The “best life in town,” as the commercials promised, is being sold to the highest bidder on June 27, when Bank of America plans to foreclose on Greenbridge—the 10-story, 217,000 square foot residential and retail development on West Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill.
The property will be put up for public auction at the Orange County Courthouse at 10 a.m. that day, following months of financial troubles for the developers.
Bank of America filed the foreclosure proposal in April, and since then has been in negotiations with the Greenbridge developers to resolve the close to $30 million in principal, interest and late fees Greenbridge Development has not paid on its $43 million loan from Bank of America. They have failed to reach an agreement and Greenbridge has failed to pay, so Bank of America is going ahead with its plans to auction the property.
Less than half of the 97 units in the development are occupied. The Community Home Trust owns deeds to some of the condos, so people living in those condos will not face foreclosure, but any Greenbridge tenants who wish to terminate their rental agreement after the sale can do so with 10 days written notice to the landlord.
Cloaked in Hawaiian T-shirts with tongues planted firmly in cheeks, leis around necks, cone-shaped party hats on scalps and noisemakers in mouths, members of the progressive Together N.C. coalition threw a send-off party to North Carolina on Wednesday morning on the Halifax Mall, bidding adieu to the state’s ability to thrive, they said.
“We’re here to say what makes this state great is ask risk,” said Louisa Warren, co-coordinator of Together N.C. and a policy advocate at the N.C. Justice Center.
The group handed out “pink slips” and offered cake and lemonade.
Rep. Earline Parmon, D-Forsyth, stopped by to sign an oversized greeting card that read, “We’ll miss the good times, N.C.”
Three weeks after the collapse of the roof at Liberty Warehouse on Rigsbee Avenue, two more properties controlled by Durham-based Greenfire Development could be under scrutiny for leaky roofs.
The city's building inspectors received a report Thursday about water leaks at two warehouses on Foster Street, said Rick Hester, assistant director of Durham Neighborhood Improvement Services. An inspector will be assigned next week to check out the claim that roofs at 609 Foster St. and 619/621 Foster St. are leaking when it rains.
By phone Friday, Greenfire Managing Partner Michael Lemanski said he was aware of minor leaks at the warehouses and didn't know Hester's department had received a complaint.
"We have water leaks. That's the constant battle with dilapidated buildings," Lemanski said, emphasizing that nearly all of the 30-some buildings Greenfire controls in downtown Durham were in various states of disrepair when the developer acquired them.
The news comes as Greenfire is managing both repairs at the Liberty Warehouse, and its reputation. With at least one million square feet of retail, office, warehouse and residential space in downtown, Greenfire has a firm grasp over the future of the way downtown Durham looks and feels, and whether it continues to prosper.
The city and county have promised to invest more than City leaders have supported Greenfire's long-range redevelopment plans, which could call for more than $20 million in public funds over the next several years to come to fruition. The city has pledged $3.2 million in incentives and a $1 million loan to help the company tackle its $50 million redevelopment of the SunTrust bank building into a 160-room boutique hotel. The incentives would be payable over 15 years after the completion of the project.
Despite that vote of confidence from the city, Greenfire is also under pressure from the city, tenants and the public in the dramatic May 14 roof collapse to act quickly to repair Liberty Warehouse and redevelop its other historic properties.
Those holdings include 117 W. Parrish St., a property at the center of an ongoing dispute with the city's Neighborhood Improvement Services department. A Greenfire-related entity purchased the building after it was gutted by a fire and the structure has sat without a roof—or any covering—for more than six years, Hester said.
Stirred by tension with NIS, Lemanski said Friday he would invite scrutiny of all of Greenfire's properties instead of having the buildings picked apart by city code inspectors, who Lemanski said are dishing complaints about Greenfire-owned properties to the media before contacting the developer. Lemanski made the comment Friday evening and the Indy could not reach Hester for an immediate response.
"We're going to invite them to take a look at all of our properties at once," Lemanski said. "We think it will be more efficient."
Lemanski said tensions with the city's inspectors began last year in disagreements over the building at 117 W. Parrish St. The city has found the building unsafe and has recommended it be demolished. Last year, Greenfire challenged those findings via a letter from its engineer.
The city commissioned an independent report from a Raleigh-based engineer to determine whether the building is structurally sound, and that report is due next week.
Despite early indications that county property owners could have seen as much as a 2-cent increase in their property tax rate next year, Durham County Manager Mike Ruffin isn't proposing a such a hike. At a meeting of Durham County Commissioners yesterday, Ruffin said his staff was able to trim and arrange the county's $499 million budget in a way that would also provide all of the requested local funding for Durham Public Schools and restore employee merit pay raises that have been frozen for the past two years. (See the budget)
The money allocated to next year's budget is about a 4 percent increase over the previous year, but it still a "status-quo" budget that continues to demand the county operate efficiently and do much more with less, as the slow economy leads to increased demand for services, Ruffin said.
"I think the message here is one of cautious optimism," he said. "Durham County's economy is in better shape than many areas of the country, but the road to recovery is slow. We're heading in the right direction, but still need to be very careful." (Read his whole speech, PDF)
County commissioners will spend the next month hearing public comments on the budget and working with individual departments to ensure they'll be able to operate sufficiently next year. The commissioners will also fine-tune the budget before its scheduled approval at their regular meeting June 27. Most departments, except for the Department of Social Services and the Sheriff's Office, will see about a 2 percent cut in their budgets next year, Ruffin said.
If the board follows Ruffin's recommendations, Durham County property owners won't see a jump in their property tax bills next year, but there's a good chance registered voters be deciding in November whether the county can impose one or two new sales taxes to raise money for education and public transit. (Read the county's fact sheet)
If voters approve, a one-quarter-cent sales tax would be added to non-food and non-drug purchases beginning in April 2012, generating an estimated $9 million in its first full year in 2013. About $8.1 million of that money would go to the operating and debt-payment budgets of the Durham Public Schools.
If voters approve a 1/2-cent sales tax for public transit, the tax would be added to Durham County sales around the same time, April 2012. The first full year of collection in 2013 would garner an estimated $18 million to add public bus hours and add commuter rail between Durham and Research Triangle Park by 2018, Ruffin said. Pending cooperation from neighboring counties, the rail system could connect with other systems. The money could also be used for light rail service to UNC and UNC hospitals in Chapel Hill by 2025.
Just as for residents in many other cities and towns across the state, property taxes for Durham city dwellers could go up about a half-cent per $100 of property value, according to the budget pitch City Manager Tom Bonfield made Monday night.
For a house valued at $200,000, that would add a little over $11 to the annual tax bill for that property. City residents may also face an increase in county property taxes next year. The county manager presents his budget next Monday at a meeting of the Board of County Commissioners.
Bonfield equated the proposed budget to a "bland diet."
"No appetizer, no spices, no fancy sauces, no decadent dessert," he said. "But full of substance and nutrition. It gets the job done."
Faced with a $5 million budget deficit and declining sales- and property-tax revenue, Bonfield suggested trimming 10 jobs to balance the city budget for 2011-12. Seven of the 10 positions are occupied, Bonfield said, and several of those employees will get other employment with the city, including 21 full-time positions the city will gain by rearranging some resources. For instance, the city will cut one supervisory position in its general services department, and replace it with two positions for lower-paid laborers. (Read the city's summary)
(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.
House Democrats held a press conference Monday afternoon to challenge a bill filed late last week by House Republicans, including Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam and Rep. Tom Murry of Wake County, to block last year's federal health care reform law. The federal law, which is being challenged by 26 states and may end up before the Supreme Court, would require all Americans to have health insurance and prohibit insurance providers from refusing to cover many preexisting conditions.
The local bill, titled "Protect Health Care Freedom" (but more widely referred to as House Bill 2), would effectively exclude North Carolina from enforcing the federal health care reform act. It would prohibit the state from requiring anyone to obtain health insurance and levying a fine against them if they don't enroll. If passed, the bill could also require North Carolina's attorney general to join those 26 states in action against the federal legislation or defend the state and its residents against federal action.
Stam introduced the bill at a House Judiciary committee meeting last Thursday. The bill is scheduled to reach the House floor Wednesday for a full vote, according to a WRAL.com report. When Republicans around the state vied for their seats in last fall's elections, many promised they would challenge the health care act passed by Congress in March 2010. Taking a stand on the federal legislation was included among the new majority's other top tasks, including possibly increasing the number of charter schools allowed in North Carolina and undoing the landmark Racial Justice Act passed in 2009.
But the legislature needs to focus on local challenges, not on intervening in a federal matter when North Carolina is facing a nearly $4 billion budget deficit and thousands across the state are still unemployed, challengers of House Bill 2 said Monday.
"This bill doens't really accomplish anything except perhaps unnecessary costs and unintended consequences. It's a federal issue and it will be solved at the federal level in the federal courts," said Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange), who led the press conference. She said she hoped the event would spread the word to constituents, who would not have an opportunity to testify directly before the House after the judiciary committee denied a public hearing on the matter last week.
Speaking with Insko were a representative from the N.C. Justice Center and two patients, including Melanie Taylor, the sister of Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford). Charles van der Horst, an internist and infectious disease specialist at the UNC medical school and hospitals, also spoke against House Bill 2.
"I really believe deeply in this issue. A third of the patients in the hospitals of North Carolina are there because they don't have insurance. If they had insurance and could get regular care, they wouldn't get sick and they wouldn't be in the hospital," he said.
The federal health care reforms passed in 2009 would end a cycle that is driving up health care costs nine percent each year, van der Horst said. The bill could actually improve the quality of services physicians are currently providing while reducing costs, he argued. Right now, anyone who shows up at a hospital must be treated regardless of insurance status. When those bills go unpaid, it's consumers and taxpayers who end up paying the bill, van der Horst said.
Just minutes after the press conference began, The New York Times reported that a federal judge in Florida ruled that President Barack Obama's health care law violates the U.S. Constitution and that in writing and passing the law, Congress had reached beyond its authority. This is the case 26 states have already made in their lawsuit against the health care act. According to the story, it was the fourth opinion on the reform. Two Democrat-appointed judges have upheld Obama's health care law while the Florida judge and a second Republican-appointed judge have ruled it unconstitutional.
House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) issued a statement just after the Democrats' response in light of the Florida ruling:
“In the House of Representatives, we have no higher priority than to balance our budget and work to foster an environment that encourages job development. The Federal Health Care bill is bad for business in North Carolina. For over a year, North Carolinians have clearly expressed their displeasure with the Federal legislation, and as recently as this afternoon, a Federal judge in Florida expressed his concern by ruling the entire law unconstitutional.
We will not stand idly and watch an unconstitutional usurpation of authority by the Federal government. North Carolinians expect us to act to protect their right to make their own health care decisions; we plan to do just that, and protect North Carolina’s economy in the process.”
In her statements earlier, Insko challenged talking points from Stam and other allies that the federal health care bill would cost North Carolina jobs. She argued it would do the opposite, insuring 1 million more North Carolinians and growing demand for workers in insurance, pharmaceuticals and medicine.
"I think they've been given a lot of misinformation, a lot of short 'snappies' that just dont hold up when you get into the details," Insko said. "This issue of being a job-killing bill is one of those. It's easy to say. That's a nice bumper sticker. But you can say that the moon changes shape because a little mouse nibbles on it. But saying it doesn't make it true."
Little research, other than this sparse fiscal note filed today, has been presented on the possible local costs if the House passes H2, and the state attorney general's office is forced to intervene in the national lawsuit.
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.
In their first meeting of the year, the Republican-dominated Chatham County Commissioners today cut two positions and eliminated the Pittsboro-to-Chapel Hill bus service that began Aug. 17, 2009.
During a tense and packed meeting, at which Chatham County Fire Marshal Thomas Bender turned citizens away due to fire codes, Human Relations Executive Director Esther Coleman and Sustainable Communities Director Cynthia Van Der Wiele lost their jobs.
By a 3-2 vote along party lines, Chatham County Commissioners eliminated the positions. The Obesity Coordinator position was also cut, but it was vacant.
Democrats Sally Kost and Mike Cross voted against cutting the positions. Republican newcomers Brian Bock, Walter Petty and Pamela Stewart voted for the cuts.
Coleman earned $80,000 annually, Van Der Wiele $96,000.
Supporters of the new commissioners reminded Bock, Petty and Stewart that the three had run their campaigns on cutting “government fat,” and that their voters expected them to do that today.
The cuts are expected to save the county $2 million over the next four years, according to Chatham County Community Relations Director Debra Henzey.
The meeting agenda didn’t specifically say the job cuts would be considered, but they were tucked in Item No. 21, “Cost Containment/Streamlining Discussion.”
The newly elected GOP commissioner, Brian Bock, Walter Petty and Pamela Stewart, eliminated positions quickly, which upset many citizens present who hoped the incoming commissioners would not rush their decisions.
“The commissioners can eliminate a position at any time,” Henzey said. “No one was fired, the commissioners chose to eliminate offices as part of their budget decisions.”
Coleman has been executive director of the Human Relations Commission since 2007. She oversaw the county's diverse communities. Nearly 13 percent of Chatham residents are African-American; 13.3 percent are Latino.
However, pockets of the county have high numbers of minorities. For example, Siler City's population is 50 percent Latino.
“Don't think racism does not still exist in Chatham County,” urged Rita Spina, vice-president of Chatham Citizens for Effective Communities. “Please do not go backward in your thinking."
Loyse Hurley, president of CCEC, said, "The human relations director averts and preempts issues by dealing with discrimination, labor violations, hate bias, and hate crimes before they become problems and expensive lawsuits for the county."
As sustainability director, Van Der Wiele coordinated planning, environmental resources, soil erosion and sedimentation control, central permitting, transportation, green building and affordable housing. Her primary charge was to develop and implement a long-term comprehensive community sustainability plan for Chatham County.
Van Der Wiele was hired in 2009.
The commission also voted 4-1 to eliminate the express bus service between Pittsboro and Chapel Hill for 18 months. When the service started in 2009, Chatham County and Pittsboro matched a state grant with an additional $176,000 each year generated by alcoholic beverage taxes.
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.