Questions and answers from Chapel Hill Municipal Candidates in the 2023 Election


On September 11, The Local Reporter sent questions to all the Municipal Candidates for the Town of Chapel Hill, including Mayoral Candidates. The School Board Candidates were not included. Our deadline was September 25. Here are the unedited written responses we received to our six questions from all of the Mayoral and  City Council Candidates in alphabetical order:


Questions for Chapel Hill candidates from TLR:

1) In 1985, Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County adopted the Comprehensive Land Use Plan that discourages sprawl, conserves rural areas in the county, and protects watersheds. Under what circumstances would you want the Council to change this agreement and consider extending city water and sewer service into the rural buffer? Explain your answer.


I support maintaining the rural buffer, and evidence shows this is still the right policy.

During the last half-century, Chapel Hill has become a model for sustainable development in North Carolina – and across the nation – due to its introduction of the Chapel Hill Transit system, Resource Conservation District and rural buffer. Together, these three components are critical to 1) preventing urban sprawl; 2) protecting over 35,000 acres of forests, farmland and watersheds, and 3) ensuring that water, sewer, and transit can be provided efficiently and cost-effectively. 

Today, buildable land is scarcer in Chapel Hill.  And, at the same time, the Triangle has become one of the fastest-growing regions in the nation. As a result, we are faced with some hard choices to make about how and where we build housing so Chapel Hill can remain an inclusive, sustainable – and affordable – community.

So, this past year, the Town conducted a capacity analysis to help inform our future growth decisions.  The results showed that we can grow sustainably – without extending into the rural buffer – by putting housing in four key locations: 1) near greenways, 2) along transit corridors, 3) on large infill sites with existing infrastructure (e.g., University Place) and 4) on smaller infill sites in existing neighborhoods.  That’s why I championed – and voted to adopt – our Complete Community vision and North-South Bus Rapid Transit plan (this passed 8-1, with my opponent voting “no” both times). This approach to managing growth will allow us to preserve the healthy environment and green gateways we all value, while accommodating the realities of population growth.


In very limited circumstances it may be necessary to extend city water and sewer services into the buffer but this option should be avoided.  I believe the rural buffer has been a critical and successful part of our land use planning that has discouraged sprawl experienced by other communities like Wake Forest or Cary. However, it has not been perfect. Much of the rural buffer is, by design, not public land and has become home not to farms or parks but has been turned into residential use on larger lots. While this certainly does prevent sprawl, it does present challenges to us in Chapel Hill as some people point to the rural buffer as a sort of public green space and park. The vast majority of the rural buffer is, of course, not a park or public green space – and so the existence of the buffer should not be used as a reason to eliminate the need for residents of Chapel Hill to create their own new parks and open spaces. In addition, Orange County in recent years has sometimes denied development applications for large retail businesses like gas stations or general stores in their part of the county outside of the rural buffer, showing that the issues with creating development that works for residents rather than just unbridled development are a shared concern between town and county – and the importance of the rural buffer in these shared discussions.

In Chapel Hill, a critical equity goal in park and green space creation is the need for every resident to be able to walk within ten minutes to public green space or a park. We shouldn’t let debate over the rural buffer prevent us from creating the new parks and green spaces residents need as we grow at an accelerated rate never seen before in town history. After the blistering hot summer we have experienced, drenching storms, and of course the pandemic, we should truly appreciate 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. So, we need to use the rural buffer along with our other land use policies to keep building a Chapel Hill we can all be proud to live in.



I share the views expressed by Terri Buckner in an excellent review of the issue ( Allowing this change would threaten our rural buffer, which was put in place to limit sprawl and to protect sensitive watersheds. We all know that promises of affordable or missing middle housing are just that and the real intent is to open up the area for more market-rate development. Why is the council putting this issue on a fast track before the upcoming municipal election? This issue deserves much consideration and public engagement. Two years ago, when Mr. Nelson submitted the same petition, it was roundly rejected by the community and by the council. Those valid objections have not changed and we wonder why they are back.


The extensive joint planning agreement with Carrboro and Chapel Hill resulted in an invaluable and lasting benefit to all residents. The 37,250-acre Rural Buffer provides important space for local farms, reduce sprawl, treat runoff, offer low density development that does not impact water or sewer line extension, protect drinking water and wildlife, as well as preserves greenspace.

Because only one inch of rainfall on a 1-acre parking lot can generate over 27,000 gallons of runoff compared to only 750 gallons on a greenspace, we need to conduct serious planning and collect data before we jump into making irreversible impacts.

At the same time, the population is growing, and we must be flexible and adaptable to change. Trading out acreage into city parks or offer an equally climate-friendly exchange would be situations worth considering extending city water and sewer into a small part of the rural buffer.

We need to exhaust all other options before expanding in the Rural Buffer Area (RBA).

Orange-Countys-Rural-Buffer-REV.-3.13.19.pdf (


If we could turn it into a rail system hub and thruway for a rail system that would connect the different neighborhoods in Orange County.


As often happens when laudable goals meet capitalism, the loopholes and workarounds to the rural buffer rules mean that those goals have been only partly been met. There has been significant sprawl inside the rural buffer since 1985 in the form of car-dependent developments (averaging the required 2 acres per unit but destroying trees and creating significant impervious surface).  Meanwhile, denser development leapfrogged to outside our buffer.  We have 40,000 people driving to jobs in Chapel Hill daily largely because housing demand so exceeds supply that housing is unattainable for most, especially our workforce, like teachers, fire fighters, and nurses.  

Joni Mitchell sang about greenspace lost to sprawl, but the environmental costs also include heat islands, stormwater flooding and water and air pollution.  Climate experts agree that car-dependent sprawl is the reason transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gases. 

Given that we can’t start over, we need to recognize how the rural buffer rules inadvertently created sprawl problems.  Only then can we plan realistically for how to protect our remaining farms, forests and watersheds while we also prepare for expected population and job growth.  We need to have dense housing along transportation corridors, which will help people move across the region in more efficient, sustainable ways.  This development could occur through the rural buffer in appropriate locations (targeting where land has already been developed), but with protection for the green space outside transit-oriented developments.  In addition, we should also add to the in-town housing supply, again targeting already developed areas that are underutilized with low tax revenue, like strip malls, in order to have residents who will hop on our excellent transit instead of creating car-commuting traffic. 


According to the Complete Community Capacity Analysis prepared for the Town in October 2022, we have enough capacity, not including the rural buffer, to “easily” meet housing needs for the next 20 years and, if we build wisely, for at least 50 years. Given this, I don’t sense an urgent need to reconsider the rural buffer. I’d be interested to hear other views.


I want to avoid urban sprawl. Denser cities are essential for creating walkable, bikeable, and busable towns – and density helps to support small, local businesses like corner stores. If we refuse to densify within Chapel Hill’s boundaries, we will be encouraging an explosion in the cost of living which encourages sprawl in our countryside and exacerbates homelessness in our own community – not to mention damaging the climate by forcing workers who can’t live here to drive from further and further away (Mebane, Siler City, and beyond). I would consider extending water and sewer toward Chatham along a major transit corridor if the tradeoff were dense and genuinely affordable housing and reduced traffic and transit time.


Designating the rural buffer was a hallmark environmental achievement by the county and municipalities, and I will honor it. I don’t believe we should extend water and sewer service into the rural buffer, and I said so publicly at our last Council work session.


Assuming any extension of water and sewer into the rural buffer would be to accommodate housing development, I would only be willing to compromise the environmental benefits of the rural buffer if the OWASA extension would service targeted affordable housing solutions, also an important priority. That would mean developing only along transportation corridors, and only in conjunction with efficient public transportation options. Our housing needs have changed since the rural buffer was put in place, but it would be far more environmentally sensitive and economically efficient to densify places already served by our current water and sewer lines.  Which is part of the reason that I would be in favor of adjusting our zoning within city limits instead, provided that we could control for the encroachment of student housing on family neighborhoods, and that the zoning changes could be applied more fairly, without such broad exceptions for HOAs and Neighborhood Conservation Districts.


One of the key reasons I am running for Town Council is to help Chapel Hill become a stronger environmental leader. Preserving the Comprehensive Land Use Plan that provides our rural buffer is critical to any passionate environmentalist. We need tree canopy, we need watersheds, we need rural areas. Thus, it is very hard for me to imagine circumstances that would prompt me to consider extending city water and sewer service into the rural buffer.

There are secondary, pragmatic reasons that also support preserving the Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which are the infrastructure and service costs to the town of allowing new, large developments in the rural buffer. Chapel Hill’s resources are already strained, as we witness with our decaying park system, congested roads, and fuel inefficient bus system. Given we are struggling to provide basic services within Chapel Hill, it does not make sense to expand at this time.


The Council should remain receptive to adjustments that promote sustainability, ensure the community’s needs are met, and uphold the values outlined in the Comprehensive Land Use Plan from 1985. Flexibility within the existing agreement can help strike a balance between responsible growth and the preservation of rural areas and watersheds.

The Council should open to plans when innovative solutions are proposed that minimize the adverse effects on the rural buffer. I would only consider supporting projects that can demonstrate responsible planning practices, emphasizing compact, eco-friendly development that minimizes the environmental impact and preserves the unique character of the rural buffer.

2) Chapel Hill taxpayers will experience an eleven percent increase in taxes this year which will continue at this rate for several years. Do our budgets prioritize core town services? What can the Town do differently to avoid these steep tax increases?


Yes – the Town budget does prioritize core town services. Additionally, we conduct a community-wide survey every two years to gather feedback on these services from residents.

The Town of Chapel Hill is a service organization with more than 700 employees. Accordingly, most of our budget goes toward our payroll and facilities.  We also spend money on supplies for our public safety teams, public works employees, transit workers, parks and recreation specialists, library staff members, town management team and more. 

This year’s 5-cent tax increase is the result of a number of factors. These factors include conservative budgeting during the pandemic, previous adjustments to be tax-neutral during revaluation years, the need to address the impacts of year-over-year inflation on supply costs, and our obligation and desire to pay our employees fair and competitive wages after years without a pay raise.

The Town has taken a number of steps toward being more financially sustainable:

  • Utilizing our new 5-year budget strategy. We’ve shifted away from annual budgeting and toward a five-year tool that provides a rolling look at our budget and expenditures. As such, it will allow council and the manager to make better long-term budgetary decisions.
  • Coordinating more closely with our partners at the county to make sure we are making the best use of county-town funds by clarifying roles and eliminating overlaps.
  • Expanding our commercial tax base in key areas like our Millhouse Road Enterprise Zone and new Downtown Innovation Hub. Commercial properties pay the same amount in taxes (including to our schools) while using less services.  In the case of retail or hotels they also contribute other types of revenues (sales taxes and room fees). 
  • Applying for more federal grants to help fund projects. In our 2022-23 budget, Council Member Ryan and I lobbied successfully to include a full-time grant writer so that we can expand our funding sources. In conversations with Asheville staff last year, we learned how they had pulled together $35 million in funding for a greenway project.

            I’d like to see us do the same!

  • Maintaining our AAA bond rating so we qualify for the best rates when we borrow money. We have a talented staff and good financial advisors helping us with this.
  • Continuing to learn from others and bring in specialized skills when needed. This last year, we hired a world-class planner to help us create our Complete Community framework. We tripled our return on investment when we won a $1 million planning grant for our “everywhere to everywhere” greenway network – which may also lead to additional downstream funding opportunities.


What can the Town do differently to avoid these steep tax increases?

Our property tax increase was closer to 10%, still the largest or second largest in town history (depending on the type of measurement used.) This is on top of Chapel Hill residents – as part of Orange County – paying the highest average county property taxes in North Carolina and even in the southeastern US from Atlanta to Knoxville to Miami. Town staff would also like to continue increase taxes each year at a lower level for the next four years. Despite this, our town staff recently told us Chapel Hill cannot afford to even build a new police station to replace our substandard, deteriorating facility and so we are apparently going to be housing our police force in rental offices in the old glass Blue Cross building down near I-40 for multiple years. How far we have fallen that one of the wealthiest towns in North Carolina cannot afford a badly-needed new police station?  This is indicative of eight years of fiscal irresponsibility and mismanagement by the Town Council and we should all be embarrassed we are in this situation. We need to turn things around. Some first steps I would take would be to immediately divert the two to five million dollars a year we continue to spend on expensive private development consultants (even after these crushing tax increases) and divert that to our decade-long list of unfunded parks projects. Second, I would initiate a town-wide spending review to identify our spending priorities and trends and see what financially prudent changes we can make. Finally, I would take a hard look at any new capital projects and expenditures that are beyond our core services – we need to make sure we can take care of our critical services as a first priority.



History, as revealed by our aging police car fleet and firefighting needs, documents that past budgets have not prioritized core town services. If elected, I would reverse this trend and put our $60 million in deferred core services spending at the top of the list. To avoid huge tax increases, the council needs to be fiscally responsible in their decisions. For example, why were taxpayers on the hook for the access road for the Hartley Apartments? What about the big cost overrun for the new parking deck? Why does the council continually approve upscale residential development that we don’t need, over commercial development that we do need to balance the tax burden? We also expend considerable tax money on consultants. I, like most citizens in progressive Chapel Hill, are willing to pay taxes, but we want our money well spent.


Per the town’s annual comprehensive financial report for 2021-2022, “the Town’s total debt from governmental activities increased by $32.0 million or 30.7%, to $136.2 million during the past fiscal year”. We are $136.2 million in debt while the town council over the last few years has spent over $8+ millions of towns on external consultants as far as Toronto, Canda instead of partnering with UNC and local talent. We are one of the highest educated areas in the country per capita and not utilizing the expertise in front of us.

Likewise, why did we offer Wegman’s a $4 million incentive package to build a supermarket in Chapel Hill?

Why are we offering financial incentives to corporations and not offering incentives for local businesses?

The town can do the following to avoid further increases on property tax owners who already pay the highest property taxes in the Southeastern United States:

Cut funding for external consultants – partner with UNC and local talent

Stop incentivizing corporations to build in Chapel Hill when if it is worth the investment, they would do it regardless.

Design Smart: Greenways cost about $1 million per mile whereas crushed gravel, dirt, or permeable stones can be around $30,000 per mile.

Chapel Hill Says Yes to Wegmans –


Get rid of ineffective services that do not do what they claim they do, and stop hiring development consultants and engineering consultants to do jobs that town staff should be doing.


This sounds like a grossly unreasonable tax increase, until you evaluate it. The Town has only raised taxes in five of the last 14 years, for a cumulative tax rate increase of less than 1% each year, while the town had amassed a $60 million backlog of needs. Town employees got deserved raises, and we were able to hire some new staff, like three new firefighters.  The council did approve spending of $100,000 to help lower-income residents pay their tax bills, plus, a penny of next year’s tax rate increase will raise $911,000 for parks.

This is not to say that we don’t need to try to avoid steep tax increases on residents where we can. But we need to be realistic about the tax revenue from property in Chapel Hill versus its cost in services. As an example, if you look at Urban3’s evaluations of Asheville’s urban tax value by the acre, you will see that a WalMart brings a town $6500/acre in taxes, a single-family home brings $19,500/acre and a 6-story mixed-use building downtown brings $624,000/acre.  (And, no, Walmart’s sales tax doesn’t make up for that.)  Therefore, we need to have more town acreage in high-value uses that will yield a higher return per acre, in order to lessen the burden on the average homeowner.  We can do some of that by redeveloping less productive and attractive land uses, like strip malls, and replacing them with these high value uses that will also create more jobs.  In addition to larger tax value, adding density where infrastructure already exists makes it less costly for the town to operate and maintain compared to sparsely-developed sprawl forms of development.


I share residents’ frustration with the Town’s weak fiscal position. According to the Town’s 2022 Community Survey, 55 percent of residents are less than satisfied with the value received for their tax dollars and fees. Carrboro opened a new park in 2020 (MLK Park); few remember the last time Chapel Hill did so, despite clear statements in the 2013 Comprehensive Parks Plan that we need more. (To be sure, we have completed some excellent greenway projects, albeit slowly.) Meanwhile, we have substantial funding backlogs for things like police vehicles, fire trucks, maintenance of existing recreation facilities, and office space for municipal services. It’s curious that a relatively affluent town like Chapel Hill is having such trouble keeping up with expenses.

To its credit, the current Council has taken steps to address the Town’s fiscal woes, including earmarking more funds for parks and starting to plan in five-year instead of one-year increments. As a former federal banking regulator, I’m encouraged by any steps to restore the Town’s financial soundness. We still have a ways to go.

To avoid further tax increases, we have two options: increase revenues and control costs. On the revenue side, the Town’s new Complete Community development framework helps. The kind of walkable, mixed use development it calls for tends to increase property values (and therefore tax collections), diversify the tax base (by increasing sales tax revenues), and spread out the fixed costs of government.

On the cost side, we face new challenges that require creative solutions. Well-planned, walkable development often requires up-front investments in public infrastructure like connector roads, off-grade bike and pedestrian crossings, parks, greenways, and stormwater facilities. This was a key take-away from the Complete Communities Trade-Off Analysis delivered to the Town in December 2022. If we’re serious about implementing the Complete Community framework – which I am – we need to get serious about how we’re going to finance this infrastructure without continuing to raise taxes. Part of the solution could involve leveraging the higher property values that accompany new development to pay for necessary infrastructure. Tax increment financing (TIF) and synthetic TIF are effective ways to accomplish this (and they are permissible in North Carolina). I won’t bore readers with the details, but I expect that we can build the infrastructure we need without raising taxes.

At the same time, achieving our vision requires trade-offs in other areas. For example, it’s important for housing advocates like me to ask whether we’re in a position to make good on the Town’s promise to advance the Complete Community framework while also committing $50 million to housing programs through 2028, as Town staff recently proposed. I’m not yet sure of the answer. But I’m mindful that under-funding community infrastructure ultimately harms housing by driving up transportation costs and reducing the Town’s capacity for future growth.


The Chapel Hill Town Council approved a 5-cent increase in municipal taxes in 2023. As the N&O reported, the town only raised taxes in 5 out of the last 14 years, which averages out to increasing taxes less than 1% per year. Inflation has gone up by much more than this. We cannot pay for all our core services unless we generate more revenue. There are really only three ways to generate this revenue: increasing commercial activity (which includes sales and occupancy taxes), increasing property taxes, or increasing the value of the property taxed. We can expand commercial activity by increasing the number of folks who live and work in the Town, especially town and county employees and UNC employees. We can work on promoting a pedestrian market tied with artistic and cultural attractions multiple times a year to bring foot traffic to Franklin Street, since the economic multiplier of pedestrian zones is a well-documented economic phenomenon. We can work with UNC to hold more events on campus during the summertime, like the recent soccer game, or smaller-scale events like summer music festivals that incorporate venues across Chapel Hill from the Forest Theater to our parks to the Cave and elsewhere. We should also pay attention to other parts of town like Timberlyne, where we can coordinate with venues like the Chelsea on townwide artistic and cultural programming. Youth sports also provide an opportunity to increase occupancy taxes and generate more sales tax revenue.

As far as property taxes are concerned, the Town ought to be raising taxes a little bit every year rather than waiting for several years and then approving one large increase. If we don’t increase revenue, then we have no way to address aging infrastructure (like our police and fire facilities), staff salaries, or to pay for some of our more ambitious projects: arts and cultural spaces, parks and rec facilities, the greenway system, and so forth.


Yes, we do prioritize core services. Nearly three-quarters of the town’s $85 million general fund budget goes to employee salaries, for the people who provide the quality services our residents expect. The bulk of the rest is spent on operating costs — the facilities, equipment, and supplies that our employees need to maintain our roads, provide fire and police service, manage park facilities and recreation programs, and administer our government.

Other funds – called enterprise funds — provide the money to run our bus service, invest in affordable housing, manage public parking, staff climate and sustainability initiatives, and fund our stormwater management utility.

Because of very conservative budgeting during COVID, past reluctance to raise taxes, significant inflation, and a history of short-term budget planning, Council found itself this year with a lot of catching up to do — like updating public safety equipment, replacing aging fleet vehicles, and making staff compensation fair and regionally competitive. We also have aspirations to improve our parks, extend our greenway system, and continue to invest in affordable housing.

To meet current needs and plan better for the future, we knew we had to do things differently, so we worked with the town manager to institute a new five-year budget planning process. Because of the urgency of some of the funding needs the process identified, we front-loaded much of the tax increase to this year (for example, bringing parks and affordable housing funding up to a full penny each). The good news is that the new process has put us on a much more sustainable path, allows us to identify and meet long-range needs without sudden shocks to taxpayers, and gives us a big-picture look at what we can afford moving forward.

The other good news is that the town continues to maintain a very strong financial position (as our AAA bond ratings demonstrate), and we’re on an even better path now to insure a healthy, responsible, and sustainable financial future.


Given that our parks are deteriorating and our police and fire departments are well behind on needed maintenance of their vehicles and facilities, no, I don’t think our budgets prioritize core services.  We have wonderful goals in Chapel Hill to expand social services but before we can fund them we have to make sure we’ve stabilized our fiscal situation on the most basic level.  I’m not opposed to tax increases to fund ambitious projects, but I want to make sure we’re realizing actual benefit from them.  And we may need to consider a local version of the county’s property tax assistance program for long-term homeowners whose rising property taxes make the homes they’ve owned for years suddenly unaffordable. 


Chapel Hill leadership has not been prioritizing core town services. We have aging police and fire vehicles, our parks are overcrowded and shabby, we have very few greenways, and our traffic flows make no sense. It is fair to ask, what is the town spending money on?

One big source of spending, $8M, has been on consultants. These consultants develop plans. Chapel Hill now has a lot of plans. Let’s stop spending on plans and start spending that money on implementing them. Let’s put in better oversight on our construction projects so we aren’t finding ourselves spending $9 million over budget on a single parking garage. Let’s negotiate better with developers, and not also waive fees during these negotiations – fees that could help fund parks and other projects.

Tax increases should be a last resort. I have an MBA and experience in accounting and finance and I would like to use those skills to better steward our resources.


Tax increases should never be taken lightly. Nevertheless, having become familiar with the FY 2024 budget it appears to prioritize core town services that contribute to the well-being and overall satisfaction of its residents. These investments reflect a commitment to investing in an inclusive community where residents can enjoy an enhanced quality of life.

All the same, to avoid these steep taxes the Town should leverage our largest employers, UNC, and UNC Health to develop affordable housing for their employees earning 80% or less of the area median income, on property they already own. Keep in mind, as not for profits they are not subject to property taxes. If we eliminate the need to subsidize housing for UNC and UNC health employees, we’ll reach our affordable housing goals much quicker and save the taxpayers from subsidizing resource rich UNC and UNC health.  

3) Recently, the Council reduced the role of residents serving on advisory boards, so most boards no longer advise the Town Council on new development projects seeking a permit from the town. Do you approve of this change? Why or why not?


 When we began our work on the Complete Community vision, one of the “hard truths” we faced is the fact that no one – the Council, community, boards, staff, or developers – has been happy with our development review process. It’s too long and too frustrating for all involved.  And most importantly, it’s not producing the results we want.

In response, Council decided to re-think how we do our work and set up a new process that moves us away from site-by-site development approval process and toward community-oriented development.

One piece of this puzzle has been to rethink how and when to involve our advisory boards.  Under the old process, their limited scope and the suboptimal timing of their involvement made it difficult for them to help shape projects in a meaningful way.  Under the new process, the boards will shift to be more policy-focused, helping us to shape the standards and guidelines that are applied to projects from the outset. This will provide more predictability for everyone. Over the past few years, as a member of the Library Advisory Board (LAB), I’ve seen the difference that shifting to being more policy-oriented can make for all parties involved.  For instance, LAB members have helped us think through and advance our shift to our new privacy rules and being fine-free.

Based on my own experience – and conversations with members of our planning, community design and other development review boards – I’m supportive of this shift in process. However, I am not supportive of the way this change was abruptly made, which was before new roles and charges had been defined.  At our September 20th work session, Council discussed a set of high-level recommendations for helping our boards transition to being policy focused. I think these are a good start.

In the very near future and over the coming year, I would like to see these boards help us think through how we rewrite our land use management ordinance – an important step toward ensuring that future development will achieve our Complete Community goals. 


This was an unneeded change driven by a Town Council majority seemingly determined to demonstrate their desire not to listen to their own residents. Advisory boards made up of resident volunteers are just that – advisory. The Council should consider their recommendations but isn’t bound to follow them. These boards provide a valuable forum for input from town residents into town debates and, if elected, I will immediately reinstate their previous role in advising on development projects. I would also commit to recruiting a wide range of residents from across our community onto our boards – the more voices, and especially a wide diversity of voices, the better we are all served.



I am shocked that Chapel Hill elected officials no longer want advice on stormwater or on making development proposals better for our environment and town. I absolutely oppose this change and if elected will work to restore advisory board review. The review process is now limited to the CDC, which has a limited design mission, and to the Planning Commission that is now stacked with pro-developer members. How can this single commission have broad and necessary expertise, e.g., in stormwater control, traffic impacts, or environmental sustainability? The Planning Commission’s recent superficial review of the highly controversial text amendments to the LUMO is a case in point. There was no meaningful discussion of all the ramifications before recommending approval. When I asked the Chair about this, his response was that it was already a done deal for the council majority and therefore not worth the commission’s time.


No! We need the voices of advisory boards who can collect data, speak to the public, and offer recommendations for the community. For example, our environmental experts are often part of these boards and should be leading the way towards development, not disregarded. Our current mayor mentioned to WRAL in 2022 that building affordable housing on coal ash is a “great location for residential if that’s the path we vote to take.” Though the current plan is to plan government offices on it, this is against the Environmental Stewardship Advisory Board and does not impact the lives of the council members, but it does put our public workforce at risk of their health.

Also, we need improved technology such as a town app for people to attend meetings online AND get instant polling data, comments, and concerns. We can aggregate that data to make decisions based on what PEOPLE want, not what the town council THINKS people want or wants for themselves.


I do not approve, residents should be the advisors of government, not development firms and out-of-state consultants.


While I was on the Planning Commission, the General Assembly was systematically taking more and more authority from the town and from boards. It was already difficult to explain to the citizenry what the Town Council or Town Boards and Commissions have or don’t have authority to do, but that authority kept shrinking.  Spending citizen and staff time on deliberation that isn’t allowed to be considered by the Town Council in decision making is setting false expectations and creates only frustration, so reconsidering how to run boards and commissions makes sense.

Luckily, the Town has a robust policy and system of outreach to Town residents on planning initiatives, including providing services or food, to enable greater participation amongst those for whom such participation is more difficult.  In that way, the town can hear more input from more residents who may not have time to serve on a Town board.


As the most recent past chair of the Planning Commission (my term as chair ended this month), I had a front-row seat for this change. In my view, the fundamental problem with our conditional re-zoning process is that we negotiate details that should be standardized, and we standardize key aspects that should be negotiated. Let me explain.

Historically, conditional re-zonings went through five different advisory boards before the Town Council. This process required about 25 person-hours of staff time at advisory board meetings (my estimate), not counting preparation time, and easily twice that many person-hours of developer time at the same meetings. In the end, the process yielded disjointed and often contradictory feedback, which the Town Council in many cases ignored (understandably). Meanwhile, the overall length and unpredictability of the Town’s development review process adverse selected for out-of-town developers and generic, car-oriented projects. Nobody benefitted from it.

Streamlining our advisory board process was a necessary step forward. But I worry about how long it’s taking us to fill the vacuum this left. The premise of consolidating the advisory board process was to plan more efficiently – i.e., by reducing to written standards some of the feedback advisory boards had been providing project-by-project. Unfortunately, the Town seems to be at least a year away from updating its development ordinances. Similarly, many have suggested that the Town Council focus more on policy and less on the details of specific projects. While I agree in principle, we haven’t set up the standards and processes that would make this possible. If only better planning could be accomplished by subtraction!

The need for effective planning is the most underrated challenge the Town currently faces. I can’t emphasize this enough. Process streamlining is easy. Properly calibrating new development rules and building internal capacity to plan and coordinate coherent neighborhoods is not. 


The Planning Commission, which I currently serve on, has active partnerships and communication with other boards to incorporate their comments into our own process. My experience observing the comments made at the Planning Commission and in speaking with other commissioners is that the best role of these boards is to contribute to high-level policy, something that I completely support. The boards are very well suited to articulating a vision for the town, identifying metrics that measure our progress to that vision, and spearheading town engagement efforts. The boards are also natural launching points for petitions that influence town projects. For example, I collaborated with Jon Mitchell, Liz Losos, and other members of the Planning Commission to send Council a petition intended to reduce excessive parking and apply zoned permits for street parking, which helps us to build towards a more genuinely walkable and bikeable town while prioritizing the use of parking spaces for those who need them most.


I served on town advisory boards for 15 years before joining Council, so I understand and value the contributions our board members make and the expertise they bring to their work. I was not happy with the sudden staff decision to remove the boards from the development review process – especially since there was no plan for what their charge and work would be going forward. Some of these boards are still in limbo.

Council hasn’t done an evaluation of our board system for many years, and we owe it to the boards who’ve had their roles change radically to move that work forward. We’ve been hearing frustrations from the boards about a lack of clarity in their missions, wanting to have more impact on policy, and overlong meetings. At our last Council work session, staff brought forward initial thoughts about how we rethink the way our boards contribute to the work of the town. Some of the goals we’re looking at: making the development review process more efficient; clarifying board charges; instituting better training for board chairs and members; and expanding board roles in policy recommendations.


I assume the stated goal of minimizing advisory board input was to streamline the permitting and approval process for development. I’ve heard a number of individuals reference a city visit to Asheville from which the take-away was that a town government’s role should be to “make policy” which can then be followed seamlessly by town staff. As a small-business owner I couldn’t agree more that lengthy, labyrinthine approvals processes can be the death of independent businesses.  But I don’t think that need for efficiency should necessarily extend to large developments that change the landscape of our town in major ways. So if we have first made sure our overall policies reflect the input of our residents, perhaps it would be wise to limit advisory board input on smaller projects, but maintain it for larger ones.


I do not approve of this change. I currently chair the Parks, Greenways, and Recreation Advisory Board and know firsthand what an important role advisory boards can play.

Advisory Boards serve as a forum for members of the community to share their ideas, needs and concerns. Chapel Hill has a vibrant, thoughtful, and kind community. We should be learning more from our residents not less. Better decisions are made when knowledgeable people bring information to the table. It is baffling to me that the town would want to curtail this important information flow.


Council members have a responsibility to listen to our town residents. For this reason, I am critical of reducing the role of advisory boards and commissions. Our various boards and commissions are an important mechanism by which Town staff, the Council, and the residents of Chapel Hill exchange ideas. Streamlining this process dilutes civic engagement and inclusion.

4) What do you want to see developed on the Legion Community Park property? Affordable housing, just a park, a combination of these or something else entirely.


In order to manage growth as we move forward, we can no longer choose between people and trees – we must do both. Our decision on what to do with The American Legion Property is an example of how we can navigate land use decisions to meet multiple needs.

In this case, the needs were trifold. We wanted to protect a beloved park from extensive development and meet our affordable housing needs – while also paying for the property’s hefty price tag. Voting to purchase the property in 2015 was the easiest vote I took on Council – once I was certain we could pay for it. It’s important to understand that in order to get the votes necessary to purchase and preserve the property in the first place, Council had to reach a compromise that part of property would be sold for development.  If that hadn’t happened, the Property would be covered in apartments and townhomes today.

Fast forward to last December. After hearing from individuals across our community, I voted to support a plan that will ultimately result in a larger, 39-acre park (when combined with Ephesus Park) and up to 120 dedicated affordable housing units – while preserving the site’s natural areas. Because of the property’s location, the families who live there will be able to walk to jobs, transit, schools, shopping, and – of course – a park!  The potential of this property will also make it highly competitive for federal funding, making it a very viable project.

As for the future of the property, I’m 100% committed to leaving the rest a park. I’m excited about future discussions this Fall with the community about what this new park will entail (Pickleball? Tennis? Both?)!


I voted against reducing by 1/4 the size of Legion Park – even for building more affordable housing – because I don’t believe our need for parks should continue to be pitted against our housing needs. And the property taken out of park use in Legion Park includes the best parts of the property – the front nine acres and the beautiful fishing pond. This is a familiar tactic in large private developments where developers point to things like a retention pond, floodplain and steep slopes as “community green space” even though the recreation value of the land for residents is minimal.  It is truly unfortunate to see the town use such similar arguments. Increasing the huge need for a real community park in this area – first mentioned in our decade old Chapel Hill parks plan – are the thousands of nearby new apartments that have been recently built or are in the planning stages. Many affordable apartments on town property, Community Home Trust homes, and thousands of new and planned apartments mean thousands of new residents are coming to this area. Kids, families and residents deserve a large park in this area just like other, more wealthy areas of Chapel Hill that have much, much larger community parks. Finally, the Legion property was also purchased largely with park bonds, making these arguments even stronger. See:

And bearing out concerns from residents about the large reduction of this park land, the first plans for this land are to drain and fill the fishing pond to prepare for development without spending a dime on a park for years, making it reasonable to wonder if a park will ever be created on the property. As usual, development comes first. See:

Legion Park is already in use as a park and should stay 100% a park.



I am a founding member of the Friends of Legion Park , .

We have advocated for using the entire site for a community park, which has long been recognized as an essential need for eastern Chapel Hill (the Comprehensive Parks Plan (2013), American Legion Task Force (2017) and the Parks, Greenways and Recreation Commission (2019)). A petition to this effect gathered 1000 signatures from across the town. When I presented this petition to council, I was rebuffed. Of note, the land was purchased with park bond funds, not for housing. Proposed replacement of the fishing pond with 150 housing units will dramatically affect the hydrology, which has not been studied. Thus, the impacts on homeowners downstream from the dam are currently unknown. However, my observations and those of others indicate the pond serves an important stormwater control function, contrary to the engineering report on dam safety.


First, we don’t even know if we can build on this site. The Amry Corp of Engineers has verified that we can only proceed with a preference on use to streamline the permit process. If the pond is spring fed, it may not be safe to build on.

With the upwards of 5,000 units in the pipeline within 2 miles of Legion Park and around “Blue Hill” (for which the town paid thousands of dollars to a consultant to create the brand name) it needs to be a place for everyone.

My recommendation is to pay the approximately $800,000 it takes to repair the dam and to create an ADA compliant walking path around the pond. We need to keep it open for fishing, picnics, and the deer, wildlife, and 80+ bird species that depend on the pond for survival.

Why are we driving to Durham, Apex, and Raleigh for sports and recreation? We have greenspace for all sports here: basketball courts, pickleball courts, tennis courts, soccer fields, and more. Why not add 2-3 paddleboats in the pond on the weekends? We need a dog park in this area and could even put in a skatepark and/or playground. A community garden with the current monarch waystation would be suitable places to teach children about agriculture. We could add additional walking trail switchbacks in the wooded area and add educational signage to local plants and trees.

This is an ideal space for a permanent farmer’s market and weekend local retailer tents or pop-up markets. Along with a place for food trucks on the weekend and a stage for community concerts and summer movie nights make Legion Park an invaluable asset for the community while promoting local business and promoting cultural interactions and engaging each other.


Nothing except replacing the old legion building with a new police headquarters.  Building anywhere else in the park is futile as it is a low area that pools water so building on it will always result in flooding.


I believe that a combination of a park and housing is a win-win option for this land, and calling it the “Legion Community Park property” is a misnomer, given the original purposes and funding for the land.  When the Town bought it, they resolved that the property should be used for a mix of public and private purposes and the funding for the purchase was 46% from General Fund monies and 54% from bonds directed for recreation facilities.

As noted above, we are in a housing crisis, for both subsidized affordable housing and workforce-attainable housing.  Anything we can add to our supply helps that supply: demand imbalance.  But developing subsidized housing is a major goal for Chapel Hill, and, whenever we can do it on Town-owned land, more funds will be available to build more units.

However, after a fraction is used for housing, there is a 27-acre section that will be combined with the adjacent 10 acres of Ephesus Park, creating a generous park equivalent in size to Prichard Park and Homestead Park.


The Town currently plans to build affordable housing on 8-9 acres of this 36 acre tract, while preserving the other 27+ acres, as well as the existing 12-acre Ephesus Park, as open space (for a total of roughly 39 acres of contiguous open space). That seems reasonable, considering that only 55% of the funding used to purchase the Legion property came from recreation bonds (according to the Town’s website). The rest came from the Town’s General Fund. By comparison, the Town proposes to preserve a much higher proportion of the land – as least 75%.


The Legion Road Property will devote 27 acres to a park and reserve a quarter of the land (9 acres) for affordable housing. This is a great deal for parks, since 45% of the land purchase was paid for using money from a parks bond, but 75% of the land will be a park! One reason town-owned land is ideally suited to creating affordable housing is that donating the land to the project reduces the cost of building, which increases the Town’s leverage in negotiations on the number and price of affordable units. This is a win for parks and a win for housing – I approve.


I think Council made the right decision when we voted to meet two important community needs by using one-quarter of the American Legion property (9 acres near the road) for affordable housing and the remaining three-quarters (27 acres) for a park. (This division is true to Council’s original purchase resolution, which specified that the property should be used for a mix of purposes.) I personally pushed for the clause in this spring’s agreement that preserved the existing forest and stream areas as natural, undeveloped spaces for future generations to enjoy.

When combined with Ephesus Park, the new 39-acre Legion Park will be the fifth-largest town park and a wonderful new recreation space for Chapel Hill. We’ll be beginning a new parks and recreation master plan process soon, and will be reaching out to the community for input on the amenities they want to see on this site.


Legion Park should a remain a park for all the residents of the surrounding areas, including the already substantially densified Blue Hill.


I would like for Legion Community Park property to remain a full park.

I am the Chair of Chapel Hill’s Parks and Recreation Commission, which I have served on for the last 5 years. I was on the Commission in 2019 when we petitioned the Council to make Legion property into a full park. I also pushed for the Council to not sell off any of the land, which I am glad we were able to win.

Chapel Hill has a 2013 Parks Master Plan that clearly states we need a large community park in the Eastern part of Chapel Hill. It is an area of high density, with new large-scale developments in the works. Many residents there do not have access to a park. The current plan to develop the choicest part of the park (and spend $800K to drain a pond) does not make sense to me.

Moreover, it saddened me how the town pitted parks against affordable housing. These two important issues should not be binary. They should work together. People living in affordable housing need parks and greenways as much as any area of town. We need to provide that.


The Legion Community Park property presents a unique opportunity to address two critical needs in Chapel Hill: affordable housing and parkland. The eastern section of Chapel Hill lacks a community park, and the Legion Road property is already used by nearby residents for casual recreation. Meanwhile, the town faces an affordable housing crisis, with over 5,000 affordable units needed for community members earning 60 percent or less of the area median income, and a specific need for housing for adults with disabilities. 

I support a balanced approach, developing 8-9 acres along Legion Road for affordable housing and combining the remaining 27 acres with the bordering 10-acre Ephesus Park, would address both needs without sacrificing one for the other.

5) Seeking owner-owned housing for lower-income people has consumed community discussion for several years. Yet, new development has yielded only market-rate apartments and a handful of for-sale residences except for town-sponsored projects. What will be achieved by the recent text changes to allow multiple-family housing in previous single-family zoning districts?


The Town has worked hard to move away from the luxury apartments in Blue Hill and elsewhere – all of which were approved before I took office in 2015.  During my eight years on Council, we’ve made tremendous progress at creating middle housing – with approximately 1,100 new townhome and condominium units already approved in new neighborhoods across town. This number also includes around 125 new affordable homes that have been agreed to by developers. It’s important to understand that under North Carolina state law, the Town Council does not have authority to dictate whether homes are for-sale or for rent.  Accordingly, the approved projects are a mix – some ownership and some rental. So, the good news is that we’ve created a lot more than a “handful of for-sale residences”!

The housing text amendment is another part of the multi-pronged approach the Town is taking to diversify its housing stock so we can be a more inclusive community. It is a small step toward providing new, affordable options for seniors, young families, single parents and local workers that are not high-rise apartment buildings. It will also make sure our local businesses continue to attract top talent and that we can keep our town services at a high level as we grow.

It’s also important to note that the changes are really minor. Traditionally, duplexes and small accessory dwelling units have already been allowed in single-family neighborhoods. If your neighborhood has a neighborhood conservation district (NCD) overlay or neighborhood covenants restricting duplexes, the change doesn’t apply. The idea is that as older houses are razed over time – possibly decades – they won’t simply be replaced with the “McMansions” we’re seeing all over town now. Instead, there will be an option to put in place a duplex, small accessory unit, or cottage that follows the same setbacks and height limitations as your current neighborhood – plus stronger stormwater and tree canopy protections than what exist today. In addition, there are limitations on parking (four spaces per building) and the number of unrelated individuals per unit (no more than four) to prevent “student stuffers.” This will allow us to have our kids and grandkids live closer – while maintaining the character of our single-family neighborhoods that we love so much.


This zoning change is a red herring that does almost nothing to advance our goals of providing not only more affordable housing but more housing of any type for middle income families. We need to focus on housing proposals that actually work to increase housing options – like the 1200+ townhomes and apartments I have voted for over the last year alone in Chapel Hill from for-sale townhome projects to downtown rental apartments and my strong support for our already years-long successful changes allowing more accessory dwelling units, garage apartments, and “granny flats”. We need to do what works and this rezoning proposal doesn’t work.  Here’s why:

  1. It doesn’t apply to a majority of areas of town, including some of our wealthiest areas, thus violating one of the core principles of legislating – treat similarly situated people equally. A majority of our town council members are not affected by this change as they live in neighborhoods protected by state law on HOAs or town code from “Housing Choices.” When strong proponents of this policy, and especially political leaders, live in areas exempt from the policy they are insisting is critical for others to accept this creates an untenable situation and will simply mean ongoing conflict. “Do as I say, not as I do” is not a recipe for successful public policy change. Highlighting this inequity, my opponent, who voted for this change even though she is herself exempt, attempted during the debate to also exempt homes in Chapel Hill’s historic district, another area of town with some of our more expensive homes. Neighborhoods like the Oaks, Meadowmont, Southern Village, are, of course, exempt. Neighborhoods that can organize, raise enough money to hire an attorney and establish an HOA are able to exempt themselves as well – and this is happening across town. And overwhelmingly, residents from affected neighborhoods who are not exempt – from modest three bedroom 1970s split-levels in Colony Woods to expensive historic homes in our downtown area – were opposed to this change.
  2. Waiving the “magic zoning wand” as this policy attempts to do cannot make land less expensive or lessen the profit motive for developers and landowners. In this country we do not expect landowners to be Marxists! Given the opportunity to build more units on very expensive land that formerly contained one housing unit, landowners use this ability not to build more “missing middle” housing but create new expensive housing units to maximize profit. This is the reason town staff repeatedly stated in the debate on this measure that it would not create more affordable housing. We see this lack of affordable housing creation repeatedly in other areas where this policy has been newly implemented. And this has been further documented by the latest research on these type of proposals. Raleigh’s two-million-dollar multiple townhomes project on a formerly single-family lot is just one example of what we can expect if voters decide to elect strong proponents of these zoning changes who can be expected to take them even farther than our initial proposal.



Why has the town pursued a policy of economic discrimination in housing? We see other developers in nearby who build townhome “missing middle” communities. Why do we partner with out-of-state developers who build these “Texas donuts” apartments? The recent zoning changes will provide housing choice, but not affordability. “Trickle down” housing economics does not work and there are many examples. Other towns that have tried this approach without success and have reversed course. The likely outcome will be market rate housing as can be seen in Carrboro. The smallest unit of cottage courts, Inara on Fidelity Street, is valued at $650,000 on Zillow; the largest at almost $1M. We need housing policies that work.  A majority of residents taking the survey, experts and the town staff all agree the recent text changes won’t bring the desired “missing middle” housing, so this policy needs to be reversed.


Revoking recent zoning decisions in Chapel Hill is usually interpreted by the media as “anti-growth”, but the zoning decisions are “anti-community” and “anti-equity” – it benefits developers, exacerbates runoff and flooding, and harms family homebuyers. It is not the intention here – it is the execution. The current town council does not understand the extent of damage 3,000 sq ft duplexes – with 8 bedrooms but a maximum of 4 parking spaces – and 1,000 sq ft ADUs with reduced canopy requirements (in small older neighborhoods that are still reasonably priced) – are going to impact communities that already live near floodplains and do not have sidewalks. The public thinks this makes things more affordable, but only benefits wealthy investors, often from out of the state and even U.S., desiring rental properties. The council members making these decisions live in HOAs / covenant restricted neighborhoods which doesn’t impact them.


The alternative is mixed use housing along with encouraging established home renovation toward duplex or in law-suite conversions. This was a preexisting option before the new amendments, along with 700 sq ft in-law suites and cottages. These meet density increases while ensuring that we are not drowning ourselves in runoff and rentals. A combination of mixed housing offerings, prioritizing developers who build affordable housing, increasing massive penalties for not including 15%+ affordable housing as part of a development or offering at least 10% or more of net profits to go into an affordable housing fund is a start!

Prioritize environmentally responsible and local developers. – Let developers compete with each other on who offers the most community and climate-change protections such as Energy Star Certified construction. Developments with mixed rental and for-sale affordable housing, tiny homes, and townhomes which also have flex, office, local business, and community spaces offer something for everyone from an environmental and economic lens as well as a cultural one.


The only thing that will achieve, is every house currently for rent will have its tenants evicted so that the building can be torn down and replaced with a duplex or triplex so that the owner can get the extra value of duplex home and double their income as they will now have two renters instead of one.  This process will take 3-5 years as the new house is being built, and upon completion will be marketed as new construction housing, driving up the prices more.


At one of my first smart growth conferences a decade or more ago, I heard my still-favorite quote:  “People hate two things, sprawl and density.”   Mitch Silver, a national planning expert, told the Town’s Economic Sustainability Committee just the other day, “When you say ‘no’ to one thing, you are saying ‘yes’ to another whether you realize it or not.”  Bottom line, when you say “no” to more housing and density inside the urban services boundary, you are saying “yes” to sprawl and its traffic. I will explain.

To plan housing effectively requires information. We know:

  • We will require about 485 housing units a year to meet expected demand (only 10% of which is for students).
  • One-third of Chapel Hill households are now single-person and another third is 2-person; given US demographic trends, that fraction will grow.
  • The majority of Chapel Hill land was zoned for single-family-only zoning, and very few of those single-family homes are starter homes or appropriate for downsizing empty-nesters
  • Vacant land in Chapel Hill is rare and expensive.

Given all this, to meet demand we either need to add housing inside our urban boundary or outside, where more people will drive in to jobs. Some of this density is apartment buildings built along transit corridors.  But there is a great opportunity for Chapel Hill to house more people by aiming for gentle density in existing neighborhoods.  

My grandfather built beautiful homes in Lexington, Kentucky, from the 1920s to the 1960s – from single-family to sixplexes – all in mixed-housing-type neighborhoods.   Those smaller units fit into the neighborhoods, by style, but created homes for 1- and 2-person households – young couples, widows, the school teacher, the confirmed bachelor – all where they could be part of a neighborhood community. Those neighborhoods are still among the most desirable in Lexington. These are housing types with a history here in Chapel Hill as well, with a lovely example right amidst the expensive homes on E. Franklin St. In addition, the housing mixes in both Meadowmont and Southern Village show how mixing housing types in one neighborhood can be both practical and beautiful.

The Housing Choices proposal was never billed as being for “affordable housing,” or subsidized housing. What it should accomplish, as planned, will be a gradual mixing in of housing choices to meet the changing needs of future Chapel Hill populations – so our children can afford to come home and live, so divorced singles can have neighbors, and so the aging can meet their changing housing needs in their own neighborhood.


It’s true that projects constructed since 2010 generally have been rentals (approximately 95%, according to the Projected Housing Needs report delivered to the Town in October 2021). While rentals will always form a key component of the Town’s housing stock, we need to restore balance to the mix of units we’re producing.

Recently we seem to be trending in the right direction. Within the past year, the Town Council has approved at least 900 new owner-occupied units, between South Creek, 2217 Homestead Road, and 710 N. Estes Drive. These haven’t been built yet.

While the Town lacks legal authority to regulate the “ownership structure of dwellings,” it has a couple ways to increase the likelihood that developers continue to propose owner-occupied units. One is to adjust the Town’s inclusionary zoning ordinance and policy, as Town staff recently recommended. The ordinance requires that for-sale multifamily projects include 10-15% “affordable” units. The parallel policy, which applies to rentals, provides a density bonus in exchange for delivering such units. In its effort to navigate tricky aspects of North Carolina law (where rent control is prohibited), the Town designed the ordinance and policy to apply differently to for-sale projects and rentals. This created perverse incentives favoring rental housing. We should now re-examine and address those incentives.

Another way to promote owner-occupied housing is to plan for more coherent, walkable neighborhoods, as called for in the Complete Community framework. Such neighborhoods tend to draw for-sale proposals from developers, since they appeal to buyers looking to put down roots.

Separately, the recent change to single-family zoning referenced in the question was not designed to favor either owner-occupied or rental units. For those unfamiliar with the change, here’s a simple explanation: It permits landowners to partition and put two doors on houses no larger than (and in some cases smaller than) single-family houses are permitted to be. This permission comes with strings attached: duplexes must meet higher tree canopy, stormwater, and other requirements designed to protect neighborhood character.

Based on the experience of other cities that took this step before Chapel Hill, I expect that it will very modestly increase the supply of housing that is smaller and lower-cost in relative terms (though probably not “low-income” housing). However one views the potential drawbacks – and there are reasonable arguments on both sides here – this seems like a legitimate policy goal. I discuss my complicated but generally favorable views on this change in a September 4 blog post on my campaign website.


The number one thing these changes will accomplish is creating more kinds of housing for middle class folks with good jobs, for children with aging parents, parents with adult children, and folks who want to downsize as they age in place. These changes are not intended to create housing for low-income folks. These units may end up being the Mercedes and the Bentleys of our housing market, much like some of the luxury apartments in town, but if we don’t build luxury apartments, the people who can afford them will simply buy up our Camry and Corolla type stock. We need to be building both to avoid driving our workers (teachers, nurses, firefighters, custodians, and more) so far away from Town that they simply stop coming, and these changes help us to do that! Moreover, the number one reason why it has been difficult to produce owner-occupied multifamily housing is the financing model. Banks have either set much higher lending rates for owner-occupied projects or have simply refused to issue loans for those projects. Since missing middle housing is much smaller than large condo projects, it’s easier to finance and easier to sell.


There are two different issues here. The first is about for-sale affordable units. Our inclusionary zoning policy mandates 15% affordable units in for-sale developments, but unfortunately for the past decade or so, applicants have mostly brought forward rental projects. With the Council’s new focus on middle housing (mid-size, mid-price), we’ve moved the needle there and are getting more and more for-sale projects – and the accompanying for-sale affordable units. For example, the recent project approved at South Creek will have approximately 80 affordable condo and townhome units.

The second issue is the recent Housing Choices amendment, which allows duplexes, small accessory units, and cottages on small lots in single-family neighborhoods. (Triplexes and quadplexes are allowed only in areas of town that already allow apartment buildings, not in single-family neighborhoods.) The data tell us that we have a shortage of housing overall, and especially mid-sized and smaller units. This new ordinance will let owners add a rental unit in the backyard (or housing for a family member who can’t live independently); as lots redevelop, it will mean we can get two dwelling units (limited to a total of 3,000 square feet) instead of a lot-filling one-family McMansion;  it will let owners with very small lots build a small cottage on them. While we can’t mandate the price of these new units, their smaller size should bring them in at a lower price point than other new construction.

These forms are all compatible with the neighboring single-family homes, and the duplex lots will have much stronger tree canopy and stormwater protections than the single-family houses around them. This means we can make room in our neighborhoods for more of the people who work here, who want to stay here through different life stages, and who are being currently locked out by high costs and limited housing supply.


The zoning text amendment will not affect the affordability of housing, as our own Town Council who approved it readily concedes.  In another town It might provide diverse housing options for those who prefer something other than a single-family home, but In Chapel Hill it will more likely result in expensive rentals marketed to the student population.


I am against the text amendment, and I would like to restore single-family zoning.

We need to promote diverse housing based on evidence of what works. Most of us agree that Chapel Hill needs a more diverse housing stock at a range of prices so that more of the people who work here can live here. Where people disagree is around how to achieve that.

Proponents of removing single-family zoning argue that it will make housing more affordable; however, the experience of other communities like Chapel Hill suggests quite the opposite, namely that moderately-priced housing for families will be replaced by expensive student rentals. Moreover, the impact of this change will be borne disproportionately by the residents of Chapel Hill’s older, less-affluent neighborhoods. I want more affordable housing, not an amendment designed to help developers.


The recent text changes to allow multiple-family housing in previously single-family zoning districts have been promoted as a critical step towards addressing the affordable housing crisis. However, loosening restrictions on single family zoning is just one piece of the puzzle. It needs to be complemented by other strategies outlined in the Affordable Housing Plan that was approved unanimously on September 13, 2023.  To achieve a comprehensive and sustainable solution to our affordable housing crisis, multi-family housing needs to be combined with modifying the down payment assistance program, expanding rental assistance programs, and providing property tax relief for lower-income homeowners.

6) One aspect of Chapel Hill’s distinct character is living with the combination of urban amenities and access to nature. How can we conserve a healthy tree canopy, wildlife, and adequate green space?


Maintaining a healthy tree canopy is critically important. That’s why when we adopted our Future Land Use Map several years ago, we asked our environmental sustainability team to include a series of resilience maps, including a tree canopy density map which serves as a baseline.  Since then, we’ve continued gathering data and ideas for improving sustainability that we can use to inform future land use ordinance updates. 

My priorities in terms of conserving a healthy tree canopy, wildlife and adequate green space include:

Updating the natural areas map and continuing our watershed studies to identify key areas that we need to preserve – and where we may need more trees – as we implement the Complete Community plan.

Preserve the Resource Conservation District (RCD) areas on either side of our creeks and streams to preserve water quality, prevent flooding, and protect habitats. 

Support preservation of the Rural Buffer (as discussed in question 1).

Maintain or strengthen our environmental protections as we rewrite our land use ordinances. 

Plant more trees.

Work with partners (e.g., North Carolina Botanical Garden Foundation) to preserve ecologically sensitive areas and extend wildlife corridors.

Explore opportunities with developers for saving more trees when new projects come on-line.


I am a firm believer in putting equity in our parks and green spaces high on our list of priorities to do this. Equity is critical to conservation as it enables everyone in our community to experience the benefits of our parks and green spaces and even become community advocates for the spaces we all love. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has specific recommendations to increase park and green space equity: I believe we can build on these ideas with a very specific solution – conserve and connect our amazing existing green spaces while expanding others through a comprehensive trail network that involves not only the financially challenging $2 million/mile paved greenway “superhighways” of the system but also a new commitment to a much more financially viable (especially with new IRA funds) natural surface trail network ($50,000/mi) that can branch off our paved greenway system.  This network, driven by recent advances in trail building techniques, can include walking, strolling, wheelchair use, biking and US Forest Service-type ADA-compliant trails to more quickly and easily connect communities to parks and green space, starting with our most underserved communities. Being a part of the natural landscape, natural surface trails can bring people into their green spaces and forests, which will be enormously important in the hotter and wetter years we will continue to experience.

I am especially inspired by communities who have already launched and constructed projects like this, including the amazing equity-driven effort just up I-40 in Old Fort, NC led by the Catawba Vale Collective:  See  and:

Other examples include the Urban Wilderness Project in Knoxville, TN:  and the amazing investment in Bentonville, Arkansas in green space and trails:  and places like Belmont, NC and  Cramerton, NC:

The other equity component in the plans in these other towns and cities is the key place of economic development – a way to improve community as well. Multiple studies have shown that building a community green space network can be attractive not only in improved lives for residents but also in community economic development.  Again, Old Fort leads the way in this with new business development, but economic studies in places like Bentonville and Knoxville show the same benefits but on a broader scale.  I believe we can do the same here in Chapel Hill, bringing in the benefits of more visitors while improving the quality of life for current and future residents.

We are so lucky in Chapel Hill – we already have amazing green spaces and can conserve more as we grow. We have enthusiastic volunteers and many great connected green spaces/creeks/easements – which can all combine to enable us to build for the future we know is coming. Already in town many of our most expensive neighborhoods are near substantial parks and green space.  With a financially realistic and visionary trail and green space effort we can connect our more modest communities to our parks and green space while opening up to many, many more people our amazing woods and streams, and without destroying the very green and preserved places we need to improve the lives of everyone and build an amazing community for all.



The first action would be to actually enforce the town’s tree ordinance. Similarly, we should not allow developers to avoid green space requirements via a payment-in-lieu (see Blue Hill). We can also require developers to avoid clear-cutting sites and instead retain some mature tree canopy. In the case of UNC and their Easttown medical campus, we can work to retain a contiguous old growth forest for wildlife where at present the plan calls for a parking garage. In recent years, the staff and Council have paid less attention to buffers.  Buildings don’t always need to be pushed to the front edge of the property lot line.  A 30-foot buffer, for example, can soften a new development, reduce temperatures and the heat island effect, and provide canopy for bikers and pedestrians.


  • Preserve parks — including Legion Community Park
  • Increase options for low carbon-emission mass transportation options – continue with electric buses, but create transit ahead of construction, not as an afterthought as is current council’s process
  • Create e-bike sharing and multi-modal transportation options
  • Connect greenways with sustainable, multi-use, and cost-effective pervious surfaces
  • Share your ideas with me at


 By structuring parks in proper locations when planning development.


Trees and green space are essential for our physical and mental health, for pollinators and birds, for shading impervious surfaces and homes, for filtering air pollution and mitigating stormwater, and many other functions.  We need to maintain the green space we have and add to it. We protect greenspace by densifying already developed areas rather than mowing down trees and exacerbating the sprawl that gives us too little function per acre.

We need to preserve and expand our park space as an amenity for health and community building.  And we should make up for past inequities by making sure that everyone has a park within a 10 to 15-minute walk from their house.

Meanwhile, we need to add trees whenever we can.  Our goal should be to have enough shade trees to shade most of our streets, roads and parking lots.  We should build out our Everywhere to Everywhere greenways with native species, so they can serve as wildlife and pollinator corridors. And we need to get as many people as possible out of cars and onto multi-use paths and transit to allow us to do road diets on our streets and create more street tree opportunities.  Meanwhile, we should encourage the conversion of ecologically sterile lawns into organic native plant gardens, turning our neighborhoods into pollinator and bird sanctuaries.


Natural areas preservation is integral to the Complete Community framework, which I’m running to implement. I encourage advocates for balanced development to leverage it. The framework starts from the notion of walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods. This requires ample green space interwoven with development. Every neighborhood should have some kind of “walk to nature” opportunity. In addition, the Complete Community framework calls for creation of a protected natural areas plan, as well as an “everywhere-to-everywhere” greenway network (both of which are in progress). Finally, the framework requires that future development respect Chapel Hill’s unique topography. That means we should not allow gratuitous regrading and clearcutting of development sites. In sum, the Complete Community framework was designed around the idea that a Complete Community should have lots of housing options and lots of green space – and that these things are compatible.

On a more tactical level, we need to plan, negotiate, and fund preservation efforts. I’ll briefly address these steps in turn.

At the planning level, we should develop a protected natural areas plan (as mentioned above) for the entire Town. In conjunction with this, we should consider how we’re going to ensure sufficient green space within or adjacent to the parts of Town that we want to grow.

In some cases, we can negotiate for green space. For example, the South Creek project (approved this year) sets aside approximately 80 acres of green space between South Columbia and Mt. Carmel Church Road. We can also negotiate for tree preservation. In my August 17 campaign blog post, I discuss the example of 710 N. Estes, where advisory board members, including me, prevailed on the developer to work with the existing topography and preserve a meaningful stand of mature hardwoods in the middle of the site. This intervention resulted in no decrease in housing density whatsoever. Going forward, I believe the Town should negotiate over existing trees in much the same way it negotiates over affordable housing units. Both are important to the Town’s identity.

We should also consider ways to strengthen our written development standards concerning trees and green space. For example, Durham is currently considering a policy that would allow developers a bit of leniency vis-à-vis Durham’s overall tree canopy requirement if developers meet a higher proportion of the requirement with existing trees (as opposed to newly-planted ones) – thereby incentivizing tree preservation. While I don’t view this policy as an adequate substitute for negotiation, it’s another tool we could perhaps add to our toolbox. We should also re-think our current requirements for on-site recreational space, which often seem to yield fragmented, unusable space. Through better standards and planning, we could aggregate those spaces across projects into valuable community spaces.

Finally, the Town may well need to commit its own financial resources to acquire green space, as it did for the Legion property. But as I mentioned above, we first need to get control of our fiscal situation.

One last point: As counterintuitive as it sounds, from a preservation perspective, the worst strategy we could adopt is a no-growth strategy. It’s both impossible and self-defeating. Almost every inch of Chapel Hill that is not currently developed is zoned for some land use that will, in many cases, result in clearcutting. The best way to avoid this result is to plan for and negotiate better outcomes (and to buy land if necessary). The Town’s authority to permit increased density is its bargaining chip; we give something, we get something. We should use this tool strategically to get more of what we want.


The missing middle housing text amendment actually established higher tree canopy requirements (40%) than existing single family zoning. However, the most important way to conserve the environment is to limit urban sprawl! This means promoting height and density, but we can include green walls, convert unused urban space to mini-parks in addition to the huge amount of green space already present in Chapel Hill (including the UNC campus, which is a public amenity). As a red-haired guy who sunburns easily, I’m all in favor of generous tree canopy, and will emphasize that point in all multifamily developments. Chapel Hill is not New York, Tokyo, or LA. It never could be, and no one here wants it to be. Our vision is of a dense, green, shady paradise that makes space for all kinds of professionals, families, merchants, retirees, and children.


Our recent Complete Community planning framework started with this premise: First, preserve what you value. For me, a big part of that that is the trees, green spaces, and stream corridors that make up such an important part of our town’s character and contribute to the environmental health of our community. Here are some of the ways I’ll be working to accomplish this:

  • Strengthening our ordinances. As we do the land-use ordinance rewrite, I’ll be pushing to strengthen our tree canopy, stream buffer, and stormwater protections.
  • Supporting greenways. Our new Everywhere to Everywhere greenway system will add 25 miles of new trails to the 17 miles we have now. Not only will this provide new bike/ped transportation options, it will preserve miles of new linear green space and habitat in town.
  • Protecting the rural buffer. Protection of the rural buffer is key to preserving our natural areas. As mentioned earlier, I strongly support maintaining the buffer.
  • Partnering with environmental groups. Last year, I participated in the Eno-New Hope Strategic Action Plan group, working on recommendations to local governments for preserving important wildlife corridors.
  • Working to protect valuable natural land. I advocated strongly for protecting the Natural Heritage area at UNC-Health’s Eastowne site, ultimately getting a commitment to place 12+ acres of environmentally sensitive land in permanent protection.


The competing needs of housing and access to green space are incredibly difficult to reconcile.  While it might not be the fastest way to go about it, I think we’ll just have to examine each new project that might compromise our natural areas and judge its merit based on its specific location. I understand we could also be doing a much better job of enforcing our tree preservation guidelines and I know we could do better in terms of street trees and the types of trees and landscaping that accompany new builds.


We need to strengthen the Tree Protection ordinance. We need to protect our mature, canopy trees and emphasize the need for adequate green space requirements for new development. Right now, developers clear-cut large tracts of land, and then plant saplings in place of the large canopy trees that were cut. These saplings will take decades to grow.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Developers can design plans that conserve some mature tress. The town can require this and enforce a harsh penalty for thoughtlessly clear-cutting the trees.

We also need to plant canopy trees along roadways to make for a pretty streetscape, to help absorb carbon, and thus keep us cooler in the summer.

As mentioned early, I want to preserve the rural buffer, which is a beautiful aspect of our town. I want to preserve our green spaces, like Legion Park. Conserving healthy tree canopy, wildlife, and adequate green space is part of why I am running for Council. Let’s ensure Chapel Hill stays a beautiful and livable town.


One key aspect of maintaining the distinct character of Chapel Hill is promoting dense sustainable development. I support environmentally friendly initiatives, like the incorporation of green roofs, rain gardens, and permeable pavements in new developments. Additionally, existing buildings, especially subsidized housing units in need of repair, should be renovated to include climate-friendly upgrades. It’s also vital to maintain green spaces, such as parks, community gardens, and creek mitigation projects throughout the urban area. These spaces are pivotal in maintaining the local ecology and providing recreational and fitness opportunities for residents.

Promoting and expanding public transportation will also help support this effort. By reducing the number of vehicles on the road we will minimize the need for expansive roads and parking spaces. This will help us conserve more space for greenery. I am a strong supporter of ‘everywhere to everywhere’ greenways that facilitate commuting by foot, bicycle, or even roller skates. Additionally, investing in programs that educate the public about the importance of conserving green spaces, wildlife, and tree canopies is important. I would also promote public engagement in conservation efforts, such as tree planting events and community gardens.

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2 Comments on "Questions and answers from Chapel Hill Municipal Candidates in the 2023 Election"

  1. Thanks so much for taking the time to do this. And kudos to all of the candidates for responding. This will definitely help me to decide on which candidates to vote for.

  2. Diane Weinstein | October 21, 2023 at 3:30 pm | Reply

    Thank you for the excellent Q&A format you put together for the Chapel Hill
    candidates. I have been able to study their responses from the comfort of my home. This kind of coverage is exactly what is needed in the community as we
    struggle to understand the different issues confronting the town. By publishing
    their responses, one can read and reread them at one’s leisure to
    make informed decisions at the polls. Thank you again.

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