In Affordable Housing Push, Chapel Hill Sticks With DHIC

The Town of Chapel Hill is sticking with the Raleigh-based developer DHIC in its effort to get more affordable housing in the Ephesus-Fordham district.

That’s the word from Monday night’s meeting of the Chapel Hill Town Council.

Chapel Hill partnered with DHIC last year on a project to build 160 low-cost rental units on Legion Road. But in order for the project to be financially viable, DHIC needs to obtain a Low Income Housing Tax Credit from the state – and last month, their application was denied due to a paperwork error.

Town Council had the option to give DHIC more time to resubmit the application, or try to go in a new direction – but on Monday, Council members elected to stick with the company, extending the tax-credit deadline until August 31 of next year. (Assuming the tax credit goes through, the town will sell DHIC the Legion Road property at a low cost by the following April.)

Also at the meeting: Council members took the next step toward approving a proposal for the redevelopment of the fire station on Hamilton Road near East 54. The plan is to make it a mixed-use property: the town would transfer the land title to East West Partners, who would demolish the current fire station and build a new one for the town, along with a 45,000-square-foot office building.

Council members also took steps to help the 89 families in Orange County who face eviction and displacement because their landlords have stopped accepting Section 8 housing vouchers. Those steps included the creation of a $10,000 pilot program to provide rental and utility connection assistance.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/affordable-housing-push-chapel-hill-sticks-dhic/

Chapel Hill Fire Dept Completes Controlled Burns Training

The Chapel Hill Fire Department has finished their training with the controlled burns of the old houses along 15-501 South between Arlen Park Drive and Market Street, now making way for the new Southern Village hotel.

Public Information Officer of the Chapel Hill Fire Department, Lisa Edwards, says that the burns were a success, and that everyone involved most importantly, stayed safe.

“The burns went very, very well,” says Edwards. “First and foremost, they were safe. We didn’t have any injuries of firefighters or any personnel that were on-scene.”

Edwards says that it has been 10 years since the department has had an opportunity like this, and that being able to obtain the permits to practice it on houses, outside of their limited training areas, offered invaluable training for firefighters.

“The biggest thing was that it gave us that practical application of trying different fire fighting techniques based on what they were dealing with as they entered the scene, whether they could assess smoke patterns and flame patterns,” says Edwards. “Sometimes, we’d go in there and just knock [the flames] down just a little bit so it could come back up, so they have another opportunity to fight it before they put it out; that was just invaluable.”

In addition to thanking the citizens of Chapel Hill for being patient about the fires and the lane closures that occurred during the burns, Edwards also wanted to reach out and thank other local services that cooperated in conjunction with the live burn training.

“I want to thank Orange County Emergency Management and South Orange Rescue for having staff there each day to take our vital signs and make sure hydration was given, and to Bryan Properties, to give us the homes to burn.”

The Chapel Hill Fire Department has uploaded a point-of-view cam video of one of the controlled burns. You can watch it by clicking here.

http://chapelboro.com/news/safety/ch-fire-dept-completes-controlled-burns-training/

Chapel Hill Fire Dept Plans Live Fire Training Near Southern Village

You might smell smoke or see flames near Southern Village next week, but fire officials say there’s no cause for alarm. The Chapel Hill Fire Department will conduct firefighting training exercises that will involve controlled burning of three homes.

Deputy Chief Matt Lawrence says that’s rare opportunity for the department.

“It’s really important that we’re able to do this type of training because it’s as real as we can possibly make it for our fire-responders,” say Lawrence.

The houses, located along 15-501 South between Arlen Park Drive and Market Street, are scheduled to be demolished to make way for the new Southern Village hotel. But first, firefighters will have a chance to hone their skills in a live fire.

“The majority of our training is conducted in our training center, which is a concrete and steel building that we can light fires in, but it is very difficult to recreate fire behavior and how fire moves through an actual wood frame structure, so this is a good opportunity,” says Lawrence.

The department will burn one house each day from Monday through Wednesday. All fire crews will have a chance to participate.

One southbound lane of 15-501 will be closed starting at 9 a.m. during the drills, but the lane should be reopened in time for the afternoon rush hour.

Here’s the full text of the department’s press release:

On August 4, 5, and 6, 2014, The Chapel Hill Fire Department will be conducting live burn fire training along US 15-501 South between Arlen Park Drive and Market Street.  The training will begin at 9:00 a.m. and conclude by 4:00 p.m. each day.

For the safety of emergency personnel involved in the training, the right lane of US 15-501 South will be closed between Arlen Park Drive and Market Street during these exercises.  Motorists are urged to use caution throughout these closures.

Those close to this area may experience the odor of smoke and see flames visible.  There will be an electronic signage board indicating the training area to clearly identify to citizens and residents where the training event is taking place.

While we expect to have smoke and visible flames at the training site, if you encounter a situation that causes you concern, do not hesitate to call 911 and make a report.

http://chapelboro.com/news/safety/chapel-hill-fire-dept-plans-live-fire-training-near-southern-village/

Firefighters Battle Heavy Chapel Hill Blaze

Firefighters responded to a blaze at a two-story Chapel Hill residence at around 2:36 a.m. on Friday.

The flames were reportedly visible from the back of the residence at 321 McCauley Street, just to the west of UNC’s campus.

According to a press release from the Town of Chapel Hill, a total of 18 personnel from various fire and police squads in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, New Hope and South Orange were called to put out the heavy flames.

No injuries were reported, but two cars in the garage were destroyed, and three others were damaged.

Two residents of the burned structure were reportedly displaced.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation as of Friday afternoon.

http://chapelboro.com/news/fire/firefighters-battle-heavy-blaze-2-story-chapel-hill-residence/

How to Be Safe with Fireworks

This July 4th, Chapel Hill is offering a variety of ways to celebrate, notably the fireworks display at Kenan Stadium. The Chapel Hill Fire Department is reminding citizens that the best way to practice good firework safety this summer is leave it to the professionals.

Fire Marshall for the Chapel Hill Fire Department, Todd Iaeger, says that the best way to be safe with fireworks this Independence Day is simply not to use them.

“The obvious answer is not to use them at all,” says Iaeger. “If you are going to use consumer fireworks, people have to be cognizant of the fact that these things emit significant temperatures, and anything around those things can easily ignite. People have to remember too that the statute of North Carolina states that if it leaves the ground, if it moves, if it makes a big bang, it’s illegal.”

Iaeger also says that the use of sparklers is something that might be safest to avoid altogether, especially for child safety.

“To me, it’s a bit counterintuitive,” says Iaeger. “We give small children sparklers and tell them to wave them around. What people don’t understand is that patterned material on those sparklers has the ability to reach to 1,200 plus degrees. So, we’re putting 1,200 plus degrees of a little wire in the hand of a child. If you are going to use those, you’ve got to make sure there is an extreme amount of adult supervision. I believe, and I think statistics prove, that sparklers alone are very dangerous, particularly for smaller children.”

With the celebration events that Chapel Hill has to offer this July 4th, Iaeger says that there is essentially no reason to risk your own fireworks show, when you have one of the best in the country right at your backdoor.

“I want to stress significantly, please, forgo the consumer fireworks, forgo the homemade fireworks. Go to the professional display at Kenan Stadium. It’s ranked as one of the top ten best displays in the country. Take advantage of that. Please leave it in the hands of the professionals.”

For more tips on fire safety, click here.

http://chapelboro.com/news/safety/safe-fireworks/

Brazil and BBQ

I did not publish a column for the last two weeks because my family and I were in Brazil attending a few World Cup Soccer games. For this week’s column, I want to share a few non-science thoughts about our Brazil experience, and also tell you about a safety incident that occurred at my house just before we left town.

Much of news coverage here in the U.S. about the World Cup has focused on protests by Brazilian citizens regarding the expenditure of vast sums of money on a sports tournament in a country with so many other needs, as well as safety risks for tourists during the tournament. I’d like to provide you some first-hand insights of experiences in these areas.

There was a protest march in Fortaleza while we were there. What we observed was exactly what one would expect here at home. The protesters marched, held signs, and chanted slogans. Their rights to free speech and free assembly were respected and their interactions with the police were orderly and respectful. Except for it being in Portuguese rather than English, it could have been a Moral Monday march, except the Brazilian police didn’t arrest any of the protesters.

As for safety, the generous citizens of Brazil as well as the police officers were looking out for everyone and helped to create a secure and welcoming environment. For example, we had to catch a bus from a soccer stadium back to our hotel and were a bit confused. Two Brazilian women took notice of us and asked where we were trying to go. A couple of minutes later we saw one of them running through the crowds, risking missing her own bus, to find us and make sure we got on the right bus. I could list many other similar examples. It was a great trip and we felt secure and welcome the entire time.

With the travelogue completed, let me tell you about the first time I had to call the fire department since moving to Chapel Hill 14 years ago. It was the evening of the Belmont Stakes, and in-laws were over for a BBQ. I lit the propane grill on our back deck to let it warm up and went back inside to watch the horse race. When I checked on the grill about 15 minutes later, I noticed that something was wrong – really wrong.

The black insulation on the side of the grill cover had developed large blister-like bubbles. I checked the temperature gauge and it read 700ºF! I grabbed one of the valves on the front of the grill to try to start turning off the propane, and found that it had melted and no longer functioned. At this point, I decided it was time to call for professional help.

I quickly went inside, grabbed my phone and told everyone, calmly but firmly, that they needed to get up and head out the front door. Once we were out of the house and away from the overheating grill, I called 911. The dispatcher was calm and clear and stayed on the line with me until I could see the fire trucks coming. The firemen were there in under five minutes, donned their gear and stopped the fire by shutting the valve on the top of the propane tank, which was located in the cabinet below the grill. I had considered attempting this myself before calling 911 but (correctly, I think) decided that getting everyone out of the house and letting the firemen assess the situation was the right way to go.

I want to thank both the 911 dispatcher and the fire department for taking care of us when we needed them. If ever you wonder why we pay taxes, this is why.

So what went wrong with the grill? I can’t be 100% sure, but let me lay out the most likely scenario. The pressure inside of a propane tank is between 100 and 200 pounds per square inch (psi). When you connect the tank below the grill there is a small circular device in the hose. This is the regulator. Inside the regulator are a plastic diaphragm and a spring. The spring is adjusted such that the outlet pressure from the regulator is approximately 0.4 psi, significantly lower than the pressure inside the tank. Once the pressure is lowered to 0.4 psi by the regulator, the propane gas flows to two or three valves which are controlled by the dials on the front of the grill and then directed to the burners. Along the burners there are many little holes and out of each comes a small flame. The temperature inside of the grill is a function of the temperature of the small flames, the flow rate of propane from the tank to the burners, and the heat loss from the grill to outside air.

Depending on the purity of the propane – it contains some other hydrocarbons such as ethane and butane – and the fuel-to-air ratio, the temperature of each of the little flames can be as high as 1900°F. Even though the flames are very, very hot, since they are small, the heat given off by one of them is limited. When everything is functioning properly, the heat given off from the flames in conjunction with the heat loss from the grill results in a temperature within the grill of approximately 300 to 450°F.

The most likely scenario which resulted in my grill overheating was that after 14 years of reliable service, the regulator in the feed line failed, probably due to a broken plastic diaphragm. Therefore, the pressure of propane being supplied to the burners was much higher than the intended 0.4 psi. As a result, the flow of gas to the burners was much higher, resulting in the dramatic increase in temperature.

At the point I called 911, there were two key risks on my mind: a house fire and an explosion. My grill is on a wooden deck and near to some vinyl siding, so there was a realistic risk that the overheated grill could have started a fire on the deck itself. More than 1,000 home fires a year in the U.S. are started by similar circumstances. There are also occasional reports of propane grill explosions. Although I was concerned about this possibility at the time, my circumstances were not likely to lead to an explosion. The propane tank, supply line, and regulator housing are all made of steel which can easily withstand a temperature of 700 ºF, so there was no reason to expect a leak to develop. Without a leak in the supply line, it is hard to construct a scenario which could lead to an explosion.

The root cause for this safety incident is clear: I operated my grill for 14 years, well past its intended service life. The manufacturer supplied a gas regulator which functioned perfectly for a long time, so I cannot ascribe any blame to them. I have since learned that you should not operate a propane grill for more than 10 years, so I recommend you think about how old yours is and join me at the grill store if it is too old. As I am in the market for a new grill now, please email me at commonscience@chapelboro.com if you have a recommendation. It’s good to be back.

Have a comment or question? Use the interface below or send me an email to commonscience@chapelboro.com. Think that this column includes important points that others should consider? Send out a link on Facebook or Twitter.

http://chapelboro.com/columns/common-science/brazil-bbq/

It’s Time To Register Alarm Systems In Chapel Hill

Police and fire officials are reminding the community that it’s time to register all alarm systems, both residential and commercial, in Chapel Hill, per a new town ordinance.

It’s free to register, but if you don’t by July 1, you’ll have to pay a penalty. Too many false alarms will equal fees as well.

“Legitimate alarms, of course, we want to go to. It is the accidental alarms that take up a lot of our time and tie up equipment and people unnecessarily,” said Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue.

The goal of the program is to track the number of accidental alarms, which have caused public safety officers problems in the past.

Blue said that research revealed Chapel Hill police officers and firefighters were responding to about 5,000 alarm calls each year. About 95 percent of those calls were accidental alarms, which were proving to be costly for local law enforcement and more importantly, tying up public safety resources.

“Educational campaigns and problem-solving efforts to reduce those activations has not been effective,” Blue said. “We’ve reach out to people. We have tried to help them mitigate their problems, but we still see numbers in the thousands [of false alarms] every year.”

That’s why Blue worked with Fire Department Chief Dan Jones to establish the ordinance, which was passed by the Town Council in October of last year.

The Town will begin tracking the number of accidental alarms on July 1.  Fire and Police alarms will be tracked and counted separately.

People who don’t register their alarm systems by the July 1 deadline will face a $100 penalty.

If a registered alarm user has four or more accidental alarms during a 365 day period, it will result in a series of graduated fines, ranging from $100 to $500 for each violation.

Fee schedule for accidental alarms:

1 – 3: No fine
4 & 5: $100 each
6 & 7: $200 each
8 & 9: $300 each
10 + : $500 each

“The goal here is not to send bills out or to generate revenue. The goal is to reduce emergency response unnecessarily,” Blue said.

Matt Lawrence, CHFD Deputy Fire Chief, said that this ordinance does apply to UNC.

“We’ve work very closely with both the University and the hospital to work through their interests and what their concerns were and moving toward solutions to make our response to their locations better,” Lawrence said.

Blue said that the fees from the program will help to offset the cost of the third-party vendor, Cry Wolf, which will handle the registration process and track the number of false alarms through its software. Municipalities such as Durham and Burlington already have similar programs.

“The good news is other than the staff time to do the research on the ordinance, there really haven’t been any significant costs,” he said.

For more information on how to register your alarm system, click here.

Notable: In 2012, the Police Department responded to 3,630 alarm calls at a cost of $75,213, per the Town’s research. In 2012, the Chapel Hill Fire Department responded to 1,250 alarm activations at a cost of $122,400. Police Department routine alarm responses include at least two officers while Fire Department response include three to four fire apparatus with up to 10 firefighters.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/time-register-alarm-systems-chapel-hill/

Health, Safety, Schools, Libraries, And Hillsborough

If you still haven’t signed up for health insurance, the Chapel Hill Public Library is holding an all-day Affordable Care Act enrollment session on Monday, March 24, from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

The library is holding the session in partnership with UNC Healthcare, the League of Women Voters, Planned Parenthood, and UNC’s Student Health Action Coalition.

The deadline to sign up for health insurance in 2014 is March 31.

For more information or to reserve a time, call the Chapel Hill Public Library at 919-968-2780.

XXX

Are you a veteran or connected to the military? Orange County’s Department of Social Services is inviting you to a new event called “Military Monday,” geared especially toward veterans to make sure they have access to benefits and other federal, state, and local resources.

The first Military Monday event will take place on March 24, from 9:00 a.m. to noon at Hillsborough Commons on Mayo Street. It will be a Career/Resource Fair, with benefit assistance, career assessments, education resources, the Mobile Vet Center and more.

For more information, contact Betsy Corbett at 919-245-2890.

XXX

Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens will deliver his annual State of the Town address on Monday, March 24, at 7:00 p.m. in the Orange County Public Library.

Among other things, the address will include an update on the town’s Riverwalk project as well as a discussion of Hillsborough’s future population boom. The town is expected to grow by 31 percent in the next four years.

Members of the public are invited to attend. Before the speech, from 5:30-6:30, planning staff will host a public information meeting on the status of downtown access improvements.

XXX

If you’re a parent in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and you’d like more information on the district’s dual language program, the district is offering four information sessions this spring, beginning later this month and running through May.

The Dual Language program gives students the chance to become proficient in two languages, English and either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese. The district says Dual Language students, on average, outperform their peers on standardized tests and other student growth measures.

The first information session will be for the Spanish program on Thursday, March 20, at Frank Porter Graham Elementary School. The session will be offered in Spanish from 6-7 p.m. and in English from 7-8 p.m. Two more sessions on the Spanish program will take place—at the same times of day—on Thursday, April 24 at Carrboro Elementary and on Thursday, May 22, again at FPG.

There will also be an info session on the Mandarin Chinese program on Tuesday, March 25, from 6-7 p.m. at Glenwood Elementary.

XXX

Are you excited about the proposed new Southern Branch Library in Carrboro? What do you want to see there? What do you NOT want to see there?

If you have thoughts and ideas about the library, come out to a Community Engagement Meeting hosted by Orange County. The county is actually holding two meetings: the first is Tuesday, March 25, at 6:00 at Hickory Tavern; the second is on Saturday, April 12, at noon in Carrboro Town Hall. The first 50 participants at the March 25 meeting will receive gift certificates to Hickory Tavern.

XXX

The Hillsborough Arts Council has announced a partnership with a new charter school coming to Hillsborough this August.

The Expedition School will be taking part in the Art Council’s ArtCycle program, a program that collects new and used art supplies to be used in local schools.

The Expedition School is scheduled to open its doors in August. It’s a STEM-focused school for grades K-8.

XXX

Driving around this month, you might see some new signs on the road – all part of a local campaign to remind people to pull over if they see emergency vehicles coming their way.

The campaign is called “See the Light, Pull to the Right.” The idea came from a town employee, Fire Equipment Operator Luis Rodrigues. Six new signs are being installed near major intersections in Chapel Hill.

If an emergency vehicle is approaching you from behind, take your foot off the accelerator, merge to the outside lane if possible, and pull off the side of the road to allow the vehicle to pass.

XXX

http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/health-safety-schools-libraries-hillsborough/

Tuesday Fire Causes Thousands In Damage

CHAPEL HILL – A structure fire Tuesday evening caused thousands of dollars of damage in a two-story home at 219 Stagecoach Road.

The Chapel Hill Fire Department responded to a call shortly before 8:00 p.m., finding smoke in the crawl space of the house. Fire crews were able to extinguish the fire within six minutes and there were no injuries, but the residents have been displaced from the home and the damage is estimated to be $5,000.

The Fire Marshal says the blaze was accidental, but hasn’t released a cause of origin. Still, fire officials are taking the opportunity to remind people to keep anything flammable at least three feet away from any heating equipment, including furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves and space heaters.

http://chapelboro.com/news/fire/tuesday-fire-causes-thousands-damage/

Chapel Hill Hopes Alarm System Registry Deters False Calls

CHAPEL HILL- Starting soon, the Town of Chapel Hill will require all residents and business owners to register their security alarm systems.

This is the first step in a new program designed to reduce the number of false alarms the town’s emergency personnel respond to.

In 2012, police and fire fighters responded to nearly 5,000 alarm calls at a cost of $197,000. But officials say that’s a waste of time and money, as about 95 percent of alarm dispatches turn out to be unfounded.

Last October, the Town Council approved a plan to charge a series of graduated fines to those who report multiple false alarms.

While the town is not yet registering alarm systems, officials are working to hire an independent vendor to run the registration system. Police and fire representatives will be educating the public on how to prevent false alarm activation once that registration system is up and running.

http://chapelboro.com/news/safety/chapel-hill-hopes-alarm-system-registry-deters-false-calls/