To borrow a slogan from Austin, Texas: Keep Carrboro Weird.
Carrboro has long emphasized local businesses, sustainable development and public transit. Yet those amenities have attracted so many residents that Carrboro's growth is stretching the seams of its boundaries, like a suit that no longer fits: More than 16,000 people are squeezed into about 5 square miles of land.
The newly elected mayor and board of aldermen will have to find space for newcomers: whether it's vertically, as in the mixed-use Alberta Project downtown, or horizontally, as the residential push northward continues.
Carrboro also must alleviate the residential tax burden by encouraging appropriate commercial development that will complement rather than degrade its character. In addition to downtown projects, more commercial development will likely be placed north to serve several recently annexed neighborhoods, where many residents are still disgruntled about being absorbed into the town.
Wherever new residents land, Carrboro has to build more affordable housing—which in this pricey area means homes less than $200,000—or risk transforming into a wealthy, green Shangri-La.
We heartily endorse incumbent Mark Chilton, who is finishing his first mayoral term. His political experience dates back a decade to stints as a Chapel Hill Town Councilman and more recently as a member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. In his first four years, Chilton and his board allies crafted Carrboro's environmentally sustainable commercial and residential growth. He opposed the northern annexation. At a recent League of Women Voters forum, he identified several untapped areas for development, including the east side of Old N.C. 86, while stating the west side of that highway should be off-limits for development through 2017. He's been committed to preserving open space and adding bike and pedestrian improvements, particularly on Estes Drive.
His budget priorities include adequately staffing the new fire station on Homestead Road.
Chilton has a long record of affordable housing advocacy, including helping launch the Orange Community Housing and Land Trust.
A self-described civil libertarian, he said in his questionnaire that he's "taken some unpopular stands in defense of the right to solicit on public streets and the right of public housing residents to have the same privacy rights that all other renters and homeowners enjoy" in regards to drug searches. At the LWV forum, he emphasized that he wouldn't direct the Carrboro Police Department to round up undocumented immigrants who haven't committed crimes. "People who are wanted by immigration enforcement on a civil matter only, that is not our role."
Although this is his first foray into politics, challenger Chuck Morton has served on the Appearance and Architectural Standards Review boards. He is concerned about the "bland suburbia" that has been built in north Carrboro and the expensive condos downtown that could increase property taxes for residents.
Brian Voyce didn't submit a questionnaire. After making an opening statement at a recent Sierra Club forum, he walked out.
We fully endorse two incumbents, Joal Hall Broun and Dan Coleman, and newcomer Lydia Lavelle. (Alex Zaffron, whose term expires this year, isn't running for re-election.)
Broun, the director of the N.C. Secretary of State's Lobbying Compliance Division, says she wants to ensure that Carrboro remains an affordable place to live. A former member of the Orange Water and Sewer Authority, she is concerned that northern developments should be located away from environmentally sensitive areas, and she has advocated for the Rogers Road neighborhood to lobby county leaders to site the waste-transfer station away from that area. She acknowledges an "appropriate" big-box store might eventually be built on Carrboro's sole tract zoned for that use—on N.C. 54 across from Carrboro Plaza. She intends to protect locally owned businesses by ensuring there is little overlap in the services and goods sold by the large retailer.
Appointed to the seat in 2006, Coleman has served Carrboro well on eight advisory boards for development, economic development, solid waste and Carolina North. A progressive, he successfully pushed a proposal for an affordable housing trust fund and lobbied for transit-friendly development. He says the board needs to pass ordinances to encourage sustainable development in northern Carrboro. He supports communal, public spaces, raising money for insurance coverage for the Really Really Free Market, and negotiating a resolution for use of the Carr Mill Mall lawn. If elected, he plans to advocate for fair wages for town employees, at least $30,000 annually, so they can live affordably in Carrboro.
Coleman's campaign was briefly tainted by an incident at Anderson Park in which he allegedly touched with his car a pedestrian who was holding up traffic. However, the he said-she said tempest shouldn't derail his re-election. (That said, we wish he would apologize.)
Lavelle lives in the northern annexed neighborhood and would be a levelheaded—and necessary—representative of that area, as she was while serving as a temporary liaison between those residents and the town.
She is well versed on the issues, most notably land use and transit, and she serves on the planning board. If elected, she says she would support mixed-use development in northern Carrboro, and would allow larger retail stores only if they don't compete with existing, locally owned businesses. A "progressive, liberal Democrat," Lavelle also says she is sensitive to diversity and minority issues; she is gay and works at the historically black university N.C. Central, where she is assistant dean of student affairs for the law school.
Challengers Sharon Cook and Katrina Ryan live across the street from each other in the northern annexed neighborhood. Both have been polarizing figures on annexation, which they opposed. Cook, who has served on the planning board, and Ryan oppose the county's proposed, controversial waste-transfer station on Rogers Road, ostensibly on behalf of a nearby African-American neighborhood. However, it is hard to tell if their advocacy is genuine, as the neighborhood and the landfill have co-existed for many years and Cook and Ryan have only recently complained.
Ryan ran for the board in 2005, placing fourth in a six-person race. She didn't return our questionnaire.
Frank Abernethy, who became paralyzed after breaking his neck 26 years ago, has an admirable record of service in the nonprofit sector. He won the governor's award for volunteer services and served as president of the Disabilities Awareness Council. However, he has no political experience on Carrboro's boards or commissions, which is imperative during this stage of the town's growth.