"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.
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.
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.
On a late January evening, despite heavy rains and fierce winds, at least 759 people in Durham had no place to call home.
The figure was announced last week as a result of the Point-In-Time Count, an annual one-night tally of the homeless.
On Jan. 30, 2013, Durham County officials collaborated with 13 local shelters and organizations and about 50 community volunteers to count the unsheltered population—those in cars, on the streets or in the woods—as well as those staying in transitional housing and emergency shelters.
Of the 759 homeless counted that evening, 118 were children. Fifty-three were unsheltered—7 percent of the overall count, lower than the national average of 38 percent. Nearly 300 have chronic substance abuse issues, 126 struggle with severe mental illness and 100 were victims of domestic violence, according to the report by Durham’s Community Development Department.
It was challenging to locate people who weren’t staying in shelters because of the thunderstorm that night. “It's a difficult undertaking since you don't know where they'll be staying,” Minnie Forte-Brown, vice chairwoman of the Durham Board of Education and member of Durham's Homeless Services Advisory Committee, said at the press conference. “They did the absolute best they could, but it doesn’t mean we got everybody.”
Bo Glenn, chairman of the Homeless Services Advisory Committee, suspects that many of Durham’s poor are still unaccounted for. “It doesn't count those sleeping on someone's couch, those staying with family or friends, in an unheated garage, or in the woods so deep we can't find them. It doesn't count the people who are in jail, or those who have to decide between rent, heat, medicine, food.”
Though most of this year's numbers rose slightly from last year’s total of 698 homeless, the number of “chronically homeless” dropped from 134 to 87. The number of veterans also fell from 116 to 93.
The U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires communities to participate in the count in order to receive federal stimulus dollars. Durham has participated since 1999, dispatching volunteers one night per year to canvass the streets. They report the numbers to HUD, which analyzes the results and provides feedback on which programs are working and which need adjustment.
“For most people it takes just a little bit of help. A little bit can stop the downward spiral,” said Glenn.
(Update, 9:03 p.m.: The Indy independently confirmed Lozoff's death through a musician and friend of his in Hawaii.)
Bo Lozoff, who ran Kindness House, an intentional community near Durham for ex-offenders and spiritual seekers, was killed yesterday in a motorcycle crash in Hawai'i, where he lived, according to news reports.
Lozoff, 65, died after his 2003 Suzuki motorcycle was struck by a 1999 Lexus SUV whose driver failed to yield the right of way and pulled in front of him. Neither the driver of the car nor the passenger were seriously hurt. News reports quoted police as saying Lozoff was not wearing a helmet.
In 2008, the Indy published a story critical of Lozoff after several female volunteers and one female parolee at the Kindness House came forward and alleged that Lozoff had sexual encounters with them during one-on-one counseling sessions, in which he initiated kissing, touching, and oral and manual sex as a method of spiritual healing.
A prison minister and author, Lozoff moved to Hawai'i around the time the story was published. He gave tours of lava fields and performed in a country band. He recently released his fourth CD, Bo Goes Country.
In 2004, Lozoff was the subject of an Indy story about his efforts to raise $1.5 million for a bio-diesel initiative in Hillsborough that would employ ex-offenders.
The remaining tenants of Lincoln Apartments will be allowed to stay in their homes through the end of the year, Sendolo Diaminah, a community organizer with People's Durham.
Diaminah told the Indy that Lincoln Hospital Foundation President Larry Suitt has agreed to let people remain at Lincoln during that time as long as they pay their rent in full each month. The Foundation owns Lincoln Apartments. It announced in late September that the low-income housing complex would close Oct. 31 because it could not longer afford the utilities and maintenance costs.
Lincoln Apartments receives no subsidies; as a privately owned business, it relied on rents to cover expenses.
The Indy has covered the situation at Lincoln since early October.
Read our previous coverage here:
"Durham's affordable housing crisis," Oct. 17
As expected, the Durham City Council last night unanimously approved a long-gestating revision to outdoor seating regulations that will allow for the consumption of beer and booze on city sidewalks.
The council's approval comes despite opposition from Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez, who'd expressed concern about the inclusion of private clubs (also read: bars) in the revised ordinance. A previous version of the ordinance that excluded nightclubs and bars was introduced to the public in May, prompting complaints from a cadre of interests—Durham Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Durham Inc. and a handful of local bar owners—that the rule would inhibit business growth in the heart of downtown.
Council members opted to side with the bar owners. Of course, eateries, restaurants and nightclub owners have actually been allowing patrons to consume alcoholic beverages on their patios for months. Only now, those who successfully apply for the new version of the outdoor dining permit can facilitate patio drinking with the city's full blessing.
One other interesting note from last night's agenda: Chapel Hill will pay the city of Durham $30,000 for law enforcement assistance on Halloween night.
The Town of Chapel Hill has, in recent years, clamped down, citing the ballooning number of costumed revelers that head to Franklin Street on Halloween night each year. Some 80,000 people attended the event in 2007, according to official estimates. Annual attendance has since dropped significantly as the city began limiting access into Franklin Street and to park-and-ride service.
This is the story of Lincoln Apartments as Southern Real Estate Management & Consultants tells it: The majority of the 50-plus households at the low-income housing community don't pay rent, or if they do, it's late. And without rent collections, the real estate company can't pay its bills and must evict all the residents, effective Oct. 31.
But residents of Lincoln Apartments told Durham County Commissioners a much different version of events Monday night. And the residents' comments raise questions about the company's financial practices and overall management of the property.
"We are not here to hand over our community," said Bernadette Toomer. "We're here to fight."
The property manager, Leila James, has accepted rents in cash, but not provided receipts, residents say. James also allegedly wrote—and then rewrote—leases that drastically changed the terms. And at the very least, Southern Real Estate Management & Consultants failed to hold up their end of the deal in providing a safe, clean living environment.
Now residents want Lincoln Apartments to stay open while city and county officials investigate the financial records and other aspects of the management company.
Southern Real Estate Management & Consultants, which oversees the property for the now-defunct Lincoln Hospital Foundation, sent eviction notices to residents on Sept. 28, telling them they had a little more than a month to leave their homes. Some residents have lived at Lincoln Apartments as long as 30 years. At least 50 households, as many as 200 tenants, received notices.
Lincoln Apartments on Durham's East Side serves low-income residents. Rents range from $350 to $500 a month. The apartments are privately owned and are not subsidized, operating solely on rent collections, Howard Williams of Southern Real Estate told the Indy last week.
Although the nonprofit foundation dissolved in 2010, according to Secretary of State records, it still ostensibly operates the apartment complex. And as a nonprofit, it is exempt from paying property taxes.
But even with that financial break, Williams told the Indy and residents the complex has to close because rent collections are insufficient to cover the water and electric bills. Williams alleged that in some months as few as 25 percent of residents pay rent.
However, without a proper accounting of the payments—and confirmation of where the money went—it is difficult to determine the extent and truth of the management company's financial problems.
James could not be reached by the Indy for comment last week. A sign on the property manager's door stated the office was closed due to illness.
Shirekia Shackleford said she was allowed to move in on Sept. 17, only to receive the eviction notice on Sept. 28. "We don't have the money laying round to move every 30 days," she said, adding that she received broken appliances in her apartment. "I'm unemployed and trying to leave within my means."
There are also inconsistencies in leases, residents said. Bernadette Toomer, who has lived at Lincoln Apartment for four months, showed the Indy a copy of her original lease, signed this August. It ran from Aug. 31 to Nov. 30, 2012, and showed that Toomer paid a $450 security deposit.
Yet Toomer said that just weeks ago James asked her to sign a new lease; this one was backdated to be effective from Aug. 1 to 31, 2012. It also indicated Toomer paid no security deposit.
Look for additional coverage in the Oct. 10 edition of the Indy.
Update: Bob Klaus, general manager of the Durham Performing Arts Center, emailed over the weekend to remind that DPAC has had significant overall impact on the city's economy. His input has been added below.
For all of the Durham Performing Arts Center's success—it ranks No. 1 in the country in ticket sales—there's one area in which the theater seems to be falling short: the generation of hotel/motel occupancy tax money to the city.
One of the selling points for constructing DPAC was that it would boost the number of overnight stays at Durham hotels. To help pay for DPAC's $32 million in construction debt, the City of Durham diverts a portion of the total occupancy tax collections into a fund.
But even as Durham City Council agrees, as it did on Monday night, to provide tax incentives for the construction of additional downtown hotel space, city officials admit that occupancy tax collections aren't as good as they could be.
More than $1.3 million: That's the total hotel and motel occupancy tax monies contributed to the DPAC fund. And while that sum is actually $52,866 more than projections by city officials and the Durham Convention Center & Visitors Bureau, it's still short of the $1.5 million collected in 2008, the year DPAC open. In fact, collections for the DPAC fund have fallen short of the $1.4 million goal every year since.
At least one explanation for the funding gap is the recession, says Shelly Green, CEO of the Durham Convention Center & Visitor's Bureau. Another is the domino effect that occurs when hotels lower their room rates, which according to Green started shortly after the market collapsed back in 2008. "When occupancy slips even a little bit, hotel owners start managing that rate and discounting their rooms more often," Greens says.
So, when hotel patrons pay lower prices, the city collects less in occupancy tax revenue. And yet in the last two months, the city council has approved tax incentive deals that will add an additional 175 hotel rooms to the citywide tally.
Nonetheless, Green was among a handful of downtown Durham boosters who spoke in favor of the deal at Monday night's city council meeting. Adding more rooms, especially higher-end rooms, will make the city more attractive to convention planners, Green says.
It's a well-tread argument. With more hotel space, Durham could accommodate more convention business. But which should come first: demand for hotel space or the hotel space itself? Chicken or egg?
The City of Durham seems to be banking on the former. Meanwhile, convention traffic at the Durham Convention Center, like city occupancy tax collections, has not returned to pre-recession levels.
According to tracking numbers obtained from the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau, 78,640 "delegates" attended meetings at the center in 2012. That's down from 82,091 that attended at least one meeting at the center in 2008.
But Green, who describes herself as "bullish" on motel construction, says she remains confident that the demand will be there when the new downtown hotels open. Says Green: "As the market starts to improve, as the business comes back, the rates come back."
Update: DPAC patrons spent $49 million at local restaurants, gas stations and retailers, according to figures released by the Durham News Service. That's up from $43.3 million in 2010.
In emails received over the weekend, Klaus also provides figures indicating that the 2011 total actually translates into $2.4 million in tax revenue to local governments. Those numbers surpass projections made prior to DPAC's opening, Klaus writes.
The original version of the story cited figures from 2011 showing that DPAC ranked No. 2 in ticket sales; more recent figures from 2012 put it at No. 1.
For the second time in as many months, the Durham City Council has approved an incentive laden deal to convert a languishing downtown building into a hotel.
The Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve $605,000 in tax incentives for the redevelopment of the former Mutual Community Savings Bank at 315 East Chapel Hill Street.
Local developer Gentian Group LLC plans to renovate the building into a 54-room “select service” hotel. (According to city economic development director, the “select service” designation indicates that it will offer a similar, if not as opulent, list of amenities as a “luxury” hotel).
The vote comes just weeks after the council approved a similarly structured $5.7 million incentive offer to 21c Museum Hotels for the redevelopment of the former Sun Trust Tower. The Kentucky-based company plans to purchase the Greenfire Development-owned building and convert it into a 125-room luxury hotel. Construction on the property is scheduled to begin in June of next year.
As was the case with the council’s vote on the 21c offer, representatives from the regular cast of downtown boosters were on-hand to advocate for adding additional hotel space in the city center. Even with the added hotel space that the Gentian project will bring, some 800 rooms are needed to make Durham an attractive destination for convention business, they told council members.
The city has nearly 3,000 available hotel rooms, but only a fraction of those allow for convenient access to downtown Durham, said Shelly Green, President and CEO of the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Much like the city’s offer to 21c, the Gentian deal requires that renovations to the building are completed, and the hotel open to occupants by April 2014, before any of the incentive money is paid.
Daniel Robinson, a partner in the Gentian Group, said the developers have also approached Durham County about contributing an matching incentive offer.