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October 2015

September 2015

Res ipsa locavore

Update: Gray Brooks announced on Oct. 9 that the restaurant won't be named "Hattie Mae Williams Called Me Captain" -- see the comments for more detail.

If it's Wednesday, it's DCVB-press-release-on-a-Pizzeria-Toro-project Day around here.

Partners Cara Stacy, Gray Brooks, and Jay Owens, the team behind downtown Durham’s Pizzeria Toro, have announced plans to open a small, dinner-only restaurant at 110 East Parrish St., formerly home to Monuts Donuts. The opening is projected for winter 2016.

“We’ve been a fan of this space since Monuts was operating out of it,” Brooks said. “We’ve always loved the sort of super small neighborhood restaurants that, somewhat ironically, you only ever really seem to find in really large cities. There a sort of intimacy, a grown-up informality, that it’s hard to get in a large space.”

The team is excited about the small scope of the space. “We’re envisioning maybe 30 to 35 seats, mostly reservation, but with a small bar and food counter that we’ll hold for walk ins. Sort of a cross between a neighborhood restaurant and a date restaurant. We’re not even sure if we’ll have a phone; we may just take reservations by email.

The team plans on naming the restaurant “Hattie Mae Williams Called Me Captain”. Brooks explained, “The name comes from an amazing woman who took care of my sisters and me growing up while my mom was at work; basically working for next to nothing during times when my mom couldn’t afford to pay for her. She used to call me Mr. President, until Robert Kennedy was shot. I was two at the time, and she decided that that wasn’t really a safe aspiration to have for me any longer. So she started calling me ‘Captain’ instead.

“She’s the person who taught me how to hit a baseball; she taught me how to collect things. Mostly I think she just taught me how to make a full and rich life out of next to nothing, lessons that I’ve carried with me, and have definitely put into cooking.”

Brooks said they will begin sharing information about the restaurant over the coming months. “Cara says I’m crazy to try to take this on with the Jack Tar taking shape. She’s probably right.”

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Bipartisan state House members to anti-LRT poison pill: drop dead

Last week, several news outlets reported on efforts by legislators to overturn the anti-transit poison pill inserted without any public debate in the last-minute state budget.

That provision -- which would have limited funding for any new light-rail system to a half million dollars, though effectively exempting the $400 million in support for the under-construction Charlotte system -- was a stinker, as we noted here, coming without attribution and flying in the face of a project thumbs-up from a new, data-driven evaluation process implemented by the General Assembly and the McCrory administration.

The irony that back-room politics might thwart a system intended to take the back-room politics out of transportation decisions does not appear to have been lost on state House members, who voted 81-28 to overturn the insertion.

Given that the GOP holds a 74-45 majority -- that's a pretty darn bipartisan vote, right there. Indeed, GOP representatives alone voted 40-28 to overturn the poison pill; Dems were unanimous in their support for the idea, too.

(Interestingly, though, House speaker Tim Moore was just one of two representatives to abstain on the matter.)

The N&O and WRAL note concerns from urban-area GOP members who were troubled by the flouting of the new transportation project ranking system that Republicans had long argued was necessary to halt the bad old days when the state Board of Transportation was rife with cronyism. 

The amendment has to also pass a state Senate vote today; we'll be curious to see if there's any roadblocks that arise in that chamber, as that might give us a better sense of where the original opposition came from.

Tonight: County commissioners to address RTP's new vision for Park Center

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With its two-story glass atrium, open work spaces and private cubbyholes, The Frontier in Research Triangle Park feels a bit like a retreat, an ideal place for headspace for the creative class.

The only problem is you have to drive there. Or if you live on Durham's far southside, grab the 800 or 805 GoTriangle bus. Or if you don't live on the southside, take a bus from downtown to the Regional Transit center and then an RTP shuttle.

In other words, if you're not into driving, like a lot of the new generation of creatives (although not "new," I include myself among them), then heading to the suburbs, even a place like the Frontier, to dream, collaborate and invent is daunting.

Today's young and young-at-heart workers prefer urban living to more pastoral environs; economic centers have shifted from the suburbs to the center cities,  As a result of that reverse migration, Bob Geolas, president and CEO of the Research Triangle Park Foundation, has been re-envisioning at least part of the vast tech and bioscience campus, which has long been dominated by large biotech, life science and computer behemoths such as GlaxoSmithKline and IBM.

Park Center, which includes the Frontier, is that place. As I reported last January for the INDY that when fully repurposed and built out, the entire 100-acre site  at N.C. 54 near Davis Drive (formerly RTI) could have 200,000-square-feet of retail, 250 apartments, a full-service hotel and additional office space, and of course, the Frontier.

But the plan has to clear some hurdles first. 

The RTP Foundation is asking for a text amendment to the Comprehensive Plan that would allow a more intense development at Park Center. This would include workforce housing, restaurants, commercial, office—essentially a small, transit-friendly urban center within a suburban campus. 

Download BOC Memo A1500007

Download Attachment A Application

In August, the planning commission voted 8-6 to narrowly approve the proposal. However, the opposition was not necessarily to the RTP plan itself, but the ramifications such a text amendment could have on other parts of the suburban tier. In other words, it's tool that can be used for good, such as RTP's Park Center, or evil [fill in your own examples here].

The discussion, detailed here in the minutes, is very informative, and a good primer for tonight's meeting.  Download Attachment C Planning Commission Comments

The plan needs some tweaking, some assurances that what Geolas has in his mind's eye happens on the ground—workforce, aka affordable, housing, for example, where the landscapers and hotel workers and "pre-revenue" startup employees could live.

For example, rather than a text amendment there's been mention of creating a design district that could meet the goals of the Park Center without wrecking the rest of the county. 

Download Attachment B Resolution

We'll cover tonight's meeting, plus we have scheduled an interview with Geolas for Wednesday morning. Stay tuned.


I Walk the Line: Downtown Durham, the Great Wall, the big gap and why the jail is fine where it is

Girl and dog blog

                            A girl and her dog, Mr. Big, outside of the Durham County jail.  Photo by Lisa Sorg

On a recent Saturday afternoon, a woman and her two young daughters stood on the sidewalk along Pettigrew Street, waving in the direction of a small incision in the Durham County jail.

The family had brought their pit bull, Mr. Big, who strained at his leash to sniff and greet me.

“That’s my baby,” the woman said, pointing up at a window. 

I could not see her loved one among the anonymous slits in the wall. But she could, which was all that mattered.

I’m one of the few Durhamites who favor the jail—while architecturally hostile as warehouses of human misery tend to be—being located downtown. When we sweep our social issues to the boondocks, we can forget that our problems—and the people caught in them—exist. 

However, I’m admittedly in the minority. Many, if not most, Durham residents oppose the siting of the jail, especially considering its proximity to the Durham Performing Arts Center. But the jail was there first, built in 1996 when downtown was desolate. DPAC opened next door in 2008, when the downtown renaissance, while tempered by the recession, began.

The duality is almost poetic: DPAC, with its glass exterior, creates a fantasy; the jail, impenetrable and opaque, presents reality. I’d argue there is room for both.

Dig into the disagreement over the siting of the downtown station, including comments from Durham Area Designers.

I Walk the Line: Dillard Street, a no-man's land

Nadia1                                  Nadia, on her lunch break at the old 305 South Anti-Mall  Photo by Lisa Sorg    


The second leg of the light-rail journey takes you to Dillard Street, not quite downtown, not quite East Durham. It was at one time a teeming part of Hayti. Now it's desolate, but under tremendous development pressure. What's next?

Live blogging today's Durham City Council meeting, Sept. 24

We're going through some perfunctory consent agenda items now.

1:09:  The light rail letter of support is on the agenda only so that it can be moved to the General Business Agenda on Oct. 5. This is after Go Triangle's Oct. 1 public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

1:24: Related to the Mayor's Poverty Health Task Force, we've learned that fewer Durham landlords are accepting Section 8 vouchers (also known as Housing Choice). Several years ago, 900 landlords accepted them; that number has decreased to 700. L'Tanya Gilchrist of the task force is discussing a woman, a Type 2 diabetic, who has a voucher, but can't find a property owner to accept it. If she can't find a landlord, she will have to surrender her voucher.

Councilman Steve Schewel: This is an emerging problem in Durham. There's especially a shortage of 1-bedrooms.

[This issue came up at last night's Durham Housing Authority meeting.]

1:35 Bob Klaus of the Durham Performing Arts Center is giving a report:

DPAC set an attendance record in the past year: 448,998 

Wicked sold out 24 shows

Half of all DPAC shows (112) sold out, including three performances by Dave Chapelle

Two-thirds of all attendees come from outside Durham County 

2:10 Deputy City Manager Bo Ferguson is speaking about the special events process in regards to street closures. This has been in the works for two years, he says.

BF: "We have a process failure, not a failure of the people running the process. As our city and our events have become more complex, we haven't given the people the process."

Today's discussion: What went wrong? How to improve it? What direction do we need from Council?

BF: Two years ago, an event came through town that stakeholders downtown deemed as unsuccessful. How did it get it approved? Why?"

"We had very little in city ordinances or administrative policy to give District 5 police personnel criteria they needed. There weren't criteria for trash cans and restrooms, for example. Our stakeholders, especially downtown and for road races, have a higher expectation for communication."

"There was a wide variance in event organizers. Some knew our process very well. Others knew nothing and tried to have an event without telling us.  We are proposing to manage special events within existing personnel."

How to improve: 

Continue reading "Live blogging today's Durham City Council meeting, Sept. 24" »

Today's City Council agenda: Durham PD HQ, downtown business owners want change + more

In today's episode of City Council, we ponder the question: Will the city and its hired architects O'Brien/Atkins follow Durham Area Designers' better—a lot better—idea for the new DPD headquarters? Or will this become a battle of egos?

Tune in today at 1 p.m. to find out.

Another item of interest is the conundrum downtown businesses owners find themselves in: They have sent a letter to city leaders asking them to revise the street closing procedures, particularly for special events.  Street closures associated with these festivals, along with the ongoing downtown water main project, are blocking access to many businesses inside the loop. And when customers can't get to a business, the business can't make money. And when they can't make money, well ...

Jerk Fest, held on Saturday, Sept. 12, was the tipping point. Parrish, Main and Mangum streets were closed downtown. "Between the construction and the festival, most of the inner loop was inaccessible," Timothy Neill, co-owner of Bar Lusconi, told me yesterday. He organized many of the downtown business owners and sent a letter to the city on their behalf. 

For Centerfest, held last weekend, Chapel Hill and Main streets, the only east-west complete streets inside the Loop, were closed. Downtown employees who already pay a monthly fee for parking in downtown garages, Neill said, were asked to pony up additional money for event parking.

In addition, downtown businesses that wanted to keep their storefronts clear of festival booths had to pay the Durham Arts Council about $300. (I was recently in the store of one business owner as he was headed out the door with an envelope of what he called "extortion" money.)

Neill said business owners would like more input into the street closure process, for there to be improved signage—posted well in advance—stating what will be closed when. For construction closures, businesses are asking that only the part of the affected street be closed, and that it be disrupted "for as short as time as possible," Neill said.

"We all understand Durham is modernizing its infrastructure," Neill said. "We do ask is that when it does construction projects to to work on the areas as concisely as possible."

Orange Street in front of Scratch has been closed for weeks. That street is primarily a pedestrian walkway—and the sidewalk is still accessible—but the bakery's front patio is effectively a hard hat zone. And when the jackhammers are pounding, it's not the best experience for diners.

The result of this mess is that the city is considering revising the approval process, which is reviewed more for public safety purposes rather than commercial interests. That's on the agenda today.

But wait, there's more ... Lambert Development is asking to buy some city property near Durham Central Park for Parkside at Morris Ridge project. The $209,000 includes $35,000 toward the city's affordable housing fund. A map is on page 4 of the link.

The Council is also supposed to discuss the mayor sending a letter to GoTriangle endorsing the recommended alternative routes in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. However, Council discussed it at the last work session, and after receiving public input, decided to hold off on any letter of support until after the Oct. 1 public hearing. So it's unclear why this is on the agenda.

We'll live blog the pertinent parts, beginning at 1 p.m.

I Walk the Line: Exploring Durham's proposed 11-mile light-rail route on foot

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Ninth Street and Erwin Road  Photo by Lisa Sorg

Eleven miles, walked twice. Two cases of heat exhaustion. Countless mosquitoes. Hundreds of cars. Since GoTriangle announced the Durham portion of its proposed light rail line, I have wanted to walk it, to experience it, not as a simulated fly over, but on the ground. A map is a representation of the route, but it lacks ground truth, the sense of place and people along the way. 

For the next nine days until the public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, I’ll post photos, stories, census data and yes, maps from the line and its environs in hopes that readers will consider and discuss the pros and cons of the $1.8 billion project. It will not only be an enormous engineering feat, but the light rail line will have generational effects on neighborhoods, people, businesses and the social connections among them. 

Despite the road signs that have sprung up around Durham that say, “No light rail”, there is a lot of local and federal support for the project. (Full disclosure: I’m for it.) The federal government will chip in half of the $1.8 billion cost—$900 million—while a part of local taxes, passed by a voter referendum, will provide 25 percent of it, about $450 million.

However, on a state level, that support died this week on Jones Street. The legislature all but reneged on its funding commitment, decreasing it to a measly $500,000. GoTriangle says the train will keep a rollin’ so to speak. There could be other funding sources to tap, and time to tap them. We should know more by mid-October.

The public can comment on the DEIS until Oct. 13. A public hearing on the document is scheduled for Durham on Thursday, Oct. 1, 4–7 p.m., Durham County Commission Chamber, 200 E. Main St., Second Floor.

I encourage you to walk at least a portion of the line. Bring water, bug spray and sunblock. And enjoy getting to know your city from the ground up. Let's start at Alston Avenue. To accommodate the photos and the graphics, the link will take you to my personal blog, 36degreeslatitude.

Durham-Orange light rail faces significant challenge in General Assembly's new budget

On Monday, GoTriangle sent out a press release about $1.7 million in Federal funding received to plan transit-oriented development. It was a good win, second only to Seattle's funding in the FTA effort, and a sign from the feds that the Durham-Orange project had significant merit. 

The release was embargoed until Tuesday for publication, a common step where media outlets and PR are concerned.

Ironically, GoTriangle in retrospect probably wishes they had a different type of embargo: one to keep nasty cargo, as it were, from being smuggled in as a rider to the hush-hush, back-room state budget deal.

But, alas: the small number of legislators putting together the state budget -- representing rural counties almost exclusively -- sneaked a surprise into what the Herald-Sun's Lauren Horsch noted was page 386 of the budget. 

That surprise? A $500,000 maximum project funding for light rail projects, across the board, from state sources.

For now, this has the look that it could be a deal-killer, since there's no chance that the FTA will release federal funds to construct a light rail line without significant state and local backing. But what should we look for in the weeks and months to come on this?

Continue reading "Durham-Orange light rail faces significant challenge in General Assembly's new budget" »

(Updated) Turn the page: Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez is out, but who can mend the city?


Update: City Manager Tom Bonfield emailed me last night with data from the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau. This graph shows violent crimes per 100,000 starting in 2009 to presumably the first six months of 2014. It then makes a full year projection using the trend line. 

This shows there were gradual increases from 2009–2012, a big drop from 2012–2013, and then a significant increase for 2014. 

When U.S. Department of Justice analysts Scott Decker and Hildy Saizow visited Durham this spring, they were alarmed that the murder rate of young black men in the city is eight times the national average.

In a presentation before City Council, Decker said:

“If you think of any of these social conditions, which are troubling and problematic, were eight times higher for a population subgroup than the overall U.S. rate, it ought to cause an outrage. It ought to cause a call to action.”

That call to action happened today when City Manager Tom Bonfield announced the forced resignation and retirement of Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez.

Lopez, who was hired in 2007, will leave the department Dec. 31.

If you look at Lopez’s record, his defensive personality and poor public relations skills notwithstanding, it is less than illustrious. National Nights Out and youth basketball games are all well and good, but on a street level, Lopez’s lack of leadership translated to a lack of community trust—and worse, more killings.

Here are the violent crime statistics over the past year:

As of a Sept. 5, DPD report, violent crime (homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults) is up 14.2 percent over the same period last year. There have been 19 homicides, an increase of 35.7 percent.

The 920 aggravated assaults represent a 15 percent increase in those crimes.

If you look at the first six months of the year, the picture gets no prettier:

Homicides are up 60 percent compared to the same period in 2014;

Aggravated assaults are up 13 percent

Reported rapes decreased by 25 percent, which offset the overall increase in the violent crime rate: 13.5 percent over 2014

Add in the conclusion by the Human Relations Commission that DPD, whether consciously or unconsciously, engages in racial profiling.

Add in the history of officer-involved shootings and excessive force: 

Last week a DPD officer tasered an African-American man at the Harris-Teeter on Ninth Street, after accusing him of trespassing

La’Vante Biggs and Derek Walker, who were both threatening suicide and had guns when they were shot and killed by an DPD officer. Many community members criticized the department for shooting instead of deescalating the situation. 

Jose Ocampo, who was shot and killed after he allegedly brandished a knife. However, it’s unclear how close to officers Ocampo was, and there have been doubts about the justification of the shooting.

Carlos Riley, who was accused of shooting an officer during a traffic stop. It was later revealed at trial that the officer shot himself during the altercation. A jury found Riley not guilty.

Jesus Huerta, who allegedly shot himself while handcuffed in the back of a DPD car. The officer in charge of patting him down was later found to have violated protocol. He was placed on administrative leave but not fired.

And last year, John Tucker, formerly of the INDY, wrote that “Several Durham police officers lied about non-existent 911 calls to try to convince residents to allow them to search their homes, a tactic several lawyers say is illegal. The officers targeted residences where individuals with outstanding warrants were thought to be living, and told them that dispatch had received a 911 call from that address, when no such call had been made."

More on this story as it develops—the city will undertake a national search for Lopez’ replacement —but readers, are there any police chiefs that are doing it right?