Commentary by Matt Bailey
I’ve always been baffled by people who choose to live in Chapel Hill, only to complain about UNC and its students. However, I was downright dismayed by the vitriol I heard from some long-time Chapel Hill residents hurl at UNC during the recent debate over the Durham Orange Light Rail Transit project.
One petition against the light rail plan, promoted by a prominent local politician no less, even made a distinction between “local residents” and UNC students, saying the light rail line “serves a large student and university population,” but not enough of the “local” population. The clear implication is that UNC students, faculty and staff aren’t “local” and are somehow not really part of our community. UNC students alone are 20% of Orange County’s population. Why do some long time Chapel Hill residents insist on treating UNC students as second class citizens?
People complained that UNC doesn’t pay taxes, which as a public not-for-profit academic institution it shouldn’t. However, UNC students do pay taxes, every time they shop or eat on Franklin Street or anywhere else in town. When they live off campus, apartment owners pay commercial property taxes from their rents.
Some of these same “local” residents oppose new student housing projects close to campus, then turn around and gripe when students rent houses in their suburban neighborhoods.
Living in a college town undoubtedly has some headaches, from traffic jams during basketball games to 19-year-olds staying up later than those of us of the “settled down” demographic But all of the cultural events, college athletics, cutting edge medical care, world-class dining and enlightened population wouldn’t be here either were it not for UNC. Plus, there are a whole lot of awesome people doing amazing things among UNC’s student body. There’s a unique energy in the air when you have 29,084 students eager to learn, explore and innovate in your town.
If you want to live in a quiet little town without the unique challenges of a college town, stop complaining about UNC and move to Hillsborough. Seriously, it’s a wonderful, close-knit small town. Chapel Hill is not a small town. It’s a college town and it’s been one since Hinton James arrived in 1795. You can’t say your realtor didn’t warn you.
Chapel Hill really belongs to UNC students. We should be grateful they’re willing to share it with us.