Name as it appears on the ballot: Jennifer Robinson
Date of birth: 2/14/1970
Campaign website: RobinsonforCouncil.org
Occupation & employer: Realtor, Prudential York Simpson Underwood
1) What do you believe are the most important issues facing Cary? If elected, what are your top priorities in addressing those issues?
Handling new growth will continue to be the most important issue facing Cary. The first initiative that I am undertaking is a comprehensive update to our 1996 land use plan that will take into account our present environment and more accurately reflect the values of our citizens. Other steps that I will pursue include revising our ordinances to ensure that development matches the expectations identified in the land use planning process, and pursuing additional land banking to set aside land for preservation before it is developed.
2) Explain how—or if—Cary should continue to grow in Chatham County. How do the needs of Cary residents in Chatham County differ from those in Wake? How do you plan to address them?
I served on the committee to work with Chatham County to devise a land use plan for the area between the Wake border and Jordan Lake and heard the concerns of many land owners in that area. Some wish to continue to reside on their large lot properties without intrusion from new development, and some wish to sell their land for development. Our plan attempted to balance the competing interests by maintaining existing large lot subdivisions and assigning densities that provided a transition. Concern for the environment was the backbone of the plan which is why we (1) left the western half of the planning area outside Cary's urban service area and designated it as very low density and (2) proposed serving the low density and the small mixed use area with water and sewer lines which were determined to be better for the environment than wells and septic. The first rezoning recently occurred and shed additional light on the challenges of new development beside large lot subdivisions. I will work with my Council colleagues to establish development ordinances that codify the best practices needed to respect adjacent property owners such as increased buffer standards for properties that are adjacent to very low density home sites.
3) Tell voters about your vision for a revitalized downtown Cary. What should it include—and what should it avoid? What other cities are good models for your vision? And finally, how should Cary pay for it?
I envision downtown Cary as an enjoyable place to live and work and a destination for shopping, dining, and entertainment. I hope that it will someday host several restaurants, a brewery, hotels, arts venues (both public and private), a range of housing choices, offices, and shops. It would be served by adequate (free) parking and light rail. I would like for our downtown to use land wisely so that we limit our impervious surfaces. I would also like to have a few visual themes such as a recurring pattern or symbols played out in architecture, hardscaping, and landscaping throughout the downtown area. Small pocket gardens or outdoor sitting areas would encourage visitors to linger.
I think that we should avoid surface parking; sterile or bland architecture with no interest to pedestrians; and long, empty spaces between buildings that discourage people to walk.
Greenville, SC is a good example of a vibrant downtown.
The bulk of the funds that the Town of Cary will invest in downtown have already been appropriated from our General Fund. One remaining investment remains for funding: the park at the corner of Academy and Walnut. While I support the inclusion of a park downtown, I still believe that the site on which it is planned should be used to host more uses with a smaller park running through the middle. We purchased the land at a high cost (roughly 8x more per acre than we typically spend on land for parks) under the auspice of using the site for economic development. That investment would yield much greater dividends for the town if we plan for more activity on the site.
The Town's spending for downtown amenities will substantially decrease as we turn to the private sector to respond to our public investment.
4) In your analysis of Cary's operating and capital budgets, what expenditures should take priority? What expenditures should be reduced? Should any items be eliminated entirely? Justify your priorities.
Maintaining our current infrastructure and supporting our fire and police departments should be our highest priorities. I am disappointed by the cost overruns on some of the downtown projects, in particular "The Cary" theater and the "opportunity site." I would not have embarked on those projects if I had known how much the projects would morph over time and, then, how much we would ultimately spend on them.
For the most part, we have been very fiscally conservative over the last five years and I do not believe that we should remove items from either our operating or capital budget. Our operating budget is extremely lean. We have fewer employees per 1000 citizens than most North Carolina cities and towns. I respect and appreciate our employees for taking on larger workloads during the recession. Our capital budget has also been very limited. During the recession, we decided to postpone over 126 important capital projects until our revenues rose. The bond referendum that the citizens passed in 2012 will allow us to tackle some of these projects.
5) One of Cary's best-kept secrets is its diversity; for example, Hindi is its second most-spoken foreign language. How do you propose diversifying the town boards, both elected and appointed? What can town leaders do to encourage more input from non-white communities?
I love that the diversity we have in Cary has occurred naturally. People from around the world choose to call Cary home because it is safe and welcoming with good schools, diverse places to worship, and excellent employers. The Town offers all people an opportunity to learn about our Town through our School of Government and all people the opportunity to apply to serve on boards through our open application process. This may sound trivial, but having a transparent and fair application process is a great accomplishment. Events such as the cultural festivals at our Koka Booth Amphitheatre and programs such as our Cary Teen Council have become conduits for families to learn about what is happening in Cary and how they can get involved.
6) Would you support placing a half-cent transit tax on the ballot to pay for public transportation? Why or why not? What do you see as Cary's most pressing transit needs?
I support placing a half-cent transit tax on the ballot to pay for public transportation. Our region's population will continue to increase and we need to protect our community from congestion. It is unrealistic to think that we will be able to add lanes and new roads to resolve congestion problems. Public transit provides access to employment, doctors, shopping, and entertainment for many people. This mobility is valuable for all walks of life: seniors, youth, people with modest incomes, and employees who want to avoid long drives. Many people who have lived in a congested city can attest to the value of having the option to take transit and avoid sitting in traffic. In addition to providing mobility opportunities and saving people time, riding transit saves fuel which has both cost benefits to the users and environmental benefits. Transit also impacts economic development. Vibrant mixed use projects grow up around transit stops, increasing the land value, property tax revenue, and sales tax revenue.
7) Nearby Triangle cities are seeing a vibrant culture led by people in their 20s and 30s? How do you encourage young people to move to Cary? What amenities does Cary need to provide for a new generation of residents?
Cary is home to countless successful businesses, large and small, that offer abundant job opportunities for young workers. The quality of life and robust parks system that offers a variety of recreational activities make it an ideal choice for young singles and families. In addition, creating a downtown that offers a successful mix of authentic dining and entertainment, high quality housing and office space, and interesting shops will draw more young professionals to Cary.
8) While the SAS Institute is an anchor for Cary, how should the town compete economically with other Triangle cities, such as Raleigh and Durham, in growing small tech companies and other start-ups?
Our ability to grow our economy depends largely on our successful partnership with our Chamber of Commerce to recruit and retain companies. In addition, we have been working to add an ombudsman and a streamlined permitting process to assist business owners in moving to and operating in Cary. The Town of Cary has also assisted an incubator that recently opened in downtown Cary. This incubator provides office space and expertise from successful entrepreneurs to new businesses.
9) What is there in your public record or other experience that demonstrates your ability to be an effective leader? Please be specific about your public and community service background.
My political career has been defined by my ability to take action to tackle problems and my advocacy for citizens.
Projects that I have initiated have gained support from my colleagues and resulted in higher quality living for our citizens. Some of these projects have included: the Southwest Area Plan; land banking; multi-use paths along roadways; a funding partnership for the creation of West Regional Library; ordinance changes that prohibit mass clear-cutting, topography changes, and slab on grade construction for low density single family houses; and ordinances that require more trees in commercial projects, quicker replanting of trees in buffers, and higher fines for tree removal.
In my work, I strive to bring consensus to groups with diverse ideas and opinions. I often help articulate concerns of neighbors to developers and find solutions that fit both groups of stakeholders. For example, a project at the corner of two major intersections was proposed to extend to a creek that separated the land from a neighborhood. Neighbors were particularly concerned about having additional storm water flow into the creek. I worked with the applicant to pull all development out of the area so that no storm water would flow directly into the creek. In exchange, the developer built a denser and more vertical project near the road. The net result is a dynamic mixed-use project (Stone Creek) that preserves almost nine acres of land along the creek. The developer built and dedicated a greenway in that land.
I have been appointed by my colleagues to represent Cary on the Triangle J Council of Governments (for which I have been selected as Vice Chair) and the Triangle Transit Authority Board of Trustees (for which I have been selected as Secretary). I also have been elected to serve on the Board of Directors for the North Carolina League of Municipalities and selected to chair the General Government Legislative Action Committee. These appointments demonstrate the confidence that my peers (both in Cary and throughout the region) have in my leadership.
My effectiveness as a leader is also highlighted by the support I have received to run for re-election from my Council colleagues, citizens, business owners, and elected officials from across the region (regardless of political affiliation). I believe that I am regarded as fair, collaborative, open-minded, creative, and conscientious.
10) How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I would define myself as a fiscal conservative:
Along with my Council colleagues, I have established fiscal policies that have enabled the Town of Cary to weather the recession well. We strictly prioritized our capital and operations spending, made operational changes that supported our priorities, implemented a self-imposed debt ceiling to which we have adhered, haven't raised taxes outside of the tax increase from the bond referendum, and implemented a self-imposed floor on the amount of funds we reserve (no less than four months of operating expenses).
I would also define myself as a moderate who believes in collaboration to find the best solutions. I work well with all of my colleagues, regardless of their philosophical approach. By bringing our diversity of opinions together, we are able to accomplish a lot for our citizens.
11) Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
My principled stand revolves around transit: I have requested and will continue to request that our Commission place the referendum for transit on the ballot.
12) INDY Week's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
My goal while in office has been to make living in the Town of Cary the best value possible. I believe that it is my responsibility is to give people the highest quality services and infrastructure for the least amount of money. If re-elected, I will continue to make decisions that promote affordability in Cary. Additionally, I believe that all citizens have a voice in how we do business. I will continue to seek input from our citizens and business owners.