Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town, known as CHALT, formed in January. Founding member Tom Henkel said CHALT is a grass-roots movement of people who dislike the direction in which Chapel Hill is heading. Now, more than 15,000 people subscribe to CHALT’s newsletter.
“There’s going to be development, and my colleagues on CHALT are all in favor of development, but it’s got to be what we call sustainable development,” Henkel said. “I don’t think people want Chapel Hill to be Manhattan South.”
According to a Public Policy Polling report released on Sept. 23, 36 percent of voters say they approve of the Town Council’s work, while 40 percent don’t.
While members of CHALT’s leadership have been politically active, their political action committee is the town of Chapel Hill’s first.
“It’s surprising to see sort of national PAC politics play in Chapel Hill for the first time,” said Aaron Nelson, secretary of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce.
Henkel said the group has raised between $5,000 and $6,000 in donations.
He noted that none of the donations to the CHALT political action committee are from real estate or development interests, like some of the donations to Mark Kleinschmidt’s or Lee Storrow’s campaigns.
“Our candidates are beholden to the people of Chapel Hill, not beholden to development outside of Chapel Hill,” Henkel said.
These funds go toward advertisements and yard signs supporting the candidates the committee endorses — Pam Hemminger for mayor and Jessica Anderson, David Schwartz and Nancy Oates for Chapel Hill Town Council.
Henkel said CHALT’s supporters are a cross section of Chapel Hill. He said CHALT members have been canvassing neighborhoods heavily over the past few weeks.
“We’re finding out that people are going to vote for a change,” he said.
Henkel said he thinks CHALT can have a real influence on November’s election.
“I think we’re going to change the council this year,” he said. “The anti-incumbent feeling is running very strong this year in Chapel Hill.”
Schwartz said he has no idea how much sway CHALT will have in the election, but he’s thankful for the support.
“If I succeed at winning a seat on Town Council, the success will be due in large part to the various kinds of help — financial support, policy research, voter outreach — I have received from CHALT,” Shwartz said.
Town Council incumbent Donna Bell said she thinks CHALT already has had a significant influence.
“They’ve already influenced the conversation, which is always important anytime you have an election,” she said.
Nelson said CHALT is only bringing one issue — development — to light and possibly raising unnecessary concern about growth.
“Chapel Hill has so many more things that are more important than whether a building is going to be three stories or six,” he said.