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November 2007

D-Bulls license plates start popping up on local autos

Thanks to a reader for the alert tip that the Durham Bulls vanity license plates are now shipping to folks who pre-ordered them. Which means you can expect to see a few Bulls plates on the back of cars in your local parking lot. (My guess for highest density of plates will be the lot at Willard and Blackwell under the Durham Freeway that's designated parking for the Bulls team and staff.)

Congrats to the Bulls for getting several hundred team patrons and fans to sign up for the license plate. It's a great way to show off your Bulls pride, and why you're happy to have picked Durham over that other town to the southeast when you moved to the Triangle.

Speaking of which, perhaps it's the Durham-Raleigh rivalry that led the Tampa Bay Rays -- yes, thank goodness, that's their new official name -- to put their Triple-A affiliate in the Bull City. After all, the Tampa Bay area is stuck with a regionalism ("the Bay") to avoid offending either Tampa proper or St. Pete. Now, apparently, talk of demolishing the hated Tropicana Field in St. Pete has renewed the intracity intramural rivalry, with some Tampa-ites (Tampans? Tampoids?) making the call for the team to pick and head to their town.

Like parent club, like AAA affiliate. All part of getting the young guys ready for the big leagues, I suppose.

NCSSM preps to grow again; WH-H to gird for battle?

The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics has perched over in the old Watts Hospital site at Club St. and Broad St. for twenty-seven years, taking the spot of the hospital facility moved there in the early 1900s. NCSSM sits right in the heart of one of Durham's thriving urban neigborhoods, the Watts-Hillandale district.

Notice that no one ever proposed to rename the neighborhood NCSSM-Hillandale? Well, that's not too surprising. For years, it seems, there's simmered some concerns from neighbors about the school's plans for growth and the impact of the school on the surrounding streets and blocks. Not that that's a universally-held view -- other residents are quick to point out that the school's student body, which is drawn from a competitive range of high schoolers from throughout the state for a rigorous two-year academic program, are some of the most civically-engaged and neighborly high schoolers you could expect to find.

Well, NCSSM's board of directors and the state legislature have approved plans to grow the school's population by one-third (from the current enrollment of about 600), which will necessitate the construction of the Discovery Center, a $70-million, 250,000 sq. ft. building with labs, classrooms and a cafeteria. Shortly before Thanksgiving, NCSSM also announced that it would hire what a WHHNA board member described as "an expert in [Durham] zoning ordinances" to help shepherd the development of the project through the city's development phases.

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Thom Mount, Horton Foote pitch movie about... nuclear waste dump in Durham?

John Schwade had a fascinating op-ed piece in Saturday's The Durham News with his perspective on "Bull Durham," almost twenty years after its release. Personally, as someone who first watched the movie before I was a resident, my first impressions of the Bull City on celluloid were of an aged Southern town with a most-certainly "minor league" feel.

Of course, the Durham of twenty years ago was a city between the manufacturing and industrial roots -- and 1960s/1970s turmoil and social upheaval -- of its past, and the growth and transformation witnessed over the past decade in particular. Still, Schwade's description of the gap between what he thought Bull Durham would portray (as someone responding to the ads to become an extra in the movie) and what it actually did show is striking:

When "Bull Durham" premiered in June, 1988, reviewer Roger Ebert gushed, "There are quiet little scenes that have the ring of absolute accuracy." But there was more bull than Durham in the depiction of Durham Bulls fans, beginning with the quality of the baseball they paid to see. . . .

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The City responds on the W. Chapel Hill St. parking deck issue

I wanted to be sure to give equal time to the city government's perspective on the W. Chapel Hill St. deck issue, which we discussed here on Wednesday. If you missed it, Patrick Baker responded to yesterday's post in the comments section... worth a read.

Jon Ham's also got some thoughts up on this over at Right Angles, the John Locke Foundation's Triangle-area blog. I'm not ready to go where Jon's gone on this (implying that the timing of releasing this after the election seems more than coincidental) -- though I say that with the caveat that it's still unclear to me whether elected officials were aware of this before the election, or if this was strictly approached at the staff level. I suspect that if the entire Council had known about it, the Stith campaign would have at least mentioned it in their very public campaign against what they claimed to be city mismanagement. Still, I'm curious to see whether anything more comes of this angle.

Just to be clear, my own perspective on this is that the City seemed to do just about everything right in addressing the situation -- save for handling how this was announced to the general public. (Though I must add again the disclaimer that I'm certainly not an engineer; heck, I couldn't fix my own toilet and needed two tries to get it right in adding an object to my toilet tank to displace water and conserve!)

The City's press release on the situation follows after the jump cut.

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W. Chapel Hill St. deck: Mum's the word?

Eyebrows doubtlessly went up a few inches across folks' breakfast tables this morning at the announcement in the Herald-Sun and N&O of cracks found in the West Chapel Hill St. parking deck downtown, right across the street from City Hall.

City Manager Patrick Baker noted according to press accounts that his very first reaction was one of wanting to make sure he didn't have a Minneapolis full-scale collapse on his hands. No, the engineers said, that wasn't the situation at all.  Apparently, all there would have been to worry about would have been, oh, a "localized floor collapse."

Much better, then. Only a few squished cars and, if we're really unlucky, squished people.

Exaggeration? Perhaps, but this one strikes a bit close to home for me. I actually parked on the 6th floor of that garage for Monday night's Council meeting, mostly so that I could get a good night view of Durham's downtown. Interestingly, the topmost floors of the garage were the ones that had practically all the cars -- they were packed with Durham city and county-owned vehicles, making the top floors look like a Ford dealership parking lot. A seeming contrast with the City staff's memo to Council on the emergency repairs:

"Precautions have been taken on an interim basis to limit the structural loading on the parking deck–signs have been posted to limit the loads on the upper levels and the Management Company has been directed to not allow the deck to be used to capacity. These precautionary measures do not relieve the problem. Prior to commencing repairs, the subcontractor will temporarily shore the deck from top to bottom."

Note that I'm no expert on parking deck engineering, so there could well be a logical explanation for this one. (A portion of the top-most level of the deck is fenced off and limited only to municipal vehicles; this could be one approach to restricting the volume of vehicular parking allowed up there, though the fence installation looked more permanent than temporary to my untrained eyes. If anyone from the City is reading, I'm all ears on this one.)

Update 11/26: So I went up to the deck on Sunday to check out what vehicles are parked up there. Most of them were small trucks and vans, like Chevy S-10s, Ford Rangers, and Ford Escapes, along with some small econoboxes. Interestingly, the City press release on the matter notes that "compact pickup trucks/SUVs" are allowed in the deck, and explicitly cites three such vehicles: S-10s, Rangers, and Escapes. Wow, will wonders never cease.

Perhaps more eyebrow-raising is something that didn't appear in today's newspaper coverage that I could find -- namely, the fact that the Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) on the deck project, according to the City staff's own timeline of events, encouraged the City in October to close the facility immediately:

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Pop the Cap sponsors 'Black Friday Beer Fest'

In the mood to avoid the malls this Friday? The Herald-Sun reported last year that over 100,000 people, or roughly half the population of dear ol' Derm, visited the Streets at Southpoint mall on the day after Thanksgiving, the putative start to the holiday shopping season. (One of these days the Southpoint folks will wisen up to their traffic nightmare and build a parking deck -- if only to be able to lea$e more $pace at the sold-out shopping center via wrapper retail businesses, a la Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh.)

There's a better way to spend your Friday: enjoying some good beers, good food from Rue Cler and Pop's, and giving a little back to charity while you're at it. Sean Wilson and the folks at Pop the Cap -- the group that got North Carolina to lift its silly restriction on alcohol-by-volume that impaired the availability of popular microbrew and craft beers in the state -- is sponsoring the Black Friday Beer Fest at Rigsbee Hall, 208 Rigsbee Ave. downtown.

Stop by between 3 and 7 p.m. on Black Friday to enjoy a number of different specialty beers (including Durham's own Triangle Brewing Company), a Texas Hold 'Em poker tournament kicking off at 4 p.m., and an Xbox 360 set up on a big TV.

The great thing about this event is, you get a chance to help make someone else's Christmas brighter without hitting the malls. Bring a new, unwrapped toy to the event to support Toys for Tots and get $5 off the $25 admission. (If you're toy-free, $5 from your admission fee will go to the charity.)

Find out more over at the Pop the Cap web site.

Other voices, other rooms

First, a note of thanks to all you folks out there reading Bull City Rising. It's been about a year since the site went live, and we're up to a readership of about 6,000 unique readers and 35,000 pageviews per month, with around 500 readers on any given day. Thanks for making BCR part of your Durham news and blogging habits.

Secondly, I wanted to take a moment as we occasionally do to highlight some of the other new voices and bloggers out there in the Bull City. What's powerful and interesting about blogs is the diversity of bringing many opinions and perspectives into the scene, and a local 'blogosphere' grows more powerful with every new blog that joins in.

First up: We talk a lot about downtown residential options here at BCR, but who's living them? Ryan Ananat, for one, who talks about what it's like living in one of the two first-occupied condos over at Trinity Lofts in his new blog Gritty Cute: Adventures of a Downtown Durham Homeowner. Ryan's hoping to highlight both residential life in Durham's city center as well as to give a perspective on the local arts scene, a topic for which more coverage is badly needed.

Next, you may know Rev. Carl Kenney from his pieces in the Independent Weekly; he's started up a new blog called Rev-Elution, bringing a unique view on issues of race, class and spirituality in the Bull City. His posts and insights on the Bell/Stith race are, in retrospect, among the more insightful ones out there.

Finally, local real estate agent Tamara Heyward with Maverick Properties -- a person involved in the sales of many downtown and near-downtown properties -- has a new blog, R.E. Market Durham. She's touched so far on national and regional housing trends but also brings some good insights for what's happening on-the-ground with Durham's downtown renovations and renewal.

Check these three blogs out if you get a chance; all now join the blogroll at left with Durham's other locally-focused bloggers.

Water supply: 144 days (by the new math)

In other Council news last night, Patrick Baker gave an update on the number of days of water supply remaining; in the process, he clarified some of the questions buzzing around about the ever-changing figure. Baker noted the number of days of "premium water" remaining was now 64, down from 72 a few weeks ago.

What is premium water? Well, we sure ain't getting Evian out of the tap (I'm having to fight hard to avoid making some cheap, uncalled-for lead-in-water joke.) No, ironically, one could say that premium water is the water that the City doesn't have to pay a "premium" for -- it's the water remaining that can be pulled in through the existing intake pipes in the lake.

Beyond that amount, there are 56 days of non-premium water remaining in the Lake Michie/Little River reservoirs that is usable, but would have to be pumped into the pipes (and, if I remember correctly, is more difficult/expensive to treat.)

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City Council: Garrett Rd. apartments move forward

As the N&O and Herald-Sun both reported today, the City Council approved the necessary rezoning for a 300+ unit apartment complex on Garrett Rd, across from Annoying-Bobblehead-Guy Toyota and behind the shopping center at Garrett & 15-501. As we've discussed in recent weeks here, an ad hoc citizen's group called New Hope for Durham came out in force to oppose the project, with 35 folks signed up against the project and 7 for.

The support of Council for the project, however, ultimately seemed to rest on a few factors -- notably among them, the fact that those seven proponents included neighbors and organized neighborhoods who had stridently fought against an earlier Centex Homes townhouse project on the site that would have included one-third the number of units.

An odd turn of events? Not from the perspective of the Garrett Farms neighborhood association's board of directors president and a former director, who both spoke out strongly in favor of the rezoning, noting that it reflected what they felt had been a serious commitment to negotiation by developer Trammel Crow Residential to make this project work. The head of the New Hope Creek committee, another vocal opponent of the Centex plan, also spoke out in favor of the TCR project.

As Leah Ogden, a leader in the fight against the Centex project, explained to Council, she and other activists had pointed to the existing Alexan apartments on Garrett as an example of the kind of environmentally-appropriate development they wanted when fighting the Centex plan; she and others were satisfied that this standard was met with the new project.

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Growth opponents, growth drivers both on tonight's City Council agenda

There's little doubt that the subject of growth will be on the agenda at tonight's City Council meeting, in all kinds of interesting ways.

First off, tonight's is the meeting at which the incipient group New Hope for Durham plans to have as many as 20 residents attend to speak out against growth in the Bull City, notably on the Garrett Road multi-family complex proposed for the Garrett family's former farm. The New Hope folks have couched this as the starting point for a proposed growth moratorium for Durham, though no firm proposals for such have been seen and it's unclear what direction the group will take after this project is approved or rejected.

Ironically, the agenda for this week also contains a draft agreement with Toll Brothers, renowned builders of McMansions in "exclusive" communities that replicate themselves Xerox-style in suburbs and exurbs across the country. The agreement would allow Toll Brothers to be reimbursed for the major sewer system infrastructure investment the developer is making on a 143-acre luxury home development just south of the Streets at Southpoint; this reimbursement would come not from the City, but from other developers that could leverage the infrastructure for their own neighboring projects.

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