This, in part, is a result of the election of three new members, Ed Harrison, Mark Kleinschmidt and Dorothy Verkerk, all of whom ran with environmental concerns on their platforms.
"There has a been a strong ideological shift," Verkerk said. "We've given a lot more depth and have pushed the ideology on the council from pro-development to preserving Chapel Hill's green spaces."
Kleinschmidt said the new members' experience in the environmental area allows them to better represent those issues. "We three are steeped in the issue," Kleinschmidt said. "We can articulate very comfortably and are able to advocate aggressively."
Their combined impact on the council has been especially noticeable in the last weeks regarding development issues. At a March 25 meeting, the three voted together against continuing talks concerning the widening of South Columbia Street.
The council also is in the process of hammering out a new development ordinance code. The new ordinance is expected to protect natural environments while still allowing urban development.
Harrison said the new members could have an impact on how the ordinance is completed. "This is the biggest body of code that will shape how Chapel Hill grows," Harrison said. "The first two people I check with are Dorothy and Mark."
But Kleinschmidt said that despite the trio's disposition toward helping the environment, they do not collaborate on making certain decisions. "I like them, and we usually agree, but we don't plot together to conspire."
Harrison said he has gotten to know Verkerk and Kleinschmidt very well through their work. "The town has a program they send us through, trying to orientate us (new council members) with the town," Harrison said. "We've spent more than 10 hours with administrators talking about how government works.
"We've gotten to know each other."
While the trio has had an impact on the procedures of the council, former Mayor Jonathan Howes says it might not be entirely positive.
He cited the way the widening of South Columbia Street was handled as an example. "It was most unusual for the council to rule on the (South Columbia Street resolution) without it having looked over by the staff. It was their inexperience that led to that vote-taking."
But Verkerk said she sees the beginning of a new direction in the growth of Chapel Hill. "I'm hoping this whole issue of turning Chapel Hill into a thoroughfare where people drive through has been put to an end," she said. "I'd like to see a shift to what makes Chapel Hill unique.
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