Chapel Hill's greatest challenge may be to co-exist with UNC without becoming consumed by it. Navigating these town-gown relations, particularly regarding the proposed Carolina North campus north of downtown, requires leaders who are diplomatic, not sycophantic, and who can stand up to the university without seeming obstructionist.
As more people move to Chapel Hill looking for a culturally cosmopolitan yet small-town feel, town leaders must be attentive to where new developments are located: Their environmental and traffic impacts and affordability are paramount. Critics are concerned about the financial ramifications of the controversial downtown redevelopment initiative: The town's in for a lot more money than it originally planned. Yet the commercial-residential project holds promise for additional tax revenues and would provide a sorely needed anchor for Franklin Street. The town's main drag holds the essence of Chapel Hill. Students and soccer moms, people in business suits and panhandlers: All walks of life converge in this public space, and it is vital that the town's quality of life speak to everyone.
Incumbent Kevin Foy receives our solid endorsement. Since he was elected in 2001, Foy, who has a strong environmental background, has worked hand-in-hand with council to negotiate with UNC regarding Carolina North, the university's gi-normous research/mixed-use project near Estes Road and Martin Luther King Boulevard that, when finished, will be six times larger than Durham's Streets at Southpoint mall. To mitigate the impact of thousands of people who will work and live there, Foy is focusing on mass transit, environmental protection and the impact on the town budget. This includes working with the General Assembly to fund fire protection for the campus, which is state-owned property.
Foy served on the 10-year Plan to End Homelessness Committee, and if re-elected, he plans to locate and build a new, expanded men's shelter. Foy also has been among the leaders to require developers to set aside as much as 30 percent of their projects for affordable housing.
Challenger Kevin Wolff ran for mayor in 2005 as an unknown; little has changed in the past two years. At a League of Women Voters forum he said he was for "smart growth" but spoke only in generalities. He didn't turn in an Indy questionnaire.
We firmly endorse incumbents Sally Greene, Cam Hill, Bill Strom and Jim Ward. They are successfully steering Chapel Hill through this critical period of rapid growth, and intelligently shaping the town's development: They've pushed for strong environmental, land use and future zoning standards at Carolina North (only 25 percent of the land may be built upon), established a temporary moratorium on building in the northwest study area, advocated for the Rogers Road neighborhood, supported downtown projects and set strong affordable housing standards.
Greene, an adjunct professor at UNC's law school, was elected in 2003. Her platform is based on inclusiveness, tolerance, open and participatory government, and social, economic and environmental justice. If elected, she plans to continue working on the homelessness initiative, tree protection and affordable housing. She favors a constructive approach to panhandling, working with social services to get people off the streets.
A town native, Hill has served on numerous council committees including those over budget review and inclusionary zoning, which sets affordable housing requirements for developers; before he was elected to council in 2003, he sat on two Carolina North committees. A self-described liberal, he wants to preserve the quality of life and environment in Chapel Hill, "no matter how it clashes with the vision that the legislature and board of trustees has for UNC." He opposes a crackdown (beyond the existing ordinance) on panhandlers, stating, "the police have better things to do."
Seeking a third term, Strom's recent focus on reducing the town's carbon emissions has been manifested in a law allowing town leaders to require an additional energy efficiency in new developments. He was an outsider on an 8-1 vote on whether the town should appoint representatives to UNC edge committees to review certain plans for Carolina North and main campus. He says he was concerned that UNC would use the committees for public relations rather than for genuine input.
His vision for northwest Chapel Hill, currently off-limits to development, is that it eventually be "bustling," with transit, mixed-use projects and affordable housing—but only through careful zoning and oversight.
Strom has served on dozens of boards and commissions, including the Orange County Economic Development Commission, the Triangle Transit Authority and the council's Sustainability, Energy and Environment committee.
Although in the last election we had reservations about Ward's environmental stance, he's since proven his meddle. He has asked hard questions of UNC and developers, has advocated for open space at Carolina North, and has helped establish 90 acres of conservation easement. He also isn't afraid to dissent, particularly regarding the Lot 5 project downtown, which he thinks is too expensive.
We have chosen not to support challenger Will Raymond, who received our endorsement in 2005. He served on the Horace Williams Citizen Advisory Committee, and although he has promising ideas, he has had several missteps, including his support for further development at Eastgate shopping center, which was built over Booker Creek in an environmentally sensitive conservation district. He has also been strident in public forums and council meetings. While dissent should be welcome on council, his divisiveness would not serve the town well.
Matt Czajkowski, chief financial officer at Aldagen, a health care company, is campaigning on his experience of working in a corporate environment. He is concerned Chapel Hill won't be able to pay for social programs; he also supports cracking down on loiterers and panhandlers, especially on Franklin Street. He contends Chapel Hill has lost "its natural leadership position" it held in the 1970s, although many of the town's environmental and growth stances have since spread to other parts of the Triangle.
Penny Rich, who is completing her six-year term on the Orange Water and Sewer Authority board, also served on the town's Technology Advisory Committee. While she seems knowledgeable about water issues, her views on downtown give us pause. If elected, she would propose that commercial property owners downtown be taxed if they did not fill their storefronts in two years.
Editor's note: Managing Editor Jennifer Strom, who is married to Councilman Bill Strom, did not participate in the Indy's Chapel Hill endorsements.