Urban chickens OK'd; 25-mile 'donut' revealed; Bell wears Carolina Blue | News
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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Urban chickens OK'd; 25-mile 'donut' revealed; Bell wears Carolina Blue

Posted by on Tue, Feb 17, 2009 at 7:21 PM

click to enlarge Photo by DL Anderson
  • Photo by DL Anderson

...and cats and dogs are living together. That's Chapel Hill's mayor, Kevin Foy, helping Durham mayor Bill Bell into a Tar Heels sweatshirt--the result of an elaborate bet on the UNC-Duke game last week.

"He regrets the outcome of the game; I was very happy with the outcome of the game," Foy told attendees at last night's City Council meeting in Durham--before dashing off to Chapel Hill's Town Council meeting that same night.

The agreement called for the mayor of the losing team's city to wear the opposite team's swag at the next council meeting. In addition, Foy gets free passes to a Durham Performing Arts Center show.

"You're serious about this?" Bell asked, as he grudgingly descended the City Hall ramp toward Foy, who was holding, apparently, the most flamboyant zip-up hoodie he could find.

(More on urban chickens, and a 25 square mile "donut hole" in Durham with no water-quality control restrictions, after the jump.)

Other than Bell's baby-blue zip-up, the big news of the night was City Council's approval of an amendment to the Unified Development Ordinance, allowing backyard chickens within city limits. The 7-0 vote, which came as a surprise to many, arrived after months of contentious debate. (Read our previous coverage here.) Look for the Indy's write-up in tomorrow's paper, and online at indyweek.com.

Also of note: Bertha Johnson, the City's budget director, said the City will approach its 2010 Fiscal Year budget "beginning with a $24 million gap, minimum.” The low-ball figure echoed Bell's budget forecast at his State of the City address.

Equally shocking to environmentalists (and anyone concerned about the budget): Durham has a 25 square mile "donut hole"--roughly equal to 25 percent of the City--in which no water-quality control standards exist, according to the City's stormwater manager, Paul Wiebke. Beginning April 1, the City is in danger of paying a $25,000 fine, for every day it doesn't enforce state-mandated water-quality standards. The donut hole in question falls withing portions of the Cape Fear River basin and the Jordan Lake drainage area. Currently, the State Legislature is considering rules to mandate locally funded clean-up of Jordan Lake, which has been on the Environmental Protection Agency's Impaired Waters list since 2002 due to excess nutrients, including nitrogen. Development with no water-quality standards could further impair the drinking-water supply--and, conceivably, put Durham on the hook for additional clean-up costs.

Wiebke writes, in his memo to council recommending citywide "Stormwater Development Protection Standards:"

These performance standards will help to control pollutant loads in stormwater runoff from development projects by establishing performance standards for total suspended solids and nitrogen and by protecting buffers and by managing peak flows that cuase or contribute to stream erosion. The proposed performance standards are similar to the City's current requirements in the Neuse River Basin and will create more consistent water quality requirements throughout the City.

Developers, and big-name development supporters--including Downtown Durham, Inc. President Bill Kalkhof--pleaded with the council to amend the proposed citywide watershed ordinance to make an exception for dense, downtown development. Kalkhof, and others, argued that the state-required regulations would push developers to the suburbs, where on-site stormwater treatments, such as stormwater retention ponds, are more technically feasible, or to other cities where requirements are more lax.

However, Councilwoman Diane Catotti, who is arguing for immediate adoption of the new rules, pointed out that downtown developers would be eligible to purchase conservation land as "nitrogen off-sets," instead of building retention ponds. Catotti noted that the City is currently purchasing conservation land at $10,000 an acre, and a typical downtown parcel would be required to purchase 0.41 acres of conservation land to offset its nitrogen load. In other words, the new nitrogen-reduction requirements could potentially cost downtown developers as little as an additional few thousand dollars.

Yet Patrick Byker, a lawyer for Southern Durham Development--the company seeking to build the "751 Assemblage" mega-development within the critical watershed area of Jordan Lake--insisted that sum would break the bank.

"What is being proposed makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for projects that are in compliance with our comprehensive plan, to move forward," Byker said, insisting that "transit oriented" projects, in particular, would be hurt.

Councilman Mike Woodard called Byker back to the podium to clarify his comment that the City hadn't taken a "20,000 foot view" of the issue. Byker replied that he meant that dense development would be hindered by the construction of stormwater control devices--which, as Catotti noted, would not be an issue if developers purchased conservation land instead.

Catotti said that the new standards would be “costly, but reasonable."

"I think we have no choice," she said.

Councilman Farad Ali added, “As a downtown resident, I don’t want to do this, but it seems like if we don’t do this, we’ll be in violation from the state.”

The Council will take up the matter at its Feb. 19 work session, and pledged to have a citywide ordinance in place before the April 1 deadline.

Update (2/25/09): Paul Wiebke tells us the figure Catotti was referring to is 0.41 acres, not 0.14 as previously reported. Purchasing this amount of conservation land would entirely satisfy the nitrogen reduction requirements for a property that had existing 90 percent impervious surfaces (e.g. rooftops, asphalt, etc.). Read the print story, which includes an interview with Wiebke, in today's Indy, and online at indyweek.com.

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