Name as it appears on the ballot: David Adams
Party affiliation: Independent
Campaign website: davidadams4council.com
Occupation & employer: Adjunct Associate Professor of Medicine, Duke University; retired
Years lived in Chapel Hill: 39
1) In 300 words or less, please give us—and our readers—your elevator pitch: Why are you running?
I have lived in east Chapel Hill for 39 years. I’m a scientist, an educator, an environmentalist and public-school advocate. I directed the Drug Discovery and Development Laboratory in the Duke Cancer Center for 17 years. I am an idea person. I have people and project management skills and a keen respect for conflict of interest. I don’t accept donations from developers or PACs.
Where I live is why I am running. I live next to the Blue Hill district and the American Legion property. Recent Council decisions on development and parks have had a direct impact on me, my neighbors and my campaign priorities, which are:
- Sustainable, fair development that brings community benefits. The Blue Hill district exemplifies our development over the past 8 years. Affordable housing and residents displaced for luxury apartments. No green construction, no green energy, no green space, no housing choice; instead, massed, nondescript buildings. We must use our zoning powers to get affordable and missing middle housing in new developments. Rezoning of single-family neighborhoods will not work. In addition, UNC, which owns 30% of the developable land, needs to do its part to house its students and employees.
- Combat climate change and invest in our parks, greenways and green space. A community park in east Chapel Hill is an urgent need. The American Legion property can meet that need, but housing is planned on a full quarter of the site. We should be expanding our parks, green space and greenways, not reducing them.
- A council that listens, respects and responds to citizens and creates fiscally responsible budgets that minimize tax increases. I presented two petitions to council with around 1000 signatures each. I was ignored. Our taxes are increasing 10%; the increase should be money well spent.
- Let’s support our local small businesses and startups
I support saving the Purple Bowl and adjacent businesses from displacement by wet labs and subsequent loss of town character.
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?
Be transparent. There was no community engagement after five council members petitioned the entire council to begin work on the text amendments. The public was made aware only after the council majority had already made up their minds. Even now, one can meet residents who have no idea what has happened. I would act as a community delegate that listens and responds to constituents and not as a trustee who makes decisions based on his or her own preferences.
3) What are the three most pressing issues the town currently faces? How would you address them? Please be specific.
Housing for low to moderate income citizens
- Use our conditional zoning power for new developments. Up-zoning must bring community benefits.
- Work with developers that build the housing we need. Durham has done that with various town home projects.
- Work with nonprofits like Habitat and Empowerment NC. There is significant land in the Greene Tract that has been set aside for affordable housing.
- Support projects like St. Paul Village.
Preservation of the green environment to combat climate change
- Reverse the decision to convert a quarter of the American Legion site for housing. The site was bought with park bond funds and the results of the Legion Task Force (over 900 citizens surveyed) were clear: we need a community park in east Chapel Hill that has the amenities of other parks near wealthier neighborhoods. Top choices were a permanent place for a farmer’s market, a cultural arts center, a dog park. Housing was not a popular choice.
- Limit or ban clear-cutting of mature tree canopy in new developments.
- Build greenways with permeable, ADA-compliant surfaces.
- Get green construction, green energy and green space in new developments.
Fiscally responsible budgeting
- Prioritize the $60M in needed upgrades for core town services.
- Limit expenditures on consultants.
- Avoid paying for developers’ obligations (e.g., access road for The Hartley apartments).
- Avoid cost overruns (e.g., parking deck)
- Recognize that bold plans require money, and we have only $35 – $40M of debt space left.
- Our AAA credit rating reflects our diligence in paying our debt; it does not indicate how we spend our funds.
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.
As director of a research laboratory in both industry and academics, I am an idea person as is any scientist responsible for funding their work and staff. I am familiar with setting goals, creating action plans with respective budgets, analyzing data, assessing impacts and communicating results. I am collaborative and have worked with students, fellows, technicians, faculty, and administrative staff at both local and national levels.
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?
As with other plans developed by expensive consultants, the issue is implementation and the associated cost. Our current debt is $118 M or $136M depending on the definition; we only have $35 – $40M in debt space left and we have $60M in core service needs. I support the affordable housing plan, but where will the funding come from? Who owns the housing problem in Chapel Hill? The town has done its part by spending more on affordable housing than at any time in its history. Now developers who profit from what our community has built, and the university, who owns the land, need to step up. Recent analysis shows that Carolina North alone represents 20 years of housing capacity. The town can use its zoning power to negotiate for better outcomes and can continue to partner with nonprofits for affordable and workforce housing.
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?
The town should build its commercial tax base. The original goals for Blue Hill were 60% residential and 40% commercial development. We got 100% residential. How did that happen? The university does make a major contribution to our free bus service. However, given the amount of revenue UNC makes just from its healthcare business – which requires providing commensurate community benefits – the university could contribute significantly more, especially when it buys properties and they are taken off the property tax base. UNC can also take more responsibility for housing its students and employees in a redeveloped Odum Village and on the Horace Williams tract.
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?
The town has adopted the Complete Communities Framework, which specifies criteria for new development and these criteria should be met. Unfortunately, our history has been to grant waivers to developers who lobby strongly for them. In addition, the town allows payments-in-lieu when low-income residents are displaced or insufficient green space is proposed. This must stop. A key criterion for Complete Communities is to involve affected neighborhoods in the design and approval process. Public engagement is a must, yet the town staff has removed important advisory boards from the approval process, concentrating power in the Planning Commission. I would restore advisory board review and would listen and respond to their concerns.
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 decision has been made to build affordable housing on a substantial portion of the Greene Tract. It will likely be one of the largest affordable housing developments in Chapel Hill. The issue is the preserved section of the property. Meetings on this have not been public, so it is hard to know what to expect, since the resolution that passed said development could also take place in the preserved area for things like roads, retention ponds, utilities, etc. that serve development. How much green in the Greene Tract will be left is unknown. I support preservation of green space for many reasons, the most important being mitigation of climate change.
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?
Engagement is an area where technology can play a big role. Having meetings via Zoom or a similar app is commonplace. Let’s use this technology in our council meetings where citizens can participate in real time without having to attend in person. Language translation services could be included to extend outreach to the Hispanic and Asian communities among others. Town halls are another option. Rather than a public hearing, we should actually have a public discussion of important issues. The town should also allow public comments in their work sessions.
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?
There is strength in numbers. I support Adam Searing’s idea to unite with mayors from other UNC system towns to lobby the state legislature and the UNC Board of Governors to help solve the housing crisis that they largely create. We need to support our local businesses and startups to attract and retain young talent. My son went through the Launch Chapel Hill accelerator program and received invaluable advice and experience. We need these types of programs and incubator space for the startups growing out of innovation at UNC.
Support independent local journalism.
Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.