CHAPEL HILL — Paul Neebe remembers a town where, as a kid with a bike, he delivered newspapers while his mom worked at UNC Hospitals to pay for their apartment.
If she had to do it again, “there’s no way my mom could afford to live in Chapel Hill right now,” he said.
Neebe, 51, is one of nine candidates seeking four Chapel Hill Town Council seats.
Neebe wants to see more bicycle and pedestrian amenities, affordable single-family and rental housing, a stronger commercial tax base, and better communication between the town, its advisory boards, residents and the university.
He also would like to establish a charitable giving program, so residents can choose to support specific services and projects. Town staff also could be enlisted to find savings, and the worker who saves the most could be rewarded with a percentage to re-invest elsewhere, he said.
“It’s not ‘can we save?’ It’s ‘where can we save?’ And I don’t think it necessarily has to be cutting,” he said.
The classically trained trumpeter, who records and performs around the world, credited his mom’s struggle with influencing his other job. The family owns Neebe Real Estate and several rental properties, including the two-bedroom home on Isley Street that his mom bought in 1981.
“My mom never had any money, and the rent kept going up. I saw these other people that bought a house in the ’60s, and they would upgrade to other houses, and live in nicer and nicer houses,” he said. “Then, finally, it hit me. You need to buy a house so that you can get ahead.”
They still share a house, although they moved to Highland Hills years ago, he said.
Neebe Realty keeps its rentals affordable by being flexible and treating tenants with respect, he said. They may have to settle for smaller profits or work with cash-strapped renters, but they also save money by asking tenants to mow the yard, he said.
He would like to see the town explore more creative options, such as the new minimalist homes of 100 to 800 square feet, much like the New York studio apartment he lived in while at The Julliard School, Neebe said. More taxable, commercial land also is vital for affordable housing, he said.
“Everybody wants Chapel Hill to be the way it was today or 20 years ago, but it’s not, and it’s going to change,” he said.
The town has had many successes in 50 years, notably its greenways and fare-free buses, he said. Taxes are probably the biggest issue, but that’s avoidable with changes in how projects get approved, he said.
As a member of the town’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board, Neebe said his fellow board members and he are studying less expensive options for safer cycling. One is building raised bike lanes into sidewalks rather than widening roads. Another is repainting neighborhood streets to make room for bikes, he said.
Neebe said he also thinks the town needs clearer goals and better communication with residents and advisory boards. The council could start by having a member at every advisory board or citizen meeting to answer questions and provide direction, he said.
“As a musician, we’re never satisfied. We always think we can do it better,” he said.