Name as it appears on ballot: Lydia E. Lavelle
Party Affiliation: Democrat (although Carrboro elections are nonpartisan)
Campaign website: www.lydialavelle.com
Occupation and employer: Professor, North Carolina Central University School of Law
Years lived in Carrboro: lived at present address since 2004, annexed into Carrboro in 2006
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 Board of Aldermen do differently or better over the course of your term?
I am seeking re-election to a fourth term of office as mayor of Carrboro. I am running for re-election because I enjoy public service, and in particular, the opportunity to nurture Carrboro’s progressive community spirit. I believe participatory democracy is one of the most critical foundations of our country.
During my time in office, I have worked to be an accessible mayor. Leadership in our informed and engaged community requires organizational skill and a nuanced understanding of policy, law, and procedure. I have developed these abilities over years of service, and look forward to continuing to serve Carrboro.
As explained below, two of my priorities are the 203 Project and working on Carrboro’s Comprehensive Plan. I believe our Board of Aldermen could do a better job giving our town manager and staff direction on how to address issues that we discuss during a board meeting. We sometimes revisit these directives, and I believe this is confusing to staff. As mayor, I need to do a better job of identifying clear direction.
2) Given the direction of Carrboro government, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?
Yes, Carrboro is on a positive, steady course. We have citizens and residents who expect and deserve a high level of service from their local government. I am proud that our yearly budget reflects our values; for instance, we pay a living wage, support a robust transit system, and provide funding for non-profit service agencies in our town. We have chosen to raise our tax rate over a three-year period to be able to create an ongoing source of funding for our critical Affordable Housing Fund. We created a Stormwater Management Program in 2017 to address issues that are affecting our town and our residents. We adopted plans to address climate change in our municipal services (2014) and community (2017). We receive regular reports on our efforts toward goals in those plans. We have committed to looking at all of our decision making through an equity lens. Finally, our Board does not hesitate to take public stands on issues important to our community.
3) What are three of the most pressing issues the town currently faces? How would you propose to address them? Please be specific.
1. We have been dealing for several years with the 203 Project in Carrboro, which will house the Orange County Southern Library. We are having a re-boot on this project since the Arts Center pulled out earlier this year, but I am confident this project with Orange County will become a reality in the next two years.
2. Creating a comprehensive plan for Carrboro. We will be working on this for the next two years. We will have a community conversation about what we want Carrboro to look like in the coming decades, and this plan will address this. There will be lots of community engagement during this process, and we expect this newly created plan will reflect Carrboro’s goals and values.
3. Continuing collaboration with our county and regional partners on issues such as solid waste and affordable housing. It is also critical that we continue to work with our members of the N.C. General Assembly on issues that affect our communities, and on opportunities to reflect our values in statewide legislation.
4) What prior experience makes you qualified for and passionate about the Board of Aldermen and its duties? What made you seek this position?
I had many years of experience, first working for municipal government and then serving on governmental advisory boards, before being elected to local office. Before moving to Carrboro, I served on the Durham Open Space and Trails Commission for ten years, as well as the Durham Recreation Advisory Committee. After leaving Durham and prior to being elected to the Board of Aldermen in 2007, I chaired Carrboro’s New Horizons Task Force and served on the Carrboro Planning Board. I believe voters valued these experiences when they first elected me to the Board of Aldermen in 2007.
Subsequent to my election as an alderman, I served as the Board liaison to the Carrboro Planning Board and the Recreation Advisory Committee, and as a member of the Chapel Hill Public Transit Committee (the Transit Partners Committee), the Intergovernmental Parks Workgroup, and the Affordable Housing Task Force. After serving six years as an alderman, voters elected me as mayor in 2013.
As mayor, I currently serve on the following boards/groups: the Metropolitan Mayors Coalition (I also serve on the MMC Executive Committee); the Orange County Solid Waste Advisory Group; the Orange County Visitors Bureau Board of Directors; The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors; the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (DCHC MPO) (Board Alternate and Past Chair); and the Chatham/Orange Joint Task Force. Each of these memberships and positions have helped increase my knowledge about issues facing our community.
Our town has important projects we have been working on, and I would like to see these progress. Additionally, various organizations or developers have projects proposed or approved that should soon get underway, and I would like to be in office when those occur. It has been a privilege to serve as Carrboro’s mayor, the town I consider the most progressive in North Carolina. I believe I have served Carrboro well as mayor, and would like to continue in this role.
5) As with most places in the Triangle, Carrboro is grappling with issues related to affordable housing. How would you like to see the town approach affordability issues over the next few years? What do you believe the town is doing right? What could it do better?
The fact that we have an affordable housing problem conversely says good things about our town. People want to live here and with increased demand, supply shrinks and prices increase. Further, the fact that the Carrboro community is troubled by this reflects who we want to be as a community. We do not want to be a homogeneous socio-economic community. But it is a complex and daunting issue with no easy solutions, as evidenced by the number of communities nationwide that have faced this very problem, and have actively tried to improve their affordable housing options.
One way to address this problem is to increase the stock of affordable housing. Carrboro has worked with groups such as the Community Home Trust and Empowerment, Inc. toward this shared goal for many years. And although Carrboro does not have an “inclusionary housing” requirement per se, we encourage the building of affordable housing by use of a density bonus.
Another way we have worked to address the challenge of affordable housing has been through implementation of the goals and objectives from the plan generated by the Board’s Affordable Housing Task Force, which was comprised of three Board of Aldermen members (I served on this task force for many months). The work of that task force and the resulting report resulted in the hiring of a staff person who works predominantly with affordable housing, developing of an Affordable Housing Special Revenue Fund, exploring of town property to be used for affordable housing, and piloting a Rental/Utility Deposit Program.
This plan has a number of strategies that our Board has supported financially and proactively the past few years. The progress of the plan can be tracked by looking at the Town of Carrboro’s web page, and it is encouraging. This progress has been aided by the work of our Affordable Housing Advisory Commission.
While there are many good strategies in the plan, I believe one strategy in particular can help us work toward expanding our affordable housing stock: to “[w]ork with Orange County, the University, and other landowners to examine, identify and reserve one or more tracts for future LIHTC and/or HUD-restricted rental communities.” This collaboration is extremely important in order to leverage money to get bigger projects approved on jointly-owned or jointly-jurisdictional land.
Carrboro also tries to approach this problem from the other end. We have adopted a living wage for all employees, and we are always looking to expand our transit routes because limiting one’s transportation costs frees up income for housing.
6) In what ways should Carrboro work on growing its tax base?
Our town budget is based on commercial and residential property taxes, as well as sales tax. Property taxes fund the large majority of our budget. Carrboro is too small to attract a “big box” store or a large plant; it is essential we support our local businesses to ensure their success. The Board of Aldermen works hard to drive visitors and residents to local businesses by having downtown festivals, and supporting our downtown destinations. As a member of the Orange County Visitors Bureau Board of Directors, I am constantly touting Carrboro as an arts town, and advocating ways to include Carrboro as a destination for visitors. We plan to return to conversation we have had with Orange County on collaboration toward an affordable commercial project that would be built on land owned by the Town off of Old 86. We view this project as a way to retain our local businesses that want to expand. We also have been exploring how we might make Highway 54 more accessible for various types of commercial businesses.
7) The town is considering implementing a paid parking system downtown. Do you think this is a wise option? What do you think is the best course of action for the town’s parking issues? Should the town hire a consultant?
Citizens, residents, and visitors often complain about their ability to find parking in Carrboro. Our downtown is compact, and we actively work to make it walkable, bikeable and transit-friendly. In some respects, it would be counterproductive for us to make parking too easy and too ample, as that encourages car travel, something we prefer to minimize for health and environmental reasons.
This being said, we also recognize that walking, biking or taking transit are not practical or possible for all people. Therefore, in an effort to gain an accurate understanding of the parking situation in Carrboro, the town commissioned a parking study which was completed in 2017. It revealed a great deal of available underutilized parking in Carrboro, most of which (84%) is in the private sector. The study also identified the need for better signage and wayfinding. Therefore, one of our challenges has been to try to create public-private partnerships to open up this private parking, such as found in the report titled “Maximizing Urban-Core Parking with Private-Public and Private-Private Parking Agreements” from the Urban Sustainability Director’s Network Convening in Burlington, Vermont in 2015.
Much of the public parking the town provides is located at 203 South Greensboro Street (88 spaces). Those spaces will be lost due to the 203 Project. Additionally, the Town currently leases 150 daytime spaces and 250 nighttime spaces at the Hampton Inn parking deck. These public parking spaces will be eliminated in the coming years with buildout of the East Main Street project. As a result, our Board of Aldermen has asked town staff to work with a consultant to forecast costs of paid public parking (with a parking deck and without a parking deck) through private partnerships, and to look at ways to enforce time limits on town lots. I believe we should replace the public parking we will lose with the 203 Project and the Hampton Inn parking deck through these mechanisms.
8) In your view, how can the town improve public transit, especially in terms of serving lower-income residents? How can bike lanes be made safer and more efficient?
Our local jurisdictional leaders, via the MPO, are reworking our county (Orange and Durham) transit plans, now that light rail is no longer included in our multi-county planning effort. Our MPO is reviewing studies that have already been completed for the Highway 54 and 15-501 corridors while analyzing how to re-boot our transit connections (using buses rather than light rail). Lots of data has already been collected about traffic patterns (during the light rail effort). It is incumbent on the MPO to make this a priority so that both counties can amend their plans accordingly and move forward. This effort will require regional collaboration, and all jurisdictions must understand this and support this effort.
Carrboro needs to show strong support for the North-South Bus Rapid Transit project. The current N-S transit buses connect our community’s busiest corridor to downtown, and are in need of increased capacity and frequency. I wrote a letter to the Federal Transit Administration recently in support of this project.
One way to make our bike lanes safer and more efficient is to make motorists aware (or remind them) that we have a high number of bicyclists. We can do this by erecting “Share the Road” signs, creating bicycle boxes and bicycle signal loop detectors at intersections, and installing traffic calming devices to slow car traffic in appropriate spots.
We can look to see if we can widen roads if where bicycle lanes are currently wide and then suddenly narrow. We can add side paths and sharrows where appropriate to get bicyclists off of main corridors. We also must continue to emphasize increased enforcement of traffic laws.
9) Carrboro has traditionally struggled to attract businesses run by people of color. Why do you believe that is? How can the town work to attract minority-owned businesses?
Many of the barriers for people of color to start or relocate a business in Carrboro are barriers for all people. The expense and dearth of commercial property, the high cost of living, competition from corporations such as Amazon, and new technologies or methods of delivering a product are many of the reasons for this. Minority and business enterprise (MBE) programs can help level the playing field in some instances, but making certain that Town and Orange County loan and grant opportunities are known to all applicants, including persons of color, can help provide a boost for a business to start or relocate in our community.