Mayor: Pam Hemminger (inc.)
Confidence Level: Medium
Other Candidates: Joshua Levenson
For the last few years, the affluent, educated, liberal Chapel Hill has, on the one hand, talked a bunch about affordable housing but, on the other, struggled to make a lot of headway on it.
Yes, the town passed a $10 million bond last year to secure several hundred affordable units, but its inclusionary zoning policy has been a bust, and several town council members have compounded the problem by being antagonistic to most kinds of new development. Demand has outpaced supply, housing prices have skyrocketed, and now Chapel Hill, despite a wealth of good intentions, is playing catchup.
The problem isn’t just housing, either. Retail rents, especially downtown, have gone through the roof, too, making it difficult to start new businesses. To thrive over the next decade, the town needs a more vibrant urban core—and that means it’s going to need more density, more height, and more people.
Pam Hemminger defeated incumbent Mark Kleinschmidt in 2015, riding a wave of slower-growth activism that saw Kleinschmidt as too cozy with developers.
But while Hemminger is still endorsed by the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town, or CHALT, the neighborhood-activist group that pushed for Kleinschmidt’s ouster, she’s not defined by it. For the most part, she recognizes that a sustainable, livable town will require a broader tax base and, consequently, more pedestrian traffic and business development. She also wants to revise land-use regulations while working with developers to secure the outcomes the town wants. And she wants the town to prioritize action on climate change.
Her opponent, a grassroots canvasser and yoga and math teacher named Josh Levenson, says he wants to expand affordable housing by forbidding developers from tearing down existing housing without guaranteeing they’ll build “at least 15 percent more” affordable units, which suggests he’s not really familiar with how this stuff works. Levenson says he also wants to increase pre-K funding, which isn’t in the town’s ambit.
Town Council: Jess Anderson (inc.), Susan Hunter, Tai Huynh, Michael Parker (inc.)
Confidence Level: Medium to high
Other Candidates: Nancy Oates (inc.), Amy Ryan, Renuka Soll
Voters will choose four council members from seven candidates. Easy ones first: Michael Parker supports aggressively expanding housing options and automobile alternatives, including bus rapid transit, as well as boosting economic development downtown and creating a data-driven climate action plan. Parker has our enthusiastic endorsement.
So does Susan Hunter, an impressive newcomer who’s won the backing of Equality NC, the Next Chapel Hill & Carrboro Action Fund (no surprise, since she’s a board member), the Orange-Chatham Group Sierra Club, and a slew of progressives we respect, including outgoing council member Donna Bell and Orange County Commissioner Mark Marcoplos. She, too, is a strong advocate for a climate change plan and a strong advocate of regional transit, as well as using both town-owned land and development partnerships to create affordable units while adding to the supply via gentle density.
We’re also supporting Jess Anderson, a policy analyst with a keen mind and a knack for both problem-solving and counterintuitive thinking.
The fourth choice is the most difficult. We’re rolling the dice and endorsing Tai Huynh, a twenty-two-year-old Morehead-Cain Scholar at UNC-Chapel Hill.
To begin with, it would be helpful for a university town to have a university student involved in its government; more important, however, Huynh strikes us as an exceptionally bright young man who could add a needed perspective to the town council. Ambitious and entrepreneurial, he understands that smart growth is not a zero-sum contest between development and the environment, and that Chapel Hill needs to foster walkable, mixed-income communities and an innovative business atmosphere.
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