Raleigh is set to consider another milestone in its slow crawl toward a more accepting food truck culture downtown. City councilors will hold a public hearing Tuesday on whether or not to allow more food trucks per lot and to allow the mobile businesses to come closer into downtown.
The hearing comes after a six-month review of the initial food truck law, which opened the door for food trucks, but placed strict limitations on where they could operate. City officials claim they've received no complaints about the law so far.
After a year of debate, with many restaurateurs lobbying against food trucks, Raleigh passed a law that allowed the trucks near downtown, but only on private property. They were also hampered by only being able to park 100 feet or more beyond a restaurant.
The new provision would increase the number of food trucks allowed to operate on a half-acre lot from one to two, with the number progressively increasing for larger plot sizes as well.
It would also allow food trucks to enter what's called the Downtown Overlay District, an area that comprises the heart of downtown. Still, don't expect a food truck smorgasbord if the changes go into effect.
Raleigh's rules are stringent compared to those in other cities, like Durham. Food trucks are allowed to use any public parking in Durham and the number allowed on any lot is not restricted. Portland, Ore., and Austin, Texas, are among cities with similar laws.
The public hearing begins at 6:30 p.m. at city hall.
Two interesting items on the agenda at today’s Wake County Board of Commissioners' meeting (2 pm, Wake County Courthouse). One: the commissioners are asking the school board to promise stability on a career and technical education high school that’s still in the planning process. Two: approving a contract for roughly $800,000 to put a new roof on a county gun range.
The firing of former superintendent Tony Tata in late September has put renewed strain on the relationship between the GOP-controlled commission and the Democratic-led school board. Commission chair Paul Coble publicly denounced the firing and cancelled all forthcoming meetings between the two boards until the school board promised stability on several key initiatives.
One of those is the CTE high school, an initiative started under Tata. CTE is a concept used in middle and high schools that seeks to teach skills with "practical life application," according to the school system's website. Agriculture, marketing, and health occupations are listed among the core subjects.
The school board already unanimously voted to move forward with converting a former Coca-Cola bottling plant on South Wilmington Street into the new CTE high school. However, according to today's agenda, commissioners are looking to require the school board to pass a resolution affirming at least seven years of support for the project, before they will allow it to move forward.
Re: the Wake County Firearms Education and Training Center and its new roof, I decided to check in because the building was only built in 1999. 13 years seems like a very short lifespan for a roof and $800,000 like an awfully large sum of money when many county services are experiencing budget constraints.
I'm told by a county project manager that ten-year roofs were the industry standard in the nineties and that the county is replacing roofs on several similar buildings. In today's construction world, roofs typically have a lifespan of 20 to 30 years.
The firearms center, which includes an indoor gun range, is open to the public and also used to train Wake County law enforcement personnel. The county pays Range Safety Management, LLC to manage the building for public use.
The project manager said that some "misfires" have hit the ceiling of the building, but because of a concrete barrier, the stray shots didn't actually penetrate the roof.
Since former superintendent Tony Tata's firing, Wake County school board members continue to pump the brakes on key initiatives regarding the future of the school system.
Last week, the board decided not to go through with a revamp of student assignment, but instead use 2011-12 student assignment maps to decide where children will attend school next year. And Wednesday board members tentatively agreed it would be best to let voters take up a bond referendum next fall rather than next spring.
The school construction bond could range anywhere from $400 million to $1 billion to pay for new schools in the county.
Here's a partial account of yesterday's facilities committee meeting from the Wake Ed Blog.
“There’s been a lot that’s gone poorly in the last few months,” Evans said. “The extra time will help us re-earn the public’s trust.”
While Evans is focusing more on the loss of trust from problems such as the bus problems and choice plan complaints, Malone said the public has lost trust over the firing of Superintendent Tony Tata.
"Considering what they did with Tony Tata and the public anger over it, moving it to November makes sense," Malone said.
Malone also said that a fall 2013 referendum, when there's already going to be elections, will save money. A May 2013 referendum would mean having to pay for a special election.
The school capacity picture isn't pretty either. Core capacity (which accounts for the amount of students that can use a schools' central facilities, such as its gym and cafeteria) is already very near 100 percent. The measure for capacity that takes into account mobile classrooms is closer to 90 percent.
The bond referendum previous to 2006 was defeated in 1999, and another defeated bond would almost inevitably mean bad news for already crowded schools.
You can read an excellent piece by Bob Geary about Wake County's "growth wars" from 2007.
At Tuesday’s school board meeting, members of the Democratic majority elaborated little on their reasons for firing Tata, Republicans pounded them for it, and public commenters joined in for about an hour and a half.
Many of the 15 people who spoke fiercely against Tata’s firing have been active in board politics for several years and are former neighborhood school advocates.
Jennifer Mansfield is a founding member of Wake Schools Community Alliance, a group that was instrumental in catapulting Republicans to power on the school board in 2009.
“I have no trust in this board,” she said. “It’s not just the firing of Superintendent Tata. I believe there was never any commitment to making the choice plan work.”
The Democratic majority scraped the controlled-choice plan in June after trends emerged that showed schools becoming more economically stratified. A new plan is in the works and some Democrats have said they won’t support it, unless it reverses the drift towards economic segregation.
Getting that new plan passed is likely to be an even steeper uphill slog, now that conservatives have more ammunition.
Several who addressed the crowd were not familiar faces in the student assignment debate, including 2009 Teacher of the Year Rene Herrick.
“I am a registered Democrat and voted for you, Ms. [Susan] Evans,” she said. “In my opinion and in that of many others that I represent, Mr. Tata was our hero. He brought our district back from being the subject of ridicule and possibly losing our accreditation.”
No word from the Wake NCAE yet on whether its members agree.
While many have viewed Tata as a stabilizing force, Democratic board member Christine Kushner told the crowd, “The majority of the board could no longer trust the actions and consistency of the Superintendent. In my ten months on the board, I did not view him as a neutralizing force.”
Tata let his tongue off the leash last February, accusing Kushner and Evans of ethical violations and saying that the liberal group Great Schools in Wake had a “stranglehold” on them. He later apologized.
Evans offered more insight into Tata’s firing. “On more than one occasion the Superintendent or a staff member he personally directed purposefully acted in opposition to the directions of this board.”
She also cited “a culture of fear” among staff members and distrust between Tata and the board.
“The public should know that Mr. Tata was made aware of these perceived deficiencies during his annual performance evaluation,” Evans continued. “Instead of trying to rectify any of these things, he continued to commit offenses.”
Rather than settling the GOP board members or public commenters, the broad-brush complaints of the majority were fuel to the fire.
A red-faced John Tedesco jabbed his finger in the air at chair Kevin Hill saying, “I find it tactless and cowardly, Kevin, for you to say these things now.”
The board majority also now finds itself embroiled in a battle with the GOP-led county commission. In a letter last Friday, commissioner Paul Coble cancelled upcoming meetings with the school board that would have begun to the lay the groundwork for a new school construction bond.
Coble says he wants to see the board resolve several key issues, including student assignment, before the meetings are rescheduled.
Some had hoped to get the bond on the ballot by next spring, since Wake’s last construction bond expired in 2009.
State education officials are reviewing 27 applications for new charter schools across the state, including two in Durham County, two in Wake County and one in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district.
A new state law passed this year raised the limit on charter schools in North Carolina, which previously had been capped at 100. The applications were due last Thursday, and will be reviewed by the N.C. Public Charter School Advisory Council (CSAC) before being submitted to the State Board of Education.
The applicants are aiming to have their schools up and running in August 2012. This first group of applicants is a special, "fast-tracked," pool because they have a previous relationship or record with the state, according to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction website. For instance, several of the applicants had been interviewed by the state before, but were not granted a charter because of the previous statewide cap.
The state will hold a separate, regular application process later this fall for other charter schools. Those applications will be due in April 2012. (More information on the application process)
The applicants in Triangle school districts are:
The Howard & Lillian Lee Scholars Charter School, Angela Lee
Research Triangle High School, Pamela Blizzard
Quality Education Academy of Durham, Alethea Bell
Widsom Academy, Craig James
Triangle Math and Science Academy, Kenan Gundogdu
Several state senators expressed concern Wednesday over a bill that would allow digital billboards across the state’s interstates and highways, regardless of local rules that might prohibit them. The bill’s sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown of Jacksonville, said he just wanted feedback Wednesday, and no vote was taken. He is expected to revise the bill and bring it back to the Senate Transportation Committee.
Several senators said their major issue was the idea of taking away a community’s control of its own appearance from highways and interstates.
“I don’t think we ought to take the control away from our local governments,” said Sen. Richard Stevens, R-Wake, who noted his district is home to a large billboard company. “We do too much micromanaging up here as it is.”
The bill (SB183) would override local rules on signage, even those banning digital billboards, and would allow broader cutting of trees and other vegetation in front of the signs to increase visibility. The signs and tree-cutting would disregard local ordinances governing those very issues.
If passed, the bill wouldn’t allow any new billboards to be put up, but would allow old billboards on interstates and major highways to be replaced with signs that have changing images, whether through digital screens or rotating parts. As it’s currently written, the law would be effective Oct. 1.
Just last year, Durham City Council unanimously shot down a request from Fairway Outdoor Advertising to change its sign ordinances to allow for digital billboards, in part due to overwhelming opposition from residents who launched a campaign against the local issue. Several other municipalities, including each of the state’s largest cities, have spoken out against the bill, said Paul Meyer, chief legislative counsel for the N.C. League of Municipalities. Several other groups, including the North Carolina chapters of the Sierra Club and the American Planning Association, the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, the N.C. Metropolitan Mayors Coalition and Preservation North Carolina have also announced their opposition to the bill.
“We need to have the ability with each local government to decide what they want and what they will permit in their communities,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham. “There are different local norms. I think enhancing the beauty of our communities and the uniqueness of our communities is something we should respect.”
(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.
The New Hill Community Association announced this morning it has dropped its lawsuit against Western Wake Partners in exchange for amenities including a $500,000 New Hill community center.
For the past five years the association has fought the Western Wake Partners' plan to build a $327 million wastewater treatment plant in New Hill’s historical and predominantly African-American neighborhood.
The settlement agreement (newhill_settlement.pdf) comes after the two court-ordered mediation sessions with the association, the N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources and the partners—the towns of Cary, Apex, Morrisville and RTP South.
The agreement states, “the parties recognize that [the] Project will impact the New Hill Community, and Partners have minimized and mitigated potential negative impacts.”
Terms of the agreement include the partners constructing two 4-foot-by-8-foot glass-and-steel bus shelters for the community's school children, and placing $500,000 in an escrow fund for the construction of a community center.
If the community center is built close to the wastewater treatment plant, the partners will provide water and sewer lines and other infrastructure. The agreement also stipulates that the partners will run water and sewer to 36 homes near the plant.
But the agreement has a hitch: The association must not make any negative comments about the project or openly oppose it. If the association violates this or other terms of the agreement, the escrow fund for the community center will be revoked and disbursed to the Town of Cary, the lead agency for the partners.
“This has been a vigorous, robust debate in which the parties made a concerted effort to mitigate impacts to New Hill,” New Hill Community Association President Paul Barth said in a press release. “We, the officers of the NHCA, encourage all of our association’s members and community’s advocates to accept the Western Wake Regional Wastewater Management Facilities. We end all protests to the project. In addition, we will not oppose the Chatham County pipeline and will not encourage other groups to use NHCA’s name in opposing it.”
The partners want to build an 8.1-mile pipeline from the plant to the
Haw Cape Fear River through parts of Chatham County. A public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 7. at at 6 p.m., at Moncure School, 600 Moncure School Road in Chatham County.
Apex Mayor Kevin Weatherly released the following statement, “The New Hill Community Association has been a strong advocate for the interests of their community. We are pleased that our negotiations have reached a successful conclusion and that the New Hill Community Center will serve New Hill residents well for many years. Because of this agreement, we can now be assured that one of the most important projects of its kind in the state is able to proceed in an efficient and economical manner.”
Weatherly said the treatment plant project is crucial to economic growth in Western Wake County. “Continued economic vitality is necessary to provide jobs for families in our region,” he said.
Last September, the association and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a nonprofit advocacy group, filed a petition for contested jearing, in an attempt to stop the partners from receiving preliminary permits from DENR to begin construction of the plant.
The petition contended that the site “has larger human and environmental justice impacts than other, more suitable alternatives, including land previously condemned by Progress Energy in the same general vicinity. Noise, odor, traffic, and light spill from the sewage treatment plant will impact the New Hill Historic District, including the predominantly African-American First Baptist Church and cemetery.”
The plant, which was scheduled to begin construction this year, will not be built in Apex or Cary or any of the partners' towns. Instead it will loom across the street from the New Hill Baptist Church and playground, and a half-mile from the First Baptist Church of New Hill. The plant will sit within 1,000 feet of 23 homes. But who lives in those homes is as important: 87 percent of those approximately 230 residents immediately affected by the sewage treatment plant are African-American, on fixed incomes, elderly or retired.
Chris Brook, attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, says the settlement could ultimately benefit New Hill.
“Over the last five years, the New Hill community has come together as never before,” said Barth. “The bus shelters, community center, and extension of services to those closest to the plant will help to mitigate the impacts to our community and will go a long way in moving our community forward.”
RALEIGH—Passionate neighbors dressed in red and overflowed from the Raleigh City Council chambers Tuesday night to urge the council and planning commission to deny a rezoning request that would allow Hanson Aggregates to expand its Crabtree Quarry operation.
But the message was clear to Mayor Charles Meeker, who, in an unusual move, asked supporters and opponents to raise their hands and be counted. Meeker, council and planning members even walked into the hallway, where 150 people were watching the proceedings on a television feed.
The official tally: 20 people in support of the rezoning and 400 against it, Meeker noted.
“This is certainly the biggest crowd I’ve seen in my 10 years here,” the mayor said.
The U.S. Department of Justice settled a lawsuit with the Town of Garner today that alleges that the town violated the Fair Housing act by refusing to allow eight recovering drug and alcohol addicts to live together and receive treatment.
Federal investigators filed the discrimination suit in May 2009 after Oxford House, a nonprofit Maryland-based group that runs more than 1,200 rehabilitation centers nationwide, claimed the town and its Board of Adjustment violated the Fair Housing Act by refusing to listen to their requests to increase the number of residents from six to eight. People with disabilities including drug addiction must be granted equal opportunity to housing.
Under the settlement, the town must also submit periodic reports and train their staff on the requirements of the Fair Housing Act.
“The Fair Housing Act requires equal access to housing for persons with disabilities,” Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, stated in a press release.
“The Justice Department will continue to ensure the right of people with disabilities to live in housing appropriate for their needs.”