When is talking politics like a walk in the park? In a manner of speaking, it’s you’re talking with Robb English, who serves on the Town of Hillsborough Board of Commissioners. For the last 22 years, English has worked with the Chapel Hill Parks & Recreation Department. He served two terms on the Orange County Parks & Recreation Advisory Council and then more than two terms on the Hillsborough Parks & Recreation Board, chairing both boards.
“That was a nice way to kind of not be in the you know top echelon of public service, but it still gave me an opportunity to have a voice in some decisions that were made, even though it was mostly related to parks and recreation and open space,” English said.
When Jenn Weaver vacated her seat on the board to run for Mayor of Hillsborough, English was encouraged to apply for the remaining two years of her term. Lo and behold, English was picked and appointed. Now, English is campaigning to be elected to serve on the board.
The News of Orange County caught up with English to talk with him about where he stands on issues facing Hillsborough.
NEWS OF ORANGE COUNTY: Why are you running for the Town of Hillsborough Board of Commissioners?
ROBB ENGLISH: I feel like we as a board work very well together. I think we’re balanced and we come from different professional backgrounds, that we have some really good discussions and good perspectives from different places. I want to continue the work that I have at least been a part of for the last two years I’ve been there that the board members have been working on for many years. Climate Action and climate change is a big thing for me. The growth of Hillsborough — smart growth — and the affordability of it, and connectivity are some of our main priorities. To continue the things that I’ve been a part of the last two years is really what interests me in running for this election. We’ve worked really well together, and I want to continue that.
NOC: How would you address how Hillsborough should prepare for change?
RE: One of the things I’m really excited about is we have a comprehensive sustainability plan that’s going to be coming out in 2022, hopefully. This comprehensive sustainability plan is kind of our blueprint and guide for all future development decisions and operational decisions for the town for many years. It puts us in a place where we are looking at things through a a much more sustainable lens. And so I think we will lean heavily on that. I feel that growth is going to happen, but it’s not going to go on forever. We are tied to our sewer and water capacity. We can only grow to a certain point. I’ll be advocating with several of my other colleagues on the commission and will be advocating for infill for medium to high density developments. One of the major concerns that came about from the sustainability survey that we sent out to residences was congestion on roads downtown. That’s one thing that we are focused on, but it’s a challenge because it’s next to impossible to widen Churton Street down here. Those buildings have been there a very long time. We have some ideas to potentially create better flow through other parts of Hillsborough. We’re looking into potential additional east/ west connector that would provide another connection from Churton Street to new N.C. 86. There’s also some areas in town that we’re looking at to potentially put in either some roundabouts, or some other signalized light that will allow flow to be much better. Improving the flow doesn’t really help with the capacity in terms of the number of cars on the road, but I believe by building more bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and allowing more ways for people to get around with alternative forms of transportation will help with congestion. We’ve got to get more people out of their cars and on the sidewalks and provide safe ways that they can bike and hike and walk around town.
NOC: What do you see as some of the challenges facing Hillsborough?
RE: Some of our existing infrastructure needs are going to cost a lot of money. That will absolutely be a challenge moving forward. We have some unfunded water and sewer infrastructure needs. We have an old water and sewer system, and we need to do some things to continue to allow it to be sustainable. We have a real goal to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050. Building more sidewalks and bicycle lanes will obviously help us get closer to that. I also think we have a unique opportunity with American Rescue Act funds to potentially capitalize on on some of those funds for not only our utility infrastructure needs, but also hopefully using some of those funds again through an equity and sustainability lens.
NOC: Hillsborough’s quaintness is valued by many in the community. How do you think the town can balance the need to keep its small-town feel with its need to grow?
RE: The Hillsborough Historic District is what most people think about when they think of Hillsborough. Even though I’ve always lived in what I call the south side, I always remind people that Hillsborough doesn’t start and end at the Historic District. I think we’re always gonna have that small town, quaint sort of feel in the historic district and downtown. I think we can continue to to have some smart growth in the South side of town, and I think by having pedestrian and bicycle connectivity and allowing more people options to walk and bike, allows us to have that kind of small-town feel. Also, our growth is finite. We’re going to reach a place where we’re not going to get any bigger.
NOC: How would you promote the town to keep or attract young professionals?
RE: I would say it’s a it’s a great place to raise kids. It’s a community that that truly cares about its residents and its facilities and its quality of life. It has good schools. It’s a very friendly, forward thinking, progressive community. If we can encourage ‘green’ industries, people will want to be around that.
NOC: What do you like to do for fun?
RE: Anything outdoors. I love to hike, love to bike. Walk my dog. I used to be a rock climber and I’m looking forward to getting back into that a little bit more. I enjoy gardening. I love kayaking, boating, and anything on the waters.