I sat down with the self-proclaimed "young buck" of the Chapel Hill Town Council yesterday, Donna Bell. We chatted about affordable housing, homelessness in Chapel Hill, the town's relationship with Carrboro, and the power of perception when legislating.
"The one thing I've learned on the Council is that there are no 'duh' answers," she said. "Everything is complicated."
Bell said hot-button town issues like the vibrancy of downtown Franklin Street, and parking often become discussions between feelings and viewpoints.
"Responding to perceptions is hard for me," said Bell. "How do you have a conversation between two sets of perceptions?
Bell said despite a high occupancy rate of storefronts on Franklin Street, and improvements to parking that are coming as a result of a town study, people don't always see facts the same way.
One person has their facts and another person has their facts, everybody has facts, she said. "But sometimes you have to respond to perception."
The power of perception came into play a few weeks ago when the mayor of Morganton, a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate said the town is "slowly declining."
When asked about Chapel Hill's relationship with neighboring Carrboro, Bell said the two don't work together often. The towns are sharing a green development grant right now, but she said the municipal neighbors aren't necessarily the best of friends. "There's a history of resistance to collaboration between Carrboro and Chapel Hill," she said. ""Carrboro wants to maintain their own identity."
She then shrugs and admits that she usually finds herself in Carrboro, meeting people at Weaver Street (yes, we met there too), rather than Foster's (the typical Town Council dive). Weaver Street, she said, is a much easier walk from her house.
Other hot issues for the council this fall, according to Bell:
-the budget (when is that not hot?)
"We've gone two years without giving [town] employees a raise," she said.
-IFC's homeless shelter permit application and site discussion
-UNC's University Square project
"That'll be big."
-Chapel Hill Museum. Bell said she thinks that issue will resurface.
-Glen Lennox development
"We're not good at having some of the really hard discussions," Bell said. She cites examples like affordable housing, "there's a serious...need," she said.
The Council is begins their meetings September 15.