Nowhere is it more evident than the Downtown Together partnership, which aligns the Town and University’s goals to:

  • Make downtown more welcoming and vibrant
  • Add year-round employees, residents, and visitors to support our local businesses so they can thrive and build out the Launch Accelerator Program to include more opportunities for co-working and expansion.
  • Bring more things to do – music, art, and events – downtown for everyone to enjoy.

Downtown Together is a big step forward and builds on work that the town, Orange County, UNC, and other partners have been doing through the Launch incubator/accelerator to retain and attract UNC startups for Chapel Hill and Orange County.

As part of this effort, UNC has also committed to encourage companies that work with them to have a presence in Chapel Hill near the innovation hub by clustering the people and programs that support Carolina innovation efforts together in 15,000 – 20,000 SF of space downtown. The University is also moving their admissions office to Porthole Alley, which will bring more year-round visitors to Franklin Street.

The Chancellor strongly supports these efforts and has created a new 19-member Chancellor’s Committee on Economic Development, which has been tasked with making industry recruitment and retention a campus-wide effort.

I see this, too, as a steppingstone for strengthening our relationship with the UNC Health – especially with the creation of private wet lab space on East Rosemary (a first for Chapel Hill), and the recent announcement that BioLabs, a life sciences coworking space, will be coming to downtown.

This is the most energy downtown Chapel Hill has seen in the past several decades and I know it will be an incredible outcome for our town and the University!

And we’re collaborating in other areas as well. This year, we jointly commissioned a housing needs assessment to help us plan together for the future. We’re also working on climate; beginning this fall, we have asked that the university include a Climate Action update as part of their semi-annual campus updates to Council to further opportunities for discussions about what they are doing – including about moving away from coal – and to look for ways we can align our efforts for greater impact. And we’re continuing to partner with the University and Carrboro to reduce GHG emissions and our reliance on cars by funding and operating Chapel Hill Transit, one of the largest fare-free systems in the nation and provider of millions of transit trips each year.

Hongbin Gu: As the No.1 and No.2 employers of the Town, UNC and UNC Health have a significant footprint and impact on our town. There are many areas where the Town and these major institutions can work together, including

  • Workforce housing and living wages. Many University/Hospital staff are residents of our affordable housing facilities. More live in the county and in other cities and commute. For service quality and stability, it’s to the benefit of UNC and UNC Health to participate in the Town’s affordable housing effort and pay staff wages high enough to enable them to live in town;
  • Proper management of student housing. Campus living provides an enriched college experience for students, affording proximity to campus events and close interaction between students and faculty. Due to lack of investment in student housing, many students now choose to live off-campus. This puts additional pressure on housing affordability, parking, and traffic. Many low-income communities face gentrification. We need to work with the University to formulate a housing policy that properly manages student housing and its impact on the environment and community.
  • Climate Action and UNC’s Coal Plant: Both the Town and UNC have developed our respective climate action plans and we will see better results if we coordinate. We can work together to develop a bike/walk network and a bike-sharing program to connect off-campus housing to campus. We can improve transit service by tapping into student drivers to relieve our driver shortage. We can work together to help UNC and UNC Health phase out UNC’s coal-fired power plant before 2040;
  • A vibrant downtown and economy benefits both the Town and the University. We’d like to see a budget commitment from UNC to support the downtown in coordination with the Town’s land-use planning. With UNC’s national leadership in entrepreneurship development, we can support our downtown small businesses and job training;
  • Given the large campus footprint downtown and the Town’s lack of public spaces and gathering places for large events, shared arts and culture and facilities programming will significantly benefit our residents, many of whom are employees of UNC or UNC Health.

Read Responses

7: What should be done with publicly-owned land such as the Greene Tract and the former American Legion property? How will you balance the goal of producing new housing for those with modest incomes with the goal of preserving natural areas for recreation and environmental protection?

Chapel Hill Town Council Candidates:

Adam Searing: The Greene Tract, at 164 acres, is the largest public forest in Chapel Hill. The Greene Tract Forest is threatened with development that bears little resemblance to proposals from years of community planning. Our public property on Legion Road is in danger of being divided and part of it sold for commercial uses – instead of creating an amazing park as residents have asked for years. Over eight miles of volunteer-built and maintained trails and acres of beautiful hardwood trees beside many creeks are now slated for removal for water retention projects to support even more building. (While we’ve “paused” the Booker Creek removals in this election year, removal of acres of trees at the headwaters of Booker and Bolin Creeks is still on the table and this issue has not gone away.) Our woods, trees and wild spaces help make Chapel Hill great and are an important reason so many of us love living here. Especially after this awful pandemic we need to put a much larger priority on our parks and green space than we have in the past – and this protection needs to extend to every community in town, not just our higher income areas.

To do this we need to halt plans to sell off our public land to private interests and focus on what our residents want. In Chapel Hill, our Town Council frequently sets up large community meetings, asking residents to spend hundreds of hours of time and input and then produces comprehensive, hundred-plus page reports on the results. However, if the community results don’t match what the current Council wants to do, those reports are often disregarded, frustrating residents.

In the case of the Greene Tract Forest, more than 20 years of public planning and community meetings have consistently produced multiple reports recommending that around 80% of the Forest be preserved around 20% be set aside for affordable housing and development in character with surrounding neighborhoods. At no point has anyone in these years of reports asked for the current plan – two large roads run through the forest and about 80 acres of the public’s forest largely sold off to private developers for market rate housing and market rate development. A “preserved area” is now just green space around the headwaters of Bolin and Booker Creeks that can also contain retention ponds, road development and utilities. This proposed development taking the place of our public forest would be as big as two times the size of the town’s recently approved Aura project plus an entire Carraway Village project complete with fast food outlets. It would be by far the largest project built on town land in decades and the largest sale of public land in decades to private interests. This isn’t what has been asked for in the past. Is this really what we want now? And residents from all over town have created what is essentially a de facto park in the Forest with trails and memorials – – use of the Forest has jumped ten times in recent years and skyrocketed during the pandemic.

Finally, what political considerations are causing us to barrel forward with this sale of the largest piece of public forest in Chapel Hill for more development when we can’t even start or complete multiple affordable housing projects in town like Trinity Park or 2200 Homestead that are actually near town, transit, and don’t require building of extensive infrastructure?

We need to bring similar scrutiny to proposals to sell part of the public Legion Road Park property to commercial developers and to develop even more housing. Over 1000 apartments – including over 140 affordable units – have been built or are already proposed in the Legion Road area and the community there has consistently asked for a park on the entire property to serve surrounding communities, most recently after hundreds of hours of time helping the town produce a community report. In many ways the town is way behind area residents already!

Legion Park neighbors have, like their Greene Forest neighbors, also essentially created a de facto park over the last few years, using the park daily, volunteering thousands of hours to remove invasive species, clean and maintain the park, build basic facilities, and much more. Other, wealthier areas of Chapel Hill have much larger parks. But the report and residents’ hard volunteer work doesn’t match what the Council wants, so out it goes and the march is now on to sell off substantial parts of the Legion property for development.

Finally, both Legion Park and the Greene Forest exemplify a troubling aspect of where our most protected and preserved public forests, lands and parks are located in Chapel Hill. The largest protected public land and public forests in town – Cedar Falls Park, Pritchard Park, Southern Community Park, and Merritt’s Pasture/Morgan Creek Preserve – are all largely surrounded by our higher income neighborhoods. In fact, the Greene Forest and Legion Park are unique in that they are surrounded or close by very affordable homes on at least two sides. Yet it is in these two largest areas of public land and forest that the town is currently considering sale of public property for development – whether for commercial business, market rate housing, or affordable housing. And we don’t have to imagine the outcry if significant public forest was proposed for sale or development in other areas of town like Cedar Falls Park or Pritchard Park.

Just last month, acres of town-owned hardwood forests, trails and streams along Booker Creek through some of our higher-income neighborhoods were slated to be cut down and turned into stormwater retention projects to support more town development. Residents organized and fought back with clear and convincing arguments and stopped the deforestation plans for now. But in being so responsive, the Town showed the disparity in outcomes for which land we protect. People living in affordable homes in Greenfield Place deserve an amazing Legion Park just as much as residents of Southern Village. And people living in our Phoenix Place neighborhood and Rogers Road have as much right to a beautiful public forest as folks in the homes surrounding the library and Pritchard Park. We can build more affordable housing and we are already using some public land to help us reach our goals. But this shouldn’t be an excuse to sell off our most beautiful public forests and lands that should be available to all.

Karen Stegman: This is not a one size fits all approach. For the Greene Tract, the Mapping Our Community’s Future report developed following nine months of community-first planning by the Rogers-Eubanks community and other stakeholders, calls for a plan for the Greene Tract that honors the history of that community, respects the cultural and natural character of the neighborhood, and creates housing and economic opportunities for long- time residents and their families.

This extensive process, undertaken in 2016, resulted in a rich and nuanced report that documents the community’s history and hopes and fears, along with potential future land uses and development do’s and don’ts. An overarching theme emerging from the report is a call for community and history preservation, which requires, as they see it, provision of green space as well as thoughtful affordable housing and neighborhood-scale retail development. I am supportive of this approach.

More generally, we have allowed ourselves to fall into the trap of a false dichotomy. This should not be trees vs. people. It should be trees and people. With thoughtful planning and open conversations with our community, we can preserve most of our trees, create new, appealing green spaces in town, and have the housing we need for all who wish to live here while avoiding pricing out those who have been historically marginalized. Those on fixed incomes. Those who are working multiple jobs to try to keep their kids in the CHCCS schools. Communities such as Northside, Pine Knolls, and Rogers Road – historically black neighborhoods whose members have been systematically priced out of homes that have been in their families for generations. When there are competing public interests, the choices are hard, but I believe that we can find balances that preserve and even enhance the environment while also addressing the critical needs of our residents.

Vimala Rajendran: If the Greene Tract were to be developed it should be done with maximum preservation of the natural habitats and the trees, and green spaces. If any tree cutting were to happen, to put on affordable, new housing on the Greene Tract, new plantings of native, canopy trees must be undertaken.

Legion Park, a community park that also includes athletic fields, adjacent to Ephesus elementary school for recreation, and physical education for students must be the top priority for the American Legion property. Communities of color, and marginalized people are most affected by the effects of climate change (heat waves due to excessive concrete and asphalt, flooding, dust and erosion, etc.). Therefore, housing for modest income families must be located with adequate green infrastructure, including permeable spaces, community gardens, native plantings, and open green spaces for living and playing.

Robert Beasley: The Town government must honor the commitments it has made. Commitments were made to the community that lives near the Greene Tract, and we cannot just say ‘sorry, we changed our minds’ when it comes to extending services to that community and developing portions of the Greene Tract which will benefit and sustain the community. I believe this can be done in a way that will still preserve green space and provide environmental protections within the Greene Tract.

I say the same thing about the American Legion property. The Town committed to that community that it would preserve and make a park there, and we cannot just say ‘sorry, we changed our minds.’ And again, I say the same thing about the proposed Jay Street Apartments property. The Town purchased that property with Open Space Bond Funds that were committed to be used ”to pay capital costs of acquiring real property in order to maintain, protect, limit the future use of or otherwise conserve open spaces and areas.” The Town cannot just turn around now and say ‘sorry, we changed our minds’ and develop an apartment complex – even if it is for Affordable Housing, which I firmly believe must be a top priority for Chapel Hill – on that site. I believe these behaviors are unethical, even if they are ‘technically legal’ (and I am not convinced that they are), and we must do better than that. I believe we can balance preservation of our green spaces and protection of the environment with delivering much needed affordable housing in a way that is ethical, equitable, and responsible.

Camille Berry: Chapel Hill should leverage the Town-owned land to meet multiple needs of its community: affordable housing, commercial space, green space, public gathering space, etc. Both the Greene Tract and the former American Legion property are large parcels of land.

Chapel Hill Mayoral Candidates:

Pam Hemminger: The Legion Property needs to be a community park! And with the new density in Blue Hill, courtesy of an earlier Council, we need more nearby green spaces and park amenities for those new residents as well.

The Greene Tract is a more complicated issue. The property is owned by Orange County, Carrboro, and Chapel Hill; all brought somewhat different interests to the table, but all are sensitive to the desires of surrounding communities, including the Rogers Road neighborhood. In 2019, we negotiated an interlocal agreement with our partners that created a plan for the Greene Tract to include 64 acres for housing (including a substantial affordable component), a 16-acre school site, and over 84 acres of land preserved in its natural state.

As part of the agreement, an environmental assessment was recently conducted, and the plan is to hold a community-wide meeting later this fall when we can bring everyone back together, safely, in person to hear their thoughts and do more nuanced planning.

I am committed to a thoughtful planning process and to making sure that we are creating a place that contributes to and connects with the existing communities there – physically and socially. Also, I believe we can have both – affordable homes and preservation. It does not have to be one or the other!

Information about the Greene Tract, including the Rogers Road Mapping Our Community Plan, can be found online here.

Hongbin Gu: Our goal should be to produce a healthy, functional and affordable community, which requires intentional policy to balance the needs of the two. We need a variety of housing types, ideally distributed across the town and integrated in existing communities. This “gentle density” approach has the benefit of lowering the barriers to adding density (duplexes, triplexes…) while maintaining the character of our community. It also spreads the increased demand on our infrastructure and environment out over time and space.

Regarding the specific plan for the Legion property and Greene Tract, we need to consider the communities nearby. In this regard, the Rogers Road-Eubanks community can benefit from the addition of transit connections, a school, a grocery store, and other community commerce supported by additional housing. The Greene Tract has the potential to complement the community while maintaining significant green spaces for the community. Legion Rd Park, on the other hand, is nestled among the highest density developments in town with affordable housing projects, shopping districts and a senior facility in the vicinity with limited park and public amenities in the area. I can see the value of keeping the site as a public amenity/park.

Read Responses

8: Under what circumstances, if any, would you support offering tax incentives to attract new businesses to Chapel Hill? Explain your answer.

Chapel Hill Town Council Candidates:

Adam Searing: I am not an expert on how tax incentives are used in business development. I do know that encouraging more businesses to locate in Chapel Hill can help diversify our town revenue stream and that we need to encourage more businesses to locate here in town. I also know that while incentives may encourage business to locate in a particular place they can also create differences between older businesses who haven’t received this preferential tax treatment and new ones that have. In addition, a “race to the bottom” can ensue if two similar municipalities competing for the same business compete to offer ever greater incentives. I would like to know more about how we have used tax incentives in the past in Chapel Hill, what businesses have current incentives, and what the effect has been. I would also like to hear from experts about the current issues surrounding municipal tax incentives before I make any decisions.

Karen Stegman: The Council developed criteria in 2018 for use of economic development incentives, which I support as appropriate parameters for consideration of incentives. However, I also believe that incentives should be the last strategy we draw upon to spur commercial development – and that we should obtain and analyze robust financial data before we do so. Instead, we should focus on making Chapel Hill an even better town than it already is, with great public amenities, such as parks and greenways, cultural arts facilities and events, and recreational facilities; a robust public transit system; public infrastructure such as parking; and a commitment to being a leader in addressing climate change. Research has shown that in the long run, a town’s competitive advantage lies in who and what it is, not the level of incentives that it can provide.

Vimala Rajendran: As a business owner I am saddened to see family-owned businesses and other small businesses close down in Chapel Hill and many storefronts remain vacant, and chain businesses take their place. There are hardly any black owned businesses in downtown Chapel Hill. I am in favor of offering tax incentives to locally-owned businesses – owners who live here, pay taxes here, spend here and buy from local purveyors—sustainable businesses. That would be a great way to grow the local economy.

Robert Beasley: I think we would need to look at what the new business would bring to Chapel Hill, and we have to look beyond just the long term ‘tax revenue’ before offering tax incentives. Does the business align with our values of diversity, equity, and environmentalism? Does the business help us accelerate our – and perhaps the larger Triangle area’s – progress at implementing our Climate Change Response? Does the business benefit existing local residents who are looking to continue to live and work in Town? These are the types of things I would need to consider before supporting offering tax incentives to attract new businesses to Chapel Hill.

Camille Berry: In order to attract new businesses to Chapel Hill, I would support offering tax incentives that allow the business to pay less in taxes if it proved thoughtful/strategic by demonstrating a return on investment for the Town:

  1. investment in jobs creation
  2. investments in construction that advance the goals of the Town
  3. demonstrated financial need by the Developer

Chapel Hill Mayoral Candidates:

Pam Hemminger: When I took office in 2015, very little new commercial office space had come on-line here in ten years and, as a result, companies were not even looking in Chapel Hill when relocating to or expanding in the Triangle.

To get us back on track toward a more sustainable future, the Council took a number of strategic steps, including creation of the Millhouse Road Enterprise Zone for light industrial uses and creation of a policy for performance-based incentives.

Under that policy, the Town Council has been willing to consider incentives for companies or projects that meet a number of town goals, including:

  • Creating jobs
  • Strengthening the economy and building community wealth
  • Promoting opportunities for education and skill-building
  • Sustaining a high quality of life

The policy targets certain types of businesses and lays out clear performance measures a company would have to meet in order to qualify, such as creating a certain number of jobs or investing in a property to increase its value.

The incentive program is performance based with a portion of the taxes returned to the company only after: 1) they met the goal and 2) they paid their full taxes. This makes sure that Chapel Hill taxpayers are not footing the bill.

Since taking office, I have supported several performance-based incentives which have resulted in over 800 new jobs to date and a significant amount of new commercial office space in Chapel Hill. We also have a new Wegman’s, which brought a big payoff for the town – redevelopment of a brownfield site and hazard cleanup, a company that will be one of the largest sales tax generators in the county, hundreds of good jobs.

I continue to support the use of performance-based incentives that align with the goals above so that we will be economically resilient and competitive in the future.

Hongbin Gu: A tax incentive is a tool that, if properly used, can serve as a kickstarter for local economy. I believe it’s very important to have a standard process for evaluating incentive proposals to provide greater transparency and disclosure, and a rigorous cost-benefit analysis that demonstrates benefits to the community at large. It will be preferable to have state-local and regional collaboration in the package. It must be demonstrated that the proposed tax incentive will deliver positive impacts such as employment for local residents, improved job training or labor skills, and opportunities for small businesses. 

Read Responses

9: Describe a characteristic of Chapel Hill that you value and would like to see preserved. What can the Town government do to help preserve it? Describe a characteristic of Chapel Hill that you would like to see changed. What can the Town government do to help change it?

Chapel Hill Town Council Candidates:

Adam Searing: Chapel Hill has a unique combination of public land and forests, a community that likes to be outside, and a long tradition of volunteer and civic work by residents. This has combined to create amazing, unofficial, volunteer built and maintained trail systems in our public lands and forests that rival the amenities in large formal parks and recreation areas. Over 100 miles of these unofficial mountain biking, hiking and walking trails blanket our area with many right here in town. With a relatively small investment by the town – a small fraction of what we spend on paved greenways – we could upgrade many elements of this trail system to make crucial connections, improve trails and attract more users. With this strategy we could make greenway connections at much lower cost and years before we can make formal paved connections in our greenway plan.

As far as a characteristic to change, I’d like to see us as a town reach out more to our Durham neighbors and try to establish a formal greenway connection between our two municipalities.

Karen Stegman: I described this on the Platform page of my website. Please refer to for a description of what I value about Chapel Hill and what I will do to make it even better across multiple domains, including: affordable housing, transit and connectivity, climate resiliency and environmental protection, comprehensive and sustainable land use planning, equity and community safety, and economic development to help families thrive. 

Vimala Rajendran: I like the small-town feel with an international culture. The diversity of Chapel Hill. This is so because we are a university town where visitors from all over the world come to live here. The town can host international festivals featuring cultures from all over.

The main part of town is not safe to walk or bike, and signage is not good, especially in the west end of Franklin St. The government could continue the process of building “complete streets” that will be welcome to people of all ages, and abilities to shop, walk, and play in town. That would mean increasing connectivity with complete bike lanes and pedestrian walks.

Robert Beasley: I value Chapel Hill’s identity as a diverse, liberal, college town that provides a vibrant culture with great local restaurants, bars, music venues, artists, and musicians. But I see our Town turning into an urban landscape of aesthetically disappointing metal, glass, and concrete buildings in a patchwork layout that has been cobbled together with little to no consideration for mobility, extended environmental implications, or healthy living. The Town government must start defining and executing comprehensive, interconnected and reconciled plans for Land Use Management, Affordable Housing, Environmental Conservation, Infrastructure, and Climate Change, and get back on the right track for Chapel Hill’s future.

Camille Berry: LIKE: Chapel Hill prides itself on its sense of community. I would like to see the Town continue to foster community by not pitting interests and the individuals championing those interests against each other. Rather, I would like to see the Town be clear in its vision and goals that uplift all members of the community and their environs, while understanding that it will not be a one-size fits all solution. Creative and collaborative approaches are what we need to ensure that as Chapel Hill evolves it does so as a united community.

CHANGE: Chapel Hill has a reputation for being slow in its permitting process; this is a frustration I have heard from homeowners, developers, and nonprofit organizations. I would like to see the Town government implement an electronic tracking system, which would provide applicants with a clearer understanding of what to expect in the process and the status of the application at any given time.

Chapel Hill Mayoral Candidates:

Pam Hemminger: Characteristics that I value and want to preserve:
There are two things that drew me to Chapel Hill when my husband Brad and I moved to the Triangle over thirty-five years ago – the beauty of its trees and green spaces and the welcoming, inclusive, and vibrant college-town community.

These are the things I most want to preserve, and I’ve made them a priority as mayor. One of my first acts was to champion the purchase of the American Legion property for future parkland. I also began Food For the Summer to provide healthy meals to our students and created a tree-planting program, funded in large part with grant money, that brought 400 new trees to town in just the first year. And under my leadership, we’ve just adopted our first Climate Action Plan, with a strong natural environment component.

I’ve always been focused on community, I feel strongly that moving forward, we want to be better than just a bedroom town. To that end, I’m working to bring new life to downtown, provide new amenities and events for families, increase our stock of affordable housing and middle housing options, and institute projects like the Civil Rights Commemorations Task Force, to make sure we’re telling the stories of everyone in town and celebrating our diversity.

Characteristics I want to change:
I want to see us at the point where our community gets new development that we can celebrate, with greener buildings and greener spaces, neighborhoods that create community, and buildings that fit in with the fabric of Chapel Hill

Since taking office in 2015, I have led and supported many efforts to get us there, beginning with the creation of a Mayor’s Working Group on Blue Hill in Spring of 2016. After learning that Council had no legal recourse to change the previous council’s zoning decisions in Blue Hill, we made updates to things we could – limiting building size, requiring more commercial office and retail opportunities, increasing public green space requirements, improving stormwater management, and encouraging more townhomes and condos there. We also hired a Town Urban Designer, to review projects to help us get the higher-quality buildings and public spaces we want.

This year, after three years of work, the Town completed Phase 1 of a Land Use Management Ordinance (LUMO) rewrite by adopting an updated Future Land Use Map (FLUM), which focuses on our transit corridors as the place for denser growth so that people will use multimodal ways of getting to work and other places instead of relying on cars.

In Phase 2, which is slated to start this year, we will dive into the more detailed work of how new development will support our town goals and values – including the need to create welcoming and walkable transit-oriented places, offer more housing choice (in size and price) to people who want to live here, protect the tree canopy, create green buildings, incorporate green infrastructure, and support climate resilience by handling rainfall from larger storms.

In the coming year, the Council will be updating our Green Building Policy, taking a comprehensive look at our stormwater ordinance, and starting a long-range planning effort to address housing needs in our community – all of which will allow us to improve the long-term environmental outcomes in Chapel Hill.

As we do this work, I am continuing to advocate at the state legislature for cities and towns to retain local control over environmental protections and standards – including tree canopy and stormwater standards – which the NCGA is currently looking to remove.

All of this work is important not just for new greenfield development but for future redevelopment as well, and I am committed to doing everything we can, legally and practically, to get the best results and community benefits for the town and keep Chapel Hill the special place that it is.

Hongbin Gu: I value Chapel Hill for its diverse community and protection of our natural environment. We welcome people from all around the world from many backgrounds and of all ages. They enrich us and broaden our perspectives. They keep our local economy vibrant, interesting and unconventional. This welcoming spirit combines with our deep appreciation of nature and the understanding that we are all connected to each other and with the planet in one ecosystem. There is a lot our Town government can do to nurture our community’s diversity. For example, we need to make investments in public spaces, amenities and programing to bring people together, share our life experiences, create connections and appreciate our common humanity.

One characteristic of Chapel Hill I find frustrating is that we often talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk. Saying one thing and doing another erodes public trust in our government. We need to provide the public with timely and accurate information, engage in meaningful conversation, commit resources and a provide a timeline to achieve our goals and ask the public to hold us accountable.

Read Responses

10: What other question do you wish we had asked? Answer your question.

Chapel Hill Town Council Candidates:

Karen Stegman: None.

Vimala Rajendran: I would add this question: What would attract better bus drivers, better teachers, better town employees?

I have been a livable-wage paying employer for 11 years now, as long as I have had Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe. I would like to see pay raises for bus drivers, teachers, firefighters, town employees and all low-income employees so that families can afford to live, work and play in Chapel Hill with dignity and joy.

Robert Beasley: I wish you had asked where folks can go to find out more about me. Please check out my website, Thanks!

Camille Berry: What three characteristics are essential in a Town Council Member/Mayor?

  1. Integrity: Sincere desire to represent and serve the Town and its community rather than one’s own personal interests.
  2. Willingness to Collaborate: Decisions are made by the body and not an individual. Members of Council must be willing to listen to others’ viewpoints and share their own in a manner that can be heard. 
  3. Resilience: Planning and preparation can minimize the occurrence of crises; however, it is inevitable that challenges and setbacks will occur just as we are experiencing with the pandemic. Having the capacity to efficiently assess and respond to a crisis employing both tested and novel approaches — all while working in concert with others and communicating clearly — will greatly aid in the recovery of the Town. Resiliency in a community relies upon the resilience of its leaders, who can and must foster that mindset in others.

Chapel Hill Mayoral Candidates:

Pam Hemminger: What have the growth trends for Chapel Hill been in the past ten years (and their implications) and how does commercial development help Chapel Hill?

A. What have the growth trends for Chapel Hill been in the past ten years (and their implications)?

According to the North Carolina Demography Center, we are growing more slowly than the rest of the region and, in fact, more slowly than Chapel Hill’s historic growth over the past two decades in both percentage of people and residential units – only 5,000 in the last 10 years.

It may not feel that way based on the large apartment buildings that have sprung up in the Blue Hill district over the past few years, Council is beginning a planning process to analyze the data and consider our path forward, but it seems apparent that to meet our goals of reducing our climate impacts and retaining a diverse, welcoming community, we need to plan strategically for more housing units, especially more middle housing (townhomes, condos, duplexes, etc.), in town. We will be taking a closer look at our land use plans and ordinances to see how to make that happen in a way that preserves the human scale of the town and lets us stay green and connected.

B. How does commercial development help Chapel Hill?

An important key to being economically resilient and affordable in the future is to diversify our tax base. Since I took office in 2015, we have added over 1000 new jobs and over 700,000 square feet of new commercial space in strategic places – like our walkable, transit-supported downtown, in Glen Lennox, and in the Millhouse Road Enterprise Zone. And soon we’ll add a newly vibrant Rosemary Redevelopment projects to the mix.

These new commercial spaces bring more balance to our tax base. Commercial space requires fewer town services and generate property tax revenues for the town, county, and our CHCCS schools. And because studies show that employees spend between $3,000 – $5,000 annually on meals and other purchases in the area where they work, these new jobs will be supporting our local businesses and generating more sales tax dollars for our community. The end result is that we will have more money to support the amenities we want and a more vibrant, more economically sustainable town.

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