WRS Realty Inc., a real-estate investment company that specializes in developing Wal-Mart shopping centers, has made an offer of $20.5 million to property owners in Kentington Heights, a low-income subdivision close to the Streets at Southpoint in southwestern Durham, according to a letter obtained by the Indy.
The letter, dated March 6, 2009, was sent on behalf of WRS from Lestep, Inc., a Durham based real estate company. Khalil Hanifa, who provided a phone number but no official title, asked Kentington Heights property owners to return a signed statement of intent to sell, provided in SASE envelopes, by March 17, 2009, at which point WRS "will be ready to prepare purchase contracts." The letter mentions a Feb. 28 meeting between WRS and "about twenty owners of Kentington Heights," in which the group of owners recommended everyone sell.
"While the developer would like to buy all the lots in the subdivision, he does not need all lots to make the subdivision work," wrote Hanifa, who was not immediately available for comment.
Kevin Pethick, an in-house counsel for WRS, told the Indy that Scott Smith, a principal with the company "has been talking with some folks out there," but did not provide details of an offer. Smith, who was referenced in Hanifa's letter, was not immediately available for comment.
For background on the Kentington Heights saga, read Jennifer Strom's May 2002 article in the Independent Weekly.
More updates to come.
UPDATE (1:15 PM): Still waiting to hear from WRS, but meanwhile, it's worth noting that, according to the company's Web site, it's also a developer for the planned Wal-Mart Supercenter at Glenn School Road and I-85.
Durham is trying to close a 25-square-mile "donut hole" where no stormwater standards currently exist, by enacting a citywide stormwater standards ordinance. But state regulators worry that closing the regulatory loophole, as written, may come at the expense of existing stormwater requirements in the Neuse River Basin, which the ordinance would replace. Roughly 55 square miles in north Durham currently falls within this area, which is subject to the state's Nutrient Sensitive Water Rules due to excess pollution.
In an e-mail dated March 2, N.C. Division of Water Quality community planner William Diuguid wrote, "We do not feel we can approve the proposed changes as presented because they appear to violate the existing Neuse River Basin Nutrient Sensitive Waters Rules."
At issue is the method of reducing nitrogen, a potentially harmful pollutant contained in stormwater runoff, due to impervious surfaces such as roads and rooftops preventing its natural absorption. The proposed ordinance would allow developers to achieve nitrogen reduction through a combination of conservation land purchases and, based on a project's density, a varying percentage of on-site treatment. For sites with impervious surfaces covering 90 percent of the property, no on-site treatment would be required.
As expected, the House Transportation Committee approved House Bill 148 this morning, sending it on to the House Finance Committee. This is the legislation that would bring -- after a lot of other hoops are jumped through -- the 1/2-cent sales tax for transit to the Triangle. For progressive tax advocates who hate sales taxes, it's a bitter pill. For transit folk, it's the holy grail.
For an overview of the bill and its chances, see our Indy story this week. What I want to focus on here is "the question of Durham" ... "can Durham be counted on?" ... that came up in the hallway after the committee meeting. Are we headed for a scenario in 2010 or 2011 (the question goes) in which Wake and Orange counties approve a transit tax but Durham doesn't -- leaving a big hole in the middle of our supposed regional transit schema?
Right wingers in the state legislature are grandstanding over a bill that would offer comprehensive sex education to students across the state. Under the bill, every school district would offer parents a choice between the old abstinence-only track and a track that emphasizes abstinence but also teaches medical facts about preventing pregnancy and STDs.
In a WUNC news report this morning, Rep. Ruth Samuelson (R-Mecklenberg) told reporter Laura Leslie that she objects to language in the bill that specifies a comprehensive program would teach “respect for marriage and committed relationships,” because she believes it's too broadly worded.
This is gonna require that we teach that gay couples are the same as heterosexual married couples, or that polygamy is the same because it’s equally as not legal in North Carolina, but an alternative committed relationship.
There is nothing in the bill about same-sex relationships. And to assert that this bill would require school districts to teach an acceptance of polygamy isn't just absurd, it's a lie.
I encourage everyone to read the text of the bill itself. It’s H88, and its Senate companion is S221. You’ll see that the radical agenda of comprehensive sex ed includes teaching kids how to identify and report sexual assault, as well as how to avoid alcohol and drug abuse.
(See Leslie's blog post for more details.)
The Raleigh author was given a suspended 90-day jail sentence, two years on probation, with random drug tests, and was fined $300 for using forged prescriptions to obtain painkillers. The story of her day in court.
The two points Gov. Bev Perdue made in her first "State of the State" address tonight:
1) "Everything is on the table" when it comes to balancing next year's budget.
2) Everything except school funding, which she wants increased.
Perdue said her 2009-10 budget plan, which she'll present to the General Assembly in a week or so, will add to per-pupil spending in the public schools.
Other than that single pledge, she did not stake herself out on specific programs or on taxes.
Those arguing -- as progressive groups are -- that the state cannot simply cut, cut, cut its way out of the $3-4 billion shortfall looming in the '10 fiscal year, and should instead balance program cuts with higher taxes, did not hear any such thing from the governor.
On the other hand, Perdue didn't offer any "no new taxes" promises either. Despite tough times, she said, legislators need to lay off such "talk-show political posturing" and consider every option:
We must do what ever it takes, our own, here in North Carolina, to create jobs, help displaced workers get new jobs, and keep families in their homes. We cannot let our citizens' dreams for a better future die.
The full text of her prepared speech is online and below.
The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), the subject of our cover story this week, passed the U.S. House in 2007 but died in the Senate, where the filibuster rules say you need 60 votes out of 100, not just 51, to pass most legislation. What are its chances in the current session? Once again, House Democrats are poised to pass it. But according to Talking Points Memo, Senate approval remains problematic. The 58-member Democratic majority (59 if Al Franken prevails, as seems likely, in the Minnesota recount) may not be solidly in favor; even if they are, where's the Republican senator or two who'll be needed to break the GOP filibuster this time?
Laura Blackmon is leaving her post as Orange County manager, WCHL reports. She is moving to Tennessee; her resignation is effective June 30. She has been county manager for more than two years.
In a somber letter to the Board of Commissioners, she addressed the financial difficulties facing the county.
Things are not looking good for the county or the two school systems, which have already been told they too will see a decrease in funds next year. The Budget Office has estimated the shortfall to be about $8 million, which will be difficult to absorb without cutting services or staff. ...
You have probably already heard there will be no cost of living or merit increases for employees next year. We are also expecting about an 8% increase in the cost of medical benefits next calendar year. These costs can be contained if we work hard to stay healthy and reduce our claims for insurance. Unfortunately that is easier said than done.
Transit advocates in the region are pushing the idea of a 1/2-cent sales tax in each of the three Triangle counties (voters in each would have to approve) to pay for better bus service and, eventually, a 56-mile long light-rail or diesel-rail commuter line from Chapel Hil to Durham to Raleigh. From the progressive N.C. Budget & Tax Center, an arm of the N.C. Justice Center, policy analyst Steve Jackson demurs: Property taxes, "land-based fees" (based on traffic counts, perhaps) and tax-increment fees that capture the increased value of developments near transit stations, would be more fair and less volatile than a sales tax, Jackson says.
Because Durham County Attorney Chuck Kitchen has insisted on conducting a public hearing before the county changes its watershed and zoning maps, a lawyer representing Southern Durham Development has accused Kitchen of a conspiracy to thwart his client's efforts to build a mega-development that, much like Jericho, would be located on the shores of a body of water named Jordan.
"We cannot understand why you have adopted such a strained reading of the ordinances in question unless you are trying to delay or derail our client's pending rezoning request," writes William Brian of K&L Gates, the law firm representing Southern Durham Development, in a letter dated March 4 (PDF, 272 KB) . "The only reason for you to do this would be to assist those who oppose the proposed project in a manner which is outside the scope of your official duties."
One other reason, which Kitchen cited in his reply to an earlier letter from Brian, would be to comply with state open-meetings laws and the Unified Development Ordinance.
As if accusations of conspiracy weren't enough, Brian makes a bizarre analogy that compares the Unified Development Ordinance to the Bible, and the county's zoning atlas to illustrations in a children's version of the Holy Writ.
No, we're not kidding:
By your analysis, a "land use map" that incorrectly showed the boundaries of a district or overlay which was described by metes and bounds in the ordinance by which it was adopted would trump those metes and bounds, or at the very least would require an extensive public hearing process before it could be corrected. This is like saying that the illustrations in a children's Bible trump the Scripture.
By Brian's measure, the children's illustrations, or U.S. Geological Survey maps, "incorrectly showed the boundaries" of Jordan Lake, until a 2006 decision, by former planning director Frank Duke (who by the way, helped author the analogous Holy Book), revealed the light by ushering through Hunter's survey without any bothersome public hearings, let alone state or local review. No matter that Duke's approval was later found by the N.C. Division of Water Quality to be in violation of the state's administrative code. It was nothing less than the Word of God. And Chuck Kitchen is trying to challenge that--with pictures?