The 15-501 road diet process: indigestion for advocates, businesses alike?
N&O, H-S veteran Jim Wise announces retirement

Council recap: Road diet win, BCBS hangs in, 539 Foster risin'

By the end of Monday night's City Council meeting, some of the dais-holders seemed nearly giddy at the prospect of a meeting ending three hours sooner than many had expected.

Indeed, the Council quickly dispatched with a number of controversial items -- with that expected to be most divisive perhaps, the 15/501 Business road diet, sailing through unanimously.

See how the sausage got made after the jump.

City Budget passes 7-0: Passed unanimously the FY2016 budget proposed by the administration. The only discussion of the night was around trails, with Steve Schewel spearheading a special $20,000 to $25,000 item for the administration to do a cost and feasibility study on trails and greenways. Schewel noted the upcoming capital budget review process, and that trails were left out in a previous round due to a lack of cost information. "I don't want to be in a state where the trails are left out again," Schewel said. The rider was included.

539 Foster passes 6-1: The City approved a deal with the developer of the proposed 539 Foster condo project, with Durham granting several easements on the City-owned, non-profit-managed Durham Central Park to facilitate the 90-unit project construction on Denny Clark's onetime business office. Schewel shared his appreciation for the DCP board's work on this, though adding that "in a way, they're in a funny position" as an interlocutor on publicly-owned land; he also stressed the importance of figuring out ways to compel future developers to include affordable housing when public assets like easements or land are used. Don Moffitt averred from backing the deal, citing what he perceived as insufficient value for the public assets provided, though land use attorney Patrick Byker countered with what the developers estimated as $200,000 in value from proffered park improvements and a Habitat for Humanity donation.

BCBS vs. Aetna, BCBS wins 4-3: It's mega-health-insurer sumo time here between innings! Jatovi's got both of these guys dressed in embarrassing suits -- never mind, those are just three-piece suits, all sweated-through in this broiling heat. BOOM, Aetna took BCBS down in the first round, what with their promise to save millions over the contract term. Wait, what's this in the second round? Hey, BCBS comes back, with all their staff in Durham-boasting t-shirts showing up to a Council meeting to remind councilfolk that BCBS has their headquarters in Durham. OK, we know the first two rounds are for show, now the real match begins. Aaaaand, it's BCBS winning by a hair, 4-3!  

The judges on both sides of this call thanked City staff for working nights and weekends on something like Blue Cross' tenth proposal, it seems, while sternly asking BCBS to bring their A-game first time around next time there's an RFP. Schewel, Catotti and Moffitt all opposed renewing the deal, citing higher first-year employee costs, a newly-formed accountable care organization option, and the last-minute wheeling to get the dealing done.

Mayor Bell, on the other hand, stressed that BCBS was committed to ensuring the City would get a good deal, including a guarantee that if it looked like the City were to take a multi-million dollar hit amidst a worst-case projection coming to pass, the firm would cover it. Davis called on City staff to monitor the implementation closely, while Brown noted taxpayers should celebrate that both firms competed and either would have saved money against a tide of higher health care costs.  (The Herald-Sun has a less snarky, but undoubtedly more detailed retelling of this one.)

Road Diet passes 7-0: Remember our fretting that it wasn't clear how Council would react to all the opposition ginned up around the idea of shrinking 15-501 Business down to size? Well -- score one for organizing the strong proponents. In the end, only Hair by Design's Wayne Lee from the business owner community spoke out against the project, while a number of adjacent neighborhood residents, Rogers-Herr teachers, bicycle and complete street activists and the like made a well-organized pitch. And City transpo chief Mark Ahrendsen was well-prepared, emphasizing the troubling speed levels and safety challenges on this road stretch, while sharing his strong belief that traffic volumes wouldn't be impacted by this change. Proponents of sidewalks and signalizing the Rogers-Herr intersection, though, ran into a pessimist in hizzoner, who didn't see that happening in his life. Did we mention we need to spend more money on this stuff? Done and done deal -- absent any General Assembly machinations, though city manager Bonfield promised his staff would track those issues.

Stone Hill Estates/Ravenstone paving passes: Residents of these eastern Durham neighborhoods have been in limbo since the Dubya administration, after their developers unraveled and the performance bonds guaranteeing street work turned out to have errors and couldn't cover the costs. Whoops. After what's seemed like years of debate, Council approved a cost sharing more generous than that initially proposed by City staff; instead of paying 90% of the costs, neighborhood residents will split the expense with City coffers.



Thank you, this is great. Everything that happened is neatly summarized so I don't have to attend the meetings to find out what's going on.

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