Cianciolo: Chapel Hill needs thoughtful, efficient and creative approach

tgrubb@newsobserver.comOctober 15, 2013 

George Cianciolo, Chapel Hill Town Council candidate 2013


  • Candidate Profile

    Name: George Cianciolo

    Age: 64

    Address: 7704 Amesbury Drive, Chapel Hill

    Occupation: Duke University Medical School faculty member and cancer and inflammation researcher; could retire next year and work part time

    Previous political experience: No elected offices

    Relevant community service: 2013 Governor’s Medallion Award, Key Volunteer Award and Governor’s Service Award winner for work with 2020 Comprehensive Plan; Sustainable Community Visioning Task Force (chair); Chapel Hill 2020 (co-chair); Chapel Hill Public Library Foundation (past president); Transportation Advisory Board (chair); Planning Board (chair); Community Design Commission (chair); Special Transit Advisory Commission

    Interesting fact: George Cianciolo cranks up his motorcycle and rides through the North Carolina countryside to relax and keep his skills sharp. He’s been riding since he was 16, although his wife, who used to work in a hospital emergency room, would be happier if he hung up his helmet, he said.

    “As a motorcyclist, you either are a good defensive driver or you’re in the hospital or worse,” he said. “Somebody once described when you’re in a car, and you’re looking out the window at Mother Nature, it’s like looking at a picture in a frame. When you’re on a motorcycle, it’s like you’re in the picture.”

— George Cianciolo’s scientific training involves keeping an open mind, weighing other views and finding new solutions when the first one fails, he said.

As one of nine candidates seeking four Chapel Hill Town Council seats, he wants to apply those skills to the town’s 2020 planning goals and help build a strong future. Early voting starts Thursday; the general election is Nov. 5.

“I want to give back, because it’s better to be able to say you left a little more than you took as a community member,” Cianciolo said.

He served as co-chairman with former Mayor Rosemary Waldorf for the 2020 Plan discussion. The vision was a first step; the details are being worked out now, he said.

The town should seek projects with property and sales tax benefits. Timberlyne shopping center and University Mall have good redevelopment potential, and a mixed-use project at the Blue Cross and Blue Shield building on U.S. 15-501 once the insurer leaves would bring revenues and fit a future light-rail station development area, he said.

The current development process doesn’t work for anyone, he said. The town needs simpler rules that put a local stamp on the end product, and it should only take a year to approve projects, he said.

Different models, maybe even two- to four-story retail stores, might be possible in some places, he said. The Franklin hotel and Greenbridge, in some respects, are unique approaches. In any case, building up is good for the environment, stormwater management and the economy, he said.

The seven-story Shortbread Lofts works on West Rosemary Street, for example, by fitting into the valley at the bottom of the street, he said. Although new development next to neighborhoods needs to be sensitive, plans for shorter buildings at Central West were a little surprising, he said, especially when compared to taller buildings planned across the street at Carolina North.

Central West is the area around the Estes Drive-Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard intersection.

The council hears residents but won’t always agree because it must consider the whole community, he said. The new Community House men’s shelter near Homestead Road was an example of some neighbors fearing the unknown, he said.

“Ultimately, the council has an obligation to make sure the fears don’t come true,” he said.

Taller buildings also have a place in the town’s gateway areas to the north, south and east, he said.

The town has to make affordable housing happen, he said. The land across from Timberlyne on Weaver Dairy Road, now a mobile home park, might be good for a housing redevelopment, and a nonprofit housing agency’s plan to use town land on Legion Road is promising, he said. The town also should collaborate with UNC and developers, because depending only on the developers is unfair and not working, he said.

“What we end up doing is, yes, we get some affordable housing, but then the developers take what it cost them to do that and they put it on the market rate housing, which raises those values. So we just keep making Chapel Hill less and less affordable by that process,” he said.

Collaborating with the county also could save money, particularly for solid waste and recycling, he said.

“If we start working as individual municipalities and the county is separate, we’re never going to compete with Alamance and Chatham and Durham,” he said.

The town also has a large base of resident experts and volunteers, he said. Downtown ambassadors, for instance, could help visitors and the homeless get where they need to go, he said.

“I think we have the smarts to compete, I think we have the will to compete, but we’ve got to get everybody working together,” he said.“We also have to use that advantage of being smaller to be nimble and think of creative ways to solve our problems.”

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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