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Candidate for Chapel Hill Town Council

Sally Greene 

Candidate for Chapel Hill Town Council

Name as it appears on the ballot: Sally Greene

Full legal name, if different: Sarah Lee Greene

Date of birth: October 19, 1955

Occupation & employer: Research attorney, self-employed

Campaign website: sallygreene.org

Twitter: @GoSallyGreene

Email: sally@sallygreene.org


1. Why are you running for office and what are your top priorities, if elected? Please include information on past public service, posts held, volunteer work completed and other examples of your leadership.

I am running for office because I believe my combination of successful experience, energy, and readiness to take on new challenges well qualifies me for continued leadership.

I have served two terms in this office, 2003-2011, during which I led or contributed to successful initiatives in affordable housing, homelessness support, neighborhood preservation, historic preservation, environmental preservation, and more. In 2013 I was appointed by my colleagues to the vacancy created when Penny Rich took office on the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

My top three priorities are the following:

(a) Affordable rental housing. Over the summer, my colleague Donna Bell and I co-chaired a mayor's task force on affordable rental housing. We will soon be bringing a draft affordable rental strategy document to the whole Council. Our task force has come up with a promising list of new ideas that extend creatively beyond the strategies we have used for affordable ownership-model housing. My priority is to get this strategy document adopted and implemented.

The first action to come out of this effort is a proposal for low-income tax credit housing, to be built by DHIC of Raleigh, on a 10-acre parcel of town-owned land. This proposal was well received at a recent Council work session. It would add some 140 units of affordable rental, for seniors and families. I will advocate for the Council's timely approval of this exciting project.

(b) Downtown. I will actively support the transformation of downtown Chapel Hill into a distinctive cultural arts destination. This priority reflects two of the five "big ideas" that emerged from the Chapel Hill 2020 comprehensive planning process.

"Rosemary Imagined," a visioning project led by the Downtown Partnership, is yielding exciting conversations about redevelopment of Rosemary Street to create a truly two-street downtown. The 140 West development (for which I served on the town's negotiating team), with a dedicated public space at the corner of Franklin and Church streets and the ability to close off Church Street for community events, is another positive step.

The Downtown Partnership is collaborating with the Town, the Ackland Art Museum, the Chapel Hill-Orange County Visitors Bureau, and other interested citizens on a grant-writing project that will help clarify how we should go forward with identifying and enhancing the downtown's cultural assets. The goal will be to solidify the downtown's identity as a distinctive destination for the arts, entertainment, and fine dining. If we are successful in winning an "Our Town" grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, we will have financial support to jump-start the transformation of the Franklin-Rosemary corridor into a true cultural arts destination.

http://arts.gov/grants-organizations/our-town/grant-program-description

I will stay directly involved in the entire process of reconceiving downtown as a cultural arts destination. I will champion these efforts from my Council position and advocate for the resources it needs to succeed.

(c) Careful planning and balanced decision-making in major development initiatives. Following the adoption of Chapel Hill 2020, the town is undertaking a number of simultaneous planning initiatives: the Central West focus area planning, the Ephesus Road-Fordham Boulevard area plan, the Rosemary Street project, plus two concrete development proposals that are in the early stages: Glenn Lenox and Obey Creek. All of these conversations are going to involve balancing multiple community interests and values against each other. It's going to involve a lot of listening to each other and understanding of impacts and trade-offs. I will do my best to strike these balances in the best interest of the community as a whole. That will mean, for example, advocating for improved greenway and bicycle lane connections and transit services as an outcome of new development. It will also involve continued attention to the need for affordable housing. As we consider these new development or planning initiatives, it will be very important to ensure that the end results incorporate Chapel Hill values.

2. If you are not currently serving on the Town Council, what will you bring to the body that it now lacks? If you are an incumbent, what perspective have you brought that the town still needs?

I have consistently brought a social justice perspective to my Council work. In 2003, the strongest planks in my campaign platform were arguments for inclusionary zoning (a strengthened affordable housing ordinance) and a new way of approaching the problem of homelessness. Once on the Council, I followed through on these commitments, and I also worked hard on issues of historic preservation, neighborhood preservation, environmental preservation, and downtown development. While I believe I bring support to the Council's efforts in neighborhood preservation, environmental preservation, transit, and downtown development, I believe I offer distinctive and valuable experience and perspective in affordable housing, homelessness support, and historic preservation.

The link between historic preservation and social justice exists on multiple levels. For example, we can be thoughtful about how we reuse historic properties. The Council recently commissioned a study of Town-owned properties that could conceivably be sold. One of them is the old Town Hall, which will be vacant once the new men's homeless shelter operated by the Inter-Faith Council opens. If the Council decides it does not need the building (which is not a foregone conclusion by any means), we will discuss what to do with it. The building is listed on the National Register and thus would be eligible for historic preservation tax credits for a private owner. I would be interested in talking about structuring a negotiated sale or ground lease of the property to an organization that would transform the building into a new use that includes rental units offered at rates low-income workers can afford.

I believe I bring to the Council a knowledge base that enables me to propose ideas like this. As to affordable housing, I was a leader in the creation of our inclusionary zoning ordinance, which was highly at the 2013 National Housing Conference in Atlanta, which I attended in September. I am continuing to pursue this special interest with the work on affordable rentals (above). As to homelessness, I was involved in the creation of the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness; I was the first chair of its executive team; and I remain involved in its leadership.

My perspective in the areas of historic preservation, affordable housing, and homelessness support fills a distinct need on the Council.

3. In the last four years, what do you feel are the three best accomplishments of Chapel Hill Town Government, and why? Conversely, what are three things you would have done differently?

(a) Chapel Hill 2020. This new comprehensive plan was created through an unprecedented participatory process. Its co-chairs, Rosemary Waldorf and George Cianciolo, accepted the state's highest honor for volunteer service for their efforts, and it has won other awards. This plan well articulates Chapel Hill's vision as a progressive, vibrant, and welcoming community.

(b) Successfully responding to the financial crisis. Our town manager has succeeded in not laying off any employee (though numerous positions have gone vacant through attrition). Last year's $0.02 tax increase was the first in four years. We have maintained our AAA debt rating, and we continue to provide high-quality services.

(c) The opening of the expanded Chapel Hill Public Library. The culmination of an effort that began with a bond referendum in 2003or really earlier, given that the library that opened in 1994 was acknowledged to be too small for community needsthis was a great accomplishment. I served on the building committee and am proud of the results, both in terms of the architecture and in terms of the greatly expanded resources. As a structure, it is a beautiful civic space, and I am old-fashioned enough to believe in the value of beautiful civic space for its own sake. For those of our residents who live in poor housing or no housing, how inspring are the soaring ceiling and treehouse views of the main reading room. How great to have more computers and technological resources for all, especially for those who have none at home. For teens, how wonderful to have their own space. For children, what a great Michael Brown mural to enjoy. For the community: great, badly needed new public meeting rooms. I also applaud the ways in which the new library director, Susan Brown, is taking the Library outside of its walls and into the community: for example, with an "electronic bookmobile" set for Festifall on October 6. This is a 21st century library, accessible to all.

(d) The celebration of the Community Home Trust's 200th home; passage of inclusionary zoning ordinance.

http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2012/09/affordable-housing-initiative-grows

The Community Home Trust, the Town's partner in its inclusionary housing program, performs a vital public benefit. It continues to do so in today's precarious economy. We value their work tremendously, and we must find ways to continue to support it.

The inclusionary zoning ordinance continues to draw positive attention around the nation (see 2 above).

Done differently:

The Yates Building incident of 2011 should never have happened.

4. Indy Week's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

My eight-plus years of Council service demonstrate a consistent record of results in such areas as affordable housing, support in particular for the Northside neighborhood, our fare-free transit system, support for the homeless and those at risk of homelessness, support for living wage policies, and advocacy for fair treatment of town employees. I have lobbied in Raleigh for repeal of the law that prohibits collective bargaining by public employees. (I have received the 2013 endorsement from the Triangle Labor Council and N.C. AFL-CIO.) I am a reliable voice on the Council for these issues and more, and this is where my values lie.

I bring a background of journalism, humanities, and the law to my work as a policymaker. Professionally, in recent years my work has demonstrated a belief in the potential of the public humanities to engage citizens in conversations about the impact of the past upon the future, especially in the area of civil rights. I have organized conferences that gathered nationally recognized scholars of law and history to bring to light key lessons to be learned from North Carolina's history. A conference on Thomas Ruffin, the state's most famous jurist, focused on a landmark pre-Civil War opinion that cemented the rights of slave masters to exercise virtually limitless discipline over their slaves. Albion Tourge, a lawyer and activist who helped to write North Carolina's progressive Reconstruction Constitution of 1868 and later argued Homer Plessy's case, was the subject of another conference.

5. How do you define yourself politically (i.e. conservative, moderate, liberal, third party, hybrid, etc.) and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

Here it might be helpful to refer to my 2003 and 2007 Indy questionnaires. Both times I identified myself as a "liberal progressive," and I will continue to stand by that. My record by now includes successful passage of an inclusionary housing ordinance, the creation of the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness, the creation of a voter-owned election financing system (no longer authorized by state law), the preservation of 92 acres of town-owned land under permanent conservation easement, creation of the Northside neighborhood conservation district among others, improved Orange County funding for the Chapel Hill Public Library (which is a LEED Silver structure), completion of 140 West (with 18 affordable units, a dedicated public plaza, and energy efficiencies), the renaming of Airport Road to honor Martin Luther King Jr., and the dedication of the time-honored public gathering space in front of the old Franklin Street Post Office as Peace and Justice Plaza.

My present campaign platform leads off with a pledge to gain Council approval of the affordable rental strategy document that a task force I've co-chaired. Recommended in the draft strategy are a number of bold measures, including committing from tax dollars a new income stream for affordable housing. Regarding the priority on downtown, I'll work to ensure that those efforts support and enhance the adjoining Northside neighborhood. When I say that all major new development initiatives need to serve the entire community, that includes attention to affordable housing and public amenities that all can enjoy.

6. Chapel Hill has a reputation as a town that is anti-business. Is that fair or not? What would you do to change that reputation, if at all?

It may have been fair in the past. That started to change a few years ago. I supported the hiring of an economic development officer and using that position to help us turn that reputation around, and we can be proud of the results so far.

For example, our economic development officer is leading the charge on a key commercial focus area planning process: the Ephesus Road/Fordham Boulevard corridor. We are discussing potential new zoning tools as a way to attract the kind of commercial/mixed development we would like to see there. The Council regularly meets in work session with the economic development officer to advise and consult on strategies. He has commissioned studies to tell us where our retail market gaps and possibilities are, and this is the kind of hard data that can provide a useful basis for discussions about what the community actually desires, and what the economic and social benefit trade-offs are. We are actively promoting Chapel Hill as "Open for and open to business." I support these strategies and will encourage more of the same.

7. What is your view on the town's recent moves to support high-density, mixed-use developments in downtown Chapel Hill? What can be done to revitalize and support downtown?

Downtown's economic success depends on its having more residents and a denser mix of uses and activities available. I served on the town's negotiating team for the 140 West development, which we see as key to these efforts. We retained control of the public plaza as a town-owned space, and we have an ability to close off the adjoining Church St. for public events. The Rosemary side of the development is a critical element in the revitalization of Rosemary Street, which is proceeding along through the "Rosemary Imagined" discussions being led by the Downtown Partnership. 140 West has inspired new ways of thinking about downtown development, for example the Shortbread lofts going up on Rosemary now, and UNC's planned redevelopment of University Square, into a more urban pattern.

Adequate and well-managed parking is key to downtown's success, and the Town has made great strides in that regard. The Downtown Partnership and the Visitors Bureau have worked with the town to create a valuable tool for finding downtown parking: parkonthehill.com. The 140 West project includes one level of public underground parking, and those spaces plus new street parking added during the construction process add up to slightly more than was available when the property was a parking lot. We have been steadily increasing the number of parking spaces in the downtown business district and are now up to more than 950. Parking is a key issue that we need to keep paying attention to for the success of downtown. So are transit and bicycle facilities. The Downtown Partnership just celebrated the installation of a "bike corral" on West Franklin Street. It can hold 12 bicycles at a time.

All of these initiatives support the Council's strategy of revitalizing the Franklin-Rosemary corridor, transforming it into a denser, more lively, and economically successful two-street downtown. For more on my commitment to downtown, see 1(b) above.

8. What are your thoughts on the town's panhandling ordinance and its enforcement by Chapel Hill police?

In prior Indy questionnaires I have said that our panhandling ordinance is strong enough and is not the best solution to the problem of vagrancy on Franklin Street. My early interest in holding a community conversation about homelessness, in 2003, which resulted in the initiation of our 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness and the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness, was really a response to the prior Council's decision to impose a panhandling ordinance.

Chief Chris Blue and others from his staff, including a police social worker, spoke recently on this topic with the Partnership to End Homelessness. These days, they reported, actual panhandling is not a major issue: not as much of an issue as it was a few years ago. But Chief Blue receives frequent calls from merchants with complaints about people loitering and behaving in other ways that discourage or frighten customers. He takes the complaints seriously. But they are rarely violations of the panhandling ordinance. His officers and social workers apply various strategies, ranging from citation or arrest (if they are in fact caught violating the law) to counseling and strategizing with them regarding the issues they present: do they need mental health services, substance abuse services, are they homeless? The social workers take on these individuals as clients, and they do their best to work with the merchants, as well, to facilitate understanding of the issuesand to encourage the merchants to get to know these individuals. Specifically for people presenting mental health issues, outreach workers hired through Housing for New Hope in Durham have been providing helpful case work for a number of years now.

There are major success stories. Through the Partnership to End Homelessness, last year the 100,000 Homes task force found permanent supportive housing for seven of the most desperate cases of homelessness: these are people who were spending far too much time on Franklin Street.

A valuable new resource is the Orange County Outreach Court, created last year through the efforts of the Partnership to End Homelessness. It is the first of its kind in North Carolina. This court is available to people who are experiencing homelessness as an alternative to incarceration for misdemeanor crimes (like panhandling). Participants are screened by the UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health, which designs individualized treatment plans. After successfully completing six months of their treatment plans, participants graduate from Outreach Court and, in most cases, the criminal charges are dropped.

The way to confront the poverty and need reflected in panhandling and loitering downtown is not to criminalize it except as a last resort. I have worked hard through the Partnership to End Homelessness to support all of the community's outreach efforts and will continue to support such work.

9. What do you think of the town's comprehensive plan, Chapel Hill 2020? What are its strengths? What are its weaknesses? As a council member, how would you go about implementing the plan?

Chapel Hill 2020's strengths are many. The public outreach and community meetings involved in its creation were unprecedented. It has won numerous awards, most recently a planning and innovation award from the North Carolina chapter of the American Planning Association. As a final product, its strength is the progressive vision of Chapel Hill's future that it proposes. Its six themes are broad and aspirational: "A place for everyone," "Community prosperity and engagement," "Getting around," "Good places, new spaces," "Nurturing our community," and "Town and gown collaboration." True to the nature of comprehensive planning, it speaks in general goals and is nonspecific about how to achieve them. This can be considered a weakness only if your conception of a comprehensive plan is that it will do the hard work of calculating the trade-offs that will have to be made in order to achieve its goals.

The implementation steps are where those hard decisions are to be made. The plan itself calls for implementation to begin to happen through focus area discussions. This is where the next level of detail will emerge. "Rosemary Imagined" is one focus area discussion that appears to be going well. On the other hand, another focus area discussion, Central West, has not gone smoothly. As it comes to a close, we need to reevaluate strategies for effective facilitation and community dialogue. We can and should learn from that experience.

10. Chapel Hill continues to struggle to offer affordable housing. As a council member, what would you do to push affordable housing in the town?

I trust that my answers throughout the questions above are responsive to this question.

  • Candidate for Chapel Hill Town Council

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