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April 2008

NCCU expansion, Alston Ave. widening: the irony of bad road decisions?

Today's views of the news and blogosphere bring us two stories that seem unrelated, save for their common connections to Durham, growth, and the Bull City's strong and proud black community. And while you can't truly draw a causal connection between the two, there's certainly food for thought in their intermingling.

Exhibit A: The NCCU board of trustees' unanimous vote yesterday to approve Central's new master plan, which calls for the acquisition of 136 homes and properties to the north, west and south of the campus to fuel a major expansion of the physical plant and programs. Read more about it at the H-S, N&O, or WRAL web sites. The vote came in the face of mixed responses from the neighborhood, with some residents supporting Central's expansion while others -- including the great-granddaughter of the institution's founder -- oppose the expansion, a concern shared by everyone from local preservationists to Fayetteville St. business owner Larry Hester.

Exhibit B: Gary Kueber is reporting today that the City Council will take up the design plan concerns for Alston Ave.'s widening north of the Durham Freeway at its work session. The item doesn't appear on the docket anywhere I could find it, but according to Endangered Durham, Mayor Bell thinks he now has four votes lined up to support letting the NCDOT move ahead with its proposed highway design -- a plan which resembles the rest of NC 55 from 147 all the way to friggin' Apex.

Now, on the face of it, these stories don't have much in common. Yet it's worth noting that NCCU is proposing to expand in every direction but one: east. The campus will expand north and south between Fayetteville and Alston, and even to the west of Fayetteville. But Alston Avenue will remain the campus' eastern border, a stalwart demarcation line between the neighborhoods to its east and the institution of higher learning itself.

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2nd Women for Wise Growth event tonight focuses on growth/water issues

The ad-hoc group Women for Wise Growth will hold a second free public forum this evening from 7-9 pm in the Durham County Library downtown. The focus of tonight's session is a discussion of the relationship between our region's water supplies and our continued pace of growth.

On the docket this evening: Elaine Chiosso, executive director of the Haw River Assembly and a gubernatorial appointee to the state's Sedimentation Control Committee. WWG notes that Chiosso is expected to focus on issues like mass grading and soil erosion, and the impact of same on water quality.

Also up: Orange County Commission chair Barry Jacobs, who'll cover subjects including open space preservation, land-use planning, and protecting the region's watershed.

If the WWG's excellent first forum is any indicator (see the wrap-ups from BCR or Dependable Erection, or listen to the podcast), expect a range of interesting questions from interested citizens. Also, if you're looking to buttonhole any local politicians, this should be the place, if the loaded turnout at the last event is any indication.


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.

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H-S: Scott Howell to open "Neapolitan pizzeria" in Rockwood

A hat tip to the Herald-Sun's enterprising business reporter, Monica Chen, for breaking the news that Scott Howell (of Q-Shack and Nana's fame) is opening new digs right next door to both, in the old dry cleaning and catering space adjacent to Q-Shack.

The Rockwood Filling Station, according to the H-S, will have a "simple and healthy" menu focusing on pizzas prepared in wood-burning ovens, with the to-be-expected focus on using local ingredients, along with a full bar and offerings of wine by the glass.

The new establishment will be open Tuesdays through Sundays for lunch and dinner.

No timeframe for the grand opening is given. Check out the full buzz at Chen's Business Buzz column.


County Commissioner forum brings some light, little heat

Last night's INC-sponsored forum, focused on the County Commissioner candidates, was -- as Matthew Milliken noted over at the Herald-Sun -- a fairly calm event, though not without the occasional rhetorical blast from a candidate. The best of these fill the H-S story's quotes; most of the discussion, as Milliken suggests, was more prosaic than poetic.

Today, we'll tackle the candidates' opening statements, their pitches for why the public should vote for them. Over the next few days, we'll bring you the questions and answers from the debate, including questions from INC members and the general public. On many of these questions, the candidates' answers were often the same.

Still, these answers varied in their depth, with some candidates managing to eek out very articulate answers that happened to cover the exact same grounds as other BOCC hopefuls or incumbents had.

Conspicuous in his absence: Michael Page, the only candidate not to show up. Perhaps with the big-three PAC endorsements in hand, the incumbent didn't feel compelled to stop by? Too bad, especially in light of the undercurrent of concern heard in some circles that Page is not as responsive to emails and calls from constituents as other local officials are.

Not that every candidate professed across-the-board strengths. Refreshingly, Doug Wright and Brenda Howerton both admitted during questions on land use that their strengths and knowledge areas are biased towards human services (an area which is a traditional county responsibility.) On the other hand, Don Moffitt was equally up-front during a question on county services in stating that his background was primarily on the land use side.

How did the candidates perform? Despite his caveat above, Don Moffitt probably pulled off the best performance of the night, delivering the most comprehensive answer on the INC's growth-management question, and demonstrating a very deep understanding of the issues facing municipal government.

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INC to host candidate forum tonight at H-S building

Not sure whom to vote for in the upcoming May 6 primary election? Durham's Inter-Neighborhood Council is hosting a Q&A session for candidates tonight at the Community Room of the Herald-Sun Building, 2828 Pickett Rd. (just off 15/501 Bypass near University Tower.)

An informal reception and "meet-and-greet" starts at 6:30. The Q&A period begins at 7:15. We'll have coverage of the event here at BCR on Wednesday.

Need some advice on how to cast your vote? The Herald-Sun released their endorsements on Sunday for the County Commission race -- giving the nod to Heron, Moffitt, Page, Parker, and Reckhow in an endorsement slate that happens to mirror the Friends this time around. Look for the Indy's endorsements in tomorrow's issue.


WTVD ABC 11 renovates studios, goes high definition

You know, it's kind of hard being WTVD, our dear TV Durham, in a media market dominated by WRAL. It's kind of like being the terrific well-rounded kid who happens to have an extraordinarily bright sibling that overshadows them.

I mean, WTVD's got a pretty solid track record, right? Its merger with an Albany, N.Y. ownership group in the 1950s led to the creation of Capital Cities Broadcasting -- not to be confused with Capital Broadcasting Corp. of Raleigh to our east. No, we're talking about Cap Cities here, the ownership group of ABC affiliates that eventually bought out the alphabet network in the mid-1980s before itself being swallowed by the Walt Disney Company a decade later.

Wtvd_hidef Not a bad heritage for a little Durham, North Carolina TV station, eh? And in fairness, 'TVD and 'RAL aren't all that far apart in terms of ratings, or ad revenues. Yet 'RAL seems to have a bigger mind share among many folks I talk to around here -- though not necessarily on the Durham side of the Triangle.

But it's not surprising that WRAL has that shiny feel to it, especially where viewing quality is concerned. After all, its local ownership invested in HDTV before it was a glint in the eye of your average TV station general manager. WRAL procured the nation's first experimental HDTV license twelve years ago; launched the first all-HDTV newscast on Earth in 2000; and moved to local nightly HD newscasts back in '01.

Hey, I'm not the biggest fan of local TV news in general; I'm still a big print guy myself. But if you're gonna watch Mega Doppler Twelve Thousand or watch a "car fie-aahr" on the side of I-40, you want to see it in high-definition glory, right?

Well, WTVD's caught up, and as of its noon newscast Monday, began broadcasting from its Durham studios in an all-high def format.

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Lopez to City Council: "Say hello to my little friend!"

You know, I blame myself for this one. I made a wisecrack on Monday's BCR about City Council meetings being the best free entertainment in town. Karma is, well, you know.

I didn't exactly have this in mind. Just when I thought I'd seen everything at a City Council meeting:

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Yes, that's right. We now have a miniature D.P.D. police car able to be driven around via remote control, flashing lights and everything -- down to blinking eyes on the windshield. Even the Durham Police Department logo is easily visible on the side of the car.

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On the docket tonight: TLNA NPO, police & development reports, and transit tax skullduggery

As we noted earlier, it's City Council night, Durham's cheapest source of free entertainment. The dramatis personae for the evening contains a number of issues that should be of interest to Bull Citizens everywhere--

First up, the Tuscaloosa-Lakewood neighborhood protection overlay (NPO) proposal comes before City Council for a vote tonight, having received a 9-1 nod of support from the City/County Planning Commission this past February. There'll be a public hearing on the proposal -- the details of which we discussed here two months ago -- and a vote by the Council.

The TLNA is doing its best to drum up publicity and attendance, so expect to see quite a few speakers on the docket for this one.

The Council will also get two progress reports this evening: DPD Chief Lopez will present the end-of-year crime report, while Deputy City Manager Ted Voorhees will provide an update on the city's development review/streamlining process. Expect there to be some interesting questions on both; we suspect Lopez may be asked if there's been any noticeable impact to date from the higher bond rates for persons arrested on suspicion of criminal activity, while the development review process is always likely to stir up questions and grumblings from the local development community.

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Tiered water rates back on City Council docket Monday night

Expect water use to be on the agenda this evening at City Council, with a range of water conservation measures -- including a rebate program for low-flow fixtures, a $400,000 conservation marketing plan, and the much-discussed tiered water rates -- all appearing on the docket.

Cc_toilet (In honor of the occasion, we here at BCR thought about going into the City Council restroom and taping up a picture of a smiling Eugene Brown reminding dais-dwellers to flush only for #2, but figured that'd just kill the gravitas of the deliberation. And, yes folks, that's a photo of the actual, genuine, official City Council crapper. Proving again there's no lengths we won't go to in order to bring you political news here in the Bull City. Or, perhaps, that this blog's just gone in the toilet. We're really not sure.)

Anyway, one of the most intriguing of the three proposals is the discussion of tiered water rates. We've talked here before about the fact that Durham's water rates are among the lowest of any municipality in the state, and haven't been increased in years -- a fact which has contributed to the lack of a revenue source for replacing old pipes, adding new treatment plants, enlarging reservoirs, connecting to Jordan Lake, etc.

There's been quite a bit of confusion out there about exactly what the impact of tiered rates would be. To clarify, according to Vickie Westbrook with the City, the tiered rates really will be tiered -- that is, they'll rise at the margin, with per-unit prices (where a unit is 100 cu. ft., or about 748 gallons) rising from today's $1.56 per unit to a new range -- from $1.72 at the low end to $3.87 on the high end.

As Ray Gronberg pointed out over at the Herald-Sun, the increase-by-percentage seems greatest for those households that use the least water: by my calculations, a 49% increase for one-unit households, versus a 17% increase for households using the average level of 8 units/month.

Percentages can be deceiving in concluding the actual impact, however. Critical to the proposal is the near-doubling of the base rate for water and sewer service, from $5.77 to $10.84 per month.

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