Mark H. Chilton | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Mark H. Chilton 

Candidate for Carrboro Mayor

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Mark H. Chilton
Full legal name, if different: Mark Hayes Chilton
Date of birth: 9/27/1970
Home address: 203 Ashe St, Carrboro,NC 27510
Mailing address, if different from home: same
Campaign Web site:
Occupation & employer: Attorney and Broker; Community Realty
Home phone: 919-968-8090
Work phone: 919-636-0371

1) What do you believe are the most important issues facing Carrboro? If elected, what are your top priorities in addressing those issues?

My top three priorities for Carrboro are:

1. Diversifying Carrboro's tax base through careful downtown re-developmentand revisions to the Northern Small Area Plan.2. Making Carrboro the most pedestrian and bicycle friendly town in North Carolina by completing bicycle and pedestrian improvements on EstesDrive Extension, Smith Level Road and along the Morgan Creek and Bolin Creek corridors.3. Completing revisions to the Northern Small Area Plan with an emphasison diverse housing, economic development, open space preservation, stream protection and farmland conservation.

2) What is there in your record as a public official or other experience that demonstrates your ability to be effective on the board? This might include career or community service; but please be specific about its relevance to this office.

I have served on both the Carrboro Board of Aldermen and the Chapel Hill Town Council. I was a Council Member for 6 years from 1991-1997 and an Aldermen for 2 years from 2003-2005. For the last four years, I have served as the Mayor of Carrboro.

As Mayor, I have lead Carrboro through some difficult moments, but I think my ability to be an effective leader is demonstrated by my role in the parking dispute at Abbey Court. While the issue may seem trivial when viewed from a regional perspective, it was essential to the predominantly Latino community living at Abbey Court. I defused a tense confrontation among Carrboro PD, Abbey Court private security and about 100 Abbey Court residents around 10 PM one July night last summer. I had been called to the scene by an Abbey Court resident to whom I had given my cell number in case the more trouble was brewing over the parking situation.

Here is a poor quality photo I took with my cellphone, showing about ¼ of the assembled crowd:

I took center stage and speaking in Spanish, addressed the Abbey Court community on the spot, telling them about the importance of keeping their resistance non-violent. I told them that although I had no authority to stop the towing, I do have the authority to commence investigations of possible housing code violations if anyone wanted to file a complaint. Without belaboring the entire story, we used housing complaints (and legitimate housing code violations – including the lack of smoke detectors) to help Abbey Court's ownership understand that they needed to rethink their approach on the parking issue.

3) How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I am a dedicated environmental activist who believes that we must find economically sound and socially just solutions to the crises that face our planet. In my past public service I worked hard to expand recycling services into lower-income apartment communities and I fought against increases in the Chapel Hill Transit bus fares (back when there was a bus fare to pay).

I spearheaded a move to reduce zoning regulations on the establishment of small pre-schools in our community. By expanding the opportunities for people to open small pre-schools, the Town is making pre-school both more walkable and more affordable to our community. This also helps to strengthen our local economy by increasing the opportunities for parents of small children to participate in the workforce.

I want to apply some of those same ideas to small scale commercial development in selected areas around Carrboro in order to give greater pedestrian access to commercial services -- i.e. to make such services accessible on foot to people who live in the more suburban areas of Carrboro.

4) Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

As a dedicated civil libertarian, I have definitely taken some unpopular stands in defense of the right to solicit on public streets and in defense of the right of Public Housing residents to have the same privacy rights that all other renters and homeowners enjoy (i.e. related to drug searches). I stand by my belief that the Bill of Rights is the most essential document in the American system of government.

5) Large building projects like that under way by Main Street Partners and the Greenbridge development just across the line in Chapel Hill will change Carrboro's landscape and it character in the near future. The project at 300 Main Street also will alter the status quo. What is your vision for the town's long-range development? What are the pros and cons of commercial and residential development?

I want to place more emphasis on commercial development than on residential development. I believe we need to look at the question of what types of commercial development would help to employ more Carrboro residents within Carrboro (ie that would get some folks off I-40).

I also believe that downtown Carrboro is the most appropriate place for our community to grow (also growth at certain nodes in the Northern Study Area is appropriate). In downtown, we already have a significant investment in infrastructure that will reduce costs by avoiding rebuilding that infrastructure elsewhere. While I do not foresee buildings as large as Greenbridge for our downtown, I do think that more intense use of space downtown will reduce pressure on our Rural Buffer and will allow for more efficient use of public transportation and existing infrastructure.

I believe that growth in the Northern Study Area should involve:

1) Identifying growth nodes for northern Carrboro,

2) Designating mixed use development in the growth nodes, with a greater emphasis on commercial than in the past,

3) Conserving land by putting a 10+ year down zoning on areas within the Urban Services Boundary on the west side of Old NC 86, and

4) Creating bicycle and pedestrian only transportation corridors that will interconnect Carrboro and Chapel Hill (see response to Question 6).

6) How will you deal with growth in Carrboro given its limited physical boundaries? By extension, what are your viewpoints regarding high-density housing and its placement?

First, I am committed to maintaining the Rural Buffer and Urban Services boundary in its current location. In order to accomplish that goal we need to think strategically about the types of growth that Carrboro will have in the areas remaining for redevelopment.

I believe this has 3 essential implications for the town:

1) We should encourage more multifamily development, rather than large lot single-family development. Although multifamily development in recent years has become more pricey, condos and townhomes are not nearly as expensive as the 3,000+ square foot detached houses that are being built in Carrboro. This policy has implications for the overall affordability of our housing stock as well as for the political, social and physical character of our entire town.

2) New housing and commercial development should be done as mixed use development either downtown or in designated growth nodes in the Northern Study Area. This will create more walkable and transit friendly development and will also use the remaining undeveloped or underdeveloped land efficiently.

3) We should begin setting aside areas within the Urban Services Boundary for future growth. That is, we should have some areas that are off-limits to development for the next 10+ years. This policy would help ensure that we will not run out of land for future development between now and then. Also, this will help to accommodate needs that have yet to be identified such as additional school sites etc. Specifically, I think the land on the west side of Old NC 86 ought to be reserved for future growth and currently set off limits for 10+ years.

7) In the midst of a difficult economic situation and a tough budget year, what's one thing that the town is cutting that you would save and what's one thing that's been saved that you would cut?

Well, naturally I think we did a pretty good job with the budget, so this is difficult to answer. However, let me just say that I am glad that we have adopted a sound, tight budget that kept our town tax-rate at the equalization rate. I think my budget priorities are demonstrated by 1) continuing on with construction of the Estes Drive Ext. sidewalk despite the difficult economic times, 2) increasing our human services grant program and 3) changing the town's phone services and health insurance carrier to save money.

8) What is your opinion of inclusionary zoning procedure and its intent? Are the right people being served by it? Are the right types of properties (ie)condos, single-family homes, etc) available through the program? Should payment in lieu be accepted? Is the program, as it stands now, in a position to provide long-term success for residents?

I think we need to take four steps on affordable housing:

1. Continue with inclusionary housing policies, but placing a greater emphasis on 3 bedroom houses/condos,

2. We should develop articulable standards for accepting payments in lieu to the Carrboro Housing Trust Fund (which I established in 2007 or so) and we should accept those payments more often,

3. With the increased payments-in-lieu, we should establish a long-term maintenance fund for our current affordable housing stock including the Home Trust (which I also established back in 1996 or so) houses and others, and

4. We should reserve some of the money to build/acquire dwellings for the 50 or so chronically homeless individuals in Orange County.

9) What makes Carrboro unique to you? How would you preserve that while advancing it?

I think Carrboro is unique because of its open-minded, creative and accepting atmosphere.

As Mayor, I have worked hard to promote and defend Carrboro's open-minded atmosphere by:

1. Successfully confronting Carr Mill Mall management about their exclusion of Bruce the dancing man from the Weaver Street Lawn,

2. Coming to the aid of the undocumented immigrant community during the struggle over parking regulations at Abbey Court (see my response to Question 2), and

3. Resolving conflicts between town bureaucrats and the Really, Really Free Market.

While non of those issues is at all essential to the role of Mayor as defined in North Carolina General Statutes, taken together they illustrate my commitment to making and keeping Carrboro a uniquely open-minded, creative and accepting community.

I think the greatest threat to those aspects of our community is the increasing cost of housing. I outlined in my response to Question 8 what the next couple of steps are for dealing with housing affordability, but let me also add that I played a key role in starting the Weaver Community Housing Association in order to help create new kinds of residential options for the artists and other people who make Carrboro the place that it is.

10) What important town departments or agencies have been, in your opinion, chronically underfunded? What have been the ramifications of that shortage? If elected, where would you find the money to more fairly fund these areas? Conversely, what department or agency budgets could be cut?

I don't think any department has been truly underfunded, but I do think we were behind the curve on the establishment of a second fire station for Carrboro. The Board of Aldermen and I have worked hard to ensure that the resources needed for the second fire station are available and we broke ground on building it this summer. Not having had this station up to now has meant slower response times on emergencies at the northernmost end of town and while those response times have been within accepted standards, they are the limit of what we find acceptable.

The on-going global economic crisis afforded an opportunity to back off on our commitment to this project, however I felt that sooner or later lives will be at stake over our response times and I also felt that moving forward with the station was our own small effort to support President Obama's plan to turn the national economy around through public construction projects. Consequently we moved forward with the project despite the bad economy.

11) Earlier this year, the board heard a fiscal presentation about a pay-as-you-throw trash system. What do you think of the system from a financial, environmental and practical standpoint? If you approve, how would any additional costs be covered? If you disapprove, what are some alternatives?

Pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) is something that Chapel Hill and Carrboro would have to do together. Having free pick-up in one town, while having a PAYT system in the other is totally impractical and unfair to the town that does not have PAYT. Also close coordination with the University of North Carolina would be essential (they run their own trash collection system).

Also, I would not consider PAYT unless serious and effective measures were put in place to ensure that low and moderate income families were going to be shielded against an unfair redistribution of the tax burden. Such 'equity' systems exist, but between this issue and the need for a PAYT system to be done in both towns at once, I don't think PAYT will happen any time soon.

Having said all that, I am participating in the development of Orange County's Solid Waste Management Plan update and we are working toward developing an integrated approach to SWM management that will include reducing waste, increasing the types of recyclable materials being collected, and increasing commercial and possibly residential composting.

12) Carrboro emphasizes locally owned, import-substituting economic development. What is your opinion of that policy? Has it, in your view, succeeded? How can it be improved? What is the town doing and what more should it be doing to support small business during the economic recession?

Our work in this area has really only just begun, but I am proud that Carrboro is the community that is leading our region in re-examining the value of local businesses. This is not merely a question of supporting local businesses with some sort of Shop Orange First type campaign. The point is that traditional methods of nationally recruiting large employers by offering corporate welfare does not work -- they come for the incentives and they leave when it suits them.

Instead, Carrboro is joining the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies and attempting to look at how to staunch the flow of money from our community to Wall Street, by creating local markets, supporting local businesses etc. Specifically, we have a Local Living Economy Task Force which is developing and implementing a plan to make this a reality. That process is still unfolding and I cannot say just where it will end up, but I support the idea and am looking forward to hearing a progress report from them soon.

13) Do you believe there is enough citizen participation in Carrboro? What would you do to improve it? How can leaders make government more accessible and responsive to citizen needs and concerns? How do students fit in?

I get the point of your question, but let me just point out that in a town like Carrboro it is important to speak of resident participation, rather than citizen participation because so many of our residents are not US citizens -- I would guess at least 10%. In my opinion, people deserve to be represented even if they cannot vote. Besides the well-known and substantial Hispanic population (which is a mix of citizens and non-citizens), Carrboro is (to my knowledge) home to immigrants from India, Ireland, Russia, China, Ukraine, France, Israel, Iran, Kenya, Canada and no doubt many other countries. Notably there has been a substantial growth in refugees fleeing here from Burma -- mostly from a non-Burmese ethnic/liguistic group called Karen. Also, I am currently studying the Karen language so that I can attempt to better communicate with my Karen constituents.

Okay, now to answer the question that I think you really meant to ask: I think we have a good amount of resident participation, although more would always be welcome. I encourage people to speak at board meetings, and unlike previous Boards of Aldermen, I always try to make sure that someone answers the questions that are asked from the podium. Also, we recently bought simultaneous translation equipment in order to allow for greater participation by non-English speaking residents of the community.

14) The 10-year plan to end homelessness is underway. Do you think it's been effective thus far? What accountability measures are or should be in place? What are the hurdles to accomplishing it? How can the town overcome those obstacles? What is not in the plan that should be?

I think that the 10 year plan has been reasonably effective in connecting homeless people with needed services, but that the real point of the planning process was the creation of permanent, stable housing situations for the chronically homeless -- i.e. those who have been unhoused for over a year and have extremely low incomes. The homeless population counts have suggested that there are about 50 (if I recall correctly) individuals in this situation in Orange County.

I think that in addition to continuing on with the Plan's referral and service co-ordination goals, we should be directing more of our community's affordable housing resources toward the construction or acquisition/rehabilitation of permanently affordable rental housing that is so deeply subsidized that the chronically homeless can afford it (i.e in some case it would be free).

From my experience in developing this type of housing (in partnership with Orange Person Chatham Foundation for Mental Health -- now Chrysalis Foundation), it needs to be mostly at scattered sites and integrated into the community so as to both distribute the impact and integrate the clients into the community.

Carrboro shares its federal HOME dollars with Hillsborough, Chapel Hill and Orange County. This year we allocated $435,226 to Community Alternatives for Supportive Abodes (CASA) for the renovation of ten one-bedroom apartments on Pritchard Avenue Extension in Chapel Hill.  These homes will be rented to very low income individuals -- with disabilities or be formerly homeless.  This is an excellent step, although I prefer a more scattered site approach. I continue to advocate to the HOME Consortium that we should allocate a larger proportion of our funds to this activity.

15) What's your vision for Smith Level Road? Will it eventually need to be widened? How can the town move forward with adding bike lanes and sidewalks to this Carrboro High artery?

No new motor vehicle traffic lanes are either wanted or needed on Smith Level Road. We need sidewalks on both sides and a striped bike lane in the uphill direction as far as the High School. Beyond the High School, Smith Level Road should remain as it now is and Orange County should develop a separate greenway connecting from Starpoint, through Heritage Hills, along University Lake to Carrboro High School.

However, it seems unlikely that that scenario will come to pass quickly. In the shorter term, I am continuing to advocate with DOT about the practicality and low cost of this approach, as I did in a recent meeting with NCDOT's Chief Operating Officer James Trogdon. In that meeting, Gen. Trogdon acknowledged that NCDOT's computer modeling system is highway-centric and that it may not be all that applicable to communities where a large emphasis is being placed on alternative transportation. At the same time he acknowledged that North Carolina cannot afford to build the kind of automobile oriented transportation system that so many of its leaders would like. All of that gives me hope, but I also have to say that I have been working on and hearing about reform at NCDOT for 18 years now, so I guess I will believe it when I see it.

However, I believe that Carrboro and NCDOT might be able to reach a very short-term agreement to simply add a paved shoulder on the west side of Smith Level Road from Culbreth Road to Morgan Creek. This would at least provide some more reasonable space for pedestrians and cyclists and reduce somewhat the chance of an accident. And it could potentially be done quickly.

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