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Ryan, Nollert, McCullough win open seats on Chapel Hill Town Council, fourth seat uncertain

The Chapel Hill Town Council gathered to discuss the proposed Life Science Center on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023.

Theodore Nollert, Amy Ryan and Melissa McCullough have won three of the four open seats on the Chapel Hill Town Council, according to unofficial results. The fourth spot is currently held by Elizabeth Sharp, but Renuka Soll is 16 votes behind — within the margin for a recount.

Ryan won the highest amount of votes, McCullough and Nollert won the second and third amount. Sharp appears to have won the last seat on the council with 10.7 percent of the vote.

This election had the highest turnout for a Chapel Hill election in at least the last 10 years.

Searing, who lost the mayoral election to Jess Anderson, ran on a platform based on opposition to this summer's Housing Choices LUMO amendment passed this summer by the town council, 6-3. Sharp ran on Searing's slate and is the only one of the top four candidates who is opposed to the LUMO change. Soll also ran on Searing's slate and is opposed to the change.

Neither Soll nor Sharp responded to multiple requests for comment from The Daily Tar Heel. 

Jon Mitchell and Erik Valera also supported the LUMO change but lost — with Valera earning 9.52 percent of the vote and Mitchell earning 8.59 percent.

The election centered around housing and development policy issues — particularly changes to Chapel Hill's land use management ordinance.

"The people that we vote for tonight will make or break the kind of work that we've been doing for the last 20 years," Delores Bailey, the executive director of EmPOWERment, Inc., said at the First Baptist Church polling place.

Ryan was the only incumbent in this year's race for council. She won re-election to her seat with 13.88 percent of the vote.

“We're really happy that the voters of Chapel Hill have decided to move forward this year instead of going back,” Ryan said. “I think great things are gonna happen for the town.”

Nollert is a graduate student at UNC and the former president of the Graduate and Professional Student Government. He won his seat on the council with 13.58 percent of the vote.

He is one of the few UNC students — both graduate and undergraduate — who have been elected to the town council. Gerry Cohen served on the council in the 1970s after being elected as a student and Tai Huynh was elected to the council in 2019. Huynh did not run for re-election and will vacate his seat.

“I ran to represent everyone in Chapel Hill,” Nollert said. “That's exactly what I'm going to do when I'm on the council, and I'm looking forward to doing it.”

Nollert said he is looking forward to creating more opportunities for people to live and work in Chapel Hill, incorporating the voices of young people and making Chapel Hill a vibrant place to live. 

McCullough is a retired ecologist, who worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Her campaign centers around building affordable housing, enhancing transportation and conserving the environment. She won her seat on the council with 13.83 percent of the vote.

"My entire career was that of a faceless public servant, and this is all just very public," she said.

McCullough said that she is pleased with how the community has interpreted her platform of community sustainability. She also said that, though there were no exit polls, she thinks that turnout shows that voters responded well to a message of moving forward and didn't like "grievance politics."

"I think that the real difference between my opponents and I was in substance," she said. "And I think people really responded to that."

Jana Abdouni and Audrey Kashatus contributed reporting to this story.


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Walker Livingston

Walker Livingston is a 2023-24 assistant city & state editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as summer city & state editor. Walker is a sophomore pursuing a double major in journalism and media and American studies, with a minor in data science.  

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The Daily Tar Heel Victory Paper for November 20, 2023

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