Name as it appears on the ballot: Pam Hemminger
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: PamHemminger.org
Occupation & employer: Mayor of Chapel Hill; Small business owner
Years lived in Chapel Hill: 33
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? (300)
Serving as mayor of Chapel Hill for the past 4 years has been an honor. Since taking office, we have taken important steps to champion business development, diversify our tax base, make real progress on affordable housing, initiated a Climate Action plan, fed our children during the summer and more. Through this work we have put Chapel Hill on a path toward a more sustainable future. I am running to continue this important work and am committed to moving forward on a path that helps everyone succeed.
As a long-time resident of Chapel Hill, I bring a passion for our community and over 30+ years of leadership and business experience to my work as mayor. I have served the public as an Orange County Commissioner, chair of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education, a community leader serving in leadership on numerous boards such as the OC Habitat Board, Triangle Land Conservancy Board, OC Sierra Club Chair, UNRBA and as a local businesswoman.
Through this work, I have built a solid reputation as a collaborative leader, a good listener and a strong advocate for education, social justice, fiscal sustainability, our community parks and the environment.
My top priorities are:
Engage the entire community to create and implement an actionable Climate Action Plan for achieving town-wide reduction of our carbon footprint, increasing sustainability and ensuring future resiliency.
Champion Business Development to create a more diverse tax base, create more local jobs, capture our spinoffs and take the tax burden off our residents.
Create a livable town – physically, socially, economically and environmentally – by promoting development that adds affordable housing, expands sidewalks, bikeways and greenways, creates more publicly accessible green spaces, more gathering spaces and is a welcoming place for all.
I want our Council to think more strategically about how we position ourselves to have that bright future for everyone. So far, we have taken some bold business development steps, are beginning a 5-year budget process, are implementing an Affordable Housing Master Plan and are creating a town-wide traffic model. But more needs to be done.
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? (287)
We are on the right track.
Since taking office four years ago, we have made important strides on a broad range of goals that better position Chapel Hill for a bright, sustainable future:
Creating a more welcoming, responsive and transparent government for everyone
Championing business development to increase the Town’s commercial tax base and to bring more jobs to Chapel Hill
Implementing environmental initiatives to advance sustainability and resiliency throughout the Town – such as making town buildings more energy efficient, replacing our street lights to LEDs, converting our fleet to electric vehicles (and buses!) and much more!
Expanding Chapel Transit and created our Mobility & Connectivity plan to make it more effective and convenient for people to walk, bike and ride the bus
Addressing stormwater and water quality issues locally and regionally – leading the Jordan Lake One Water Collaboration so that we partner on clean water
Increasing the supply of affordable housing in Chapel Hill to serve a wide range of income levels, ages and needs as outlined in our Affordable Housing Strategic Plan
Working to build a more equitable community through partnerships and programs such as Food For the Summer, the Historic Civil Rights Task Force, completion of the Rogers Road water and sewer project, deployment of the Energy Saver program in Northside, multi-language outreach for emergency situations and more
Revising our land use map and land use regulations to proactively set a long-term vision for Chapel Hill
Restoring the vitality to our downtown
Improving our budgeting process to ensure that it aligns with our Town values and puts us on a path for a sustainable and resilient financial future
Collaborating with partners at the regional, state and federal levels to protect the Town’s interests on transportation, the environment, public safety, funding for critical programs such as food assistance and housing and more.
We still have a lot of work to do! I look forward to continuing to lead on these and other important issues.
3) What are three of the most pressing issues the town currently faces? How would you propose to address them? Please be specific. (293)
Engaging the entire community in Climate Action.
To support our goals of reducing the town’s carbon footprint, increasing sustainability and ensuring future resiliency, Town Council approved funding for a community-wide Climate Action Plan.
Since our Town operations account for just 2% of the overall carbon footprint, our ability to make real progress will require engaging our entire community along with local, regional and state partners.
Strengthening our ability to attract and retain companies in Chapel Hill.
To further strengthen our ability to be economically resilient, stay affordable and have tax dollars to invest in the things we want (affordable housing, greenways….) we must continue to diversify our tax base and bring more jobs here.
Chapel Hill is fortunate to have the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill and UNC Healthcare as strong economic engines for our town. With over a billion dollars in annual research, the opportunity for capturing spin-offs and attracting outside companies is significant.
In recent years we have taken several bold business development steps and are seeing results. To capitalize on this early momentum we need to continue to think and act strategically.
Balancing development pressures with the needs and values of our community.
We spent a great deal of energy examining our Affordable Housing situation in order to determine where we were, where we wanted to go and how we were going to get there. We created a dashboard about our Affordable Housing plan so that everyone could know how we were working towards creating more affordable units, rehabbing existing affordable units and how we spend 6 million dollars every year to promote and protect our affordable units. With passage of the $10 Million Affordable Housing Bond we are able to work with our partners to make our strategic plan a reality.
In 2015, one of my driving reasons for seeking office was passage of the Blue Hill district form-based code which failed to include provisions for community benefits or good placemaking. Since taking office, I have worked hard to make changes to the Blue Hill code and our overall Town planning approach to better align future projects with what we want to achieve – human scale development, a wide range of housing options to support a diverse community, a well-connected bike and walking network, enhanced tree canopy and green spaces, increased stormwater capacity and more.
Our current development process is not producing the public benefits that we want such as affordable housing, green spaces, placemaking or commercial opportunities. We have to find a better way to get the things we want while working with developers and the pressures that growth brings. We have engaged consultants to help us with a vision of how we can get those kinds of benefits as we redevelop along our major corridors and downtown. I look forward to better community outcomes as we move forward.
4) What prior experience will make you an effective member of the town government and advocate of the issues listed above? Please note any endorsements you have received that you considered significant. (275)
Prior to serving as mayor, I have held elected office as an Orange County Commissioner and chair of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education. Additionally, I have gained experience through my service as a member of Chapel Hill’s Parks & Greenways board, as Chair of the Upper Neuse River Basin Authority and as a member of various non-profit boards such as Triangle Land Conservancy, Orange Habitat and Rainbow Soccer.
Outside of public service, I am a long-time resident of Chapel Hill, own a small local business and have raised four children here.
As a result, I came into office with strong connections throughout our community and a good understanding of the issues we face. Building on that foundation, these first four years as mayor, have allowed me to connect with many citizens and organizations to develop those relationships into good working partnerships.
As a leader, I believe that collaboration and partnerships are critical. I also strive to bring multiple perspectives and voices to the table so that we can make an informed decision.
Since taking office, I am proud of the work we have done to create a more welcoming, responsive and transparent government for everyone. Specifically, we set a tone during meetings so that Council Chambers a safe place for all voices to share their views, established a petition tracking system, implemented a more transparent budget process, established The People’s Academy to engage future leaders, created a neighborhood liaison network to reach more people, increased multi-lingual communications,
I have been endorsed this election cycle by: NC Equality, AFL-CIO, NC Sierra Club, NEXT and CHALT so far. I have also been endorsed by the INDY several times!
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? (262)
Over the past year, I have been engaged in conversations with a variety of people about the issue of Short-Term Rentals (STRs) and have been gathering information from other communities.
We have over 350 STRs in Chapel Hill at this time with that number expected to grow. Since the Town’s land use regulations pre-date STRs and increasing attention is being called to this issue, it is time for a community discussion on this topic
On October 2nd, the Council laid out a public process for evaluating certain aspects of short-term rentals. Based on what we have been hearing from the community, the council is supportive of owner-occupied rentals – whether it be renting a room in their home or renting their home out when they are away. We have questions about investor-owned whole unit rentals. We also have questions about the best ways to approach registration, safety checks and occupancy tax collection.
The public process will include: a public open house and the creation of a task force with balance of perspectives. We have engaged Rebecca Badgett from the UNC School of Government to help with the task force and they will bring back recommendations this spring for the Council to consider.
As a member of the Metro Mayors organization, I have had a chance to hear from other mayors about the processes they have taken and the resulting outcomes. Of those, Wilmington’s approach seemed the best one to borrow from since it engaged all sides of the community. I am looking forward to hearing what the Task Force comes back with.
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 the supply of housing. What are the next steps you believe the town should take on the affordability front? (291)
Addressing the need for housing in our community is a challenge that we are addressing in a number of different ways. In doing so, we are working hard to help maintain affordability and to provide a wide variety of housing options to meet many needs – including those of students, at-risk families, employees and seniors.
A few of the things we have underway are:
Student Housing: We love having students be part of our community and are working to balance the need for student housing with the needs of the broader community, including an interest in making sure that housing in our downtown area serves year-round residents who will support downtown businesses. This Fall the Town and UNC agreed to work together on a Student Housing Needs Assessment which will help inform future decisions.
Affordable Housing: The Town has adopted an Affordable Housing Master Plan with goals of creating 400 new and rehab 300 existing affordable units within the next 5 years. To achieve these goals we will be working with local housing partners and deploying a number of different strategies. Top priority projects at this time include use of town owned land at 2200 Homestead Road for a mixed income community and renovation of our public housing communities.
Employee Housing: We want the people who work in our community to be able to live here too. So this year we approved funding for an Employee Housing Assistance program to make it more affordable for employees who want to buy or rent in Chapel Hill.
Neighborhood friendly infill development options including Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and Tiny Houses can increase affordability in existing neighborhoods.
Transportation: Our fare free bus system contributes to affordability.
Master Leasing Program: We partnered with CHT and Glen Lennox to implement this program
Inclusionary Zoning – The Council has been insistent on having on-site units vs payment in lieu and always negotiates with rental re-zoning proposals to get those units
Northside Initiative – the Town helps support the administration of this program and has helped to expand this program into the Pine Knolls Neighborhood.
Transitional Housing – the Town partnered with IFC to create more units to meet this need
To see our progress on our Affordable Housing Master plan visit www.chapelhillaffordablehousing.org
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? (296)
Commercial Commercial Commercial. With over 80% of our properties being residential and the UNC System owning a large portion of our Town, we are out of balance and not sustainable for the future.
When we bring commercial spaces to Chapel Hill, we bring local jobs so that people can live and work in the same place, we create a better tax base that can ease the burden on local home owners, and we have more opportunities for sales tax growth and corporate sponsorships. Higher residential property taxes push people out of our community – we need to create better long term sources of revenues.
Over the past ten years, commercial growth in the Triangle Region has been expanding and yet Chapel Hill has declined. To reverse that trend, we have taken strategic steps to overcome many of the hurdles that have discouraged commercial real estate agents and developers from bringing businesses here.
This has included rezoning property on Millhouse Road to house light industrial/enterprise companies, deploying performance-based incentives and increasing our support for the Launch business accelerator.
Incentives are new for Chapel Hill, but they have had a positive impact. We have attracted Wegmans which will generate new sales tax revenues, we have improved Eubanks Road at Carraway Village, we have accelerated construction of office buildings in Glen Lennox and a new vibrant company is coming to downtown Chapel Hill. All the incentives we have enacted are only over a 5 year period and we only pay out if they meet established criteria such as creating jobs, increasing property values, adding sales taxes or some other public benefit.
Another successful program is the Launch Business Accelerator which is allowing us to capture spinoffs from UNC. Launch alumni companies Rain, Quantworks, Academic Benchmarking and JuryX and many others have now chosen to stay in Chapel Hill so the tide is turning!
Looking ahead, we need to create walkable, employment centers on our transit corridors that are desirable to companies and their employees.
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?
The West End of Chapel Hill can bring new life to our downtown as it has the most potential for new commercial, year-round residential and parking expansion. There are some interesting things happening on the West End that will yield more people downtown 12 months out of the year, help support our businesses and grow our creative abilities so that we have more art, music and cultural events.
As a Town, we create the infrastructure that helps develop the growth we want. Making the area more walkable, bikeable and transit friendly combined with more visible parking (with a deck) are things we can do to promote a healthier downtown. With a shared parking deck, we can turn the small surface parking lots into new buildings/businesses and have more options in a walkable downtown.
We are working quickly to make the restriping of West Franklin as a pedestrian & bike safe corridor a reality. DOT plans to repave this section of our downtown this coming spring and we will be ready to make some changes that encourage the things we want.
We have several new proposals to add more commercial & year-round residential to this important part of downtown. We were also successful in working with Carrboro to advocate to DOT to make the Franklin St/Merritt Mill/Main St/Brewer Lane bike & ped improvements to improve multimodal safety, give more clarity to drivers and to get some green back in downtown with the refuge island. We want downtown to be a safer and more inviting place to walk, bike and explore!
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?
YES! We need a coordinated plan that directs people looking for parking to known areas to park. We are exploring creating a Westend parking deck to help spark commercial development and to reduce all the small surface parking lots so that they can become better used places for jobs, active spaces or even residential. It also improves safety to have drivers aim for parking decks and stop circling to find open surface lots or on street parking.
We have an amazing transit system and a very walkable downtown but we have not added to our parking supply in a long time. We need balance with more parking spaces now, better multi-modal connections and increased transit hours. Our businesses complain that they need more parking supply to help with bringing customers and workers downtown.
We installed better parking meters that can have updated information, added parking ambassadors, added technology to show availability, changed the decks to LEDs for better safety and created a program for service employees to park in free lots after 4pm to open up visible spaces for customers and visitors.
10) The town has environmental awareness as one of its goals. Name three ways you believe Chapel Hill can work toward this goal.
Engage the entire community in creating our Climate Action Plan. Working with our partners at UNC, the business community, non-profits, students and others we can make this a reality!
Use the Town’s SustainChapelHIll.org webpage, e-news, social media to provide information and promote programs while setting the good example with Town facilities and programs.
Utilize the Building Integrated Communities (BIC) program to communicate with people in their native language and work through the Neighborhood Liaisons network to spread information more broadly.
11) In what ways can the town foster a more inclusive environment and better engage with historically marginalized groups?
Work with community partners to help us “reach in” to communities so that we can provide information and solicit input in people’s native languages, at times that are convenient for them and in locations that are easy for them to access. An on-going effort of this type is Building Integrated Communities (BIC) project.
Provide educational opportunities to help people learn about our Town and how they can be involved. One example of such a program is our People’s Academy.
Remove barriers to participation by providing transportation, childcare and a meal. At present we offer childcare, translators and transportation for our advisory board members and for the public at key stakeholder meetings.
Be intentional about recruiting and appointing people with a wide-range of perspectives to advisory boards and focus groups. This is a goal that I share each year with our advisory board chairs and vice chairs each year when we meet so that they, too, are helping us achieve this goal.
12) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.
1)The biggest concern we hear from constituents is how growth is affecting traffic in our community and how we are planning to handle that as a region. We are working with our MPO and other partners to come up with a transit plan that helps people get to and from work. The problem is only going to get worse. We have been working on our NS BRT project, expanding our transit options, installing smarter technology, looking at those last mile connections, using resiliency as a lens in remaking our Land Use Plan/Map and examining other opportunities.
Our diversity in Chapel Hill is shifting. We are more diverse than ever but far less brown. Our Asian & Latino & Senior populations are rising while our African American population is decreasing. We have a large number of refugees and we have a growing number of families with children of different disabilities.
We value diversity in all forms and it brings us opportunities to think differently in order to serve the entire community in a more equitable way.