Name as it appears on the ballot: Robb English
Party affiliation: Democrat
Occupation & employer: Recreation Specialist, Town of Chapel Hill
Years lived in Hillsborough: 23
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 Board of Commissioners do differently or better over the course of your term?
I’m running for Hillsborough Town Board to create and implement good practices and policies in Climate Action, Affordability, Economic Development, and Community Connectivity. I value inclusion and want to increase the public engagement process and the diversity of our Town advisory boards, and to empower residents to have a voice in decisions that affect all Town residents. I was appointed to serve as a Town Board Commissioner in December 2019, have worked for a local municipality for 22+ years, served 2 terms on the Hillsborough Parks and Recreation Board, two terms on the Orange County Recreation and Parks Advisory Council, in addition to serving two terms on Charles House Association Board. I believe my experience as a Commissioner, my service on community advisory boards, and being a municipal employee give me a unique perspective into how local governments operate and the knowledge how to implement effective policies and practices. By prioritizing my initiatives of Climate Action, Affordability, Economic Development, and Community Connectivity, we can protect our Town’s resources and enhance its future growth. I want to see the Board of Commissioners pass and implement Hillsborough’s Comprehensive Sustainability Plan, which continues the move towards reducing our reliance on fossil fuels; advocates for additional mixed-use developments and higher density commercially zoned areas; advocates for mixed-income developments; and taking care of our water and sewer infrastructure. In addition, I want the Board to keep supporting smart growth with transportation corridors that provide better flow of traffic, new bicycle and pedestrian corridors, support for our existing and new businesses, and utilizing our public assets to spread the availability of high speed Wifi internet.
2) Given the direction of the Hillsborough town government, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?
Yes, I believe things are on the right course. The Town Board plans to adopt and implement the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan in 2022. This Sustainability Plan will research, resource and guide decisions for more efficient future land usages in areas such as transportation and development, with goals to transition to 100% clean energy. The Plan’s initiatives include identifying needs for better regulations and ordinance amendments to protect the town’s natural resources while simultaneously supporting positive growth.
3) What are three of the most pressing issues the town currently faces? How would you propose to address them? Please be specific.
Affordability, Transportation, and Sustainability. I will continue to advocate for and promote medium to high density mixed-use development to create greater affordability and advocate for increased mixed-income developments. In addition, I will continue to advocate for ways we can continue to pay for our water and sewer infrastructure without increasing water and sewer rates. To address our transportation needs, we need to increase our community connectivity (bike/ped) and network efficiency (streets). I believe this can be accomplished by creating an additional east-west connector South of the Eno river, adding some roundabouts at strategic intersections, and increasing our pedestrian and bicycle facilities that connect to our existing sidewalks and greenways. Third, Sustainability will be addressed by adopting and implementing Hillsborough’s Comprehensive Sustainability Plan in 2022. The Comprehensive Sustainability Plan will be a road map for decision making through a sustainability lens, and will provide recommendations for land conservation and best practices for protecting our natural environments.
4) What prior experience makes you qualified for and passionate about the Board of Commissioners and its duties? What made you seek this position?
I was appointed to serve as a Town Board Commissioner in December 2019 and have learned to work effectively and cohesively with my fellow colleagues and the Mayor to tackle some challenging issues. These include persevering and adapting town operations through the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic; revising our town noise ordinance; improving sidewalks and pedestrian crossings in the downtown area; and standing up for marginalized individuals and groups who reside here in our community. For all of my adult life, I’ve been passionate about serving my community and helping others. I’ve worked for the Town of Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation Department for 22+ years, served on numerous community advisory boards, and volunteered for special events and sports organizations. I’m passionate about serving as a Town Board Commissioner because it continues to allow me to serve my community at the highest level by creating good policies and implementing best practices to increase the quality of life for all Hillsborough residents, visitors, and local businesses. I’m seeking to continue to serve as a Town Board Commissioner to continue the work and implement the policies we’ve created and strive to make Hillsborough the best little town to live, work, and play.
5) Do you believe the town’s stormwater management plan is effective, or is there a way to make it more efficient and less costly? How can the town decrease the cost of water and sewer services?
I believe the storm water management plan is critical to reduce runoff impacts to local bodies of water and prevent stormwater pollution. This is a fairly new program and I think there’s always room for improvement. The Town has committed funds to hire an outside expert to take a comprehensive look at our water and sewer rate structure and to provide recommendations to reduce the cost of our water and sewer services. Reducing the minimum gallons of usage will help decrease the cost of water for low water users and promote water conservation.
6) In your opinion, what are the best methods to attract businesses to Hillsborough? How should the town seek to make itself more attractive? What types of industries should it pursue to grow its tax base?
Promoting mixed-use developments with medium to high density in our commercially zoned areas and greater affordability. We should continue to advocate for additional commercial industries to keep our tax base in balance. I would like to see an increase in green and environmental industries that seek to minimize impact to the environment.
7) Do you agree with the board of commissioners’ recent compromise to update Hillsborough’s noise ordinance? Do you think it needs to change or be revisited?
I do agree with our newly adopted noise ordinance and believe it was a thoughtful compromise between local residents and businesses’ needs.
8) As with most places in the Triangle, Hillsborough is grappling with issues related to affordable housing. How would you like to see the town approach affordability issues over the next few years? What do you believe the town is doing right? What could it do better?
Let’s approach affordability issues by promoting additional medium to high density mixed-use developments in our commercial zones and sustainable mixed-income residential developments. (what’s that?) The town needs to continue to work with the county and our affordable housing nonprofits to ensure Hillsborough remains affordable for all. I think the town should demand more affordable housing in all future residential developments, and only approve developments that will provide a high number (ratio) of affordable options. This will prevent high wealth, unaffordable neighborhoods.
9) Like most surrounding areas, Hillsborough is currently experiencing growth. What are the best ways for the town to manage this growth and capitalize on it?
I think the best ways for managing and capitalizing on our growth are by promoting mixed-use developments south of downtown and along the Hwy 70 corridor, and only approving medium to high density developments. Supporting smart growth that approves projects within our water-sewer service boundary.
10) Describe something you think the town should have prioritized differently in the current budget.
Additional funds to expand bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.
11) Walkability and recreation are important to the town. What environmental initiatives would you like to see changed or improved?
I advocate for tree and forest preservation, planting more trees in our open spaces and at town facilities, and continue to advocate for increased bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and land conservation. I will continue to push the town towards its goal of reducing reliance on fossil fuels by 80% in 2030 and 100% by 2050, and approving and implementing our Sustainability Plan.
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 believe they have handled the COVID-19 pandemic as best they can.
13) This summer, there were media reports of Proud Boys congregating in a downtown Hillsborough business. How do you believe the town can best project an image of inclusivity? Has the town done a good job of this in the past? In what ways can the town foster a more inclusive environment and better engage with historically marginalized groups?
The town can continue to utilize our digital and social media platforms to communicate our message of inclusivity, that Hillsborough welcomes all people. Hillsborough has done a good job of projecting an image of inclusivity in the past, and the town board often hears positive feedback from residents who appreciate this inclusive messaging and environment. The town should continue to recruit and diversify our town advisory boards so that they reflect the diversity of our town.
14) Hillsborough residents (and people across the nation) have expressed concern with the militarization of local police forces. Is this a concern for Hillsborough? What changes, if any, should be made to the Hillsborough police department or to how officers present or conduct themselves?
I don’t believe this is a concern in Hillsborough but I do believe our Police Department needs to continue its strong history of community-based policing and building partnerships, increasing their face-to-face interactions with residents and businesses as much as possible, and encouraging residents and businesses to continue to express their concerns in a meaningful way. I am looking forward to hearing the recommendations from the Reimaging Community Policing Task Force that was created last year to address this issue and implementing some of their recommendations.
15) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has affected us all and these are challenging times. With American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds allocated to local municipalities, I believe we have a unique opportunity to utilize these funds and apply them through an equity lens. I will push for finding creative ways to utilize our ARP funds to foster a more inclusive environment, increase engagement with historically marginalized groups and increase our community connectivity.
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