Unopposed Carrboro Candidates Use Campaign Season to Promote Voter Turnout

Municipal races will be over in less than a month, and candidates in Carrboro are taking the opportunity to urge voters to make their voice heard.

While most eyes in local politics are focusing on the races for Chapel Hill Mayor and Town Council as well as the Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School Board, the candidates in Carrboro are focusing on voter involvement.

Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle and Board of Aldermen members Bethany Chaney, Michelle Johnson and Damon Seils are all running for re-election this year unopposed. But they are not resting on their laurels. They have taken it upon themselves to encourage residents to still exercise their civic duty of voting, according to Chaney.

“I know that I am particularly interested in just hearing from voters,” she says, “either affirming that what the Board of Aldermen is doing now is heading in the right direction or telling us that, ‘no, it’s not.’

“When people show up to the polls, they actually have a choice; they can vote for one of us, two of us, all of us, or write in somebody’s name. And I think it’s still worth it to show up at the polls, even in an uncontested race, so that you can do that.”

Seils says the candidates are taking up this voter-involvement initiative in the time they would have spent running a campaign.

“In terms of our own sort of individual campaigns,” he says, “we have elected instead to focus on this more general issue of getting people to the polls.

“I think, as Bethany said, not only are we interested in hearing from people, we are politicians after all we want to know how we’re doing and how people think we’re doing.”

Seils was also quick to point out there are races on the ballot where Carrboro residents can still make an impact.

“The Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools School Board is on the ballot,” he says. “It’s an incredibly important election this year. There are four seats up for election; two incumbents are not running for re-election.

“This is an opportunity for folks to really shape the future of the school system in this community, and it’s a rare opportunity.”

Chaney adds on to the importance of the school board vote because she says there are no Carrboro residents currently on the board.

“There’s an argument to be made that context is really important,” she says. “Where you live shapes your view of how things are going in the schools or shapes your opinion of how your child is doing in the schools.

“I think it’s something for Carrboro citizens to be thinking about.”

Lavelle says, while some residents choose not to vote in municipal elections, it is important to not get out of the routine of voting.

“Part of what we’re doing is reminding people about our election that’s coming up this fall,” she says. “But I think it’s extremely important for people to get in the habit of voting, because next fall it’s going to be so critical for the state of North Carolina for many reasons.”

The 2016 election will include races for the US Senate, Governor and County Commissioner, among other races.

Early voting for this year’s municipal races in Orange County starts on October 22nd and Election Day in November 3rd.

Carrboro Alderman Chaney Running For Re-Election

It’s official: all three Carrboro Aldermen whose seats are up for election this year will be running for re-election.

Incumbents Damon Seils and Michelle Johnson made their announcements earlier, and on Thursday they were joined by Bethany Chaney. Chaney will be running for her first full term on the board; she won her seat in a special election last year to replace Lydia Lavelle after Lavelle became mayor.

WCHL’s Aaron Keck spoke Friday with Bethany Chaney.

The filing period begins on Monday for candidates running for office and runs until Friday, July 17.

Michelle Johnson Running For Re-Election

Carrboro Alderman Michelle Johnson made it official Tuesday on WCHL, announcing her intention to run for a second term on the Board.

Listen to Johnson’s conversation with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.


First elected in 2011, Johnson is a clinical social worker and yoga instructor. Thus far, she says she’s proudest of her work with the Rogers Road Task Force to bring long-awaited remediation to the Rogers Road neighborhood – but she says there’s a lot more to do in the next few years.

“Affordable housing’s going to continue to be an issue,” she says, “(as well as) the ArtsCenter, (the) Arts and Innovation Center, the library and the Cat’s Cradle…

“And then one more issue is the police forums: in response to what’s going on in our country with police and institutional racism and cultural racism, we’re trying to be proactive with our police force and suggesting racial equity training and having some conversations with the community.”

(The next one of those conversations will be a public meeting this Monday, June 29, at 7 pm in Carrboro Town Hall.)

Johnson was elected to the Board in 2011 along with Dan Coleman and Lydia Lavelle. As it happens, she’s the only one of the three who’s still in that position: Coleman moved to Australia in early 2013 and Lavelle was elected mayor later that year. Damon Seils and Bethany Chaney now fill those seats – they won special elections in 2013 and 2014, respectively. (Neither Seils nor Chaney have announced their reelection plans publicly yet.)

Visit Johnson’s campaign page.

The filing period for local offices begins on Monday, July 6 and runs through Friday, July 17.

BOA Resumes Hearings on South Greensboro Development Plan

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen will continue to hear public comments about a proposed six-acre commercial development at 501 S. Greensboro St.

Chapel Hill developer Woodhill NC, LLC is asking the town to rezone the former Rogers-Triem site from light manufacturing to special manufacturing-conditional use.

The developer plans to put restaurant and retail there, in three or four buildings.

Tuesday’s public hearing at Town Hall will be the third on that agenda item. Other items include updates on municipal greenhouse gas emissions; and the progress of the Rogers Road Sewer Project.

The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m.

Carrboro’s Town Hall is located at 301 West Main Street.

Carrboro Residents Request Conditions for Development Permit

Three to four commercial buildings may be coming to 501 South Greensboro Street in Carrboro.

As the Carrboro Board of Aldermen considers rezoning and granting a permit to Woodhill LLC for building the restaurant and retail development on six acres, neighbors want the town to make sure certain conditions are met.

Resident Rob Joyner spoke on behalf of the Roberson Place Home Owners Association at Tuesday’s meeting, asking “that the establishments that play outdoor music be restricted to playing 10 am to 8 pm.”

The Roberson Place HOA also requests that the connection between the Roberson Place Subdivision and South Greensboro remain as a bike and pedestrian connection, and not be developed into a road; that waste pickup and deliveries to businesses be restricted to 9 am to 5 pm on weekdays; and that commercial properties use directional lighting which would not shine onto residential properties.

“I do have significant concerns that, no matter what we do, we’re going to be looking at a neon sign illuminating a business,” said Tommy Koonce, who lives with his wife Robin Koonce in a house adjacent to the proposed development.

Koonce asked the town to codify a requirement to screen bright signs from his house windows, not only for aesthetics, but also to protect property value.

Runyon Woods, a partner at Woodhill LLC, feels the council should not regulate certain things, like when a business can receive deliveries.

“A restaurant comes in. They want fresh seafood for Saturday night,” said Woods. “So they want a small seafood truck to come deliver Saturday morning. That condition would make that illegal.”

Instead of following a hard rule, Woods said his team would work with individual residents to meet their needs.

Alderman Damon Seils stressed the importance of building specific conditions into the permit.

“If we put a condition on the permit, that’s what allows the town to engage in an enforcement activity,” said Seils. “And so if it becomes a problem, then the town has the authority in that circumstance to actually start enforcing the rules.”

In addition to the residents’ concerns, the aldermen discussed many others, including the development’s potential to intensify flooding. And the aldermen said a proposed roundabout at the intersection of South Greensboro Street and Pittsboro Road should not be built on private land.

The public hearing will continue on May 26. At this point the board may decide to approve “conditional use rezoning” and a “conditional use permit” for this project.

Carrboro Alderpersons Ask CAIC Partners to Start Over

“Reset, not reject.”

That was the catchphrase of the night at Thursday’s Board of Aldermen meeting. All board members confirmed that they did, indeed, reject the financing proposal for a new Arts & Innovation Center downtown.

Alderperson Jacquie Gist explained why she would not support putting the town into $4.5 million of debt to help build the CAIC near Armadillo Grill.

“Even though I have a lot of problems with the project as a whole, as proposed,” said Gist, “for me, it comes down to my feeling of fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers of Carrboro.

“And I just overwhelmingly heard from the citizens of Carrboro that they did not want us to put them in that position.”

The CAIC would house non-profit businesses Kidzu Children’s Museum and ArtsCenter. The latter would offer the site of its current building for a second hotel to be built at 300 East Main.

Thursday night’s work session followed a series of public forums and hearings on the proposal. Alderperson Michelle Johnson said she shared Gist’s concern about Carrboro taking on the CAIC debt, as the largest amount in its Capital Improvements Program.

She said she was also skeptical that development partners can raise $7.5 million for the project in 16 months, as promised. The quick timeline of the project was another concern raised by board members.

“And then there’s another $3 million,” said Johnson. “And it’s been implied that the county should be involved, and perhaps they will give that $3 million. But, no discussions have happened with the county about that.”

Alderpersons Sammy Slade and Damon Seils both said they ran the numbers on assumptions that revenue from the hotel would prevent the Arts & Innovation Center from creating a new tax burden for citizens.

Both said those numbers come up short — by around $400,000 a year, according to Slade.

Alderperson Bethany Chaney said she’d like to see the ArtsCenter proposal decoupled from the hotel.

“I think there may be merit in pushing the reset button and not the eject button on this proposal,” said Chaney, before “eject” got changed to “reject” in later comments from the board. “There are other ways to finance something like this. There are other places to put something like this. There is a whole lot more private money out there than was included in this particular proposal.”

She later presented a “Proposed Path for a New Proposal.” She suggested “taking everything off the table,” so that a new proposal with “a generous timeline” and “time-bound benchmarks” can be crafted by the partners and the public sector.

Chaney also suggested that an outside consultant be hired to help ArtsCenter conduct a business planning process.

Mayor Lydia Lavelle said she agreed with points made by other board members, and added that she’s not opposed to the idea of a second hotel in Carrboro. She called the existing Hampton Inn hotel a “hallmark.”

“We don’t have a huge commercial tax base,” said Lavelle. “But one of the things we do have is, we have a really cool town that people like to come and visit… And that 67 percent occupancy rate at our hotel, within a year-and-a-half of opening, is really pretty incredible.”

The board voted unanimously for Lavelle and Town Manager David Andrews to discuss next steps with the development partners.

There was also unanimous approval to direct Andrews to get an update from Orange County government, regarding a branch library proposed for 300 East Main.

And by unanimous consent, the board voted to ask county government about resources for helping local businesses, such as the Cat’s Cradle. Working to keep the iconic music club in Carrboro, while it’s seemingly outgrown its current space at 300 East Main, remains an important issue in public discussions about the CAIC proposal.

Carrboro Weighs Green Burial Idea

Carrboro has a reputation for being an environmentally-friendly place. So it’s not surprising that town leaders are considering a plan to give citizens the opportunity to abide by their green-living principles, even after their lives have ended.

“I am Ellie Kinnaird. I own a cemetery plot – actually, two of them – in the old cemetery in Carrboro. And I have gotten an interest in green burial. And this is something that is coming to the forefront in a lot of places, because of the environmental concerns.”

Back in September, the former Carrboro Mayor and retired state senator appeared before the Board of Adlermen with a request for the town to look into making the Old Carrboro Cemetery a green burial site.

In a green burial, the body of the deceased is not embalmed. The body is placed directly into the ground – there’s no burial vault.

And the burial container is biodegradable – a wooden box, a shroud, or perhaps something made of cardboard.

The board approved Kinnaird’s request that night.

Nearly five months later, at Tuesday night’s Aldermen meeting, Assistant to the Town Manager Julie Eckenrode presented the board with some findings on how green burials would work in both of the town-owned cemeteries.

Eckenrode said that there are 30 green burial cemeteries in the U.S., and three are in North Carolina. She called one of the state cemeteries during her research.

“Just for example, in Forest Law Memorial Park in Candler, which is near Asheville,” said Eckenrode. “They started performing green burials in 2010. They created a specific section of their cemetery that was a more wooded and natural area.

“And they also decided to pick a separate area, because there are differing maintenance needs for a traditional cemetery versus a green burial cemetery.”

The number of increased staff hours it might take to service a green burial site was one concern raised at the meeting. Maintenance would include dealing with sinking land, due to the lack of a concrete or steel vault.

Public Works Director George Seiz told the board that the department currently works about 1,000 hours a year mowing and trimming Westwood Cemetery and the Old Carrboro Cemetery.

More space would be needed between plots in a green burial site. Allowing green burials in Carrboro would likely lower the number of available graves, so that would need to be taken into account.

Despite the challenges that come with green burial practices, Alderperson Sammy Slade offered some reasons to further pursue the idea.

He cited some national statistics.

“We dump, every year, 827,000 gallons of embalming fluid, which is formaldehyde; 90,000 tons of steel for the caskets; 2,700 tons of copper and bronze, also for the caskets; 1,000, 600 tons of concrete, for the vaults; 14,000 tons of steel for the vaults; and then 30-plus million board feet of hardwood for the caskets.”

Slade said that green burial is “very appropriate for Carrboro.” He added that the idea of more affordable burials should be considered as well.

At the meeting’s conclusion, Mayor Lydia Lavelle said she was hearing “cautious support” among the alderpersons. After further study, the issue will come before the board again, at some unspecified time.

Carrboro BoA to Take Public Comments on 2015-16 Budget

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen will hear comments from the public tonight regarding community needs and priorities for fiscal year 2015-16.

At last week’s meeting, Finance Director Arche McAdoo walked the mayor and alderpersons through the town’s Capital Improvements Program through fiscal year 2020-21.

According to Town manager David Andrews, the program is not a budget appropriation – it’s a tool for developing a long-term plan to identify both immediate and long-term needs.

The total estimated cost for the CIP through fiscal 2020-21 is $49.3 million. Fifty-seven percent of the proposed funding comes from debt.

In a recent conversation with WCHL, Lavelle said that the first public budget hearing of the year is generally a low-key affair, with lots of familiar faces.

“If anyone has issues or questions or thoughts about the budget, that’s our first public hearing,” said Lavelle.

By law, there will be another public hearing after Town Manger David Andrews presents the budget, which he’s scheduled to do on May 5.

Another public hearing will follow on May 26, and perhaps another hearing afterward, if needed.

The Board of Alderman plans to adopt the final budget on June 16.

Tonight’s Board of Aldermen meeting is at 7:30 p.m. at Carrboro’s Town Hall, located at 301 West Main Street.

Carrboro residents can send written suggestions for the Town Clerk at that address. The zip code is 27510.

Or fax them to 919-918-4456.

Board of Aldermen to Hear More Public Comments About CAIC

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen will hold a second public hearing tonight on the proposed Carrboro Arts & Innovation Center that would be home to the ArtsCenter and Kidzu Children’s Museum.

In exchange for the property on Main and Roberson, East Main Partners would get to use the current ArtsCenter space at 300 East Main for a second hotel.

The topic drew around 60 folks to the first meeting on January 20th, and only about two-thirds got to speak.

Mayor Lydia Lavelle spoke to WCHL recently about tonight’s meeting, and the process going forward.

“We’re going to continue to get more information, and start to chat with the partners about the proposal and where it might be going,” she said.

At the last hearing, some people said they were skeptical of the notion that any new tax revenue needed for the CAIC would be raised by the new hotel. Partners in the deal are also asking the town to finance nearly half of the $13 million project over 25 years.

The subject of The Cat’s Cradle music club and its owner, Frank Heath, came up. People want to know where the Cradle stands if its landlords at Main Street Properties get the second hotel they want.

“Part of our meeting on Feb.3, I think, will be to have some folks, hopefully from Main Street Partners, to come and kind of explain that – and probably have, you know, the folks from The Cradle and the hotel there, in case we need to go a little further,” said Lavelle.

She added that, even if the project gets the green light, she doubts that the proposed start time for the project – June 2016 – will be feasible.

“We don’t want to rush it,” said Lavelle. “Yet, I know, speaking for myself, I think it’s too good an opportunity to not continue to inquire about, and follow up on.”

The public hearing begins at 7:30 tonight at Town Hall. As mentioned earlier, the last Aldermen hearing about the CAIC was packed, so be sure to get there early.

‘Carrboro Arts And Innovation’ Plan Raises Hopes and Questions

Carrboro Alderwoman Bethany Chaney says the idea of co-locating Kidzu Children’s Museum and the ArtsCenter is intriguing: “It’s a great concept.”

But she’s got some concerns about the plan.

“We potentially could be looking at a $4.5 million dollar investment in this property and that’s a lot of money for a building that’s essentially custom-built for two organizations that haven’t yet proven long-term sustainability,” says Chaney. “It’s a big risk so we need to hear from the public as to whether they think the potential benefits are worth that risk.”

Here’s how the deal might work: the ArtsCenter owns its building in the middle of the 300 East Main development. The Center is proposing a land swap with East Main Partners that would allow the Hampton Inn to build a second hotel on the site of the current ArtsCenter.

In return, the gravel lot at the corner of Main and Roberson would be donated to the Town by East Main Partners. Carrboro would construct an $11 million dollar facility to be leased to Kidzu and the ArtsCenter, with the town and the nonprofits splitting the cost.

You can read the full proposal here.

Phil Szostak is an architect, ArtsCenter board member and a leading proponent of the plan.

“We’re trying to put a project together for downtown Carrboro that will not require any additional taxes or use of any new city funds to fund the project,” says Szostak. “The project now is proposed to be 50-50 public-private partnership where our partnership would require The ArtsCenter and Kidzu and other partners to raise half the money before the project is started.”

Szostak is also the developer of the Durham Performing Arts Center. He says the Arts and Innovation Center can do for Carrboro what the DPAC has done for downtown Durham.

But Chaney notes Carrboro is a long way from the Bull City.

“I think it’s an entirely different scenario and Durham’s a much larger municipality, so that building can support a lot of different kinds of programming and at a higher price-point that what this building could support.”

Both Kidzu and the ArtsCenter are popular nonprofits looking to expand.

Kidzu has operated at a series of locations in Chapel Hill since opening in 2006. It is temporarily located at University Mall, where the museum expects to serve more than 100,000 visitors in the next year.

Last year more than 93,000 people participated in programs at The ArtsCenter but Szostak says the aging facility can’t support the growth of the organization.

“It’s very hard for us to expand. That building was originally done in 1987. We were meeting a demand then and we didn’t really have a lot of space to meet future demand. Now, 25 to 30 years later, we have a huge demand that we cannot meet. To go up in place would be almost impossible for us without shutting the ArtsCenter down for a year.”

And both groups say the Arts and Innovation Center would be a great fit for Carrboro.

“What we would really like the citizens of Carrboro to understand is there won’t be one penny that comes out of their personal pocket to make this center happen,” says Kidzu Executive Director Pam Wall. “It will generate a good deal of economic development and money coming into the Town of Carrboro because the folks that visit this center will go out to eat, they will be shopping and purchasing gifts and things like that. There’s a good amount of economic development that this center will create.”

But Alderwoman Chaney worries the plan wraps up too many complicated issues into one package.

“The proposal itself that we’ve been asked to consider bundles two really big decisions that need to be separated. Those are whether there should be a second hotel in downtown Carrboro and whether the town should invest in a building that would accommodate the ArtsCenter and Kidzu and potentially other nonprofit arts organizations.”

That second hotel is a key part of the co-location plan, as it’s envisioned to be the source of new revenues for the town.

“It’s really hard to separate the two, if in fact we are looking at the taxes generated by the hotel to be one of the funding sources,” says Szostac. “We don’t have to do that, but we can certainly make the case that if the ArtsCenter does not move, that hotel does not get built.”

Szostak estimates it could bring in as much as $550,000 in taxes to Orange County each year, enough to cover the debt service the town would need to pay to finance construction.

The question of whether Carrboro needs a second hotel is just one aspect Chaney would like to see fully explored when the concept comes up for a public hearing later this month.

“What I do worry about is whether the business model that’s being proposed is really the most appropriate one,” says Chaney. “Is it the most appropriate way to leverage public funding? I think that’s the big question.”

Read Chaney’s full statement on the plan here.

All parties agree that the upcoming public hearing is merely the starting point for discussion.

“Every project should be scrutinized. This is public money and the town fathers really need to take a look at this and get the input from the public,” says Szostac. “Certainly I wouldn’t even suggest doing it without that.”

Kidzu and the ArtsCenter will host a series of public information sessions this week. Carrboro business owners are invited to a session on Tuesday, January 13, from 5:30-7 pm at the ArtsCenter. A session for the general public will be held on Wednesday, January 14, from 5:30-7 pm at the ArtsCenter.

A public hearing on the plan is schedueled for 7:30 on January 20 before the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. You can also submit comments to town leaders online here.