Mark H. Chilton | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Mark H. Chilton

Candidate for Carrboro Mayor

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Mark H. Chilton
Full legal name, if different: Mark Hayes Chilton
Date of birth: September 27, 1970
Home address: 203 Ashe Street, Carrboro, NC 27510
Mailing address, if different from home:
Campaign Web site:
Occupation & employer: Community Realty, Inc., Broker and Attorney
Home phone: 919-968-8090
Work phone: 919-932-1990
Cell phone: 919-636-0371

1) What do you believe are the most important issues facing Carrboro? If elected, what are your top priorities in addressing those issues?

My top three priorities for Carrboro are:

  1. Diversifying Carrboro's tax base through careful downtown re-development and revisions to the Northern Small Area Plan.

  2. Making Carrboro the most pedestrian and bicycle friendly town in North Carolina by completing bicycle and pedestrian improvements on Estes Drive Extension, Smith Level Road and along the Morgan Creek and Bolin Creek corridors.

  3. Completing revisions to the Northern Small Area Plan with an emphasis on diverse housing, economic development, open space preservation, stream protection and farmland conservation.

I think my responses to the other questions on this form will give more detail and specificity about these three items, so I will stop here and refer to the responses below.

2) What is there in your record as a public official or other experience that demonstrates your ability to be effective on the board? This might include career or community service; but please be specific about its relevance to this office.

I have served in local elected offices for 10 years now - 6 as a Chapel Hill Town Councilmember, 2 as a Carrboro Alderman and 2 (so far) as Mayor of Carrboro. In those ten years I have responded to numerous community challenges and helped to advance important community solutions. Here are some specific items from my record that demonstrate my effectiveness:

Recognizing a Community Problem: For example, in 1996 or so, I chaired a committee that looked into promoting long term affordable housing development and as a result spearheaded the creation of Orange Community Housing and Land Trust, which has resulted in the creation of over 100 permanently affordable homes in our community.

Sticking with an Important Issue: Similarly, in 1997 after meeting with landfill neighbors, I became aware of a number of community problems that local governments had been unwilling to address. In response, I have spent the last ten years promoting the construction of affordable sewer service to the low-wealth, politically disadvantaged Rogers Road community along the Chapel Hill-Carrboro border. I advocated for funding for Habitat for Humanity developments in the area that brought sewer lines further into the neighborhood. I voted to increase town subsidies to assist homeowners in the area to connect to the sewer lines and I recently voted to extend an additional sewer line that will eventually serve another part of that neighborhood.

Good needn’t be the Enemy of Perfect: Carrboro and the NCDOT have been embroiled in a 15 year fight over building sidewalks and bicycle lanes on Estes Drive Extension – a dangerous stretch of road particularly for pedestrians and bicyclists. Since being elected Mayor, I brought NCDOT to the table and worked out a short term solution in which we will be getting 3 foot paved shoulders on both sides of the road. While this solution is far from perfect, the reaction from Carrboro cyclists has been overwhelmingly positive. In order to complete the negotiations, I also had to get the Chapel Hill Town Council to agree to the project, so I went and personally met with the Council and persuaded them to join in Carrboro’s proposal. DOT will start bidding the project in early 2008.

3) How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I am a dedicated environmental activist who believes that we must find economically sound and socially just solutions to the crises that face our planet. In my past public service I worked hard to expand recycling services into lower-income apartment communities and I fought against increases in the Chapel Hill Transit bus fares (back when there was a bus fare to pay). Those would be two specific examples of how we can simultaneously advocate for the environment and low-wealth communities.

In my present work and platform, I am working from these same principles. For example, I spearheaded a move to reduce zoning regulations on the establishment of small pre-schools in our community. By expanding the opportunities for people to open small pre-schools, the Town is making pre-school both more walkable and more affordable to our community. This also helps to strengthen our local economy by increasing the opportunities for parents of small children to participate in the workforce. This is a small issue in some ways, but it is an excellent example of the intersection of environment, social equity and the economic sustainability. The Board of Aldermen is currently exploring further incentives for the creation of additional pre-school space in Carrboro.

On a grander scale, the same principles can and should be applied to the development of the North Study Area, but I will hit upon that point in response to question 7. Also, I really think that much of my response to question 10 could be incorporated here.

4) Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

As a dedicated civil libertarian, I have definitely taken some unpopular stands in defense of the right to solicit on public streets and in defense of the right of Public Housing residents to have the same privacy rights that all other renters and homeowners enjoy (ie related to drug searches). I stand by my belief that the Bill of Rights is the most essential document in the American system of government.

5) Large building projects like that under way by Main Street Partners and the Greenbridge development just across the line in Chapel Hill will change Carrboro’s landscape and its character in the near future. What is your vision for the town’s long-range development? What are the pros and cons of commercial and residential development?

I want to place more emphasis on commercial development than on residential development. I believe we need to look at the question of what types of commercial development would help to employ more Carrboro residents within Carrboro (ie that would get some folks off I-40).

I also believe that downtown Carrboro is the most appropriate place for our community to grow (excepting growth within designated nodes in the Northern Study Area as outlined in question 7). In downtown, we already have a significant investment in infrastructure that will reduce the need to rebuild that infrastructure elsewhere.

6) How will you deal with growth in Carrboro given its limited physical boundaries? By extension, what are your viewpoints regarding high-density housing and its placement?

First, I am committed to maintaining the Rural Buffer and Urban Services boundary in its current location. In order to accomplish that goal we need to think strategically about the types of growth that Carrboro will have in the areas remaining for redevelopment.

I believe this has 3 essential implications for the town:

  1. We should encourage more multifamily development, rather than large lot single-family development. Although multifamily development in recent years has become more pricey, condos and townhomes are not nearly as expensive as the 3,000+ square foot detached houses that are being built in Carrboro. This policy has implications for the overall affordability of our housing stock as well as for the political, social and physical character of our entire town.

  2. New housing and commercial development should be done as mixed use development either downtown or in designated growth nodes in the Northern Study Area. This will create more walkable and transit friendly development and will also use the remaining undeveloped or underdeveloped land efficiently.

  3. We should begin setting aside areas within the Urban Services Boundary for future growth. That is, we should have some areas that are off-limits to development for the next ten years or so. This policy would help ensure that we will not run out of land for future development between now and then. Also, this will help to accommodate needs that have yet to be identified such as additional school sites etc. Specifically, I think the land on the west side of Old NC 86 ought to be reserved for future growth and currently set off limits for a period of 10 years.

7) How should development be handled in the Northern Study Area, and would you support any future moratoriums there?

Pursuant to my answer to question 6, I believe that our new NSA plan should involve:

  1. Identifying 2 growth nodes for Northern Carrboro – probably one on Homestead and one on Eubanks.

  2. Designating mixed use development in the growth nodes, with a greater emphasis on the commercial component than in the past.

  3. Conserving land by putting a 10 year down zoning on areas within the Urban Services Boundary on the west side of Old NC 86.

  4. Creating bicycle and pedestrian only transportation corridors that will interconnect Carrboro and Chapel Hill.

If the moratorium can be lawfully extended, then I think it should be until we are down with our planning process.

8) What important town departments or agencies have been, in your opinion, chronically underfunded? What have been the ramifications of that shortage? If elected, where would you find the money to more fairly fund these areas? Conversely, what department or agency budgets could be cut?

I don’t think I would say that any department has been chronically underfunded, but I do think there are departments that have particular internal issues that need to be addressed with care and attention from the Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

First, Carrboro is presently building its Northern Fire Station on Homestead Road. This will only be our second fire station ever and will represent a major expansion of our Fire Department. In order to adequately staff the new station, we will need to hire a dozen or so additional firefighters. The expense of this expansion in service is great. We are currently expanding our fire fighting force a little in order to soften the blow to the 2008-09 budget. I believe that careful planning will allow us to ensure that we use existing revenues and modest tax increases to fund these new positions.

Second, the Recreation and Parks Department has a special set of issues that are of concern to me. I believe that there are a number of ways that the Town can and should improve our ‘customer service’ (for lack of a better phrase). We should have a Recreation and Parks Department that places a strong emphasis on enabling interested volunteers to put on special events at town facilities. I believe that sort of ‘can do’ attitude is lacking in the Department at the present time and that a cultural change is needed within the department on this point. The difficulties that we had between the Really, Really Free Market and the Town were of our own creation and there was no need for the kind of consternation that this non-issue created. This is particularly clear in light of the fact that the situation was eventually resolved by some creative thinking and a little bit of leg-work by me and Alderman Dan Coleman. That type of thinking and leg work ought to be carried out by our professional staff. In any case, I think the kind of organizational change that is needed can be brought about without any changes to the Department’s budget.

9) Earlier this year, the board heard a fiscal presentation about a pay-as-you-throw trash system. What do you think of the system from a financial, environmental and practical standpoint? If you approve, how would any additional costs be covered? If you disapprove, what are some alternatives?

I was once a pretty big fan of this idea, but I believe that this type of system would not be right for Carrboro at present:

  1. Fee based systems of all kinds are inherently regressive.

  2. The planning of our solid waste management is best done in co-ordination with Chapel Hill and Orange County. It would be essential that both towns adopt similar trash collection programs and that we do so at the same time in order to ensure that the public understands the trash collection system in both towns. Without this type of coordination, we would wind up with lots of people either confused about how to participate in the system or actually trying to move their trash across the town line in order to participate in the less expensive system in the neighboring jurisdiction.

  3. I can well imagine that there are ways of addressing both of the above problems (subsidizing trash collection for lower income households, keeping fees at a nuisance level, adopting very similar systems in both towns). Consequently, I can imagine a time in the future when it might make sense to look at this issue more closely and reconsider the matter.

In the meantime, the Board of Aldermen asked town staff to come up with some solid waste reduction strategies that could be implemented instead and a couple of strategies were identified. We are implementing two of these, including distributing information about how to remove ones name from junk mail lists. In addition, we are working with the County solid waste planning staff to compost commercial food waste and the Town just began a recycling collection program in the Town Parks.

10) Carrboro emphasizes locally owned, import-substituting economic development. What is your opinion of that policy? Has it, in your view, succeeded? How can it be improved?

The LOIS (locally owned, import-substituting) model has only been the Town’s approach to economic development for the past 8 months or so and is entirely so because of my and (even more so) Dan Coleman’s leadership on the issue. Eight months is clearly not an adequate amount of time for the policy to have a lot of effect. However, I believe that this approach has a lot of potential and that some of our business leaders in the community are beginning to subscribe to this strategy.

Specifically, I think Carrboro is in an outstanding position to capitalize on the town’s creative and artistic reputation to build a nexus of arts related businesses. Additionally, the strong environmental ethic that Carrboro’s residents feel is a significant opportunity for the creation of new environmentally oriented businesses. Companies such a Megawatt Solar (started by UNC professors) and Scraparondacks are exploring basing their operations in Carrboro.

These are not companies that will be coming to our community from some distant location in search of government subsidy dollars, but rather companies that were begun by people who already live in this area. The result of fostering locally based economic development is that the jobs created in the community tend to stay here instead of flitting away to the next community that is willing to give still more government subsidy to the employer. Instead the companies want to stay here because of the affiliations of the owners of the company have to the area.

Also, locally initiated companies tend to hire more people locally, tend to do all of the professional services contracting with local CPA’s, attorneys etc. and in many other ways tend to recycle the dollars they use within our local community. The opposite is the case with the big box retailers who take in dollars and send them partly to overseas factories, but mostly to Wall Street investors.

Finally, while some people think this approach is not accessible to low-wealth families in our community, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the imported employers tend to be the ones who create dead end jobs that help to keep low-wealth families trapped in poverty. The Town of Carrboro is committed to working with area non-profits to conduct business planning courses and provide on-going technical assistance to start-up small businesses. And those businesses are often such things as the Main Street Taxi company or Blu Icon Salon, both businesses that were started by longtime local African American residents of this community. The economic opportunities that such businesses provide to both their owners and employees is great and far exceeds the potential of traditional employer recruitment as an approach to economic development.

11) Carrboro is participating in the Jordan Lake Stakeholder Project to help manage this resource, which is polluted and threatened by growth and development. What is Carrboro’s responsibility in mitigating these threats? What policies should the Board of Aldermen enact to help protect water quality and quantity in Jordan Lake?

I don’t believe we will have a lot of choice about how to implement the Jordan Lake Nutrient Management Rules as they will apply to new developments – that is, I think the matter will largely be prescribed by the Environmental Management Commission. We will certainly adopt those rules as soon as they are finalized.

With respect to the retrofitting aspects of the JLNM Rules, the Town will have to undertake a plan for addressing the pre-existing nutrient runoff from already-developed areas of town. With respect to this problem, I believe our first two steps should include: 1) Embracing downtown redevelopment as an opportunity to require developers to retrofit areas of downtown and 2) Implementing Best Management Practice facilities in selected places in town.

This second strategy is certainly more easily stated than accomplished because the physical space necessary for building BMPs is hard to come by. The Town is currently working on identifying potential locations for BMP’s. One possibility that I find particularly appealing is dredging out a former mill dam on a dry arroyo that drains downtown and turning that into a stormwater detention pond. A similar high impact, non-invasive arrangement could be implemented adjacent to another creek draining downtown where the dry bed of a 1940’s swimming pool might be similarly converted.

In any case, I place a high priority on protecting the quality of surface water in North Carolina and while your question (and the regulations) position the issue as a matter of protecting Jordan Lake, I consider the real issue to be the protection of the Cape Fear River as a whole, rather than just the lake.


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