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Thursday, May 28, 2015

UNC will rename Saunders Hall

Posted by on Thu, May 28, 2015 at 11:17 AM

  • UNC-Chapel HIll

As expected, UNC-Chapel Hill announced Thursday morning that the university would rename controversial Saunders Hall, a 1922 building named after a former KKK leader in North Carolina.

Members of the school's board of trustees voted to change the building's name to Carolina Hall, the university said, also enacting a 16-year freeze on the renaming of historic buildings. The university's Twitter account said that the freeze would allow time for "education" and "curation" efforts.

The school's former history building was named for William Lawrence Saunders, a UNC graduate who fought in the Civil War and went on to serve as North Carolina's secretary of state. Saunders was also a founding member of the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina.

For decades, critics have unsuccessfully lobbied the university to change the building's name.

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    Building had been named for a former KKK leader.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Chapel Hill Councilman Lee Storrow begins re-election campaign

Posted by on Wed, Mar 18, 2015 at 2:35 PM

It's early, but what's expected to be a busy campaign season in Chapel Hill is underway.

On Tuesday, incumbent Chapel Hill Town Councilman Lee Storrow announced the launch of his re-election campaign. At the age of 22, Storrow was the youngest person on the Council (and still is) upon his election in 2011.

“Serving this community for the past four years has been an enormous privilege,” Storrow said in a statement. “While we’ve accomplished a lot, I hear from residents every day about how we can improve our town. I look forward to working with folks from across Orange County in a second term to help us build a more vibrant, livable community in Chapel Hill.”

Also up for election year this year is the mayor's post held by Mark Kleinschmidt, as well as the seats of council members Donna Bell, Jim Ward and Matt Czajkowski. Czajkowski will not be seeking re-election because he is stepping down at the end of March due to a work move.

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    Town set for busy municipal election season in 2015.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

In Chapel Hill, university and town announce $3 million loan for affordable housing

Posted by on Tue, Mar 10, 2015 at 10:42 AM

Town and university leaders in Chapel Hill on Monday announced the latest step in preserving affordable housing in the town's historic Northside neighborhood.

UNC-Chapel Hill will grant a $3 million, no-interest, 10-year loan to help buy and resell properties in Northside, a historic black community that has become a rental destination for university students over the last two decades. Durham-based Self-Help will manage the loan, in partnership with the Jackson Center, a neighborhood nonprofit, and the town.

"This is a historic day for the Northside neighborhood," said Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt in a release. "We have worked to address the issues of this neighborhood for decades, but have only been able to target the symptoms of this problem. Today we are offering an alternative that empowers the community to define its own future."

Self-Help will use the funds to buy properties and then sell or rent them at an affordable price. The group said its goal is to help long-term residents stay in the neighborhood and attract a "balance" of working families, seniors and students.

Area nonprofits have been attempting to preserve homes in the blue-collar neighborhood for many years, but have struggled to compete with deep-pocketed developers and real estate investors seeking to cash in on student rentals. The neighborhood, which is located less than a mile away from the university, was once a popular spot for university employees and their families.

On Monday, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt called it the university's "obligation" to assist in Northside.

“Years of working and planning here in Northside have created a clear and inspiring vision for the neighborhood’s future,” said Folt. “This loan from UNC-Chapel Hill will help make that vision a reality. It will ensure that Northside continues to be — as it always has been — a valuable and vital part of Chapel Hill.”

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    UNC-Chapel Hill loan intended to preserve workforce housing in town's historic Northside neighborhood.

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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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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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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Investigation pins UNC-CH academic scandal on a pair of academic administrators

Posted by on Wed, Oct 22, 2014 at 5:37 PM

Coaches, academic advisers, administrators in the university's African and Afro-American Studies Department and the university itself are all the culprits in a long-awaited report released Wednesday into UNC-Chapel Hill's ongoing academic scandal.

The 136-page report from former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein delves deeper than any previous probe into the scandal, which unfolded after the NCAA began looking into benefits received by former football players in 2010 and expanded to include many other sports at the university.

The report primarily points the finger at former department director Julius Nyang’oro and a manager, Deborah Crowder, for offering hundreds of irregular classes between 1993 and 2011. Some of these courses eschewed regular lectures and classes in exchange for a single paper at the term's conclusion, graded by Crowder.

According to the Wainstein report, 3,100 students were enrolled in the "paper classes" during that 18-year time frame. Of those students, nearly 48 percent were student-athletes, directed by counselors in the university's Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes seeking easy courses in order to help athletes remain eligible.

The report blamed the university for failing to offer proper oversight of the system.

“Mr. Wainstein has found that the wrongdoing at Carolina lasted much longer and affected more students than previously known," said UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt in a statement Wednesday. "The bad actions of a few and the inaction of others failed the University’s students, faculty and alumni, and undermined the institution as a whole. This conduct could and should have been stopped much earlier by individuals in positions of influence and oversight, and others could have sounded the alarm more forcefully.”

The university says it will publicly release all documents cited in Wainstein's report. No word on whether the report will prompt further action from the NCAA.

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    Report scolds the university for failing to offer any meaningful oversight.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Chapel Hill Town Councilman Lee Storrow takes a new title

Posted by on Fri, Sep 12, 2014 at 3:55 PM

Chapel Hill Town Councilman Lee Storrow has a new title.

Storrow has been named executive director of the N.C. Aids Action Network, an influential nonprofit that helps to promote advocacy and policy about the disease.

At 22 years old, Storrow was the youngest town councilman in two decades when he was elected in Chapel Hill in 2011. He'll assume leadership of an organization that, like many healthcare advocacy organizations in the state, has fought its fair share of legislative battles in recent years.

Last year, the organization was one of the loudest in the state in decrying Republican lawmakers' $8 million budget cut in assistance for purchasing HIV and AIDS medication. 

Storrow has a history as a healthcare advocate. For the last three years, he's been managing director of the N.C. Alliance for Health, a group promoting healthy living intended to reduce the effects of tobacco and obesity. 

He also worked for Ipas, an international organization promoting women's reproductive rights. He is an Asheville native and a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill.

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    Storrow takes over as executive director of the N.C. Aids Action Network, nonprofit promoting HIV/AIDS policy and awareness.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

DOJ to would-be Meadowmont and Durham frackers: Cease and desist

Posted by on Tue, Jul 29, 2014 at 2:25 PM

It would appear the Pennsylvania company behind a number of bizarre mineral rights leasing offers in Durham and Chapel Hill has gotten on N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper's bad side.

In a sharply worded letter mailed Monday, Cooper's office ordered Crimson Holdings Corporation—and its affiliated real estate firm Campbell Development LLC—to stop offering oil and gas leases in North Carolina. DOJ also demanded the prospective drillers, who sought to buy the mineral rights for nature preserves in Durham and the park at Meadowmont in Chapel Hill, reject and return any accepted lease offers from landowners.

"Until you can demonstrate that Campbell's practices and Crimson's leases are in compliance with North Carolina law, we demand that Campbell and Crimson immediately cease and desist from offering or accepting any oil and gas leases in the state of North Carolina," stated the letter from DOJ Special Deputy Attorney M. Lynne Weaver.

As reported in last week's Indy, the Crimson Holdings leasing offers were the first confirmed fracking bids in North Carolina in several years. They were mailed to an unknown number of Durham County landowners two months after state leaders lifted the fracking moratorium.

At least two of those landowners, the conservationist Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association and the Town of Chapel Hill, said they would not make any deals with the company.

According to Weaver's letter, there are numerous legal issues with the company's leasing offers. Neither Crimson nor Campbell are registered with the N.C. Secretary of State to do business. And, as pointed out by the Indy, the company's agent, Frank Sides, is not a registered oil and gas landman in the state.

Meanwhile, the 12-year leases offered by the company exceed the state's 10-year limit and fail to provide a copy of the state law laying out landowner protections. Weaver also complained that DOJ could not find a website for the relatively-unknown company.

"As our office is unable to reasonably locate any information on Crimson Holdings Corporation, we have serious concerns that North Carolina landowners will be unable to conduct any due diligence research or to obtain information on the ostensible company to which they are being asked to lease their oil and gas rights," the letter stated.

James Robinson, a leasing expert with Rural Advancement Foundation International, pointed out the leases would also potentially allow drilling within 300 feet of homes. Draft regulations in the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission require 650-foot setbacks, but allow companies to seek a waiver reducing the setback to 450 feet.

"I don’t want our landowners to see this and say, 'Oh boy, this is my chance to strike it rich,'" said Robinson, who is also a member of a Mining and Energy Commission study group on compulsory pooling. "Because these leases would not hold up in North Carolina."

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    Agency tells Pennsylvania company that they are breaking North Carolina law.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

DENR investigating landman behind Triangle fracking bids

Posted by on Thu, Jul 24, 2014 at 1:59 PM

Reps for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) say they are investigating the Pennsylvania agent behind a handful of likely doomed offers to buy mineral rights in the Triangle.

As the Indy reported Wednesday, state law requires representatives for gas and oil companies, otherwise known as "landmen," to register with DENR or risk a civil penalty. Frank Sides, the agent named on the mineral rights offers of Crimson Holdings Incorporated, does not appear to be registered in the state, based on DENR's online registry.

DENR spokesman Jamie Kritzer said his agency was only recently informed of Sides' letters, and will be investigating to determine if he is breaking the law. Sides did not return an Indy phone call this week.

Documents obtained by the Indy this week show Crimson Holdings made offers to buy mineral rights in Durham and Chapel Hill. In Durham, the company sought to buy the rights for several tracts of nature preserves owned by the conservationist Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association. In Chapel Hill, Crimson Holdings offered to buy more than 50 acres of land owned by the town of Chapel Hill in a park abutting the upscale Meadowmont development.

Landowners say they have turned down the offers from Crimson Holdings. Still, it's the first confirmed reports of gas leasing offers made in the state in several years, and it comes weeks after state leaders lifted the fracking moratorium. More on this as it develops.

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    Pennsylvania rep for a prospective driller could be breaking the law.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Driller apparently wants to frack Meadowmont in Chapel Hill

Posted by on Wed, Jul 23, 2014 at 2:58 PM

It appears the relatively unknown Crimson Holdings Corporation wants to frack more than a handful of nature preserves in Durham, as reported in today's Indy.

Documents obtained by the Indy Wednesday show the company, which appears to be a small operation in Pittsburgh, made a similar request for mineral rights to the Chapel Hill Town Council last week. Their target? Roughly 51 acres of town-owned park land abutting Meadowmont, an upscale development on the border between Durham and Orange counties.

Chapel Hill Town Councilman Ed Harrison said the Meadowmont land is the largest town-owned tract in Durham County. The response from Chapel Hill appears to be bemusement.

In an email to Town Council members last week, Town Manager Roger Stancil wrote that he did not plan to take any action on the Crimson Holdings request following a meeting with the town's attorney.

In the letter, Crimson Holdings offered the town a fairly low leasing bonus of $5 per acre. As reported today, landowners in states with more of a known quantity of gas can command bonuses in the area of tens of thousands of dollars per acre.

It's the third confirmed gas leasing correspondence between Crimson Holdings and local landowners. Last week, leaders of the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, a conservationist group in Durham, declined the company's requests for mineral rights on several tracts. Another Durham County resident near Falls Lake also confirmed that they received a mineral rights leasing request from Crimson Holdings.

According to James Robinson, a leasing expert with Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI-USA), it's the first confirmed leasing activity in North Carolina in several years. It comes about two months after state leaders lifted North Carolina's fracking moratorium.

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    But don't expect Chapel Hill Town Council to go along.

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