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February 2009

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for February 27, 2009

  • Still Stimulatin': Add another $1.9 million in Federal stimulus funds to the Durham coffers. A half-mil goes to CDBG programs, a similar amount for youth initiatives -- half of which will support the summer jobs program for youth -- while almost $800k will go to emergency shelter grants for housing. No word yet on the use for the CDGB grant, which represents a more than 25% increase in the city's annual allocation. (H-S)
  • Ray Gronberg has more on the wafting controversy. New developments: City Councilman Eugene Brown has asked city officials why Dave Owen couldn't "piggyback" on city insurance, with city manager Tom Bonfield chalking it up as essential that contractors provide insurance (or, presumably, use the waiver form method.) DPR officials also forwarded emails to the H-S noting that the City's plans to convert the blacksmith's shop to other uses dates back to 2002 were mentioned to the contractor back in '02, and that the renovations were mentioned again in a 2007 contract. (H-S)
  • DPS last night approved a new policy on school volunteering that relaxes rules requiring background checks on persons assisting with school functions; events that have minimal or fully-supervised student contact won't require such checks, a move meant to broaden the rank of community members (such as, the H-S notes, undocumented immigrants or international college students) who can volunteer in schools. Meantime, the district's 2009-10 budget hearing has been rescheduled until May to allow time for the stimulus dollars' effects to be fully understood before planning cuts. (H-S)
  • Durham's cultural master plan advisory board meeting yesterday focused on efforts to connect local college students to art programs in the community and to create more arts-related engagement with the campus. Co-chair Josh Parker noted that, as the H-S' Matt Milliken put it, "NCCU has become much more amenable to working with the board than it was in the recent past" -- a good sign for the CMP, since DCABP stakeholders lashed out at county funding for the master plan at a recent session, leading BOCC members to press Parker to try harder to connect with his alma mater. (H-S)
  • Always a good guest, hizonner sent a thank you note to the White House for his visit; we expect Bell may have thanked Pres. Obama for the "stimulating" conversation. Har, har. Jim Wise has the details. (N&O)

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for February 26, 2009

Here's today's tops of the press. And be sure to tune in tonight for a chance to get updates on a couple of news items around town, as Downtown Durham Inc.'s Bill Kalkhof and Melissa Norton join Barry and me on "Shooting the Bull" (7:30pm, WXDU 88.7 FM or to talk about stormwater regulations and the debate over the future of the dedicated one cent to downtown revitalization.

  • Get stimulatin', Part 1: Durham officials are suggesting that DATA, Chapel Hill Transit and Triangle Transit are projected to split $8.3 million in transit dollars, likely to go to new buses or new/improved routes. The housing authority, meanwhile, looks to get $4.4m additional for capital grants, allowing more than $7 million in improvements to public housing when existing budgeted funds are added in. More competitively-allocated grant funds are still at play. (H-S #1, #2)
  • Get stimulatin', Part 2: Durham's getting 18 miles of NCDOT street resurfacing out of the stimulus dollars, including repaving on NC 98 (Junction to Sherron), Hillandale/Fulton (south of I-85), Old Page Rd., and N. Duke St. (Hudson Ave. to Horton Rd.). Old Oxford Hwy. will also be widened and resurfaced from Roxboro to Granville Co. Meantime, the DCHC-MPO will get almost $8 million for locally-funded transportation projects; those funds haven't been parceled out to individual projects, yet. (N&O)
  • Durham Tech is looking to save funds this summer by going to four-day weeks for courses and services offered on-campus. Few classes will be impacted as most have traditionally been offered on a Monday-Thursday schedule anyway; the savings will help to offset the $140,000 that the County cut as a result of dropping tax and fee revenues. (H-S)
  • NCCU has reported that its endowment has lost $4 million, a 21% drop, and the school is looking at 7% cuts in general, but Chancellor Charlie Nelms vows not to impact academic quality. (H-S) Meantime, the school is looking to add an online program in hospitality and tourism administration; the news comes in a H-S article that also catches Bishop Eddie Long for a no-comment on the turmoil surrounding an NCCU satellite campus set up at Long's Georgia megachurch that led to a dust-up with the school's accrediting agency. (H-S)
  • Trailblazing Durham civil rights and integration leader Nathaniel B. White, Sr., passed away at age 94 on Sunday in Atlanta. White was instrumental in integrating Durham's Boy Scout system and was active in the DCABP and the Human Relations Commission; he was also one of the last business owners in the Hayti area of the Bull City. (H-S)

Wafting's end: more on the insurance issue, and Council rumbles

The fallout's still falling from Monday's announcement that Dave Owen would be ending his Eno River wafting program, launched from the city-owned West Point Park on the Eno, after almost twenty years of offering the tours -- the last year of which having seen Owen playing a key and very public role in advocating for the park's transfer to the state park system.

In a brief interview on Wednesday, Durham Parks & Rec chief Rhonda Parker told BCR that DPR wasn't looking to single the wafting program out, but was instead asking them to meet the same liability requirements as other contractor programs.

According to published reports and Owen's own statement released Monday, Owen could have purchased liability insurance, or could have had all his participants sign standard-issue liability waiver forms and submit them to DPR. (Owen chose this path in 1995, but says he was told by a then-DPR official that he could skip that; returning to signed liability waivers, Owen says, "is unthinkable without an office where paperwork can be properly handled."

Parker told BCR that the provision of this insurance is something all programs are being asked to do. "It's a program that we do value in he park, but we do have to have insurance coverage," Parker said. "We do have oher partners -- the Schoolhouse of Wonder, and various other groups -- that are providng services in the park, and we're requiring them to have insurance," she added.

Continue reading "Wafting's end: more on the insurance issue, and Council rumbles" »

The challenge of regional planning: Next verse, same as the first?

Reality_check I had the interesting opportunity yesterday morning to travel eastward to the Raleigh Convention Center as one of three hundred area residents chosen to participate in the Urban Land Institute's Triangle-area Reality Check exercise.

The project? Reality Check divided us up into groups seated at one of thirty 30 tables, each table containing Lego blocks we were to place on a regional map to signify where we wanted new units of housing and new jobs to be placed. The housing and employment units at each table together represented 1.2 million new residents and 700,000 new jobs -- the amounts by which the Triangle is projected to grow between now and 2030.

The participants and sponsors represented a wide range of Triangle leaders -- from local elected officials to corporate leaders to the non-profit and governmental sector. Oh, and the occasional irascible blogger (who owes a thank-you to Michael Lemanski of Greenfire for the nomination to participate.)

At our orientation session a few weeks ago, we all had the chance to take a glimpse at one of these Lego tables representing what today's Triangle looks like. And if you've ever wondered why we suffer so much from traffic and road congestion, and long commutes, and fights over development -- well, this photo shows you one reason why. (Click to view full size.)


Those red blocks denote where the jobs are -- 1,900 jobs per red brick. And as the map shows, we've built big job bases in downtown Raleigh, downtown Durham, and at Duke and UNC. And, of course, in RTP.

In the urban cores of Durham and Raleigh, we've also built a significant level of density, as denoted by the yellow blocks -- each of which represents 1,500 people. (Each block covers a one sq. mi. area.)

Yet we also find ourselves "stepping down" the closer we get to RTP. Western Cary and the rest of the fast-growing, upscale western part of Wake Co. has one yellow block in many cases; that translates to about one household per acre.

And of course, there's nothing to speak of in the way of jobs in these areas. Same for bedroom communities like Mebane. In short, we've got people, and we've got jobs -- but rarely do we have both in the same place.

Continue reading "The challenge of regional planning: Next verse, same as the first?" »

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for February 25, 2009

  • Bad budget news at the Inter-Neighborhood Council: Tom Bonfield signaled that "non-vital" programs and services would be cut and new rec centers postponed to reduce operational costs; street paving and neighborhood revitalization funds won't be added this year to boot. Both Bonfield and county manager Mike Ruffin made it clear that layoffs of furloughs were also possible. The county faces $16-20m in budget gaps; the city, $24-40m. (H-S, N&O)
  • The Watts-Hillandale neighborhood is facing off with the City over streetlights, claiming they weren't included in the municipality's drafting of new guidelines to cover streetlight installation. Transportation and public safety officials say they're following a ten-year-old city practice of installing and improving these lights; W-H activists, including the always-quotable Ned Kennington, are complaining that studies don't demonstrate these lights reduce crime, and want to get in writing the city's assurances that they won't install streetlights in areas where most neighbors don't want them. (H-S)
  • NC Central has re-opened its now-renovated Pearson Cafeteria after major $13 million renovations intended to make the facility more of a center for campus dining and life; it can seat 1,200 students and will add features like a cafe and convenience store intended, among other things, to provide on-campus retail options for students. (H-S)
  • Duke's Nasher Museum of Art got a half-million dollar grant from the Mellon Foundation to "enhance collaboration with faculty and students on teaching, exhibitions and research." (H-S)

Riverdave's Eno "wafting" comes to an end after disagreement with City

Dave Owen announced Monday in a letter to Durham's Parks & Rec department that he'd be ending his almost two decades of offering "wafting" tours of the Eno River launched through the city's West Point Park on the Eno facilities.

Owen, together with partner Josie McNeil, has been an active voice in the debate over the future of the city-managed park; together, they've been central to the debate over a possible transfer of the park to state parks system as a way of preserving an ecologically-sensitive tract adjacent to the park. Owen has also spoken out at times over the state of the city park's management.

In Owen's letter to the City (which is posted on his program's web site), it's the city's management decisions around the park -- specifically as it relates to the wafting service he's offered, which reportedly drew as many as 2,000 participants a year -- that led to his decision to discontinue the service.

We at BCR attempted to reach Parks & Rec staff late on Tuesday afternoon but were unable to get comment from them in advance of publication.

Continue reading "Riverdave's Eno "wafting" comes to an end after disagreement with City" »

More on the stormwater tempest in a bioretention teapot

Last week's passionate debate over the proposed stormwater regulation changes brought out a tropical depression's worth of controversy, particularly from the development community, which predicted suburban sprawl and reduced sizes of transit-oriented developments as a result of the requirement that Durham's "donut hole" -- a segment running from downtown to the Chatham Co. line -- that has lacked stormwater control regulations through what appears to be accidental oversight.

Even the Herald-Sun got in the act with this Sunday's editorial:

Controlling run-off isn't just a good idea -- it's state law, and the city could face a hefty $25,000-a-day fine if it doesn't have rules in place to satisfy the state by April.

But the conventional practice for controlling runoff is to install retention ponds or other land-hungry devices. That strategy works well in suburban developments where land is plentiful and undeveloped.

Infilling or redeveloping urban environments to build high-density apartments or condos, though, presents a different challenge. And developer representatives urged the council to hold off on adopting rules that would have hampered the very development it has been encouraging downtown.... An option is to let developers help local governments acquire environmentally threatened areas elsewhere to offset the impact of new building where conventional run-off retention is impossible.

We've learned a few more things about the issue, particularly from stakeholders at Downtown Durham, Inc., which has advocated for a compromise solution to help the City avoid facing hefty fines for non-compliance while not discouraging investment in density, particularly downtown.

Continue reading "More on the stormwater tempest in a bioretention teapot" »

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for February 24, 2009

It's a big day in local news, with lots happening in the sausage factory of local government:

  • The BOCC unanimously endorsed county manager Mike Ruffin's plan to use short-term borrowing at low rates (with a refi down the line) to begin $118 million in building projects: $102m for the new Human Services Complex on E. Main, $8m to renovations at the county stadium, and the remaining monies supporting the South and Southwest Library renovations/construction, an addition to Creekside Elementary, and renovations to the Lakewood Y, the Durham Convention Center, and an emergency services station. (N&O, H-S)
  • County leaders are looking for cuts in the government's ten-year capital plan, particularly on the schools side, which represents over 70% of the $1.1 billion price tag of all the projects. Of note: the new High School A planned for construction was sized to open at less-than-maximum size and might be at overflow capacity from day one; it would cost 25% more than the current $48m price tag to build it to full size initially. Less-expensive solutions for jail expansion and warehousing needs will be discussed at the BOCC's March 2 work session. (H-S)
  • NCDOT chief Gene Conti noted at Monday's Durham Station dedication that 80% of the $100m in the stimulus plan for transit would be aimed at urban areas "like Durham" -- look for more news on this in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, city manager Tom Bonfield noted that the circulator continues to be under review, while the old DATA station will most immediately become a staging area for workers performing streetscape renovations to W. Main St. (H-S)
  • Although state officials were happy to stop by the Durham Station groundbreaking, Durham's legislative delegation used their morning breakfast with City Council to frown on elected officials' request to increase the local transit add-on for car registration fees above today's $10 level, despite places like Morrisville, Chapel Hill, and even Rolesville getting $15-$30 per vehicle. (H-S)
  • Meantime, City Council's grumbling over changes to DATA Route 3 is now leading to a complete policy review of DATA routes, with one possibility being Council making final decisions over routes. Oh, that would be fun to watch. (H-S)
  • County leaders got briefed on renovations to the downtown library, which are now pegged at $14.2m in cost, and which would add 3,600 sq. ft. to the interior of the building. The Roxboro St. side porch would be enclosed and windows added to the concrete paneled skin, while the entrance would relocate to the Liberty St. side. Inside, the core stairwell would be removed, the history room tripled in side, and a cafe added, along with an art gallery on the western yard. (H-S)

New Amtrak station starts to take form on platform

Speaking of downtown and transit, one more part of the city's transportation infrastructure is coming together, with work proceeding well on the replacement for the much-derided Amshack temporary station for inter-city train traffic.


Last year -- after much hemming and hawing -- NCDOT agreed to lease space in West Village's Walker Warehouse for a permanent station for the Bull City, replacing the unsightly modular trailer that's served as the station's home since the 1990s.

Ironically, the Amshack was built around the same time that the old DATA station on the downtown loop added the brick-and-glass waiting and ticketing area to the gazebo that provided a modicum of shelter for bus passengers.

The new Amtrak station is expected to open in a few months. Of course, the future of the old Amshack site and the buildings to its north and west await a future for transit in the Bull City and the region; long planned as the downtown TTA site, and with a pedestrian bridge linkage to the Durham Station multimodal center waiting to be built upon the arrival of a rail-based transit system, it remains the missing piece in the region's transit infrastructure.

Golden Belt gains first retail tenant with LabourLove Gallery

On a week in which we learned of bad news for one Scientific Properties arts-related tenant (the closing of Branch Gallery on Foster St.), we're hearing now good news, in turn: the arrival of the first retail tenant at Golden Belt.

The developer has announced that the arts-themed historic adaptive reuse project in East Durham will be adding LabourLove Gallery to its stable this summer at Golden Belt, bringing a retail gallery to the eastern side of the complex's lobby (the artist studios and apartment side.)

Labourlove LabourLove, which will launch its business online concurrently with its gallery opening, is the brainchild of Hillsborough's Kelly Dew and John Pelphrey, and will sell prints as well as "derivative works" including bags, clothing, home accessories and the like -- all in limited quantities, and viewable with the original art work in the gallery.

The firm will also offer art rental, art lessons for children, and art selection services to include in-home consultations and installations.

According to the Scientific Properties press release:

[Dew and Pelphrey] founded LLG on the premise that fine art is intended for general consumption regardless of race, religion, level of education or economic status.  Dew explains their mission, “We aim to create an environment that expands the public’s perception of art retail by displaying original art from young, talented artists along with limited edition prints and products inspired by their original work. ”  The prints and derivative works such as clothing, bags and home accessories will be produced in limited quantities and displayed along with the original art work in the gallery.

After establishing relationships with local elementary schools, Dew and Pelphrey also hope to engage the community in the success of the gallery by holding quarterly art openings for local elementary students.  The public art openings will recognize the outstanding art achievements of the students and the proceeds from the sale of the children’s work will be donated back to the participating school’s art fund.

In anticipation of the gallery’s opening, Pelphrey says, “We love the Golden Belt project.  Kelly and I are excited to open LabourLove and begin dispelling the myth that understanding and appreciating art is reserved only for those with formal art training or elite social status.”