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July 2010

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for July 30, 2010

Committee Oppo Taxing on Bowser Tax Plan: We're not sure what was less-predictable about last night's BOCC meeting -- Joe Bowser's support for the proposed quarter-cent sales tax referendum for schools; Brenda Howerton's signing on with JoBo; Ellen Reckhow raising concerns about past DPS moves two years back to shuffle teacher salary dollars to pay overhead costs; or BOCC chair Michael Page going into a virtual flop-sweat at signs of Durham Committee opposition to the idea. (Hey, you can't say the DCABP isn't consistent on this one.) Well, all four happened, and the fourth flipped the measure to a 3-2 defeat last night. (Herald-Sun, Indy)

S&H Scrutiny: Longevity at a funeral home is great when you're talking about more than a century of service, something Durham fixture Scarborough & Hargett was honored for this week as one of the nation's oldest black-owned funeral homes. But longevity at a funeral home isn't great when you're talking about how long a body has been waiting for post-mortem dispensation. A family has accused S&H of taking so long with their deceased relative that the body began to decay and had to be cremated, the Indy Weekly reported last night. The state is investigating, and the Indy reveals that the funeral home has actually been on probation the past few years for 2007 violations of appropriate practices. (Indy)

Real-Time Transit Info: A Raleigh company that's a leader in providing real-time mass transit arrival and bus location services has one a Triangle Transit contract to map out bus info online and on smartphones for all the Triangle's municipal bus services, including TTA, DATA, Chapel Hill, Raleigh and NCSU services. (N&O)

East End Connector passes NCDOT prioritization hurdle, on track for fall 2013 start

Eec_mapWe've talked here before about how the NCDOT's reshuffling of Urban Loop program priorities has had Durham and other communities in NC waiting with bated breath to find out how their beltway, bypass and connector projects would do.

Durham, as you'll recall, struggled for more than a decade with the legacy of Eno Drive, a project killed in the early 2000s and replaced with the East End Connector and Northern Durham Parkway efforts, among others. 

That toe-scuffing cost the Bull City time as communities like Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh were able to move ahead with their costly (and much-needed) beltways.

NCDOT's just released its long-anticipated revised prioritization schedule for the Urban Loop program -- and in what's a big sigh of relief for local officials, transportation planners and residents, our fifty-years-in-the-making loop came in fourth statewide among construction-ready projects (sixth overall), keeping a fall 2013 construction start for the roadway.

Continue reading "East End Connector passes NCDOT prioritization hurdle, on track for fall 2013 start" »

City, County see Aug. votes on hotly debated billboard industry proposal

Billboards  The debate over digital billboards in Durham has been ongoing for over two years now.  

All things in life must end, however -- the billboard debate included.  

Durham's City Council and the Board of County Commissioners will be voting independently on Fairway’s proposed changes to Durham’s sign ordinances at their next meetings, Aug. 2 and Aug. 9 respectively. 

Fairway seeks to allow replacement of all billboards in Durham, with up to one-fourth of these signs being replaced with digital displays that change message every eight seconds.

Next week marks the beginning of the end of that long debate, which has seen warring web sites, opposing results from opinion polls, email campaigns and non-profit lobbying, plus the recently-debated appearance of a little-known City-Wide PAC group in the voting mix.

Will the industry's lobbying effort pay off? Or will a group of residents fighting the mix -- including some of the citizens who first lobbied themselves for a Durham anti-billboard measure in the 80s -- prevail?

Continue reading "City, County see Aug. votes on hotly debated billboard industry proposal" »

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for July 29, 2010

Ah, summertime. When the vacations are on and the news is slow -- well, when we're not dealing with 751 South, billboards, or property taxes, that is.

But there'll be plenty of time for those stories in the coming days. For today, the pickings are slim in newsworthy fare:

South Regional Opens: The new south Durham regional library opened to great fanfare and applomb, with the BOCC's members even being civil to each other and resisting what we're sure was an urge to try to shove their opponents Flat-Stanley-style through the book return. Our fave quote in the story: one Matt Rogers, a SoDur resident who complains that he's usually against bond issues, but notes the library (built near the county line, where new population growth is limited due to environmental constraints, and from which the Southwest library not-really-so-far-away) is "something people will use," calling it "nice to see some of our money well spent." (Herald-Sun)

Raleigh Struggles With High-Speed Plans: The Indy's Bob Geary takes a look at the challenges present in Raleigh as the City of Oaks struggles with how to route high-speed rail service between Richmond and the Triangle -- something that has led to an NCDOT proposal to close several downtown streets there that are gateways to nightlife areas like Glenwood South. Local officials are pleading for "sealed corridors," an alternative that would put gate arms at all four conflict points to prevent routing around arms -- but state officials still seem wary. Pay attention, Bull City: Even without high-speed rail plans, the same has been under discussion for years for Mangum and Blackwell in our downtown, with similar problems for keeping the burgeoning ATC/ballpark/DPAC district connected to the rest of the urban core. (Indy)

Pro-Am Featured: The SJG Greater NC Pro-Am gets still more feature coverage, this time from the N&O's Luke DeCock. Last year featured John Wall; this year a number of ACC stars-to-be are mixing it up with NBA players and the like at Central in a summer league which NCAA rules requires to be free admission. Which makes it one of the not-to-be-missed events around here this summer. (N&O)

City debuts new, leaner Capital Improvements Program

The city has debuted its new, leaner, Capital Improvements Program (CIP), successfully trimming $270 million from its wish-list of infrastructure and development projects.  The move is the first of many new initiatives outlined in the city’s new strategic plan, which we discussed in some detail here a few weeks back.  

The trimming of the city’s previous, plus-sized CIP is seen as a crucial one for city administration, which has been busy re-financing prior debt and preparing to float a $20m bond referendum on November's ballot, which would pay to re-pave the last of the city’s streets still rated as being in poor condition.

Continue reading "City debuts new, leaner Capital Improvements Program" »

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for July 28, 2010

Record F&R Lunch Rates: The recession's bite is felt again, as Durham and Wake both see all-time record levels of pupils qualifying for free and reduced-rate lunches in the just-ended school year. 57% of DPS pupils qualified, as did 32% of WCPSS and 54% of Cumberland (Fayetteville area) schools. (WRAL)

More on 751's Easement: 751 South developers announced in a press release Tuesday that they still hope to re-engage NCDOT on the easement that drew controversy and attention after its 41' width clouded the validity of a protest petition at the south Durham development site. The developers tell the H-S that the ROW donation first came up in 2009 conversations, though the H-S reports that those discussions only resumed on the eve of the protest petition's determination of validity. (Herald-Sun)

The Bowser Tax: The H-S has an update on the local-option, quarter-cent sales tax idea broached by BOCC'er Joe Bowser, which will be the subject of a special discussion by the County Commission on Thursday night. Ellen Reckhow says she wants a temporary state-levied 1-cent surtax to burn off next summer before either this measure or a half-cent sales tax for transit are considered by the voters in a referendum. Bowser frets that DPS will be short on funds again come spring 2011; one estimate is that up to 350 teacher positions could be lost next spring without funds. (Herald-Sun)

Scarborough & Hargett Honored: Durham's long-lived Scarborough & Hargett will be recognized at a convention in Florida next week as the fifth-oldest African-American-owned funeral home in America. The firm, founded in 1871 in Kinston, is one of forty black-owned funeral homes founded before 1910 still open for business nationwide. (Herald-Sun)

Durham Firms Abound on CED List: The Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED) has released its list of 25 NC-based companies to watch for growth; 80% of those are in the Triangle, and half of those are Durham-based, including CED soon-to-be-neighbors at American Tobacco like Bronto Software and PocketGear. (Herald-Sun)

...while quarter-cent tax debate perks below public view

It's almost heretical, perhaps, to say that there might be a bigger story coming out of last night's BOCC meeting than the 751 South hearing and non-vote.

And, OK, a late agenda item added at a BOCCer's request may not ordinarily qualify as such momentous news. But on the other hand, I've been amazed at the lack of news coverage on this particular story. (Pro-jo's: if there was a story on this that came out while I was on one of my recent exoduses to the Deep South, my apologies.)

Joe_bowser The item in question? A quarter-cent sales tax proposal, which if the BOCC gives its okay could make its way to the ballot this November for a referendum.

If the idea of a local-option sales tax sounds familiar, it's because it's heretofore been floated with respect to a half-cent levy dedicated to transit.

But this wouldn't be the transit tax -- a measure which elected officials nervous about passage have said wouldn't appear before November 2011 at the soonest.

Instead, it would be a general levy to the County coffers, to the tune of almost $8 million per year in the full FY2012.

And to one Commissioner Joe Bowser at least, it's a tax that could provide bridge funding for the schools -- and just might set up an unexpected debate between transit and teachers.

Continue reading "...while quarter-cent tax debate perks below public view" »

BOCC takes pass on 751 South vote while pondering protest petition fate...

For it or agin' it, there's bound to be a show. But no matter what words are said there and then, you can bet they won't be the last. -- Jim Wise, on last night's Board of County Commissioners meeting

Durham's senior statesman among pro-jo pundits penned these words in The Durham News last week, writing about the seemingly endless debate taking place over the 751 South development.

Sure enough, his words were prophetic, though perhaps not shockingly so. As midnight drew near, the BOCC voted to fend off a decision on the 751 South rezoning case until their August 9 meeting -- setting up an interesting night for debate, given the presence of a pro-billboards text amendment on the docket that evening, too.

The vote came after hours of public hearing commentary, largely repeating the same pro-and-con arguments that we've seen in the discourse in recent weeks. (Supporters point to the positive tax base impact, the opportunity to add population in Durham, and the creation of local jobs; opponents point to the proximity to a sensitive watershed, the refusal of the developer to voluntarily adhere to not-yet-final stormwater standards, and questions of whether the site's location is too rural and too distal from downtown and transit for dense mixed-use.)

On the one hand, the hours of public commentary seemed superfluous. After all this debate, it seems unlikely for any proponents to become opponents, or for opponents to transform into supporters all of a sudden. And that's among the segment of the public interested enough to attend or tune into last night's confab.

Among the five people on the BOCC whose opinions really count -- well, make that six and change; more on that in a moment -- it seems even less likely that anyone will be swayed to change their minds at this point.

And the added tension that the debate has brought on already-strained relations on the BOCC was evident from last night's bickering, particularly between former chair Ellen Reckhow and 751 supporter Joe Bowser. (More on that in a follow-up.)

But to not have had the debate would have cheapened the participation, the energy, the engagement of so many in favor of and opposed to the project. 

Continue reading "BOCC takes pass on 751 South vote while pondering protest petition fate..." »

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for July 26, 2010

The Fishwrap has been on a bit of a hiatus of late, as your correspondent has been spending more time reading the Orlando Sentinel, the Tennessean, the Columbia Daily Herald -- heck, even the Lewis County (Tenn.) Herald -- than we have the Herald-Sun.

But it's good to be home and to crack open the virtual pages of the Herald-Sun and the N&O again. In the headlines:

Greenfire to Seek Local Funds: Greenfire Development already had support from the City for its downtown development plan, though the Great Recession has blown their timeline to smithereens. Now the Herald-Sun notes that besides $25 million in stimulus-funded, non-taxpayer-recourse loans, the developer seems likely to be seeking tax credits and cash support from the City and County governments to transform downtown's Hill Building into a boutique hotel. The H-S notes that a redevelopment could boost tax receipts by more than $230k per year -- though both today and possible tomorrow tax receipt values are cut 50% by the tower's local historic landmark status. (Herald-Sun)

South Regional Library Opens Wed.: The last piece in the regional library puzzle is completed this Wednesday, when the South Regional Library opens up at NC 54 and S. Alston Ave. near Lowe's Grove and Parkwood. The new library -- Durham's fourth all-new or massively renovated regional facility, along with facilities for the eastern, northern and southwestern parts of the county -- completes a bond issue-funded project to replace small leased-space library branches with full-fledged, modern regional facilities. A makeover of the downtown main library awaits County capital funding and likely a bond referendum this decade. (Herald-Sun)

City Steps In on Los Primos Issue: The widening of Alston Ave. through a NECD neighborhood leaves City officials stuck between two unpleasant alternatives, their veritable Scylla (the loss of Los Primos, one of NECD's only grocery stores) and Charybdis (widening the road to the east would squash expansion plans for the widely-respected Durham Rescue Mission.) But local leaders may have found a way around the Strait of Messina entirely, picking up the search for a new location for Los Primos that could smooth the path to the roadway's expansion. (Herald-Sun)

Continue reading "BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for July 26, 2010" »

H-S: Deed easement could nullify protest petition against 751 South development

In his story on the presence a deed of easement giving 751 South developers a possible way past a valid protest petition on the controversial 165 acre mixed-use development proposed south of Southpoint, BCR correspondent Rob Gillespie noted that it was unclear whether or not the move -- an easement to NCDOT that could effectively take the Chancellor's Ridge neighborhood side out of play for signing on to a protest petition -- would serve to invalidate the petition.

The H-S' Ray Gronberg is on the story in this morning's Herald-Sun, and brings us the sense of Planning director Steve Medlin, who opines that the petition would be invalidated if the easement is counted, though county attorney Lowell Siler is taking the temperature of UNC's Institute of Government on this one.

Continue reading "H-S: Deed easement could nullify protest petition against 751 South development" »