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Monday, November 22, 2010

751 South appeal will skip Board of Adjustment, move to superior court

Posted by on Mon, Nov 22, 2010 at 1:54 PM


A lawyer representing residents in South Durham in a petition against the controversial 751 South development has withdrawn an appeal (PDF) that was scheduled to be heard next week by the Durham Board of Adjustment, planning Director Steve Medlin confirmed Monday.

The attorney, Dhamian Blue, had appealed (PDF) to the board to overturn a ruling by Medlin last summer that a formal petition the residents filed in opposition to the development didn't contain enough signatures of property owners within a certain distance of the land to be developed. (The petition against 751 South did originally have enough signatures, but was invalidated on a technicality when the N.C. Department of transportation accepted a right-of-way along N.C. 751. More about that here.)

Blue had previously said that the Board of Adjustment would be the first avenue he would try for his clients, the Chancellor's Ridge Homeowners Association and residents Kristen Corbell and Kim Preslar. At the time, Durham's county attorney said the case actually needed to be heard in Durham Superior Court.

Now, Blue, the county attorney and an attorney for Southern Durham Development, the company proposing the project, all have agreed to deal with the dispute in Durham Superior Court, Medlin said.

Thus, the Dec. 6 appeal that was scheduled before the Board of Adjustment has been taken off that board's agenda.

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Friday, November 19, 2010

NCCU condemns trashing of student newspaper, the Campus Echo

Posted by on Fri, Nov 19, 2010 at 11:25 AM

The N.C. Central University administration has publicly condemned the trashing of hundreds of copies of the student newspaper, done in apparent retaliation over two controversial stories published over the last six weeks.

“Attempts to suppress unpleasant news are offensive and contrary to everything we stand for at our university, where the free exchange of information should not be impeded,” wrote NCCU Associate Provost Debbie Thomas in a campuswide e-mail.

Campus Echo Editor Ashley Griffin wrote an editorial this week defending the stories, adding, “I am troubled that some of my fellow Eagles would stoop so low as to attempt to suppress news that they find inconvenient. Your behavior is petty and childish. And it will not work.”

“Business School Blues,” published Oct. 6, covered the controversy over the dismissal of NCCU Business School Dean Bijoy Sahoo, who was replaced after a review by a university task force questioned his leadership. Shortly afterward, hundreds of newspapers disappeared from the Willis Commerce Building.

Hundreds of papers also disappeared from near the sociology building and student union and were found in a dumpster after the Echo published a story Nov. 3, “Sociability Shortage in Sociology.” The article detailed a conflict between student Dontravis Swain, later suspended from the university, and assistant professor of sociology, Dana Greene.

Greene, according to the article, had allegedly claimed that a white student of hers, Robert Mihaly, was racist after he wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the likeness of Martin Luther King Jr. that read “UNC system racist” because N.C. Central doesn’t offer organic, non-genetically modified foods in its cafeteria.

Swain and Mihaly got into an argument in the classroom over the T-shirt i, which escalated when Swain allegedly began arguing with Greene. She alleged that Swain pushed her, but some students have disputed that account.

Campus Echo Adviser Bruce dePyssler told the Indy he doesn’t know who is dumping the papers, but according to the Student Press Law Center, it is illegal. Charges include larceny, petty theft, criminal mischief or destruction of property.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chatham Commissioners opt out of permit extension, Western Wake Partners easement request

Posted by on Tue, Nov 16, 2010 at 5:28 PM

Outgoing Chatham County commissioners voted 5-0 to opt out of the state's one-year extension for all development permits. By doing so, the commission is requiring commercial and residential developers to reapply and submit to newer environmental regulations. In response to the housing market crash, the legislature passed the 2009 Permit Extension Act, which gave developers an extra year to comply with those laws.

Planning Board chairman Jim Elza clarified the meaning of the one-year extension act, noting that the 2010 extension would have allowed some developments to avoid the more stringent regulations for six years.
“I'm uncomfortable granting another year,” said Commissioner Sally Kost, “and some of these probably do need to expire.”

Janet Butcher, a developer representing builders in Wake and Chatham counties, asked the commissioners to allow the extension. “We're putting infrastructure and dollars into land and their won't be builders to build the developments if we don't extend these permits,” she said.

Elaine Chiosso, executive director of the Haw River Assembly, supported the commissioners' vote. “During the housing boom and growth era of 2004-07 there were tremendous violations of sedimentation and erosion control,” she said, “and we now have some of the best ordinances in the state.”

Commissioner George Lucier pointed out that permit extensions could be granted on an individual basis, and that the board has done so in the past.

Equally important was the last item on the agenda regarding the Western Wake Partners request to acquire easements for a eight-mile pipeline from their controversial wastewater treatment plant in New Hill to the Cape Fear River. Many Moncure residents who will lose property to the easement oppose the plan.

The Town of Cary, which, with Morrisville and Apex, is part of Western Wake Partners, could annex significant acreage east of Jordan Lake in Chatham County if commissioners don't grant the easement.

Lucier spoke out strongly on the issue saying, “We believe that the treated wastewater discharge line poses significant risks with little or no discernible benefits for our county and its residents. For these reasons, we recommend that Chatham County deny the WWP’s request to locate a discharge line through a section of the county until the Town of Cary agrees not to annex into the county without the county’s approval and this agreement is embodied in a local bill approved by the General Assembly.”

Lucier mentioned only Cary, but not Wake County, the bigger annexation threat. Kost added that the mayors of the towns making up the partnership have not responded to her numerous requests to schedule a meeting to discuss the matter.

Incoming commissioners Brian Bock, Pamela Stewart and Walter Petty ran platforms on protecting private property rights, and constituents in Moncure worry about the partners' previous handing of eminent domain and its implications for their property values and rights.

Outgoing commissioners made recommendations for the new Republican majority that will take office next month, but left the final decision to them.

This was the final meeting for incumbent Chatham County Commissioners Lucier, Tom Vanderbeck, and Carl Thompson, whose term ends Dec. 6, when Bock, Stewart and Petty will be sworn in.

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Chatham County landfill in limbo

Posted by on Tue, Nov 16, 2010 at 9:53 AM

Chatham County citizens concerned about the placement of the proposed 400-acre landfill will have to wait until the beginning of the year for more definitive answers. The Solid Waste Advisory Committee's Dec. 1 meeting has been canceled to give the three newly elected county commissioners Brian Bock, Pamela Stewart and Walter Petty a thorough briefing on the landfill site evaluation. Nine sites remain on the list.

Chatham County Solid Waste Director Dan LaMontagne said the project will be delayed "until we receive further direction."

As a result of a Nov. 4 public meeting where many residents voiced their concerns about the landfill's possible location, LaMontagne and his staff have updated the county's website with additional information explaining the draft criteria.

Issues include the landfill's proximity to protected and environmentally sensitive watersheds, major highways, county boundaries, Bear Creek critical habitat, primary roads and significant residential development.

This criteria does not automatically exclude the siting of the landfill in area with these issues, but it does make the site less favorable in the final evaluation.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Durham Council endorses officers' acceptance of Mexican ID

Posted by on Mon, Nov 15, 2010 at 9:01 PM

Durham's City Council took a symbolic stance on a sharply divisive issue Monday night when it passed a resolution endorsing the practice by the Durham Police Department to accept the Matricula Consular, the national Mexican identification card for non-residents, as valid identification during traffic stops and other police interaction. The resolution passed five to two, with Council members Eugene Brown and Howard Clement voting against it.

Whether the Council voted on the matter, the city's police department has actively been accepting the identification from Mexican nationals when stopping or questioning people suspected of criminal activity, said Police Chief Jose Lopez. The acceptance of the resolution (PDF) would not affect that practice, he added.

Lopez said a resolution from the Council would, however, "garner the trust" of Latino immigrants who currently might be reluctant to report crimes or testify as witnesses because they're afraid they themselves could be targets of police investigation if they are in this country illegally.

As the Council deliberated, Brown opposed the vote, saying Durham as a city should not be weighing in on an issue regulated by federal authorities.

"This is a federal issue and in my judgment, above my pay grade," Brown said. "If our very able police chief believes this is a reasonable, pragmatic and useful crime fighting tool, then I accept his decision. ... I wasn't elected to micromanage the Durham Police Department." Brown took the same stance in June when the Council boycotted travel to Arizona in light of the controversial new immigration law requiring law officers to demand documentation of anyone suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.

Clement voiced doubts over whether the Mexican ID cards were secure. Though she eventually voted in support, Mayor Pro-Tempore Cora Cole-McFadden vocally debated whether it even necessary for the Council to vote on the matter.

The proposal had been brought to the council via the Durham Bill of Rights Defense Committee and the Durham Immigrant Solidarity Committee, and was introduced at a Council work session last week. The resolution initially proposed that police and other community institutions across the city accept the Mexican national ID card as a valid form of identification, particularly as the requirements to obtain a N.C. driver's license now include a Social Security number.

Over the weekend, Mayor Bill Bell said, he realized that the Council didn't have jurisdiction over banks or other civil institutions and that if the Council passed a resolution on the matter, it should be strictly limited to police activities, in which the Council does have a stake.

Ever since the resolution was placed on Monday's agenda, the elected officials have been flooded with e-mails from all over the country on the matter. Those who urged support said the resolution was a way to build bridges with Mexican nationals in Durham. Many others have denounced the idea, saying it unfairly protects illegal immigrants without proper U.S.-issued identification.

Lopez said the ID card is simply a way of identifying a person police encounter. Police would still have the discretion to arrest or cite the holder for any criminal activity they observed of the person, he said.

"It does not give the holder of the card any specific rights other than we know who the person is," Lopez told the Council.

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Chapel Hill taps veteran to lead police

Posted by on Mon, Nov 15, 2010 at 4:14 PM

Chris Blue is Chapel Hill’s next police chief, the town announced today.

Blue has served in the Chapel Hill Police Department for 13 years and will succeed Brian Curran, who will step down at the end of November.

Chapel Hill native Chris Blue will take the reins Dec. 1.
  • Courtesy of the Town of Chapel Hill
  • Chapel Hill native Chris Blue will take the reins Dec. 1.
“I have selected the very best police chief for this community,” Town Manager Roger Stancil said in a statement.

“He will become a key part of improving the quality of life and making Chapel Hill a better place to live for all.”

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Orange County honors veterans, welcomes new citizens

Posted by on Thu, Nov 11, 2010 at 12:21 PM

Three active duty military service members—from left, Won Choi, of South Korea, with daughter, Elizabeth, 5,  Anatoliy Pisarenko, of Russia, and Carlos Ocampo, of Columbia—take the Oath of Allegiance to become American Citizens during the Orange County Veterans Day Program Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony at the Orange County Social Services Center in Hillsborough, N.C., Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010.
  • D.L. Anderson
  • Three active duty military service members—from left, Won Choi, of South Korea, with daughter, Elizabeth, 5, Anatoliy Pisarenko, of Russia, and Carlos Ocampo, of Columbia—take the Oath of Allegiance to become American Citizens during the Orange County Veterans Day Program Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony at the Orange County Social Services Center in Hillsborough, N.C., Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010.

HILLSBOROUGH — Lance Cpl. Carlos Ocampo now can count himself as a citizen of the country he’s willing to die for to protect.

A native Columbian, Ocampo moved to the United States and joined the marines, desperate to help defend the country from terrorist attacks.

“This country deserves to have its freedom, and I fight for that,” he says. “I felt like a citizen before, but right now it feels just great.”

Ocampo joined nine other military members during a naturalization ceremony at the Orange County Social Services Center in Hillsborough on Wednesday. They were born in countries across the world, Australia, Russia, Mexico, Liberia, Israel and South Korea, but they are all united by American ideals.

“You have these people who are wiling to make the ultimate sacrifice for what we believe in,” said Jeffrey Sapko, field office director for the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services office in Raleigh. “We believe in them, too.”

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Durham commissioners approve $1m hotel incentives for Greenfire, support Chesterfield bid for stimulus bonds

Posted by on Mon, Nov 8, 2010 at 8:11 PM


Durham's county commissioners unanimously approved $1 million in economic incentives Monday for a subsidiary of Greenfire Development to redevelop the former SunTrust bank building—the tallest in downtown Durham's skyline—into a boutique hotel and spa. The money would be paid only once the hotel is up and running and would be spread over 10 years in $100,000 installments based on performance, said Deputy County Manager Carolyn Titus.

Greenfire Partner Steve Mangano told commissioners the group is working to finalize financing for the $54 million project, which will create about 165 rooms in the 17-story building. Greenfire has already secured a commitment of $4.2 million in incentives from Durham's city council and preliminary approval of $25 million in federal stimulus bonds to redevelop the building, which was built in the 1930s. If built out, the property will be known as the Spark Hotel, Mangano said.

The recovery bonds are part of the 2009 stimulus legislation and a way for private companies to secure financing at low interest rates for economic development projects in designated areas, which include the city of Durham. The bonds are sold on the market and the proceeds then become available to the borrower. The borrower, in this case Greenfire, would be solely responsible for repaying the bonds, and Durham's local governments bear no fiscal responsibility.

According to Mary Nash Rusher, a local attorney and bond counsel, more than $600 million in recovery bonds were allocated to North Carolina through the federal stimulus legislation.

The federal bond financing for Greenfire is contingent upon the approval of the N.C. Local Government Commission. According to current law, the federal stimulus bonds must be offered for sale by Dec. 31, although there is the possibility the federal deadline could be extended, County Manager Mike Ruffin said. Ruffin added that Greenfire is about $11 million from its financing goals.

Although the incentives for the project had previously met with public opposition when brought before City Council last month, no opponents of the project itself signed up to speak before commissioners, including other area hoteliers who previously had denounced the contribution of public dollars to the project. One speaker, Charlotte Woods of Concerned Citizens for Accountable Government, raised issues with the transparency of the incentives process. Another citizen, Allan Lang, criticized Greenfire for the failing condition of some of the dozens of properties the group has purchased to redevelop, and asked that the county hold the company accountable for the condition of all its properties when paying out incentives.

Most who spoke on the matter urged county support because of the high profile history and location of the building, at the corner of Main and Corcoran streets downtown, and because of the need for additional hotel rooms in downtown Durham.

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Friday, November 5, 2010

Durham elections board officially cancels inquiry into Taylor's residency

Posted by on Fri, Nov 5, 2010 at 10:36 AM

It was pretty clear after Worth Hill's sweeping Tuesday night re-election that any official inquiry into challenger Roy Taylor's residency would be moot. But, for the record, Board of Elections chair Carol Anderson issued a statement through the county today to that effect:

Worth Hill has prevailed in the election for County of Durham Sheriff by a margin of 60,667 to 16,466. In light of this result, the need for the Board of Elections to conduct a hearing on the protest to the candidacy of Roy Taylor for this Office has been rendered unnecessary and will not proceed as previously scheduled.

Carol W. Anderson
Chair, Board of Elections

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Rogers, Eubanks Road leaders aim for $50,000 Pepsi grant, need your vote

Posted by on Thu, Nov 4, 2010 at 5:06 PM

The Rogers-Eubanks Road Neighborhood Association is asking for your support as the group competes for a $50,000 grant from Pepsi to fund a community center and garden to unite neighbors.

After one month of voting, the project ranks No. 333 out of more than 1,000 hopefuls in the Pepsi Refresh Project and needs to reach top-10 status to earn the money.

The Rev. Robert Campbell of the Coalition to End Environmental Racism and the neighborhood association (RENA) says funding would be used to foster an exchange of ideas and a sense of place.

“It’s going to help with breaking down those invisible fences as well as those visible fences,” Campbell says. “We are trying to get neighborhoods to actually become a community.”

The area has been home to the Orange County landfill since 1972 and has had to battle smell, dump trucks, water and air quality and a host of other unpleasant issues.

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