Carrboro Approves ‘Summer Streets’ Road Closures

Carrboro leaders approved a plan to open Weaver Street to pedestrians throughout the summer, but some business owners are worried about how it will impact their bottom line.

The “Summer Streets” pilot program won unanimous approval from Carrboro Aldermen on Tuesday.

“I think it’s overdue. We’ve been thirsty for this for a long time,” said Alderwoman Randee Haven-O’Donnell.

The east block of Weaver Street from North Greensboro to Main will be closed to car traffic from 8 a.m.- 2:30 p.m. on one Sunday morning each month from June through August. The program is an extension of the town’s annual Open Streets day.

Proponents, including the Carrboro Bicycle Coalition’s John Rees, says the once-a-year event has garnered great feedback from the community. He’s excited about the chance to expand the program.

“People are asking, ‘why can’t we do this all the time?’ and so basically I just urge the town to embrace the idea and do it as much as possible,” Rees told the board.

However, Carrboro’s Economic Development Director Annette Stone says she’s heard from some local business owners inside Carr Mill Mall who don’t love the idea. They worry the street closures will keep shoppers away from the mall.

She suggested possible solutions might involve hosting events inside the mall or bringing vendor tables out into the street.

“I think it’s really important for us to monitor what happens with the first event, and then think about the whole question some have asked about bringing a table out,” said Stone. “So that brings a whole other level to it. We have to consider how many get to come out and where you put them and who is going to manage that kind of thing.”

The Board of Aldermen agreed they want to monitor the impact on businesses during the first event.

“I would also love to hear a concrete plan for touching base with business owners before the event so that we have real data about sales,” said Alderwoman Bethany Chaney. “My hunch is restaurants benefit more from something like this than retail businesses. So it would be interesting to see if there’s a disproportionate impact, and if there is, how can we address that in a positive way and be helpful.”

The first Summer Streets event is scheduled for Sunday, June 21.

Pete Beswick, Former C’boro Alderman, Dies At 73

Condolences to the family and friends of former Carrboro Alderman George William “Pete” Beswick, who passed away in Morehead City on Sunday at the age of 73.

Born in 1941 in Rhode Island, Pete Beswick moved to Chapel Hill after serving a tour of duty in Vietnam. He earned his bachelor’s and law degrees from UNC and went on to a long legal career in Greensboro and Morehead City – but before leaving the area, he served two years as a Carrboro Alderman in the mid-1970s.

Pete is survived by his wife Beth and his son Michael.

There will be a memorial service on Friday, November 21, at 2:00 at St. Francis by the Sea Episcopal Church on Highway 58 in Salter Path.

Read Pete Beswick’s full obituary here.

It Is Time For A Pay-As-You-Throw Trash Plan?

With town and county officials looking to collaborate on solid waste disposal and recycling, there’s increasing interest in changing the way individuals and institutions handle trash in Orange County.

County Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier says it’s time to seriously consider a pay-as-you-throw system that charges households based on how much waste each generates.

“We know, from a psychological point of view, that paying for something makes people think about it,” says Pelissier. “Just like we got increased water conservation by having the tiered rates. People are now conscious that it’s a precious resource. What we have in our trash cans or recycling bins, that’s a precious resource as well, so we have to frame it very differently.”

Carrboro Alderman Sammy Slade agrees. He says Carrboro is already investigating the feasibility of such a system, with an eye to rewarding residents who reduce their trash output.

“Personally, I’m interested in not just an individual, per-household pay-as-you-throw system- there’s some concern in the Town of Carrboro about the regressive quality of that,” says Slade. “There’s an opportunity, I feel, at the neighborhood level to incentivize the neighborhood to reduce its trash, then credit the neighborhood for it to use through participatory budgeting at the neighborhood scale.”

Though critics of pay-as-you-throw argue it can disproportionally impact low-income households, Orange County Solid Waste Planner Blair Pollock says some elderly residents might actually benefit from the change.

“The predominant low-income family in our county is elderly and lives alone or has a small household,” says Pollock. “So people, like my mom, who live in this county benefit from pay-as-you throw. One could easily flip that argument on its head.”

Switching to a pay-as-you-throw system is part of a larger question of how the local governments can handle solid waste in a socially and environmentally just manner.

Now that the Eubanks Road landfill has closed, the towns and county are trucking trash to a waste transfer station in Durham. That trash ultimately ends up at a landfill in Sampson County.

Board of Commissioners candidate Mark Marcoplos visited the landfill to see firsthand the impact that has on the surrounding neighborhood. He says the largely low-income African-American community is suffering from the burden of Orange County’s trash.

“We’re in this situation where we’re patting ourselves on the back for finally providing social justice to the Rogers Road community and we’re actually affecting a community even worse over the horizon in Sampson County, so this is an issue we have to address,” says Marcoplos.

While some are pushing for the construction of a waste transfer station near Chapel Hill, Town Council member Jim Ward says ultimately, local governments will need to find a more permanent solution.

“I do think that if we go forward and see the need for a landfill, and I think there is one, I think it’s incumbent on us to put it in our own backyard and not be oblivious to it being transported to some impoverished neighborhood in Eastern North Carolina or Southern Virginia or wherever this stuff goes,” says Ward.

Orange County Commissioner Earl McKee says all stakeholders need to get together to come up with short and long-term solutions.

“I think that we’re going to need to look at this entire discussion of what we’re going to do with our trash, how we’re going to handle recycling, and we need to look at it in a comprehensive manner along with the towns.”

But once local governments work out a plan, McKee says they’ll need the political will to stick to it.

“I think its finally going to break down to having to devise a plan, then have the backbone to stand by that plan and put it into effect.”

The towns and county are in the process of hashing out a new interlocal agreement on solid waste. County commissioners will get their first look at the draft agreement on May 13.

Pelissier, Slade, Pollock, Ward, Marcoplos and McKee made those comments during the “Environment” panel of WCHL’s 2014 Community Forum. You can listen to the full forum here.

Carrboro Aldermen Consider Drug Store Drive-Throughs

CARRBORO – The Town of Carrboro is asking for public input about whether drive-thoughs should be allowed at future pharmacies.

There are very few existing drive-through lanes at downtown businesses in Carrboro. They’re at a handful of banks and fast-food restaurants, including Wendy’s, Arby’s and Burger King.

Those have been around for a while. The Carrboro Board of Aldermen is not eager to add more.

“What is Carrboro supposed to look like in 20, 30, 50 years?” said Alderperson Damon Seils. “When I think about Carrboro in that time span, I don’t think of a community where drive-throughs are a reasonable land use.”

Town Staff and the Board of Aldermen are concerned about the environmental impact of vehicles idling in drive-through lanes.

They want to promote the concept of walkability. In their view, getting out of cars encourages people to pop into more downtown businesses while running errands.

But the drive-through issue won’t go away. The Board received some applications for drive-throughs as a feature of development last year.

Aldermen responded by directing Town staff to draft an amendment that took drive-throughs completely off the table for all future developments.

The discussion at Tuesday night’s Alderman meeting did not end with a final vote on that. It was just a check-in from Town staff, which is still in the process of researching the topic.

When it was time for Aldermen to offer comments, Alderperson Randee Haven-O’Donnell said she’s been asking Carrboro residents what kind of drive-through they would consider essential to their daily lives.

Here’s what one person told her:

“One mother explained how hard it was to bundle the children up, the sick child, take them to the pharmacy, and walk them into the pharmacy, with them being ill, and how nightmarish that was.”

Haven-O’Donnell added that it’s an issue for some seniors, too.

The idea of making an exception for pharmacies got some initial pushback.

Alderperson Damon Seils pointed out that Carrboro Family Pharmacy offers delivery to some customers, and that seemed to him to be the more sensible solution.

Alderperson Michelle Johnson said she understood how important the issue is to seniors. But she’s skeptical about drive-throughs.

“I have a parent who can’t walk, so I understand that it’s a need, and access is really important, she said, but added: “I want to encourage us to think about other mechanisms.”

Alderperson Sammy Slade said that the Town could perhaps reach out to local pharmacies about adding or expanding delivery services to those in need.

At the end of the discussion, Aldermen voted to direct Town staff to draft the ordinance prohibiting any more drive-throughs.

But this time, they left open the possibility of considering pharmacy drive-through requests in the future, pending more study.

And Alderperson Haven-O’Donnell had this request for Carrboro citizens:

“Chime in. You know, when we don’t hear from you, there’s this tacit assumption that you either don’t care, or you don’t have the need.”

Carrboro Cyclists Win Battle to Share the Road

CARRBORO- The Carrboro bicycling community was out in force at Tuesday night’s Board of Aldermen meeting, and those in attendance got what they came for: The same rights of the road enjoyed by drivers of all other roadway vehicles.

“Carrboro is a bicycling destination,” said John Rees, president of the Carolina Tarwheels bicycle club. “And having legislation or ordinances, such as this, is discouraging to that.”

Rees, along with members of the Carrboro Bicycle Coalition, spoke Tuesday night to Aldermen about striking what they called discriminatory language in the town code, regarding the rules of the road.

They wanted the local rules to be consistent with state laws that say nothing about bicyclists being restricted to the farthest right of the lane.

But a subsection of a Carrboro ordinance did mandate that, along with a subsection that prohibited cyclists from riding more than two abreast.

Bicycle Coalition Chair Charlie Hileman spoke at length about unfairness.

“What we’re trying to say is, overall, to not enact any laws that specifically target cyclists over other users of public roadways,” he said.

Hileman pointed out that there were no mentions in the Carrboro law regarding lane position of trucks, tractors and mopeds, even though they, too, may be traveling slower than other traffic at times.

He said the Carrboro rules made cyclists legally vulnerable in the case of an accident. And because the boundaries between Chapel Hill and Carrboro are blurry in the minds of many people, cyclists were often unaware they were breaking any law.

There was sympathetic talk among aldermen about the hazards of riding a bike downhill on some of Carrboro’s narrow streets.

But there were also concerns about the ramifications of change. Alderman Randee Haven-O’Donnell asked cycling representatives to educate others about the possible dangers of riding two-or-three abreast.

“If cyclists are riding two abreast, and they’re on the far side of that curve on the blind side, it could be really dangerous,” she said.

Bicycle Coalition board member Ginger Guidry had an answer for that.

“It’s the responsibility of the car driving on the road, to not encroach on the vehicle that they’re passing,” said Guidry. “In this case, perhaps a bicycle. And it’s their responsibility also to be driving at a safe speed.”

Plus, she argued, riding too far to the right can actually make a cyclist less visible to traffic coming up from behind.

In the end, Alderman Damon Seils moved to cut those two subsections from the ordinance entirely.

That motion passed unanimously, to applause. More then a dozen cycle enthusiasts then got up and left, some of them holding biking helmets.

3 Carrboro BoA Members Vow to Keep Supporting ‘Moral Mondays’

CARRBORO- Regardless of the outcome in a Wake County courtroom today, three Carrboro Aldermen that were arrested at a June 3 Moral Monday protest at the State Capitol say they’ll continue to push back against what Alderman Sammy Slade calls “extreme measures” of the North Carolina General Assembly.

“The reasons for why people are outraged and trying to express their grievances haven’t changed,” he says. “So why do anything other than ramping it up? Because that’s what they’re going to be doing.”

Slade calls the Moral Monday protests a “snowballing movement,” and predicts that Saturday’s gathering in Raleigh at the “HK on J” rally will be “huge.”

His fellow Moral Monday defendants in Carrboro’s Board of Aldermen expressed the same feelings, after last night’s Aldermen meeting.

Damon Seils urges constituents to march alongside Moral Monday protesters in Raleigh this weekend.

“One way for people to stay involved, or get involved for the first time is to march in the HK on J Rally in Raleigh on Saturday,” he says.

The Annual Historic Thousands on Jones Street march begins with a 9:30 a.m. gathering at Shaw University. Alderman Michelle Johnson, another one of the Moral Monday defendants, says she’ll be there.

“We’re folks who are still impacted by the policies made in Raleigh,” says Johnson, “and so are the people that we represent. So I’ll just keep supporting, and showing up to the Moral Mondays.”

Carrboro Aldermen To Update MLK Park Plan

CARRBORO- Carrboro leaders say its time to update plans for a town park that’s been in the works for more than a decade.

The Board of Aldermen approved the purchase of land at 1120 Hillsborough Road in 1999 and endorsed a master plan for the Martin Luther King Jr. Park back in 2004, but in all those years, there’s never been money available to make that plan a reality.

Anita Jones-McNair directs the town’s Recreation and Parks Department. She told the Aldermen on Tuesday so much time has passed that town needs have changed.

“Ten years is a pretty long time to sit on a plan,” said Jones-McNair. “We’ve had lots of different changes, lots of different requests for all kinds of space that at this time we don’t have any real development for.”

The current plan for the 10 acre park includes a playground, athletic fields, ping pong tables and a sculpture garden, but it does not include the community garden that’s been growing on the site since 2007.

Board members agreed it’s important to incorporate that into the revised park plan. Alderman Randee Haven-O’Donnell suggested it might also be a chance for the town to consider new recreational options.

“Many of our parks miss the opportunity to address the interests and needs of children older than eight years old, and that was one of the things I thought was really cool about the pump parks,” said Haven-O’Donnell.

Town staffers are looking to hire a consultant to revise the plan based on feedback from residents and elected officials. The Martin Luther King Jr. park is slated for development in 2016.

Rogers Road Remediation Plan Still Stalled

CHAPEL HILL- Despite heated debate at Thursday’s Assembly of Governments, elected officials are still at an impasse when it comes to the Rogers Road remediation plan.

Leaders from Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County met together to discuss how to move forward with a plan to bring sewer service and a community center to the Rogers Road neighborhood, which has lived with the landfill for forty years.

Chapel Hill Town Council member Matt Czajkowski pushed his peers to commit funding to the plan as soon as possible.

“Until we start talking about funding, all we’re doing is talking,” said Czajkowski. “And it is about time we stop talking.”

The Historic Rogers Road Task Force came up with a plan to provide sewer service to all 86 homes in the neighborhood at a cost of $5.8 million dollars. The plan has widespread support among local leaders, but the towns and county face two major obstacles, namely, a pending federal investigation into the county planning department, and no clear method for Chapel Hill to contribute its share of money.

The EPA announced this summer it was investigating claims filed by the Rogers Eubanks Neighborhood Association, or RENA, that the county discriminated against the largely African-American neighborhood by failing to apply for federal grant money to fund sewer service.

At the advice of the county attorney, commissioners have held off on endorsing the Rogers Road remediation plan until the investigation is complete. Commissioner Mark Dorosin said that’s a mistake.

“We’re at the point where we should move forward,” said Dorosin. “I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I think it is a disastrous idea to sit back and wait until the EPA makes its decision.”

Carrboro Alderman Damon Seils agreed, suggesting formal approval of the remediation plan could bring the investigation to an end. He said the solution may lie in recent correspondence between the county attorney and the attorney representing RENA.

“It’s right here before us. The county attorney says a commitment can be made if RENA agrees to withdraw the complaint and we now have a letter from RENA saying they will withdraw the complaint [if the plan is adopted],” said Seils. “We’ve got the solution right here in front of us, folks.”

But the question of what to do about the EPA investigation got sidetracked by finger-pointing between town officials about who pays what when.

The task force approved a cost-sharing plan based on the 1972 landfill agreement. According to that plan, Carrboro would pay 14 percent and Chapel Hill and Orange County would each contribute 43 percent of the nearly $6 million dollar sewer project.

To do that, Chapel Hill has to find a way to spend town money outside town boundaries. One solution is to absorb the neighborhood into the town’s Extraterritorial Jurisdiction, a process that’s already underway. Another option might be to create a sewer district that includes Rogers Road and extends into Chapel Hill.

While Chapel Hill is struggling to figure out how to contribute, Carrboro has designated $900,000 to cover its portion of the plan. Mayor Chilton lambasted Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt over the town council’s failure to commit to funding.

***Listen here***

Rogers Road Debate

Nonetheless, Council Member Lee Storrow urged the group to put their differences aside and accept the task force’s recommendation as the best solution.

“All of our governments have been at fault and all have done things that we’re not happy about regarding this neighborhood and there’s no perfect magic bullet funding formula that’s going to make everyone happy,” said Storrow. “Maybe the county’s number should be slightly higher, there are concerns about Carrboro and there are concerns about things Chapel Hill has done, but I think this funding formula best gets to the root concerns that we all have about the impact that we’ve have made on this neighborhood by dumping our trash for forty years.”

Town and county managers asked to be granted authority to start planning for the implementation of the sewer plan, if and when the towns and county commit funding. In response, the boards and council asked for the managers to return with a report next spring evaluating all the options.

Carrboro Aldermen To Pick Election or Appointment December 10

CARRBORO- Carrboro Aldermen voted unanimously on Tuesday to schedule a special session December 10 for the purpose of deciding how to fill the upcoming vacancy on the board.

When Lydia Lavelle is sworn in as mayor on December 3, she’ll leave an empty seat on the board. The Aldermen must choose to fill the vacancy by appointment or at a special election held during the May primary.

Although they also have the option to hold a separate town-wide special election before May, board members last week ruled that out as too expensive.

Carrboro’s special election this past March to fill Dan Coleman’s seat cost the Town approximately $18,000. Damon Seils was the sole candidate; he won with 232 votes.

Prior to that, the last vacancy filled on the board was that of Mark Chilton, who, like Lavelle, left a seat open when he was elected Mayor of Carrboro in 2005.

According to the town’s charter, the board must launch the replacement process at the first meeting after a seat becomes vacant.

Carrboro Aldermen Debate Downtown Parking

CARRBORO- The Board of Aldermen wants to hire a consultant to conduct a comprehensive study of the availability of residential and business parking around the downtown area, but board members differ on what should be the ultimate goal of the town’s parking plan.

Sammy Slade said he’d like to see reduced parking downtown to encourage public transit and limit vehicle emissions.

“We just had a typhoon in the Philippines, we’re likely to have disasters here, and we’re supposed to be a town that’s leading the way in mitigating climate change,” said Slade. “It is very frustrating to not be able to register this reality and move forward with a bold plan.”

Others, including Jacqueline Gist, disagreed, saying such a move could hurt downtown businesses.

“I cannot say ‘reduce the number of parking spaces and support our downtown businesses and keep downtown accessible,’” said Gist. “I think the study will give us some facts to do that, but I’m not going to support something, the premise of which is come up with a plan that reduces parking.”

Mayor Mark Chilton said while he sympathized with Slade, the request to lower the current number of spaces is not consistent with the town’s growth plans.

“There are other aspects of where our planning is headed for the downtown area that call for additional businesses and additional residences to come into the downtown area,” said Chilton. “It seems to me it is not very realistic to think of continued growth without having some continued growth in the amount of parking.”

Chilton suggested that changing the parking ratio for future developments might be a workable alternative.

The town collaborated with UNC students in 2008 to conduct a parking survey, but Randee Haven-O’Donnell said it’s time to update the plan as conditions downtown are rapidly changing.

“You know the data that’s in there is based on the lots that existed or were in use at the time, but things are changing, and I think it’s important for us to look at what’s really on the ground now and what’s going to change in the next year or two,” said Haven-O’Donnell.

The comprehensive parking plan outlined by town staffers would not only include a survey of available business and residential parking, it would also lay out a policy for managing the town’s parking supply.

Although board members agreed on the need for such a plan, the potential $100,000 consultant fee gave some pause.

“Obviously one of the issues here is the cost of undertaking a project like this. It has pretty big implications for a budget the size of ours,” said Damon Seils. “There will need to be some discussion about that.”

The board directed staffers to refine the proposal and said they want to gather public feedback to clarify the goal of the parking plan. Funding for the project will likely be discussed at the board’s planning retreat scheduled for early next year.