Penny Rich | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Penny Rich 

Candidate for Chapel Hill Town Council

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Penny Rich
Full legal name, if different: Penny Rich
Date of birth: 5/27/59
Home address: 109 Oldham Place, Chapel Hill, NC 27516
Mailing address, if different from home: same
Campaign Web site:
Occupation & employer: Self employed (personal chef)
Home phone: (919) 368-3516
Work phone: same
Cell phone: same

1. What is there in your public record or other experience that demonstrates your ability to be an effective leader? Please be specific about your public and community service background.

Soon after moving to Chapel Hill I became involved with the technology advisory board. This allowed me to learn about other boards and commissions, and soon I applied to be nominated to the OWASA board. I was appointed to the OWASA board by the Town Council in 2001. I served two consecutive terms from 2001-2007, and held positions of secretary/treasurer, vice chair, chair of the NRTS committee, chair of the HR committee, and was also a member of the properties committee, the community outreach committee and the art committee. I am also active with the IFC and cook in the community kitchen twice a month. When my son was a student at Chapel of the Cross Preschool I served as the chair of the board of directors.

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

Elected officials should be a voice of the people. Their job is to listen to citizens when their opinions are not taken into account and do their best to consider those interests and concerns. The role of an elected official is to represent those who put them in office. When I served on the OWASA board, I listened to the concerns of the citizens regarding water supply during the 2002 drought, and acted on those concerns by helping to implement year round water conservation efforts. We are now seeing the benefits of these actions in the current drought. I also believe that because Chapel Hill is a college town, it is crucial to have open communication with UNC. I worked closely with the University in implementing the water reclamation system for the chiller plants that will begin operations in 2008 and will allow more potable water availability for the citizens of Chapel Hill.

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

I would like to see penalties exacted against absentee landlords in downtown Chapel Hill. I feel we should give them a two year leeway to fill their storefront, and after that grace period, we need to establish consequences. Despite concerns expressed by some land owners downtown, I would not allow for grandfathering or exemptions from this penalty.

4. The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

I would like to represent a voice for those who feel that they have no voice, such as the Rogers Road Community. This community has been asked to bear the burden of a landfill for thirty years and is now being asked to host the new transfer station. This is an example of environmental injustice, and the decision to place the transfer station in this community should be overturned.

5. Carolina North could transform the look of Chapel Hill, as well as set precedents in town-gown relations. What zoning regulations and building standards should the city implement on the project? Explain the optimal process by which the town could work with UNC on this and future projects.

Because of the enormity of the project, careful planning is critical. The town and University must work to maintain an atmosphere of mutual trust regarding Carolina North in order to create a favorable outcome for both parties. The town must evaluate the results from the studies that are currently in progress, including the transit study, the environmental impact study and the fiscal equity study, before any decisions are made, permits are issued, or new zoning requirements are put into place. I am deeply concerned about this project’s demands on our natural resources, such as water, in this drought prone era. The council must take into consideration these issues and should utilize emerging technologies for supplying energy, as well as require sustainable practices in order to protect old growth forests and special creek and woodland habitats.

6. Along those development lines, growth in northwest Chapel Hill is an issue important to the town’s citizens. What is your plan for growth in that sector? How will it be achieved?

I would work to implement the goals set forth by the Northern Area Task Force, with particular emphasis on development that protects, restores, and enhances the environmental quality of the area. We also must protect the integrity of existing neighborhoods, respecting and enforcing buffers. Vehicular impact can be reduced by extending public transit into the area, and by building close to transit corridors while keeping adequate buffers and open space to minimize the light and noise of new development. Pedestrian oriented commercial development should be encouraged to keep traffic to a minimum.

7. While Greenbridge has been lauded as an environmentally friendly housing development, there are also concerns that it threatens adjacent lower-income neighborhoods. What do you think the town’s strategy should be in regards to gentrification?

The town has done a good job of working to prevent gentrification in the Northside neighborhood through the implementation of a Neighborhood Conservation District as well as requiring that developers reserve 15% of units for affordable housing. Greenbridge has met the requirement of the town and has gone a step further by involving Northside residents every step of the way, from concept design to final blueprint. Every project of this magnitude should be required to take the interests of the citizens into consideration when making decisions that will affect their neighborhood.

8. How should the town incentivize affordable housing? As for public housing, how should the town continue to manage these developments in light of reduced federal funding?

The town should stick to their plan of 15% affordable housing, but should retain the flexibility to request more affordable housing on a case by case basis as they see fit. The Council has been very successful with this approach. The town is currently developing a requirement for inclusionary zoning. As a result, there will be fewer incentives needed to be built into the Town ordinances. The need for federal funding will be reduced if we attack the problem at the local level.

9. The town’s comprehensive plan emphasizes regional planning and cooperation. What are the most important issues in regional planning? What results are you looking for? How would you achieve them?

As Chapel Hill continues to grow we must ensure open communication between the towns in the region to build regional transit. The Town must continue to work with the TTA and the Metropolitan Planning Organizations to ensure that we develop efficient regional transit to benefit commuters. The study now underway called the Regional Transit Blueprint is an excellent example of regional cooperation and planning that must be continued.

10. The council has debated obtaining contributions from developers to help pay for the operating costs of the town’s free bus system. What are the pros and cons of such a plan? What formulas should be used to assess the fee amounts? What transportation needs could be met with the additional funds generated by these fees?

It is a common misconception that the town taxpayer’s money pays for the free bus system. Although the town carries a percent of the burden, the majority is paid for by the University, with a small percentage paid by Carrboro. I do not feel that developers should bear the cost of transportation, and feel that any additional monetary requirements of developers by the town should be directed towards LEED quality building and supporting new schools.

11. The 10-year plan to end homelessness began earlier this month. How will the town monitor progress on the plan? What accountability measures are or should be in place? What are the hurdles to accomplishing it? How can the town overcome those obstacles?

The 10-year plan to end homelessness is starting off with an unexpected disadvantage having lost one of two outreach coordinators due to lack of funding. The outreach coordinator position is central to the plan, as this is the person directly in contact with the homeless. The town must find the funds to get a second coordinator back out on the streets so that the plan can stay on track. Another obstacle will be finding a new homeless shelter for the men. I would work to facilitate this project.

12. 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 town departments or agencies have been overfunded?

Historically the engineering department did not have the personnel to make sure that approved permit conditions were met. Although the Orange County soil and erosion office is charged with all non university inspections of County construction projects, Chapel Hill has taken over some of these important responsibilities. This function is important to protect water quality and biohabitats next to and in our streams and tributaries. I would work to increase funding for the Orange County office. The Chapel Hill storm water utility which makes assessments each year on Chapel Hill OWASA bills has helped to remedy this problem from a local prospective.

The best measure of police and fire protection is to monitor response time for these services. I believe there are adequate response times at this time, but the Council should ensure those response times remain more than adequate. If response times increase, we need to hire more personal.

Presently we do not have the planning staff to review plans for a complicated new campus. This is a concern.

13. Chapel Hill is participating in the Jordan Lake Stakeholder Project to help manage this resource, which is polluted and threatened by growth and development. What is Chapel Hill’s responsibility in mitigating these threats? What policies should Town Council enact to help protect water quality and quantity in Jordan Lake?

When I was on the OWASA board, I voted in the upgrade of the water treatment plant which now uses UV filtration to clean the effluent as opposed to a chemical mix, which emits zero nitrates into Morgan Creek, which is a tributary to Jordan Lake. The town, likewise, has gone beyond the required acts regarding runoff into Jordan Lake. I truly believe that Jordan Lake needs to be cleaned up, but the one size fits all approach that has been proposed does not take into account the communities such as Chapel Hill who have been on top of the problem, and places an unfair burden on taxpayers in Chapel Hill, who already paid to have the $50,000,000 upgrade installed. With a close to 2 billion dollar cost to clean up Jordan Lake, we need think carefully about how this will be implemented.

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