By Pam Hemminger
Note: The Local Reporter has invited all candidates for local office in the upcoming Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district elections to submit up to two guest columns.
Neighbors and Friends,
Chapel Hill is an amazing community and over the last 18 months, I have been grateful and fortunate to witness the strength and caring of the people who live, work and study here. Together we are making a difference and I’d like to update everyone on the work we have done and are doing.
As your mayor, leading our community through this pandemic while continuing the business of the town has been quite a journey. As we navigate the Delta variant and the opening of schools and UNC, I want to begin by saying “thank you” to everyone for continuing to work so hard to stay safe and take care of one another.
From the outset, the town has worked to make sure that people impacted by the pandemic were fed and safely housed. Food for Students provided almost 1.5 million meals and 11,000 free books to our community’s children, and our staff continues to serve hundreds of households through a weekly food bank distribution. To date, over $2.4 million in emergency housing assistance has been provided to more than 600 Chapel Hill families.
As part of the Orange Leaders Group, I and the other mayors and chair of the County Commissioners, have worked closely with our emergency management team and local partners. Together, we’ve balanced the priorities of keeping our community healthy, businesses open and life as normal as possible. It has been an around-the-clock effort, requiring continual collaboration with local and state partners, hard decisions, and creative solutions.
During this difficult time, we’ve met the challenges of COVID and kept town services up and running. We’ve also made significant progress toward Chapel Hill’s strategic goals, including:
- Meeting the moment of racial reckoning by convening a Reimagining Public Safety Task Force, which recently released guidelines for improving policing in Chapel Hill;
- Declaring a climate emergency and adopting a Climate Action Plan;
- Awarding $5.2 million to create 278 affordable housing units;
- Breaking ground on the pivotal East Rosemary Redevelopment Project that will give a major boost to our downtown;
- Earning the #1 ranking in North Carolina for LGBTQ+ equity and inclusion;
- Passing short-term rental (STR) regulations to protect neighborhoods;
- Completing new sections of local greenways;
- Working with Duke Energy to switch to LED streetlights, reducing town energy usage by almost 5%.
We’ve also taken important steps to ensure our town bounces forward from the pandemic with the formation of a 21-member economic advisory committee consisting of business and community members representing different interests and perspectives. Together, they’ve laid out a long-term plan to create a more diverse and vibrant entrepreneurial and small business sector, supported by $650,000 in Chapel Hill ReVive Plan money.
Additionally, working closely with Chancellor Guskiewicz and his team, we’ve established Downtown Together – a partnership with UNC focused on expanding our downtown innovation hub and other revitalization strategies. This effort will bring year-round customers for downtown businesses while helping to diversity our tax base.
Through other local and regional partnerships, we’re working to improve water quality across the Jordan Lake watershed, plant more trees and improve our parks, greenways and bike network. Our commitment to clean energy remains a huge focus as we move to expand Chapel Hill’s EV charging network, green our fleet and create a community solar farm.
In the coming months, the Town will take next steps on Climate Action and move forward with updating the Parks Master Plan. Also, with the help of a new Town/UNC-funded comprehensive housing study, we will explore additional strategies that allow us to be the inclusive, thriving and sustainable community we want to be.
Chapel Hill is poised for a strong recovery supported by our groundwork for long-term economic success and environmental sustainability and resilience. And with American Rescue Plan and other federal funds coming our way, there will be opportunities in the coming years to do big, bold things for our town.
Now is the time to create momentum through recovery – to secure a future where our community remains a wonderful place to live, work, learn and play.
Thank you for caring about our community and for your support.
Pam Hemminger is mayor of Chapel Hill and a candidate for re-election as mayor.