Name as it appears on the ballot: Danny Nowell
Party affiliation: Democrat
Occupation & employer: Freelance Copywriter
Years lived in Carrboro: 6
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?
As a working dad with two young kids, I feel extremely fortunate to live in Carrboro: the sense of community, the creative and cultural vitality, and the car-free convenience many Carrboro residents enjoy make it a wonderful place to raise a family. But our rising cost of living—and in particular our explosive housing costs and the shortage of housing units—is making it harder and harder for working people and families to actually afford to put down roots here. At the same time, we face a climate crisis that will require us to reimagine the ways we build communities to decrease car dependence, increase transit connectedness, and begin to establish the model for what long-term sustainability can truly look like. Solving these housing and climate crises will require an aggressive, imaginative local government working to build new structures of solidarity and make sure Carrboro starts working better for the working people who sustain it.
For the past several years, I’ve organized for racial and economic justice with several groups in the community; as fundraising chair for the NC Triangle Democratic Socialists of America, I helped to raise more than $80,000 in emergency relief for unemployed workers. That experience has provided me with the perspective and skillset to truly organize from office—to use the platform and power of Carrboro Town Council to reach neighbors who are too often left out of our local decision making. I’m driven to bring a new energy to organizing from office, and I think the importance of that commitment is reflected by the progressive endorsements I’ve received: my campaign is one of 29 that DSA has endorsed at the national level, while local progressive groups and leaders like NEXT Chapel Hill-Carrboro, the NC Sierra Club, Jillian Johnson and Nida Allam have also endorsed me.
2) Given the direction of Carrboro’s government, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?
There are many things Carrboro does right that have made it such a wonderful place to live, and our local government should be commended in particular for adopting Non-Discrimination Ordinances protecting LGTBQ+ people and other marginalized neighbors. At the same time, there are many policies that would move us closer to our progressive ideals—policies like denser zoning for small businesses and multifamily housing, participatory budgeting, or using non-armed emergency first responders instead of police for community safety—that Carrboro has watched other towns take the lead on. I believe leaders who are willing to do the work of organizing from office are necessary to build the energy and accountability we need to see these policies implemented and move Carrboro closer to materially supporting the progressive values we’re known for.
3) Please identify the three of the most pressing issues Carrboro currently faces and how you believe the town should address them.
Carrboro faces three pressing issues: 1) expanding our stock of housing, with a strong emphasis on affordable housing for people making 30-60% of our Area Median Income; 2) decreasing car dependence and increasing transit service; 3) diversifying our tax base by stimulating opportunities for local businesses, especially BIPOC owned businesses and co-operative or employee-centered businesses that offer a living wage and benefits. Addressing these issues will require a systematic, strategic approach based on zoning more of our town for multifamily housing and business use and using our existing town footprint more intelligently. With our town presently oriented around single family homes, our development process defaults to a sprawl-based model, while working people without the capital to buy into our increasingly unattainable housing market do not enjoy the convenience or sustainability of the “15 minute city” many of our affluent residents live in. The economic ramifications of this status quo for our town are very real: as property taxes drive so much of our revenue, we are increasingly beholden to raising taxes on a class of assets fewer and fewer people have access to, when we need to be pursuing means to stimulate local business and adding homeowners to the equity pool in the currently non-existent middle of the market. Ultimately, climate change demands that we radically re-orient our process of building towns to make more connected, diverse, and car-free communities; without addressing the racial and economic equity gaps in our housing market, we won’t be able to achieve that re-orientation. By systematically and strategically expanding access to transit and housing, and rooting new development with business opportunities that reflect Carrboro’s values, we can address many of the most pressing challenges facing Carrboro over the next term.
4) What’s the best or most important thing the town council has done in the past year? Alternatively, name a decision you believe the council got wrong or an issue you believe the town should have handled differently. Please explain your answer.
Our town leadership has done an admirable job focusing on the appropriate priorities for pandemic recovery, steering federal resources toward emergency housing relief and small business support. I commend our leadership on doing what they can to offer maximum community support with limited resources. One development that I think reflects the inadequacies of our current processes is the Llloyd Farm development currently in the planning phase. In a vacuum, I’m not opposed to development on the Lloyd Farm site: the parcel has strong opportunities for transit connection, and grocery and housing are laudable development priorities. However, the development adds more than 700 parking spaces, significantly mitigating the benefits of developing in a high-transit corridor, and the planned housing, while filling an important need in expanding senior-living options in town, does not reflect a serious enough commitment to affordability or make much of a dent in our lack of “missing middle” ownership opportunities like townhomes and condos. I would like to have seen this development come with a more significant and imaginative plan to reduce overall car dependency, featuring far fewer parking spaces, more robust transit connection, and a “complete streets” approach in the surrounding neighborhood to build protected bike and pedestrian walkways to offset risks to neighbors who will be dealing with increased car traffic and other negative externalities.
5) What prior experience makes you qualified for and passionate about the town council and its duties? What made you seek this position?
For the past several years, my primary community involvement has been with Democratic Socialists of America, first as a branch officer in Chapel Hill-Carrboro, then as Triangle Chapter fundraising chair, and most recently as the co-lead of Chapel Hill-Carrboro’s electoral working group. Through the electoral working group, I’ve spent much of the past several years closely monitoring Town Council and Advisory Board meetings, building coalition with other local advocacy groups and organizing support throughout Orange County for projects that increase affordable housing and transit connectedness. That work has demonstrated vividly to me how narrow the representation of town voices truly is in our local politics; as it is, our status quo means development discussions are almost entirely limited to complaints from neighbors affected by individual development. If Carrboro’s policies are going to catch up to its progressive reputation, we need to work hard to mobilize more of the town into these discussions, work that my time as an organizer has prepared me very well for.
6) 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? Should it promote apartment living, duplexes, and/or triplexes? Encourage density in single family housing? What do you believe the town is doing right? What could it do better?
The Town is doing the right thing by undergoing the Carrboro Connects process for establishing our town’s Comprehensive Plan, and we need to seize the opportunity presented by that plan to zone much more of town for multifamily housing like duplexes, townhomes, and condos, along with small businesses. We also need to commit to subsidizing affordable rentals for people earning between 30-60% of the Area Median Income, and to developing those units in areas where they are integrated with ownership opportunities and businesses; in order for us to be able to meet the need for affordable housing, we need to develop more densely with an eye toward building economically diverse neighborhoods where owners, renters, and workers share services and community.
7) For those who rent or own homes in Carrboro already, how should the town and county address tax revaluations that increase property taxes and rising rents, particularly for residents in public housing and those low-income residents who face displacement?
For property owners, Orange County needs an intergovernmental tax relief process like Durham and other communities have implemented. As we’ve seen with the recent revaluation crisis in Northside, individual property owners do not have the time or resources to protect themselves with time-consuming individual reviews to the county, and we’ll need all of the governments in our tax base to work together to adjust revaluations and provide subsidies and support for residents who are unable to meet rising costs. For rentals, we need to aggressively pursue subsidies and support down to the 30% AMI threshold, rather than targeting the more frequently adopted 60-80% range.
8) In what ways should Carrboro work on growing its tax base?
I think some of my earlier answers give a clear indication of my approach here, but in essence Carrboro needs to zone more land for small business use close to denser residential zones. We know that our town has an economic gap in retail and entertainment—too many of Carrboro’s retail dollars leave city limits because of the relative lack of opportunity relative to demand. In addition to zoning for these business opportunities in a systematic approach that also emphasizes denser housing and transit, I think the town could support our business community through participatory budgeting. The desire for more independent and local businesses is one of the most common things I hear from neighbors as I canvass, and I’d be eager to use participatory budgeting to explore a public incubator for BIPOC-owned businesses, or subsidies and resources for small businesses that offer a living wage and benefits or revenue sharing to employees.
9) What do you think is the best course of action for the town’s parking issues?
Fortunately, with the adoption of the 203 project (or the Southern Branch Library project), Carrboro will have very few parking issues for the foreseeable future. As it is, we already have vastly more parking in town than we need for existing demand, and the 203 Project will add more than 100 spots to our downtown area, allowing increased traffic to our downtown businesses and services. Going forward, decreasing car use and car dependence need to be among our first priorities in every decision our town undertakes, and as we develop the public transit, bike and pedestrian infrastructure that will allow us to, we need to decrease the amount of our footprint dedicated to cars and parking in our highest-value parts of town. One first step we can take that other progressive municipalities have taken is to remove parking minimums for new development—Carrboro has a parking surplus as it is, and the Town Council should be empowered to reduce planned parking spaces by more than the 25% currently permitted by our statutes. Ultimately, to achieve a balanced local economy and meet our climate goals, downtown Carrboro needs to become nearly car-free, with pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users able to work and patronize businesses without depending on their cars.
10) In your view, how can the town improve public transit, especially in terms of serving lower-income residents? How can the town recruit and retain more bus drivers? How can bike lanes be made safer and more efficient?
Zoning and town planning offer us the shortest path to drastically improved transit service and usage: Carrboro has done an admirable job of building out fare-free transit for a town of its size, but our suburban, sprawl-oriented development practices severely limit the practicality of using our services for the majority of day-to-day living. As we identify opportunities to densify, we can expand traffic service in previously-existing high density corridors, increasing transit usage within existing routes and corridors. Carrboro also needs to pursue many more “complete streets,” removing lanes for cars and adding physically protected bike routes and pedestrian walkways; our downtown area, with several streets like Weaver and Main that duplicate access, has several opportunities to explore this approach. Recruiting and retaining drivers during a global pandemic poses unique challenges, and highlights generally the need for Carrboro to examine more worker-friendly models for public employment. In addition to offering hazard pay during the pandemic, we need to be exploring the possibility of establishing co-operative models for city employees and offering city employees a vote in how transit revenue is re-invested.
11) 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?
Without a strategic plan that keeps racial equity at the center of our town planning, it’s difficult for local government to resist broader trends that widen equity gaps across society. As land becomes more expensive and rents climb higher out of reach for business owners lacking extensive capital, BIPOC entrepreneurs face the same lack of opportunity that people of color face in our housing market, school systems, and other institutions. I think participatory budgeting offers Carrboro an innovative means of addressing this problem—many Carrboro voters want to find a way to support BIPOC entrepreneurs, and I’d like the town to dedicate a portion of the budget toward deciding the best way to do that together. We might explore an incubator for entrepreneurs of color in the vein of LAUNCH in Chapel Hill, or we might dedicate those resources toward helping entrepreneurs of color offer more competitive wages, benefits, and revenue sharing.
12) In March, Orange County’s Board of Commissioners voted to allocate an additional, unexpected $1.8 million to the county’s Southern Branch Library project. Do you support the design and funding of the library in its current iteration? Would you lobby the commissioners to do anything differently in regard to the library?
Broadly speaking, I support the Southern Branch Library Project. It’s an exciting opportunity to move more town employees and service into a denser, transit-connected downtown, and it gives us the facilities to expand town programming in a new way for Carrboro. I am a bit disappointed that the plan includes so many parking spaces—as it stands, Carrboro has a parking surplus, and continuing to commit downtown real estate to cars as we know our climate and equity goals are moving us toward other transit models is a misfire.
13) How do you feel Orange County, municipal, and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board officials have handled the COVID-19 pandemic? If you don’t think the pandemic was handled well, what should have been done differently?
Ultimately, I have a great deal of respect for the leaders who have shepherded CHCCS and Orange County Schools through this grueling pandemic, and I think the frustrations that both administrators and parents have experienced ultimately reflect the inadequacies of our current political structure more than they indict any individuals. While it is easy to empathize with frustrated parents who would have preferred more transparency and regularity, it is equally easy to empathize with local school board officials who received conflicting guidance and support from state and federal authorities. Big picture, the COVID-19 pandemic reflects the need for elected officials who are more committed to organizing from office: the official means for addressing the pandemic are relatively limited for individual officials and administrators, but if we’re more able to mobilize our entire community to apply pressure higher up the political system and pool resources from outside our political systems, we’ll be facing the next community emergency from a much stronger position.
14) What role does Carrboro have in developing the Greene Tract in partnership with Chapel Hill and Orange County? How do you think that land should be developed? What are your priorities for the property?
The Greene Tract is jointly owned by Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and Orange County, and as a partner in the development of this important land, Carrboro owes it to the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association to follow the vision community members have laid out and fight to develop an economically integrated community built around green space and affordable housing. Historically, the Greene Tract has been the site of some of our region’s most egregious environmental and economic racism—an historically Black neighborhood, the Rogers-Eubanks area first dealt with negative health and environmental impacts from the Orange County landfill, and more recently has seen rising property values without an accompanying strategic vision threaten to price out residents with deep-seated roots in the area. RENA has asked for development of the tract to center the legacy families who have called the area home for generations, and for mixed-use development that adds affordable housing, a limited amount of community businesses, and a school. I fully support developing the Greene Tract along the guidelines laid down by RENA, using the Bolin Headwaters area as the green anchor for a vibrant, transit-connected community that adds to our stock of affordable housing and provides Rogers Rd area residents access to businesses and economic opportunity. Ultimately, this land represents one of our best opportunities to prove out a development vision rooted in equity, car-free sustainability, and economic pragmatism, and I’m committed to making sure Carrboro leads the way on making the most of that opportunity.
15) Carrboro has a new police chief whose stated goal is to build trust between the community and the police department. How successfully do you feel the police department is realizing that goal? What, if anything, should the town be doing differently in regards to policing?
Chief Atack is new, and I commend his commitment to building public trust and trying to find more equitable models of policing. Unfortunately, we know those models continue to elude Carrboro Police Department; just a few weeks ago, Town Council was presented with statistics highlighting how much more frequently Black drivers were stopped for equipment and registration issues than other drivers are. Realistically, we know from nationwide studies that diversity, equity, and inclusion training has little bearing on police outcomes—it remains almost impossible for police departments and individual officers to overcome the structural incentives that prop up our racist and needlessly dangerous system of policing in this country. Right now, Carrboro’s police patrol budget is more than triple our policing investigation budget. I believe police patrol costs should be cut in favor of funding non-armed first responders who are administered under the authority of Housing and Community Services. This is a model other towns have pursued, and which has demonstrably decreased police violence and unjust detentions for residents who lack the capital to post bail. To the extent policing keeps us safe, that work is done through investigations that address serious crimes and injustices; if we want our overall public safety approach to move us closer to our racial equity goals, we need to be responding to our neighbors’ calls for help with professionals who are trained in dealing with mental health, substance abuse, and the coordination of public services.
16) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.
If elected, I would be the only parent on Town Council currently raising their kids in Carrboro, and the youngest member of council by more than 15 years. I believe very strongly that our local government should reflect the perspectives of the residents that make Carrboro the community that it is, and the grad students, young families, early-career professionals, and working class people who inject so much energy into our town are unrepresented in our leadership. Of course I don’t make a claim to speak broadly for every single person in Carrboro who fits that description, but as my wife and I navigate the difficulties of establishing our young family in such an expensive area—and one that is only growing rapidly more so—I think I bring an important perspective on behalf of the many people who would like to gain access to and build equity in our incredible community.
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