by David Adams
When our current mayor, Pam Hemminger, was elected in 2015, development was a key issue. Forward to today and development remains the single most controversial issue in the Chapel Hill municipal election this November.
In 2015, the issue was the form-based code, created to fast-track development in the Ephesus-Fordham area in what is now called Blue Hill. Public input and Council review was strictly limited. The goal was to get 60% residential and 40% commercial development in the district. Instead, we got all market rate apartments.
Today we are focused on creating “complete communities” through changes in the town’s land use management ordinance (LUMO). This effectively amounts to a town-wide rezoning of single-family neighborhoods to increase housing supply. Opponents and supporters of these changes are labeled NIMBY (not in my backyard) or YIMBY (yes in my back yard). Neighborhoods with HOAs, NCDs or covenants are exempt, which suggests a third label, YIYBY (yes in your backyard).
There is currently a movement to create a third national political party with the provocative name, No Labels. Labels are important, because a label creates a narrative. For example, “anti-development” is a common negative label. In contrast, “progressive”, “smart”, “sustainable”, and “equitable” development are deemed positive. There are also generational labels like “boomer” that are used in a derogatory fashion to paint older homeowners as curmudgeons who resist change.
Labeling others as “anti-development” is misleading and stops dialogue. The fact is, like virtually everyone else, I am for development that brings affordable housing. I am for parks to mitigate climate change, for improved transit, whether by foot, bike or bus, for more greenways to reduce reliance on automobiles, and for supporting local businesses and schools. I am an advocate for those living in affordable housing who were, or soon will be, displaced for upscale apartments and thus denied living in the Blue Hill complete community.
Many oppose the recent rezoning, me among them, and with valid reasons. A primary one – as stated repeatedly by the Planning Department and Council majority – is that the rezoning is for housing choice, not affordability. It’s claimed affordability will “trickle down” in future as supply increases. If rents for our current oversupply of luxury apartments are any indication, that will not be any time soon.
The main beneficiaries of such rezoning will be developers and real estate investors. Take Durham’s planning rules re-write (SCAD). As stated by a former Preservation Durham board member and planning commissioner, “The vast majority of SCAD’s provisions have nothing to do with housing affordability …Instead, they are designed to make redevelopment of Durham more profitable for the development community — usually at the expense of Durham’s existing residential communities.” (The News & Observer, 8/20/23).
The candidates running for mayor in Chapel Hill have different visions, especially around the approved zoning changes. Councilmember Jess Anderson champions the changes; Councilmember Adam Searing opposes them. There are ten candidates for Town Council. As reported by Chapelboro.com, 7/24/2023, “the race may be defined by the groups of candidates running as blocs. One that has already joined together is largely criticizing the council’s more progressive votes and is endorsed by Adam Searing: Breckany Eckhardt, Elizabeth Sharp, Renuka Soll, and David Adams”. This group is therefore seen as not progressive when in fact they favor development that benefits the entire community.
Because of the rezoning issue, this election promises to be highly competitive, even heated.
What if we had an election that was issue-oriented and was:
free from attacking candidates and their supporters who have a different point of view;
free from misinformation, spin and media bias;
free from stealing opponents’ campaign signs, campaign materials or other “dirty tricks”;
free from hijacking narratives with labels.
Free instead to promote honest interactions to find viable solutions.
Guest columns do not reflect the policies or opinions of TLR. Anyone is invited to submit a column –Editor Julia Runk Jones
David Adams is a 39 yr resident of Chapel Hill and a candidate for Chapel Hill Town Council.