H-S: Scott Howell to open "Neapolitan pizzeria" in Rockwood
2nd Women for Wise Growth event tonight focuses on growth/water issues

INC forum: More Q&A from the candidates

On Wednesday we talked about the opening statements by the County Commissioner candidates at the Inter-Neighborhood Council on Tuesday night. Up today: The candidates' answers to questions from INC board members and the audience. Due to the number of candidates and the brevity of the session, many of these were framed as "yes or no" issues for the panel. In cases where the answer listed below is a "yes" or "no"... that's probably about all the candidate said.

Today: answers on growth and unchaining dogs. Tomorrow: answers on vocational education, the recent increase in bond levels, City/County merger, and why some Durham youth have become disconnected.

Q: Growth is stressing neighborhoods and impacting schools, roads and the water supply. Development is also costing Durham much of its tree cover. (a) How would you make development more sustainable and (b) how would you pay for it?

Parker: We don't have a comprehensive plan for sustainable growth. We need to look at growing Durham based on the community's strengths. Today, we wait for developers to bring ideas forward for slices of land instead of being proactive on the matter. Was glad to see the Tuscaloosa-Lakewood Neighborhood Protection Overlay, "but that's not enough" -- we need to look at priorities, like open space, economic justice, and affordable housing across the county.

Heron: States she initially ran for BOCC because of development issues in city, county. “There were some things going on that just weren't the way I thought they were supposed to be.”  Notes County now requiring developers to meet with neighborhoods before coming through the planning/zoning and elected bodies, so that neighborhoods understand what the plans are and how it’s going to impact the neighborhood and schools.  “I do think that we need to re-look at the UDO and the Comprehensive Plan.  There are some areas in there that may be we rushed into a little bit too fast, trying to finish [them] up.”  Also notes the Joint City/County Planning Commission is now going back through that document and looking at areas for amendment and change.  Regarding mass grading in South Durham: "We have to control this clear-cutting and this asphalt and this cement that’s going all over our neighborhoods."  Emphasized stress facing South Durham and out NC 98 in East Durham, noting that in the latter area one developer had 33 detention plots on one land. Closed by noting that the County can’t manage greenhouse emissions (per its plan) if all the trees are cut down.

Peterson: “To be really honest with you, and frank with you, what we really need to do is to merge these two governments.” Says we have two governments, City and County, but the city is in the county and we're all really one. Peterson notes that a lot of the city property within the county has deteriorated, such as Holloway and Fayetteville St. “We have people still living in trailers in this community... We need one government for the people, not two. Because we’re being double-taxed.” Notes that the Board of County Commissioners today {with a nod towards Heron/Reckhow] is allowing people to cut down trees already with current approved development plans; shouldn’t they be representing us? Peterson then complained about how the old Hillside High School looks in the community.  “If you had a good program to work with these young people who are droppng out of school, let them go to the parts of the county where there are run down housing, boarded up housing” they could find work to fix it up. Peterson closed by noting that some people work for Duke but are in public housing for years at a time.

Bowser: Addressing how Durham pays for growth, Bowser notes that 100,000 people commute to Durham to work daily. “There’s too much of Durham County's private payroll leaving this community every payday,” Bowser said, estimating it represents 70% of Durham’s payroll. We need this revenue in Durham Co. to generate taxes, Bowser said, and need to get our people in the job market. (Bowser mentioned his godchild, who graduated from Hampton University in Virginia with a bio-sciences degree; she couldn’t get a job in Durham, but got a job in Princeton NJ.) Addressing how to slow the growth in Durham County, Bowser had a simple answer: “Just not approve it.” Bowser admitted he had been a part of the problem during his earlier BOCC tenure by approving rezoning requests for housing, but says he realizes we don’t look at the impact of growth enough. “If we continue on the path that we are on, I would say that two [election] cycles from now we won’t be asking this question, because there won’t be any land left for growth.” Pointed out that his signs and Peterson's use wood stakes, not wire, because the wire won't degrade, and his competitors' signs will end up in Durham landfills “polluting the earth.”

Wright: Admits his strengths are with the human services, and that would be his main focus instead of development issues. Notes he “made an attempt” to read the UDO (a comment received with a knowing chuckle from the audience) and realizes it’s a very challenging documet. States that he supports the neighborhhood counsel/advocate proposal from INC and others. Wright states he is opposed to clear-cutting, or half-built developments.  Says there’s one on Infinity Rd. where a developer started to clear cut, only to put the project up for sale due to the presence of too much rock underneath.

Moffitt: Says this is an issue that the Planning Commission takes seriously. Moffitt notes there are five key points to this issue:

  • Our growth needs to be in dense nodes that will pull transit behind it by growing demand; Moffitt notes this is clear in the Comprehensive Plan and we need to influence growth to happen in those nodes.
  • We need to take natural resources like water into account when evaluating development, just as we do school or road capacity.
  • We need to look closely at mass grading. Moffitt recalled just one project where developer committed to zero mass grading, and we need to work to encourage more of this.
  • We need to change how we amend the Comprehensive Plan.  Today, it changes just when someone comes forward with a change for a single tract of land. Moffitt would like to move it to a three year cycle, with a citizens’ advisory board looking at every area in the county. The Comprehensive Plan is a long-range vision getting short-term amendments; Moffitt notes we need to change the amendment process.
  • People’s Alliance proposal for a neighborhood advocate is a great issue and we need to push forward for it. 

In terms of paying for growth, Moffitt notes we need to find ways to increase the non-residential tax base, but also to look for more government efficiencies.

Foster: We need to look closer at development proposals when they come before County Commission. We need to look for the presence of fire stations, roads, schools, etc. in each one.  Foster also noted that we need a mass transit system built now, and funded through user fees. “The longer we wait, the more it will cost.”  To be more sustainable, need to cut down on greenhouse gas.

Reckhow: We have an excellent Comprehensive Plan, Reckhow notes, but it does need tweaking, especially on point of sustainability. Reckhow notes some of this came up in her State of the County address. Mass grading revisions do need to be discussed, Reckhow said, and are also on the docket for the BOCC. Also called for retaining existing trees because they have deep roots that mean they don’t need to be watered as much; staff is looking at this issue, too, Reckhow said. We need to promote low impact-by-design stormwater management; right now, stormwater systems are designed to get water off-site as quickly as possible, but Reckhow notes instead the need to create a "rain garden" approach, channeling water from developments into yards for irrigation.  Brought up the neighborhood liaison idea at Joint City/County Planning and asked staff to bring this as an idea back to the upcoming budget.  “Right now I feel like sometimes I’m acting like the neighborhood liaison," Reckhow said, noting the amount of time she spent answering emails and calls from constitutents. In terms of paying for growth, “we fought the good fight with impact fees, didn’t get them approved,” Reckhow said. She noted that the county should get the same right as the city to levy impact fees; the County had collected over $8 million over 2 1/2 years but had to refund the fees, mostly to out-of-state developers.

Howerton: Notes that [as last candidate to speak on this] she doesn't want to repeat what so many people said. Howertain said she does support sustainability when it comes to growth. Notes that, like Wright, most of her experience is in the human services area. But adds that she has been working as soil & water supervisor, and has gotten to see what happens to soils with runoff, and understands the damage that causes. “I do support intelligent growth, where we don’t have all of that going on.” Howerton said that a few years ago a developer wanted to put a car wash near her home, and that she "went to war" along with her neighbors to keep it from being built. “When the community, when the neighborhood associations pull together, they can have such an impact on what comes into their communities. You have the power to make sure that doesn’t happen to you.”

Q: Durham's animal control committee has looked at the issue of chained dogs for two years now and recommended banning chaining of dogs over a 15-month implementation period. Knowing this recommendation will come before the BOCC, do you support banning the chaining of dogs (yes or no)?

Howerton: Yes.

Reckhow: Says she's "inclined to support," but notes that there has to be a public hearing on the issue.

Foster: "I'm with Ellen."

Moffitt: Reiterates that the issue needs a public hearing, but that his support today lies with approval.

Wright: Yes.

Bowser: Yes, as long as we can make sure that dogs would be secured by fences.

Peterson: Yes, but also notes that the community needs to better train kids on how to treat dogs.

Heron: Yes.

Parker: Yes.



"Heron: ...Closed by noting that the County can’t manage greenhouse emissions (per its plan) if all the trees are cut down."

I couldn't agree more. One of the first things I noticed and loved the first time I flew into RDU over ten years ago was the huge canopy of trees. The clear cutting throughout Durham, Wake, Orange, Alamance and Chatham is unbelievable. My Dad told me that when he visited Montreal he noticed lots of trees and was told that they have (had?) a policy of planting 200,000 new trees a year. I was in Madrid recently and they have a rule now that for every tree cut down you need to plant 3. Now I'd love to see that in Durham.

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