Chapel Hill, Carrboro To Merge In Historic Vote
“It’s been about just over a century coming,” says Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton, “and Mayor (Mark) Kleinschmidt and I are both enthusiastic about the decision.”
Kleinschmidt agrees. “After decades of talking and working through challenges,” he says, “Chapel Hill and Carrboro will finally become one community.”
Chilton and Kleinschmidt came together on Sunday afternoon to make the surprise announcement.
“I’m very ready for the town of Chapel Hill to surrender its authority to us,” Chilton joked, “and allow for us to combine–and perhaps achieve new levels of efficiency.”
The merger won’t be official until Monday night, when the Chapel Hill Town Council and the Carrboro Board of Aldermen take a formal vote. But once that happens, Chapel Hill and Carrboro will become a single municipality.
Last year, the North Carolina General Assembly essentially banned annexation, making it virtually impossible for one town to absorb another. To get around that, this week’s vote will effectively dissolve both Chapel Hill and Carrboro and charter an entirely new town in their place.
That new town will be named Carr Hill.
Chapel Hill and Carrboro have considered merging on numerous occasions throughout the last century. Lately, though, officials in both towns say they’ve noticed an increase in the number of issues requiring cooperative and joint action—a trend that Kleinschmidt says made the right path fairly clear.
“In recent years, as we’ve talked about handling things like the landfill closing and what we do with solid waste–and handling other issues of concern that don’t really recognize a boundary, like law enforcement and fire safety–it just seemed obvious,” he says.
Also forcing the issue is the ongoing budget crunch, which has compelled local officials to adopt increasingly strict austerity measures even while the economy is technically on the rebound.
With that in mind, Kleinschmidt says he’s been thinking about ways to improve efficiency and eliminate administrative redundancies—but he says it was Chilton who first came forward with the radical idea of merging.
“(Chilton) called me after thinking about some of the proposals I had for creating some efficiencies in the way services are provided,” Kleinschmidt says, “and (he) realized that with his pending retirement, there just really was no one suitable to take over the leadership of our neighboring hamlet–and (he) thought that the future of Carrboro best lay with the leadership of Chapel Hill.”
And so, as of Tuesday, our community will begin reorganizing and rebranding itself as “Carr Hill.” Carr Hill will have a population of 76,815—moving past Rocky Mount, Jacksonville and Gastonia to become the 13th largest municipality in the state. The town’s three high schools will also change their names from East Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Chapel Hill to East Carr Hill, West Carr Hill, and Carr Hill Central—though there’s also talk of renaming “Carr Hill Central” after former Chapel Hill mayor Howard Lee.
In fact, Chilton says the renaming process will go all the way up to the top.
“We need to approach the new chancellor…about the process of officially changing the name of UNC to ‘UNC at Carr Hill,’” he says.
As for the town’s government, many of the details still have to be worked out—but Kleinschmidt will stay on as mayor, with Chilton’s resignation already impending, and future Town Council meetings will take place in the former Carrboro Town Hall building on West Main Street.
And while it might take some time to get used to the name “Carr Hill,” Kleinschmidt says it won’t be too difficult to rebrand the community as a single entity.
“Actually I think most people–in the region, statewide and certainly nationally–won’t know the difference,” he says. “Most of the people who live in what we now, today, know as Carrboro already think of themselves as living in Chapel Hill…so it just makes real what everyone had already assumed was true for a long time.”
The most stringent objections to the plan have so far come from community members who say they’re worried Chapel Hill and Carrboro will lose their unique characters. But both Kleinschmidt and Chilton say they’re excited about the prospect of taking the best of Chapel Hill and Carrboro and combining it into a new and even better blend.
“I expect that greater Chapel Hill will adopt some of the customs of the Carrborators,” Kleinschmidt says. “Hula hooping will now be allowed on Franklin Street, in order to make sure that folks feel comfortable.”
The Chapel Hill Town Council is expected to approve the merger at a meeting tonight at 7:00 p.m.; the Carrboro Board of Aldermen is expected to follow suit at 7:30.
When the move is complete, all that will remain is to decide on a slogan: Chapel Hill was “The Southern Part of Heaven,” Carrboro the “Paris of the Piedmont”—and Chilton says in keeping with the merging spirit, he’s hoping to combine the two slogans into one.