CHAPEL HILL — Chapel Hill should stop and really think about the kind of town it wants to be, Town Council candidate Amy Ryan says.
She has been involved in the town’s development process for years, first as a member of the Community Design Commission, then the Planning Board and, more recently, as a stakeholder in the Chapel Hill 2020 Plan discussion and co-chairwoman of the steering committee for Central West (the MLK Boulevard-Estes Drive area).
“The idea (is) that in order to meet with a crisis situation, we need to make all this change, and we need to make it now and we need to make it fast,” Ryan said. “I think we need to just step back, take a breath and take a longer view of it.
“We do want to plan for new commercial growth to balance out that tax base a little bit,” she said. “Do we really need to sell the store to do that? I don’t think so.”
The town’s 2020 talks were about big ideas and generalities, whereas the current debate is about the details of that growth, she said. But tackling the six focus areas that 2020 left for followup discussion in succession, instead of all at once, means no one’s talking about how they fit together, she said.
The town also needs better communication with its residents, she said. An analysis of how Central West was handled can help, but she doesn’t agree the town hasn’t heard or taken seriously what people are saying, Ryan said.
“This is people’s homes and, a lot of times, their investments, and if you’re going to make a change there, you have to make sure it’s a change that will really benefit that area, and I think the group has worked really hard to do that,” she said.
The freelance book editor met her husband, Morgan, while both were attending Duke University. In the early 1990s, they moved to Colony Woods, and then later to southern Chapel Hill, she said. They have two sons.
At 40, Ryan enrolled at N.C. State University for her master’s degree in landscape architecture.
“Our training is more to look around and see how fits into the bigger piece. I think 140 West did that very successfully,” she said. “I think it makes a good neighbor on that street. I’d like to see more of that kind of thing happen in town.”
Parts of town, such as the Ephesus-Fordham commercial area, could grow taller and denser, because land is limited and expensive, she said. She declined to be more specific about the number of stories she would support, but said she’s still getting used to Shortbread Lofts, a seven-story, mixed-use building under construction on West Rosemary Street. At East 54, she sees a development concept that didn’t meet its goals of creating a walkable community, she said.
Ryan said Chapel Hill may be a city one day, but it’s not one now. The town could put that future at risk if it doesn’t take a big-picture view, she said.
“(People) want to live in a college town; that’s what they really value about Chapel Hill. That’s the thing we’re going to have to balance as we put new development in,” she said.
Two other major issues are affordable housing and the environment. Ryan said she has much to learn about affordable housing, but she values the opinions of town residents working on it.
The town faces many challenges, from development pressure to limited land and the state’s moves to take away local authority, she said. Future growth also will take money, of which the town has a limited supply. Ryan said the town has been prudent but is suffering the effects of more projects, services and staff added before the 2008 recession. The town and its economy will bounce back in the next few years, she said.
In the meantime, the town should take care not to damage its environment in an effort to simplify the rules, she said. Local stream buffers should not be reduced, she said.
“If you let the land do what it’s supposed to do, you can have a nice, healthy environment. It’s when we get in the way of that happening or we don’t recognize that that land is actually working for us that we get into problems,” she said.