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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Durham's 401 Arts is for sale

Posted by on Tue, Oct 7, 2014 at 5:10 PM

401 Arts, the arts-focused development on Foster Street in Durham's Central Park District, is currently home to tenants such as Bull City Arts Collaborative, Piedmont Restaurant and DaisyCakes bakery and café. Rumors that real estate development company Scientific Properties has put 401 Arts on the market have been circulating for some time.

Today, Scientific Properties CEO Gary Kueber confirmed for the INDY that the rumors are true: 401 Arts is up for sale. The INDY spoke with Kueber in the process of reporting on Bull City Arts Collaborative business Horse & Buggy Press (see tomorrow's paper for the story). How the potential sale will affect current tenants is unclear.

401 Arts was spearheaded by Scientific Properties founder Andy Rothschild, in part to accommodate artists who were being displaced by his renovation of the Venable Center. Development began in 2005, with early tenants such as Branch Gallery, which has since closed, moving in at the beginning of 2006.

401 Arts can be seen as a test run for Scientific Properties' similar but much larger Golden Belt redevelopment—which they also put up for sale earlier this year. Golden Belt and 401 Arts are both currently still listed under Scientific Properties' holdings on their website.   








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    Scientific Properties confirms that its Foster Street arts development is on the market

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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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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fracking company makes offers in Durham

Posted by on Tue, Jul 22, 2014 at 1:14 PM

Almost two months after fracking was legalized in North Carolina, a Pennsylvania company is offering to buy mineral rights from landowners in Durham. And since the company’s agent has not registered with state officials, he could be breaking the law.

Leaders of the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, a conservationist nonprofit in Durham, say they recently have received offers from Crimson Holdings Corporation, a company based in Pittsburgh, seeking to buy mineral rights on multiple tracts. The association owns 340 acres and four public nature preserves in Durham.

Crimson Holdings has also approached at least one other landowner near Falls Lake in northeast Durham County, according to documents obtained by the INDY.

The offers are signed by Frank Sides, a Pennsylvania-based agent who, as of Tuesday, was not a registered “landman,” or a representative for oil and gas interests, in North Carolina. State law requires landmen to register with DENR or they may face a civil penalty. Sides did not return a phone call from the INDY.

James Robinson, a research associate and gas leasing expert with Rural Advancement Foundation International, says the Crimson Holdings offers are the first he’s seen in North Carolina since a drilling company began signing leases about four years ago in Lee County, a suburban county south of the Triangle where geologists expect the state’s drilling to be centralized.

In June, Gov. Pat McCrory signed legislation lifting North Carolina’s moratorium on fracking. Drilling is expected to begin sometime next spring.

Chris Dreps, executive director of the watershed association, says the Crimson Holdings offers seemed like the company was “fishing” for interested parties. In response, the association’s board of directors approved a policy last week forbidding the sale of mineral rights on their property, which is mostly found within Durham city limits along Ellerbe Creek.

“It doesn’t make sense for an organization that’s protecting our land for conservation purposes to sell our mineral rights,” said Dreps. “It’s a bit of a distraction from our mission, which is to keep Ellerbe Creek clean.”

While Durham technically falls within the state’s potential drilling area—the Triassic Basin— its dense population will likely complicate efforts to frack due to state-mandated setbacks from homes and schools, experts say. State law bars local governments from imposing drilling bans within their borders.

Both lease offers in Durham include few details about Crimson Holdings, other than saying the group is seeking to “explore the natural resources” in the area. The letters offer a paltry $5 per acre leasing bonus, coupled with a 12.5 percent royalty rate, the minimum royalty required by North Carolina law.

Signing bonuses can soar as high as tens of thousands of dollars per acre in areas of the country where plentiful gas stores are confirmed, Robinson said, but details about North Carolina’s supply are too murky to fetch much higher offers.

The company gives landowners a signing deadline of Nov. 1 or until the funds slotted for the project run out.

Robinson urged landowners to be cautious and patient, pointing out they may have greater negotiating leverage once the state has more information about shale gas reserves.

“Any landowner being told you have to sign right now or you’re going to miss your opportunity is not being given accurate information,” he said. “They need to take that lease to an attorney and talk about it with family members. That type of pressure is a tactic that companies use to make landowners feel like they’re running out of time.”

Hope Taylor, executive director of Clean Water for N.C., said landowners should also be wary of unregistered landmen such as Sides. The state registry was one of several items her group, an environmentalist nonprofit that opposes fracking, successfully pushed to save last year in the N.C. General Assembly.

The registry was intended to discourage predatory drilling operations in North Carolina. “We have a lot of concerns about someone who has not even taken the time to register in North Carolina making these kinds of approaches,” Taylor said.

Taylor added that, while it’s surprising for a company to be making lease offers in Durham, it’s important for Triangle residents to be prepared should gas companies contact them. “If anything, it says they’re pretty bold if they think it’s ok to reach out to land conservation groups,” Taylor said. “Do they not think there’s opposition down here?”

The state’s Mining and Energy Commission, which has created a draft of fracking regulations, will hold public hearings on the rules next month. The first scheduled hearing is set for Aug. 20 at N.C. State University’s McKimmon Center in Raleigh.

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    Leasing offers come roughly two months after state lifts drilling moratorium.

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Monday, June 2, 2014

Duke porn star plans online reality show

Posted by on Mon, Jun 2, 2014 at 3:28 PM

Because Duke University wants this story to keep going.

Rolling Stone is reporting that famed Duke porn star Belle Knox will be hosting her own online reality show, "The Sex Factor," beginning this fall.

The premise? Eight male and eight female actors compete for $1 million and the chance to shoot a scene with the Duke student, who made headlines this year when she revealed to various media outlets that she appears in porn films in order to pay her school bills.

Rolling Stone reports the show will be filmed in San Francisco.

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    Contestants compete for cash and the chance to shoot a scene with the Duke student.

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Liberty Warehouse developers roll out plans

Posted by on Fri, Jan 24, 2014 at 12:09 PM

Roughly 150 or so Durham residents craned forward to look Thursday night as Liberty Warehouse's prospective developers unveiled their site plan at the Durham County Public Library. The verdict? Not much surprise and a somewhat mixed reaction.

The interior of Liberty Warehouse: During its heyday, there was a bank inside - LISA SORG
  • Lisa Sorg
  • The interior of Liberty Warehouse: During its heyday, there was a bank inside

During a community meeting convened by Preservation Durham, builders from Chapel Hill-based East West Partners explained their intentions to convert the historic tobacco warehouse near Durham's Central Park into a 320,000 square-foot, mixed-use complex. Highlights include 246 apartments, 24,000 square feet of retail space and a 391-space parking deck at the project's center. At its tallest, the building will stand five stories.

Roger Perry, president of East West Partners, said developers will look to design a complex that retains some of the warehouse's historic charm, co-opting old signs and building materials to keep a resonant, if not identical, look. Builders will also look to retain the warehouse's historic brick wall facing Central Park, which they say will be cut slightly to help it "mesh" with the new development.

"That's what's important," Perry said. "Preserving the memory of the building. It's not necessarily preserving the building."

The developers say they submitted their site plan to Durham city leaders this month, with demolition slated to begin in May. Opening date for the development is sometime in early 2016.

East West Partners is behind a number of upscale Triangle developments, including Woodcroft in Durham and East 54 in Chapel Hill.

It's a sign of movement in a long-stalled warehouse, which is beloved by longtime Durham residents for its historic place as the last standing tobacco auction warehouse in the city. Meanwhile, the crumbling building has been a thorny issue for members of the Durham City Council, which stripped the warehouse of its historic landmark status last May to clear the way for demolition.

In recent years, the structure had been used as a space for local artists and nonprofits, but its been largely vacant since the roof collapsed in 2011. Liberty's longtime owners, Durham-based Greenfire Development, were dogged by negligence claims when it came to the warehouse.

Many of the locals in attendance Thursday indicated they were somewhat pleased with what they saw. Others grumbled audibly.

Meanwhile, Preservation Durham Executive Director Wendy Hillis told residents that, with efforts to save the historic warehouse all but lost, it's best now to focus on working with the builders to create a pleasing project. "That ship has sailed," Hillis said.

Expect a full rundown on the Liberty project and its implications in next week's Indy.

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    As expected, builder promises mix of small apartments and retail. The crowd reaction? Mixed.

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Friday, January 10, 2014

Durham Police investigation: Huerta shot self in patrol car

Posted by on Fri, Jan 10, 2014 at 4:56 PM

From the moment of the 9-1-1 call reporting Jesus Huerta as a runaway, to his death 44 minutes later in the back of Durham Police Car No. 225, law enforcement made several pivotal decisions. Any one of them, in retrospect, could have changed the arc of a boy's life, a family's grief and the fate of a rookie police officer.

At a press conference this afternoon, Durham police released findings of an internal department investigation into Huerta's death at just before 3 in the morning on Nov. 19. 



This is what happened, according to the investigation into police protocol and procedures: Jesus Huerta, 17, who had previously attempted suicide, killed himself with a black Haskell .45 caliber pistol while handcuffed in the back of a police car.

This is what didn't happen:
  • Although Huerta's sister advised the 9-1-1 dispatcher that Huerta had been suicidal, this information was not relayed to the patrol officers.
  • Officer Samuel Duncan, who had been with the department 16 months and just completed the final independent phase of his field training, did not find the gun on Huerta during a pat-down and search.
  • Although Duncan heard "the sound of something rubbing against the plastic backseat area" of the patrol car on the way to headquarters, he chose not to stop and search Huerta more thoroughly because they were almost to the station.
  • And after shutting off his car to apprehend Huerta, Duncan did not reactivate the on-board video camera. As a result, there is no video documentation of Duncan's search and transport of Huerta to police headquarters, where the boy shot himself while Duncan drove him into the parking lot.
police_report.pdf (Editor's note: We removed page 5 from the report because it contained the Huerta family's phone number.)

Huerta's death and that of Jose Ocampo, who was killed by an officer last spring—that investigation is also ongoing—have drawn criticism from city officials, who say more transparency is needed from the department, and outrage from the family and many community members, who suspect police misconduct and a coverup. On Nov. 22, a peaceful vigil became violent when some protesters threw firecrackers and vandalized windows at DPD headquarters.  And on Dec. 19, a second vigil also went south when police showed up in riot gear and tear gassed demonstrators, only some of whom had thrown rocks and bottles at officers. 

DPD's Professional Standards Division is investigating possible violations of several polcies, including how Duncan transported and searched Huerta, the death of Huerta in his custody and the operation of the onboard video camera. The State Bureau of Investigation is conducting its own inquiry; both the SBI and DPD are waiting for the state medical examiner's final report toxicology results before issuing additional findings. [Update 12:57 a.m.: WNCN is reporting results of the medical examiner's report late Friday, which states Huerta died of a gunshot would in the mouth. The bullet was found in the right side of the patrol car above the back seat. Huerta had a hole in his jacket over the right portion of his chest. No alcohol was detected in his system.]
Cpt. Laura Clayton, commander of DPD's professional standards division - JUSTIN COOK
  • Justin Cook
  • Cpt. Laura Clayton, commander of DPD's professional standards division


Officer Duncan's 12-hour shift began at 5:45 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 18. Before heading to patrol the streets that evening, he inspected Car No. 225 to ensure it was functioning properly and that no contraband had been left by the previous user. Nor did Duncan store any of his personal items in the vehicle.

Car 225 had not been used during the day shift, and the previous officer, O. Ortiz, told investigators he had transported only one person his the car in the back seat—a pregnant woman—whom he had searched. Ortiz also searched the back seat after she got out and noted no contraband.

At 2:10 a.m., nearly eight hours into Duncan's shift, the Durham Emergency Communications Center received a 9-1-1 call from Huerta's sister, saying her brother, who had been suicidal in the past, had run away. However, Huerta's mental condition was not relayed to officers, center director James T. Soukup said today, because "it was perceived by the 9-1-1 dispatcher that it had happened in the past." The dispatcher asked Huerta's sister if Huerta suffered from any physical or mental conditions, Soukup said, and she said no. "That's why the information didn't get relayed."

Several officers patrolled the area of Washington Street and Trinity Avenue, while another officer spoke to the family about the boy. At 2:30 a.m., Officer Duncan and Office Beck spotted two teens near that intersection, Huerta and Jaime Perez.

Huerta, officers learned, had an outstanding warrant for trespassing; Duncan took him to custody for the misdemeanor warrant and handcuffed him behind his back. According to two officers, Duncan frisked Huerta's pants and jacket pockets and found no contraband. Perez told investigators that Duncan only patted their pockets and looked in their coats. Duncan then seized Huerta's backpack, and put the boy in the back of the patrol car.

Officer Beck, who had been questioning Perez, noticed that Huerta had moved his cuffed hands from behind his back to behind his knees. Beck told Duncan, who told Huerta to return his cuffed hands behind his back, which he did. Then Duncan, who had not restarted the video camera since turning off his car more than a half hour prior, began driving Huerta the one mile to police headquarters. 

During the trip, which takes about three minutes to drive, Duncan heard the sound of something scraping against the plastic back seat. He asked Huerta to stop making that noise, and Huerta responded that he had a "wedgie" and felt uncomfortable. Duncan thought Huerta may have been trying to hide or discard drugs and later told investigators that had he not been so close to the police station, he would have stopped and searched Huerta more thoroughly.

"In the parking lot … shots fired!" Duncan yelled into his police radio.
At 2:54 a.m., Duncan arrived at police headquarters and pulled into the parking lot from Chapel Hill Street. He then heard a loud noise that appeared to be a gunshot inside the car. Duncan thought he was being shot at, so he jumped out of the car while it was still in drive. It collided with a parked van in the parking lot. Officer Harris, who was in the lot, told him that his prisoner was shooting at him. Both officers approached the wrecked patrol car with guns drawn and opened the rear seat door.

Huerta was slumped over in the rear seat with his handcuffs behind his back. The .45 was lying on the floor board in front of the right back seat. Huerta had shot himself in the head. At 2:56 a.m., according to the event log, it was noted Huerta "was not breathing." Paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene.

Continue reading…

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    Durham Police release first findings of Jesus Huerta investigation

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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Gasland Part 2 premieres in Durham

Posted by on Tue, Oct 8, 2013 at 1:02 PM

Gasland filmmaker Josh Fox with his trusty banjo and gas mask.
  • Gasland filmmaker Josh Fox with his trusty banjo and gas mask.

"Don't watch Gasland 2 alone," says Josh Fox. "It's too scary, kind of like Psycho. You'll never take a shower the same way again."

Fox isn't kidding. His much-anticipated, anti-fracking sequel screened at Durham's Carolina Theatre Monday night, with many of its otherwise sterile interviews darkened with a chilling horror movie score. There's even a scene in which Fox's beloved Delaware River Basin near his Pennsylvania home is besieged by CGI gas wells as if they're asteroids from on high. Where's Morgan Freeman when you need him?

Subtlety may not be Fox's trademark, but if he's going for shock and awe, he nails it. His sequel, which originally premiered on HBO this summer, continues to document the ongoing political turmoil over natural gas drilling. Both Republicans and Democrats, particularly President Obama's administration, take their lumps from Fox in the film.

Supporters tout fracking as a relatively clean drilling method that can reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil. Opponents see only disaster, noting the widespread reports of water and air contamination, as well as increased seismic activity. North Carolina Republicans side with the former, with hopes of permitting drilling as soon as 2015.

Fox's 2010 film was nominated for an Academy Award for "best documentary feature," even though industry types besmirched it as little more than environmentalist propaganda. He received a hero's welcome at last night's screening, which was organized by anti-fracking protestors from Clean Water for N.C. and Wilmington's Working Films Reel Power.

Clean Water Director Hope Taylor estimated 500 people attended the film, which included a Q&A session with the Pennsylvania-bred filmmaker immediately following the screening.

Of the interesting moments, Fox said he could not sleep for weeks after he was originally approached to consider natural gas drilling on his Pennsylvania land. "It was one of the most lonely and terrifying and isolating things," he said.

Meanwhile, Fox urged the protesters in attendance to continue their opposition, noting grassroots groups to stop the drilling have launched all over the country and the world. "You're a part of a movement," he said.

For more recent news on fracking, read nonprofit Environment North Carolina's recent drilling report. Hint: It's not so kind to fracking either.

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    Filmmaker calls anti-fracking documentary "too scary to watch alone."

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

In voting no on 751, Durham expects retaliation from lawmakers

Posted by on Tue, Jun 4, 2013 at 9:42 AM

This post was updated at 11:09 a.m. with post-vote remarks by Eugene Brown.

The Durham City Council would not be pawns.

Council voted 4-3 Monday night against the annexation of 751 South, the controversial project planned for the Jordan Lake watershed. By doing so, the council also refused to extend water and sewer service to the 253-acre development that under recent negotiations, bundled the already-built Colvard Farms in southern Durham County into the deal.

Voting no were Councilors Eugene Brown, Diane Catotti, Don Moffitt and Steve Schewel.

Mayor Bill Bell, Mayor Pro Tempore Cora Cole-McFadden and Councilman Howard Clement voted yes.

The vote was the latest bold move in a four-year game of chess between the City of Durham, concerned citizens and Southern Durham Development over 751, which calls for 1,300 homes and 600,000-square feet of commercial space in an environmentally sensitive area near the Durham-Chatham county line.

SDD has used not only legitimate negotiations but also legal sleights of hand, political pressure and large campaign contributions—it formed Durham’s first Super PAC—to compel city and county leaders to approve the project.

“I cannot ignore the maneuvers that have gotten us to this point,” Catotti said shortly before voting no. “It’s the poster child for poor planning: backdoor schemes and intimidation, the disregard of sound science and the subversion of citizens’ rights to protest petition.”

Neither the developer Alex Mitchell nor SDD attorney Cal Cunningham attended Monday's Council meeting, which is highly unusual considering the importance of the vote.

In 2012, Durham County Commissioners voted to extend sewer service to the development, a controversial move with long-ranging ramifications.

“We were dealt the cards we have,” Mayor Bell said.

Mayor Bell negotiated additional concessions from SDD, including a widening of part of N.C. 751. However, the project, larger than the original, still included 81 acres of impervious surface—pavement—that could result in pollution running into the Jordan Lake watershed.

"Let's don't sell Durham's soul for a road widening," Schewel said.

Continue reading…

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    Durham Council votes against 751, expects wrath from General Assembly

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Monday, June 3, 2013

Durham City Council votes no on 751 annexation

Posted by on Mon, Jun 3, 2013 at 11:36 PM

By a 4-3 vote, Durham City Council voted against annexing 751 South and extending water and sewer service to the controversial proposed development.

Yes: Mayor Bill Bell, Mayor Pro Tempore Cora Cole-McFadden and Councilman Howard Clement
No: Councilmen Don Moffitt, Steve Schewel and Eugene Brown and Councilwoman Diane Catotti.

Check back tomorrow for more details and in the June 5 edition of INDY Week.

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    By a 4-3 vote, Durham City Council voted against annexing 751 South and extending water and sewer service to the controversial proposed development.

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They need to lock that pig cop up!!!!!!!!!!!!

by William Parker on Durham police excessive force case goes to Court of Appeals (News)

Very surprised you did a follow-up on this very lightweight story. Have you no journalistic shame??

Since when did …

by MJKopechne on Republicans defend possible Board of Elections conflict (News)

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