“What Makes Chapel Hill a Livable Town?
By Ann J. Loftin
On a sunny Sunday afternoon in late January, the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT) threw itself and the community a coming-out party. And to judge from the turnout at the Chapel Hill Public Library (more than 200 people came, by our best guess), this debutante won’t have any trouble getting hitched. A loose-knit group of residents is now a solid organization with a five-point platform, a scheduled series of events, nearly 1,000 email subscribers, and a plan to change the composition of the Town Council come November.
The event organizers were gratified to see that people cared enough about Chapel Hill to hunt for that elusive parking space in the overflowing upper lot. (Special thanks to those who trudged up the hill from the lower lot.)
Two current Town Council members whose views mostly align with those of CHALT, Ed Harrison and Jim Ward, made an appearance. Matt Czajkowski, on a trip to Africa, sent his regrets. Council members Lee Storrow, who appears to be vigorously running for a second term, and Donna Bell also came. Former council members Laurin Easthom, Mayor Kevin Foy, Art Werner and Joe Capowski came. The Daily Tarheel sent a reporter, as did the Durham Herald-Sun and Chapelboro.com. The Chapel Hill News ran a story that appeared online before the event and in that day’s edition. Raleigh’s NBC affiliate, WNCN, interviewed two members of CHALT and broadcast a segment about the event on the evening news. You may view all the coverage at CHALT.org
Event organizers created exhibits addressing each of CHALT’s platform planks. See planks here. Each plank illustrated an important goal of our livable town, Chapel Hill, and was highlighted in an exhibit that celebrated our Town and posed the challenges as well as the risks. In the Planning and Design exhibit, participants discussed and rated recent developments and learned about how other cities are daylighting their streams to aesthetic, environmental and economic advantage. The Transportation exhibit featured our highly successful bus system, as well as recent report findings showing an unsustainable level of bus service without the Town making large tax increases. The planned Triangle Transportation Authority (TTA) light rail system was shown as costly and eating up transit dollars needed to expand our bus routes.
Participants put dots on the “Find Your Watershed map” and learned from high school science students about the role that natural vegetation and trees perform to infiltrate rainwater and improve the quality of water feeding our streams and reservoirs. The Housing Affordability exhibit featured what the Town is doing now and examined the changing dynamics that are making our community less affordable. Finally the exhibit “Spend our Money Wisely” raised several provocative points about the hard realities of the Town budget based on slides from the Town’s own website. Visitors were shocked to read the Town generated list of “Budget Challenges” about capital, operating, and policy needs.
Copies of “Better Not Bigger” by Eben Fodor were available for sale. This engaging book reveals the myths circulated by pro-growth forces by using fact-based charts and analysis.
Visitor participation was an essential part of the event. People were so eager to get at the paper questionnaires that the organizers ran out within an hour. But guests also grabbed from a pile of yellow index cards to write comments about how to keep Chapel Hill livable. By the party’s end, a sizable stack voiced many of the concerns CHALT is trying to address. Here is a sampling:
“How are artists supposed to afford living or studio space if we are being increasingly priced out of the community?”
“There should be some way we can require more of commercial property owners.”
“There is no way to bicycle safely from Fordham Boulevard to Carrboro that I know of.”
“We need a Mayor and Town Council that will more rationally evaluate the Town’s development needs.”
“We need affordable housing, areas accessible by walking and public transit, local stores in addition to chains.”
“Green spaces are vital for a healthy community. The walking path beside the creek at Village Plaza – what about green space there?”
“The reputation of Chapel Hill schools draws many to this area, but then they are unpleasantly surprised. Those who can afford to, send their kids to private schools. Others home school.”
“Nothing will have a bigger negative impact on traffic and our quality of life than what’s going on in the Southern area.”
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