The art of the deal

Ah, the nuggets you find tucked away in Town Council’s consent agenda, those items council members vote to approve without comment, unless a council member pulls an item for further discussion. The consent agenda for this week’s council meeting – moved to Wednesday again this week – includes a request to approve the 2012-13 public art works plan and adopt a budget amendment to allocate the Percent for Art funds.

The administrative transaction itself can be done without fanfare: transferring to the Public Art Fund $2,800 from the Capital Project Fund and $7,000 from the Two-Thirds Bonds. The resolution also authorizes spending $18,035 previously allocated from streetscape money. That money will be spent on windscreens for bus shelters downtown. An additional $7,000 will cover a rubberized playground surface in Umstead Park.

That’s it? Taxpayers spend about $100,000 annually for a full-time public art coordinator and his assistant, and all the two did for a year was arrange for bus shelter windscreens and a playground mat? Basically, public art coordinator Steve Wright and his assistant, Jeffrey York, sent out a couple of RFPs, reviewed some portfolios, and negotiated a price for two projects. Compare that to the pace and productivity of town employees in, say, the planning department, who could probably knock that off in a week or two at most, and develop a lovely PowerPoint presentation to accompany each.

Town manager Roger Stancil chronically is on the lookout for pennies to pinch. Not to go all Bain Capital or anything, but here’s 10 million of them he could save in one fell swoop. Eliminate the two positions from staff, saving salaries, benefits and office space, and contract out the work to a “consultant” connected to local artists. The consultant could come up with projects and commission local artists to do the work. And if Stancil chose from among people who call themselves “project managers” instead of “consultants,” he could save even more.

I’m sure Stancil could find some productive use for that $100,000 saved.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Jason Baker

     /  October 22, 2012

    Talking just about a capital budget makes it sound like you are completely unaware of the massive amounts of arts and cultural programming that is done in our town, by that department. Instead of congratulating them for doing so much on such a small capital budget, you call for us to dismiss a department which helps contribute to the $85.4 Million in economic activity and 3,352 jobs that the arts bring to Orange County every year. Also, Jeffrey York is not Steve Wright’s assistant. I’m sure if you called up Jeff or Steve they would be happy to help educate you on both how the department is structured and what it is that they actually do.

  2. Terri Buckner

     /  October 22, 2012

    One of the fallacies in this world is that art is fluff, and that artists should work for pennies. Art is more than pretty pictures; it’s not an accessory. It defines who we are as a community; it passes down our stories to the generations that come after us.

    While I still don’t agree with the percent for art program, I enthusiastically support the community art program administered through the town. The artist-in-residence program is as critical for the schools as the school nurse program. So many children learn through art that which makes no sense to them through more academic approaches to teaching.

    Personally, I think the item on the consent agenda that suspends all but a handful of citizen advisory boards is more worthy of discussion.

  3. Nancy Oates

     /  October 22, 2012

    My information on Steve Wright’s assistant came from the town directory. I know of events in the county and in Carrboro, but I am completely unaware of any arts and cultural programming in Chapel Hill other than private venues. Give me an example of some of these jobs in Chapel Hill and what economic activity benefits Chapel Hill directly. Perhaps Roger Stancil could pay a contractor to write a few press releases to ease the workload of Catherine Lazorko.

    Terri — Town Council rarely listens to its advisory boards these days. The move saves residents from putting time and effort into recommendations that will be ignored.

  4. Jason Baker

     /  October 22, 2012

    Steve Wright is the public arts coordinator, and does not have an assistant as far as I know; Jeff Yorke is the public arts administrator, which is a higher pay grade. At least that was my understanding as of the last budget.

    In addition to the percent for art program (which is not the same as the public works acquisitions), you didn’t make any mention of the many other programs they administer: the artists in residence program, the community art projects, the community clay studio, the juried exhibitions series, the sculpture visions program, the Scrapel Hill event done in partnership with UMall, their role in Festifall, etc. They are also a partner with the Downtown Partnership of the beautiful Windows On Chapel Hill project taking place downtown to transform storefronts into works of art. The Yates Building is a shining example of this project. You should really check it out!

  5. Don Evans

     /  October 22, 2012


    I very much doubt that the annual bounty you attribute to the arts is due solely to the efforts of the town’s art czar. So it’s a bit of a specious tag. The economic activity and those jobs would no doubt continue even if the arts czar were not on the job. And I doubt that much of that bounty and activity would be affected by his departure.

    And as far as your numbers, can you break them down so that we can see just what the town can claim as its due and what is directly attributable to the arts czar’s actions? Throwing out such numbers without details smacks of the worst kind of “Romney-ization” of the information.

  6. Jason Baker

     /  October 22, 2012

    Rather than ask me, why not ask the experts? What did the Public and Cultural Arts Office say about their economic and cultural impact when they were interviewed to get the facts for this post?

    The study I referenced is available here:

  7. Del Snow

     /  October 22, 2012

    Two points: I would love to see a breakdown of all fees paid to conultants and how many of their recommendations were listened to.
    Secondly, the advisory board process is an iterative one. Whether or not Council abides by the same decision individual boards arrive at (and certainly, if that were the case, who would need the Council?) is not the point. Each meeting brings changes and improvements of an application into the process. Advisory boards are doing the “pre-work” for the Council by negotiating problems and they provide an important opportunity for citizen input and participation.
    I have suggested that some Boards be merged – such as creating a “mobility board” by joining the T-Board, Ped & Bike, & Greenways. The Historic Commission could join the CDC. That would result in some streamlining, while retaining the value of Board and citizen input focused on high standards for development instead of the lowest common denominator.

  8. Jon DeHart

     /  October 22, 2012

    We do have too many Boards, merging several sounds like a good idea to me .

  9. Don Evans

     /  October 22, 2012


    I can’t get that link to work.

  10. Sorry. Once again, you guys who don’t actually do events with the Town are completely wrong. Festifall is an Arts Event. Steven Wright is directly involved with that and spent countless hours with Town Staff and volunteers like me working to bring it together. It is a money raiser for the County.

    He was also at the event from 6 AM until 10 PM at Night the day of the event. Please, if you are going to criticize Town staff, maybe it would be a good idea for you to actually get involved with the Town.

    There are a lot of things to pick on, but I didn’t see Del or anyone else out at Festifall this year for the same amount of time that Steve Wright. I was at the budget meetings, I know who did and didn’t get paid at Festifall.

    You couldn’t really be more wrong. This is why I get involved in doing things with the Town as a volunteer. Citizen involvement is not just complaining. I am disappointed in this post. It is nonsensical and way out of Left Field.

    If you want to spend a lot of time with Steve Wright, volunteer for Festifall or any of the other Town activities where you can spend 2 hours from 7 to 9 every two weeks like I did.

    The Town is people not policy and to criticize one man who is a Coordinator for how priorities are set shows a lack of understanding of how the Town Government is structured. I believe Arts reports to Parks and Recreation.

    Also, perhaps, you’d like to go insult Steve Wright, in front of his wife and kids? You have no idea how hard he fought to get local artists paid for Festifall. Clearly.

  11. Did Jeff York get fired? Last I checked he was the person heading up the Public Arts division. Administrator is higher on the food chain than Coordinator.

    Steve Wright works to implement his directives. So, I am very confused. I have never seen anyone call for budget cuts and single out specific individuals to lose their job. This is just weird.

    Jason, I realize you already said this, but it is worth saying twice.

  12. Del Snow

     /  October 23, 2012

    I have no problem with Steven Wright, his work, or his pay. Most of the Town Staff is overworked and underpaid.
    I would guess that I have logged thousands of hours as a volunteer, despite serious physical problems and setting myself up for verbal attacks, so I’m not too sure why you picked me out, Steve.

  13. I just read the unaware of events. I VOLUNTEER FOR THE FORTY YEAR OLD ART EVENT FESTIFALL.

    I talked about it here!


    I don’t often use caps, but seriously? We had over 140 art vendors. Local musicians got paid (and it was Steve Wright who insisted the musicians be local in my meetings!). Musicians are artists. Priority was given to Regional (NC/SC/VA) artists. The Orange County Artist Guild had a double booth.

    FESTIFALL is a rain or shine event and occurs on the First Sunday in October every year since 1972. So there is your one Arts show, not to mention the other 100+ events put on by Parks & Recreation.

  14. Del, I picked you out, because you talk about merging and this one already merged.

    That simple. I am tired of hearing about inefficiencies when the Town actually tries to do something and no one notices.

  15. Del Snow

     /  October 23, 2012

    Thanks for explaining, Steve. I specified which Boards I thouht could merge. I had no others in mind.

    i certainly agree with you that our Festivals are great and most people seem to think that they “just happen” without realizing how much work is involved.

  16. Linda Convissor

     /  October 23, 2012

    On November 11, Joy Kasson, long time professor in UNC’s American Studies department, will discuss the value and necessity of the creative arts.

    Although not directly on the point of this discussion of public art, festivals, etc., I’m sure her talk will be thought-provoking on this subject. The talk is free and open to the public.

  17. Nancy Oates

     /  October 24, 2012

    It’s wonderful to see such support for local artists. Does it extend to letting them live in your neighborhood? Or have we relegated artists to people we don’t want in our backyard? Tonight Town Council takes up the issue of the Central West Focus Area, covering redevelopment of major parcels along MLK Blvd. and Estes Drive. As developers apply for upzoning, Council is in a strong bargaining position to insist on creating space for middle-income housing that would enable people who pursue careers in the arts instead of, say, real estate development to live in town. Will you urge Council to use its authority to bargain with developers to create room for middle-income people to live in town? Now that would show support for the arts.

  18. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  October 24, 2012

    There are a great many people in this town who are landlords renting to people who are not in Chapel Hill permanently. Any thoughts on how affordable the town would be if landlords lowered their rents?

  19. Del Snow

     /  October 24, 2012

    I agree, Nancy, a diverse Chapel Hill is a healthy Chapel Hill. Diversity of income, interests, race, ethnicity, lifestyle, beliefs…all contribute to what made Chapel Hill the gen that it was. It certainly would have been helpful for Charterwood, just up the street from Timber Hollow, not to be yet another luxury apartment complex.

  20. Nancy Oates

     /  October 25, 2012

    Del — I’m so pleased we’ve found some common ground I won’t bring up that Charterwood apartments would have been less expensive if the hotel had been approved to offset costs and the approval process hadn’t been so drawn out.

    I’m hoping you’ll use your authority on the planning board to push council members to think ahead as to where to make room for affordable housing. Council accepting staff’s recommendation for a reduction in planning area for the Central West Focus area will make it harder for affordable housing to gain a toehold, because council will approve projects one by one without looking at the gestalt. If Ron Strom’s luxury rentals are approved, along with the proposed hotel at Chartwell, that will make it all the more difficult for Shadowood to remain affordable.

  21. Del Snow

     /  October 25, 2012

    Me too!

    I have never stopped advocating for affordable housing. When 123 W. Franklin was reviewed by the planning board, they offered a $60,000 payment in lieu, which I said was way too low and the rest of the PB agreed. That said, I would rather see units. Mayor Kleinschmidt himself said that he would rather see units than payments in lieu, but that if a payment in lieu was accepted it should meet a high bar. I couldn’t agree more.

    So, of course, I will continue to stand by my principles and advocate for affordable housing at all reviews that I participate in.

    By the way, at the time of the hotel proposal at Charterwood, the plan was not calling for apartments, but for condos. Council did not like the hotel.

  22. Patrick M

     /  October 26, 2012

    There are a great many people in this town who are landlords renting to people who are not in Chapel Hill permanently. Any thoughts on how affordable the town would be if landlords lowered their rents?

    Deborah, Landlords will not lower their rents voluntarily. They also cannot be mandated to do so by law in North Carolina to my knowledge. Therefore, the price of housing for both owning and renting in town is largely controlled by the forces of supply and demand.

    So how could we “make” landlords lower their rents? Simple-make their product less scarce by permitting more units at ANY price point, including high-end units. This does create space for moderate-income families in the marketplace, through a secondary effect and not primary construction.
    Here’s a description of the housing filtering process I previously posted at Orangepolitics:

    The primary opportunity that new development presents for affordable housing is not new OCHLT units in the development, it is the impact the new development makes on the existing housing stock and its price. Any new units obtained for OCHLT are a nice bonus.
    The larger benefit than the handful of units obtained for OCHLT by the approval of 140 West is the filtering opportunity the new units added to the market allow for households at different price points.
    Let’s take 140 West Franklin as an example. Here’s a unit that costs $390,000 listed on It’s likely that there are households in Chapel Hill that are selling their close-to-downtown-but-not-in-downtown homes to move into the building. Maybe it’s an retired couple looking to downsize from a house like this one, listed for about $275,000.
    Well, someone’s got to buy the retired couple’s house to make the move to 140 West work out. Maybe a family with young children in Village West looking for more space. So they put their unit on the market for $172,000. Which gets purchased by someone from another smaller townhouse, looking for more space, who lists their old place for $131,000.
    I could go on, but I think the point is evident.Where we end up is a place like Bolinwood condos, where there are multiple units available all in the$65,000 – $80,000 range. It’s not a coincidence that these condos, which look to be the cheapest in all of Chapel Hill, were built 40 years ago. In Carrboro, Abbey Court (built in 1971) was just sold for a rough average of $25,000 – $30,000/unit.
    The key point is this: in any housing market, there are always numerous people looking to trade up to a slightly better housing opportunity, or a significantly better one. In a high-demand location like Chapel Hill, this is even more true. 140 West has 140 units in the building. Eighteen will belong to OCHLT. But even if 2/3 of the new occupants in the 122 market-rate units are bought by out-of-towners, the remaining units still allow 40 filtering opportunities in Chapel Hill, and that helps open up lower-cost housing stock as the filtering process continues.

    If half of the new units at 140 West are purchased by in-towners, that is 61 filtering opportunities to help lower-income households find units, compared to only 18 generated by OCHLT.

    Del, I’m glad that you care enough to ask developers to provide units in new projects under the OCHLT model. However, if Chapel Hill really wants to address affordable housing, the town will need to add many more units beyond the OCHLT inventory to make a difference.

  23. Nancy Oates

     /  October 26, 2012

    Patrick — Building more rental units sounds good in theory for keeping a lid on rents, but it hasn’t worked in, say, Manhattan or San Francisco. If the rents are higher than the people who want to live there can afford, tenants will just stuff more people in each unit to share the cost (In CH, that leads to parking problems). Landlords need to think about who they want to live in their units, and gear the rents and amenities to that target market. If landlords only want to focus on exorbitant rent, then it’s up to council to use its authority. For instance, every developer comes before council asking for rezoning to higher density. If council wants affordability, council will grant higher density only if the developer agrees to rent the equivalent of the existing density at a rate affordable to people who make 80% of the HUD-set AMI. The new units built in the higher density could be as high end as the developer wants, but a good portion of the units will be affordable. It’s a win-win. But it hinges on council playing hardball with developers who don’t want to do what’s in the best interest of the community.

  24. Patrick your theory is not supported by the facts. If you look at the demographics of Greenbridge or West140 you’ll see that most of the units are being consumed by folks who don’t already own homes in Chapel Hill OR are actually moving from higher priced housing – at least in the case of several retirees I know – to lesser cost housing in those buildings.

    You’ve consistently promoted growth policies that end up producing luxury units over workforce housing. How long before you admit your theory has no grounding in fact (at least locally)? Maybe when the LRT is lined with high priced housing still out of the reach of TTA bus drivers, maintenance and field personnel?

  25. Patrick M

     /  October 27, 2012

    Nancy, San Francisco is failing in the same way Chapel Hill is, and (unbelievably) only built 200 units last year, in a city of over 800,000 people. The near-static supply and soaring demand is why units are getting subdivided into tiny efficiencies- not because SF permitted and built rental units.

    Let me say that I agree that Council finding ways to get affordable (via subsidy) units built is an admirable goal, and it should not be stopped. OCHLT is a solid program with great staff, and if a rental program can be added locally if Section 8 is tapped out, that’s great.

    What I am also saying, however- is that as much as every OCHLT unit that can be funded and maintained on a 99-year lease is a reason to cheer, it’s not remotely enough. You used the term “win-win,” and I might say it’s “slowing the rate of losing, but not by much.”

    I’ve posted this before, but the American Community Survey data for Chapel Hill from 2009 shows that in the decade since OCHLT started selling affordable homes, Chapel Hill still saw a percentage decline at all household income levels below $75,000/yr, while the largest-growing income group in town was those making over $200k.

    So even with a program targeting units for 80% AMI, Chapel Hill is quickly losing middle class residents.

    Permitting more units that the market can bear makes it easier for developers to meet affordable ownership/rental requirements by Council, and takes pressure off the market broadly. DC has a significant number of new units coming online in 2013 and the development community there is pretty open about how that is going to impact their rents:

    I think there’s a lot that can be done (and is being done) to encourage people to own fewer cars in Chapel Hill / Carrboro, and to use the ones that are here less often. I would also add that communities with parking “problems” tend to be economically vibrant, while those that have abundant free parking, especially in their cores, are often ghost towns.

    To Will- could you share the demographic data for 140 West and Greenbridge and cite a source, or a link? That’d be great. And since you claim to have that data, a split of how many people in Greenbridge as currently occupied are in non-OCHLT and OCHLT units would be helpful, too.

    Finally, if your data is merely anecdotal, then people selling higher price housing in Chapel Hill to move to 140 West also unleashes filtering opportunities, and shows that the primary factor unleashing the filtering process is the introduction of a unit to the market, and not its price or rent.

  26. Patrick, all you need to do is to look at the OC GIS land records for East54 and Greenbridge. When West140 comes online we’ll have the specifics but until then I suggest you read Nancy’s and other media outlets reports, review RAM’s public statements, etc.

    No matter how you cut it, you’ve been supporting policies that have diminished Chapel Hill’s diversity one luxury condo at a time Patrick.

    Since you chose not to answer my previous question, I’ll ask again: How many TTA line personnel do you expect to live in the new high density housing you are calling for along ORANGE COUNTY’s section of the LRT?