Why Amey and I Support Searing, Soll, Sharp, Adams, and Eckhardt in the Municipal Election

Dear friends and neighbors,

Along with many others we have been deeply concerned about the direction our town is taking for the last decade, at least. So, each election cycle we have sent out to friends and neighbors some recommendations for the upcoming municipal elections and some people have found this helpful. We hope you will too. Please let us know your thoughts. We are continuing to learn about the town issues and how things may be improved, and every conversation adds information and perspective.

This past Saturday and Sunday, I listened to the presentations by the two main groups of candidates, each allied with one of the mayoral candidates, Jess Anderson or Adam Searing. While I thought that Jess Anderson was persuasive, forceful, and intelligent, and Amy Ryan and Jon Mitchell gave good account of themselves and have impressive credentials, I was more persuaded by the arguments, presence, preparation, background, and passion of Searing, Soll, Sharp, Adams, and Eckhart. I buy their argument that electing their whole slate is the surest way to restore balance to the town’s development process and to preserve what we can of Chapel Hill’s distinctive character while continuing to grow. Each of the Searing slate’s candidates were impressive in their own way and quite different in style, background, and emphasis, but united in their commitment to changing the culture of the Council and the government:

  • Democracy and Transparency: More responsive and less derisive attitudes toward
    citizen input, e.g., paying more attention to the citizen advisory boards whose input
    have been ignored so as to fast-track new development projects.
  • Accountability and Responsibility: Enforcing the Town’s existing guidelines and policies
    toward green space, affordable housing, traffic, and stormwater–something the
    current council has refused to do, resulting in the high-end development, congestion,
    and loss of trees we see all around us.

Each group of candidates said the main power the Town has to shape growth is to negotiate with the developers for the features and benefits the town wants. Pam Hemminger, the outgoing mayor, and Council members Ryan, and Anderson had eight years to do this, but failed, granting waiver after waiver of town requirements that could have improved housing affordability, walkability, greenspaces, storm water management, and public safety.

Despite assurances that the many development projects approved by the Council would increase revenues above the large associated outlays, Town finances are not good. Despite high tax rates, we are struggling to pay for a new police station, parks, greenways, and affordable housing. We need new eyes, new perspectives, and more passion about these issues.

Despite agreement that we need more low-and-middle income housing, we have built vast numbers of luxury apartments and condos. A controversial answer to these problems is the rezoning that will allow duplex construction. This policy was touted both as a partial solution to affordability and nothing to worry about because it won’t have a big impact. I really like Renuka Soll’s analysis on this topic. See link below to her video

Affordable Housing

She makes the point that the likely outcome of this policy (studies show) is that investors will buy homes as they come on the market, tear them down, and put-up pricey duplexes, not affordable units.

Retired Professors Jacquelyn Hall and Robert Korstad, who have long been advocates for social justice, as well as award-winning scholars, wrote the Mayor and Council this year to argue against the rezoning regulation.

The slogan “missing middle” is deceptive. We hope not deliberately so. It suggests that your goal is to provide affordable housing for the middle class when it most emphatically is not. Instead, you are pursuing a policy of deregulation that gives carte blanche to developers whose goal is profit maximization.

Former School of Government Professor Gordon Whitaker wrote after hearing the presentation of the candidates at Carol Woods:

…the housing market in Chapel Hill will not produce affordable housing on its own. Government regulation of land use and support for non-profit provision of affordable housing is essential to increasing the housing stock available to lower income people… (The current council simply does) not use the few legal tools it has to direct development.

That is my problem with the Anderson, Ryan, Mitchell approach in general: policies that are sold on the basis of being environment-friendly high density, wind up, instead, being opportunities for investors and developers, subsidized by the town. Benefits for low-income people, the environment, first-time home buyers, or middle-income renters never seem to materialize. It’s “bait and switch” for progressive Chapel Hill.

This is why, I think, that groups that have ties to the development community like NEXT, the Triangle Blog Blog, and Indy, slant their analyses and attack critics of current policy as old, white NIMBYs. I think that is unfair and untrue. There are many public spirited people of all ages, races and backgrounds who feel as we do. In fact, for the last ten years, Amey and I have thought “the fix was in”, and when I reflect on what I heard from Jess on Saturday, I am not reassured. If we want change, we must vote for change.

While they are our best chance for change, I am not sure Searing, Soll, Sharp, Adams, and Eckhart can deliver–it’s an uphill fight to restore some balance, and the Town Manager and staff must be brought along. Yet, if the voters don’t deliver a strong message in this election, I fear there will be no change in direction for years to come and the forces for profit-maximizing development that degrades the quality of life in our community will be further empowered.

Hoping for the best for our town,
David Kiel and Amey Miller

PS. There have been a lot of claims and counter-claims in this election. Each side naturally emphasizes the facts that supports their perspectives. However, I suggest a more basic test of truth. Look around. If the development you see is the development you like, then disregard this letter. If not, vote for Searing, Soll, Sharp, Adams, and Eckhardt.