Name as it appears on the ballot: Pam Hemminger
Party affiliation: Democrat
Occupation & employer: Mayor Town of Chapel Hill, Small business owner
Years lived in Chapel Hill: 35
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?
For the past six years, I have been working hard for the people in our community and, together, we’ve accomplished a great deal for our town:
We’ve added more than 1,000 new jobs and several hundred thousand square feet of new commercial space in strategic places — like downtown, Glen Lennox, and the Millhouse Road Enterprise Zone — to attract new private-sector companies.
We are moving forward on climate action, affordable housing, expanded greenways and bikeways, and adding more fun things to do in Chapel Hill, like a splashpad and a public park on Legion Road.
Along with UNC, we’ve announced an unprecedented partnership that is reinvigorating downtown by better leveraging the amazing innovation going on at the university.
And we’ve taken big steps to make Chapel Hill more diverse, equitable, and inclusive with the Historic Civil Rights Task Force, Reimaging Community Safety Task Force, and our ReVive recovery plan — which focuses on creating a stronger small-business community, with extra support for BIPOC/women-owned enterprises.
In the next 2 years, I will champion:
1) Taking bold steps on Climate Action to substantially reduce our carbon footprint.
2) Creating a housing strategy that builds more affordable housing for workers and more middle housing for young professionals, empty nesters, and others while also providing community gathering spaces, supporting bike-ped and transit, and protecting green spaces.
3) Further diversifying our tax base to ease the tax burden on residents and bring good jobs here. Commercial taxes give us dollars to pay for things like affordable housing, green spaces, bikeways, arts, and events for families.
I’ve been so proud to lead this community for the last six years. Together, we’ve risen to the challenge of COVID and, with your support at the polls, we are poised to do great new things for Chapel Hill.
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?
Yes, we are on the right course and, with more to do, I am running for re-election to keep the momentum going forward. We have to keep moving towards a sustainable future environmentally, economically and socially.
In 2015, I ran for Mayor Chapel Hill to lead the town toward better decisions for a sustainable future and to make sure we kept our promises to the Rogers Road community.
Since I took office, we have put strategies and plans in place to help us move forward – environmentally, economically and socially – and we have been making good progress on each.
Our finances have never been in such good shape with all that we have set into place and we are poised for a strong recovery and a more resilient future.
Here are some of the things we have done to support our shared goals of being a diverse, inclusive, (just) and sustainable community for everyone now and in the future:
Kept people fed and housed
• Food for Students provided almost 1.5 million meals and 11,000 free books to children
• Town staff continues to serve hundreds of households through a weekly food bank distribution
• Over $2.4 million in emergency housing assistance has been provided to more than 600 Chapel Hill families.
Kept our community healthy, businesses open and life as normal as possible during COVID
• Expanded sidewalks for outdoor dining, created Grab & Go spaces and offered free parking after 6 PM to support local restaurants
• Extended grants to businesses
• Partnered with the Chamber to get PPE for local businesses
Here are some of the things we’ve done:
Created over 1,000 new public-sector jobs, generated more commercial tax revenue to reduce the tax burden on residents and allow us to pay for the things we want and need – like more affordable housing, greenways and climate action items
• Partnered to redevelop an underutilized part of East Rosemary Street to create a walkable innovation hub to keep UNC spin-offs in town. *
• Created a Millhouse Road Enterprise Zone that now houses Carolina Donor Services’ corporate headquarters
• Recruited Wegmans to take over the former Performance Auto brownfield site
• Worked with the state and Orange County to bring Well Dot (with 400 jobs) to Franklin Street
• Helped create the Downtown Together partnership with UNC to reinvigorate downtown
Identified high impact actions and a timeline for community-wide Climate Action and Response
• Declared a climate emergency and adopted a Climate Action Plan
• Worked with Duke Energy to switch to LED streetlights, reducing town energy usage by nearly 5%.
• Founded Jordan Lake One Water (JLOW) to improve water quality across the watershed.
Invested in parks and greenways
• Purchased the Legion Road property for a future public park
• Adopted a town-wide Mobility & Connectivity Plan and completed new sections of local greenways
• Installed two artificial turf fields at Homestead Park for better year-round play
Took steps toward being a more inclusive, welcoming and safe community for everyone
• Met the moment of racial reckoning by convening a Reimagining Community Safety Task Force, which recently released guidelines for improving policing in Chapel Hill
• Awarded $5.2 million to create 278 affordable housing units
• Earned the #1 ranking in North Carolina for LGBTQ equity and inclusion
• Hired a new Director of Equity and Inclusion
Took steps to ensure that future development helps us stay a diverse and inclusive community, adds to the character and quality of life of our town, and keeps us green
• Worked with our Town Attorney, Planning Department, Advisory Board members and consultants to make changes to the Blue Hill district to address building size, walkability and public space, stormwater and commercial space requirements.
• Commissioned a joint Housing Study with UNC
• Passed short-term rental (STR) regulations to protect neighborhoods
Put plans in motion for a recovery that benefits our entire community
• Adopted the ReVive Chapel Hill Plan and an initial $650,000 to help small and BIPOC-W owned businesses
• Joined with UNC to create Downtown Together, a partnership to create an innovation hub and revitalize our downtown.
The master plans we have put in place include:
• 2017 Town-wide Mobility & Connectivity Plan
• 2018 Affordable Housing Strategy, Master Plan and $10 million bond
• 2021 Climate Action & Response Plan and $470,000 in first year funding
• 2021 ReVive Plan for Economic Recovery and Resilience with $650,000 in initial funding
• 2021 Downtown Together partnership to reinvigorate downtown
• 2021 Future Land Use Map (FLUM) rewrite, focusing on our transit corridors
3. What are three of the most pressing issues the town currently faces? How would you propose to address them? Please be specific.
1. Growth pressures on our region and our community
Sixty new people move to the Triangle every day—
The Town of Chapel Hill has the highest jobs to housing ratio in the region and, as a result, roughly 90% of the people who work here commute into Chapel Hill each day. AS a result, we are already feeling the pressures of higher housing costs and increased traffic and, as the region grows, the impacts are expected have negative impacts on our Town and the University – including trouble hiring and retaining employees as jobs increase elsewhere and people no longer want to commute as far to work.
If we want to stay diverse, inclusive, green and resilient, we need to take important steps now to ensure we create more affordable housing and more opportunities for affordable, middle housing in town so that people who work here can live here too. We, also, need to create a robust regional transportation system with more transit and multi-modal options.
We know from the recent State of the Community report that:
• 43,336 people drive in to Chapel Hill to work each day and only 6,448 people live and work here
• Between 2016 – 2020, housing prices in Chapel Hill rose by 18%
• Currently 57% of households in Chapel Hill are cost-burdened
Earlier this year, the town and university jointly commissioned a housing needs assessment. The results were shared with Town Council for the first time in September and we have already taken the first step of petitioning our staff for a planning process to consider how best to add housing here while also protecting the environment and maintaining our quality of life.
For those wanting to learn more, a video of the consultant’s September 10th presentation along with his PowerPoint can be found on the town’s Economic Sustainability webpage.
2. The global climate emergency
Aware of the need for urgent action, the Chapel Hill Town Council declared a Climate Emergency last April.
We have a Climate Action Plan in place but need to invest more resources so that we can move forward more quickly and we need to find better ways to motivate our entire community to make real change.
One big challenge we face as a town is that our facilities and operations account for only a small portion of our communities’ carbon footprint.
“Greening the grid”, which would have the biggest impact, relies heavily on decisions made by Duke Energy and our state legislature.
I have listed more in question #11 about what Climate Action steps we need to take!
3. Need for a more diverse tax base to stay affordable
Chapel Hill residents pay the second highest combined taxes in the state, making us less affordable for many.
To ease the burden on residential property owners, we need to diversify our tax base by adding more commercial space here and creating more year-round private-sector jobs to create a more resilient 12-month economy.
For instance, in addition to brining in new property taxes to the town, county and CHCCS, brining 800 new jobs to East Rosemary Street is expected to pump an additional ‘$2.4 – $4.8 million in annual consumer spending into our downtown!
Data from the State of the Community demonstrate the difference a more diverse tax base can have:
Annual property taxes for a median-priced homes in the region:
• $6,600 in Chapel Hill
• $4,300 in Cary
• $3,880 in Durham
• $3,350 in Raleigh
4. What prior experience will make you an effective member of the town council and advocate of the issues listed above? Please note any endorsements you have received that you consider significant.
For 34 years, I have been an active in our community and I bring a unique set of qualifications to the office of mayor – including real-world business and financial management, service on elected and not-for-profit boards and a broad range of community volunteer activities.
Throughout my public service career, I have developed a reputation for being a pragmatic and approachable leader who brings people together. I am known, too, as someone who is action-oriented and gets things done.
As mayor, my wide breadth of experience – including my understanding of how the various organizations can work together – have allowed me to move the town and our partners forward on numerous issues. Additionally, my understanding of business and finance have allowed Chapel Hill to make better, long-term decisions which have put us in better shape financially.
Building Relationships within and across jurisdictions is key to having a healthy working partnership for the town. With those existing trusted communication lines, we were able to respond swiftly and strongly to dealing with the pandemic.
My record of public and community service includes:
• Six years as Chapel Hill Mayor
• Treasurer, North Carolina Metro Mayors Association (current)
• Chair & Vice Chair, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School (CHCCS) board
• Orange County Board of County Commissioners – Vice Chair
I have a strong record of environmental leadership including:
• Founding Jordan Lake One Water (JLOW) collaboration with TJCOG (current)
• Chair, Orange-Chatham Sierra Club – many many years!
• Chair, Upper Neuse River Basin Authority – 8 years
• Vice-Chair, Triangle Land Conservancy – 4 years
Additionally, I have worked in various capacities to support parks, greenways and sports in our area including:
• Chair, Chapel Hill Greenways Commission – 6 years
• Chair, Chapel Hill Parks & Recreation Commission – 6 years
• Chair, Southern Community Park Task Force
• Board member and Coach, Rainbow Soccer – 10 years
And, I have worked to create and preserve more affordable housing in Chapel Hill through my partnership on local boards (Orange-Habitat Vice Chair, Community Home Trust) and in partnership with the RENA Center, Jackson Center, PACID, Club Nova, the Special Needs Advisory Council (SNAC) and others.
For the past six years, I have served on the Durham-Chapel Hill – Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (DCHC-MPO) board where I have worked with elected officials and staff from Durham, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Chatham and Wake County to advocate for regional transportation plans and increased state and federal funding and policies that support multi-modal transportation.
Key endorsements: NC Equality, NEXT, Sierra Club, Progressive Democrats, All former Mayors, All Current Council Members (except my challenger)
5. Last year, town voters approved a $10 million affordable housing bond, and so far $5.2 million has created nearly 300 affordable units. But affordable housing remains a concern. 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?
Like all other places in the booming Triangle region, Chapel Hill is struggling to keep housing affordable for the people who want to live here.
The significant growth pressures in our region combined with limited developable land and rising land costs in Chapel Hill are taking a toll on our supply of affordable and moderate-priced housing, Last year we invested over $5 million to subsidize new lower-income and workforce housing units, and we are continuing to follow our Affordable Housing Strategy and Master Plan to do more.
Solving the problems of affordability and affordable housing are critical for our town socially, economically, and environmentally and we cannot solve it development by development. It affects the future of the University as well, which is why, earlier this year, the town and the university partnered to commission a joint housing study to help us get started in planning for a balanced, sustainable future for the town.
To be most effective, we the need a more comprehensive, long-range housing plan along with policies and strategies to support our goal of making sure that people already living here can stay and that people who work here – ranging from young professionals and front-line workers to seniors – have an opportunity to live here as well. We need a wide mix of housing options – townhomes, duplexes, ADUs and apartments – and more opportunities for homeownership, not just apartments. We will be building these all more densely to allow for more units per site.
In the wake of a recent housing report, commissioned with UNC, I joined with other Council members in a petition to begin an immediate process to take a critical look at our housing needs in the future and institute a planning process to see how those needs can be met. With the help of a consultant, we’ll begin a community planning process to address issues like single-family zoning, duplexes and triplexes, and other ways to expand the housing stock in Chapel Hill.
With respect to meeting the needs for affordable housing specifically:
• We need to continue to create more homeownership options for individuals living at or below 80% AMI and for rental options for those living at or below 60%. Unless the federal and/or state government step up to fill the funding gap, we’ll need to pass another bond in the future to finance these investments.
• Providing housing for those living at or below 30% AMI poses the greatest challenge. Currently our public housing serves this need for 335 families, but our wait list is long. We will be adding new units as we renovate and redevelop existing communities and include 30% AMI and below units in projects built using town land.
• Council has been successfully negotiating with developers to accept housing vouchers in their rental units, which will help families at lower AMIs find and afford housing in the community.
• We need a plan and options that will allow our manufactured housing residents to remain in our community as properties along our transit corridors redevelop. I have been working with Habitat to allow undocumented residents to apply for homeownership – which is be a big step forward.
• We also need to be better prepared to really help low-income families who are being displaced. When the Park Apartments closed, we made changes to our Emergency Housing Assistance program that allowed us to make grants to help meet utility and rent deposits and other moving needs, hosted an apartment fair to help families find new homes, and negotiated with the property owner to provide some financial assistance to long-term renters. The impacts to other communities – especially our manufactured home communities – would be more significant and require more resources and a faster response, and I’m working with staff to explore our options for expanding this kind of help to other displaced residents.
I am looking forward to bringing the community together to talk about a path forward that allows Chapel Hill to be a diverse, inclusive, and resilient place where people who live here can stay here, people who work here can live here, and new people are welcome to join our community.
6. How should the town and county address tax revaluations that increase property taxes, especially in neighborhoods such as Northside? How should local governments address rising rents, particularly for residents of public housing? What role does the town have in ensuring its residents who live in mobile home parks remain housed in light of development pressures? Homelessness has increased by 40 percent in Orange County in 2021. How should the town and county address this issue?
[On the first question related to Northside,] over the past twenty-one years, the Town has been working to protect and preserve the historically African American Northside neighborhood as a welcoming and affordable place for families to live.
Through creation of the Northside Neighborhood Initiative (NNI) and other targeted programs, we have worked with our partners to increase dedicated single-family homes and create or preserve affordable housing opportunities in these neighborhoods. We have also focused on allowing long-time residents to age in place.
These strategies have been largely successful and we are encouraged to see a more diverse community and many more families living in Northside today.
Unfortunately, faced with significantly increased taxes under the current revaluation, many of the Northside families are concerned they may not be able to afford to stay. Since the county controls revaluations, not the town, and the state limits our taxing authority, we can’t correct the revaluation directly, but the Town Council members and I responded by sending a letter to the Board of County Commissioners in May 2021 asking them to “address inequities and other long-term problems identified….” While we pursue a more permanent solution to the situation, in the meantime we are encouraging homeowners to take advantage of the county program that offers property tax assistance for individuals who are elderly or permanently disabled.
As mentioned above, the Town has employed a number of strategies for keeping Northside more affordable to families, including:
• Creating a Neighborhood Conservation District (NCD) to discourage the conversion of single-family housing to large investor-owned student rentals, which drive up housing costs
• Purchasing and dedicating homes in the area as affordable for 99 years
• Using town-owned property to create new housing options in Northside
We are committed to continuing this work and currently have new affordable housing projects in the pipeline.
[On how should local governments address rising rents, particularly for residents of public housing?]
The Town manages and operates eleven (11) public housing communities where the rent is determined by income and already adjustable if income decreases permanently or temporarily. This makes a huge difference for individuals with seasonal jobs – like school cafeteria workers – who are off during December and through the summer.
Currently we have a long wait list for these units and are renovating units to house more families where we can (i.e., Trinity Court, Craig Gomains) and help meet the need.
Local governments in North Carolina do not have the authority to implement rent-control measures for privately owned housing, so we have to employ more creative solutions such as Master Leasing of apartments. During our upcoming long-range planning process and LUMO rewrite, we’ll be looking at ways to increase our housing stock, especially in more affordable units like duplexes, quads, etc. We will also continue to negotiate with landlords and property developers to accept housing vouchers.
[On what role does the town have in ensuring its residents who live in mobile home parks remain housed in light of development pressures?]
Finding ways to allow residents of manufactured housing communities to remain in Chapel Hill is a big concern and high priority for me.
Unfortunately, much of the manufactured housing neighborhoods in Chapel Hill are located along our future BRT corridor, so rising land costs and development pressures will incentivize landowners to redevelop to another use.
Over the past couple of years town and county staff along with our community partners have been reaching into these communities to educate them about various housing options and to learn their specific needs and priorities, such as access to transit, homeownership, and keeping children in schools they currently attend.
We have done some proactive planning for the Chapel Hill North site near Timberlyne, which is home to one of these communities, in the interest of ending up with a good land use proposal with opportunities to transition manufactured home residents to new housing. And I have worked with Habitat for Humanity to identify other funding options to make homeownership an option for families who wouldn’t otherwise qualify.
Overall, the Town and Orange County need a real plan and options and Chapel Hill needs to be better prepared to more effectively assist low-income families who are being displaced. It’s a complicated problem, and we’re working on it.
[On the last question: Homelessness has increased by 40 percent in Orange County in 2021. How should the town and county address this issue?]
Throughout the pandemic, Orange County and its neighboring towns have worked hard to keep people fed and safely housed, with the utilities on, through our Emergency Housing Assistance program. At last check, Chapel Hill had helped over 600 households.
We have also worked with the IFC to house over 80 individuals in COVID-safe rooms in hotels – including residents of the shelter and those living on the street.
I’m a strong supporter of a new county program that went into effect this year: the Street Outreach Harm Reduction and Deflection program (SOHRAD), which connects people experiencing homelessness with housing and services. This group has been very successful in helping people transition into stable housing. Unfortunately, there are some individuals who don’t want the housing and services we offer, and we can’t compel people to accept them.
Long-term we need to continue to look for new ways to address homelessness in our community. For example, the town piloted a tiny home project in Northside to create small, stable independent living units for people transitioning out of shelters. Our town-sponsored housing project at 2200 Homestead Road will have apartments serving very low AMI individuals. Initiatives like this to create very affordable units will help in our efforts to end homelessness in our town.
7. The town recently approved the Aura and University Place projects and more large development projects will continue to come before the council. What do you want to see from large development projects such as these and should the town develop comprehensive long term goals for projects? What role do developers have to connect with the Chapel Hill community and surrounding environment? What, if any, concerns do you have about traffic, scale, preservation of green space, and potential effects on the environment?
[On what do you want to see from large development projects?]
To meet our community’s economic, environmental and social goals of being diverse, inclusive, green and economically resilient, we have been working hard to clarify our vision and plans so that every new development aligns with or improves on our vision, helps us meet our strategic goals and objectives, and provides community benefits.
In 2015, I ran for office because I was concerned about the decisions the town was making about land use and growth – including approval of the Blue Hill district. At the time, the town wanted to spur redevelopment in an aging commercial area near Fordham Boulevard and East Franklin. This was something I supported. Unfortunately, the zoning and development rules that were approved in 2014 didn’t match the character or scale of the town and failed to secure promised commercial opportunities and community benefits. Since property rights had already been granted, the new Town Council has had very little recourse under North Carolina law to course correct.
Over my tenure as mayor, we’ve worked with planners and town attorney to pass a series of Blue Hill code updates that have brought beneficial changes – such as requiring publicly accessible green space, reducing building size, requiring more commercial development, and incentivizing better stormwater management.
We’ve also taken steps to provide more clear vision and direction to the development community, beginning with the update of our Future Land Use Map (FLUM) which was recently adopted and upcoming work on a complete rewrite of our Land Use Management Ordinance (LUMO). The FLUM focuses on our transit corridors as the place for denser growth so that people will use multimodal ways of getting to work and other places instead of relying on cars.
The LUMO is supported by other plans and strategies which have recently been adopted – including the Town’s Affordable Housing Master Plan, Mobility & Connectivity Plan and Climate Action Plan – and the town has hired an urban designer to help shape the character the development and advocate for more and better public spaces.
The ordinance re-write, which will start in the coming year, will dive into the more details – including the standards for creating welcoming and walkable transit-oriented places, protect the tree canopy, create green buildings, incorporate green infrastructure and support climate resilience by handling rainfall from larger storms.
Also, in the coming year, the Chapel Hill Town Council will also be updating our Green Building Policy, taking a comprehensive look at our stormwater ordinance and starting a long-range planning effort to address housing needs in our community – all of which will allow us to improve the long-term economic environmental and social outcomes for our community.
It is important to note here that North Carolina is a Dillon’s Rules state which means there are limits to what we can require developers to do and, even as we do our planning, we are continuing to advocate at the state legislature to retain local control over environmental protections and standards – including tree canopy and stormwater standards – which the NCGA has been working to remove.
[On what role do developers have to connect with the Chapel Hill community and surrounding environment?]
Creating these connections early in the development application process is beneficial to the town.
The people who live in an area and work there have a great deal to contribute, helping us to understand aspects of an area we might not be aware of and raising good questions.
Connection of a project to the surrounding environment is important too. This is particularly true for properties that include RCDs or other environmentally important features. To help us get ahead on these types of issues, the Council has asked our staff to provide greater contextual information with Concept Plans – our earliest look at a project. We have also asked that the Stormwater Advisory Board be involved on projects involving RCDs at the very start of the process as well.
As mayor, I always ask developers to work with adjacent landowners and nearby neighborhoods as early in the process as possible. Our staff makes an effort to do this as well, holding a Public Information meeting early in the development application process.
I also look to see if the town can leverage these connections to get a better outcome and make personal introductions in those cases.
[On what, if any, concerns do you have about traffic, scale, preservation of green space, and potential effects on the environment?]
I have concerns about all of these but, through the work we’ve done and the work we are doing, we are putting in place the tools necessary for balancing growth with sound environmental policies and thoughtful placemaking so that future development:
• Protects the environment, including our creeks and our trees
• Keeps us a diverse and inclusive community with affordable opportunities for housing
• Promotes multi-modal transportation use so that people get out of their cars
• Adds to the character of our town through more appropriate scale, massing and public spaces
8. The town recently partnered with UNC on Downtown Together, to revitalize downtown and create a hub of innovation. What would you like to see come out of that partnership and what specific changes would you like to see downtown?
Downtown Chapel Hill is many things – the backbone of the town, the front door of the University, the Historic District, the Northside & Pine Knolls Historic Neighborhoods, the business district, and the place where people want to come to visit, explore art, and enjoy our restaurants and culture scene.
World-changing ideas are becoming reality on a daily basis on the UNC campus and in our community and I am extremely excited about the Downtown Together partnership, which aligns the Town and University’s goals to:
• Make downtown more welcoming and vibrant
• Add year-round employees, residents, and visitors to support our local businesses so they can thrive
• Bring more things to do – music, art, and events – downtown for everyone to enjoy.
Downtown Together is a big step forward and builds on work that the town, Orange County, UNC, and other partners have been doing to retain and attract UNC startups to stay in Chapel Hill and Orange County.
An initial step was the creation of Launch, our business incubator/accelerator, in 2013. This nationally recognized program has recently announced its fifteenth cohort, and is helping us to retain companies and provide more local mentorships in Chapel Hill and Orange County.
When I first came into office, I pulled together over 60 entrepreneurs to find out why their companies were not staying in Chapel Hill. They gave us solid reasons, including:
• Not being able to find office space
• Reluctance to sign long-term leases (as they did not know how large they would be in 2-3 years)
• Total lack of private wet lab space
They also said they didn’t know that the Town wanted start-ups to stay in Chapel Hill!
Since that initial meeting, we have made significant progress. Launch has expanded and Carolina Co-working opened; we helped companies secure favorable leases, and continued our Open2Business efforts. And, working with the state and county, we brought Well Dot, and 400 jobs, to the heart of downtown.
The town also launched our East Rosemary Re-development project. Anchored by a new parking deck that will consolidate existing deck and surface parking and provide new spaces for businesses, this initiative is set to bring 600-800 year-round jobs downtown to support our merchants and will help pave the way for underused lots to redevelop. It will also support the new UNC Admissions office site on Franklin Street at Porthole Alley, creating an important new University gateway in downtown.
Our next step is to create a whole entrepreneurial ecosystem so that our local start-ups can reach their full potential. We are working together to bring Launch, Kickstart Ventures, co-working, and supporting business services like lawyers and VCs to the renovated CVS.
UNC has also committed to encourage companies that work with them to have a presence in Chapel Hill near the innovation hub by clustering the people and programs that support Carolina innovation efforts together in 15,000 – 20,000 SF of space downtown. The Chancellor strongly supports these efforts and has created a new 19-member Chancellor’s Committee on Economic Development, which has been tasked with making industry recruitment and retention a campus-wide effort.
We made the Downtown Together announcement just six months ago and have already attracted some great companies into our downtown.
At the same time, we want downtown to be a place for everyone in our community and are working to make it more vibrant and family-friendly as well.
The Downtown Together initiative includes an “Adopt A Block” strategy for making downtown cleaner and greener and the Downtown Partnership has been adding more music and art downtown. Also, as the new projects come on-line, there will be new green gathering spaces, better sidewalks and wider crosswalks on East Rosemary for people to enjoy.
There’s still a lot to be decided and we’ll be reaching out the community to hear thoughts about what else they’d like to see and experience in downtown. We have hired a consultant to help us plan for the future, discern what makes us unique, and how to build on that.
This is the most energy downtown Chapel Hill has seen in the past several decades and I know it will be an incredible outcome for our town and the University!
Quote from Doug Rothwell at an Economic Sustainability meeting: “This wouldn’t be happening if you hadn’t made the hard decision.”
9. The town recently adopted a resolution to follow recommendations from the Re-Imagining Public Safety Task Force, with the mission of increasing public safety, eliminating inequalities, and enabling all in the community to thrive. In actionable terms, how do you see these recommendations being implemented to improve policing? How should the town address panhandling?
We were very pleased with the work of the Re-imagining Public Safety Task Force. In forming the group, we brought together a group of people that included those whose voices are not normally heard in public forums, residents who have participated in our Community Policing Advisory Board, and representatives of diverse groups impacted by or involved in policing. They really worked hard to understand what was already happening and to use their lived experiences to help create a list of concrete, actionable recommendations that will help us do better.
The Council is eager to make progress in making our systems more equitable and has allocated $100,000 in this year’s budget to fund action items in the report. To help us move forward, the Town’s new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Officer will be the project manager.
Our staff and Community Policing Advisory Committee are still evaluating the report. In the meantime, first steps we should be taking to improve policing are:
• Expanding on the data we collect and looking at it more frequently to identify policies and procedures that are negatively (or positively) impacting individuals and communities.
• Identifying times when a non-police response is a better approach and engaging other professionals – like our Crisis Unit or SOHRAD team – in those situations.
• Utilizing new technologies and methods – as we are doing with our new Virtual Response Unit pilot.
• Reducing unnecessary traffic stops and searches, which data show to be inequitable and which create an unnecessary cost burden on lower-income individuals.
• Making sure our policies reflect our interests. (For example, making sure we use the court diversion process whenever possible.)
• Allocating funding appropriately to support the programs that are already working well like SOHRAD, substance abuse support, and the Diversion Program.
• Continuing to work with our partners in the county and the justice system.
Recommendations on affordable housing and emergency housing were also included in the report. The town has a strong record of creating more affordable housing. We’ll be working closely with groups like IFC, CEF, and others to understand where we have needs that are not currently being met. See more under the housing affordability question.
[On how should the town address panhandling?]
Panhandling is a complex issue and occurs mostly in our downtown area. We work with SOHRAD and the Crisis Outreach Team to approach individuals and make sure they understand the resources available to them – especially meals served at the IFC. The SOHRAD team is also able to connect individuals with a wide range of resources and services ranging from housing and job opportunities to mental health services.
Panhandlers have the right to be in public areas but not to aggressively approach people. They also can’t obstruct entrances to businesses or create other nuisances for downtown merchants. When there are aggressive interactions or complaints from businesses, the SORAD team is sent to talk with the individual.
Because there is a contingent of panhandlers who are not homeless but come into our community daily just to panhandle, we work with UNC to recommend that people try to offer to direct them to IFC versus giving money in order to discourage panhandling as a profitable venture.
We are an inclusive community; we respect people’s rights to interact in non-threatening manners but we also would prefer to help connect them to better options when we can.
10. How should the Greene Tract be developed? Does town government have a responsibility to protect public forests, parks, and other green spaces near low income communities as it currently protects public land near wealthy ones?
The Greene Tract has been owned jointly by the three jurisdictions: Orange County, Carrboro and Chapel Hill for forty years and, since 2000, deliberate steps have been taken to explore and identify how this land can enhance the Rogers Road and other adjacent neighborhoods and serve our community as a whole.
Throughout this time, affordable housing, environmental preservation, and a future school site have been top priorities.
In various capacities, I have been working with this project and the Rogers Road community for over 15 years – as a CHCCS school board representative in 2006, a co-chair of the Rogers Road Water and Sewer Task force in 2012, as Mayor since 2015 and throughout this time, as a community advocate. I was determined to get the long-approved Community Center open and running – I stayed with the folks at RENA to make sure it happened even after leaving office!
One of my first actions, on taking office, was to rally Council support to complete the long-promised water and sewer project. Also, I have been helping to facilitate the discussion so that we can move forward together by helping the three groups take a more pragmatic, step-by-step approach.
Step 1: Engaged the Jackson Center to help the broader RENA community describe their vision for the Greene Tract in order to make a holistic community. This resulted in the Rogers Road: Mapping our Community’s Future Report.
Step 2: Hired a market consultant to help us understand what mix of uses would be successful going into the Greene Tract. His assessment was that we should concentrate on:
• Creating affordable housing in the area
• Expanding home occupation zoning for at-home businesses
• Creating connectivity via greenways to parks, shopping at Timberlyne and town facilities
His analysis showed that, due to challenging access and low density in the area, retail would not be able to flourish here.
Step 3: Garnered agreement between all three jurisdictions to move forward with planning to:
• Create affordable housing
• Set aside a school site
• Preserve environmentally sensitive headwaters and
• Provide connectivity
We also agreed that the governments will not be the developer and that, because Chapel Hill wears the zoning hat, the Town would adopt neighborhood zoning restrictions to make sure the RENA community did not gentrify.
Step 4: Conducted an environmental study to determine the most environmentally sensitive areas in order to determine:
• How best to re-align the Headwaters Preserve (60 acres) and Greene Tract (104 acres)
• What area would be most suitable for the school site
• Other areas on the Greene tract to preserve (approximately 23+ acres along the creeks)
Our next steps will be to:
• Hold a community-wide meeting to go over the environmental assessment and other information
• Have the three jurisdictions vote to approve the new alignments
• Work on physical planning to see how development of affordable housing, greenways and roadway connections can occur on this property might look and how this aligns with Mapping our Community’s Future vision.
• Talk about how to move forward and what would be needed to make the vision a reality
The community-wide meeting and vote to approve the re-alignments are expected to come forward later this fall and in the winter.
At some point, St. Paul AME will also be bringing forward new plans for developing a neighborhood on their property – which will complement the area as well.
Overall, I am committed to a thoughtful planning process and to making sure that we are creating a place that contributes to and connects with the existing communities there – physically and socially. Also, I believe we can have both – affordable homes and preservation. It does not have to be one or the other! We will develop many types of housing to make a community, multifamily, townhome, tiny homes, owner occupied and for rent.
11. The town recently adopted a Climate Action Plan. Do you think the plan goes far enough in addressing issues related to climate change? What are some short and long term actionable items you see coming out of the plan?
I have long been involved in environmental issues like water quality and land preservation. Early in my tenure as mayor, I saw what other communities were doing to address the environmental destruction of climate change, and I brought their best practices back to Chapel Hill, determined that we would have a comprehensive Climate Action Plan. We now have a plan and specific action steps, and in June, we dedicated $470,000 for this year to get started.
Greening Town operations and facilities is important, but that makes up only a small portion of Chapel Hill’s overall carbon footprint. We need to motivate our entire community to share our level of urgency and join us in this effort, forging partnerships and using the leverage we have in the development approval process to make our town a leader in climate change mitigation.
One strength of our Climate Action Plan is that it identifies high-impact categories to help us prioritize this work. Some efforts where I would like to see us devote more resources and move more quickly include:
• Creating a community solar farm that is big enough to fuel all our electric needs for town facilities and allow members of the community to also participate
• Updating our green building and green infrastructure ordinances so that new buildings move to net zero, projects do a better job of managing bigger storms, and, overall, projects help us meet or exceed our goals
• Completing safe bike and pedestrian pathways to job centers and services and incentivizing people to get out of their cars through Transportation Demand Management programs
• Getting businesses to change out their lights to LEDs, especially in their parking lots
• Pushing for more solar roofs – including on low-income housing
• Getting residents and businesses to plant more trees and make other changes such as zeroscaping and disconnecting downspouts
As the Town’s representative on the Solid Waste Advisory Group (SWAG) for 6 years, I would like to see the towns and county:
• Roll out materials curbside recycling
• Switch to recyclable products for all meetings and events – following the lead of Chapel Hill’s Cultural Arts Department’s zero waste policy
• Make it easier for people to compost
• Make garbage collection more expensive for over-users, following the example of other countries where people pay a base rate for a first bin and higher for additional bins
Chapel Hill’s ultimate success in reducing our carbon footprint is heavily impacted by the decisions and efforts of Duke Energy. Through various mayors’ networks, I have been advocating for them to move to clean, renewable energy more quickly. Unfortunately, their current plan invests too heavily in moving to natural gas as an interim step, which concerns me, and I am keeping a hopeful eye on negotiations between the governor and North Carolina Senate on a bill that would set a timeline for Duke Energy to be 100% renewable.
UNC will also be a big driver of our community’s overall climate response. To help our organizations be more aligned in our efforts, I have asked that their Chief Sustainability Officer be part of the university’s twice annual campus updates to the council. We’re also having discussions with the University about when they’ll stop burning of coal in their campus co-gen plant, and we’ll continue to advocate strongly for this step.
As a member of the Climate Mayors, I participate in regular calls to share what is working and to collaborate on things like the Electrification Coalition, which has harnessed joint purchasing to bring down the prices of electric vehicles so that cities and towns can green their fleets more quickly.
I also attend the North Carolina Energy Conference every year to keep an eye out for newer technologies to implement that can bring positive changes and let us move much faster toward our climate goals. I have also worked with staff to apply for grants to move projects — like tree planting, solar EV charging stations, and LED light replacements — along.
When federal infrastructure funds come available, I plan push strongly for Chapel Hill to use some of those monies to advance these goals as well, beginning with projects like solar roofs and LED light replacement projects, where cost savings can free up funding for other projects.
All these efforts are helping to mitigate climate change, but it’s not enough. We need to do more, to be more ambitious than our early goal of town carbon neutrality by 2050. We’re planning to re-evaluate our climate goals as a town every few years, and that’s a good first step, but as mayor, I want to make sure we rise to the urgency of this moment, thinking big and bold about long-term solutions to make sure our children and grandchildren inherit a livable planet.
12. 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?
I am proud of how well our community has done during COVID. We followed the science and worked together to mount a response and take care of one another. As part of the Orange Leaders Group, I and the other mayors and the chair of the County Commissioners worked closely with our emergency management team and local partners to balance the priorities of keeping our community healthy, businesses open, and life as normal as possible. At times, this was an around-the-clock effort, requiring continual collaboration with local and state partners, difficult decisions, and creative solutions.
This hard work paid off. We were among the first communities in North Carolina to issue a stay-at-home order and to implement a mask mandate, and Orange County has the highest vaccine rate in the state. As a result, our positive cases and deaths have stayed low.
From the outset, the town has worked to make sure that people impacted by the pandemic were fed and safely housed. Food for Students provided almost 1.5 million meals and 11,000 free books to our community’s children, and our staff continues to serve hundreds of households through a weekly food bank distribution. To date, over $2.4 million in emergency housing assistance has been provided to more than 600 Chapel Hill families. Additionally, through partnerships with CHCCS, the YMCA, and Refugee Community Partnership, we used CARES Act funding to create Neighborhood Support Circles and Scholastic Support Centers to assist students’ online learning and allow parents to return to work.
We also partnered with the Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Partnership, and others in the business community to help companies stay afloat — expanding opportunities for outdoor dining, creating Grab & Go lanes, extending grants to impacted businesses, and working with the Chamber to provide PPE.
Even as we rose to meet the challenges of COVID, we kept town services up and running. And through it all, I made sure we continued to think to the future and make significant progress toward Chapel Hill’s strategic goals. Some examples include:
• Meeting the moment of racial reckoning by convening a Reimagining Public Safety Task Force, which recently released guidelines for improving policing in Chapel Hill;
• Declaring a climate emergency and adopting a Climate Action Plan;
• Awarding $5.2 million to create 278 affordable housing units and approving the 2200 Homestead Project;
• Breaking ground on the pivotal East Rosemary Redevelopment Project, which will give a major boost to our downtown;
• Earning the #1 ranking in North Carolina for LGBTQ+ equity and inclusion;
• Passing short-term rental (STR) regulations to protect neighborhoods;
• Completing new sections of local greenways; and
• Working with Duke Energy to switch to LED streetlights, reducing town energy usage by almost 5%.
We’ve also taken important steps to ensure that our town bounces forward from the pandemic with the formation of a 21-member economic advisory committee consisting of business and community members representing different interests and perspectives. Together, they’ve laid out a long-term plan to create a more diverse and vibrant entrepreneurial and small business sector, supported by $650,000 in Chapel Hill ReVive Plan money. A key area of focus for the plan is to provide resources for BIPOC/women-owned companies.
The challenges of COVID are not yet over, but working together, and working with purpose, we are making a difference!
“As a former mayor, I am pleased to support Pam Hemminger in her bid for reelection. She has done an outstanding job in what has been perhaps the most challenging time for our town in recent memory. Pam has guided the town through the pandemic and the financial problems brought on by it. She has a great sense of our future and what we need to do to prepare for it. As a resident of downtown, I am especially pleased by Pam’s understanding of and support for the downtown business and residential community. Chapel Hill needs to reelect Pam Hemminger as our mayor.” — Ken Broun, Former Chapel Hill Mayor
13. In what ways can the town foster a more inclusive environment and better engage with historically marginalized groups?
Chapel Hill strives to be a welcoming, inclusive, and supportive community where everyone can thrive. We want to make sure that extends to historically marginalized individuals and groups living here as well.
Over the past six years, the Town has been working hard to foster a more inclusive environment and better engage with historically marginalized groups. Three recent Town programs I’m especially proud of are Building Integrated Communities and the People’s Academy.
Historic Civil Rights Commemorations Task Force – which I created in 2017 after hearing community interest in honoring those living in Chapel Hill who led the fight for Civil Rights in the 1960s. The task force came back with a timeline and recommendations – including a request for a marker on Franklin Street which has been installed. They also made suggestions for continuing important community conversations which, with the help of our library staff, are still happening and have led to other action by the town, university and our community partners.
Building Integrated Communities (BIC) – This collaborative initiative is aimed at supporting the integration, well-being and leadership amongst our immigrant and refugee residents. In 2019, Town staff began implementing an Action Plan focused on five key areas: Public Transportation, Housing, Public Safety, Leadership and Government Communications.
Efforts around communications began with the Town translating certain communications into multiple languages and includes work with community partners to help bridge language access issues as well.
A successful BIC program during the pandemic was the Town’s partnership with Refugee Community Partners to create Neighborhood Support Circles which used CARES Act funding to provide assistance with virtual learning which not only helped the children scholastically but also allowed parents to return to work.
My office had the opportunity to be involved in this effort through our management of Books & More – the enrichment arm of Food For Students – which provided 11,000 free books to children throughout Chapel Hill and Carrboro this year – including books in Spanish, Chinese, Swahili, Karen and Arabic for students and families in these programs.
The People’s Academy – an annual program that helps people learn about how the Town government works. The program also introduces people to opportunities for service on town boards and commission and for employment with the Town or other government agencies and lets people know how they can become involved in the community.
To remove barriers to participation, the program offers childcare, transportation and meals – a strategy we are using for our town advisory boards and other town engagement efforts as well.
Other examples of the town’s commitment to fostering a more inclusive environment:
• Collaborating with Orange County and our community partners using the Government Alliance on Race & Equity (GARE) toolkit. By working together, we are more effectively achieving racial equity throughout our entire community.
• Hiring the town’s first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer who will be helping us to continue making progress toward dismantling barriers and establishing equitable opportunities for everyone.
• Including substantial focus on community-wide equity and resilience in our ReVive Recovery plan (including special focus on BIPOC/women-owned business) and our Climate Action Plan.
• Meeting the moment of racial reckoning by convening the Reimagining Policing Task Force, which has recommended changes to town policing to make it more appropriate, more effective, and more equitable.
I am committed to continuing this good work and am eager to hear the suggestions from our new DEI Officer about other things we can do to move us forward.
“Pam Hemminger has facilitated an open and deliberate approach toward inclusiveness and access to understanding with her creation of the local Civil Rights Task Force in 2017. The task force has established a trust, and therefore an avenue, for generational local people like me to explore local, collaborative history in ways that we had previously sensed was not intended for us.” —Danita Masons-Hogan, Historic Civil Rights Task Force leader
14. 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?
Chapel Hill is proud to operate one of the largest fare-free bus systems in the nation. Each year, our town makes a substantial investment in providing public transit that is accessible to most residents with only a short walk or bike ride. Our goal has always been to work with our transit partners to provide reliable, efficient, and effective service, and to make it easily accessible to everyone who lives, works, and plays here.
The fact that we don’t charge to ride the bus obviously increases access to transit for everyone, including low-income residents. While our service is good, we always strive to improve it. Recently, we’ve
• Expanded weekend service hours
• Continued to plan for our North-South Bus Rapid Transit line, which will lessen congestion on popular routes and speed trips through town
• Purchased 3 electric buses, with plans to add 7 more
• Enhanced COVID protections, including installing UV sanitizers throughout the fleet
• Continued to improve our bus shelters, to offer more comfort and protection from the weather to our riders
And we’re working on ideas to help serve more people, more efficiently, as funding and infrastructure improvements can come online to:
• Increase weekend service across the system, especially on Sundays
Strengthen regional connections, especially to job centers like RTP and area universities
• Make it safer and easier for people to walk or ride their bike to a bus stop by continuing to build out the town-wide connected pedestrian network and bike facilities laid out in the Mobility & Connectivity Plan
• Continue GoChapelHill programming to promote transit ridership through employers and organizations
• Identify and work to remove barriers to use by disadvantaged individuals or groups.
While not a “transit” solution, I think that having an electrified bike share system – with docking stations in low wealth neighborhoods and funding assistance – is another way that we can support the transportation needs of people in our community.
[On how can the town recruit and retain more bus drivers?]
Unfortunately, this is a nationwide problem, and Chapel Hill is being impacted along with other regional systems. Chapel Hill Transit is doing everything they can to recruit drivers, including attending job fares, advertising in papers, using social media, putting ads on and in buses, and sharing postings with community partners—and we’ve substantially increased starting bus driver pay to be competitive with other regional systems. Still, the number of qualified applicants is down significantly. Industry experts believe that part of the issue is that we are seeing a major shift in the labor force, where people do not want to work the split shifts and weekends that are typical for this job.
The Town Manager, Transit Director, and our staff are evaluating options such as retention bonuses to algin with what is being offered elsewhere and looking at our pay increase structure and other factors to try make changes that will attract the high-quality drivers we need to operate our system.
[On how can bike lanes be made safer and more efficient?]
Along with our regional transportation partners, the Town of Chapel Hill is in the process of making a commitment to Vision Zero, signifying that safety and equity are top transportation priorities for the town. This will, of course, include continued efforts to expand our bicycle and multi-modal transportation networks and to making them safer.
There are many ways that bike lanes can be made safer and more efficient:
• Making crossing options at major intersections safer using treatments like bicycle boxes, two-stage left-hand queue boxes, marked bike lanes through intersections, and improved detection at signals
• Creating buffered bike lanes and multi-use paths; for example, we’re set to begin construction on bike lanes and a multiuse path on Estes Road that will greatly increase bike safety in the area
• Continuing to implement the Chapel Hill Mobility and Connectivity Plan, a town-wide, non-motorized network by connecting greenways, multi-use paths. and bikeways so that people with all levels of ridership experience feel safe getting around
• Slow traffic (and….) on downtown streets to make them safe for bicyclists.
15. If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.
Being a good mayor means building relationships and partnerships to help the community succeed.
It also requires being able to work collaboratively and effectively with others – including your colleagues, other elected officials, staff members, community organizers and members of the community.
Over the past thirty plus years, it has been my experience that having diverse perspectives and allowing others to collectively find solutions results in better outcomes that will be accepted more widely. As a result, I have spent many years reaching “into” the community to bring voices that usually do not speak up to the problem-solving table.
I have also established strong working relationships with local leaders and members of the many community partners and groups who are doing incredible work in Chapel Hill. They know that my door is always open, I will always listen and I will always be responsive.
The same holds true for people in other jurisdictions with whom I’ve built good working relationships over the years. For the Town, this has resulted in swifter collective response to the COVID pandemic, better transportation outcomes, effective regional and state-wide collaboration on climate initiatives and success in bringing more businesses to our broader community.
We all want an inclusive, diverse and vibrant future for Chapel Hill and we also need to make that future economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. Balancing those needs takes teamwork, being a good listener and having the trust of your colleagues. I am proud that the entire Council (minus my opponent) supports me in re-election because they know I lead by empowering them and bringing all voices to the table. They know, too, that I have the experience necessary to effectively move us forward.
I appreciate your consideration of my nomination and will leave you with what others have to say about my leadership:
“During the eighties and nineties, I worked with Pam on environmental issues in our capacity as local leaders of the Sierra Club. She was always a pleasure to work with, effective and her people skills were essential in holding the leadership group together. Her commitment to environmental stewardship has not waivered, which is why I wholeheartedly support her reelection.” — Greg Gangi, UNC Institute for the Environment
“Mayor Hemminger understands the needs and desires of our varied community and understands that employing a one-dimensional approach to policy can lead to unintended disastrous social and economic consequences. Her proactive consensus building across political fault lines is essential if the Town is serious about achieving its goals.” — Scott Maitland, Downtown business owner
“Mayor Hemminger has provided the community with a steady hand through challenging times and has proved refreshingly open-minded and pragmatic in helping Chapel Hill chart a course forward.” — Clark Troy, Chapel Hill community member
“Pam is an extremely effective leader. In ANY situation, she makes sure that everyone has a chance to make their voice heard, and she seeks to truly understand where folks are coming from and build consensus among them. She understands that different groups across the town have their own unique needs and perspectives, and she works diligently to bring these groups together and find solutions that can work for everyone. She is highly respected by other community leaders across the state and brings her deep knowledge and experience of everything from stormwater to schools to green infrastructure to the Mayor’s office. Chapel Hill has flourished and led by example under her leadership, on matters as wide-ranging as civil rights history to environmental sustainability. She has been an inspiration to many of us, and will continue to prove what can be accomplished when we are willing to work hard, and work together.” — Rachel Schaevitz, Former Chapel Hill City Council Member
“Pam’s Leadership during the Food and PPE shortage, to reach out to state and federal resources to ensure that families had food on their table as well as PPE and Essential Supplies. This leadership helped to keep our communities safe and well. This leadership help keep business open. Pam’s Leadership and the collaboration, with other municipalities in local government have made our life better, Chapel Hill is a better place because of this leadership. Pam is the person we need at the helm of the township of Chapel Hill. Pam Hemminge is the qualified candidate as we come out of this pandemic … A VOTE FOR PAM HEMMINGER IS A VOTE FOR STRONG GOVERNMENT BY THE PEOPLE FOR THE PEOPLE.” — Reverend Robert Campbell, Minister & RENA Center Director
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