All posts filed under: Articles

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

Durham gets ready to replace 12,000 feet of water mains in Ninth Street area

Durham is moving forward with a massive water and sewer replacement project in the Ninth Street area and surrounding neighborhoods. Dubbed the “West Blvd. Corridor Utility Rehabilitation project,” the plans call for replacing 12,000 feet of water mains, as well as replacing hydrants, and replacing and repairing sewer lines. It’s the biggest project of this type in the Ninth Street area in memory, according to the city. The project work would go from the Barnes Supply Co. store to West Club Boulevard, including Oval Park, and running down Carolina Avenue, Oakland Avenue, and Englewood Avenue going to Broad Street. The length of West Club Boulevard from Ninth Street to Hillandale Road is also included. (The city’s plans are here. For more details on the work as well as properties to be impacted, click here.) In addition to the 12,000 feet of water mains to be replaced, 11,000 feet of sewer lines and 5,000 feet of storm sewer pipe will also be replaced. “These mains are well beyond their service life,” said Water Department spokeswoman Jennifer …

Durham’s Lake Michie expansion project continues

Durham City has added another 20.2 acres to the properties it now owns around Lake Michie, as part of the city’s ongoing project to acquire land for the lake’s possible expansion. The city paid $200,000 for a tract along Pat Tilley Road. At the May 7 city council meeting, Mayor Steve Schewel expressed unusual enthusiasm about the purchase. “Awesome,” he said. “Still my favorite program in history.” But Durham’s Department of Water Management says there is no current plan to expand Lake Michie and that the purchases are just a “passive” program to protect water quality. “These are buffer properties, and this is an entirely passive program,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Smart. “Beyond source water protection, this also would give the city the option of expanding the lake if such a project were needed to enlarge the water supply – but this would be decades in the future.” The “Lake Michie expansion project” goes back to 1988. Lake Michie along with Little River are the primary water supplies for Durham. Since the program started, the city …

Save RDU Forest issue: What happened with the “sunset clause”?

In the contentious fight between Umstead Coalition and activists, Wake Stone Corp. and Raleigh-Durham International Airport, one major point of argument has been over the “sunset clause.” That is the clause in the permit for the existing Wake Stone mine that states how long the mine can operate. That mine, located off Harrison Avenue, has been operating since 1981. The gaps in the trees can be seen from Interstate 40, and fly rocks have leaped over the buffers. It was expected to close at the end of its 50 years, at the latest. But in March 2018, Morrisville-based Wake Stone and the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality made an administrative change to the wording on the permit, from 50 years or 10 years after mining stops, whichever comes “sooner,” to 50 years or “later.” This change has raised alarm bells at the Umstead Coalition, the nonprofit that preserves the 5,600-acre William B. Umstead Park, located just north of the mine. The coalition has been embroiled in a fight with Wake Stone and RDU over a …

Save RDU Forest issue: RDU gets $49.5 million in coronavirus relief funding. Public hearing on quarry set for June 23

Raleigh-Durham International Airport has received $49.5 million in federal funding for the coronavirus crisis. Airport CEO Michael Landguth said in a news release that the money will help the airport stay afloat. “The CARES Act provides relief to airports at a time when revenue has dropped to unsustainable levels,” Landguth said. “The federal funding combined with our ‘survival budget’ will help RDU keep the lights on and financially stable during this unprecedented time in our industry.” RDU’s board approved the funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) on May 1. The boost comes to RDU as the proposed quarry on the 105-acre Odd Fellows tract by William B. Umstead Park goes to public comment. In March 2019, over the protests of local residents and the Umstead Coalition, the nonprofit that preserves the park, RDU leased the property to Morrisville-based Wake Stone Corp. to mine for $24 million in royalties over 35 years. On April 8, Wake Stone applied for a mining permit on the tract. Park supporters have said …