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Seafood in the summer

By Matt Goad

A door slams shut behind a satisfied customer and another door opens with a new customer not far behind.

This happens all day long, three days a week in the small, cinder-block shack that houses Tom Robinson’s Carolina Seafood of Carrboro.

With a small staff, the business manages to get to the North Carolina coast every Wednesday to get fish and shellfish to sell in the Piedmont on the weekend. It brings in salmon from Nova Scotia, and some oysters from Virginia, depending on the season, but almost everything comes from North Carolina.

Manager Salvador Bonilla generally travels to Morehead City, Swansboro and Beaufort to deal with the local anglers there.

Tom Robinson started the business in Chapel Hill in 1975, selling from the back of a truck parked at Pantana Bob’s bar on Rosemary Street.

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Tom Robinson’s Carolina Seafood Manager Salvador Bonilla cleans a salmon and readies it for sale at the business. Photo by Matt Goad

Bonilla has managed the business for the last 16 years. He didn’t know much about the fish business at the time. He worked as a chef at Vespa, the defunct Italian restaurant on Franklin Street, and Robinson supplied the restaurant with fish.

Bonilla asked Robinson about working for him part time, and ended up managing the shop for him.

About six or seven years later, Robinson died, but his girlfriend talked Bonilla into keep the business going under Robinson’s name.

“ ‘We got everything,’ ” Bonilla says they told each other. “ ‘We got a truck. Let’s just keep going.’ ”

Bonilla deals with the same sellers he has dealt with for years, all small operators. “I like these people,” he said.

Instead of trying to bring in the same varieties of fish and shellfish week and after week, he goes with what is freshest. Top sellers include salmon, tuna, shrimp and red snapper.

Bonilla said he tends to sell crabs on nice days and shrimp on rainy days.

He gets a lot of requests for lobster and cod from New England, but he doesn’t carry them.

Including Bonilla, the business has four employees. John Pereti followed his brother David to Robinson’s.

David said the hardest part of the business is learning all the different fish.

“That’s because you already had knife skills as a chef,” John replied.


On a sunny Friday afternoon at Capital Seafood Market in Durham there’s no place to park. An attendant in a yellow vest helps cars find a place as other customers back out to leave.

Friday is the market’s busiest day, owner and founder Dwayne Greene said. The market is open seven days a week.

Greene, originally from Raleigh, started a Capital Seafood Market, which is still in business, in Raleigh 28 years ago. He opened his Durham location on University Drive 20 years ago.

“I saw a man selling fish on the side of the street, and I thought I could do it better,” he said. “I knew nothing about fish.”

Whereas Tom Robinson’s specializes in North Carolina seafood, Capital is global, both in its sources and customers, taking advantage of the Internet. Capital delivers all over the world.

And unlike Tom Robinson’s, Capital offers the same varieties of fish and shellfish every day. The market carries 35 different types of seafood every day. “Everything that swims we got to have it,” Greene said.

Top sellers are croaker, shrimp, flounder and live crabs.

The Durham Capital also has a small restaurant specializing in fried seafood but also offering soul food and fried and baked chicken.

Iris Monroe of Durham said she comes to Capital about every two weeks. She generally shops for porgies, catfish, spot, shrimp and scallops.

Photo gallery: Scenes in downtown Chapel Hill

UNC students working on Franklin Street. The margaritas at Bandido’s. Murals in hidden places. The photos covering the walls of Sutton’s Drug Store.

Some things have not changed in downtown Chapel Hill.

Long-time photographer Karen Tam, who has worked for The News & Observer and The Raleigh Times, and freelanced for The Associated Press, spent a recent Friday afternoon capturing the goings-on.

See the photos here.

 

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Click on the thumbnails for larger images.

Opinion: The Wake Stone quarry should be rejected for these reasons

1. RDU does not need the money.

When Raleigh-Durham International Airport’s leadership began work on the “Vision 2040” master plan in 2015, the airport was the most modern it had been in decades. The top executives and the board of RDU had basically inherited a perfect airport, the culmination of decades of planning and work.

So why is it that by 2019, RDU signed a lease with Morrisville-based Wake Stone to mine the Odd Fellows tract for $24 million over 35 years?

RDU also recently got $49.5 million in federal aid for coronavirus relief. Before that, it received about $61.5 million total in federal and state capital contributions for the past three years.

On top of that, RDU has posted jumps to its bottomline in recent years. For fiscal year 2018-2019, ending in March 2019, the airport’s net position increased by $128.2 million. In 2018, it increased by $56.3 million. In 2017, it was $26.4 million.

The airport has had passenger total booms in recent years that are just reset by the coronavirus. In 2015, its passenger totals were closer to historic norms, at 9.94 million, according to the FAA. In 1992, it was 9.93 million.

So while RDU has had a temporary increase in traffic, it also reaped more than $100 million in federal and state funding, and increased its profit. Where is the financial need for this project?

2. The destruction of the Odd Fellows tract would be a nightmarish outcome for this area.

Having two quarries by Umstead Park is not something most people want. Neither is having Crabtree Creek suspended above two quarries. That’s not a natural state for a river. Or having a place that was used by Boy Scouts and has quartz stones on the ground, beech trees, pine, oak, and pretty ravines be destroyed.

If it’s approved, then this will be destructive of nature, and real memory and experience and real need, for temporary and false claims.

Symbolically, this would be a nightmarish outcome.

The economic and political side of what’s been going on will take time to figure out. Right now, the natural resources need to be protected.

3. What the Odd Fellows tract is and what it could be.

The Odd Fellows tract, I think of more as an extension of Morrisville and Cary. It’s one of those suburban wilderness areas that we have in the Triangle that you pass on I-40 or I-440, and with the view of the pine trees your mind wanders, and you think of nature and the world in new ways. Maybe you’ll explore it one day, but it’s very likely you will not. It’s just another part of the landscape of this area. But it would be a surprise and delight to people who do go there, to see it has a lake, and quartz stones on the ground, stones in the trees put there by Boy Scouts, a quarry nearby that has had so much fight and stories put into it, and Crabtree Creek flows through it, going from Cary into Umstead Park and then to Raleigh.

Different people get different things out of it. Jean Spooner pointed out the Great Depression history of the area, how so much of the typography happened as a result of the needs of that time. The rivulets on a hill are actually erosion from over-farming. The “Ghost of Odd Fellows,” the style of the photography and the comments feel like someone who is probably Gen X or older, someone who got their science education in the pre-digital era who sees nature in a very whole, classical way. Ron Sutherland talked about how the area has a timeless, mythical quality.

For me, I would like that land to be left alone. I think that in terms of this area, the Odd Fellows land is a place that’s out of your awareness but imparts interesting things when you go. It’s easier for me to see it through other people’s perspective than to experience it myself. I can’t think of another spot that’s exactly like that. It’s a place that’s not quite a garden, not quite wilderness, but something else.

Maybe the Odd Fellows tract could be left alone for future odd fellows.

Memories of the Odd Fellows tract from Ron Sutherland. Photos by the Ghost of Odd Fellows

Ron Sutherland, chief scientist with the Wildlands Network who led the successful activist efforts to save the 79,000-acre Hoffmann Forest in 2015, recalls what the Odd Fellows tract looked like in the ’80s, when he was a Boy Scout roaming through the woods and playing capture the flag.

I asked Dr. Sutherland what he remembered, and his memories came out uninterrupted and still very clear from more than 30 years ago.

Here are his comments. The photos are by the anonymous “Ghost of Odd Fellows.” The full portfolios of the photos can be seen here and here.

It was the place to go in camp for our Boy Scout troop. We didn’t need to do much. We could just go out there on pretty short notice and go out and camp. It was kind of a home away from home for the Boy Scouts. It took all of ten minutes to get there.

We didn’t feel like we were in a small, tightly regulated state park. It felt like it was the woods that belonged to the Boy Scouts essentially. It was our place to roam around. It was a particularly … It reminds me a lot of the old Calvin and Hobbs cartoons, or a lot of mythical landscapes where there are a lot of big rocks, and trees everywhere and ravines. Odd Fellows is like that. It packs a lot into 105 acres of forest. It starts high by Old Reedy Creek Road and then it goes all the way down to Crabtree Creek. There are multiple sides, ravines that go out. There’s Foxcroft Lake. It’s a nice little pond but it’s beautiful. I heard tell that Boy Scouts used to swim there.

When we were there in the ’80s, there used to be a field. And we played capture the flag in the field there. Had to watch out for pine stubs and things. It was fun roaming around there. What the troop tended to do is park not far off the road there but have the patrols split up and go different directions, sort of hiked off in different directions and found places to camp. There’s different room to go different places.

There’s a nice ridge where Foxcroft Lake is. Someone put a rock in a crook of a tree (probably in the ‘70s). I think the tree just grew around the rocks and enveloped them. That’s a pretty cool phenomenon. We’d roam around. There’s interesting rock features. You’d be able to see the berm and fence and everything they’d put up for the quarry. Another one of my friends, an older Scout, he was looking for an Eagle Scout project. There were ruins. So the Eagle Scout was rebuilding the picnic shelter. He made some custom grill stands out of… hub caps, old hub caps with metals. He raised the room of the picnic shelter on some big oak logs. That was in the early ‘90s. Not long after that, ’96 and Hurricane Fran came along and I think put a tree through the picnic shelter. I was out there a couple times with some friends, in the late ‘90s, before 2001. Before things got tight with airport security. I heard after 9/11, airport security would come out and track you down.

I have a soft place in my heart for it. It was the first place I went camping and woke up with my fingers freezing. It was just really cold. Another time, we camped out on the creek and I got up the next morning before everyone else, and got out of the tent and looked around and there was a ridge going up above the creek. There was a herd of deer that saw me and took off, with their tails flagging down the ridge. When I was there in the ‘80s, seeing this herd of deer running through what looked like the wilderness, was a pretty formative experience to me to see this. The other thing we would do is we would camp there at Odd Fellows and we would hike into Umstead from there and go on long day hikes as a troop, and there were some cool spots that were off the main map that you could get to and we could go through the back woods of Umstead. Umstead still has these hidden valleys that nobody else really goes to. Quartz, boulders. A cute little pond with a stone dam. That’s kind of grown in. It gives you a feeling that you’ve found something that nobody else has found. There’s value in being able to explore a park like that.

There’s that big parking lot that felt like overkill in the ’90s, now it’s full. Every weekend. People coming in. That’s crazy.

Snapping turtles. Pond was unusually clear. Huge bass. Trees – lots of hardwood, beech trees, of a respectable age now, 40 years. A lot of pines. The field where we played capture the flag, last time I was out there, it has already become a young pine forest. Succession going on. There’s an old house between Odd Fellows and Reedy Creek Road, old homestead. I felt like there were some old rusting cars. More stuff for the Boy Scouts to explore. Tons and tons of white quartz rocks everywhere. Quartz are more durable, so they end up on the surface.

One of my hopes is we can save Odd Fellows from being turned into a quarry and that it can go back to being turned into a primitive camping area for the Scouts.

Blog post: Did Chapel Hill just change the definition of retail for the entire town?

Local government wonks, where are you?

Among Chapel Hill Town Council’s recent votes on covid, police brutality and climate change was the kind of small local government change that could have huge ramifications down the road.

In February, Mayor Pam Hemminger petitioned to allow flex office and “experiential retail” to help 140 West sign an escape room. (What are escape rooms? I haven’t been to one, but they look like those mobile games that are kind of boring but creep me out, and I stop playing.)

Hemminger petitioned to make this change in downtown. But by June, when the new ordinance was approved, the change was much bigger and seemed to apply to the entire town.

Wait, the entire town? Is that true? I checked in with Anya Grahn, the planner who drafted the new ordinance. The answer was: Yes.

“We amended our definition of Business, General to include all commercial establishments that provide retail sales and services,” Grahn said over e-mail. “This allows experiential retail to be permitted in all areas where Business, General is currently allowed throughout Town.”

“Business General,” defines the types of retail allowed.

For anyone interested, the new ordinance is here.

And here’s an excerpt:

Ordinance business general

This is fascinating to me. Crossing out the language of, “in addition to serving day to day commercial needs of a community, also supply the more durable and permanent needs of a whole community, including…,” and replacing it with just, “provide retail sales and services.”

Grahn also confirmed that this change does apply to Neighborhood Commercial and Community Commercial, which include: the shopping center with Flyleaf Books, University Plaza mall, the Glen Lennox and Fresh Market centers, the site of the future Wegmans and the Lowe’s shopping center across U.S. 15-501, the commercial stretch with Caffe Driade.

But it does not affect the Whole Foods and Living Kitchen area.

Grahn also clarified that the flex office change was only for downtown, and that pool halls and arcades are still allowed, even though the language for them was removed.

But if Hemminger’s petition was mainly to help 140 West, and was for downtown, then why was this change made for the rest of Chapel Hill?

Grahn replied: “As we started looking into our Use Table in Land Use Management Ordinance 3.7 we realized that many of our current definitions limited retail opportunities. The retail industry has substantially changed and expanded since our codes were adopted, and we used this as an opportunity to make additional changes that would broaden the definitions in our code to include many of these new types of businesses.”

So there will be new retail in Chapel Hill soon. But it seems that removing that language of “durable and permanent needs” could open the floodgates to retail that even the town leaders and planners didn’t expect.

Save RDU Forest issue: Top comments from the public hearing

After years of activism and back-and-forth between the Raleigh-Durham International Airport and the Umstead Coalition, the public hearings on Wake Stone’s proposed quarry brought out hundreds of speakers with Save RDU Forest, local residents and Wake Stone.

And it was all over Zoom. The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality held the hearing on June 23 and then continued it in July to fit in all the speakers.

The proposed quarry in the 105-acre Odd Fellows tract has led to heated and passionate arguments on both sides. Here is a timeline of the Save RDU Forest issue for a refresher.

Although the fight exploded in March 2019, when the lease was signed with Wake Stone, the issue goes back July 2017. At that time, the Umstead Coalition, The Conservation Fund and Triangle Off-Road Cyclists offered to buy the Odd Fellows tract for $6.5 million. In 2015, the airport also tried to swap more than 300 acres with Umstead Park without notifying the coalition.

There were more than 80 speakers and Zoom-held hearing lasted the better part of the evening, with each person having two minutes for their remarks.

Although the public hearings have ended, the DEQ will continue to accept public comments until Friday, July 17.

One of the most forceful comments of the evening came from Tamara Dunn, whose house on Old Reedy Creek Road would not be far from the new quarry. Here is what she said:

Can you hear me? Oh, perfect. Ok. My name is Tamara Dunn. I’m an adjacent landowner to the proposed quarry. I ask DEQ to deny Wake Stone’s submitted mining permit modification and to investigate the changes made to the original Wake Stone 50-year sunset clause agreement.

This project will destroy our quality of life. The previous (Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority) board assured us the land between our home and Interstate 40 would be a buffer and not developed. We trusted their promise, purchased our land and built our home. When Wake Stone approached the previous RDUAA board regarding mining on public land, they had the foresight to turn them down.

The current RDUAA board is uncommunicative and short-sighted. The current pandemic impacts long-term travel and development. The only reason we are still embroiled in this inadvisable folly is because of their desire to build a monument to their ego and it clouds their better judgment.

North Carolina law regarding land-use and impact on adjoining landowners states landowners are expected to use their property reasonably without unduly interfering with the rights of the owners’ contiguous land. Anything a person does that appropriates adjoining land or substantially deprives adjoining landowner of the reasonable enjoyment of their property is an unlawful use of one’s property. As adjoining landowners, we expect neighboring property owners to conduct themselves responsibly and not affect the value or enjoyment of adjoining property.

The land is not needed for airport expansion. For personal gain, RDUAA, Wake Stone, the four governing bodies who own the property and now the DEQ are stripping us of our rights.

Wake Stone’s Dyno Nobel’s analysis says structures more than 500 feet from the pit should not have structural damage. … The application shows our home will be 200 feet from the pit and the blast. My interpretation is Dyno Nobel admits our home will likely suffer substantial damage. Our home already shakes and has large visible cracks possibly attributed to blast from the existing mine. How will we survive 200 feet? I request DEQ make public all blasting data Wake Stone is required to monitor for the current pit. DEQ has refused for over 60 days to provide this to the public. What is DEQ and Wake Stone hiding?

Other comments from the Wake Stone quarry public hearing

Betsy Beals, neighbor

It is very unjust and destructive practices of allowing businesses to destroy open spaces, cut down all trees, disturb land in the beautiful area called the Odd Fellows tract.

I thank you for finally having the opportunity to voice my opinion on the rock quarry lease. Please deny for four reasons.

Many protested in 1979 against this rock quarry saying we had 12 others in Wake County and not the need for another one. Wake Stone still has three quarries in this area. This almost sounds greedy to me. So RDU and Wake County hopefully will not allow this lease and let North Carolina Land Conservation buy.

Why deny this?

As an adjacent homeowner and a senior citizen, I have lived on Reedy Creek Road since 1966. This is a very egregious and financially damaging development to my home, plus my clean drinking water well. Wake Stone lacks the facts and evidence and provides very little detail. The blasting study in most states lets you know when they’re blasting. It’s also a bad financial deal for the citizens of Wake County who daily use Lake Crabtree.

No amount of money can replace this … area and the way it’s used.

Logging trucks will be passing a one-lane bridge on Old Reedy Creek Road along with bulldozers and skitters and dump trucks and noisy chainsaws, block roads and diesel fuels from industrial service. The bridge says 32 tons, but those signs just went up.

I’ve lived here over 50 years. My address has changed six times.

Randall Dunn, neighbor

My house is next to the proposed quarry. I urge the DEQ to deny this request. My property is about two-thirds of a mile from Wake Stone’s current quarry. And I can feel and hear when they blast, and I’ve found cracks in my foundation from blasting. This change would move the quarry pit from two-thirds of a mile from my property to 100 feet from my property. The impact on my house, my family and our health would be devastating. Wake Stone’s application says that their blasting would not cause damage to structures as close as 500 feet. While I’m very skeptical of this claim, it’s clear that not even Wake Stone has claimed that they can prevent damage to my house, which is far less than 500 feet from their proposed quarry pit. My house is less than 200 feet, less than half the distance they claim is safe.

The 1972 Mining Act says the permit can be denied due to a direct and substantial physical hazard to the public health and safety or to a neighboring dwelling or house. The expanded quarry pit would clearly be a substantial hazard to my house and to the health and safety of my family. In addition to my house, I am worried about my family and our health. What would happen to them if they were in the backyard 100 feet from one of Wake Stone’s blasts. What would the health effects of the blasting and the air pollution be?

I urge you to deny this request. Also, Wake Stone’s original permit called for their current site to be turned to the state after 50 years of operation. This would be in 2031, 50 years after the quarry began in 1981. This sunset clause remained in their permit until two years ago when it was removed without a hearing or any public input with the claim that the sunset clause was a typo. This was clearly not a typo. The current quarry should cease operation in 2031 as part of Wake Stone’s original agreement when they first opened the quarry. Thank you.

Jean Spooner, chairwoman of the Umstead Coalition

In the past 20 years, I have seen, heard, felt and keep learning even more … about the many adverse impacts of the existing quarry to William B. Umstead State Park. … which includes the 1992 landslide covering Crabtree Creek and numerous citizen claims have been hidden away in the paper files of the DEQ.

We have suffered for decades with a quarry operation we knew would end by 2031 with the promised 50-year sunset clause. Our park and park users have endured high concentrations of … discharging constantly into our park from their sprinkler system attempts to control the dust right next to the park and into Crabtree Creek and stormwater. … Now the private quarry is asking to severely lessen the buffer protections we have on the existing site and give us only minimal protections on the proposed site. And measuring from the center line of Crabtree Creek is a really odd thing. The standard is to center from the top of the bank. All the buffers are severely less than what was promised in the original 1981 permit. …

The stability and integrity of Crabtree Creek is in itself in jeopardy. Wishing that were not so is not the same as having the needed engineering study to show otherwise. There are no mitigation measures that are possible on this small 106-acre site that makes the destruction of our public property without severe impacts to our freshwaters and William B. Umstead State Park and the Old Reedy Creek Road recreation area.

Deny the permit please.

Mark Stohlman, former mayor of Morrisville

We ask that you deny this permit per section D5, adverse effects on Umstead State Park and Old Reedy Creek recreation corridor. The towns of Morrisville and Cary have invested tens of millions of dollars in greenway systems and facilities. … All of these trails lead directly to Umstead Park and the Old Reedy Creek Road area, and they are used by thousands of trail users. These trail users will be adversely impacted by increased noise, dust, and truck traffic. The original Wake Stone quarry were to cease operations in 2031, and this expansion would not even be possible without the sunset clause being changed unbeknownst to the municipalities that invested all of this money, time and energy over many years in our trail systems.

Please deny the expansion permit and restore the sunset clause. Thank you for your time.

What are Chapel Hill’s plans for downtown?

On a recent afternoon, Antoni Sustaita, owner of Bandido’s Mexican Café on Franklin Street, opens the makeshift takeout window.

The awning and lights over Amber Alley have been removed, and the ground is still wet from rain. At the alley’s back entrance sits heavy machinery for the construction of a nightclub, called StillLife Nightclub, on the roof of Sutton’s Drug Store.

Sustaita says through his mask that he’s looking forward to the boost to his restaurant the renewed traffic would bring. “There used to be Players upstairs,” Sustaita said. “Hopefully, they know what they’re doing.”

But when asked about the plans to turn Wallace Parking Deck into an office building with wet lab space, Sustaita draws in his breath. “Now that, that is bad,” he said. “There’s not enough parking in this town to begin with.”

“Between COVID and that, my prediction is we will not survive,” Sustaita said. “We’ve been open for 25 years, but that would be too much.”

The plans for the area around Sutton’s is just the start of Chapel Hill town government’s plans for downtown on the whole.

In February, Mayor Pam Hemminger filed a petition to expand the types of retail allowed downtown to include “experiential retail,” such as health clubs of over 10,000 square feet. On June 24, the town council approved the new ordinance. The change will affect most other shopping centers around town. At the same time, Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership in May unveiled a new initiative drawing on the same design motifs as the biotechnology industry. The blue and yellow flags for “Experience Downtown Chapel Hill,” or “XDCH,” have been put up in recent weeks.

 

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The Sutton’s area is where the biggest construction work is planned, and the stress and effects of that already are felt. A part of Franklin Street that used to be vibrant and friendly has become hot, dusty, empty, and turned inside out.

Charlotte-based Grubb Properties plans to demolish Wallace Parking Deck and build a 200,000-square-foot office building with wet lab space, raze the parking deck at 137 E. Rosemary St. and build a new parking deck with ground-floor retail, and demolish the interior walls of the CVS building.

The CVS building, located at 136 E. Franklin St. and 137 E. Rosemary St., used to be known as the Bank of America Center, for the bank that had a branch there for 39 years until it closed in 2012. The building has housed offices, restaurants, bars, and also UNC’s annual student art sale on the back. Grubb Properties, the town of Chapel Hill and UNC want to turn the building into an “Innovation Center,” with a new façade, a new lobby, 16 new restrooms, new roof, new LED lighting, and demolition of all interior walls, according to Grubb’s marketing brochure.

At the parking deck at 125 E. Rosemary St., Grubb wants to build a new 1,100-space parking deck with a “retail porch.” The development would also completely remake the look and feel of much of Franklin Street and Rosemary Street. Grubb Properties wants to widen sidewalks and install bike lanes, build a “town green” space in the back of the Post Office, and turn the bottom of the parking lot by the CVS building into an “urban park.”

The proposed development will use tax credits from the “Opportunity Zone” designation over the area. Opportunity Zones are a federal program created in late 2017, and are supposed to spur development in economically distressed areas.

At the June 24 town council meeting, the public hearing for the development was scheduled and there were no speakers. The rezoning for it was approved. An economic development package was not ready to be presented to the town council. That has been continued to September.

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Durham approves $1.1 million toward Housing for New Hope for “Unsheltered Coordinating Agency”

Housing for New Hope is receiving $1.1 million, jointly funded by Durham City and County, to develop an “Unsheltered Coordinating Agency” over two and a half years, part of the city’s recent build up of affordable housing and homelessness programs.

The city council approved the funding at its May 4 meeting. The new agency will operate under the Continuum of Care as well as the newly formed Entry Point Durham.

Mayor Steve Schewel emphasized outreach to homeless people during the coronavirus crisis at the April 23 city council work session.

“This is a very impressive plan that we’ve got going with our homeless work, and this is a key building block in our homelessness strategy,” Schewel said. “It’s great to see our homelessness system come together, beginning with Entry Point Durham and now providing this with street outreach and the encampment response.”

Schewel also asked staff for details on how street outreach was going to help homeless people during COVID-19.

“I’ve been on the American Tobacco Trail quite a bit, and where the American Tobacco Trail crosses Fayetteville Street, there is a group there now,” he said. “Nobody I saw was socially distancing, wearing masks.”

Efforts to establish the new Unsheltered Coordinating Agency began this February under the direction of the city council and the Durham County Commissioners.

According to Housing for New Hope Executive Director Russell Pierce, the agency will be a revamped version of the nonprofit’s “Street Outreach” program, which has existed for 10 years.

“Through Street Outreach, our team goes onto the streets of Durham and identifies encampments and other areas where people who are homeless may be living and provide these individuals with information on community resources and housing opportunities,” Pierce said in an e-mail.

Street Outreach was previously funded by Alliance Healthcare. After the organization lost funding last year, Pierce said, the program was reduced to one employee. Because of the new funding, it has gone back up to five staffers who are being trained to engage with homeless people.

Because of the coronavirus, Pierce said homeless shelters have reduced capacity, such as Urban Ministries, which will reduce capacity by more than 50 percent, and Families Moving Forward, decreasing capacity by 20 percent.

“Our Rapid Rehousing team has been working to move nearly 20 households to housing in preparation for the (Urban Ministries of Durham) transition,” he said. “It is safer to have folks in their own space where they can be provided wraparound services.”

“The Street Outreach team will also be a critical community resource serving those who are unsheltered and unable to secure shelter beds as they await moves into permanent housing,” he added.

According to the contract between the city and Housing for New Hope, the requirements for the new agency will be rigorous. Staffers are required to go out into Durham at least two evenings a week to seek out homeless people.

Additionally, the nonprofit would have to maintain a phone line to take calls from concerned citizens to refer homeless people.

Once people are identified as homeless, the staff have to make contact with them at least once a week “to build trust and increase willingness to engage.” During that, before the person becomes part of the case load, Housing for New Hope must also be in touch with other organizations to refer them.

Staffers must try to make contact on different days over a minimum two-week period, “using all available contact methods.” Only after no contact with the homeless person for 30 days and three unsuccessful contact attempts are they allowed to stop contact.

Housing for New Hope will also lead the coordination of the annual homeless canvas as part of this contract, and make a map of homeless people in Durham to provide to the city Community Development Department.

“Entry Point Durham is our community’s coordinated entry program, a central point for those seeking service due to homelessness or the imminent threat of becoming homeless. Entry Point Durham provides one central location where people can begin to be connected to services,” Pierce said. “People come to them. However, that just isn’t possible for everyone. Street Outreach is designed to extend the efforts of Entry Point Durham and go where the people are begin building a relationship of trust as they begin their journey toward long-term, stable housing.”

The Street Outreach program recently moved to ReCity Durham, a “co-working on purpose” space located on Broadway Street, which formerly housed the design company Neu Concepts.

Continuum of Care is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Entry Point Durham was founded in October 2019, and has become the only way for people to seek shelter at Urban Ministries and Families Moving Forward. Staffers connect homeless people with resources to resolve their housing crisis.

It is located at the Durham County Human Services building during the week and at the John O’Daniel Exchange building on Gilbert Street on weekends and holidays.

City staff noted the program was an expansion of Housing for New Hope at the work session meeting.

According to financial reports, Housing for New Hope posted $3.3 million in net assets for the fiscal year ending in August 2018, up from $2.9 million in 2016. In 2018, Continuum of Care’s total funding for all homelessness programs in Durham was $1.5 million.

Durham approves $8.6 million for four soccer fields at Hoover Road Park Project

The Durham City Council has approved $8.6 million for the construction of the Hoover Road Park Project, a proposal by the Parks & Recreation Department to build four soccer fields for tournaments off N.C. 98.

The project, which totals $9.5 million, is planned for North Hoover Road, directly across from the Wheels Fun Park.

In January 2017, Durham City purchased the two parcels for the project. Totaling 50 acres at 632 N. Hoover Rd. and 621 Cheek Rd., the parcels’ assessed value were $267,660 and $574,950, according to tax records. Durham City bought them for $1.25 million.

Since then, Hoover Road Park Project has been in the design phase. With the city council’s approval of the $8.6 million, the project moves into build and Parks & Rec has opened the project up to bids. Construction is slated to begin in July and last for about 16 months, according to the department.

Tom Dawson, assistant director of Durham Parks & Rec, said on Tuesday that a private school had previously wanted to build a baseball field at the site. Because of that, it is already graded and ready for construction.

“One thing with having four fields is we can do a lot more tournaments. So that opens up the ability to run multiple games at once,” Dawson said.

The project calls for four natural turf soccer fields, a practice field, a playground and shelter, restrooms and maintenance building, sidewalks and parking, and walking trails.

In addition to that, Dawson said the funding also will go toward artwork at the entrance.

“With every capital improvements project, we are authorized to use some funds to develop some major art project,” he said.

“I think the community will be able to put their stamp on this project,” he added. “It will be towards the front of the entrance, and we’ll have a lot of fun with community development.”

“We also want art to serve a purpose,” Dawson said. “We really want the art at the entrance to lead people in from the road. We want sculptural art. It will be appropriate, exciting, inclusive art that we can do to really mark the site as something that’s really ‘Durham.’”

Dawson said there is also a lack of soccer fields in Durham for people who like the sport.

“With our master plan, we found that we had a large deficit of soccer fields. And that was the deficit that we were hoping to help fill with this Hoover Road. We’re still behind the curve for a population of this size. There’s a lot for demand for soccer. There’s a lot of people who want to play soccer but can’t because we don’t have soccer fields.”

According to Parks & Rec, the general population needs one soccer field per 10,000 people, and Durham currently has 14 soccer fields.

Durham City and Parks & Rec did a master plan of recreation needs in 2013. In that plan, Durham residents surveyed said the top four “most important” facilities provided by Parks & Rec were, in order, trails and greenways, recreation centers, playgrounds and a tie between athletic fields and city lakes.

New outdoor facilities most preferred by respondents were an outdoor pool with water play features and an outdoor amphitheater.

In the same plan, new soccer fields were slated for the Twin Lakes Park, located nearby on Chandler Road. That park has one artificial turf soccer field, which Parks & Rec has temporarily closed because of COVID-19. Only tennis courts, pickleball courts and disc golf courses are open in city parks.

The 2013 master plan also identified Twin Lakes Park as the best option for developing new soccer fields.

“Twin Lakes is the best option because it is the most developable and has the least conflict with surrounding uses: on the additional 24 acres just acquired adjacent to the existing soccer field at that park, another three to four fields with associated parking is possible,” stated the plan.

The city council approved the $8.6 million for Hoover Road Park Project to go toward Skanska Inc. at the April 20 meeting, with a contingency fund of $215,000 for a total of $8.8 million.

At the city council’s work session on April 9, when the proposal was discussed, Councilwoman DeDreana Freeman expressed confusion about the project.

“I’m not familiar with the Hoover Road project. I think there was something a couple years ago that came up. I’m not sure if this is the same,” she said.

Mayor Steve Schewel expressed excitement for the project.

“I am super excited about this. I am so excited that we are going to be building these fields. That is awesome,” he said. “Congratulations to administration for pushing through this and being so opportunistic in acquiring the land.”

The council approved funding for the project unanimously.

Blog post: What’s going on at the old Blue Cross building?!

While driving on 15-501 between Durham and Chapel Hill on Sunday, drinking some coffee, listening to the radio, I turned to look at the old Blue Cross building and this was the sight. The lovely, now-classic campus was — it looked like it was being destroyed!

This was sad, and nausea-inducing. This is awful.

Blue Cross sold this building — is it a spaceship? It is very “Star Trek”-y — in 2015. State Employees’ Credit Union snapped it up. Blue Cross left in 2016.

So I contacted SECU to see what was going on at the site.

SECU said I should contact Chapel Hill and N.C. Department of Transportation.

So I emailed Chapel Hill, the public information officers for which said the clear-cutting was being done for a joint development between SECU, Wegmans, Chapel Hill and N.C. DOT.

Well, here are the plans.

Six-lane entrance from 15-501 cutting into the old Blue Cross campus, swerving through where the trees used to be so it can come out the other side to create a connection with the new Wegmans, under construction also on 15-501.

As the song goes, “They paved paradise, put up a … .”

Upset and sad and still nauseous, I emailed SECU back to say, Well it is a SECU project after all, and ask why they wanted to clear-cut trees on a landmark building and campus they sought to buy.

SECU had no comment.