CHALT makes connections

After my children left home, my husband and I thought of downsizing to Nancy OatesHillsborough, where taxes are a little bit lower. But the historic homes were too big, the small homes in a gentrifying section of town needed too much work, and the new homes in the subdivisions north of town left us uninspired.

Knowing that the most successful moves are to someplace not from someplace, we stayed put.

As I sat in traffic last week, first on U.S. 70 into Hillsborough, then on Churton Street, gratitude for our decision almost overrode the frustration of wasting so much time idling my engine as traffic barely moved through light cycle after light cycle. Hillsborough has grown steadily in the past decade, and town leaders apparently didn’t give serious thought to how all those extra cars and trucks on roads that can’t be widened would impinge on residents’ quality of life.

Those of us sensitive to unintended consequences and willing to learn from the mistakes of other towns seem to find one another. Many of us recently organized ourselves into a formal group to share what we’ve observed and learned. We call ourselves Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town, or CHALT (admittedly, we don’t have a branding expert among our number), and we held our first educational event on Sunday afternoon at the library.

The response overwhelmed us. We ran out of parking spaces, surveys and Rice Krispies Treats. We had exhibits on five main areas that affect the quality of life of our town: traffic and transit, affordable housing, the environment (including stormwater management), a fiscal analysis of new development projects, and town planning and design. People filled out surveys rating which commercial and residential projects contributed the most to the town and weighed in on what budget items they would reduce spending on. We had forms for people to register to vote, but everyone who stopped by was already a registered voter.

The exhibits sparked many interesting conversations. People could see how each area impacted all the others. When the town adds something in one area, what does it cost the other areas in terms of increased risk of flooding, for instance, or higher property taxes or longer waits for a bus? If the town spends more on servicing new developments, what cuts will it make in the budget, or where will it generate more revenue? What can council members do to shape new developments to ensure that the people who live here benefit and that a development’s impact is worth the cost to taxpayers?

CHALT’s next event will be held 3-5 p.m. on Feb. 19, at the library in Room A. CHALT will host a talk by an affordable housing expert on March 18, 5-7 p.m., at the library. All CHALT programs are free and open to the public.

Learn more at, where you also can sign up to receive a free subscription to our newsletter, emailed direct to your computer.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. bonnie hauser

     /  January 26, 2015

    If Sunday was a start, we can look forward to some impressive work by CHALT. I was impressed by the turnout and from what I can tell, people truly enjoyed learning more about the issues.

    I’m sure there will be attempts to marginalize this thoughtful and diverse group of citizens as NIMBY or anti-development. Not so. The overarching theme was “better planning for good development”. Some visitors were intrigued by CHALT’s commitment to endorse candidates for local elections.

    Nice job CHALT.

  2. The response was indeed over powering. My only regret was not having the time to take the fabulous survey rating Town commercial and residential projects. We hope to make that available on line.

    Quick correction: CHALT’s event on affordable housing will be held March 18, 5 pm at the Chapel Hill Public Library. The guest speaker, Ann Moss Joyner of the Cedar Grove Institute, has helped communities across the country adopt policies that bring affordable housing. We hope her remarks will spark an interesting discussion.

  3. Terri

     /  January 27, 2015

    Julie, I hope your group defines “affordable” housing to include middle-income residents. I deeply believe that we need to provide housing for low-income residents, but I also feel that it’s been a failure of all our local governments to focus only on low income.

    When I was moving back to town 14 years ago and looking for houses around $200,000, the inventory was empty unless I went to Durham. The availability of housing between $200,000-300,000 is even worse today. That’s the price range, in a house with a yard for children to play in or to raise a garden in, for many of us working at the University, especially those who have student debt.

    That lack of inventory is why I believe we have so many commuters to the University. Housing is viewed by many as their opportunity to build wealth, so even if someone could qualify for Community Home Trust, they would rather buy outside southern Orange County. Others don’t want to feel like that are taking welfare when they earn a salary that is greater than the state mean.

  4. many

     /  January 27, 2015

    Terri, wouldn’t the observation you just made be a reason that people should be suspicious of density as a “solution”?