OrangeCounty


WUNC’s Laura Leslie (a reporting treasure) has a great post (Mon.: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before) on tonight’s 47 to 1 NC Senate vote “to ban video gambling – again – in North Carolina”.

Republican Tom Apodaca didn’t mince words in urging his fellow senators to ban video gambling.

“This is something we really don’t need. I mean, this is just a scourge, and I’ll happily vote to ban this.”

It’s not the first time Apodaca’s said that. North Carolina has been trying for years to get rid of video gambling. Its critics say it’s addictive, it breeds crime and corruption, and it preys on low-income and minority populations. And yet, it’s more popular than ever among those who say it’s harmless entertainment.

Wilmington’s Democratic Sen. Julia Boseman was the lone dissenter, arguing that the industry, if properly regulated, could generate millions of dollars in tax revenues.

You might recall a similar argument made in selling NC’s “educational” lottery.

If the lottery is any indication of the trajectory Internet/video gambling would take, the only way to grow revenues is to expand the reach of the games. With the lottery, what started as sales of tickets for a NC-only game became sales of scratch-offs along with mega-lottery options.

Easily deployed, requiring no special infrastructure, regulating the games the Senate banned this evening would become exponentially more difficult as their numbers increased.

There are other downsides which NC has already experienced:

…critics warned that video poker had become a front for organized crime. The allegation turned out to be true. Operators were bribing local officials to look the other way, and pumping money into campaign coffers to make friends in Raleigh.  Federal investigators sent about half a dozen people to prison – sheriffs, industry figures, and eventually, former House Speaker Jim Black.

I was and remain firmly against NC’s “education” lottery. Like many state lotteries, the promise has far exceeded the benefits while the damage has been more widespread than supporters claimed.

Studies show that lottery per capita revenues tend to come from the poorest parts of the State. It appears folks having difficulty controlling their scratch-off ticket purchases – whose attraction is pernicious – aren’t getting assistance from the service setup to handle that contingency. And, as feared, some school districts have come to imprudently rely on lottery monies for core needs.

Given those problems it makes little sense, moral or otherwise, for the State to be in the gambling business.

So, while I welcome tonight’s ban on video gambling, I’ve got to wonder why the Senate doesn’t apply the same concern to NC’s lottery shakedown.

Over the year’s I’ve seen some rather jam packed final spring term Council meetings. This one was about average in length, light on content but big in setting the stage for two broad initiatives – siting an emergency shelter and legally mandating affordable housing – to move forward.

I left prior to Council’s revisiting Laurin Easthom’s reasonable request for further fiscal analysis of Library funding, I’ll report back on that soon…

The first big bang of the evening, Council approved the %15 affordable housing inclusionary zoning ordinance.

Before voting for the zone, Jim Ward brought up the same fiscal equity issue I raised about this ordinance months ago. Downtown developments are only required to provide %10 affordable housing under the logic that it is more expensive to develop Downtown and that development will be driven into other parts of Town to avoid a %15 requirement.

Sally Greene reiterated that the existing density and height bonuses were not sufficient to overcome developers reluctance in meeting a standard %15 requirement. Of course, while property Downtown is more expensive to develop it also demands far greater premiums – something the analysis downplays. Her argument also doesn’t account for the radically increased density/height allowances in TC-3 – the self-serving zone Council created for their Lot $5 disaster.

Mark Kleinschmidt acknowledged that the inclusionary zone wasn’t fully baked and suggested that it be reviewed one year out. The zone, whose goals are laudable, could’ve used a bit more polish before setting in motion. We’ll see if the gaps are filled in 2012 (if the Council is entangled in litigation over the provisions by then).

While I semi-live ‘blogged the discussion of creating guidelines, standards or zones for human service facilities there are a few more observations to add.

First, there was a strange juxtaposition between the discussion of siting human service facilities, including “white flag” emergency shelters, and the approval of the inclusionary zone.

In initial discussions of the inclusionary zone, several of us argued that space should be allocated not just for affordable housing but community-oriented uses like human services facilities. Using a zoning process would be one way the Town could find needed space for these type facilities. We got the same response as when we asked Council to include space for feeding/housing the homeless at East54 or Lot #5 – not interested.

Council continues to reject calls to make this part of our development approval process (if Roger Perry’s Obeys Creek proceeds I’ll be asking Council to set aside some of that mandated square footage or in lieu monies for community-oriented services outside of affordable housing).

Second, the IFC has tried very hard to work within the rules informally suggested for siting the new Community House facility.

One primary requirement was that the property didn’t need rezoning.

I’ve watched Council twist zones, like the RSSC zone meant to encourage %100 affordable housing into a spot zone for hundreds of luxury condos for their business partner RAM Development, to meet their political agenda. Ed Harrison observed the current SUP process is a “crap shoot”. I’ve seen similar Council machinations use the SUP process to meet various goals (many I agree with) so why can’t we roll the dice favorably?

The point being that while the IFC struggled to find a site that doesn’t need rezoning, there are many examples of where a particular zone was little or no impediment to Council approval of a project (look at the creation of TC-3 for Greenbridge, West140 and which will apply to Short Bridge development and University Square redevelopment, look at how East54′s developer Roger Perry got a range of allowances to maximize his profit, etc.).

Of course, this is a main concern of Homestead’s neighborhood activists.

Without binding zoning requirements (well, as binding as Chapel Hill makes them) or standards mandated by ordinance, the Council can twist the current rules to meet their own agenda and reject public concerns.

The IFC continues to jump through what must seem like an endless series of hoops in an effort to provide two services, one – an emergency shelter – of which is squarely the County’s responsibility, the other – a transitional program to move folks from homelessness to established residents – which is commendable on every measurable axes.

After years of marching through the desert, th group submitted their special-use permit (SUP) request this morning – moving the project forward to an eventual yea or nay vote early Fall.

Neighborhood activists have already helped IFC sharpen their proposal. The move to address some of their concerns is what is fueling the drive to create a transparent, somewhat objective, process for evaluating siting services.

As the Community House discussion lurches into the next phase, I anticipate arguments over what guidelines or standards should apply and what decision-making framework – the Planning Board’s findings, SUP process or some kind of intermediate hybrid – will dictate the eventual result.

The residents of Chapel Hill deserve an open discussion on not just siting human services but providing future space for anticipated human service requirements. Not only should the current process yield a set of somewhat binding standards for evaluating particular sites but also provide a framework for measuring the cumulative impact and operational advantages of siting services compactly within the community.

Finally, my hope is that the current process opens up a real discussion on this Town’s obligation to support IFC and other incredible human service groups within this community.

That discussion should be frank and honest.

Council must explain why human services aren’t sited at developments like East54 as part of the SUP process, why it is so easy to twist a zone like RSSC or create a TC-3 zone for their own agenda while making the IFC jump through hoops to find an existing zone and why the newly minted inclusionary zone doesn’t include a mandate to set aside square footage for both affordable housing and human services.

Another issue on tonight’s Orange County Board of Commissioner’s (BOCC) agenda involved UNC’s Bingham Research Facility ( report on UNC’s response to environmental violations and plans for expanding the facility [PDF]).

There’s been a number of recent (Chapel Hill News) stories (INDY) outlining the numerous environmental and policy missteps [PDF] made over the last few years.

Local community group Preserve Rural Orange (PRO) has done a great job keeping public attention on UNC’s problems at the facility. They have also provided a slew of good suggestions to address the growing concerns.

Recently appointed Associate Vice Chancellor Bob Lowman, who has the unenviable task of straightening out years of shoddy operations, spoke on behalf of the facility this evening. He pointed out that 8 of 10 key issues PRO raised earlier this year have already been addressed, not because, as he said “they were working on them” but because “they did the right thing”.

He related his new management approach – air problems quickly, address key concerns expeditiously and keep the community in the loop.

Folks from PRO responded well to the tenor of his comments (there was a bit of a gasp when he revealed the plan to build an on-site 500,000 gallon water tank)

After his presentation I felt that UNC was back on track by picking Bob to lead the effort.

That said, I did ask the BOCC to consider jointly creating a framework with UNC for managing the growth of UNC’s Orange County facilities. This new framework would resemble the one Chapel Hill elective officials, staff and community members used to create the Carolina North development agreement.

While I don’t believe all aspects of the Carolina North process apply to this new expansion, key lessons involving fiscal equity, transportation infrastructure, environmental monitoring and remediation and public participation could certainly be applied in addressing some of the issues arising from this project.

For instance, one citizen mentioned that the White Cross Volunteer Fire Department was scrambling to get $900 to cover expenses dealing with protecting the existing Bingham Facility (which it appears doesn’t even have rudimentary safety gear like a sprinkler system). The $14.5M NIH grant recently awarded UNC for expanding the Bingham Facility will spur the creation of $60+million worth of facilities. $900 a year won’t cover it.

Bob Lowman immediately offered to redress this financial inequity, which is fantastic, but depending on an ad hoc approach when we have four years experience in creating a structured, transparent and fairly thorough framework for highlighting and negotiating solutions to these type of problems makes little sense.

Hopefully the BOCC will consider using those hard-earned lessons to manage UNC’s migration into rural Orange.

The Orange County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) opened up discussion this evening of putting a %0.25 increase in local sales tax before voters in November (Levy of a One-Quarter Cent (1/4¢) County Sales and Use Tax [PDF]).

The tax, if approved, will bump our local sales tax to %8 with all the additional proceeds going directly to the county (it seems like it was mentioned several hundred times that the municipalities would get NADA from the increase). Best estimates, and only if a pending state bill is passed, has the county reaping in $500K in 2011 rising to $2.4M in 2012.

I spoke before the BOCC on the issue – raising a few concerns, suggesting a possible course of action.

I acknowledged the Commishes quandary in filling the current $9.4M hole in the County’s budget and the near certainty of dealing with an even deeper one in 2011. I recognized the appeal in making a seemingly small increase in a tax that is spread across a wider arc than property taxpayers. I understood it probably seemed an easier sell especially given the recent turmoil over our hefty property revaluations and the failed attempt to create a land transfer tax.

I also pointed out even though it doesn’t apply to food or medicines that the increase represented an additional burden on those folks living here who can least afford it (the characterization in the press that “what the heck, it’s only a few more bucks week!” really bothers me).

By its nature, it is a regressive tax.

Given that increased burden, I asked the BOCC to commit in as legally a binding way as possible, to dedicating the new revenue to funding the rapidly growing demand on social services. That revenue should bolster the existing commitment and go well beyond this year’s baseline (not to rely on it, as many counties have with the NC lottery and education).

Steve Yuhaz and a few other commissioners suggested throwing this modest amount of money – $2.5M at best – at the schools or pouring it down the current economic development rat-hole.

Spending $2.5M on needed social services would have a much more profound effect than adding to the considerable school system overhead or to funding economic incentives during this downturn. And it’s the right thing to do given the rather dire outlook for next year.

Other than clearly dedicating the use of the funds, I also asked for two additional provisions:

  • that the tax increase be time limited – maybe 3-4 years at most – in order to emphasize that this wasn’t a case of avoiding fiscal discipline but a response to some very difficult circumstances
  • that the public be given plenty of opportunity to weigh in.

At the conclusion of the topic it was clear that public input beforehand will have to come quick – June 15th to be exact.

Some quick observations/comments.

Several counties, like New Hanover, were used as success stories for the referendum. New Hanover, of course, has much lower property taxes and with its tourist draws has much greater outside revenue flows. Orange County’s increase will be borne mostly by Orange County residents.

Comments by several commissioners that this broad 1/4 percent sales tax would bring revenues in from residents not currently “paying their fair share” made very little sense given that a pretty good chunk of the existing %7.75 sales tax paid by all residents ends up in the county coffers.

It was also strange how quickly the discussion settled on two options – raise sales taxes or property taxes. The obvious third option – raise no taxes – didn’t make it onto the table.

My suggestion to time limit the measure didn’t get traction. Long time NC residents probably recall that a fair portion of the existing %7.75 sales tax was supposed to be “temporary”. Like many of the current “usage fees” and other tax burdens, government claims on our income tend to take on a life of their own and rarely get rolled-back (at least on middle and lower income folks). The rates might get adjusted but the real outlays stay the same or increase.

It’s hard to dodge the appearance that raising the sales tax rate has more to do with an inability to prioritize spending than fiscal discipline when the increase has an open-ended expiration date.

Sales tax revenue is sensitive to prevailing economic conditions. Without a dramatic upturn in the economy or a steep expansion in the County’s commercial tax base – both unlikely in the near future – the dependability of this revenue stream is not sufficient to fund core services.

Finally, the oddest arguments of the evening circulated around the reason for raising and the commitment to restrict the expenditure of the funds. Many commissioners argued (and then voted for) a course of action that essentially boiled down to this: put the referendum on the ballot with little public discussion and then invite the community to speculate on what the funds are to be used for and how firm the obligation to spend them accordingly will be.

Strange inversion.

I pushed for public participation first, a clear statement on the use of the new revenues (I lobbied for human services first, debt reduction – as County Manager Clifton pointed out – a good second) and a legally binding obligation to use the funds for that specified reason.

That way the community would have a clear idea early on as to what they would be asked to vote into being.

Feels like, at least at this point (with June 15th weeks away), public participation is an afterthought.

Of the few ways one can “exercise” citizenship directly, being chosen as a sitting juror seems most capricious.

Ever since I turned 18 I’ve waited for the call.

Master jury lists in North Carolina are randomly drawn from voter rolls and driver license records. Having been a licensed driver and voting maniac (all elections except one 2nd primary) for over 30 years, I expected to have been selected at least once before now, yet it was only last month I was notified of my first opportunity to serve.

Given my activist background, I imagined that being selected to serve in court was a long shot. Still, getting my chance to discharge this citizen obligation was rewarding enough. Yes, I know it might sound a bit crazy to many folks, especially those who have tried and possibly succeeded in ducking the call, but I was excited my turn finally arrived.

Orange County has a fairly efficient system. You get a letter a month beforehand. You’re instructed to call a particular phone number (919-644-4516 in Orange County should you happen to Google this post) the night before to check your status.

After returning from this evening’s Board of Commissioner’s meeting I made that call.

The disappointing recorded message was short, to the point – “All jurors are excused. This concludes your jury service.”

Excused, yes. Concluded? Just doesn’t feel that way.

Been awhile, November 2006, since I scrambled around trying to cover all the precincts in Carrboro/Chapel Hill.

Visited all 29 precincts, placed 45 new signs for Sheriff Candidate Clarence Birkhead, repositioned another 40+ so that most folks will have to pass at least 3 signs before voting. Started about 5pm in a light drizzle punctuated with a few down burst, ended around 9:30pm under beautiful clearing skies.

Most years the precincts are ready to roll late afternoon but this year I found visible signs of preparation only at Aldersgate, Friday Center and Scroggs.

Most confusing moment? Carrboro High School. Haven’t been there during an election so I was a bit at a loss figuring out where to put signs (what a industrial size behemoth!).

I’ll be staffing the Library poll early and late, Community Center round noon and floating around between Binkley and ?? mid-afternoon.

Drop by and get a Clarence button if you get a chance.

I have been asked by a few folks who I’ll be voting for this primary season. In the most contested race, at-large County commissioner, the three candidates have unique strengths, each of which appeals to some facet of my concern for where the County is going, each of which makes the decision a bit tough.

In the Sheriff’s race, though, there’s only two candidates, one of which, former Hillsborough/Duke University Police Chief Clarence Birkhead, that deserves your wholehearted support.

I met Clarence several months ago and have had the pleasure of getting to know and support his efforts to lead our County forward. I’m convinced he will work for progressive and cost effective policy changes in the Sheriff’s department to overcome the many existing and new challenges before us.

It is certainly a time for change but not just for change sake. Here are some of the key differences I’ve noted between Clarence and the 28 year incumbent Lindy Pendergrass:
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Quick notes on this evening’s final IFC Community House public meeting prior to the IFC submitting a SUP (special use permit) to Town Council.

IFC is the Inter-Faith Council, a 501c3 non-profit, has provided a broad range of social services (list) over the last few decades, many of which, like emergency housing, are the really the responsibility of Orange County and other governmental bodies.

Our community is blessed to have such a caring and strongly supported organization as the IFC working on our behalf.

As of 7:45pm, 83 members of the public and about a dozen IFC staff, board members and support staff.

Council members attending: Laurin, Matt, Jim.

Previous attendees and other “usual suspects” : Mark Peters, Fred Black, Josh Gurlitz, Terri Buckner, Tim and Tina Coyne-Smith.

Phil Boyle, facilitator: “this is not a public meeting this is a community meeting that the public is invited to…”

Woman in front row: “What about taxes?” Phil: ” This isn’t a government meeting, you need to take taxes up with the Council.”

The process for the meeting seems a bit strained – too much overhead – too much reading of the riot act and not enough time allocated for interaction, question/answer and group responses.
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A little late notice but I’m going to try to live ‘blog this evening’s forum.

First up, OC Sheriff candidates: current Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass and recent Chief of Hillsborough Police Clarence Birkhead.

Web sites:

Clarence Birkhead – clarencebirkhead.com
Lindy Pendergrass – www.facebook.com/pages/Lindy-Pendergrass/496688695219

I want to quickly respond to Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt’s comments this evening.

First, spending $8-12M on the Lot #5 project, building luxury condos and enriching a private developer, is not the same as “protecting our Town’s infrastructure”.

The Lot #5 (West 140) project is discretionary – the push to keep it going is not based on sound economic fundamentals.

Putting Lot #5 on par with filling potholes or expanding the Library is a great political speaking point – but certainly not grounded in reality – suggestions otherwise does the public a disservice.

At the same time, other probable debt-related outlays aren’t included in the analysis. Mark suggesting the lump of general obligation (G.O.) debt covers the whole gamut of obligations minimizes the challenge before us.

Beyond that bit of misdirection, Mark knows (or should know) that our Town’s current reserves are low compared to historical reserves on a percentage basis.

That $1.9M increase Mark bandied about sounds big but isn’t considering the $55M hole we’re in. No matter how hard fought the battle to get that $1.9M last year, weighed against future operational and capital demands – like trying to expand the Library – the percentage improvement in overall reserves was slightly better than negligible and doesn’t position us any better to deal with MAJOR outlays (if you use a more reasonable debt ceiling).

To use the credit card example several Council members relied on this evening, there is a qualitative difference between the following two scenarios:
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The Council decided to postpone the Library expansion decision pending further data and discussion.

Council member Laurin Easthom pointed out on Monday, once again, “We need to make some real serious decisions about citizens who use our library and don’t pay.” Laurin has been on-top of this issue for some time. She has also been quite clear in her concerns (THE LIBRARY AND THE FREE LUNCH) unlike several of her colleagues.

Laurin is not alone.

Her colleague Penny Rich added “Citizens in Chapel Hill are quite generous, but I think the endless supply of money in our wallets is not there anymore.” (Daily Tar Heel, Jan. 26th, 2010).

New member Gene Pease, who has been a stalwart supporter of the library for many years – raising significant funds as a member and leader of the Friends of the Library president of the Chapel Hill Public Library Foundation [thanks Fred!] to support its mission – said “To have no conversation about this and about how to attack this problem in the operating budget, I think it’s irresponsible to make the decision tonight” (Lauren Hills,NBC17) in justifying the delay.

I’ve watched this issue unfold for several years, called on former Council’s to show some fiscal restraint over the last 4 years so we could accommodate this project. It is clear that given the current economy, a prudent assessment of our Town’s revenue stream, the core fiscal liabilities and obligations we must discharge (which does not include that Lot #5 money pit), the Library expansion must wait.

Of course, that’s my considered opinion which is based on the data at hand, my entrepreneurial experience and a financial philosophy that emphasizes “living within our means”.

Laurin Easthom foresaw these same issues and tried to set several plans in motion to address this unfortunate juncture – the public’s growing desire for a new facility coupled with a bare public cupboard.

Last April, in fact, she directed the Town Manager and staff to come up “with a financial cost sharing plan” to help ameliorate the anticipated rise in operational costs. To date, no plan has emerged from Town Manager Roger Stancil and crew.

A quasi-plan did emerge on Monday from new Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Jim Ward – pressure the Orange County Board of Commissioners and, as Jim put it, make adequate library funding a “litmus test the winners are going to pass, period.” in this year’s county-level election cycle.

Given the County budget mess, the incredible pressure to fund the schools, existing debt obligations, new costs and lost revenues, threats are a non-starter. And, as Jim and Mark seemed to have forgotten, when the county commissioners (BOCC) pushed through election districts, Chapel Hill citizen’s leverage was somewhat diluted.

Our leadership must work with the BOCC on adequately funding the library using a more positive approach. Sure, we shouldn’t continue to accept “nice words that … are worth zero” as Jim Ward said of the Commissioners (Greg Childress, Herald-Sun, 01/26/10) but we also can’t expect to get blood from a turnip.

The best approach, I believe, is to jointly identify sources of funds, possible cost savings made possible by collaborating on other issues, to find the money we need for operating the facility.

That said, “absorbing” additional debt alone should push the start date of the expansion off until next year.

The Town Manager is recommending that as the Town retires existing debt we take on new debt by issuing the Library bonds. That might be a sensible approach if our Town wasn’t already burdened by an incredible debt load – historically unprecedented – during such a troubled economic time. The Town needs to retire existing debt, bring our reserves back up and take a small breather before launching into another spending spree.

Catherine Lazorko, Chapel Hill’s information officer, sent me this email to Council from Town elder Roscoe Reeve. Roscoe recalls how the 25 bed limit for shelters was set. As suspected, it was somewhat arbitrary though based in an intent to make the approval process less onerous for community-oriented facilities.

Thanks Catherine!

From: Roscoe Reeve
Sent: Monday, January 11, 2010 11:03 PM
To: Town Council
Subject: The Magic 25 Number for Shelters

Dear Mayor Mark and Members of the Council,

I have followed your deliberations, this evening, on the 25 cap for shelters in the LUMO and can, perhaps, clear up its origin.

I was a member and Chair of the Chapel Hill Planning Board that created the 25 cap for shelters in the early 1980′s.

The cap was proposed by staff in the process of creation of the LUMO, a very long and complex process of study and meetings. There was never any discussion or rational for the number 25 as a cap appropriate to a shelter. The interest of the Board was to create (as Mark and Sally implied tonight) a number of permitted uses in appropriate zones so that standards would be clear and that long and expensive deliberations, such as the SUP process, would not impede needed public uses (shelter, school, day care, church, etc.). We thought that if things were appropriate in a zone, as determined by Council’s approval of the tables within the LUMO, arbitrary political passion would be discouraged, the famous “crap shoot” referred to tonight. Especially since schools, churches and private charities could ill afford a lengthy approval process governed by the whims of NIMBY. At that time there was a Council member who would not vote for the approval of any development application where the applicant did not meet personally with him, and in some cases the applicant would have to agree to a personal request of the Council member as arranged at that private meeting. And of course we board members were perplexed when totally complying development proposals were still voted down because a neighborhood didn’t want the development and they raised hell with the Council. Silly us.

In other words, we were all for getting basic development permitted uses so that the development process was logical, based on development standards, and could be completed in a time that did not bankrupt the applicant. Silly us.

I hope this in some way provides explanation for the 25 shelter cap. We assumed that shelters bigger than 25 would need to have a SUP. The number 25 itself was not studied or considered.

With warm regards,

roscoe

Education and our own private “rabbit-proof” fencing seems to be the extent of Chapel Hill’s plan to deal with its exploding dear population.

The Town is responding to my Mount Bolus neighbor’s Oct. 12th petition this evening with a proposal [PDF] to educate folks on how to deter expansion of the deer population.

Unfortunately, rather than expanding on the petition’s intent – to manage deer population in a safe and humane fashion – some on Council immediately responded negatively to the suggestion of urban archery and acted as if it was the sole proposed solution. Though I know urban archery has been safely and successfully used elsewhere I also can understand how it might not fit here. Surely, though, there are more possibilities than outlined in tonight’s staff memo (I wonder why the Town didn’t reach out to UNC and Duke – who is managing deer populations in Duke Forest – for relevant expertise).

I’m also troubled by some of the assertions made in the report, including the implication that populations are increasing due to increased food supplies made available by urban landscaping.

I’ve lived on Mt. Bolus for over a decade and have seen the steps my neighbors have taken to limit access to food (we’ve put an 8′ high fence around our garden, for instance).

In my Mt. Bolus neighborhood, I believe the problem owes more to limiting natural corridors than increased food supply. I also know that this year we’ve observed that the number of deer has nearly doubled from just last year – something that can’t be explained by the simple assertion that folks yards are providing a greater buffet than before.

Tonight’s recommendation?

Based on the limited portions of Town on which an urban hunt could be safely conducted, combined with the issues outlined above, we do not believe that an urban hunt is a viable option for the Town. We recommend that the Council adopt the attached Resolution, which authorizes the Manager to develop an information packet for residents interested in protecting their landscaping and gardens from deer.

I’m hoping that this isn’t considered an endpoint in the process and that Council will hold the public forum recommended by the Sustainability Committee. Ideally, the forum should be held by late Spring to give adequate time to developing a realistic deer population management plan for Fall (further recommendations from the committee here [PDF].

It appears, though, that tonight’s recommendation is seen as an end-point by at least one commercial organization. Every mailbox I passed this afternoon on Mt. Bolus had the following brochure attached:

Deerbusters? I know we aren’t going to invest in an 8 foot high eyesore and I hope my neighbors don’t either….

Lot’s of discussion about Chapel Hill’s deer problem including these posts on the Chapel Hill News (Hunters Take 86 Deer in Duke Forest,Chapel Hill Rejects Deer Hunt) , Chapel Hill Watch (Passing the Buck), WRAL (Chapel Hill Council to consider ways to reduce deer population)

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Just back from this evening’s Orange County Board of Commissioners’ meeting.

Tonight’s big agenda item, “What to do about the waste transfer station?”

New County Manager Frank Clifton’s extensively reviewed the three proposed options: use the County’s Payfadar property (originally slated for a park) on Millhouse Road, pursue the ill-suited (and ever more expensive) Howell property on Hwy. 54 or “punt” (as Barry Jacobs put it) and temporarily ship our County’s waste to the existing Durham County facility (“Plan B”).

After an excellent set of balanced community presentations from Preserve Rural Orange County (PRO), Orange County Voice and the Rogers Road Coalition (CEER) – many of which covered not just the problems with the proposed sites but posited responsible alternatives – the Board voted 6-1 to not only use “Plan B” but to permanently take the Millhouse-Eubanks-Rogers Road community off the table.

Mal de M.E.R. no more.

I’ve been involved in one way or another on this issue for 5 years. Really pushed to get, and had some success, in creating a transparent community-based process for siting the transfer facility. Proposed using “Plan B” a couple years ago (here and here) to give the Board and community sufficient time to explore a wide range of alternatives.

And, as of this evening, seen the great work from a wide spectrum of County citizens, the thoughtful consideration of our Commissioners finally come to fruition in this decision.

Of course, the work is far from over. I believe that we must eventually managed our waste locally (for instance, like my 2006 suggestion to create an eco-industrial center on the Eno River Economic Development zone to sort, reuse and minimize the waste stream). I also believe that Chapel Hill must step up and bear a greater responsibility in dealing with our contribution to that waste stream. I also believe we must coordinate with our neighboring communities to create an environmentally responsible end-point for our waste.

That work has yet to begin.

Given the time of year and Durham’s recent problems in protecting the Lake Jordan watershed, the fiscal impact of mitigating damage which might well be shared by Chapel Hill’s taxpayers, I was tempted to title this post “Trick or Treat on NC54?”

Even if the “development process is broken in Durham”, as LaDawnna Summers, who resigned from Durham’s Planning Commission over the Lake Jordan mess, it is important that both Chapel Hill’s elected folks and greater community engage directly in the NC54/I-40 corridor planning process.

Thirty years ago, when I first came to Chapel Hill, I drove into town on the scenic two-lane NC54 (I-40 from RDU on was still a set of dotted lines on a map). The beautiful pastured hills to the north are now covered by Meadowmont. The woods and vales to the south, by the Friday Center and office parks. And the majestic hill-side entry to the University? Now obscured by the “anywhere USA belt-line architecture” of the road hugging East54.

The process starts Wednesday, Nov. 18th, 2009 from 5pm to 8pm at the Friday Center [MAP]

What: NC-54/I-40 Corridor Study Public Workshop #1
Who: Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (DCHC MPO), City of Durham, Durham County, and the Town of Chapel Hill
When: Wednesday, November 18, 2009, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education
100 Friday Center Drive Chapel Hill, N.C. 27599-1020

Fast Facts:

  • The Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (DCHC MPO) will host an interactive community workshop on November 18 to obtain guidance on developing a blueprint for mobility and development in the NC-54/I-40 corridor, a critical gateway linking the City of Durham, Town of Chapel Hill, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • The NC-54/I-40 corridor serves as one of the major gateways between Chapel Hill and southwest Durham, with its interchange with I-40 consistently ranking as the top congested location in the region. Development pressures within the corridor coupled with mobility and capacity issues have highlighted that the existing and planned transportation infrastructure is insufficient to accommodate growth and address land use and transportation problems.
  • To develop land use and transportation strategies to preserve this important corridor, the DCHC MPO, the City of Durham, Durham County, and the Town of Chapel Hill have begun a corridor study to analyze short- and long-term land use issues and multi-modal transportation problems, evaluate opportunities and challenges, and recommend short- and long-range land use and transportation solutions and strategies along the corridor.
  • The vision of the DCHC MPO is to develop and implement transportation plans that are multimodal and that fully integrate land use and transportation issues. To achieve this vision this study will:

    • Clearly define a realistic “blueprint” for an integrated growth and mobility strategy for the corridor;
    • Establish a development framework that strengthens multimodal travel options and reduces vehicle miles of travel;
    • Improve operations, safety, and travel time; and
    • Categorize strategies into near, mid-term, and long-term phases.
  • A critical component of this study is public outreach and involvement. Three public
    workshops will be held as a part of this study, which should be completed in June 2010.

    • The first public workshop on November 18 will present the community profile and
      solicit input on issues, opportunities, and trends to guide the development of future
      scenarios.
    • The second public workshop, tentatively scheduled for late winter 2010, will evaluate
      alternatives and seek public input in the selection of the preferred scenario.
    • The third workshop, tentatively scheduled for spring 2010, will give participants an opportunity to review and refine the corridor master plan and provide input on setting priorities for multimodal transportation and land use strategies, implementation strategies, and phasing.
  • Once the study is finished, the final master plan will be presented to the local and regional
    policy boards and used to inform transportation/traffic analysis, land use decisions, project
    planning, and funding priorities.

    • The total cost for the study is $257,432 with 80 percent of the funding coming from federal transportation planning funds and the remaining 20 percent funded jointly by the City of Durham, Durham County, and the Town of Chapel Hill.
    • Residents interested in joining a group of citizen contacts for this study should contact Leta Huntsinger with the DCHC MPO at (919) 560-4366 ext. 30423 or via email at leta.huntsinger@durhamnc.gov. For more information about this study, visit www.nc54-I40corridorstudy.com .

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