From the implementation of a Climate Action Plan to the approval of the Greene Tract resolution after decades of discussion and local businesses bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels, 2021 was a formative year for the Town of Chapel Hill.
Allen Buansi, a Chapel Hill Town Council member who is now running for the N.C. House, said one of the biggest accomplishments of the year was becoming the third North Carolina municipality to pass an LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination ordinance, which was passed in January.
“The ordinance protects from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” Buansi said. “The ordinance was a great signal to folks around North Carolina that we are an inclusive place and that we embrace folks of all different backgrounds.”
Mayor Pam Hemminger said she was particularly proud of how the Town overcame challenges posed by the pandemic.
“We had such good compliance from the vaccination rates which reduced outbreaks,” she said. “I think we worked really well together to keep us safe and feed our kids and keep people housed.”
Mayor Pro Tem Michael Parker said without community cooperation, the town would have experienced significantly more COVID-19 clusters.
“Our county and our town residents who follow mass mandates who went out and got vaccinations are now going out and getting boosters,” Parker said. “So, I think Orange County and Chapel Hill have been really a testament to what can happen when the government and our residents are working collaboratively for the greater good.”
Hemminger also said Chapel Hill is ending the year with a budget surplus, a major achievement despite the economic strain COVID-19 placed on the community.
She said this money should be used to fill the budget deficit and developing the community moving forward.
“We've had a lot of interest in a splash pad and a lot of interest in our inclusive playground," Hemminger said. "We've also had a lot of interest in affordable housing. We could do some really good things with this money — it's $10.4 million for us, and that's going to be huge."
Chapel Hill also passed a short-term rentals resolution this year to ensure safety for local property owners. The resolution covers units listed on websites such as Airbnb and Vrbo.
“A lot of folks in residential areas expressed concern that there would be investor-owned properties that would only be used for those kinds of purchases,” Buansi said. “And so we passed this ordinance in an effort to prevent that from happening, but then more importantly, it provided some structures and standards for folks to abide by who do operate short term rentals.”
In 2022, local officials plan to utilize the money granted from the American Rescue Plan Act to continue to address difficulties presented by COVID-19 by supporting public health and replacing lost town revenue.
“We will help our residents and help our business continue to recover, both economically as well as in terms of health and mental health,” Parker said. “And we've got to work both in terms of our town government as well as our businesses to help bring back employment and help those folks who want jobs get jobs and employers so our businesses can fully recover.”
Hemminger said she is excited to see what the Town will accomplish in the upcoming year.
"We need to consider how we look at the holistic community and stop just doing project by project," Hemminger said. "That's going to take a shift in thinking and it's going to take a lot of energy to move us in that direction. But that can actually have results."
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