George Cianciolo | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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George Cianciolo 

Candidate for Chapel Hill Town Council

Name as it appears on the ballot: George Cianciolo

Full legal name, if different: George James Cianciolo

Date of birth: July 16, 1948

Occupation & employer: Associate Professor of Pathology, Duke University

Campaign website: www.george4ch.com

Email: george.j.cianciolo@gmail.com


1. Why are you running for office and what are your top priorities, if elected? Please include information on past public service, posts held, volunteer work completed and other examples of your leadership.

I'm running for Chapel Hill Town Council to help lead the community's effort to implement CH2020, the Town's new comprehensive plan. As Co-Chair of the 2020 process (with former Chapel Hill Mayor Rosemary Waldorf), I helped lead the thousands of citizens who collaborated to create a vision for Chapel Hill's future. My history of community participation and leadership is strong: 23 years of cumulative experience that includes three of Chapel Hill's major advisory boards. I have repeatedly demonstrated my ability to address major Town challenges with a fair and open mind. My community involvement includes:

  • 2011-2012 Chapel Hill 2020 (CH2020) (Co-Chair)
  • 2009-2013 Chapel Hill Public Library Foundation, President
  • 2009-2010 CH Sustainable Community Visioning Task Force (Chair)
  • 1999-2011 CH Community Design Commission (3 years as Chair)
  • 2005-2011 CH Planning Board (2 years as Chair)
  • 2006-2007 UNC Chancellor's Leadership Advisory Committee (member)
  • 2007-2008 Orange-Durham-Wake Special Transit Advisory Commission (STAC) (Co-Chair)
  • 2005-2006 CH Streetscape Master Plan Review Committee (Chair)
  • 1999-2005 CH Transportation Board (2 years as Chair)

I'm particularly proud of my leadership, as Co-Chair, of both the CH2020 process and the STAC. In CH2020 Rosemary Waldorf (my co-chair) and I sought to reach out to as many citizens as possible, including those who lived outside Chapel Hill. We invited elected officials from Carrboro, Hillsborough and the County, as well as citizens living there, to join us since we considered it foolish to develop Chapel Hill's comprehensive plan in a vacuum since so much of what will impact Chapel Hill's future will come from outside our boundaries. We also strove to involve younger individuals, both on our planning team and in the process itself, since they represent Chapel Hill's future and it is imperative that they not only believe in it but that they are willing to invest their time and energy in making it happen.

In the STAC process, which lasted a year and involved representatives from six counties, I helped lead the effort to develop a regional transit plan for our area. If the Triangle area grows as projected it will be imperative that we have a regional transit system. The plan which came out of STAC was the first step. I was also actively involved in DO-Transit (Durham-Orange Friends of Transit), an advocacy group which provided education to the public which helped secure the passage, in both Durham and Orange Counties, of the additional 1/2 cent sales tax to support the regional transit plan, including expansion of local services.

We now need strong leadership to achieve not only our 2020 goals but to develop a strategic plan that will allow Chapel Hill to grow and flourish through the years 2030, 2040 and beyond. We need a plan that will continue to maintain the high quality of life we currently enjoy while creating opportunities for the generations coming behind us.

As a Council Member, I will advocate for four major goals which I feel will be critical to the successful implementation of the vision of CH2020:

1. Reform and simplify the development review process to create predictability for both Town residents and applicants. It is imperative that residents and applicants have a clear understanding of how both the Town government and the community want a particular area to grow: i.e., what it should look like, how big, how dense, how high, and what will be there (commercial, retail, residential?). If we can provide that sort of understanding now, these difficult and often divisive community discussions can either be avoided or, at least, made more congenial.

2. Develop a plan to recruit new businesses to Chapel Hill and an accompanying plan to fund it. We need to identify what businesses are missing from Chapel Hill; i.e., what would citizens like to have here or what types of businesses could synergize with or complement existing businesses, making both new and existing more likely to succeed. We then need to identify what it would take to get those new businesses to locate here and then do our best to recruit them to Chapel Hill. And if a business is not quite right for Chapel Hill or vice versa, we should determine whether that business might be a good fit for Orange County and, if so, work with the County to recruit the business there. When Orange County prospers, Chapel Hill prospers.

3. Foster collaboration between Chapel Hill and our neighboring municipalities to generate cost-cutting/revenue-generating opportunities. As support from both the Federal and State levels continues to decrease it is becoming more and more imperative that we work with our neighbors (UNC-CH, Carrboro, Orange County, Hillsborough, and even the City of Durham, Durham County, and Chatham County) to identify where we might share resources or services that could result in cost savings to all the parties involved. It might mean sharing services such as public safety, solid waste collection, maintenance of facilities, inspection services or purchasing. Undoubtedly there are savings to be had but it will involve recognition by elected officials that with outside support dwindling it will be in everyone's best interest to enter a new, progressive climate of collaboration rather than competition.

4. Formulate an actionable strategy to bring more affordable housing (of all types) to our community. First, I believe we have to focus on affordable rental housing just as much as on owner-occupied housing. The changing demographics of our community suggest that the younger generations, such as the millennials, are more interested in rental housing than previous generations. Although this may be partly due to the recent recession and the soft job market, it is just as likely due to the different lifestyles that the younger generations enjoy. The data suggest that a millennial might change jobs at least 7 times in their career, if not more, and this requires much more mobility than previous generations either sought or enjoyed.

The vision and goals established by our community in CH2020 CAN be achieved if we increase our Town's revenue. I do NOT propose higher taxes or new fees. Instead, I will work hard on a strategic plan that encourages thoughtful increase in commercial, retail and residential growth while maintaining Chapel Hill's high standards for diversity, sustainability and environmental protection.

2. If you are not currently serving on the Town Council, what will you bring to the body that it now lacks? If you are an incumbent, what perspective have you brought that the town still needs?

During my career I have worked both in an academic/research environment and an industry (biotechnology) environment. I think it will be critical for the Town Council to begin exploring, developing and implementing more public/private partnerships (Town/Private Sector) as well as more public/public partnerships (Town/University). Having worked in both a university setting and a commercial setting I believe I bring an understanding of the wants and needs of both sectors and that understanding will help to facilitate developing the aforementioned public/private and public/public partnerships. With the University of North Carolina such a big presence in Chapel Hill, it needs to become, as the Town moves forward, an even stronger partner with the Town than it currently is. The future success of both our institutions will depend on us working together to achieve successes that might elude each of us individually working alone.

3. In the last four years, what do you feel are the three best accomplishments of Chapel Hill Town Government, and why? Conversely, what are three things you would have done differently?

I believe the three best accomplishments of Chapel Hill Town Government during the last four years are (1) initiation of the Chapel Hill 2020 comprehensive planning process; (2) initiation of a review and reorganization of the Town's advisory boards and revision of the Town's LUMO (Land Use Management Ordinance) process for zoning; and (3) moving forward with the expansion of the Chapel Hill Public Library. My reasons are as follow. The Town's comprehensive plan had been long overdue for revision. In fact it was supposed to be reviewed every 5 years but it had been over a decade without review or revision. But it wasn't just the fact that the Town moved forward with a review, it is how they elected to do it. They did it by allowing us to open the process up to the public; by involving people who had never before attended or participated in Town meetings. It became an example of participatory government like Chapel Hill had never seen before and it was a process that most, at the end, agreed was worthwhile.

It became clear from the CH2020 process that development in Chapel Hill had become increasingly difficult, if not impossible. Citizens participating in the various groups began to realize that Chapel Hill's future would require some level of growth but the difficulty was in determining how much, where and what it should look like. Citizens began to warm to the idea of knowing beforehand what might occur near their neighborhoods and what it might look like. They also began to understand why developers felt the need to understand that as well. And in the discussions the citizens heard why 2-4 years of review for a developer did not necessarily improve projects but often had the opposite effect. Thus the Town's recent initiation of considerations of revisions to LUMO and the role of advisory boards will hopefully add clarity and transparency to both applicants and citizens alike and the increased efficiency that might come from revamping the roles of advisory boards and Council should enhance outcomes while saving costs.

Finally, the expansion of the Chapel Hill Public Library has provided increased services (e.g., access to broadband service and computers; help in preparing resumes) to some of our most vulnerable citizens, the economically disadvantaged, while also providing a significant increase in meeting space for the entire community. For the first time in Chapel Hill's recent history we have now have a facility that resembles a community center. If we are to continue to expand our initial experiment in participatory government we need space in which the community can come together and the newly expanded Library provides just that.

The three things I would have done differently are: First, I would have moved forward a plan for downtown revitalization on a faster schedule. Franklin Street has lost some of its "luster" over the years – perhaps because of competition from Durham and elsewhere or perhaps because of the University opening up competing services at the Rams Head Center. In any case, there is, at the very least, a perception that Franklin Street is not what it used to be and that the downtown area has lost its vitality. That perception reinforces the impression that Chapel Hill is not a friendly environment for business.

Second, I would not have tried to implement so many different areas of the CH2020 plan at one time. The efforts to work on so many different focus areas simultaneously has stretched the Town staff immensely, as well as its budget. Furthermore, it is stretching the ability or desire of the general populace to participate. We cannot, on one hand, say that what we develop in one area of Town needs to be considered in the context of its effects on the rest of the Town and then schedule so many different presentations or meetings that citizens have to choose which they can participate in and which they will ignore. I understand and support the need to implement CH2020 as quickly and efficiently as possible but I fear that the need for speed may be having a detrimental effect on the efficiency.

Third, I would have tried to identify a more effective way of communicating what is happening in the Town to its citizens. I believe that the Town Staff has made great strides in getting information on its website and out to those on its electronic mailing list but many citizens are not on that list and/or do not visit the Town's website. As our local print media have been shrinking in size and distribution it has become increasingly more difficult to keep the public informed – and involved! This often results in citizens participating for the first time when a project is in its final stages of review resulting in a much more contentious review process than what might occur if citizens understood what was coming at an earlier stage.

4. Indy Week's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

A just community is one that serves all the citizens, no matter where they live, how much they make, or how much they pay in taxes. In order to succeed in this effort there are certain services which are key to insuring that no one gets left behind. The citizens of Chapel Hill spoke to those values when they made clear during the CH2020 process that they wanted more affordable housing so that the teachers who teach their children could live here, the fire and police personnel who protect them could live here, and the University professors and health care personnel who make this community a better place to live could themselves live here. They also spoke to the values of protecting the environment and making Chapel Hill a livable, walkable community and enhancing transit to provide connectivity to those who need it while improving our traffic situation and improving air quality. These are all values that I have worked for during my time leading boards and commissions such as the regional Special Transit Advisory Commission (STAC), the CH Transportation Board, the CH Planning Board, the Community Design Commission, the Streetscape Master Plan Committee, the Chapel hill Public Library Foundation, and, most recently of course, the CH2020 process. My record of service is one that has consistently been directed toward maintaining and enhancing those qualities of living that serve to make not only Chapel Hill but the surrounding Triangle region a better place to live.

5. How do you define yourself politically (i.e. conservative, moderate, liberal, third party, hybrid, etc.) and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I would define myself as a social liberal and fiscal moderate. I believe that we as a community have a responsibility to help those less fortunate than us (one of my favorite quotes, and the tagline on my emails, is from Winston Churchill: "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."). I believe that our community also, for the most part, shares this social philosophy. However, in order to make this philosophy a success in our everyday lives, we need to identify ways to pay for those services and/or resources that we want to extend to those less fortunate. Thus, as a fiscal moderate, I look at the business sector not with disdain or skepticism but as a potential solution. We need to embrace the business sector as a partner with us to help solve our social problems and not portray it as a scapegoat for all that ails our community.

6. Chapel Hill has a reputation as a town that is anti-business. Is that fair or not? What would you do to change that reputation, if at all?

I would say that Chapel Hill's reputation as anti-business is partially fair. I do not believe that the Town intends to be anti-business but its policies for permitting businesses and services and review and approval of new projects are often unwieldy. This often results in prolonged review times which are often costly for business applicants.

As stated in my #1 goal above, I would continue the process the Town has begun to reform the development review process to provide both enhanced transparency for both citizens and applicants as to what is expected and desired for what areas and to shorten the review process itself to make it more amenable to citizen participation and to save both the applicants and the Town costs.

As stated in my #2 goal above I would develop a plan to identify what kinds of businesses are needed in Chapel Hill and then develop a funding mechanism to recruit such businesses. It would be important to identify those sorts of businesses that citizens want/need but also the types of businesses that would complement existing businesses rather than compete with them.

7. What is your view on the town's recent moves to support high-density, mixed-use developments in downtown Chapel Hill? What can be done to revitalize and support downtown?

I'm strongly in favor of this move. I sat through all of the Council committee discussions which led to the Town's decision to participate in the public/private partnership which resulted in the development of 140 West Franklin. I also sat on the Planning Board and Community Design Commission which reviewed and recommended approval for Greenbridge. As then, I remain convinced that having more people living downtown will help to revitalize downtown. We now have several additional projects either under construction or approved and waiting to start: Shortbread Lofts, Bicycle Apartments (student housing) and 123 West Franklin (University Foundation owned). However, people living downtown will not in itself be enough to revitalize downtown. We need to have more people working downtown as well so that there are people there not only during the evening, but throughout the day as well. People downtown during the day will be available to eat lunch at our various restaurants and to shop as well. This will help support existing businesses and will potentially help to recruit new businesses as well.

As part of my goal #2, I would look to encourage more space for entrepreneurs in downtown Chapel Hill (we currently have Launch and the 1789 group) which would bring additional folks, particularly younger professionals, to downtown Chapel Hill during the day. We need affordable space to encourage our young entrepreneurs to begin their businesses here but we still need additional affordable downtown office space to provide the critical mass needed to support many of our existing businesses as well.

8. What are your thoughts on the town's panhandling ordinance and its enforcement by Chapel Hill police?

I believe that the current panhandling ordinance goes as far as I would want it to go at the moment and its enforcement by the Chapel Hill police occurs as often (or not) that I would like them to enforce it. Being homeless is not a crime and it is often the result of a single circumstance triggering an unfortunate series of events. Although the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness has been doing an excellent job, I expect to see previously seen decreases in the homeless population to level off or perhaps even rise because of cuts by the State of NC in both unemployment benefits and mental health care. I believe that we need to continue our local efforts to deal with the homeless while being sensitive to the fact that some of these persons, either because of mental illness or because of anger at their situation and the lack of public empathy, can be disruptive.

If I am elected to the Chapel Hill Council I would like to explore developing a program that was first suggested to me by Donna Bell, a current Council member. This program would involve approaching our senior community in Chapel Hill, a group that has a strong history of community participation, to recruit Downtown Ambassadors. These Ambassadors, perhaps clad in Carolina Blue vests, would walk up and down Franklin and Rosemary Streets and provide help to visitors, whether from afar or simply an infrequent visitor to the downtown. They could tell folks where they could go for various types of food, where they might shop for various goods, or where they might find a restroom. But in their travels they could get to know some of the chronic homeless. So often ignored by most passerby, many of these persons would probably respond very positively to having someone stop to chat with them. In addition, over time these Ambassadors might develop a sense of what constitutes "normal behavior" for these persons and, if they sense a deviation from that behavior, they might be able to get help for them from the appropriate social agency. Furthermore, having such Ambassadors on the streets might lower the angst or fear felt by some of our citizens toward the homeless.

Although I would envision these positions being volunteer efforts, the local merchants might reward the volunteers with occasional gift cards or meal certificates. The panhandling ordinance provides the general public with some small modicum of a sense of security but it does nothing to help solve the problems associated with the homeless population or to extend a helping hand to these citizens.

9. What do you think of the town's comprehensive plan, Chapel Hill 2020? What are its strengths? What are its weaknesses? As a council member, how would you go about implementing the plan?

As Co-Chair of the Chapel Hill 2020 process I am pleased with the progress we made and disappointed that we didn't get further. The strength of the process was its tremendous push to be as inclusive as possible toward the entire community. When Rosemary Waldorf and I were appointed as Co-Chairs by a 15-member Initiating Committee (appointed by Town Council from applications) we, as Co-Chairs, decided at the beginning that we would not restrict the process to Chapel Hill citizens only. We invited the elected officials from Carrboro and Orange County (and even Durham) to participate as well as the citizens from those municipalities. It was clear to us that any plan for Chapel Hill's future had to begin to think about how Chapel Hill would grow not only internally but in relation to its neighbors as well. Our outreach was reflected in other ways as well. We set our meetings at various places throughout Town and at various times in order to accommodate as many schedules and to get input from as many people as possible. We even had three sessions in local downtown pubs to encourage young professionals to participate. In the end, we had had more citizen participation in this visioning project than for any project in Chapel Hill's history.

However, the Plan is not without a weakness. The year-long project that provided the Chapel Hill 2020 Comprehensive Plan is a fantastic visioning plan that provides excellent information as to what Chapel Hill citizens (I'm including outsiders as well since we didn't differentiate as to whose opinion was being heard) want to see for their community in the next decade. They want to see more affordable housing, more transit, more bikeways and greenways and sidewalks, more resources for teenagers, and, more commercial and retail businesses to strengthen the tax base. However, what it didn't do is describe how we would implement all of those wants and, most importantly, how we would pay for all that.

Rosemary and I realized this weakness when we presented the Plan to the Town Council in June of 2012 and we strongly recommended that implementation would be critical to the Plan's entire success. For the past year the Town has been working toward implementing the Plan through a process they call DESIGN Chapel Hill. This implementation phase is focused on identifying those areas in Chapel Hill where growth can occur, whether it should occur, and what it should look like. This implementation phase, like the visioning phase before it, also heavily involves citizen participation. It is a long, difficult process because so many people, involving a number of areas within the Town, are involved and people often fear change because of a natural fear of the unknown. I believe that the process will succeed but not without a certain number of detractors. In the end, however, all the planning in the world will not result in a useful final product if it doesn't occur for lack of funding. Thus my goals as a Council member would be to do my best to secure additional revenue streams to the Town without, if possible, raising current tax rates.

10. Chapel Hill continues to struggle to offer affordable housing. As a council member, what would you do to push affordable housing in the town?

As a Council member, I would push for greater density in areas that can tolerate it, and by density I mean growing upward, not outward. By growing upward instead of outward we can build more housing units per acre which brings the land cost per unit down. However, even though this approach can help to lower costs it cannot by itself solve the problem. Because we have a limited number of areas within Chapel Hill that are both suitable for development/redevelopment and that can tolerate density (because of adjoining neighborhoods or limited infrastructure), the cost of such land will almost certainly remain higher than that of adjoining municipalities such as Durham. If we as a community truly want to see more affordable housing and want to enable our teachers, public safety personnel, and other service persons to live where they work (and that message was conveyed repeatedly in Chapel Hill 2020) then we as a community need to assume responsibility for making this happen. There are several ways this might be done. First, I would explore the affordable rental strategy that the Town Council has been working on through their sub-committee which involves Council members Donna Bell and Sally Greene. I would also support and encourage the type of public-private partnership that is now being explored by the Town Council in which the Town provides land that they own while the private partner secures funding, either through government sources (as in the present project being considered) or through private investment. Third, I would explore the possibility (including legality) of setting aside a portion of tax revenues (both from property and/or sales) from all future developments of a certain size to a Town affordable housing fund. Thus all the citizens of the community, by giving up a portion of these future tax revenues, would be supporting affordable housing rather than putting the burden on one particular group of citizens (as we now do by requiring developers to "foot the bill"). And since this income would be coming from future tax revenues on future projects it would not result in a direct increase to existing property owners' tax bills. Furthermore, instead of the existing 'one-time' housing unit or payment-in-lieu, this would provide going forward a steady, budgetable income stream toward affordable housing. Finally, if still needed, I would push for a public referendum for a bond that the Town or County could use to engage in a public/private partnership. That partnership would secure the necessary land to allow interested developers to build housing units (owner-occupied or rental) at an initial cost that would allow a much larger percentage of owners or renters to live in Chapel Hill/Carrboro/Orange County. Ideally, this would be a referendum on a County-issued bond. Chapel Hill and Carrboro together contain about 55 percent of the County's citizens. The lack of affordable housing in both is an issue that directly affects the County as a whole, including its ability to attract teachers and other workers as well its ability to attract new business. Housing affordability is everyone's problem.

  • Candidate for Chapel Hill Town Council

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