Excerpt from the DRAFT Minutes of the Chapel Hill Town Council Meeting of November 8, 2004:
Item 2 - Public Hearings and Forums
Item 2a. - Public Forum on Recommendations from the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery Task Force.
Urban Forester Curtis Brooks reminded Council members that they had approved modifications to the UNC master plan in August 2003. As part of that approval, he stated, a joint committee of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and Town of Chapel Hill citizens had been formed. Mr. Brooks noted that group had been charged with recommending how to spend $150,000 on Cemetery improvements. He explained that the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery Task Force had met five times and had developed a list of recommendations, which they presented to the Council in October 2004. After hearing the recommendations, Mr. Brooks said, Council members had requested tonight's public forum.
John Sanders, representing the Di and Phi Foundation, told Council members that the Foundation was proud of its heritage but did not have the resources to restore its Cemetery plot. When money had been granted to the Town to upgrade the Old Cemetery the Foundation had requested that $50,000 be used to restore the cast iron fences around that plot, he said. Mr. Sanders characterized those fences as the premier artifacts of the Old Cemetery. He noted that the Foundation had pledged $10,000 of its own funds, and asked the Town Council to accept the Task Force's recommendation.
Council Member Strom asked if the $10,000 pledge would be the first $10,000 or the last $10,000, if $50,000 does not cover the total cost. Mr. Sanders replied that the Foundation had pledged $10,000 to go along with the $50,000 on the assumption that $50,000 would not be enough. "So it's the last $10,000 in, if needed," Council Member Strom clarified.
Paul Kapp, a UNC appointee to the Task Force, explained that the Task Force had estimated the entire cost of restoration at $62,000. He pointed out that this was an estimate and not a bid.
Clark Tew, representing the Di and Phi Student Organization, told Council members that the 18 students who were members did not have the funds to invest in such a large project. He said that Organization dues were their only source of income for activities and membership drives.
Rebecca Clark, a Town appointee to the Task Force, stated that UNC had only completed half of a stone wall that they had promised to build during discussions of the Cobb Deck/Chiller Plant. UNC had completed the part on the front side of South Road, she said, but they had done anything on the lower side of the Black portion of the Cemetery. Ms. Clark said that some gravestones had disappeared and that many more had been broken over the past five months. There were sunken graves, she said, noting that people could trip over them even if the Town adds lighting to the area. Ms. Clark requested that the Town level those graves, plant grass, and try to straighten and secure some of the stones. Also, promises had been made eight years ago to put in a gutter that would keep water from running down into the Black portion of the Cemetery and causing erosion, she noted.
Mayor Foy asked Ms. Clark if she supported the specific proposal that the Committee had put forward. Ms. Clark replied that she wanted the funds to be used to complete the work that she had just outlined.
Steve Moore, a Town appointee to the Task Force, told Council members that he had long felt the Old Cemetery deserved more than just routine attention. Mr. Moore said he had petitioned the Town in January 2002 to form an advisory committee to look at some of the unique concerns at the Cemetery. The Council had turned his request down in March 2002, he said, because it felt that the 1987 master plan was adequate and that the Town staff would routinely attend to Cemetery needs.
Mr. Moore expressed concern about the Task Force's proposal. He noted that he had been the sole dissenting member with regard to the recommendation for $52,000 for historic preservation and restoration. Mr. Moore agreed that the Di and Phi plots should be preserved, but proposed that it was fundamentally wrong to give all of the historic preservation funds to that project while ignoring everything else. Such a one-time fund should be used fairly and equitably for the overall support of the Old Cemetery, he said.
Catherine Frank, Director of the Preservation Society of Chapel Hill and a Town appointee to the Task Force, explained that the Task Force had seen their charge as finding a way to spend $150,000 in a way that was consistent with the 1987 master plan. The Task Force believed it was important to make decisions and act quickly since plans had foundered in the past, she said. Ms. Frank explained that the Task Force had wanted to invest in projects that would make a clear and visible impact right away. She expressed hope that the markers and lighting could go forward as well as the proposal to improve records and publications. Ms. Frank also commented that the Historic District Commission would be a logical body to oversee the Old Cemetery. She asked the Town Council to consider that.
Paul Kapp stated that the Task Force had been looking at one-time opportunities to make a positive difference in the restoration, preservation and interpretation of the Cemetery and to make it safer for visitors. He described theirs as a balanced approach and said that the Di and Phi area was a key artifact of the Cemetery. Mr. Kapp urged the Council to help restore the iron fences.
Council Member Verkerk asked Mr. Kapp to inform the Council about a recent project of the UNC Black Student Movement. Mr. Kapp explained that the Black Student Movement had placed an historic roadside plaque on the southwest corner at South Road and Winston Hall. The plaque cites the historical significance of the African-American section of the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery, he said.
Landscape Architect Jill Coleman, a UNC-appointee to the Task Force, expressed full support for the recommendations. In reference to Ms. Clark's comments, Ms. Coleman said that landscape improvements and buffers would be completed after the chiller plant is built. She explained that UNC did not want to risk damaging those buffers during chiller plan construction. Ms. Coleman stated that the University was committed to completing the stone wall on all sides and was in the process of collecting stones for the section at Connor Dormitory.
Council Member Harrison inquired about a comment that Task Force Member Faison Sessoms had made at a previous hearing. Mr. Sessoms had said that the cast iron fences were the main reason why the Cemetery was in the National Register, he recalled. Mr. Kapp clarified that the Cemetery was an historic resource in its own right and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Council Member Harrison asked if there were particular elements that gave it that distinction. Mr. Kapp replied that the Di and Phi plots were significant due to their history and the craftsmanship of the iron fences and stone markers. Council Member Harrison determined that there were four or five elements that make the Old Cemetery significant on a national level. He confirmed that the African-American section and other fences and monuments were among those elements.
Mayor pro tem Wiggins asked the staff if the conditions that Ms. Clark had described could be corrected as part of the Town's ongoing maintenance of the Cemetery. Mr. Brooks replied that a certain amount of it could, such as leveling areas, filling in depressions, and reseeding. He noted that growing grass in a cemetery is challenging, however, because the area is so compacted and shady in parts. The Town had removed quite a few trees over the years because they had begun to uproot gravestones, he pointed out.
Mr. Brooks explained that restoring gutters and installing a new gutter was part of the Task Force's proposal. He noted, however, that no gutter existed on the westernmost path. A gutter in that location probably would capture some water and reduce the amount of erosion in that part of the Cemetery, he said. Mr. Brooks acknowledged that this was not on the list of recommendations. He offered to get a cost estimate for consideration, and estimated that it might cost $6-8,000.
Council Member Kleinschmidt pointed out that a gutter in that location had been a "category one" item in the Town's master plan. He wondered why it had not made it to the Committee's list when the cast iron fences, which were not a category one or two, did make it onto the list. Mr. Brooks replied that, except for Ms. Clark, the Take Force had been a new group of people. They had broken into subcommittees and had identified subsets of needs early on, he said. Mr. Brooks noted that those needs had included pedestrian-oriented projects, archival/public information, and historic preservation. What came forward were the things that those subcommittees felt were the highest priority, he said.
Council Member Kleinschmidt asked if the master plan had been part of the discussion. Mr. Brooks replied that the Task Force had reviewed it at the first meeting. But they had stated with a fresh look and had not gone through and discussed the priority order of the earlier recommendations, he said. Council Member Kleinschmidt recalled that the Council had been told at the last meeting that erosion was not a problem. Mr. Brooks replied that he had meant that the primary issue was tripping hazards. But, as noted tonight, there is one location where a gutter would have drainage implications, he said. Council Member Kleinschmidt noted that the location that Mr. Brooks was referring to had been a category one in the master plan.
Council Member Ward stated that he had been out of Town when this item had last been discussed. He was convinced of the need for timely restoration of the Di and Phi fences, he said. However, the fact that marker restoration was not proposed to get any attention from the $50,000 was "glaring," he said. Council Member Ward suggested that a lack of advocates for the more generalized needs had lead to this proposal. He encouraged the Council and Task Force to consider making a challenge grant for half of the cost of the Di and Phi fences. Then $25,000 could be used to address marker restorations, he pointed out.
Mayor pro tem Wiggins verified with Mr. Horton that the Town had invested in marker restoration in the past. She asked him to describe what had happened to those markers, and Mr. Horton replied that many of them had been broken again. Since the Cemetery is located on a college campus, maintaining markers will always be an ongoing expense, Mayor pro tem Wiggins pointed out.
Council Member Verkerk gave a short lecture on the history of art, the history of wrought iron in America, and the Di and Phi Societies' contribution to UNC. The iron fences are one of the oldest historic works of art that the Town has, she explained. Council Member Verkerk acknowledged that the grave markers had sentimental value, but said they were not artistically significant in the way that the Di and Phi fences were. She noted that historic preservation was highly specialized and very expensive. Council Member Verkerk asked the Council not to "diffuse" the money but to spend it on preserving something that it "really special" in Chapel Hill and in the State.
Council Member Hill agreed that restoring the iron fences would be an exciting proposition. It seemed like a perfect fundraising opportunity, he said. Council Member Hill proposed that it would be easy to raise funds, given the University's fundraising capacity and the Town's willingness to support such things. But it would not be easy to raise funds for gutters and stonewalls and landscaping, he pointed out. Council Member Hill proposed that the money, given as recompense for building the Cobb Deck and Chiller Plant, should be used to gird the Cemetery. He recommended holding off on spending until the Town understands what would best protect the Cemetery.
Council Member Greene expressed support for Council Member Ward's suggestion, noting that the minutes of the Task Force's meeting had mentioned a challenge grant. She expressed concern that the Committee had allocated very little or no money to important items from the master plan. Council Member Greene said that she understood the arguments, but was concerned about the priorities that were being set.
Mayor pro tem Wiggins stated that the greatest challenge to the Cemetery was its location, and not the Cobb Deck/Chiller Plant. It had been the Council's responsibility to mitigate the effects of the deck and plant during the permitting process, she said, adding that it was not the Task Force's obligation to do so now. Mayor pro tem Wiggins suggested sending Council comments back to the Task Force with recognition of the importance of the fence and with the expectation that the Manager and Mr. Brooks would develop a maintenance plan to improve the grave sites that Ms. Clark had mentioned. She proposed that additional funds for gutters come from the Town's capital improvements budget and that the Town ask the University to share that cost. Since the Black part of the cemetery was close to student dorms, really protecting it would mean putting a very high, locked fence around it, Mayor pro tem Wiggins stated.
Council Member Verkerk agreed to take tonight's discussion back to the Task Force. She asked for the Council's permission to also entertain Catherine Frank's proposal to turn responsibility for maintaining the Old Cemetery over to the Historic District Commission. Since there seemed to be a great deal of interest in marker restoration and fixing gutters, she recommended that the Council identify an amount that the Town should budget each year. Council Member Verkerk explained that the Task Force was hoping the addition of lighting would reduce vandalism. She wondered if the Town had any experienced with fundraising, noting that the Town owns the Cemetery.
COUNCIL MEMBER WARD MOVED, SECONDED BY MAYOR PRO TEM WIGGINS, TO RECEIVE AND REFER COMMENTS BACK TO THE OLD CHAPEL HILL CEMETERY TASK FORCE FOR FURTHER CONSIDERATION AND FOR FINAL RECOMMENDATIONS. THE MOTION WAS ADOPTED UNANIMOUSLY (9-0).