Several state senators expressed concern Wednesday over a bill that would allow digital billboards across the state’s interstates and highways, regardless of local rules that might prohibit them. The bill’s sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown of Jacksonville, said he just wanted feedback Wednesday, and no vote was taken. He is expected to revise the bill and bring it back to the Senate Transportation Committee.
Several senators said their major issue was the idea of taking away a community’s control of its own appearance from highways and interstates.
“I don’t think we ought to take the control away from our local governments,” said Sen. Richard Stevens, R-Wake, who noted his district is home to a large billboard company. “We do too much micromanaging up here as it is.”
The bill (SB183) would override local rules on signage, even those banning digital billboards, and would allow broader cutting of trees and other vegetation in front of the signs to increase visibility. The signs and tree-cutting would disregard local ordinances governing those very issues.
If passed, the bill wouldn’t allow any new billboards to be put up, but would allow old billboards on interstates and major highways to be replaced with signs that have changing images, whether through digital screens or rotating parts. As it’s currently written, the law would be effective Oct. 1.
Just last year, Durham City Council unanimously shot down a request from Fairway Outdoor Advertising to change its sign ordinances to allow for digital billboards, in part due to overwhelming opposition from residents who launched a campaign against the local issue. Several other municipalities, including each of the state’s largest cities, have spoken out against the bill, said Paul Meyer, chief legislative counsel for the N.C. League of Municipalities. Several other groups, including the North Carolina chapters of the Sierra Club and the American Planning Association, the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, the N.C. Metropolitan Mayors Coalition and Preservation North Carolina have also announced their opposition to the bill.
“We need to have the ability with each local government to decide what they want and what they will permit in their communities,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham. “There are different local norms. I think enhancing the beauty of our communities and the uniqueness of our communities is something we should respect.”
(This story was updated Feb. 9 at 5:30 p.m.)
MONCURE—More than two dozen people spoke before the Chatham Board of County Commissioners Monday night at a public hearing a plan to run an 8.1-mile underground pipeline from Western Wake County through Southeastern Chatham County.
Western Wake Partners—the towns of Apex, Cary, Morrisville and Research Triangle Park-South—are constructing a $327 million wastewater treatment plant in unincorporated New Hill, but they need to build the pipeline to funnel treated wastewater to the Cape Fear River. About a dozen landowners would need to give up 40-foot-wide easements to bury the pipes, which are 5 feet in diameter.
Chatham County Commission Chairman Brian Bock says the board will vote on the pipeline at its next meeting, Feb. 21.
Chatham Commissioner Sally Kost says she plan to vote against the pipeline unless the only way "we were able to develop a list of concession from the partners that benefited Chatham, but as it's currently proposed I just don’t see what's in it for Chatham County." She is concerned that business expansion that occurs as a result of the wastewater treatment plant could be limited to Wake County, while Chatham County could experience largely residential growth that would worsen the area's problems with sprawl.
Many Chatham County residents were vigorously opposed over concerns about pipeline leaks, uncontrolled growth, the possibility of future annexation by Cary and decreasing property values.
However, representatives of RTP businesses supported the pipeline because they say the additional infrastructure is necessary to sustain and grow the local economy.
RALEIGH/LEGISLATIVE BUILDING—The N.C. House voted 66-50 in favor of House Bill 2 on Wednesday, supporting legislation that would exempt the state's citizens from the federal health insurance mandate and force Attorney General Roy Cooper to join legislation that challenges the law.
The bill, “Protect Health Care Freedom,” now moves to the N.C. Senate.
House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, one of four primary sponsors, equated the health care bill to forcing colonists to drink tea and pay a tax.
“More than anything this bill is about what you think about yourself,” he said. “Are you a citizen or are you a child, are you a ward of the state?”
Democrats argued that the legislation was rushed and unnecessary, noting that the issue is already being reviewed in federal courts and that North Carolina, whether it signs on as a plaintiff or not, will be subject to the decisions.
“I find it disappointing that we are taking our time here in North Carolina to address an issue that is already in the federal courts,” said Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange. “There is no outcome that will result except possible unintended consequences.”
They also said the public should have been allowed to comment during committee meetings. Republicans said the legislation was a key platform plank and that citizens are already aware of the bill and have spoken on it on the campaign trail.
House Minority Leader Joe Hackney asked Republicans to offer a better health care plan, not just defeat the one passed by U.S. Congress. They did not have one.
Meanwhile in Washington, the U.S. Senate defeated legislation today that would have repealed the health care reform law.
RALEIGH—In case the Republicans who took officially took control of the N.C. General Assembly on Tuesday thought they had arrived, Raleigh resident Frank Ragsdale reminded them, “We are watching you. You are on probation.”
That was the message he orated to three dozen Tea Party supporters who rallied in the rain Tuesday on the Halifax Mall, a few hundred yards away from the N.C. Legislative Building on the opening day of the session.Moccasin Creek Minutemen and NCFreedom urged legislators to slash spending, curb taxes and reduce governmental oversight of the private sector. Supporters held signs reading “Don’t Tread on Me,” and “Taxed Enough Already.”
“Do not, as many of your predecessors have done, forget your campaign promises,” Ragsdale said. “Stop spending our money. Our checking account is closed. The people of North Carolina have nothing more to give you to spend and waste.”
Other speakers took aim at immigrants. William Gheen of Americans for Legal Immigration laid out his three-point plan for more rigid enforcement.
He wants to review voter rolls to insure that illegal immigrants aren’t allowed to participate in elections, stop providing non-emergency services to them and pass a law similar to but even stronger than Arizona’s infamous Senate Bill 1070.
With Republicans now in power, Gheen is full of optimism. House leaders are already floating a voter ID bill.
“This is one of the most beautiful days in my life,” Gheen said.
Overhead, the sky remained gray and the rain droplets became more rapid.
RALEIGH—Passionate neighbors dressed in red and overflowed from the Raleigh City Council chambers Tuesday night to urge the council and planning commission to deny a rezoning request that would allow Hanson Aggregates to expand its Crabtree Quarry operation.
But the message was clear to Mayor Charles Meeker, who, in an unusual move, asked supporters and opponents to raise their hands and be counted. Meeker, council and planning members even walked into the hallway, where 150 people were watching the proceedings on a television feed.
The official tally: 20 people in support of the rezoning and 400 against it, Meeker noted.
“This is certainly the biggest crowd I’ve seen in my 10 years here,” the mayor said.
RALEIGH— Neighbors peppered Hanson Aggregates Southeast officials with questions Tuesday night at an information session on the company’s plans to expand its Crabtree Quarry operation.
The crowd packed the Glen Eden Community Center parking lot and overflowed from the room with brooms being used to prop open back and side doors to get a view of Hanson’s presentation.
Residents worried about the noise, the vibrations, the view and their property value. They reminded Hanson that the their current quarry, which was built in the 1940s, is now surrounded by neighborhoods.
“The amount of activity for the quarry area does not change by the quarry size,” Styers explained. “It’s a function of demand.”
Blasts now occur once every two weeks. The current quarry, located between Duraleigh and Ebenezer Church roads has two decades of life remaining, Hanson officials estimate.
The group has the option to purchase 100 acres of property once slated for the Hamptons at Umstead Development. The move, if the City of Raleigh approves a rezoning request, would occur in about three years, General Manager Chris Ward said.
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.
Today, coincidentally or not, Duke University—where Price has taught public policy—issued a press release touting the benefits of the $287 million in NIH grants given to the Research Triangle region through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“Federal grants for academic research and development are intended to create long-term health benefits and economic opportunity,” the release reminds.
The Innovation Center that UNC leaders had heralded as the first building to be built at Carolina North is unlikely to be constructed, Carolina North Executive Director Jack Evans said Wednesday night.
“I would simply summarize by saying that it’s unlikely to happen,” he said. “That’s another casualty of the economy. … If the financial markets hadn’t gone to hell, it would have been constructed by now.”a group of Chapel Hill residents at a public information meeting detailing the first Carolina North Annual Report, submitted to the town Sept. 1 as required by the university and town development agreement.
The Innovation Center was planned to be an 85,000 square foot, three-story building that would provide incubator space for startup companies and other private techonology companies.
Evans says discussions broke down the private partner Alexandria Real Estate Equities of Pasadena, Calif.
“It would take something that I don’t see in the offing to have that discussion,” he said.
Alexandria would have built and operated the space and UNC wanted to rent 1/3 of it. Because Alexandria is private, the company would have paid taxes on it. UNC is tax exempt. The UNC Board of Trustees approved plans for the center in August of 2008.
UNC planners now envision a research building as the first Carolina North edifice to be erected on the Horace Williams Tract, the 947-acre plot in Chapel Hill and Carrboro that will be home to the new campus.
Former President Jimmy Carter has cancelled his appearance tonight at Durham’s Regulator Bookshop and will remain in a Cleveland hospital overnight where he is being treated for an upset stomach. (More details from CNN here.)
“We just know from the publisher that they are keeping him overnight, although it went back and forth several times today,” he says.
The store received the news at 3 p.m. Lorentz De Haas says he expects to hear from the publisher within the next 24 hours to confirm another day for Carter to meet and greet Triangle readers.
“Obviously we hope he gets better soon,” he says. “He was in Cleveland for a book signing there as well, and when he arrived there early this morning he was ill. We don’t think it’s anything serious as we’ve heard from secret service.”