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: 

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Sept. 10: Live blogging today's Durham City Council meeting re: affordable housing

Update at 3:48: The affordable housing discussion just ended. It's now on Light Rail. I'm starting a new blog post about this portion. Actually, GoTriangle is going over a Powerpoint presentation, a very basic primer, that is not online. It's probably better that I read it, then do a wrap-up rather than a live blog.

1:23 County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow, a member of the Public Safety Task Force of the Mayor's Poverty Reduction Initiative, is speaking now. The initiative focuses on Census Tract 10.01,  where poverty is most concentrated in Durham.

Among the Task Force recommendations:

1. Poverty simulation for police officers

2. Encourage officers to live in the area with assistance to buy or rent housing. Atlanta and Columbia, S.C. have such programs. Officers participating receive an end-of-year bonus and low-interest loans.

3. Establishing a curriculum with Holton School and Durham Tech for public safety careers, which would preclude the need to recruit officers from out of town.

4. A new DPD position, a community liaison, to help mediate relationships between the neighborhood and police in this area.

5. More officers walking a beat rather than just responding to 9-1-1 calls. This could require more staffing.

We're talking taxes now, which has been pretty dry, until this:

The 751 South developers have not paid their property taxes in full; they're on a payment plan.

2 p.m. We're now on the big agenda item of the day: affordable housing

Mayor Bill Bell just asked people to lower their signs or remove them from the room.

Kevin Dick, director of Economic and Workforce Development is leading a presentation, 
"Durham Station Disposition and Development Alternatives"

"We are recommending a mixed-use, transit-oriented development. It does NOT preclude affordable housing.  [applause] but it does NOT guarantee it either. [groan]" 

"It provides the possibility for job opportunities near transit. We would have a scoring process that lends itself to affordable housing. It would provide retail and open space."

Fast facts:

2.15 acres of developable land, which was originally purchased in part using a NCDOT grant. That grant had certain conditions, including that proceeds from the city's sale would fund station improvements. The cost of those upgrades would total $1.8 million to $2 million.

Here are some details on Alternative A, the recommended proposal. It would be a public-private partnership urban development project. It would promote job and tax base growth. There is a potential challenge that there would be limited opportunity to promote affordable residential. [That's a problem.] It would take about five months for the entire sale process to happen.

Dick is now showing other examples that have been successful:

Mile High in Denver Colorado

Fruitvale Village in Oakland, transit, ground floor retail and affordable housing

Southside in Durham
Alternative B is next ...

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Pizzeria Toro team plans diner for Jack Tar, while developer says tower gets underway real soon now

The big-hole-in-the-ground downtown isn't a 21c Museum-Hotel art project or Major the Bull's swimming pool (though the latter would be a sight to see.) It's the future site, we've been told, of Austin Lawrence Partners' city-center tower, on the old Woolworth's site formerly controlled by Greenfire Development.

The developer also bought the old Jack Tar Motel next door from the widow of Ronnie Sturdivant, the early downtown investor killed at his other property on Chapel Hill St. some years back, to provide additional tower parking while maintaining the original hotel use of the building.

This week brings rumblings of what's to come at both sites.

This morning, a press release from the Durham Convention and Visitor's Bureau revealed plans for a diner in the Jack Tar -- with the restaurant taking and preserving that name even as the hotel finds a new moniker.

Meanwhile, the Triangle Business Journal this week tackled public records and Greenfire-cum-ALP staffer Paul Smith to address a question that's been buzzing in some corners of the downtown crowd: does Austin Lawrence have their financing, and can construction begin?

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Developers pitch Publix/mixed-use development to skeptical North Durham neighbors

As we speculated here on Saturday, developers are indeed proposing a Publix-anchored shopping center and residential development in North Durham.

Neighbors got their first chance to offer feedback in a meeting tonight at Easley Elementary School. And unsurprisingly, residents in the largely-suburban environs north of the Eno River weren't hesitant to share a range of concerns -- notably traffic, but also including worries over property values, impact to area character, and duplication of commercial activity elsewhere on Guess and Roxboro.

An overflow crowd that appeared to number 250 residents or more strained to hear updates from Florida-based developer Tom Vincent from Halvorsen Development, Morningstar land-use attorney Patrick Byker, and a number of project team members working on traffic counts, site planning and other topics.


A real estate program manager from Florida-based grocer Publix confirmed their intent to open a store on site, while staff from Cimarron Homes confirmed they would plan up to 70 residential units on the site in keeping with mixed-use requirements.

We weren't able to take an exacting account of opinions, thanks to standing-room only ergonomics and a back-of-room vantage point; if we were to take a swag, the crowd was generally as much as three parts opposition for every one part proponent and every one part what we might call "accommodator" -- the latter being residents who saw lemons but posited lemonade, like asking the developer for extra traffic improvements or wondering about possible help to property values.

Byker projected the project won't make it through City Council's legislative process for between six and twelve months, while more detailed design work takes place. Yet neighbors are already girding for an opposition campaign, with literature from one opposition leader encouraging residents to begin contacting Durham Planning Commission staff with their thoughts.

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Mixed-use development eyed in North Durham; could Publix be a planned tenant?

Attorneys for a Florida-based developer proposing a 30 acre mixed-use project on Guess Rd. in North Durham have scheduled a neighborhood meeting for Tuesday night to brief nearby neighbors and associations (as required by Durham's Unified Development Ordinance.)

Latta-guessHalverson Development Corp. is eyeing an assemblage on the southeast corner of Guess Rd. and Latta Rd., north of the Eno River and intends to ask City leaders for a zoning change to allow mixed-use in order to develop "single family/townhome residential development" along with 68,500 sq. ft. of commercial development.

The materials sent to neighbors ahead of the meeting don't go beyond showing a grouping of 11 properties that are eyed for the rezoning, and doesn't show how homes, townhouses or retail would be divvied up on the site.

But like a moth to a flame, there's two things that keep drawing our eyes back to the letter: "Halverson," and "68,500."

Halverson, based in Boca Raton, develops a range of retail, but disproportionately seems to have Publix Super Markets in their pipeline -- including other Publix-anchored mixed use efforts.

And 68,500 is definitely right in the range of Publix-anchored shopping centers.

Publix's motto, seared into the brains of all once-and-present Floridians, is "Where Shopping is a Pleasure."

If our hunch is right, we suspect they may be able to learn that in Durham, land-use isn't a pleasure (for anybody).

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The H-S and Durham-Orange light rail: if you're analyzing its challenges, look beyond a single back yard

Development of any sort -- private, public-sector, not-for-profit, you name it -- invariably attracts a disproportionate interest from those in its immediate back yard.

And developers of all ilks are quick to throw around the term "NIMBY" (or Not In My Back Yard) for those who would speak out against their best-laid plans.

All too often, I find it's best to be skeptical of both developers' dreamiest promises as well as the loudest NIMBYs. After all, if Nick Tennyson's age-old advice is the best descriptor of the Bull City's growth -- namely, that if there's one thing Durhamites hate more than sprawl, it's density -- then perhaps the second might be, "Folks move to the community they find perfect as-is, not as it might become."

Monday's Herald-Sun features a deep (three articles! first, second, third) look at the Durham-Orange Light Rail plan. And, as opposed to much of the natural inside-baseball coverage that we've seen on the project, the H-S here tries to pick up concerns that some project opponents have raised.

But I'm worried that in picking this lens of analysis, Durham's paper of record has picked up only a series of voices that surround one particular back yard: the southern Durham County link between Durham and Chapel Hill that one resident, bizarrely to my mind, calls the "last vestige of green" -- never mind that major hospital/campus just on yonder side!

The H-S misses a chance here to hear both from non-suburban voices with concerns over (or support for) the project, as well as from non-governmental stakeholders involved in the STAC committee and other planning groups.

And quite frankly, that's a big whiff, because when the opponents quoted in the H-S talk about their localized opposition -- what some might call the NIMBY argument -- I find their concerns more relevant (even if I disagree with their positions) than when they make transit arguments writ large.

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Wexford, Durham.ID seek incentives for renovations and parking decks in special City Council meeting today

The front page of today's Herald-Sun neatly captures two items that are both newsworthy and, quite unintentionally, at odds with each other.

On the one hand, we have the arrival of Walk [Your City], a campaign with philanthropic backing to encourage downtowners to "park and walk" by reminding us all just how close so many of Durham's urban amenities are.

And then on the other hand, we have this afternoon's special City Council meeting, intended to get City Council approval for City economic and workforce director Kevin Dick to negotiate economic incentives to pay for the renovations, along with new parking decks. 

So how are we getting to Durham's future? Behind the wheel, or on foot (or bike, or transit)?

It's an easy and somewhat false dichotomy; for now, the iron-triangle between commuters, their employers, and property owners likely means new developments still need copious surface and structured parking. 

But, what's the role that local governments should or should not play in subsidizing downtown development, at this point in Durham's expansion?

And, with car interest on the decline and technological change looming, is a future that contemplates so much parking akin to hoarding scythes in the dawn of the mechanized combine age?

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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.

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DPD's Gunter named officer of the year, probably still wants more Lerts

The Durham Police Department has had, shall we say, not the easiest of times in recent years, coming under scrutiny and criticism on everything from an in-custody death, to whether enforcement is racially unbalanced, to the controversy over a new headquarters on East Main Street.

GunterYet it's hard to think of a Durham P.D. officer who is better beloved in many quarters of the community than District 2's Sgt. Dale Gunter.

Gunter -- who was recently named the force's officer of the year -- heads up his district's HEAT (high enforcement abatement team), which targets crime hot-spots and problem areas.  But he's better known to District 2 neighborhoods as DPD's friendly listserv representative, responding to "hey Sgt. Gunter" questions that pop up from time to time.

In the days since Gunter's award was announced, I've seen neighbors from all political stripes -- including some who've been very critical of the D.P.D. in recent years -- hurry forward to congratulate the popular sergeant on the award.

Sgt. Gunter always closes his emails reminding folks to "Be Alert... the world needs more Lerts!" Based on the community response to his award, we might turn this around and say, police departments need more Gunters.

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Durham City Council won’t act on 751 South until pending lawsuits end

The Durham City Council decided early this afternoon to defer a possible utility extension to the controversial proposed 751 South development

The council voted to wait until current lawsuits about the Southern Durham project come to a close, which staff estimated could take anywhere from 18 months to three years. The council was motivated at least in part by fear of becoming entangled in litigation itself. 

“It’s clear to me that moving ahead now before the litigation is resolved does raise expectations and anxiety,” council member Mike Woodard said at a special meeting on the subject that was held today.

“I think there’s just way too many questions about this with confusing and uncertain answers about constitutional issues,” he added. “That’s always a red flag for me.” 

“I just don’t understand why we would move forward,” council member Diane Catotti said. “I don’t see the advantage to the city.” 

The decision against extending utilities makes it unclear when Southern Durham Development might be able to start building 751 South, a high-density project that could include 200 residential units, 125,000 square feet of shops and 25,000 square feet of offices by the three-year mark. The project can’t be built to that scale without water and sewer service, and the city of Durham is the entity most likely to provide it. 

A group of Durham residents have sued the county over its controversial decision to rezone the 751 South property. The new zoning permits dense development. 

Opponents of the project say that the property is so close to Jordan Lake that its high-density facilities will harm water quality thanks to unfiltered stormwater runoff. 

Southern Durham Development and its allies, however, assert that the project can be built in such a way that the lake is protected. They also tout the development as being a potential source of 3,000 new jobs

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