Candidates weigh in on light-rail, taxes, development and more

Oct. 20, 2013 @ 02:14 AM

The candidates for the Chapel Hill Town Council presented their cases for election Tuesday night as they answered questions posed by the audience in advance of the Oct. 17 start of early voting.
In a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters for Chatham, Durham and Orange Counties, the eight candidates – D.C. Swinton, Amy Ryan, Maria Palmer, Gary Khan, Loren Hintz, Ed Harrison, Sally Greene and George Cianciolo – presented arguments for why they should fill the four available seats on the council.
While incumbents Greene and Harrison seek re-election, Councilmembers Gene Pease and Laurin Easthom are leaving their posts after serving one and two terms in office. The four candidates receiving the most votes win the available seats.
Running unopposed but opening the forum with his platform for office was Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, who said he can identify with residents who miss the small-town charm that once defined Chapel Hill but realizes the importance of preparing for future changes.
“I really miss that town,” he said, referring to Chapel Hill in 1988. “But I love this town, too. They (previous town leaders) helped us move from there to here and that’s been about the only thing that’s remained the same in Chapel Hill .”
He added that he wants the city to avoid the abandonment of its rural buffer and urban services boundary despite the continued pressure to develop and grow the area and to continue to give attention to the downtown area so that local businesses don’t have to rely as heavily on the University of North Carolina ’s calendar as they are now.
The possibility of a light-rail transit system along Highway 54 had support among some of the candidates but Ryan said she was concerned that “it would serve only a small part of the town, even though it’s our largest employer. I’m concerned about the expense for a town of our size.”
Greene, who has served two terms on the council, is in support of a light-rail system but doesn’t “want us to be another Atlanta . I’m excited to see ways to incorporate affordable housing near light-rail stops.”
When asked to choose between raising taxes or cutting services, Kahn said that “increasing taxes is not the way to prioritize our budget. We have to take each item for what is it.”
Having served more than 10 years on the council, Harrison said that the recent tax increase was the first in four years and that there “was a lot of built-up need. There will be needs but there’s not much left to cut.”
Discussing pro-density and pro-connectivity, Cianciolo said that “it’s a natural reaction of any neighborhood to want to protect itself. We need to educate people, provide the data and explain to them carefully the benefits” as well as have alternative plans if those fears are realized.
Hintz believes that bike safety is a very important issue and that educating the public is crucial, detailing that “we need to work more with the [the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles] on educating drivers and incorporating as many bike safety features in the development of new roads and the retrofitting of old roads.”
Palmer said that the town should “push UNC to do more for their employees because we are subsidizing employees who aren’t paid enough to pay rent” when asked about loss of tax revenue due to the university’s expansion.
Swinton believes that the town can “restore the tax base by bringing in new industry or retail” but is aware that “infrastructure is very costly and why we don’t want to deal with urban sprawl. I’d rather build up than out.”
Election Day is Nov. 5; polls will be open that day from 6:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.