Name as it appears on the ballot: Breckany Teal Eckhardt
Party affiliation: Green Party
Campaign website: Breckany.com
Occupation & employer: Healthcare IT Trainer, Nordic Global
Years lived in Chapel Hill: 7
1) In 300 words or less, please give us—and our readers—your elevator pitch: Why are you running?
I moved to Chapel Hill and independently bought my home in 2017 because it had an in-law suite. I could not cover the mortgage on my own as a single professional female. I rent it out as affordable housing to nurses and college students. It’s an older modest neighborhood where I have enjoyed watching the neighborhood kids grow up and chatting with families while walking my dogs.
A few years ago, I noticed that something was amiss with recent, rapid changes: luxury apartments replaced affordable units, the displacement of minimum wage families, driving out of small businesses, lack of spaces to socialize, inadequate infrastructure, and traffic congestion.
I began to attend town council meetings where I learned that majority decisions on the council have:
1. Underfunded places for the community.
· Even the new ‘Penny for Parks’ tax-payer-funded plan highlights that, with a 10-year backlog of 70+ projects, it will take 25 years to update our parks and recreation
2. Advanced inappropriate, disorganized development.
· Granting out-of-state developers carte blanche, lassie-faire luxury apartment construction has resulted in chaotic traffic patterns, heat islands, and disconnected, car-centric infrastructure.
3. Squandered your property taxes.
· $3+ million has been spent since 2020 on external consultants –primarily for plans, not actions.
· Wegmans was offered $4 million in performance based tax incentives while local business and tourism brought $236 million last year.
4. Disregarded the voices of Our Community.
- Petitions with over 1,000 signatures, letters and speeches were ignored.
I realized it was time for greater action.
2) If you don’t currently serve on the town council, what is something members could be doing better? If you do, what has been your biggest accomplishment during your time in office?
Current council engagement is a matter of privilege and promotes elitist decision-making. It is inequitable to use 1950s meeting and decision-style methods almost a quarter into the 21st century. The current process to give public comments during a bi-monthly meeting on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. requires accessible transportation, potential childcare or pet-sitting arrangements, and meetings that may not end until after the bus system stops daily operations. There are no translation services during meetings. The current online options are video-only with no participation options or ASL. Thus, English-speaking, older, retired individuals with cars have the advantage of being heard.
We need a town app where people can easily access the meeting to interact with the council with real-time polling and commenting. Also, AI and translation services allow for basic translation for dozens of languages.
We need data-driven decisions based on community input from all walks of life.
3) What are the three most pressing issues the town currently faces? How would you address them? Please be specific.
|1. The misappropriation of expenditures Our AAA bond rating signifies good debt repayment, not efficient allocation of funds or ethical use of taxpayer money. Per town manager Chris Blue, the current town debt is $118m. Yet, the council continues its spendthrift ways on ‘plans and paperwork’ without producing results.||1. Cut external consultant funding.· As the #6th most educated city in the country, we can solve our own problems by collaborating with UNC students and leaders, advisory boards, and local experts who are all directly invested in results.2. Stop incentivizing corporations. · Fund local businesses, police, firefighters, and infrastructure.3. Design Smart. · Asphalt greenway plans cost over $1m per mi. while natural surface trails cost around $48,000 – $64,000|
|2. Disregard for community voices Petitions with 1,000+ signatures received no response.||A town app with real-time polling and comments would increase instant and documented transparency and decision-making that enhances public needs.|
|3. Disorganized development and displacement of residents This year alone, 400+ residents in 191 low-cost apartments were displaced for luxury apartments. The town offered no comparable alternatives.||Encourage competition with developers toward the best community output: We can negotiate toward the best mixed-use – for sale, rental, affordable housing, community event, local retail spaces, solar panels, rooftop gardens, and Energy Star-certified construction. For example, if a developer wants an extra floor on a building, they must offer more affordable housing. Also, UNC owns 30% of the land, and thus has the political and financial power to partner with the town and offer student housing options on or near campus and workforce housing, for example, at the Horace Williams Airport. Similar concepts worked for Glenn Lennox, the upcoming St. Paul AME Village, and in Durham and comparable college towns|
4) Local government, given the construction of the North Carolina constitution, is often highly limited in its jurisdiction. How would you best leverage the powers of the town council? What prior experience will make you an effective member of the town council? Please note any endorsements you have received that you consider significant.
My father was a newspaper journalist and my mother was a server. I was brought up to work hard, fact-find, and be involved in local civic issues. I protested for workers’ rights, ran for student government, participated in LGBTQIA+ events, and received volunteer awards from the National Policy Consensus Center and Financial Beginnings, a K-12 financial literacy non-profit.
My college work is anchored in educational leadership and policy, organizational psychology, and business. Having worked in government, corporate, healthcare, and nonprofit organizations, I have mentored adults with developmental disabilities, managed retail staff, trained surgeons, and presented to CEOs. I understand how to listen to people, lead teams, and communicate information.
We need fewer politicians and more multi-faceted locals who can view situations from organizational, structural, cultural, and symbolic frameworks for holistic yet, data-driven, and human-centered solutions. Thus, I am less concerned about ‘establishment endorsements’, rather, I am endorsed by the voters here who deserve better representation.
5) Community members frequently show up to town council meetings to share that they work in Chapel Hill but cannot afford to live here. With rising rents, even some that already live here are worried they will no longer be able to afford it. The town recently passed an affordable housing plan and investment strategy, which provides a general path forward. Do you support this plan? How would you, on the council, move forward to increase Chapel Hill’s affordable housing stock?
1. This plan was publicized September 13th, 2023:
Question: Deep into the campaign season, is it a coincidence that the town council releases plans to support affordable housing?
No.This is not a coincidence, especially considering that two current council candidates running are endorsed by the current mayor while receiving considerable campaign donations from developers.
2. Do I support the plan? There is a lot to discuss in this complex plan. I support most of it, and I am happy to discuss this further. However, the plan only mentions the need to collaborate with UNC once or twice in the document.
UNC owns 30% of the land in Chapel Hill and employs nearly 25% of the workforce (not including UNC Health Care which is a separate entity) and has an obligation to ensure housing options for its students. This needs to be a more prominent part of this plan, not ‘2-5 years out’.
6) In June, Chapel Hill approved its largest tax hike in years. In a town built around a tax-exempt public university with large land holdings, how can the council finance future projects? Should the town look to build a larger commercial base? Increase residential taxes? Some other way?
1) Orange County pays the highest property taxes in the Southeast United States with dwindling greenspaces, little investment in community spaces, parks and recreation, no expanded roads, and endless plans without action.
3) The council has spent a combined total of over $7 million on external consultants and tax subsidies for a grocery store.
Thus, the council does not defend local business and promotes massive market-rate and corporate developments on Franklin St. and around town when local business drives our tax dollars.
We need to keep the character of Chapel Hill’s Franklin Street and build taller mixed-use developments a block or two away from the main street. This serves both purposes for housing and a thriving downtown. We need extended, pervious surfaced greenways, electric shuttle buses, electric bike-sharing programs and multi-modal transport options. Community parks with farmer’s markets, movie nights, concerts, food trucks, and youth sports bring people to town and generate revenue. This is what brings revenue and keeps people coming back.
7) Much of the work of the town council involves judging rezoning requests for new developments. Looking especially at recent proposals such as The Reserve at Blue Hill and Chapel Hill Crossings, what criteria should developers meet in order to gain approval?
We should require:
1. 15% minimum of units created as affordable housing, defined: “Households pay 30% of their income for housing costs like rent, mortgage, and utilities”.
2. “Climate Conscious and Energy Star Certified”: Our new construction needs to be climate-conscious, especially due to the extensive floodplains that exist in our geography.Solar panels, rooftop gardens to compensate for some of the clear-cutting, and negotiating for community greenspaces like adaptive playgrounds and community gardens offer additional health and climate benefits.
3. “15-minute cities”: Though these are not cities, new developments need to offer access to parks and greenways, retail, grocery, pharmacy/urgent care, and flex/office/event space within a “15-minute walk” which reduces car dependence, improves air quality, builds face to face interactions, increases employment, and offers something for everyone.
8) How should the Greene Tract be developed? Should affordable housing be built on part of it? How much should preservation be balanced with development?
The green tract provides important space for local farms, reduce sprawl, treats runoff, and offers low density development that does not impact water or sewer line extension, protects drinking water and wildlife, and preserves greenspace to mitigate climate change.
Because only one inch of rainfall on a 1-acre parking lot can generate over 27,000 gallons of runoff compared to only 750 gallons on a greenspace, we need to conduct serious planning and collect data before we jump into making irreversible impacts.
At the same time, the population is growing, and we must be flexible and adaptable to change. Trading out acreage into city parks or offering an equally climate-friendly exchange would be situations worth considering extending city water and sewer into a small part of the rural buffer. We need to exhaust all other options before expanding into the Greene Tract.
9) How can the town improve its community engagement process to make sure that residents, especially those who do not have the time or resources to attend town council meetings on weekday nights, have their voices heard?
Please see my answer to question #2.
10) How can the town leverage its relationship with the university to achieve its goals? Should the town be trying harder to keep young talent in the area?
We need to work as a coalition with the mayors and councils of other cities with UNC campuses. They have the same challenges as Chapel Hill to offer student housing. We can advocate for housing options with the state legislature to create rent stabilization in the form of caps on percent increases in rent or state-wide rent control.
We need to enforce the inclusionary zoning ordinance from 2011.
The town also needs to ensure that local businesses, gathering spaces, and restaurants thrive because it’s the experience that keeps young talent in a town. When I moved here in my mid-30s, I found myself driving to Durham and Raleigh for ‘Meet Ups’, dating events, and concerts. Chapel Hill needs more places for people to interact, forward-thinking technology, and an engaging environment to retain talent.
That is not happening with the current council which is why we need ‘New Leaders with a New Vision’ to create a vision for a modern college town.
I will listen to you, learn from you, and lead with you.
Contact me anytime at Breckany@gmail.com or text/call: 919.335.3511
More at: Breckany.com
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