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December 2007

November 2007

Monday's City Council: Royal Ice Cream, two-thirds bonds, and the changing of the guard

Monday night's Council meeting marks the end of one tenure on the City Council and the beginning of another, meaning there's some circumstance to accompany the pomp so often associated with events like the evening's installation ceremony for the newly elected and re-elected council members.

Certainly Monday's event isn't the outcome departing councilman Thomas Stith hoped for; defeated in his run for mayor by Bill Bell, the former pre-school owner and Raleigh conservative think-tank pol returns to private life, denied a Merry Stithmas in favor of a Stith-less council. In his place: newcomer Farad Ali joins re-elected councilfolk Diane Catotti and Eugene Brown and returning mayor Bill Bell.

The installation ceremony kicks off with a welcoming reception (open of course to the general public) at 6pm in the lobby of City Hall, followed at 7pm by the oaths of office and regular Council business.

The highlight item on this week's agenda is the so-called two-thirds bond subject, a reference to the state statue allowing local governments to re-issue new bonds without voter approval when retiring old securities, with the caveat that the face value can be no more than two-thirds the level from the old bonds. Ray Gronberg covered the subject well in a story going into the Thanksgiving holiday, noting in particular that there's some debate on how to allocate the funds from these new bonds.

Continue reading "Monday's City Council: Royal Ice Cream, two-thirds bonds, and the changing of the guard" »

Road, ped improvements planned for Hillandale Rd.

Everyone's favorite I-85 cross street, Hillandale Rd., is coming due for not one but two projects -- one that's drawn the support of many adjoining neighborhoods, and a second that may raise eyebrows at least among the local bike/ped community.

First up, the uncontroversially good news -- construction is set to begin next week on a sidewalk on the eastern side of Hillandale Rd., from Club Blvd. to just south of NC-147, the Durham Freeway. A sidewalk currently extends from where Fulton/Hillandale meets the freeway all the way to Duke Medical Center, but the lack of a connection from the highway to Club meant that residents in the Crest St. community had no easy or safe access to their neighborhood grocery, the Food Lion on W. Main, and that Old West Durham and Watts-Hillandale residents had no pedestrian connection to the region's largest employer.

John Schelp, who advocated for the project for several years in his stead within the Old West Durham Neighborhood Association, noted in an announcement to local listservs that much of the funding for the project comes from NCDOT (some of the rest comes from the 2005 sidewalk bonds.)

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Holiday lights, parade to sweep through downtown Durham this weekend

Is the holiday season getting you more bah-humbug than happy? Or are you the kind of person who loves the bright lights and evergreens and waits for it all year round? Either way, this weekend marks the time pageantry comes to downtown Durham with a wide range of events to officially kick of the holidays in the Bull City.

First up: Friday night's ceremonial lighting of the Lucky Strike water tower at American Tobacco. The white light bulbs going up the tower have been replaced with more seasonal colors to add a bit of flair to the centerpiece of the complex. Creekside Elementary, Carrington Middle, and Northern High students will provide some holiday entertainment, while WRAL's Ken Smith will stop by to host the evening's events. (What, we don't rate David Crabtree or Pam Saulsby this year?) The first five hundred folks in attendance, we're told, get a "souvenir light wand," too. Things kick off at 7pm tonight.

Then, from 9am to 1pm, Light Up Durham is sponsoring Talent All Over Town, a musical showcase of performances from DPS students in four venues (the ATC, the Carolina Theatre, 108 Morris St., and the Hayti Heritage Center.) There will be three blocks of performances in each space; check out the Light Up Durham web site for more details.

Holiday_parade01 Finally, the highlight for many of the weekend festivities: the city's annual holiday parade, culminating in the first-ever "holiday tree lighting ceremony" on the CCB Plaza, with Bill Bell and Santa Claus present to bring the fun to a close. The parade this year starts later than before -- at 4 p.m., at the corner of Blackwell and Jackie Robinson Sts. by the DBAP.

The parade route will wend up Blackwell/Corcoran/Foster to E. Chapel Hill St., then will head past Rue Cler and the wreck-a-deck up to Mangum St. The parade then heads up Mangum St. to Morgan, down to Foster, and ending at Foster & Geer. Charlie Nelms, NCCU's new chancellor, will serve as the grand marshall for this year's event.

At parade's end, we'll have the aforementioned tree lighting at the CCB Plaza at 6:30. Durham Parks & Rec and the day's sponsors are also planning musical entertainment in the hours before the parade in both the CCB Plaza and the pavilion at Durham Central Park. Find out more details at the City's web site.

Hope to see you out for the fun downtown over the next couple of days.

A setting Starlu

One of the oddities about Durham's dining scene is that it defies the expectations you might have if you moved here from, say, Cary or North Raleigh.

South Durham is the fast-growing residential district and RTP, in Durham's southeastern corner, is the economic engine for the entire Triangle. But you find very few notable and noteworthy Bull City local restaurants anywhere in the southern portion of the city (City Beverage stands as one of the singular exceptions.) Of course, you have the steady drumbeat of chain restaurants, but Durham's restauranteurs have shown little interest in setting roots down there.

And why should they? The traditional Durham core, near downtown and Duke -- which is far more socioeconomically diverse and which is a far 'older' set of neighborhoods than the quick-build subdivisions out near Southpoint -- has more fine dining that just about anywhere else in the Triangle. Draw a line between Magnolia Grill and Nana's, then rotate it to draw a circle -- just about all the best places to eat in the Bull City fit right inside.

Uncomfortably outside either of these two spheres of influence stands Starlu on Shannon Road, which announced on Wednesday that it would close its doors effective Dec. 22. While the restaurant's co-owner, Sam Poley, didn't go into details as to the reasons for the closure in his email announcement, his note that it was difficult to fill the space with enough customers suggests location as a critical problem that Starlu couldn't solve. (It certainly wasn't the quality of the food or wine, which drew rave reviews from local restaurant reviewers and residents.)

It also likely didn't help that the biotech company based in Starlu's building, EMD Pharmaceuticals, has essentially shut down its one-time Durham headquarters and laid off most of its employee base, doubtlessly taking a toll on foot traffic. At the same time, University Tower and other office buildings in the South Square area have posted higher-than-normal vacancy rates, with some tenants moving back towards downtown and American Tobacco over the past few years. One also has to wonder whether the final closure of South Square Mall and its reinvention as a Target's/Sam's Club has had any impact on the nature and number of visitors to the area.

Poley hints that this will not be his last foray into the Durham dining scene. Here's hoping for a successful return with a new restaurant -- perhaps in a more successful location.

More thoughts on the downtown Y & downtown parking

The brief mention in Wednesday's BCR of the recommendation by the Durham Y to close Seminary St. to increase parking for the downtown YMCA has become a subject for further discussion over at Barry's and Gary's blogs. This recommendation -- which is tied in with the Lakewood/South Durham recommendations and which hasn't been voted on by the Durham advisory board or brought before the Y's Raleigh board of directors -- is worth some further discussion.

First off, as a starting point: I agree 110% with both Gary and Barry (and all the commentors) that closing Seminary to make more parking for the Y is a non-starter. Right now we have the DAP district at the precipice of a major redevelopment that will add more residential units and pedestrian/bike traffic, with the potential eventually of a Minor League Baseball museum bringing more people, as will the renovated Durham Athletic Park. Suddenly, we want to cut off a minor but useful circulatory path north of the Downtown Loop, and force more auto traffic to the edge of the growing Durham Central Park?

Given the impact on circulation, the only way I'd see this proposal being anything but a non-starter were if the downtown loop were reverted to two-way traffic -- but that's probably 5-10 years away at least.

So why does the Y want to close down the street? The representatives at Tuesday's meeting did mention wanting to add family/youth locker rooms as well as a steam room; if that were to require enlarging the footprint of the building, I can see where they might be concerned -- but only from the perspective of whether the City would give them grief over not having enough on-site parking after the expansion

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Lakewood Y: A night for spin-and-grin

BriAnne Dopart from the Herald-Sun had very good coverage in this morning's paper of the Lakewood Y community meeting held last night, and she captures well the disconnect that was evident between the YMCA of the Triangle's media-savvy and sometimes slick presentation and the heartfelt concerns of community members in attendance.

Be sure to read her story if you haven't already. Instead of recapping the meeting, I'd like to depart from my typical approach and look at this issue in a slightly different way.

I came into Tuesday night's meeting with some sympathies towards both sides in this argument. On the one hand, the Lakewood area has a proud history in Durham and is fighting to maintain a diverse, strong community in the wake of the closure of community institutions (such as the decline of the Lakewood Shopping Center.)

YMCA of the Triangle, for its part, is a nonprofit but one that wants to grow and serve new members in unmet population areas -- their desire to grow in population-rich South Durham and their concerns over the capital costs to support an old, disinvested facility, one which was neglected long before the Durham and Raleigh Y's merged, were understandable. (In re South Durham, which lacks both a Y and a City-funded rec center, we've talked about that issue here at BCR before, notably in the City's amnesia over its own master plan for rec centers calling for southern and not central Durham expansion.)

I walked away from Tuesday night's meeting more than a bit disheartened at the approach of the Triangle YMCA's Raleigh-based leadership. Notable was the evening's moderator, James White, the "senior vice president of leadership development" for the Triangle Y, who managed, somehow, to force a broad, happy smile at all times in the 90-minute presentation. Including, notably, while he was in the middle of asking someone to stop talking; or letting attendees know they weren't allowed to speak; or in responding to angry comments from the assembled citizenry.

Continue reading "Lakewood Y: A night for spin-and-grin" »

Wine-and-chocolates tasting at P&O tomorrow to benefit Communities in Schools of Durham

It's worth a trip over to the Brightleaf section of downtown this Thursday to stop into a wine-and-chocolates tasting at Parker & Otis, from 4:30 to 6:30 pm.

This is not simply a chance for gastric goodness (though I can vouch for the Lake Champlain Chocolates P&O sells, having had a chance once to visit their factory in Burlington, Vt. years ago). No, this tasting is offered hand-in-hand as a fundraiser for Communities in Schools of Durham's backpack program.

If you haven't heard of this before, the Bayer CropScience Food Backpack program sends packs full of food from Durham's Food Bank home with 150 students each week at Burton and Eastway Elementary here in the Bull City. This year, the program will give out almost 40,000 pounds of food -- up significantly from 15,000 last year.

Eastway, housed in a new elementary school off Alston Ave., has the highest free & reduced lunch poverty rate in the DPS system -- yet has been turned around from a low-performing school to one of the most-improved schools in the state, making expected progress on the AYP measures each of the last two years. (Tell this to our friends in Garner who are fighting Wake's school board on the grounds that WCPSS is busing too many poor, black students from Southeast Raleigh into their little town.)

As Eastway's principal Star Sampson (just named DPS' principal of the year) notes, "Children can't learn well when they're  hungry. We can tell when they come to school and they haven't eaten. They're not motivated, their energy level is low, they might even be angry. When they have eaten, they're happy, motivated - they almost skip on their way to class. So we say: Thank you, on behalf of the students at Eastway Elementary School, for providing food so our kids can keep on learning."

The $5 ticket charge for the tasting will be donated in its entirety to the CIS of Durham's backpack program, as will 10% of all sales of wine and chocolate during the event. A short presentation on CIS of Durham's work will happen at 5:30.

Downtown revitalization: a busy next few months?

Even though we're entering the holiday season, a time when things slow down in many industries, all indications are that Durham revitalization and renewal in and adjacent to downtown is likely to keep in the forefront of the public eye in the Bull City.

First up, we have the Rolling Hills subdivision redevelopment, a project in the planning and evaluation stage for the better part of a year. Rolling Hills was built on the ashes of urban renewal with over a million dollars in city-backed loans, but neither developer was successful and the project's ended up an eyesore in the old Hayti/Fayetteville St. area (not to mention a financial failure).

Today, the N&O is reporting that City Council will next week consider a draft redevelopment agreement for Rolling Hills and part of the St. Theresa neighborhood adjacent to it. The players in the draft agreement are national developers McCormack Baron Salazar (which specializes in redeveloping distressed urban neighborhoods) and Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse (which is active generally in urban renewal/re-use, and has its hands in American Tobacco and the DAP area here in Durham.)

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Lakewood Y community forum at 6pm this evening

As we posted about here a few months ago, the YMCA of the Triangle has backed away from its initial position of closing the Lakewood Y facility. However, controversy over the plans has continued as the Triangle Y organization -- a cross-county organization formed a few years ago when Durham's YMCA merged with the much-larger Raleigh foundation -- has floated a proposal to sell the Lakewood facility and then lease back a portion of the space for a Y facility.

The latter proposal hasn't sat well with the Committee to Save the Lakewood Y, a community group recently honored with the Independent Weekly's 2007 Citizen Award. Besides concerns over the transparency of the process and the level of community involvement, it seems natural to be worried that the Y may be using this approach as a way to take one more step back from a long-term commitment to the Lakewood operation. The CSLY folks have intimated that YMCA of the Triangle's long-term goal may well be to raise capital through the building sale to focus on adding a Y to serve (fast-growing and more-affluent) South Durham, with the fear that Lakewood is left languishing and without sufficient investment.

Tonight, Durham YMCA board members are hosting a community forum on what the Y is calling the "repurposing" of the Lakewood facility. The forum begins at 6 p.m. at the Lakewood Y. We'll have an update after the meeting on what transpires.

Durham reported to move to Stage 4 water restrictions next week

WRAL is reporting this evening that Durham's Water Management staff met with Patrick Baker today and recommended moving the Bull City to Stage IV water restrictions effective next Monday, Dec. 3.

Stage IV "Severe Mandatory Conservation" restrictions, detailed below, clamp down further by banning watering of any outdoor landscaping, including lawns, trees and golf greens (and, presumably, Astroturf) except for limited such actions by commercial landscapers and contractors. Limited garden and shrub watering would be allowed subject to restriction. Motor vehicle or mobile equipment washing would also be banned except commercial car washes that can document 50% water savings, presumably via on-site recycling. In general, businesses seeking to use water need to list how they intend to conserve water use by 50%.

Stage IV is the antepenultimate step in Durham's water rules, followed by Stage V ("Stringent Mandatory Conservation") and Stage VI (the darkly titled "Rationing" -- which restricts '[a]ll other uses of water ... to those necessary to meet minimum health and safety needs of the customers.')

[BCR is unable to confirm the rumor that the City will shortly consider modifying the ordinance to include several additional water restriction stages including Stage VIII ("Have You Tried Drinking Your Swimming Pool Water"), Stage XI ("Public Baths Established in American Tobacco's Old Bull River Water Feature"), or Stage XVII ("Move the @!*# Back to New Jersey").]

In all seriousness, WRAL reports that Baker is likely to announce the city will be moving forward with Stage IV restrictions on Tuesday morning save for a significant increase in water levels overnight Monday due to rain.

Current days remaining of "premium water" (explained here) are 59. Read the full Stage IV restrictions after the jump.

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