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The money behind a mega-development in Chatham County.

Trotline 

Edwards Backs Bush on Nukes
Perhaps it was impertinent to ask U.S. Sen. John Edwards--the wannabe president, the member of the Senate Intelligence Committee--what he thinks about the nation's right to start a thermonuclear holocaust. Specifically, we wanted to ask Edwards about the Bush administration's Nuclear Posture Review, the subject of our two cover stories a week ago (see "Bush and the Bomb," April 3). The Bush NPR describes numerous circumstances (e.g., a Chinese attack on Taiwan) under which the United States should be prepared to fire the first nuclear weapon, a substantial change from previous, no-first-use policies.So we called Edwards' press secretary, Mike Briggs, in Washington. Could we get five minutes on the phone with Edwards about the NPR.

"No," said Briggs.

Oh.

In that case, would he ask Edwards a question or two for us and get his response?

"No."

No?

No, said Briggs. See, Edwards was in Boston, having just come back from Iowa and California, and soon he'd be heading for Florida. He's very busy running for president, which leaves so little time for thinking about distracting subjects like when the president should order a nuclear strike against another country and when he shouldn't.

We sent Briggs four questions in writing anyway, and he said he'd try to generate answers from Edwards' previous statements.

The key question: Should the United States reserve the right to use nuclear weapons first if we judge that the circumstances warrant doing so, or should we renounce first-use under any and all circumstances?

Another: Doesn't the NPR give "new legitimacy" to other nations as they contemplate their own first-use of nuclear weapons, as the group Peace Action charges?

Here's the statement Briggs sent in response: "With new nuclear threats--both from terrorists and from states of concern like Iraq and North Korea--facing the United States, it's commendable that the [Bush] administration has taken a fresh look at our nuclear capabilities and policy. It's important that as this process moves forward, we think carefully and deliberately about these threats, and tailor our response accordingly. Changes to longstanding U.S. nuclear policy should be proportional to the threats we face, must take into account the views of our allies, and must be designed to bolster our overall national security."
--Bob Geary

Dole Crashes Latino Forum, Refuses to Talk
Hispanic community leaders from around the state gathered in the School of Science and Mathematics April 5 and 6 for El Foro Latino 2002, the Seventh Annual Latino Issues Forum presented by El Pueblo Inc. The largest gathering of its kind in North Carolina, the Foro brings together leaders in cultural, religious and social service organizations, education, governmental agencies, political candidates and police to talk about issues facing Latinos and all North Carolinians as Hispanics become a demographic force to be reckoned with in the state. Frank Sharry of the National Immigration Forum inspired participants Saturday morning with his keynote address on the new civil rights dangers facing immigrants following Sept. 11. Interactive sessions included a dance performance by Rosa Vázquez's African-Caribbean Dance Company, an on-site visit to the N.C. Occupational Safety and Health Project, and workshops on farmworker health, pending legislation affecting Latinos and immigrants, Hispanic media, and ways for businesses, nonprofits, health professionals, law enforcement officers, churches and community advocates to reach out to their Latino constituents. A youth forum emphasized cultural identity, preparing for the future, race relations, computer skills and tobacco prevention.

In attendance to meet with participants were members of the Governor's Advisory Council on Hispanic Affairs, and Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate Dan Blue, Cynthia Brown, Erskine Bowles and Elaine Marshall, who debated in a special session on Sunday morning. Republican-for-Senate Elizabeth Dole, who did not confirm her participation in time to enter the debate, breezed in Saturday to lunch with her supporters, but refused media interviews.

By contrast, Dan Blue held a press conference Saturday afternoon to announce his efforts to work on behalf of North Carolina's Latinos, citing his longstanding support of bilingual education and other Latino issues. More than 500 participants representing 70 organizations and 125 other agencies and businesses attended the Foro, which was the largest yet says El Pueblo's Executive Director Andrea Bazan.
--Sylvia Pfeiffenberger

Fitting Finalist
Accolades for Hal Crowther just keep rolling in. Crowther, who's been writing for The Independent since 1989, has been nominated for a prestigious National Magazine Award for three columns that appeared last year in the Oxford American. The "Oscars of the magazine industry" will be awarded May 1. (And we know who we're pulling for!)

The Meeker File: He Tells Shanahan Off
Memo: To the File
Date: April 5
Re: Tougher Stuff

We noted recently the concern among Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker's friends re: his disinclination to respond to Republican mud-throwers (see "The Meeker File," March 27). City Councilman Kieran Shanahan, in particular, has been chucking goop at Meeker virtually since the mayor took office.It happened again Tuesday--but this time, Meeker told Shanahan off.

Politely. But clearly. And in contrast to our last episode, this time the applause from the audience was pro-Meeker.

The subject once more was that contentious, two-acre townhouse deal called Bickett Place. Councilors Janet Cowell and Benson Kirkman offered a compromise: 16 units, 27 feet tall, down from developer Mike White's 21-unit, 35-foot plan. Neighbors had wanted 14 units. Meeker saluted his colleagues for finding a middle ground. The Cowell-Kirkman plan passed 7-1.

Then Shanahan, the dissenter, attacked. "Closed-door meetings" ... "side deals" ... "off-book agreements," he charged. He'd heard from "reliable sources," Shanahan said, about Meeker promising White that the city would waive his "tap fees" (for sewer connections) and maybe some other fees as well if the developer settled for 16 units.

Meeker cut him off. "As usual, your negative attacks are inappropriate and inaccurate," he said. He told White what he'd tell anyone, the mayor said. If White thought he qualified for a fee waiver, he should apply to the city manager for it. Shanahan started to interrupt. "Mr. Shanahan, let me finish," Meeker said. Shanahan interrupted again. "Let me finish," Meeker commanded. "Your allegation is simply false."

Then Cowell told Shanahan that, yes, she'd been to several neighborhood meetings in Five Points. They were open meetings, she said. He was free to come, but he didn't bother. At which point the neighbors burst into applause.

Which is not to say the neighbors like the compromise. A dozen or more of them left City Hall saying they would go to court to stop White's project. For his part, White refused comment, both on the subject of fees and the neighbors' impression that he will refuse to build just 16 units--they quoted him saying that, any less than 17 and he'd just sit tight until after the next election.

P.S.: The city planning department tells us that anyone building in Five Points is exempt from tap fees, because it's a pre-1951 neighborhood and they're all exempt.
--BG

Just In Case
If a terrorism-induced catastrophe strikes the Triangle, it would take several hours for special operations teams to get here from Charlotte and Virginia Beach, Va.

Why would they come all that way, you ask?

Because those team members are the nearest emergency workers with the right training and tools to deal with potential threats of terrorism.

The fire chiefs of Raleigh, Cary, Durham and Chapel Hill are working on a proposal to solve this problem.

The four chiefs have drafted a plan for a Triangle-wide response team made up of specially trained members of the four city departments. The team would lead emergency operations in the event of a major catastrophe such as an attack involving "weapons of mass destruction" in Durham, Orange and Wake counties.

By banding together in a regional effort, local governments can lower their individual expenses for training and equipment, says Raleigh Fire Chief Earl Fowler.

"When you look at the obligation of states, cities and counties to prepare for emergencies, we need to evaluate the probability of risk that we face," Fowler says. "This is something we need to do, but how often does an event like this actually happen? If it happens once every 10 years, do you sink large amounts of money into heavy, specialized equipment?"

The regional proposal calls for seeking private grants as well as federal dollars expected to be available through the "Home Defense" program that President George W. Bush has tagged at $3.5 billion. In addition to potential terrorist threats, Triangle firefighters would also be better prepared to cope with natural disasters such as hurricanes.

Representatives of the four fire departments will work together to organize an emergency response plan using existing resources, as well as beef up specialty training and equipment that's currently not available locally, Fowler said. For example, Raleigh has a "confined space" team trained in rescuing victims from tight places, but the nearest "structural collapse team" capable of dealing with a major building collapse is in Charlotte.

"The ability to quickly get the right resources to the scene greatly improves the chances of finding survivors," Fowler says.
--Jennifer Strom

It Will Be Just Like Pittsboro--What's The Problem?
First it was 2,780 houses. Now it's 2,500 houses. For nearly a year, Chatham County residents have watched leaders of a California real estate development company juggle numbers to try to cajole elected officials, planning staffers, neighbors and community groups into letting them build the Briar Chapel subdivision on 1,500 acres near Pittsboro. But here's the number that really matters: $169,000,000.

That's how much Newland Communities has in operating revenue.

This is no small developer aiming big. This is a national corporate giant whose scouts have figured out what a lot of locals know: northern Chatham County's rolling pastures and small-town charm are very attractive, especially situated close to job-generator RTP.

After earning its money orchestrating land deals for sprawling subdivisions from California to Texas to Florida, the company is spending some of its income smoothing the way for Briar Chapel. Newland's image consultants are in high gear for its Triangle project, which the company proposed last June and has been defending to local critics ever since.

Here's a quote from the newest "Briar Chapel Fact Sheet," issued by the company's San Diego-based PR firm on April 2:

"Similar in size to the nearby communities of Fearrington Village and Pittsboro, Briar Chapel has been designed to help the county manage local growth through comprehensive planning and phased development of homes ... " (The sentence goes on with more buzzwords about "open space" and "key natural resources," but you get the general idea.)

Leaving aside for a moment the fact that the comparison to Pittsboro is a little silly, since the county seat is an actual town with a history and people who shape it, consider the notion that the principals of Newland Communities really are seeking to "help the county manage local growth."

That is so nice of them. Because with only one planner (department head, Keith Megginson) in the county planning department, Chatham sure needs assistance fending off all those profiteers who stroll into town in expensive suits, take what they want, and leave the locals to deal with the sprawling aftermath.

Courtesy of Newland Communities' own data, news reports and information from research firms Information Access Company and Hoover's Inc., here's a quick look at the company that's massaging its public image in the Triangle:

Operating Revenue, 2000: $169 million. Cash is partly provided by the California Public Employees Retirement System, a major investment partner.

Total Revenue, 1999: $5 billion (reported by the Dallas Business Journal on May 5, 1999, upon the occasion of Hunt Realty buying half-interest in the company).

Spending, 2001: "The company is on track to spend $500 million by the end of 2001, fueled by its inherited and existing developments," Newland CEO Bob McLeod told Institutional Investor in 2000, the year Newland acquired Genstar Land Co.'s holdings for $223 million.

Headquarters: La Jolla, Calif., a suburb (not surprisingly) of San Diego

Business: real estate development and investment advisory firm.

President and CEO: Robert McLeod, a California-based businessman.

Fifty Percent Owner: Ray L. Hunt, a Dallas businessman with a personal net worth of $2.1 billion, who is ranked as the 112th richest person in the nation by Forbes magazine. Hunt heads Hunt Consolidated Inc., which reported sales revenue of $2 billion in 2000 and includes Hunt Realty (which owns 50 percent of Newland) and Hunt Oil (an oil and gas production and exploration company). According to an April 2002 Hoover's report, Hunt Oil is now exploring in Ghana, Newfoundland, and Madagascar.

M.O.: Over the last 30 years, Newland has built 40 "master-planned" communities in nine states, primarily in suburbs of large cities such as Houston. Today, the company is developing and managing 45 housing projects in eight states. Typically, Newland negotiates land deals, shepherds the project through the public planning process and provides amenities such as clubhouses, pools and walking trails. Generally, the actual construction of the houses and accompanying retail/commercial space is subcontracted out to other developers and builders. McLeod told Institutional Investor, "Newland purchases large tracts of raw land for its development and typically strikes deals directly with land owners to avoid price increases from competing bids. It aims to sell its developments within five years and targets returns north of 20 percent."

Carolina Controversy: Residents of "The Summit," a Newland community outside Columbia, S.C., are suing Newland and its development partners for allegedly not disclosing to homebuyers that the 4,500-home neighborhood was built on a former Army bombing range, according to The State newspaper. The lawsuit says the Army Corps of Engineers found hazardous material on the 1,600-acre site in 1994, after electric and gas workers uncovered numerous bombs during construction.
--JS

Send all digs, ribs, jabs, barbs and tips to: madison@indyweek.com or call David Madison at 286-1972 ext. 154.

Trotline is illustrated by V.C. Rogers.

  • The money behind a mega-development in Chatham County.

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