Name as it appears on the ballot: Jessica (Jess) Anderson
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: www.jessicaforchapelhill.com
Occupation & employer: Senior Policy Analyst, SERVE Center at UNC Greensboro
Years lived in Chapel Hill: 9
1) In 300 words or less, please give us—and our readers—your elevator pitch: Why are you running? Why should voters entrust you with this position? What are your priorities, and what would you want to see the town council do differently or better over the course of your term?
Since 2015, I’ve had the privilege of serving Chapel Hill both as a Council Member and as its Mayor pro tem. I am I running for re-election because in the four years since you voted for change, we’ve made great progress on realizing our community’s vision for Chapel Hill. And I want to continue to move us forward.
As the only Council member—and the only candidate running—who is a professional policy analyst, I contribute a unique perspective to Council discussions by applying an outcomes-based lens so my colleagues understand the ripple effects of our decisions before they are made. I also know that representing the interests of a community requires more than a big heart or big ideas. It takes an in-depth understanding of how decisions will impact all stakeholders and the conviction and integrity to stand up effectively for everyone.
During my time on Council, I’ve gained a reputation as someone who “gets things done.” I’ve worked to build connections throughout our community, reaching out to stakeholders to discuss issues and working with people to solve problems. I’ve parlayed these discussions into petitions that successfully increased transparency and inclusivity in our government and changed development guidelines in the Blue Hill district. I also worked to add an urban designer to our staff.
Perhaps most importantly, I’ve chosen not to accept money from developers or special interest groups. This means you can trust I will advocate wholly and passionately on your behalf without conflicts of interest.
My priorities are climate change, traffic and transit, place-making and downtown vibrancy, affordability, equity, transparency, and safety.
2) Given the direction of Chapel Hill government, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?
Things are definitely moving in the right direction. The last two municipal elections—including the one that put me on Council—were “change” elections in Chapel Hill. While change—especially in government—takes time, during my first four years we’ve made real progress at delivering the Chapel Hill that voters want to see.
Since 2015, we’ve:
Made measurable progress on affordable housing, including passage (thanks to our voters) of a $10 million bond, adoption of an Affordable Housing Master Plan, plans to use town-owned property at 2200 Homestead Road for a mixed-income community, and plans to renovate and densify our public housing stock.
Adopted changes to the Blue Hill district code, which will decrease building sizes, add public green space, increase stormwater capacity behind Eastgate, and require commercial space in all new projects. Further changes are needed, with some coming to Council this fall.
Created an incentive program to attract businesses like Wegmans and add office space in Glen Lennox as well as the addition of an “enterprise zone” on Millhouse Road for light industrial companies—moves that will help rebalance our tax base and add jobs.
Purchased a 36.2 acre parcel of undeveloped land in Chapel Hill—the American Legion property—so we have greater control over how the town develops its remaining land.
Hired an urban designer to emphasize better place-making, multi-modal connectivity, and green design in all planning endeavors.
On my website, you can view my seven key re-election priorities—and the detailed progress we’ve already made on each. My biggest goals include developing and implementing a town-wide climate action plan (including stronger tree ordinances and better stormwater management), implementing our town-wide connectivity and mobility plan (including a bus rapid transit corridor and safe, multi-modal paths for pedestrians and cyclists) and making downtown an exciting, vibrant, and successful district.
3) What are three of the most pressing issues the town currently faces? How would you propose to address them? Please be specific.
1. Environmental Sustainability
Climate scientists have given us a 10-year window to enact change, so our climate action plan must be strategic. Chapel Hill has been working to reduce its operational carbon footprint, but to reach this goal we must engage as many people as we can—
especially our youth and college students, since they will be the most heavily impacted. We must also apply a climate lens to our land use and transportation policies, as well as our budget.
2. Transportation & Traffic
People will only get out of their cars if we provide the necessary infrastructure for them to do so easily and safely. My three priorities to move us towards this goal are: 1) Expanding Chapel Hill Transit via the North-South Bus Rapid Transit line and increasing service hours on existing routes; 2) Completing the projects in our Mobility & Connectivity Plan, including adding sidewalks, greenways and protected bike lanes throughout town; 3) Using more clean, renewable energy (i.e., Electrifying our fleet and adding EV charging stations around town).
Now that our Affordable Housing Strategic Plan is in place, we are making solid progress. However, in addition to affordable units, we must provide diverse housing options with access to transit. To that end, ideas I will continue to champion include: 1) Working with our community partners and continuing to leverage state and federal programs like HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program; 2) Partnering with the University on student housing so that year-round residents are not boxed out of the housing market; 3) Dedicating funds to subsidize rent for very low-income individuals or those in danger of homelessness; 4) Working with developers to include affordable units in every new project and to prevent permanent displacement of residents when redevelopment occurs; and 5) Advocating for local companies to pay a living wage so more people can afford to both work and live here.
5) What concerns do you have related to short-term rentals? What regulations do you believe the town should enact? What municipalities do you believe have put in place successful models?
My level of concern in short-term rentals (STRs) is rooted in whether they are owner-occupied or not.
We have many Chapel Hill residents who rent out their home or a room within their home to help pay their mortgage or rent. I am not concerned about these types of STRs, since they have no impact on the overall supply of housing and don’t drive up rents around town. I do, however, believe that these types of rentals should be subject to occupancy tax (similar to hotels) and that they should be required to meet certain measures to ensure the safety of guests and comfort of neighborhoods.
However, I am concerned about a different type of STR—when an outside investor buys a single-family home (or even a unit in an apartment building) with no intention of living there, but solely to rent it out on a short-term basis. These kinds of rentals will have different impacts on our community – especially because they can reduce the supply of available housing for our residents, driving up rents around town.
To address these concerns and interests—which we’ve been hearing from the community as well—the Town has initiated a public process for discussing STRs with the goal of bringing recommendations back to Council by the spring.
Boston seems to have a reasonable STR ordinance that requires a license and for the rental be a primary residence or a secondary unit. Seattle also has an interesting component of their ordinance that allows up to two units per host, with one required to be the host’s primary residence.
6) Last year, town voters approved a $10 million affordable housing bond, but affordable housing remains a concern. UNC students consume a large portion of rental units throughout Orange County, while zoning and historic preservation rules sometimes limit the supply of housing. What are the next steps you believe the town should take on the affordability front?
Keeping Chapel Hill “affordable” requires thinking about a number of drivers—including housing options, transportation, and taxes.
However, most often, when people ask about “affordability” we end up talking about affordable housing. And on that front, we’ve made solid progress. As mentioned earlier, we’ve adopted an Affordable Housing Strategic Plan, created a dashboard to monitor progress quarterly, put forward the $10 million bond and are using a variety of strategies (i.e., using town-owned land at 2200 Homestead) to add and preserve units.
The broader question of housing affordability is one that we are currently grappling with as we revise our future land use map. The previous Council supported development of dense, luxury apartments throughout town in the hope of increasing affordability through a “trickle-down” approach. However, we’ve seen that this approach has not achieved this goal. To improve affordability, I will champion:
Streamlining the process that allows folks to build ADUs on their own property, and strongly encouraging HOAs not to restrict these
Identifying parcels that are ideal for strategic infill development and adds duplexes, triplexes and quads in single family neighborhoods, where appropriate
Partnering with UNC on a housing strategy for both student and workforce housing
Supporting employee housing incentives
Expanding Chapel Hill Transit and building a comprehensive bike-ped-transit network so that people don’t have to their cars
Diversifying our tax base and spending public funds wisely to keep property taxes in check
Looking for ways to provide affordable commercial space so that our small businesses are not driven out when redevelopment happens and early stage start-ups have a place to grow
7) In what ways do you believe the town should seek to grow its tax base? What are the best methods to encourage business growth in Chapel Hill and attract start-ups to promote economic development?
Throughout my tenure on Council, we’ve had success at promoting development of office space and attracting living wage employers to Chapel Hill. We’ve done this through strategic use of performance-based incentives and by creating a new Enterprise Zone on Millhouse Road. We’ve also seen results from our investment in Launch, the downtown business accelerator that we co-fund with UNC and Orange County. And, along with two of my council colleagues, I championed changes to the Blue Hill District so commercial space is now required in every new development.
An important next step is to continue to make our town an even more desirable place for businesses. Start-ups want to “set up shop” in transit-supported, walkable communities that are thriving and vibrant. They are looking for places where there is green space and a trail network, where there is always something happening downtown, and where their employees can raise their children in a welcoming, inclusive environment. I envision the North-South Bus Rapid Transit corridor and our downtown as being two prime areas to attract businesses, and I will continue to work with our Planning Staff so that Chapel Hill is an attractive place for start-ups to start—and stay.
8) On September 25, the town council unanimously sent to staff a Downtown Partnership petition seeking a traffic impact analysis for the restriping West Franklin Street that would add protected bike lanes and reduce pedestrian-crossing distances, and generally slow traffic. With the caveat that the analysis has yet to be conducted, how would you describe your vision for the future of West Franklin? What would you like to see happen to this part of Chapel Hill over the next decade?
One of the keys to creating a vibrant downtown is foot traffic, so I am pleased that the Downtown Partnership has made this request. I believe that redesigning West Franklin Street to be more walkable, bikeable and welcoming can go hand-in-hand with plans to build a centralized parking deck in the area. Adding a bike lane, and providing more opportunities for people to cross the street safely will allow cars to “roll down” Franklin Street at a more appropriate speed for a downtown residential and business district. I am interested to learn more about how adding bike lanes on Franklin Street might allow the Town to think differently about West Rosemary Street, where cyclists don’t feel particularly safe right now. My hope is that, in total, these changes will not only bring more people downtown, but that they will want to stay longer – to walk, shop, eat and visit.
As this conversation continues, I’ll be interested in exploring other types of changes to liven up the area and make it more family-friendly, such as plantings and child-friendly art and more events like the pop-up shows that have been happening at the former FRANK space. Eventually, I would like to see a high-caliber performing arts space that can accommodate various types of events and community gatherings as well.
9) Relatedly, what changes, if any, would you like to see in the parking system downtown? Do you believe there is a more efficient way to create parking?
When I was first elected, Carolina Square was still under construction. With that project now complete, the Council has spent a good deal of time working on ways to bring more people downtown to live, work, and shop at our downtown businesses. While I’d prefer to see less traffic from cars and more mass transit, walking and biking, I recognize that for many downtown visitors these are not viable options, and a more robust parking system is needed.
While the Town has taken some initial steps—including conducting a parking study, installing more technologically advanced parking meters, working with UNC to make more parking available, and employing parking ambassadors—more needs to be done. Right now, newcomers have trouble knowing where to park or distinguishing between public and UNC parking. With the help of our new urban designer, I would like to work to make our parking system more intuitive.
In the long-term, we need more capacity. I recently supported an initiative by town staff to investigate the construction of a parking deck on West Franklin Street and voted to invest in upgrades to the Wallace Deck on East Franklin Street. Completing these projects will add more parking downtown and will be critical for many of our underused properties to be able to redevelop.
Specifically, creating a centralized deck on West Franklin Street will solve many of our parking problems by removing confusion about where to park and providing parking that is easy to find. Additionally, once built, the deck will free up existing surface parking lots that can be redeveloped into art spaces, retail shops, office, or residential buildings—adding to the vibrancy of our downtown.
10) The town has environmental awareness as one of its goals. Name three ways you believe Chapel Hill can work toward this goal.
The town has many tools and strategies for communicating with the public, and I am sure that we will employ them all for this purpose. Additionally, we’ll need to leverage our media and community partners to help spread the word. When thinking about environmental awareness, I am most interested in two things: 1) making sure that “environmental awareness” turns into “climate action,” and 2) ensuring disadvantaged communities are fully informed and can participate as well.
Here are some ways Chapel Hill can work toward this goal:
Engaging neighborhoods, businesses and landowners along the North-South Bus Rapid Transit Corridor now so when it “goes live” they become early adopters and frequent users of the service.
Keeping our Boards and Commissions in the loop on our climate action plan so that their reviews and recommendations keeping Town goals front-and-center.
Working with the school system and PTA to engage our youth in the climate action planning process and other smaller climate-related initiatives (e.g. “skip the straw” month)
Continuing to feature climate initiatives in our “Celebrating Successes” videos and making sure all messaging related to climate action is translated into our most commonly spoken second languages through our Building Integrated Communities initiative.
11) In what ways can the town foster a more inclusive environment and better engage with historically marginalized groups?
We’ve made great progress, but there will always be more we can do. During my first term, I prioritized making our government more inclusive and transparent and led two successful petitions 1) to fund childcare and transportation for advisory board members, and 2) to video council work sessions.
Additionally, I am pleased by the success of several programs that the Town has rolled out which are helping us to truly engage members of our disadvantaged and immigrant communities.
Our People’s Academy, which is in its second year, helps educate participants about how the Town works, with an emphasis on citizen involvement and leadership.
Our Building Integrated Communities initiative not only gets input and feedback directly from those who are historically marginalized, but making the town more accessible to them through translation services for websites and emergency messages. The first phase of this partnership with UNC has been stakeholder engagement through a community assessment, then the next two phases focus on action planning and implementation.
Our Community Connections Program, formed in 2018, has been a strategic and focused effort on engaging marginalized neighborhoods, immigrants and refugees, as well as teens.
Despite our best efforts, there will still voices who are unable to get to the table. That’s why I will continue to work hard to go to the people instead of expecting them to come to me, and to collaborate with our community partners so we engage in ways that are culturally competent.