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Chapel Hill Town Council talks Juneteenth, COVID-19 at special meeting

<p>Town Council Members give thumbs-ups to the camera at a Town Council Meeting via Zoom on Wednesday, June 17, 2020.</p>
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Town Council Members give thumbs-ups to the camera at a Town Council Meeting via Zoom on Wednesday, June 17, 2020.

At its June 17 special meeting, the Chapel Hill Town Council received updates on the Town’s response to the pandemic and took action on the affordable housing funding plan and the North-South Bus Rapid Transit project.

To start the session, the council recognized June 19, 2020, as “Juneteenth,” the day in 1865 that marked the freedom of enslaved Black Americans in Galveston, Texas, granted by the Emancipation Proclamation. 

“This year, the Town of Chapel Hill wishes to officially recognize this important event, and in so doing, we urge all residents and employers to recognize the holiday and take a day to reflect and take actions to advance freedom and equality,” Council Member Allen Buansi said. 

COVID-19 response 

According to an update from Town Emergency Management Coordinator Kelly Drayton, Orange County will receive $412,225, and Durham County $1,296,740 from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services' $35 million designated for local health departments. 

The money, which the state received from federal funding, is meant to support local health departments in staffing, infection controls, testing and tracing, according to a June 16 news release. 

Drayton also mentioned Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, which she said will work with Town staff and community partners to plan for school reopening in the fall.

The state Department of Public Instruction has issued three reopening scenarios, including different capacities of in-person instruction or remote learning only. By July 1, Gov. Roy Cooper will choose from the scenarios or opt for a more restrictive one for the upcoming school year.  

The Town will continue to offer services like the curbside pickup at Chapel Hill Public Library and the weekly food distribution, which will move from the library’s lower-level parking lot to the Eubanks Road Park & Ride Lot starting July 1. 

Face coverings will be distributed from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays at Fire Stations One and Three, and donations are accepted daily at the Hargraves Community Center. 

Affordable Housing 

To distribute $5.25 million of affordable housing funding, Town staff recommended full funding for the CASA, Pee Wee Homes and Town-initiated projects, partially funding the Habitat for Humanity project, and not providing additional funding for the EmPOWERment, Inc. project. 

Nate Broman-Fulks, the Town's affordable housing manager, said the funding plan fulfills priorities of the housing bond. 

“The highlights of this plan is that it will support the development of 270 affordable housing units, leverage $46 million from outside sources and provide long-term affordable housing near transit stops,” he said. 

For CASA’s Merritt Mill Apartments project, Mayor Pro Tem Michael Parker said he is concerned about equitable commitment of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, each of which will house 24 units of the project. 

“Physically, the units are half in Carrboro and half in Chapel Hill,” he said. “Carrboro is only contributing $350,000 to the project.” 

Broman-Fulks responded that the housing advisory board has not shown concern over the funding sources of the CASA project which is competitive based on its subsidy per unit. 

Danita Mason-Hogans, an EmPOWERment, Inc. board member, said the council should ensure equity in budget allocation.

“I am very concerned about EmPOWERment being left out of the decision-making process when it is run by Black women, a grassroots organization that is dedicated to housing for people with low wealth in our community who are predominantly Black,” she said. 

The Town Council unanimously passed the recommended funding plan, with an amendment to move $200,000 from the Town-initiated project to the EmPOWERment, Inc. project.

North-South Bus Rapid Transit project 

Based on the North-South Corridor Study, Town staff recommended revisions to the Locally Preferred Alternative — the type, running-way and location of transit — for the 8.2-mile North-South Bus Rapid Transit project. 

The revision includes converting dedicated curb lanes at three sections from Weaver Dairy Road to North Street.

The project is still a “significant step away” from completing the LPA and engineering processes, when the project will be “shovel-ready” and eligible for more federal fundings, saidTransit Director Brian Litchfield. 

With Federal Transit Administration approvals, it is possible for the BRT project to start construction in late 2023 and service in 2027.

The council unanimously passed a resolution to revise the LPA. 

@YueyingYu_

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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