All posts filed under: current stories

Blog post: Pierce Freelon has been appointed to the Durham City Council. But is it legal?

Durham City Council voted on Aug. 31 to appoint Pierce Freelon to the Ward 3 seat. The seat had been left vacant by Vernetta Alston in April when she left for the 29th district seat on the state House of Representatives. Freelon is a musician and son of the late architect Phil Freelon and jazz musician Nnenna Freelon. He had run unsuccessfully for the state senate this year and for Durham mayor in 2017. In April, the city council was debating whether to appoint someone to the seat or to let the public decide on election day. So why was the appointment of Freelon suddenly made some four months after Alston left? And was this action legal? Both the city charter and the state statute are written in such a way that they require the appointment to be made soon after the vacancy occurs, and that the appointment should be in place only until when the public can elect a new representative. That is, the law protects the public’s right to vote for their elected …

Election 2020: Trump in Winston-Salem

President Donald Trump was in Winston-Salem on Tuesday for his fourth visit to North Carolina since July, where he drew thousands of supporters from around the state. The campaign rally was held at the Smith Reynolds Regional Airport. Supporters donning Trump T-shirts, Keep America Great hats and holding up signs waited for hours for Air Force One to arrive. Trump’s speech began shortly after 7 p.m. and focused on familiar themes of his campaign this election year: Bringing jobs back to America, tax cuts, and warning the crowd against mail-in ballots. Trump criticized Gov. Roy Cooper for North Carolina’s continued lockdown and gave Lt. Gov. Dan Forest a boost for his run for the state’s top office. Trump was also in Florida on Tuesday. “I just left Florida. We’re going to win Florida,” he said to the North Carolina crowd to cheers. Check out the photo gallery by Karen Tam.

Marc Dreyfors’ Eco-Innovations

Behind a small, nondescript building in Efland, a gravel driveway reveals an old textiles manufacturing warehouse, biodiesel production tanks and rows of vegetables at the Orange County Eco-Innovations Park. A fleet of buses that run on biodiesel sit across from the warehouse. “This pink party bus runs green!” whimsical slogans on the front say. “We are a revolution in motion!” Because of the coronavirus, the buses have been out of commission, and the Eco-Innovations Park’s founder and General Manager Marc Dreyfors is busy working to to keep his nonprofits and businesses afloat. “That was a blow to us,” Dreyfors said of the buses. Walking across the sun-baked grounds toward potted hemp plants and rows of vegetables, Dreyfors stops to examine the squashes and help a worker fix a stand of tomatoes that have drooped over. Dreyfors’ main enterprise is the nonprofit, The Forest Foundation, which he founded in 2001. It’s the umbrella organization for Carolina Biofuels, Greenway Transit, Green Tracks, Forests of the World, and the newest business, CannDo CBD Oil. After a grant application …

The fight for the West Point on the Eno

Every year, thousands of Durham residents flock to the West Point on the Eno Park for the annual Eno River festival, to look at crafts, eat food, listen to music, and even take a dip in the river itself. But with a dense residential development planned for nearby, some neighbors are sounding the alarm that the project could ruin the park, and damage the health of the Eno River. Sun Forest Systems, a Chapel Hill-based custom design and building company, wants to build “Westpoint at Eno,” with 278 townhomes and 101 single-family homes. The 94-acre site runs along the south of the West Point on the Eno park, with an entrance on North Roxboro Road. The development would build over Black Meadow Ridge, an area that is a buffer between the West Point park and neighborhoods. Black Meadow Ridge has been under discussion for possible conservation over the years. “We had heard about this just through word of mouth,” said Chris Hodgson, who lives in one of the neighborhoods right behind Black Meadow Ridge. Hodgson …

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, …

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 …

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 …