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Name as it appears on the ballot: Sue Hunter

Age: 51

Party affiliation: Democrat

Campaign website:

Occupation & employer: Research, Duke University

Years lived in Chapel Hill: 30

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?

I see the opportunity to serve on Town Council as a natural extension of my work as a volunteer, advocate, and researcher.   

I started volunteering in the community in 1990, and spent nine years in direct social service roles before earning a graduate degree in Public Health and going to work in research.  My professional and volunteer experience have helped me understand the relationship between the places people live, and their access to opportunity. I’ve learned to always seek community input, and to utilize data and evidence-based best practices to guide decision-making.  Working with limited budgets has taught me the value of using resources thoughtfully and strategically.  I believe these experiences have prepared me well to serve on the Town Council, where welcoming – and truly listening to – a diversity of voices and committing to an open and transparent process are critical. 

My priorities include climate action through comprehensive land use and transportation planning; affordable housing; and economic development.  I would like a Town Council that truly prioritizes multimodal infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians, so people have safe alternatives to driving.  My experience as a transit advocate and transit user provide a valuable perspective that is needed on Town Council, particularly as we approach the planning process for a regional transit solution.  I would also like to see stronger prioritization of affordable housing, especially for people earning 30% of the area median income (AMI). In terms of economic development, I think there is general agreement on the need to attract more businesses and diversify our tax base to lessen the burden on homeowners.  My vision for Chapel Hill is to foster walkable urban growth to foster a vibrant community, and allow people to move more easily between work, home and retail without depending upon cars.

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?  

Chapel Hill is a progressive community that is committed to social justice and environmental protection, but at times we struggle to live those values, particularly as our community has grown.  

I believe we can retain what we value from the past while continuing to move forward towards a bright future that is even more inclusive, equitable and sustainable. The Town of Chapel Hill has made significant investments in affordable housing, environmental stewardship, and increasing connectivity of sidewalks and greenways. These are priorities for our community which I strongly support. At the same time, the world around us is changing rapidly and it is important that our Town government shows bold leadership in, for example, charting a course to mitigate and adapt to climate change at the local level, speeding up the process for moving affordable housing plans from concept to built units, and shifting the conversation from how to improve traffic to how to make it easier for people to leave their cars at home in the first place.  

3) What are three of the most pressing issues the town currently faces? How would you propose to address them? Please be specific.

We need to increase access to affordable housing, including rentals, owner-occupied units, and senior housing.  I strongly support the use of town-owned land to create affordable housing, creating affordable units through the inclusionary zoning ordinance and development agreements, and working with community partners, such as CASA, the Jackson Center, DHIC, EmPOWERment, the Community Home Trust, and Habitat for Humanity.  I’d like to see more partnerships like the DHIC’s Greenfield Place and Greenfield Commons, particularly where opportunities have been identified on government-owned land (Jay Street, Bennet Road, Dogwood Acres Drive, Homestead Road and on the Greene tract).  Affordable rentals for individuals earning 30% of area median income is a critical need in our community.  

Town funds for affordable housing, generated from taxes and the affordable housing bond, are limited and must be used strategically for both repairs (to maintain existing affordable units and prevent displacement) and the creation of new units.  We must work with our local government partners, UNC, UNC Healthcare, and the school system to maximize efficient use of resources and to effectively meet shared challenges.

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing us right now, and Town Council has the opportunity to work together to create meaningful change at the local level.  Reducing emissions from transportation is the number one way we can mitigate the impacts of climate change in our community.  That requires us to both invest in transit and other multi-modal alternatives, and also to foster dense land-use that facilitates less driving.   I want to see the North South Bus Rapid Transit project move forward into the engineering and then construction phase, and a 2022 service launch.  Orange County must begin the planning process for a regional transit solution since the Durham Orange light rail project was discontinued.  Our Town Council must be an enthusiastic partner in this process.  I’m committed to working with Orange, Durham and Wake counties to create the best possible regional transit system to meet the needs of our community, reduce our carbon footprint and stimulate economic growth.  I also support advocacy at the state level to increase the funding available for transit and other multi-modal alternatives through the Strategic Transportation Investments program. We also need to redouble our efforts to build out infrastructure to make it easier for people to walk and bike throughout town. While we have some great greenways and trails, we are not investing as much as we should.

Economic development is critical to help balance our tax base and create living wage jobs within Chapel Hill.  We need to attract employers, entrepreneurs and other locally-owned businesses to our downtown, and help them thrive.  We should continue to prioritize attracting small businesses and start-ups to Chapel Hill, capitalizing on the proximity of UNC and the bio-tech environment.  We need more flexible office space and wet lab space to attract these kinds of businesses, and turn Chapel Hill into a labor market that will retain our college graduates. We also know we need to improve our permitting and inspection process, reducing delays that increase costs for business owners.  

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.

Over the past five years I have engaged in significant leadership on the issue of land use and transportation as they relate to climate change. I worked for several years with the Orange County Transit advocates to advocate for the Durham Orange Light Rail project.  As part of this work, I attended and spoke at at countless meetings including before the Orange County Board of Commissioners, the Chapel Hill Town Council, and the Durham City Council. I helped lead support of the project on social media and in the press. I was effective in terms of rallying support to show our leaders that the public continued to support the project.  Each time a decision needed to be made by local government, we showed up and spoke up to keep the process moving forward.  

Building on my work with the transit advocates, I became a leader in a group called NEXT, which advocates for diversity, inclusiveness, economic growth, transportation options, and housing choices.  Through my role in NEXT I moderated a series on sustainable communities, and helped educate the public on what smart growth could look like for Chapel Hill.  

My experience working with low resource and marginalized populations has provided me with a perspective that is important to have on Town Council.  I would like to help be a voice for those who cannot easily participate in our political process.  

Significant endorsements: Equality NC, Orange-Chatham Chapter of the Sierra Club, NEXT Chapel Hill & Carrboro Action Fund

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 concerns related to short term rentals are that we ensure STRs are not impacting the supply of affordable housing, and that we do not prevent residents who operate STRs from earning income that allows them to afford living in Chapel Hill.  

Chapel Hill’s current regulations were developed before short-term rentals really took off. Their popularity has grown for good reasons –  they offer flexible and economical options for families, for those coming to our community for longer-term medical care, and for those who are considering relocating to Chapel Hill and want to “try out” a variety of neighborhoods. Offering a range of short-term stay options – including hotels and AirBnB options – is also good for Chapel Hill’s economy as it keeps tourist dollars here, regardless of family size, length or purpose of stay, or financial status. AirBnB also provides a source of income for our current residents who rely on that extra income to remain in Chapel Hill even as our property taxes and cost of living continues to rise. AirBnB is part of the new “sharing economy” that is here to stay. The role of the Town government is to ensure regulations are in place that ensure the health and safety of all visitors and this is where the Council should put its focus. We have regulations currently in place to address complaints should they arise, such as noise or parking issues, and it is appropriate that the Town evaluate the issues that STRs pose and how other communities have addressed these issues.

The Council has put a process in place to gather public input by appointing a resident taskforce to gather input and make recommendations to the Town for action. Ultimately, we will need to listen to the input from residents and decide what will work best for Chapel Hill’s unique needs and interests.

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?

Increasing the supply of housing overall is important to reduce the pressure on neighborhoods impacted by students seeking off campus housing.  In terms of affordability, because utilizing government-owned land for housing is one of the most effective tools we have to reduce the cost, the Town should continue to move forward on the planning for 2200 Homestead Road, as well as the collaborative planning for the Greene Tract, and other Town-owned properties. Chapel Hill is in the process of updating the Future Land Use Map, which will be followed by updating our land use management ordinance (LUMO). This is a critical opportunity to address how and where we will add density to meet the needs of our growing population.  We must do this in a way that is thoughtful, with an eye toward minimizing our carbon footprint, and focusing development in locations that connect housing to jobs with multimodal transportation options. Density doesn’t just mean large apartment buildings – it includes townhomes, duplexes, triplexes, and other types of “gentle density” that accommodate more growth, I support efforts to work with UNC Healthcare to create affordable housing as part of the master plan for the Eastowne development, as UNC Healthcare is the second largest employer in Orange County and creates much of the need for affordable workforce housing.  

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?  

We need appropriate spaces that work for the type of business growth that we want to attract – flex space for smaller businesses, including start-ups, and wet lab space.  We need to capitalize on our proximity to UNC and the biotech industry and foster space that allows entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into products and businesses. The Town’s investments in and support of incubator spaces such as LaUNCh and the Midway Business Center have strengthened our ability to support early stage start-ups and social entrepreneurs. But we have seen again and again that these businesses – as they are ready to expand  – relocate to Durham and Raleigh where there is ample office space available with ready access to restaurants, arts, and culture in a walkable urban environment. We need to strengthen our commitment to creating additional office space downtown and creating other changes that will draw people in. For example, restriping West Franklin to include protected bike lanes would allow workers, families and visitors to safely move up and down the street on bikes, or even scooters, 

I would also like to see better data shared by the town regarding which properties are currently making significant contributions to our tax base.  Seven of the top ten highest property valuations in Chapel Hill are apartment buildings, which are valued as revenue-generating properties. Their contributions to the tax base fund our local schools and other amenities, but this is not well-understood by the public.  

Once the plan for a regional transit network begins to take shape, we must prioritize transit-oriented development in the area surrounding proposed stations in Chapel Hill.  This is a prime opportunity to grow our tax base and connect people to jobs, retail and housing.

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?

I would like to see Franklin Street be an environment that is safe for pedestrians and cyclists, and I would like to see more of them in this part of Chapel Hill.  Many of our businesses on West Franklin are struggling, and we need to create more foot traffic. We know that cyclists make more trips to businesses and ultimately spend more money on purchases than people who drive cars. We want West Franklin to be more attractive to people who will stop and shop frequently.  As part of this effort, the Town will need to monitor bike lane usage and add additional bike racks to accommodate the demand that these bike lanes will generate.

I would like to see more workers downtown in the daytime, and more people living downtown and patronizing businesses at night.  My answer to the question about parking elaborates on this, and the long term goal of repurposing surface parking lots for other uses.  In addition to redeveloping space around West Franklin, we need to make it easier for people to get to that area on bike, on foot and on transit. I am a big supporter of increasing our investment in building protected bike lanes and greenways to provide improved connections throughout Town, and a bike lane on West Franklin would be a key component.

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?

The town is considering a parking deck on the west end of town to increase the amount of parking available and to make it easier to identify where to park.  I support the west end parking deck, but I would want to see us prioritize more buffered and protected bike lanes, and designate funding to implement them. In the short term, the west end parking deck would make it easier for people to park downtown.  In the long term, as we build up the multimodal and transit infrastructure, we could redevelop our surface parking lots downtown and transform them into housing, work space, and green space. Ultimately I see the parking deck as a way to shift where we park, and to free up space devoted to surface parking to help foster a more vibrant downtown environment.

10) The town has environmental awareness as one of its goals. Name three ways you believe Chapel Hill can work toward this goal.

Creating more diverse and affordable housing in Chapel Hill, so people who work here can also live here, and locating housing on transit corridors to connect people to work and retail.  This includes updating our land use management ordinance to allow for more density and infill, as well as working with community partners to collaborate on creating more affordable housing options in our community.  When people live close together and close to where they work and play transit solutions become more viable, and the climate changing greenhouse gases associated with single-occupancy vehicle use go down.  

Work on developing a regional transit solution in conjunction with Carrboro, Orange County and Durham County.  In the interim, we should focus on improving service in the corridor between Chapel Hill and Durham, since so many people travel between these communities for work and entertainment.  I support our Orange County Commissioners doing more to work with Chatham County to address the through traffic we experience from that area. Reducing our reliance on cars is the number one way we can reduce  greenhouse gas emissions community-wide, mitigate climate change, and address the through traffic created by our growing neighbors.

Strengthen our multimodal and transit infrastructure within town.  We’ve already put transit tax money to good use in Chapel Hill, adding more bus shelters and increasing frequency of service, with enhanced 7-day service scheduled to start next fall.  Town staff should continue their coordination and work to improve connectivity and scheduling, and explore options for Chapel Hill Transit users to easily continue their trips on GoTriangle buses.  The North South Bus Rapid Transit project, and the multimodal path that goes with it, will be an important enhancement to our local service, and will create a safe path for cyclists and pedestrians to navigate that corridor.  We also need to increase our investment in other bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and finally start moving forward on the priority projects identified in the Mobility and Connectivity Plan that the Town Council approved two and a half years ago.

11) In what ways can the town foster a more inclusive environment and better engage with historically marginalized groups?

We need to do more outreach and take municipal governance to historically marginalized groups.  Meeting attendance can look very different depending on where the meeting is held. Town Council meetings and work sessions can run very long, making it difficult for people to attend if they work at night or rely on transit.  We should experiment with having town halls in community centers, and identify and work with community ambassadors in our public housing complexes, and solicit feedback from residents when accessing services. We should also undertake an internal study/survey of residents to find out how we can be more accessible or increase participation.  Is it an issue of physical access (as noted above), or should we do more to get people the information they need, in a manner that is clear, about issues that may be important to them? Would childcare at meetings be helpful, or should meetings happen at different, and earlier, times?

The Chapel Hill Peoples Academy did a great job with outreach to underrepresented communities, including residents of public housing, and provided childcare and transportation to make participation feasible.  The Chapel Hill Police have a new program, Girls Empowered Motivated Spectacular (GEMS), to help young women explore future opportunities in community-oriented careers like public safety and local government.  

The Town has joined the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) and is using a racial equity approach to building connections and engaging the community in decision-making.  We’re trying new approaches, identifying gaps, and implementing a language access plan to get a more diverse population involved in local government.  

I love the work that Durham and Greensboro have done with participatory budgeting, and I would like to see us try something similar in Chapel Hill.  It’s a great way to foster civic engagement and add more voices to our process.  

12) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.

Affordable housing is a personal issue for me  Most of my friends can no longer afford to live in Chapel Hill due to the lack of diverse and affordable housing.  The artists and musicians I befriended over 20 years ago are now electricians, plumbers, botanists, journalists, and business owners, but they are no longer my neighbors.  My in laws, who worked as a minister and as a state employee, also could never afford to live here, even though they worked in Chapel Hill and served the people of this community.  

We lose a lot as a community when we lose our creative class, as well as the workers who keep everything running smoothly from one day to the next.  I hope to be a voice for many people who are struggling to be in this community and may not always be heard in our political process.