Updated: Oct 29
As we get down to the final week before early voting, I wanted to remind you why this election is so important. This election is about two different visions for Chapel Hill’s future. There is a group pushing Chapel Hill into extreme urban density, and there is a group of us who want to grow thoughtfully as a green, modern college town.
Here are some of the critical issues.
(1) Chapel Hill is getting paved over, and the Complete Communities plan pushed by our local government is accelerating this. Just drive down 15-501 by Trader Joe’s and see what I mean—lots of ugly, concrete luxury high-rise apartments, lots of multi-story parking garages, and lots of traffic. Growth doesn’t have to look like this. We can grow as a charming, modern town that meets the needs of our people. We can listen to our people’s needs instead of out-of-state developers and consultants with profits to make and ideologies to push. We can build the right kind of housing, affordable housing designed for families and students. We can work with UNC and the UNC system to help accommodate the growing student population’s needs. There are so many creative ideas that can help us grow the right way. We don’t have to settle.
(2) Part of healthy growth is providing people with parks and green space. As acknowledged by Mayor Hemminger, our gardens have been “underfunded” for over a decade. We have seen massive growth in apartments and housing, but we have not built a single park in 15 years to support all the new residents. We can’t even maintain the park's facilities we have – tennis courts are in disrepair, park benches are rusting out, our Cedar Falls bathroom facilities are precariously still on septic, and we certainly don’t have enough fields or pickleball courts. We have so many park repairs, upgrades, and other needs that it will take 25 years of the “Pennies for Parks” funding to address the current list. Pennies won’t cut it. We need to prioritize parks. The town’s Complete Communities framework does not have a plan for parks. It just loosely adopts the idea that, somehow, parks should exist. We can do better.
(3) We need to support our family neighborhoods. A healthy community is one where neighbors connect, share, and care for each other. Eliminating single-family zoning erodes this community without providing the benefit of more affordable housing. Based on the writings from the Urban Institute, and even according to our town staff, infilling our family neighborhoods is unlikely to result in more affordable units. Who wins? My guess? Developers. We should restore single-family zoning, mainly as many of the neighbors affected are some of Chapel Hill’s more affordable neighborhoods.
(4) We need sincerity and transparency from our leaders. Our current town leadership eliminated single-family zoning through a “text amendment,” which means they didn't have to inform the residents of the change (unlike a zoning change, which requires notice.) Citizen petitions, like that signed by 1,000 residents to preserve Legion Park, are ignored. Boards and Commissions, like the Parks and Greenways Commission concerning Greene Tract and Legion Park, are excluded from the decision-making processes. Ignoring and evading citizens results in outcomes that are out of sync with what people need, which is precisely what we are seeing in Chapel Hill.
(5) Our downtown is losing its unique, special college town charm as the town pushes local businesses out. For example, the city plans to build a seven-story, concrete, and glass wet lab right in the heart of downtown. This construction will displace successful local businesses like The Purple Bowl. Do we need corporate high-rises on Franklin Street? There are better places to locate a wet lab.
(7) Our town budget is in bad shape - When we can't fix our roads, need to lease instead of build a police station, and can't buy the police cars we need, we have to worry about the state of the town budget. What is the first step in fixing it? Eliminate the millions we are spending on fancy consultants who deliver expensive, jargon-filled plans.
Look around you. Do you like the recent “progress” you see?
If you like the vision of a green, modern college town better, help me enact it!
Vote for me--Renuka Soll for Chapel Hill Town Council.
And since a majority vote makes all decisions on the Council, the only way for things to change is also to elect Adam Searing for mayor and Elizabeth Sharp, David Adams, and Breckany Eckhardt for Town Council.
Together with you, we can bring new leadership with a new vision to make Chapel Hill a modern college town where we can take pride.