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Friday, February 13, 2015

Orange County seeks input on affordable housing

Posted by on Fri, Feb 13, 2015 at 2:18 PM

Affordable housing is on our minds for many reasons, not the least of which being the ongoing planning for Durham and Chapel Hill's 17-mile light-rail system. The light rail is expected to bring massive hikes in land values along the track, forcing local government leaders to make housing preservation plans now.

Next week is your latest chance to weigh in on the subject in Orange County. County commissioners will hold a public hearing Tuesday regarding housing needs in the county, Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough.

Commissioners are prepping a five-year strategic plan for addressing the county's housing problem. The plan is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which supplies federal housing funds to the county. Orange County must submit its plan by May 14 to qualify for federal grant funds.

Tuesday's meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Southern Human Services Center at 2501 Homestead Road in Chapel Hill. For more information, the meeting's agenda can be found here.

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    The county is creating a five-year plan for housing needed to qualify for federal funds.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

New ArtsCenter, Kidzu center in Carrboro draws mixed reaction

Posted by on Wed, Jan 21, 2015 at 9:57 AM

A $15 million downtown Carrboro development with tremendous implications for the town received a predictably mixed reaction during a public hearing Tuesday night in packed Carrboro Town Hall.

Some locals offered concerns about the financial risks of the proposed Carrboro Arts and Innovation Center, a four-story, 55,000-square-foot structure at East Main and Roberson streets which would house Carrboro's long-running ArtsCenter and Kidzu Children's Museum, currently located in Chapel Hill. 

Others, such as former Carrboro mayors Mark Chilton and Ellie Kinnaird, urged town leaders not to miss this chance. Supporters said the facility would have an estimated $320 million economic impact over 25 years. 

"This is such a great opportunity," said Betsy Bennett, co-chairwoman of the Kidzu board of directors.

Tuesday's hearing drew so much public interest that town leaders said they would continue the hearing on Feb. 3. 

The Arts and Innovation Center was initially estimated to cost $12.1 million, with $4.6 million in funding requested from the town. But project backers presented different numbers Tuesday night, announcing they needed $15 million, evenly split between public and private sources, to make the project happen. 

Supporters said the building—which would serve as a performing arts space as well as the children's museum—would be a major boon for Carrboro and its businesses, a sentiment shared by many who spoke Tuesday.

"I couldn't be more excited," said Betsy Bertram, manager of Townsend Bertram & Co., an outdoor outfitter located in Carrboro's Carr Mill Mall. "I couldn't think of anything better for Carrboro's future."

Wendy Smith, co-owner of Cameron's Gift Shop in the neighboring 300 E. Main St. development, said she expects  performances at the center would increase foot traffic at local businesses.

However, others echoed the concerns of some members of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, questioning whether the small Orange County municipality should be asked to help finance the center and take on its risks. The nonprofit ArtsCenter, which serves as a performing arts space and works in local schools to support arts education, has been troubled by budget shortfalls in the last decade.

"We need to proceed with caution," said Brad Bonneville, a downtown Carrboro resident and owner of Bonneville Electric on Maple Avenue. "This is a risky venture and it could be dangerous for Carrboro."

Others said the town should invest the funds in infrastructure needs, citing frequent flooding and drainage concerns in some Carrboro neighborhoods. 

Nathan Milian, manager of Carr Mill Mall, said the town should first determine where the center's patrons would park. 

"The town should not rush to judgment," Milian said.

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    Town leaders held a public hearing Tuesday night on the downtown Carrboro project.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Carrboro considers $12 million Arts and Innovation Center tonight

Posted by on Tue, Jan 20, 2015 at 2:07 PM

A building proposal with dramatic implications for downtown Carrboro goes before the Board of Aldermen tonight.

As reported in last week's Indy, town officials will hold a public hearing to consider partnering with The ArtsCenter and Kidzu Children's Museum to build a four-story, 55,000-square-foot home for the nonprofits at the corner of East Main and Roberson streets.

The proposal, which has received an icy reception from town leaders thus far, calls for the town to put $4.5 million into the $12.1 million center, with the nonprofits responsible for generating the remaining $7.6 million.

Backers of The ArtsCenter and Kidzu say the new center would generate millions in revenues for surrounding Carrboro business owners. But some critics say the nonprofits are asking the town to take on an enormous risk in supporting the development. The site currently includes town-leased public parking.

Tonight's hearing is slated for 7:30 p.m. at Carrboro Town Hall on West Main Street. If you cannot attend, it will be broadcast on television on Gov-TV and through the Town of Carrboro's website here.

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    Meeting scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Carrboro Town Hall.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Carrboro to consider $12 milion home for ArtsCenter, Kidzu

Posted by on Tue, Jan 13, 2015 at 1:28 PM

For 40 years, Carrboro's ArtsCenter has been a hub for performing arts and arts education in Orange County. Over the next two weeks, they may have to prove they’ll be around for another 40 to land an unprecedented deal with the town for a new downtown home.

On Jan. 20, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen will hold a public hearing to consider partnering with the ArtsCenter and Chapel Hill children’s museum Kidzu for a new $12.1 million center. Additional informational meetings are scheduled for tonight and Wednesday.

Under the proposal, Carrboro would fund more than a third of the cost—$4.5 million—for a 55,000-square-foot building tentatively called the Carrboro Arts and Innovation Center at East Main and Roberson streets. The nonprofits would be responsible for the remaining $7.6 million.

The decision has major implications for both the town and these local nonprofits. Carrboro's share of the cost, which would presumably be drawn from new revenue sources, amounts to more than 20 percent of its annual operating budget.

If state lawmakers would allow the town to collect 100 percent of local hotel occupancy taxes, Carrboro would have more than enough funding to pay for the new center, according to representatives of Kidzu and the ArtsCenter.

"Not one citizen of Carrboro would see their property taxes go up," says Pam Wall, executive director of Kidzu, an interactive children's museum that opened in 2006 in Chapel Hill.

Construction on the four-story building would begin in summer 2016 and finish in late 2017. The land, which is owned by local real estate investors Main Street Properties of Chapel Hill LLC, includes a town-leased public parking lot today. Under the nonprofits’ proposal, Main Street Properties would donate the land to Carrboro and the town would lease the structure to the arts groups.

Main Street Properties also owns the site of the current ArtsCenter at 300 E. Main Street, which would be replaced by a new hotel, ArtsCenter leaders said, although the town has yet to receive any application to build a hotel on the property. If built, it would be the second new hotel on the block. A Hampton Inn opened next to the ArtsCenter in 2013.

The extra space is necessary, the nonprofits say. The ArtsCenter, which includes art studios and performing arts space, is "busting at the seams,” says Jay Miller, chairman of the ArtsCenter board of directors.

Kidzu is opening a new space next month in University Mall in Chapel Hill but Wall said the group is prepared to move permanently into the proposed new building in Carrboro if it is approved.

But first, the nonprofits will need the support of the Board of Aldermen. This week, that seemed unlikely.

Many town officials are questioning the use of public funds on the project. They're also skeptical that Carrboro leaders can convince state lawmakers to reconsider the local hotel occupancy tax allotment.

"It doesn't fit into what we see as our role," said Alderman Damon Seils. "It hasn't much felt like a partnership."

Alderwoman Bethany Chaney said the nonprofits are asking the town to finance a "high-risk plan" with little assurance that the new center is financially sustainable, pointing out that the ArtsCenter has struggled with its finances in recent years. The tax-exempt nonprofit has reported budget shortfalls in recent years.

Chaney said the nonprofits must prove that such a partnership would include substantial benefits for the town in order to justify the risk.

"This doesn't feel like partnership," said Chaney. "It feels like manipulation.”

Renderings for the building, prepared by Philip Szostak, a Chapel Hill architect and a member of the ArtsCenter board, show a four-story, glass-paneled building similar in design to the Durham Performing Arts Center, which Szostak's company also designed. However, Carrboro's center would be less than half the size of DPAC. It would also cost less than a third of the price for DPAC, which was funded through public and private sources.

More in this week's Indy.

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    Informational meetings tonight and tomorrow from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. at the ArtsCenter.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Orange County commissioners to consider tax increase tonight

Posted by on Tue, Jun 17, 2014 at 2:31 PM

Guard your pocketbooks. One of the Triangle's most expensive places to live may soon be a little more expensive.

Orange County commissioners are expected to vote tonight on a $200.4 million budget that includes a 2-cent property tax increase. Officials say the cash is needed to pay for the needs of the county's two school systems, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and Orange County Schools. The plan would spend roughly $97 million on the two systems.

Chapel Hill leaders have already approved a one-cent tax increase. Tonight's meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road in Chapel Hill.

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    Proposed budget would raise property taxes by 2 cents.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

One dead, one hurt in Carrboro shooting

Posted by on Fri, Dec 20, 2013 at 12:26 PM

One person is dead and another hospitalized following a shooting early Friday morning in Carrboro.

The Carrboro Police Department reported a break-in and possible armed robbery at 105 Wesley St.—just southeast of downtown Carrboro—at 1:52 a.m. Friday morning. Authorities say they found two people on the scene with gunshot wounds.

Police said one was dead on the scene and the other was taken to UNC Hospitals with non-life threatening injuries. The State Bureau of Investigation is assisting in the investigation.

More information as it becomes available.

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    Police investigating possible break-in and armed robbery just south of downtown.

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Redistricting begins again in Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools

Posted by on Thu, Nov 7, 2013 at 2:33 PM

Expect redistricting drama to begin anew in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools tonight.

The school system's Board of Education will take on the subject of Glenwood Elementary overcrowding during tonight's meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Smith Middle School auditorium on Seawell School Road. Read the agenda here.

School officials say Chapel Hill's Glenwood Elementary, home of an expanding Mandarin Dual Language program, is already 90 students above its capacity. That number will grow to 155 in 2014-2015 as the school's dual language and non-dual language programs continue to swell.

The popular dual language program allows students to receive instruction in both English and Mandarin with the goal of encouraging bilingual students.

Solutions on the table for school board members include a redistricting and the creation of a magnet school with Spanish and Mandarin dual language programs in fall 2015 or fall 2014.

Redistricting, which must be approved by the Board of Education, figures to affect multiple schools, with one staff recommendation diverting 84 children to Northside and Rashkis elementary schools.

The new redistricting comes just months after school board members settled a contentious redistricting to fill Chapel Hill's Northside Elementary Schools. Expect fresh fireworks. Stay tuned.

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    Board of Education to take up Glenwood Elementary overcrowding tonight.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Orange County races over

Posted by on Wed, Nov 6, 2013 at 8:07 AM

Incumbents coasted and a few plucky newcomers were winners in last night's elections in Orange County.

In the race for four seats on the Chapel Hill Town Council, the clear winners were current Mayor Pro Tem Ed Harrison, Councilwoman Sally Greene and two challengers in local pastor Maria Palmer and Duke University pathologist George Cianciolo.  

In Carrboro, the three incumbents—Jacquelyn Gist, Randee Haven-O'Donnell and Sammy Slade—were the victors.

In Hillsborough, Jenn Weaver and Kathleen Ferguson won seats on the Hillsborough Board of Commissioners.

And in the race for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education, information technology specialist Andrew Davidson joined incumbents Michelle Brownstein and James Barrett in victory. 

Meanwhile, Lydia Lavelle, Tom Stevens and Mark Kleinschmidt ran unopposed for mayor in Carrboro, Hillsborough and Chapel Hill, respectively.

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    Incumbents coast and a few newcomers claim open seats

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Carrboro aldermen to hear CVS plans Tuesday

Posted by on Mon, Feb 25, 2013 at 5:18 PM

Much-discussed plans for a two-story CVS in downtown Carrboro will be back before town leaders Tuesday night.

The pharmacy bigbox's latest plans for a 24,590 square-foot store at the intersection of Greensboro and Weaver streets are likely to draw the usual share of ire from some Carrboro protesters, who argue the store will clog the town's center with traffic congestion, destroy historic homes and otherwise disrupt town life.

CVS officials say their current location near Carr Mill Mall is too small to support demand in the Orange County town.

Pharmacy plans have been through various phases, although the slight modifications in the newest CVS plan, which include a small partially enclosed park and a reduction in parking spaces from 65 to 61, don't seem likely to satiate the store's chief critics.

Tuesday's meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. at Carrboro Town Hall. View the meeting agenda here.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Carrboro to mull Rogers Road sewer

Posted by on Tue, Sep 18, 2012 at 1:47 PM

After years of much-bemoaned inactivity on the touchy subject of Rogers Road, leaders in Orange County seem to be on the move these days.

Two weeks ago, Orange County commissioners passed a sweeping resolution to pledge $500,000 for a long-sought community center in the low-income neighborhood vexed by an aging landfill. That comes after Chapel Hill leaders closed neighbors' makeshift community center on Rogers Road last month over numerous fire safety concerns.

Tonight, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen will take up a proposal to provide public sewer to the community.

Extending sewer service to Rogers Road residents would cost approximately $5.8 million, according to the Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA). It's unclear how leaders in Orange County, Chapel Hill and Carrboro will divvy up the cost.

The sewer proposal comes from a task force of local government leaders and members of the Rogers-Eubank Neighborhood Association (RENA). Cost-sharing plans include dividing up expenses based on population, landfill usage and tax revenues.

There has been no consensus yet on how to pay the sewer bill, but officials acknowledge the need. Rogers Road residents blame health ailments and polluted water on the landfill, which was built prior to more modern regulations requiring dump lining to prevent harmful contents from seeping into the groundwater.

Rogers Road has been the landfill site for local governments for 40 years, after initially agreeing to house the dump for a decade. Leaders have postponed closing the landfill for years. County commissioners now say they will shut down the site next year.

Tonight's Carrboro Board of Aldermen meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. at Carrboro Town Hall.

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