CHAPEL HILL — When Sally Greene took a year off from Town Council in 2011, it made her realize what’s important, she said.
That’s why she was quick to apply when former council member Penny Rich left for the Orange County Board of Commissioners. Greene was a council member from 2003 to 2011; the council appointed her to fill Rich’s seat in January.
“It’s an honor to serve the community and being away for a year did cause me to realize what important work it is and what a privilege it is to do the work, so when I decided to come back, I think it was with a greater sense of commitment to the work,” Greene said.
The Texas native worked as a corporate attorney in Washington, D.C., before coming to Chapel Hill in 1987. She has since taken on a central role in affordable housing and homelessness issues.
Greene was instrumental in passing the town’s inclusionary zoning ordinance, which requires building at least 15 percent of the new homes in a project for lower-income buyers.
This summer, she and council member Donna Bell led an affordable rentals task force. The town is limited by state law, land and money, so it will take creative solutions, partnerships and a faster approval process, she said. The time also might be ripe for a senior staff member focused solely on those goals, she said.
Someone “being on the ground and knowing who the developers are who are thinking about apartment complexes, who the nonprofits are who do affordable, subsidized housing, and having the smarts to be able to get them in the same room and working through the town process,” she said.
Greene’s other big project is the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness, which just finished a 10-year effort to house the county’s chronically homeless – those who have lived on the streets at least two years. The community estimates housing is needed for roughly two dozen chronically homeless people, she said.
New commercial development could help, she said. Besides the obvious benefit of commercial taxes reducing the homeowner tax burden, new businesses also bring more jobs and potentially better wages, she said. Even sustainable, light industry might be possible in the area along Eubanks Road, she said.
Chapel Hill also shares in the county’s successes, and the two may find more partnership opportunities as the county’s leadership changes, she said. It takes compromise and a willing ear, she said.
“I think inclusiveness, diversity, fairness, sustainability when it comes to the environment and economy, social justice – all of those things can be claimed as Chapel Hill values, and those are my values,” Greene said.
Although she didn’t actively participate in Chapel Hill 2020 Plan talks, Greene was there and was impressed with how many people were involved. The surprise – and now the priority – is how determined the town is to put the plan into action, she said.
“You have to figure out where are the resources going to come from to make the dream a reality and what kinds of balancing acts do you have to do to achieve one goal and not disturb another goal,” she said. “Ideally, you would want to do those all at one time, because developers are not going to wait.”
Greene said she might consider seven stories for buildings in the Ephesus-Fordham commercial area but declined to speculate about other parts of town. She also declined to talk about budget cuts or tax increases, but if money can be found, it might be good to add a bus route to the library, she said.
Downtown also will be a priority, and the vision of a culture and entertainment destination is exciting, she said. It will mesh well with the entrepreneurial and innovation hub envisioned for West Rosemary Street, but the town should be careful to include Northside residents and make sure any changes don’t have a negative effect, she said.