Durham news odds and ends

When a story is too big to completely ignore, but too small for me to bother writing more than a paragraph about, this is where it ends up.

And a bonus link from Fayetteville this week!

751 South back in the headlines; annexation debate looms

Do you still remember 751 South? It’s a real estate project that eventually won a hard-fought and kind of convoluted legal battle for the right to develop directly adjacent to Jordan Lake.

I wouldn’t blame you for forgetting about this project, since it’s been in development limbo for the past year. Even though it ultimately won approval at the county level, there’s a hiccup: it needs water and sewer service, and up to now Durham hasn’t been too keen on giving it.

751 South, you see, is generally viewed with a certain degree of… skepticism. This is not only due to the potential environmental impact on Jordan Lake, but also to the fact that it would feed South Durham’s already legendary appetite for sprawl: the project aims to create a new suburb in a formerly rural area near Southpoint.

Things were so hostile between the city and the developers, in fact, that legislation was introduced in 2012 that would have forced Durham to provide services to the project. The legislation failed at the time, and the future of the project was unclear.

Now, dear readers, you may have noticed that the political climate in Raleigh has changed a bit since 2012. The situation with 751 South looks like it ticks all the boxes for GOP intervention:

  • Remove local control? Check.
  • Piss off environmentalists and hippies? Double check.
  • Help out some “job creator” buds? You betcha.

Although (surprisingly?) no legislation has yet been proposed, the threat of the GOP swooping in and kicking dirt in Durham’s face is omnipresent, and so Bell tried to get ahead of the situation by re-opening the discussion with 751 South developers. The developers have now officially filed for annexation, and the Council is set to vote on it June 3.

What assurances are the Council looking for here? Well, not much: funds from the developers to support widening roads, and basically nothing else.

The Council is hoping to get an amendment to the City’s charter attached to a bill (cause of crossover, natch) which would allow it to delay annexation by 10 years. Under the current rules, the City has to make a final determination on annexation three years after agreeing to provide services, but they argue that in this case that doesn’t give them enough time to see how the development will play out.

The bottom line is that the Council is boned here. If they were to try to squeeze any meaningful concessions out of 751 South (or heaven forbid actually oppose it outright), the developers would simply go to their pals in Raleigh, and the GOP would pass laws that force Durham to provide services anyway. Presumably Bell figures that by rolling over and handing 751 South what it wants, the city can at least avoid the ugliness of explicitly having control stripped away from it by legislation (a la Asheville).

It will be interesting to watch the vote on this one, because pragmatism is going to conflict directly with ideology for several Council members.

WRAL: I read the comments, so you don’t have to

A common bit of wisdom holds that one should never read comments on the Internet. In the course of perusing articles about Durham and state politics on WRAL.com, I have decided that this is generally good advice.

However, from time to time, I find the level of idiocy on display remarkable enough to be mildly amusing. And so, I have decided to share the wealth with you, dear readers!

A semi-literate racist comments on a shooting in East Durham:

And they think they are being profiled because so many are in prinson. Right!!!! ~aquamarine46

A commenter describes his/her petrifying fear of Durham’s famous roving rape gangs on a bank robbery story:

This town just needs a net dropped on it. Corruption and crime is rampant. I am afraid to even drive through Durham anymore. I grew up hanging out there, but I wouldn’t set foot in it anymore. What a shame. It probably has a lot to offer, but nobody wants to be there for fear of being gunned down, robbed or raped. ~crystalswisher

A conspiracy theory about felons being released on purpose so they will vote for the current City Council is posited in the comments for a shooting arrest article:

Catch and release is great way to preserve fish populations but in Durham it seems to be used to preserve the voting base to keep the crooks running the city government. ~68_dodge_polara

A person who seems to doubt the DPD’s capabilities comments on an arrest story:

I can almost bet that the DPD didn’t catch this guy, the public, or should I say some1 that knows of him or either in his circle, caught him. DPD rarely does things like that, so for ppl that’s saying good job to DPD, get real! ~raynorteresa

Another pair of racists seem to be afraid of black people in comments on a murder case:

Another fine citizen from that community being raised , clothed, fed, and free cable t.v. for the next phase of his life. ALL FREE AND CLEAR ON THE TAX PAYERS DIME!!! Gotta love the country club atmosphere!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ~cantbtaught [ed. – nice nick there, buddy]

Which is exactly why you never look these people directly in the eyes. ~Obamacare survives

A commenter laments the death of the state religion bill… I think, anyway:

Back in the days where our children could still hear the name God, Jesus Christ, Bible, and be able to pray in school. The good days of when Nativity Scenes could be placed on disply in front of Town Halls or other government properties. The days where placing a Cross on the side of the State Highways to honor fallen Law Enforcement Officers (See Case in State of Utah). The DAYS WHERE CHRISTMAS TREES WERE CALLED CHRISTMAS TREES NOT “HOLIDAY TREES”. The days where people could actually GREET YOU at the door of any government building OR private business for that matter with a “Merry Christmas” versus the “Happy Holidays”. YES…ALL THESE GREAT TIMES IN HISTORY where these activities could be done without the THREAT & FILING OF LAWSUITS BY THE ACLU at the very mention or sight of above mentioned. Just take a moment, reflect on those times, you will see that people as a society were so much better with God in picture. Today’s society is crumbling ~kodac31

On that same story… I recognize the words, and they seem to make sentences, but I actually have no idea what this guy is even trying to say:

The state, aka Government, is encumbered by religion…it’s the religion of godlessness, and it is to be worshipped. All who believe in God are to be ridiculed and shunned as the closed, simple mind zealots that they are. We, the godless, are too open-minded to consider an opinion different than ours, because we have facts not faith. ~mrday69

Defending the two year divorce  waiting period bill:

Gee… you would think folks would WANT to make divorce tougher…. helping families stay intact, children in homes with both biological adults. Fact is, with counselling and the proper effort ANY couples relationship can be saved. Trouble is, divorce is TOO easy… especially in the selfish “I deserve to be happy” world we live in today. For better or for worse is not what they REALLY mean… its for better, but if it gets worse… good-by. And then… just look at how the Democrats are putting forth so much effort into redefining marriage…. remember jobs and the economy? Democrat Hypocrites. ~mep

On the same story – this one’s actually a little sad:

I agree with the bill for a longer waiting period and counseling. I hope this bill passes before my husband divorces me so that we can get the counseling we need to resolve our differences. I think it is a shame it is so easy to get a divorce and it tears families apart when we should be trying to hold families together. ~pameladolinger

And that’s a wrap on this installment, folks. Tune in next time for more… well, whatever that stuff was.

Tensions build among GOP leadership in Raleigh

Without any appreciable Democratic opposition to keep them busy, some GOP leaders have decided to start opposing each other.

Robert Brawley was apparently forced out of his spot as chair of the House finance committee after questioning legislation which gave preference to certain businesses friendly to GOP lawmakers. Brawley actually openly accused House Speaker Thom Tillis of cronyism:

“You slamming my office door shut, standing in front of me and stating that you have a business relationship with Time Warner,” Brawley wrote. “MI Connections is being operated just as any other free enterprise system and should be allowed to do so without the restrictions placed on them by the proponents of Time Warner.”

Brawley’s entire “resignation letter” is online and it’s well worth checking out. Reading between the lines, it looks to me like Brawley had been given certain assurances that the Speaker reneged on; I’m sure the accusations of cronyism are true, but I wonder if that’s the real origin of the dispute here.

Even though Brawley technically “resigned,” he subsequently sent an email which makes the situation pretty clear:

During a discussion of our differences, he said he wanted me to return my gavel and no longer serve as a chair of finance. I accepted and as he requested gave him a letter I had been working on to discuss with him privately but he wanted it read into the journal.

Keep an eye on this one, because it’s difficult to imagine that Brawley’s going to be the only guy riding the boat when all is said and done.

Bad legislation followup: crossover casualties edition

So there’s this kind of weird legislative thing in NC: non-budgetary bills that don’t pass either body by the “crossover” date end up in limbo. Technically such bills cannot be acted upon again until the next session (nearly two years out), but if you really want to pass legislation after crossover, good news, cause there’s a loophole for that. Although failing to make crossover isn’t necessarily the end of the line, it’s a good signal that the bill as written just doesn’t have enough support, so if a lawmaker wants to resuscitate such a bill he’ll probably need to do some wheeling and dealing.

(Thanks, by the way, for not teaching me any of this, schoolhouse rock)

Anyway, WRAL has a great rundown on the “crossover casualties” and I urge you to read it, because a lot of the super crazy stuff you’ve heard about may well be on the list. Deaths of particular interest to me are:

The end of crossover week should signify a substantial reduction in the crazy news coming out of Raleigh, which I am thankful for both because I’d rather the legislature not actually do crazy things as a matter of principle, but also because I’m having trouble even keeping up with everything that’s going on.

The big battles ahead are mostly going to involve money; how schools are funded, how roads are funded, tax code “reform,” etc. Hang tight.

Tesla shows off model S to the legislature; legislators respond by being really old

Tesla, in an effort to remind everybody how badass it is, has launched a PR campaign to counter the dealership protection bill (previously discussed here and here) which passed the Senate prior to crossover. The bill, which was bought by the dealership lobby, is a case study in crony capitalism and Big Government at its worst – car dealers effectively buying legislation that squeezes out their potential competition.

Tesla specifically is the impetus for such legislation, since it has no interest in working with dealership middle-men, and only sells vehicles directly. If SB 327 becomes law, Tesla will be unable to sell cars here.

Tesla wants to show North Carolinians just what these jokers are blocking, so they parked a car right outside the legislature building in Raleigh – and invited the jerks therein for a test ride. Responses were depressingly predictable:

Rep. Mitchell Setzer, R-Catawba, passed by as the boys were gushing over the car. He said the Model S looks impressive, but he’s not sure he can handle it.

“It’s a beautiful car, but I have enough trouble with the iPad. It’s like something out of ‘The Jetsons.’ Y’all don’t know ‘The Jetsons,'” he said, addressing the pages about the 1960s futuristic cartoon show. “I’m dating myself here.”

Translated as (envision Jon Stewart’s Dick Cheney impression): “wah, get off my lawn, wah!” Great work electing luddites to govern a state whose economy lives or dies based on high tech industries, you guys.

Even better, Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, an apologist for the protectionist legislation who voted yes in the Senate (who happens to be a Democrat, so you Democrats out there can stop patting yourselves on the shoulders right now) tells it like it is:

“Dealerships are one of those basic industries that are the roots of a small town,” she said. “The model convinced me that, while this is visionary, the reality is it has to evolve to a local presence.”

So, now it’s Big Government arbitrarily picking economic winners and losers based on “tradition.” At least as a Democrat she’s honest about this agenda – the GOP can’t even be bothered to come up with any kind of rationale to make this fit its “pro-free market” rhetoric.

There’s a lively discussion over at /r/triangle, complete with a photo shoot.

Construction on West Main St. bridge (near Duke) falls behind schedule

Duke Today reports that the scheduled demolition of the bridge near East Campus is already delayed. Initially scheduled for demo to begin next week and be completed by mid June, now demolition is expected to start on June 3 and the scheduled completion date is pushed back a week to June 21. This is most relevant to people using Duke’s bus systems, as it skews all of the dates for route changes they’ve published on their site; specifically, this schedule’s dates are now off by a week.

Main St. itself is already closed for the construction project, which is supposed to be completed by late September.

In the current phase of the project, Campus Drive is remaining open to traffic (but man, you probably don’t want to drive on it due to Duke’s other construction projects) as workers prepare for the bridge demo. When the bridge itself actually comes down, Campus Drive will be closed as well, and buses will use alternate routes including Maxwell St.

No word yet on whether this delay is expected to cause the project to miss its initially scheduled completion deadline.

Liberty Warehouse loses landmark status

In a move that should probably not surprise anybody, the Council voted 6-0 last night to strip Liberty Warehouse of its local landmark status.

I’ve mentioned the warehouse before (here and here), but the long and short of it is that current owner Greenfire requested and received the status in 2011 in an attempt to reduce its tax burden. Unfortunately, under Greenfire’s watch, the building suffered a catastrophic roof collapse which was deemed too costly to repair, and Greenfire has been looking for an exit strategy ever since. They subsequently petitioned to remove the landmark status to make the property more attractive to potential buyers.

The structure is the last extant tobacco auction warehouse in Durham, and much of the interior has remained in tact despite the collapse. It’s really a shame that Greenfire allowed this to happen, and it’s quite unfortunate that nobody could find any solution.

The landmark status was a hurdle for Greenfire’s proposed sale of the property to Chapel Hill developer East-West Partners (represented by Roger Perry), whose contract to purchase the structure from Greenfire was contingent upon the removal of the designation. Landmark designation would have placed restrictions on any potential development of the site, and it’s unlikely that the financials would have made sense with it in tact.

The unanimous vote from the council comes after Preservation Durham lent its support to the new development plan, in which East-West Partners and Greenfire have stated an intent to retain as much of the facade as is feasible and create a museum on the site. It is important to note that without local landmark status East-West Partners will not have a legal obligation to these site elements, but it is presumably in their best interest to maintain a good working relationship with the community.

An interesting side show in all of this is that the Council has overridden the “Historic Preservation Commission,” which has the power to modify landmark status itself, but has failed to do so in the case of the Liberty Warehouse. I wouldn’t necessarily read this as a vote of no confidence in the Commission, but it does serve as a reminder that the buck ultimately stops at the council.

Rose’s Meat Market and Sweet Shop meets its Kickstarter goal

Good news for people who enjoy meat, as Rose’s has successfully met its goal. The butcher (previously mentioned here) raked in $27,635, exceeding the $25,000 target required for funding to be processed (as you may know, Kickstarter is an “all or nothing” affair – if you don’t meet your goal, the project fails, and nobody is charged anything).

The project hasn’t posted any updates yet post-completion, but they talked a bit about their progress on Monday’s update.

“Big Gulp” bill? Sharia Law law? A big week for solutions in search of problems in Raleigh

First up: the “big gulp” bill, which passed the house. Officially the bill has the more mundane designation of House Bill 683, “Commonsense Consumption,” but that euphemistic title reveals so little about what’s actually going on that WRAL et al have provided it with a more useful moniker. Yes, HB683 is a bill designed to… ban cities… from banning beverages.

I mean, yeah, this does technically fall under the GOP general philosophy of chopping the balls off of all local government, but… this isn’t actually even a thing that’s happening anywhere in NC. As Wake county Representative Deborah Ross put it:

“If there was ever a bill that was less necessary, I can’t really think of one,” she said.

Oh Deb. So naive. Cause clearly, at the time you said that, you must have not yet heard of HB 695, the bill to ban Sharia Law in NC.

Sponsoring HB695 is none other than prior jackass of the week winner Chris Whitmire of Transylvania county (this guy has now made news so frequently that I’ve completely exhausted my supply of horrible vampire jokes). Whitmire was, among other things, a co-sponsor of the state religion bill (hint: the state religion was not to be Islam) so this is probably not too surprising.

Protip for any US citizens out there: foreign laws already do not apply to you unless you’re conducting business with foreign entities and/or are on foreign soil, which is what makes this legislation not only stupid, but also completely pointless. Two Durham reps weighed in on this one:

“Has this been a problem in North Carolina anywhere?” asked Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham.

“Not yet,” Whitmire answered, adding, “we have at least 27 cases in multiple states where it has.”

“You’re acknowledging we don’t have a problem here,” Luebke responded. “I cannot see for the life of me why we need a bill like this.”

And:

Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, said the bill was unnecessary because the state and federal constitutions are already the law of the land.

“You’ve got the protections. They’re already there,” Michaux said. “Here we are at 11:20 at night, trying to pass a feel-good bill that doesn’t really do anything.”

Not that this matters, of course, because neither of them are Republicans.

Did I say solutions in search of problems? Come to think of it, these just look like more problems in search of other problems.

Last (for now), Grover Norquist has apparently endorsed the GOP’s tax “reform” efforts (which would extend the sales tax to cover more goods and services while reducing the income tax). As a general rule: if that guy is on your side, you’re probably doing something wrong.