April 2011


A couple excellent student driven articles on Northside appeared this week.

Carrboro Commons’ Megan Gassaway published this article which reviews the history of the Northside community through long time resident Ms. Keith Edwards eyes.

Too often local media focuses narrowly on the business of carving up the community rather than providing a broader context – injecting the human dimension into the story – which better informs the wider community on why folks living in Northside mourn its passing.

Courtesy ReeseNews

Reese News,UNC School of Journalism & Mass Communication’s Digital Newsroom, leverages the power of the multimedia ‘net to give voice to 10 community members’ concerns in their story The struggle for a neighborhood.

It’s no secret that Northside isn’t the neighborhood it used to be.

The change is visible in the increased diversity of its residents and the ten-story high-end condominiums that tower across from the traditionally working class neighborhood, where massive duplexes are replacing single-family homes. Change is also evident in  the growing tension and frustration of residents in a neighborhood plagued by the effects of gentrification.

The pressure for development is taking its toll on the historically black neighborhood, and the town is struggling to balance the need to grow with the needs of neighborhoods like Northside.

Since 2010, the town has been working with the Raleigh-based consultant KlingStubbins to develop a Downtown Framework and Action Plan, which could revise and redevelop parts of downtown Chapel Hill and the surrounding areas.

The downtown proposal could have significant effects on Northside. In its current draft, the framework suggests building new road connections and parking decks in areas where homes currently stand. It also underscores certain areas of Northside as prime for redevelopment.

Well done folks!

Want a bit of additional perspective on the development pressures facing Northside?

IndyWeek reporter (and former Daily Tar Heel editor) Joe Schwartz put together another excellent overview last June (2010): Greenbridge: A new chapter in a tense history .

Greenbridge, as reported by the Chapel Hill News, faces its first foreclosure hearing next Tuesday. This Sunday they promise a further exploration of not only Greenbridge’s problems but other Downtown developments putting pressure on Northside, Cameron Ave. and Pine Knolls neighborhoods.

Change is going to happen. The question is how the whole of our community can benefit from that change. Articles like these help create a broader perspective, one that has been missing so far, in the discussions over development policy Downtown.

It is critical that the nearby neighborhoods play a vital role in determining their own fates. Until their voices are heard and their neighborhoods are treated like living, breathing communities rather than convenient parcels of land for future development, our development policy is as broken as Greenbridge’s financing.

Unlike snobaristas, in my experience Carrboro’s current Town Manager Steve Stewart has consistently provided professional service with a friendly and personalized touch.

Tuesday Steve announced he was moving on. Hired in 2003, he helped add resiliency and flexibility to Carrboro’s management structure – the qualities the fast growing Paris of the Piedmont needed to survive and position it to thrive in today’s economic environment.

While Steve and I haven’t always agreed on Carrboro policy, he showed me abundant courtesy (even when he realized I was a Chapel Hill interloper), was quick to respond to my queries and was always willing to talk a bit of shop when I ran into around town (most recently before Carrboro’s 100th Anniversary kick-off party).

Steve plans to hang around after the transition – so I hope he’ll pipe up occasionally and continue to provide a bit of practical wisdom for both our communities.

Thanks Steve, best of luck in your new endeavors.

Coverage from the Chapel Hill News, Carrboro Citizen and WCHL1360 with more on Steve’s recent announcement.

I haven’t been a big coffee drinker since my days on the engineering mezzanine at Northern Telecom (I never met a bunch of folks that could guzzle joe like Northern’s engineers).

The last decade, though, I easily go a month without drinking some form of coffee; a double bang cappuccino with extra foamy milk being my current favorite.

Chapel Hill/Carrboro/Hillsborough are blessed with an abundance of decent cafes serving the best in fair-trade brews. When it comes to choosing a place to get my occasional cupped lightning, the three key differentiators, at least for me, are price, quality and service.

Price, with the exception of 3-Cups , is roughly the same between the locally-owned and operated places I’m willing to go.

Quality varies but having grown up on road warrior jitter juice I’m willing to tolerate a broad spectrum of results. As long as the raw bean comes from socially just source, is not priced out-of-line with its ingestability, is reasonably hot and is prepared somewhat hygienically, down it goes.

Which leaves level of service.

Coffee, though I know some folks feel differently, is a discretionary purchase. While I sometimes need, like many of us, an energy boost, I’m not so dependent a draught of “rocket fuel” that I’m willing to forgo courtesy at the cash register.

When I belly up to the bar, I’m happy to get the most minimal of attention and courtesy – a short grunt of acknowledgement and a reasonably fast turn around is all I’m looking for.

I’m not willing to settle for near contempt.

As the local market for good coffee has grown, so, it appears has the spread of boorish baristas.

Look guys, I’m not going to apologize for not seeming hip enough, not slangily ordering the trendiest drink or not paying slavish attention to your choice of clothes/music/politics – I’m here for a simple drink delivered as professionally as possible.

Which is why I most often go to Timberlyne’s Cup o’Joe, Carrboro’s Looking Glass, Estes/Franklin’s Carribou Cafe and University Mall’s Southern Season’s Weathervane.

From all of these (plus Lex’s 3-Cups), I have reliably received top tier courteous service from clean and well-kept breweries at a price point that my family is comfortable paying.

There is a reason I don’t go to Driade, Open Eye or a handful of other highly touted caffeine distribution centers anymore.

When I’m shelling out 2+ bucks for cooked bean shards soaked in hot water, I don’t relish the risk of having even one brutish encounter.

When it happens, again and again, I always wonder why owner/operators are willing to put up with such behavior. Are they so disconnected from their business they don’t realize that its harder to acquire a new customer than cultivate and retain a loyal customer?

To be clear, in my experience even the worst of the bunch have employees that care, that deliver the level of quality and service I’m looking for.

But why play the odds, sometimes quite long, that a you will stumble on one of the happy few?

Maybe there is a natural evolution to coffee joints: care and attention slowly giving way to complacency and antagonism followed by a fall only buffered by new customers ignorance, cushioned only by previous credibility before a slide into inevitable failure.

Or maybe there is a cycle of birth and rebirth – even the worst returning from the ashes to the heights they once enjoyed.

Whatever the trajectory, I have no doubt that the rise and tolerance of the snobarista signals the end of the ride.

Quick update on last week’s post Easthom: Let’s Revisit Lake Jordan.

Several weeks ago Chapel Hill approved an amendment to language of the 2001 Water and Sewer Management, Planning and Agreement (WSMPBA) which gave OWASA much more leeway in tapping OWASA’s 5 million gallon per day (5Mg/d) allocation from Lake Jordan. At that time there wasn’t much sustained discussion of the long-term impacts or broader dimensions before adopting the amendment.

After midnight last Monday the Council decided to revisit the issue which creates an opportunity for more nuanced analysis and broader community input. That opportunity hasn’t been scheduled as of yet.

Today is the final meeting in a several week series of outreach sessions seeking community input to help formulate a new Affordable Housing Strategy for Chapel Hill. Staff sought advice from a broad range of local residents – from current affordable housing residents to professionals managing a wide variety of community programs.

Council, after a bit of prodding and plans spinning awry, wisely recognized there are some structural problems with our current affordable housing approach. Beyond acknowledging the need to rebalance our selection of affordable housing options, Council, on the heels of Greenbridge’s financial difficulties, has finally started to understand some of the inherent risks with their current policy (issues they were made aware of prior to their approval of Greenbridge, East54 and West140 luxury condo projects).

BACKGROUND The Town Council has directed staff to develop an Affordable Housing Strategy. In order to develop a strategy that is inclusive and reflective of the community’s concerns, staff has been conducting focus group sessions with affordable housing stakeholders as well as groups who may not be traditionally associated with the topic.

PURPOSE The purpose of this meeting is to obtain feedback from the community about affordable housing in Chapel Hill. This focus group session is being held for anyone in the community who would like to offer their input about the topic of affordable housing. For more information about this effort, please visit to the following website: http://www.townofchapelhill.org/index.aspx?page=1657

I’ll be attending today’s meeting in order to get a sense of what lessons the Affordable Housing Technical Advisory committee has learned from our community over the last month.

I’ve had several folks ask me about my suggested and rejected changes to the recent Democratic Party resolution supporting the 1/4 cent sales tax increase (Orange County Dems: Thanks for the Consideration…).

This is a terrible year to raise any tax yet the Orange County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) decided 4/5/2011 (VIDEO [my comments at 48 minutes and 103 minutes]) to hold another referendum, at a cost of $105K to $125K ($85K election +$20-40K “education”), trying to succeed where they failed just 6 months ago.

I and others appeared before the BOCC arguing that 1) scheduling the vote this year amounted to “vote shopping” and didn’t serve their professed commitment to “small-d” democracy:

“I do understand that there’s a need for the revenues sooner rather than later,” said Chapel Hill resident Will Raymond. “The turnout is not representative of what the impact is for this tax. You’re looking at dis[en]franchising the rural voters. In terms of integrity of the process and confidence in the process, it feels a little bit like you’re doc[k ]shopping, you’re vote shopping. The reality is that the referendum did very well down in the municipal areas.”

Not only did the referendum pass overwhelmingly in the cities last time, but turnout in the rural districts will likely be low, Raymond said. And, according to Orange County Board of Elections Director Tracy Reams, off-year general elections typically boast a lower turnout than presidential primaries—something to the tune of 25 percent compared to 40 percent, respectively.

“Doing it in November just doesn’t feel very democratic,” said James Barrett, Chapel Hill resident and member of Orange County Justice United, adding he supports the increase. “I think, as we see changes around the world, it’s important to make sure that everyone’s engaged in voting. We have a much greater opportunity to do that in May than we do in November.”

News of Orange, April 19, 2011

“Putting this on the municipal elections is a bad idea … the reality is [that] this did very well in municipal areas,” said Will Raymond, a Chapel Hill resident. “You’re vote shopping.”

N&O, 4/6/2011

and

2) that the County would be better served by altering the proposed allocation from 50% economic development/50% to education to 33% economic development/66% human services:

Will Raymond said that two-thirds of the tax should go for human services, where the real need is since Orange County is creeping toward an 18 percent poverty rate and the county has cut back on some of the services it provides to citizens who need the most help.

“The only way I’m going to support this is if I see a significant portion going to the human services deficit,” Raymond said.

Burlington Time News, April 19, 2011

By the way, that was doc, as in doctor, shopping and not “dock shopping” as reported.

If the County used 2/3rds of the anticipated revenue, $1.6+ million, for human services the impact on existing programs would be significant. Further, the County would finally have funding to address the emergency housing problem they long offloaded to the Interfaith Council (IFC).

Allocating $1.2+ million to bolster the multi-million dollar school budgets ,though, will not go as far. When you review last year’s proposed educational expenditures the contrast between priorities is stark – repaving running tracks versus bolstering our burdened community health service.

As of tonight (Tues. 4/19/2011), not only will the sales tax appear on the ballot (with a non-binding commitment to the proposed 50/50 split) but the BOCC has floated the idea of adding an additional 1/2 cent sales tax bump to fund regional transit initiatives (including light rail).

That’s an 3/4 cent increase from the current 7.75% to 8.50%.

That could drop to 8.25% if the requested extension of a “temporary” State sales tax hike, currently 1 cent, passes the Republican controlled legislature at Gov. Perdue’s suggest 3/4 cent rate . If that extension fails and both referendums succeed, the new Orange County rate would be lower than today – 7.5% – a possibility the BOCC might leverage to sell the bump to voters.

Last year the BOCC responded positively to a critique of the vagueness of their proposed economic development spending priorities by providing specific projects with fairly well established cost structures. One example – extending sewer and water service into 2 of the economic development zones. I expect them to develop a similar list of very targeted expenditures to fix creaking critical physical infrastructure at the schools.

That said, I don’t plan to support the tax because it further burdens folks during a worsening economic downturn, because scheduling it during an off-year election appears to be “gaming” the electoral process and because the allocation doesn’t address escalating demand for critical core services.

Of course, I remain open to the possibility that my mind could be changed by the BOCC’s new advocacy program.

Below is my revised resolution merged with the original:

(more…)

Tomorrow Council member Laurin Easthom is petitioning her colleagues to sharpen up their decision to allow Orange Water and Sewer (OWASA) tap Lake Jordan for less than dire and near catastrophic need.

Several weeks ago Chapel Hill approved an amendment to language of the 2001 Water and Sewer Management, Planning and Agreement (WSMPBA) which gave OWASA much more leeway in tapping OWASA’s 5 million gallon per day (5Mg/d) allocation from Lake Jordan. At that time there wasn’t much sustained discussion of the long-term impacts or broader dimensions before adopting the amendment.

I attended the Jan. 27th OWASA Board meeting where the proposed loosening of the reins was first discussed and then approved [MINUTES].

In selling the need for the modification to his fellow board members, Gordon Merklein, the Chair of OWASA’s Board and UNC’s Executive Director Real Estate Development related a conversation he had with his colleague Carolyn Elfland, UNC’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Services. He said that Carolyn expressed concern that UNC wouldn’t have access to that 5Mg/d allocation and desired an agreement that solidified UNC’s future ability, through OWASA, to get at Lake Jordan’s supplies.

That was a bit disconcerting as local policymakers had fairly consistently rejected tapping Lake Jordan for anything other than the most extreme of needs.

Not only have elected folks the last two decades worked hard to secure and protect the watersheds OWASA claimed were sufficient to supply our needs for the next 100 years but adopted land-use and building ordinances that conserve the resources we already have.

Of course, as I said at the time (Water,Water,Everywhere…), at the base of this discussion is a decision, which the community has supported, to live within our local footprint. Time after time the community has been in the forefront of protecting that valuable asset – most recently challenging the County’s siting of a trash transfer station in a critical watershed area and questioning OWASA’s proposed timbering operations.

The loose language of the adopted amendment puts that community-supported principle at risk.

Luckily Carrboro, a party to the agreement, stepped in and rejected the current proposal (Water, Water, Everywhere? Carrboro Holds The Line).

In light of their rejection and the continued concerns of local environmentalist, I applaud Laurin’s effort to put this decision back before her colleagues for closer inspection.

Council Member Laurin Easthom petitions the Council to place the Water and Sewer Management, Planning, and Boundary Agreement resolution (2011-02-28/R-5) recently passed by the Council back on the agenda for further Council discussion.

[UPDATE] Valerie said she was “appalled” not “ashamed”. Turns out so is the Chapel Hill News.

Tomorrow night Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt will petition his colleagues to appoint a representative to participate in discussions with the County’s Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) on the future of the Interlocal Agreement on Solid Waste Management.

That agreement, coordinating waste management between each municipality and the County, needs to either evolve to meet the changes in our collective waste management plans or face dissolution.

For the good of our wider community, evolution is the better alternative.

Folks might recall that I asked Council several times over the last 6 years to fill the seat set aside on the SWAB for an elected representative from Chapel Hill – even offering to fill that position myself if appointed or elected to Council. Mayor Pro Tem Jim Ward took up that task, finally, less than a year ago.

Last year the Board of Commissioners (BOCC) agreed to ship our waste to Durham’s trash transfer station (which will subsequently ship it elsewhere). Even though this decision laid the groundwork for what I hope is a temporary solution to our garbage disposal needs, the time that decision bought hasn’t been used effectively by the SWAB to plan for the longer term.

There has been no real effort, to date, to find a local or regional solution that aligns more closely to our community’s fiscal and environmental policy objectives. Instead, the County contracted a new waste management consultancy that “discovered” three increased capacity options. Last week the County proposed extending the landfills life, again, irrespective of the commitments made to the Rogers Road community.

Commissioner Valerie Foushee, reviewing her inaction in tasking County staff to work the issue over the last 6 years, said she was “appalled” by the lack of progress – a sentiment echoed by all her colleagues.

Resisting expediency, taking that deceptively easy path of delaying the inevitable yet again, the BOCC finally took the bull by the horns and agreed to forge a solution themselves (Trash Talk: The Neverending Story…Ends?).

As the BOCC and County Manager noted, their partners in the Interlocal agreement have been MIA during the last few years, and though the County preferred a collaborative accommodation, they could no longer delay.

Tomorrow night, Mark moves Chapel Hill one-step closer to being part of the solution rather than the source of the problem:

This petition responds to a request from the Orange County Board of Commissioners for Towns to consider establishing a working group to address and resolve solid waste management issues. The Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) recommends that this working group be comprised of elected officials and senior staff, and that the process should begin as soon as possible.

I wholeheartedly agree and expect the Council to expeditiously move the process forward.

My first suggested action – take advantage of the provision built into the 1997 landfill extension agreement, as County Manager Frank Clifton highlighted last Tuesday, and start setting aside part of the tipping fees for eventual mitigation of landfill related problems.

This Monday (Apr. 11th,2011), the Council will have the first of two hearings on the Charterwood development. This proposed development supposedly aligns with the goals set forth in both the Town’s aged Comprehensive Plan and the problematic Northern Area Plan.

I’ve read well over a hundred of planning proposals the last decade and have seen a steady trend of “cut-n-pasting” language from other successfully approved proposals to justify a new project – usually generic snippets from the Comprehensive Plan characterizing some community benefit (“well being”) which is hard to objectively pin down.

Certain catch-phrases become de riguer as time goes on: “transit-oriented”, “green”,”sustainable”, etc. Each used to suggest qualities the project might or might not have but each having been successful in pushing other projects through the pipeline.

Because of that applications usually have a strange quirk, some strangled logic, used to justify a quality the project doesn’t innately possess. For instance, the developers of Charterwood are seeking a “mix use village” (MUV) zone and claim their project, which calls for clearing acres of 100-year growth forest to make way for 282 parking spots, is “transit-oriented”.

As Del Snow, a tireless advocate for northern Chapel Hill (who I’ve served with on several advisory boards), points out in today’s Chapel Hill News, the price of this project should be carefully weighed against all the costs it incurs.

As proposed, Charterwood barely meets the criteria laid out in the Northern Area plan. This is not a compact, dense development which seeks to maximize a tracts potential while minimizing its impact on local neighborhoods, current infrastructure and environment.

One example: the “transit-oriented” layout calls for carving an acre of impervious surface parking lot out of the existing tract of 100-year growth trees – a tract which sits at the headwaters of several local creeks. Another: the potential environmental risk posed by shifting the responsibility for maintaining the current on-site catch-basins in this sensitive area from NC-DOT to a private commercial entity.

As Del said in her guest editorial:

Land available for development is dwindling in Chapel Hill. As a result, we will be seeing more and more applications from developers that stretch the limits of our ordinances and ask us to re-assess our priorities.

Council will have to decide if the public good is best served by foregoing the principles laid in our current planning framework or by sticking with those community priorities which balance the public price against private reward.

More on Charterwood’s zoning application, design goals and anticipated footprint.

Among the many other activities going on today was the Orange County Democratic Party all-precinct convention. Quite a turnout with many familiar faces.

Local heavyweights US Rep. David Price, former State House Speaker Joe Hackney and House colleague Verla Insko along with State Senator Ellie Kinnaird (who changed a tire on the way to the meeting) attended.

Price, just returned from the budget breakdown nonsense in Washington, gave a rousing call to arms pointing out that the Tea Party express was bearing down on the nation – and last night’s buffoonery was just the first in many salvos aimed squarely at middle America. Verla and Joe sketched out the dire legislative morass they face in the State house and related how the turnover in control of the House has actually brought the Democratic caucus closer.

There were 44 prepared petitions put before the convention – a long list to dispense with in less than the budgeted 4 hours. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, who was running the proceedings, was able to work through a good chunk by getting collective assent upfront.

Though it has been a long time since I participated in a convention, I came prepared to offer an amendment to the petition calling for support of the Board of Commissioner’s [BOCC] recent plan to hold a Nov. 2011 referendum increasing our local sales tax 0.25%.

The BOCC has proposed splitting the anticipated $2.5M per year evenly between economic development and education. I asked the gathered folks to support a change in that allocation from 50/50 to 33% for economic development, which would adequately support the economic initiatives the BOCC has already laid out, and 66% to restore and support the many human service programs curtailed by the County these last 5 years.

My neighbor Tom Henkel seconded the call and an interesting discussion followed. Unfortunately, my suggested changes were completely shot down. It was great to get a strong dose of participatory democracy even if my effort was for naught. I appreciate the kind and thoughtful consideration the convention offered.

Afterwards, BOCC member Steve Yuhasz came over and graciously encouraged me to keep on pressing the BOCC to find money for human service programs. I told him I wasn’t going to give up.

Though the day was grey, this morning’s formal commemoration of the end of the current phase of Baldwin Park’s stream restoration project was well attended by local pols: Carrboro Alderman Randee Haven-O’Donnel, Lydia Lavelle, Sammy Slade, Chapel Hill’s Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Council member Donna Bell (who lives a few steps away from the park) joined Town staff and a small group of local supporters in recognizing the revamp of this stretch of stream.

Baldwin Park Work Group

Mr. Baldwin, whose uncle Henry Baldwin owned the property (and mortgaged his house to help build St. Joes), told of walking across this stretch of land as a boy in a straw hat when it was still relatively wild before thanking the community for the improvements.

Mr. Baldwin's Uncle Donated the Land for St. Joe's

Local environmentalist and incredible photographer Mary Sonis has made a stunning discovery in her backyard.

Below is a rare 4 toed salamander, “a species of special concern in North Carolina” (to quote her excited announcement).

Mary contacted an expert at the North Carolina Museum of Life and Sciences who said he had never seen one of these in the wild. These salamanders breed in bogs and seepages. In this case, a seepage from a vernal pond within the Bolin Creek forest.

Some readers might recall the recent two year long lively debate over paving tracts of Bolin Creek within Carrboro’s jurisdiction for a greenway. Several of the proposed routes targeted for obliteration the very vernal ponds and seepages making up the habitat of this exceedingly rare species.

Now that Mary has confirmed that these salamanders inhabit Bolin Creek’s watershed, it is incumbent on our local leaders to adopt those proposed routes which maintain the integrity of the stream and vernal pools that are critical components of this and other “critters” habitat.

Bolin Creek Restoration Project from Town of Chapel Hill, NC

Our community spends a lot of time talking “green”. We’ve encouraged developers and policy makers alike to commit, with some success, to an environmentally sustainable future. Most of the effort has been put into conserving energy, lowering the impact of development, preserving green-space and securing open-space.

“Think green” has moved, in fits and starts, from an empty mantra to being a more integral part of the development discussion. Unfortunately, the time isn’t always taken to tease out what is truly “green” and to what amounts to “green washing” in evaluating various development proposals. Sometimes the natural alignment between environmental justice and social justice is split. Some environmental concerns continue to be ignored.

For one, shepherding our limited natural water resources and adopting policies that constrain growth to live within those limits continues to get short shrift.

Chapel Hill’s Council recently reversed a policy of not tapping Lake Jordan for anything other than a catastrophic water crisis. In weakening the resolve earlier bodies showed, they opened the door to growth fueled by external resources. Our community has steadfastly supported land-use policies that try to maintain the high quality water drawn from the local watersheds. We have been told that our investment in those resources would maintain a reasonable level of growth for the next 100 years. Apparently the community’s resolve is firmer than our current Council’s.

Water is becoming the dominant limiting factor to growth for community’s all across the globe. Even in areas blessed with plentiful rainfall, maintaining safe and reliable access to water is a problem that only grows with time. As North Carolina continues to dip in and our of drought, we need to recommit to the vision of living within the watersheds OWASA has acquired on our behalf.

Along those lines, we need to think more than “green” in making decisions about how Chapel Hill and Carrboro evolve over the next few decades, we need to start thinking “blue”.

That is why I’m thrilled by the efforts of the Friends of Bolin Creek [FOBC] partnering with Chapel Hill and Carrboro in putting together an Earth Action Day which emphasizes WATER.

Starting off at 9:30am, a dedication will be held for the Baldwin Creek Restoration project [MAP]. Chapel Hill, Carrboro and the Friends of Bolin Creek partnered on this EPA 319 grant project to start reversing some of the damage caused by previous poor management practices.

Project lead Trish D’Arconte has worked hard to make “think blue” a reflexive part of Chapel Hill’s policies and will be explaining how the work at Baldwin Park is a start on a larger effort to remediate many of the impaired streams in our community.

From 10am-12pm April 9th, 2011, the FoBC’s Creek Action Tour has 9 separate events (INFO) and demonstrations reflecting on improving our local impaired watersheds through conservation, sound management and awareness.

You can learn how to make changes at your own home, in your own neighborhood, that will improve the streams in your area. The FoBC is also holding a raffle with several great prizes, including a personal tutorial on constructing a rain garden.

Chapel Hill’s Wes Tilghman (who I worked with on planning 2010′s Festifall) and staff put together an event that celebrates and highlights our community’s environmental commitment. From 12-5pm (INFO) a wide range of entertainments and exhibits will be shown at Southern Community Park. Free shuttles are available (check the website for more information).

[UPDATE:] WCHL’s Elizabeth Friend has a great summation here.

Over a decade ago, just as I was beginning to get involved in local issues, I heard then local NAACP President Fred Black and Roger Road resident Rev. Robert Campbell brief Council on the fairly extensive list of negative impacts our landfill was having on the Rogers Road neighborhood: rats, buzzards, landfill leachate spilling across lawns, tainted water, debilitating odors, broken sewers, dangerous roads, among others, plaguing the area for decades.

They referenced a 1972 unrecorded pledge (since disputed by local governments) by then Chapel Hill Mayor Howard Lee that the small community would get new services for taking on, at the time, Chapel Hill’s garbage burden. Further, they stated Lee claimed the landfill would only operate 10 years (1982) and that he promised obvious negative impacts would be mitigated over the whole lifespan of the project.

As of early 2000, after several extensions of the landfill’s lifespan, the small Rogers Road community still waited on those new services, necessary remediation and a time-certain for closure. Fred and Robert made a convincing case that given the dearth of leadership from the County that Chapel Hill should lead the way in finally addressing these issues. The Council wrung their hands but did little more than pass the buck back to Orange County claiming impotence in discharging that long held obligation.

The struggle to get some kind of reckoning has been long. Its been tough. There have been setbacks ( background).

Tonight, though, with unanimity the current Orange County Board of Commissioners vowed to finally make good on that 40 year old debt. What started out as a discussion of a proposal to extend the landfill’s life, again (through 2017), became a solid consensus to delay any further action contingent on the formulation of a firm, specific plan of remedying the Rogers Road community’s problems.

It started out with more than a dozen folks, including Rev. Campbell, standing before the Commissioners highlighting environmental problems like air and water pollution, describing the 42 illegal waste dumps surrounding the landfill, reporting on the 2+ tons of litter recently removed by volunteers from the nearby roadsides.

I focused on the process. Why, I asked, hadn’t the County included a specific mitigation plan in tonight’s proposal? A call Commissioner Valerie Foushee echoed minutes later. Where would the funds come from given the County hadn’t been setting aside funds as per the 1997 landfill extension agreement? Why hadn’t, given the breathing room last year’s decision to ship waste to Durham’s trash transfer facility, the Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) taken on the task of capping of the landfill in a socially responsible fashion? What would the Rogers Road community get from yet another extension of their problems?

As I put it – irrespective of whatever promises made or not by Chapel Hill Mayor Lee in 1972, the County and the Commissioners now owned the problem.

The Commissioners, after taking in these comments, each took a turn explaining why they couldn’t endorse an extension that didn’t include a specific plan of action for mitigating the decades of harm caused by the landfill.

Relatively new County Manager Frank Clifton said as someone who hadn’t been involved in all the discussions, hadn’t heard decades of problems, as an outsider, he was mystified that the County Commissioners hadn’t taken advantage of the 1997 stipulations to fund mitigation. He said he and his staff had long been ready to take all the studies, advisory board reports, commission results, etc. and formulate a plan of action. He also said – clearly – that this had to be a County staff driven effort and that the County’s partners – Chapel Hill and Carrboro – would be advised but not counted on in moving forward (the municipalities have been missing in action for decades though the Council finally did appoint Jim Ward as liaison to the SWAB).

Brief summary: the BOCC accepts full responsibility for what should be an obligation borne by all the local leadership. They have instructed staff to create a specific plan of action and to seek funding for it. That plan will identify mitigation strategies the County can legally carry out. The municipalities will be advised but not relied upon (a sorry comment on current affairs) in moving forward.

Quiet elation – a strange feeling – and a reasonable outcome after a long, long haul. More than ten year’s in the making the final chapter, hopefully, is being written on the Rogers Road landfill story.