All posts filed under: Uncategorized

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.

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 …

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. 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 …

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.   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, …

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 …

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 …