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Monday, March 21, 2011

DENR schedules public meeting on demo of former dry cleaning site

Posted by on Mon, Mar 21, 2011 at 9:37 PM

Tests have shown this former church, bank and dry cleaning business is contaminated with a toxic dry cleaning solvent.
  • file photo by Jeremy M. Lange
  • Tests have shown this former church, bank and dry cleaning business is contaminated with a toxic dry cleaning solvent.

(UPDATE: This entry has been amended to remove references to 'clean-up' of the site. This public meeting deals only with the demolition of the building and possible future restrictions on the use of the land; The actual clean-up refers to a separate process that requires different public meetings and will come at a later date, a DENR spokeswoman said Tuesday.)

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources has scheduled a community meeting next week to discuss the demolition and clean-up of a former dry-cleaning business across from Northgate Mall at 1103 W. Club Blvd.

The former BB&T building and lot, which also temporarily housed a church, is contaminated with perchloroethylene, a widely used dry cleaning solvent. The meeting will be held from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Tuesday, March 29, at Brogden Middle School at 1001 Leon St.

Contamination from the dry-cleaning chemical, which is toxic and linked to cancer, has been found in soil, groundwater and indoor air vapors near the original site and several blocks away in the adjacent Trinity Park neighborhood. (See, "The dirt on dry cleaning," Jan. 20, 2010)

At the public meeting, state officials and contractors are expected to give a summary of the proposed clean-up plans for the West Club Boulevard site, which includes demolishing the building and implementing future restrictions on use of the lot.

According to an announcement about the meeting, the discussion will be limited to clean-up of the site and information about logistics, including health risks related to the demolition of a contaminated building (dry-cleaning contamination, asbestos, etc.), traffic in the area during demolition and clean-up, and how the debris will be disposed.

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Hearing Monday on proposed Chapel Hill homeless shelter

Posted by on Mon, Mar 21, 2011 at 7:37 AM

This building design and rendering by GGA Architects of Chapel Hill is posted on a Facebook page for supporters of the project.
  • This building design and rendering by GGA Architects of Chapel Hill is posted on a Facebook page for supporters of the project.

The Chapel Hill Town Council will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Monday on the request by the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service (IFC) to establish a 52-bed shelter for homeless men near the intersection of Homestead Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The Council is not expected to vote on the matter, but rather to continue the public hearing to Monday, May 9, for additional discussion.

If approved, the proposed 16,000-foot shelter would sit on land owned by the University of North Carolina and leased to IFC for $1 a year. The permit application from IFC has been met with concern from some residents regarding its proximity to homes and apartments, a park and schools.

For more information, see our March 16 story about the public hearing.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

In budget fight, N.C. House allies with teachers

Posted by on Thu, Mar 17, 2011 at 8:24 PM

The NCAE's Daily Political Briefing, which publishes for members of the North Carolina Association of Educators, tweeted this about an hour ago:

Great meeting with Speaker Tillis & Rep Holloway - thoughtful & honest conversation. Met w NCAE Char/Meck for nearly 2 hours. #ncaera11

Chances are the state budget came up, and that Speaker Thom Tills, R-Mecklenberg, and Holloway gave some assurances on this issue, from today's Winston-Salem Journal:

The legislature can balance the state budget without laying off a single public school teacher or teaching assistant, state Rep. Bryan Holloway, a Stokes Republican and a key member of the House's education budget team, said Wednesday.

That puts the House squarely on the teacher's "side" in North Carolina, which is where Gov. Bev Perdue placed herself a couple of months ago when she rolled out her budget.

The trick is that House Republicans want to do this without keeping 3/4 of the penny sales tax Perdue wants to continue next year. Avoiding that means finding about $826 million more in cuts than Perdue suggested, and in the education realm it looks like the university system and the early childhood programs More at Four and Smart Start have the targets on them.

Traditionally the state N.C. Senate has been more likely than the House to protect university funding. Democrats are no longer in charge there, so it's hard to predict whether the Republican majority will continue that. Holloway would only confirm that House and Senate budget negotiators haven't reached a consensus yet.

When I asked state Sen. Pete Brunstetter, R-Forsyth and a Senate Appropriations co-chairman, whether the Senate was protecting the university system as it has in the past, he gave one of those really-doesn't-mean-anything-in-print answers that sound a lot like a "yes" ...

Continue reading…

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

We got your transit stops right here — and your poll

Posted by on Wed, Mar 16, 2011 at 1:27 PM

Light rail, Houston-style
  • Light rail, Houston-style


Cross-posted from Citizen:

The poll was taken for the Regional Transportation Alliance — judge accordingly, but the questions seem reasonably straightforward. Traffic congestion is NOT the number one concern in the Triangle. That said, three out of four favor a rail-transit system for commuting and/or a combination of rail and better-bus transit. More than half are even prepared to pay for it via a 1/2-cent sales tax for transit. (That last figure dropped from almost 57 percent to barely 51 percent when the ante was upped to 3/4-cent for better transit AND schools.)

‘‘Nearly 60% of voters in the western Triangle counties of Durham and Orange would be willing to support a half-cent sales tax to improve transit offerings,” said Paul Fallon of Fallon Research and Communications of Columbus, OH. “While the support is conceptual since the respondents were not reacting to a specific package of bus and rail investments, that is still strong support given the ongoing sluggishness of the economy and the presence of the existing temporary sales tax.”

(More from the RTA below the fold.)

***

Triangle Transit is holding public forums (workshops) beginning next week to explain its latest thinking and get public input on what a regional transit plan should look like and where it should go. The forums are part of a process required before the TTA can apply for federal funding under the New Starts grants category. The schedule for the forums is here.

I kept hearing that the new plan would have more station stops than previous plans. Yup. I count 16 in the Orange-Durham corridor, some of which would be potential stops for a Bus Rapid Transit system rather than light-rail stops. In the Wake light-rail corridor plan, 20 stops are listed.

A possible Durham-Wake commuter-rail scheme running from downtown Durham to a station at Greenfield Parkway, southeast of Garner, would use some of the same stations as the light-rail system, but not all of them.

* commuter-rail = less frequency, moves faster, fewer stations, service mainly at rush hours;

* light-rail = greater frequency, moves slower, stations every mile or so, service at all/most hours;

I was told that this list is subject to change right up to the first forum — and may well change later as a result of the forums. With those caveats, here t'is:


Potential Rail Stops: Triangle Regional Transit Plan

Orange-Durham corridor: (looking at BRT and LR)
Stations:
• UNC
• Mason Farm
• Hamilton
• Friday Center/Meadwomont/Woodmont
• Leigh Village Station
• Gateway
• Patterson
• MLK
• South Square A or B
• LaSalle
• Duke Medical
• 9th St
• Durham
• Buchanan
• Dillard
• Allston Ave

Wake LRT Corridor: 18 miles, 20 stations, 15 vehicles, 29-32 mph ave, 34-41 minutes travel time, 4350 park and ride spaces, 51 bus bays
Stations: (about 1 mile apart, all on the NCRR corridor)
• Cary Parkway
• NW Maynard/Cary
• Downtown Cary/Depot — shared w/commuter and Amtrak
• NE Maynard
• West Raleigh (just east of I 40, NC 54) — commuter rail and large park and ride
• Jones Franklin/Western
• State Fairgrounds
• Gorman/Hillsborough St./Meredith College
• NCSU/Dan Allen
• NCSU/Pullen Rd. - commuter rail
• West Morgan St.
• Downtown Raleigh — commuter rail too; 2 alternatives: follow Morgan St. to Harrington St or West St. (will operate as a streetcar for about 1/3 of mile, where cars can travel along with LR) OR go over Boylan St. Bridge (creating a Union Station w/ high speed rail) OR going towards South St/Amtrak station and then north up Salisbury
• Government
• Peace St. (paralleling Atlantic)
• Whittaker Mill
• Six Forks/Atlantic Ave.
• New Hope Church Rd (between Atlantic and Old Wake Forest Rd)
• Millbrook Rd.
• Spring Forest
• Then either to NE Regional Station (where 540 goes over rail corridor) OR to Triangle Town Center (big park and ride)

(Boylan Bridge — until agreement reached with railroad, have to show only option of a bridge OVER Boylan Bridge, but hope to go under it)

Durham-Wake Commuter Corridor: (looking at commuter rail; some overlap with LRT stations)

37 miles, 12 stations, 15 vehicles, 43 mph ave., 51 min travel time, 4400 Park and Ride, 40 bus bays
Stations: from Durham to Greenfield Parkway southeast of Garner

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Republican voter I.D. bill heads to House next week

Posted by on Tue, Mar 15, 2011 at 6:56 PM

Legislation that would require North Carolina voters to show photo I.D. at the polls will likely get a committee vote and move to the House floor next week, House Elections Committee Chairman David Lewis said Tuesday.

A vote had been expected Tuesday evening, immediately following a lengthy hearing on House Bill 351, the voter I.D. bill that was filed Monday night. But Lewis, a Dunn Republican and one of the bill's primary sponsors, said that vote would wait until next week, following more discussion and consideration of amendments.

The long-anticipated bill sparked passions on both sides of the issue Tuesday, filling one of the General Assembly's largest committee rooms with speakers, observers, legislators and media. More than 35 people spoke for or against the bill over a two-hour public comment session, which was followed by another two hours of committee members discussing the bill.

Quick passage of a photo I.D. bill was promised in the GOP's pre-election plan for the first 100 days of this session, and some form of this bill is expected to clear the House and Senate relatively easily, given Republican majorities in both chambers. Whether Gov. Bev Perdue will sign the bill, or veto it, is less clear, and could set up another fight between the Democratic governor and the new GOP leadership in the General Assembly.

Bill supporters argue that voter I.D. is a common sense bulwark against voter fraud. Current state law allows people to use utility bills, paychecks or one of several government documents without a picture to vote. Yet people have to show photo I.D. to buy cigarettes, cash a check, get on a plane, drive a car or do any number of other common things, proponents argued Tuesday.

But people against the bill see sinister motives behind the call for voter I.D., which the Republican Party has successfully pushed in a number of states in recent years. They argue that poor people, minorities and senior citizens are less likely to have photo identification. And even if the state provides free I.D.'s, there's a cost in time and money to get one — especially for an elderly person stuck in a nursing home who has lost their birth certificate.

Proponents counter that argument by pointing to the state's mail-in absentee voting laws, which would actually be loosened under House Bill 351 and still won't require any photo identification. Only people who travel to the polls would have to show photo I.D.

That may provide a solution for elderly voters, but seems to make it easier to defraud the voting system by mail, opponents said.

"I find that to be a little bit of a disjointed thing," state Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Raleigh, said Tuesday.

Continue reading…

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(More) cute things are happening in Durham

Posted by on Tue, Mar 15, 2011 at 2:58 PM

Cork gnomes are expected to venture out beginning March 20.
  • Cork gnomes are expected to venture out beginning March 20.

Spring is in the air. Heaps of little creatures are prepping for debut, from bitty bunnies to budding bulbs and... lucky little cork gnomes, as the Indy staff has learned.

The news came in an "a-gnome-ymous" letter of Lilliputian proportion, attached to this little guy (or gal?). Locals will start spotting these little cuties beginning March 20, according to the message.

It seems they were inspired in part by last year's garden-gnome spottings across Durham, which were documented on a local blog, as well as here at the Indy website. (In fact, we even placed random gnome in one issue last year!)

Despite the gnome-nappings of last year, the "population is back on the rise," the letter said. And in this case, the letter says, it's actually good luck to take these little corkers home.

The very small gnomes, called "korknisse" are being tracked at the Cork Gnome Home.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Judge won't dismiss 751 South-related lawsuit against Durham County

Posted by on Mon, Mar 14, 2011 at 5:16 PM

Proposed location of 751 South development

A superior court judge on Monday denied a request from a Durham County attorney to dismiss a civil lawsuit against the county and its commissioners. Several South Durham homeowners filed the suit late last summer, challenging the way the county handled approvals for the proposed 751 South mega-development.

The project, which could include 1,300 residences, plus offices and retail space, is controversial for its size and density, its proximity to Jordan Lake and for some measures the developers and their attorneys have taken to advance the project. (See "How many ways has K&L Gates touched you today?," Jan. 19, 2011)

With the lawsuit still pending, attorneys for Durham County now have another 21 days to respond to the lawsuit's contents. The plaintiffs in the case, which include residents of the Chancellor's Ridge neighborhood and its homeowners association, want the case handled as quickly as possible. As the civil suit meanders through the court process, the project is moving forward. Members of the Durham City Council could soon be asked to annex the land slated for 751 South, and take other measures that would allow the controversial project to move forward. If the city makes those decisions before the civil lawsuit comes to a resolution, the residents' case against Durham County would be moot.

Early this year, Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield said he anticipated having a financial analysis from the city's budget office in February. The report would estimate the costs associated with providing city services to the planned community if it were fully built—costs such as any maintenance of new roads and traffic patterns, police and fire protection, schools for an influx of new families, wastewater treatment, garbage collection, etc.

There does not appear to be a date for when that annexation analysis will become public. Thus it's unclear how soon members of City Council will be voting on the matter.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Read their lips: Some new taxes

Posted by on Thu, Mar 10, 2011 at 9:00 AM

With Republicans taking over the N.C. General Assembly, you probably figured you could rest easy on taxes. I mean, sure, they might lay off a few thousand teachers, but at least your taxes won't go up.

Because they promised that, right? It was item No. 1 in the GOP's pre-election 100-day plan.

Well, we campaign in poetry and govern in prose. So here are a few forthcoming tax increases — or things suspiciously similar to tax increases — bubbling through the legislature right now.

The hospital "assessment"

Senate Bill 32 is obviously a new tax, and yet the bill refuses to call it one. Instead, it's an "assessment" that is "imposed" on hospital costs.

This "assessment" on hospitals raises an estimated $216 million in new state money, according to the North Carolina Hospital Association, most of which would be used to draw down more federal Medicaid money somewhere north of a 2-1 match.

So we're talking nearly $600 million in new revenue. About $43 million would go to help balance the state budget, and the rest would be plowed back into hospitals through Medicaid payments.

But it's not a tax, OK?

"It's a voluntary assessment," Senate Appropriations Co-chairman Pete Brunstetter, who is sponsoring this bill, said last month. "It's been requested by the hospitals. A tax is an involuntary payment to government."

It's been requested because hospitals are afraid the state will cut Medicaid reimbursements, which already don't cover the full cost of caring for people with government-funded health insurance. And while the tax may be voluntary for hospitals, going to the hospital isn't exactly voluntary. So, it will be interesting to see whether this new assessment makes its way onto patient bills

Plus, the big money in this plan comes from the federal government, which gets its money from federal taxpayers. Having looked at recent census figures, I can assure you some of those live in North Carolina.

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Friday, March 4, 2011

Cue head explosion: More on the broadband bill

Posted by on Fri, Mar 4, 2011 at 2:48 PM

House Bill 129 is enormously complicated, and is ostensibly about putting limits on the ways cities can build broadband Internet systems, and thus compete with private companies such as Time Warner Cable.

As noted earlier this week, the bill forbids cities from using tax dollars to build the system under most plausible scenarios, and would make them cough up "payments in lieu of taxes" on the system, much like a private company would pay regular taxes.

The bill also intends to make cities hold a referendum before borrowing money to build their system. But there are a number of other provisions I not covered this week that, city folks say, were designed to make it overly difficult for cities to get into the business, or for cities with existing systems to continue operating.

The SouthEast Chapter of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers did a bill analysis to break down the sections it considers to be the most limiting. It's 16 pages, more than five times longer than the bill itself.

But by excerpting the analysis you get a picture of the hoops private companies want cities to jump through to offer broadband services. Said Jay Ovittore, SEATOA's legislative representative on this matter: "I guarantee if this bill passes you will see massive rate increases from Time Warner Cable."

Some examples of what SEATOA doesn't like (in italics) followed by some analysis from me:

From the bill itself: A municipal provider may “provide communications service only within the jurisdictional boundaries of the city providing the service." While that may make sense when a city acts like a city, the stated intent of this bill is to level the playing field between cities and private companies. Clearly this clause would give private companies an important advantage over cities.

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

No ouster of Allison, just discussion, for Durham Committee

Posted by on Thu, Mar 3, 2011 at 9:47 PM

Lavonia Allison (right) talks to Durham Mayor Bill Bell.

Someone may have posted a cancellation notice on the door of the fellowship room at White Rock Baptist Church. But the false notice was quickly removed and didn't appear to dissuade about 40 people from attending a meeting Thursday night for the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, Durham's oldest community and political action group. Participants included several elected officials and prominent attorneys and community figures.

Although some members had indicated that Thursday's event would be an emergency meeting to appoint a temporary chairperson to replace embattled Chairwoman Lavonia Allison, no such vote took place.

The two-hour gathering, led by member and one-time city council candidate Darius Little, instead amounted to an unofficial discussion of concerned members. Allison didn't attend the meeting, and by the end, she was still acting chairwoman, member Victoria Peterson confirmed at the end of the night.

During their discussion, members reiterated concerns that Peterson had outlined in a letter last month to the group's parliamentarian—that they wanted to know how the organization's money was being spent, information about grants the group might be seeking or connected to, and the return of regular meetings. Several meetings in recent months had been canceled, Peterson said in an interview earlier this week. Members were eager to install the committee's newest officers (besides the chair position, which will be elected in December), and to start organizing for the coming election season.

Reached earlier this week, Allison refused to answer questions about the organization, which is 75 years old. She has been its chair for a dozen years, but has been criticized for her lack of openness and defensiveness when asked about the committee's dealings, even by fellow members. In her 80 years, Allison has been both decorated as an educator, historic community figure and activist, and chided for her ownership of sub-par rental properties—many occupied by the low-income minorities she professed to want to help (as noted in the Indy).

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