Listen to the 2015 WCHL Community Forum

Chapel Hill Development: What’s Working, What’s Not?

It’s been a decade since Chapel Hill leaders began to push for more commercial growth to balance the tax base. But David Schwartz, co-founder of Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town, says in that time, the town has failed to move away from residential development.

“We cannot make up for a deficit in commercial by doubling down on the amount of residential that we build,” says Schwartz.

Town Council Member Maria Palmer says that’s not a fair assessment.

“You can’t say we’re not building enough commercial if every commercial proposal that is put forward is attacked by the same folks who have organized the group you represent,” says Palmer.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce President Aaron Nelson takes that idea even further.

“We’ve moved beyond NIMBY in our community,” says Nelson. “NIMBY stands for ‘not in my backyard.’ We’ve gotten to NOTE: ‘not over there either.’ And so, it is a challenge when you both want to protect your neighborhood and prohibit it from happening in other appropriate places as well.”

Schwartz is also critical of the town’s new form-based code, in which the council sets specific parameters for development, then hands over the approval process to the Town Manager’s office. He argues the town isn’t asking enough from developers.

“The problem we have with our form-based code is that we didn’t ask for anything,”says Schwartz. “We asked for basically nothing. We said OK because we are so eager to get some kind of investment in here, any kind, even if in fact, it is the wrong kind in terms of what the town needs, that we are going to basically ask for nothing.”

Last spring, the Town Council rezoned 192 acres near Ephesus-Fordham Boulevard using form-based code in a bid to spur redevelopment in the area. Ben Perry is with East West Partners, the development company that submitted the Village Plaza Apartment plan, the first project under the new rules. He takes issue with Schwartz’s assertion that the town asked for nothing.

“We paid a very significant payment-in-lieu to Parks and Recreation for open space to develop that somewhere else. We paid a transit fee to Chapel Hill Transit which is not a requirement anywhere else in town,” says Perry. “It’s not that the town didn’t get the things they wanted and usually expect, they just told us what they want and we didn’t haggle. We just did it.”

Now, a little less than a year after adopting the form-based code, the Town Council is considering a laundry list of adjustments to tweak the code based on public input and planning staff feedback.

Southern Village resident Jeanne Brown said she’s happy to hear there’s room for change.

“One of the concerns in the community is that we’ve gone up significantly in height and density- that changes character,” says Brown. “That’s something we’ve got to address and understand, that not everyone is feeling good and comfortable with that.”

Dwight Bassett is the Town’s economic development officer. He says building dense residential developments like Village Plaza Apartments can help draw commercial investment, a strategy he ultimate expects to benefit the whole town.

“From my perspective I think we’re headed on the right path and we’re going to wake up one day and look back at that district and say that was a great decision because it helped create something that was missing in Chapel Hill.”

You can hear more debate on the changing face of Chapel Hill here.

Congressman Price Makes Stop in Chapel Hill

US Congressman David Price made a stop in Chapel Hill this week to hold a Town Hall at East Chapel Hill High School.

Prior to the event, Price stopped by the WCHL studios and told WCHL’s Blake Hodge more about what his priorities are in Washington and shared his concerns about recent decisions from state lawmakers in North Carolina.

Listen to the full interview below:

Program to Feed Hungry has Best Year Ever

A local program that raises money to feed the hungry in Chapel Hill and Carrboro had its best year ever in 2014.

112 restaurants contributed more than $26,000 during the 2014 Restaurants Sharing V/5 & V/5 Percent event, in November.

That brings the 26-year total for funds raised to $457,386.

You can read the full letter from event founder Irene Briggaman below:

As we close the books on the November 11, 2014 RSVVP event, we are delighted to announce that this was the best year ever for Restaurants Sharing V/5 &V/5 Percent. The 2014 total of $26,004 brings our 26-year cumulative total to $457,386 – inching its way to a half million dollars to feed the hungry in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

This is the time for recognition and appreciation to all who make this annual community event such a success. Our sincere gratitude goes out to the restaurant owners who sign on year after year; to our faithful media who publicize the event (The Daily Tar Heel, The Chapel Hill News, WCHL 97.9FM and; to the diners who eat out for breakfast, lunch and dinner and to the UNC community, students and faculty, who are urged to “Eat Out” on RSVVP Day by the HOPE Committee who help us to spread the word and flyers on the UNC Campus. Our RSVVP team, Pat Dorward, Susan Friedman, Donny and Mary Ann Walker, Frances Jackson and Elizabeth Garfunkel, worked diligently to recruit the restaurants and carry out the details of the project to its completion.

Inter-Faith Council executive director John Dorward stated, “RSVVP is IFC’s single largest fundraiser and it provides critical funding to our FoodFirst programs. Last year IFC’s Community Kitchen provided 84,645 hot meals and the Food Pantry distributed 16,828 bags of groceries and 867 holiday meals. This has a huge impact on our neighbors who are food insecure.”

Thank you, one and all, for contributing to the success of RSVVP 2014!

Irene Briggaman – founder and team member of RSVVP
Nancy Jenkins – RSVVP Coordinator

Olympic Medalist and Chapel Hillian Nick McCrory Retires

23-year-old Olympic medalist and Chapel Hillian Nick McCrory announced his retirement from diving earlier this year. But he’s not putting the sport behind him just quite yet.

It wasn’t an easy decision to make after diving for 15 years, but he recently came to the conclusion that it was time to call it quits.

“It was really hard and a decision I didn’t want to make. I don’t remember not diving in my life. It’s always been a huge part of what I do and who I am so that was really tough and huge adjustment,” Nick says.

Nick’s decision was partly due to a degenerative knee condition that he’s been battling for several years. Eventually, the condition became too much to work around.

Nick McCrory in action!

Nick McCrory in action!

Nick’s mother, Ana McCrory, says that his time spent training and competing shaped him as person, and she believes that his experiences will benefit him as he moves forward.

“It was a wonderful, overall, wonderful experience for him and one he’ll never forget. And its really shaped him as a person, you know, its taught him how to interact with other people from different cultures. As well as how to control his.. you know he was always such an active child, and he had to learn a lot of self control and diving certainly did that for him,” Ana McCrory says.

Nick is currently living in Indiana, where he is preparing for medical school applications and volunteering alongside his coach, Drew Johansen.

“Well I mean I love coaching and Drew knows that. One of the things that I liked about him as a coach is his technical approach to the sport and how detail oriented he is. One of the things that he does is watch a lot of diving videos to help become a better coach. He knows that I love the technical side of the sport and coaching in that way, so that was kind of how the connection got made,” Nick says.

Ana McCrory can tell that Nick is really enjoying helping out Coach Johansen.

WCHL's own Ron Stutts in studio with Nick McCrory and his medal.

WCHL’s own Ron Stutts in studio with Nick McCrory and his medal.

“He loves working with kids, loves teaching them, you know, all those diving skills that he knows. He gets great pleasure from seeing the kids learning things that he has taught them, so that’s been really nice,” Ana says.

Nick doesn’t know if this will lead to a career in coaching, but he hopes he’ll be able to stay involved with diving as he moves on to the next chapter in his life.

“I’m still figuring all that out. I do love to coach, I love the sport of diving. I don’t know right now if that’s a thing I’ll end up doing for a career. But whatever I end up doing, I do hope to stay involved in diving in some capacity whether it’s coaching on the side, or helping whatever program I am living nearby or various other things. I think diving is such a special thing that I always want to be involved in, in some way,” Nick says.

Chapel Hill Police Make Arrest in Stabbing Death

Chapel Hill Police have arrested 25-year-old Charles Anthony Rhames in connection with a fatal stabbing on Franklin Street Friday night.

Police have identified the victim as 27-year-old Walter Arthur Preston.

The incident occurred at 11:45 in the area of 209 East Franklin Street.

Police say Rhames was arrested without incident in the vicinity of 400 Jones Ferry Road in Carrboro.

Authorities say Rhames is being held without bond in the Orange County Jail on a first-degree murder charge.

Chapel Hill Police Looking for Robbery Suspect

Chapel Hill police are asking for your help identifying the man who robbed a gas station on Franklin Street Tuesday.

Chapel Hill Police Lt. Josh Mecimore says the crime was reported just before midnight at the Marathon store near the intersection of East Franklin Street and North Estes Drive.

“The clerk reported that the subject had come inside, left the store, came back in a short time later,” he says, “and assaulted the clerk and stole money from the cash register. Then fled.”

The suspect reportedly left the scene on foot. Mecimore says the clerk suffered no major injuries in the assault. Now, police are hoping someone will be able to help identify the suspect.

“The clerk described the suspect as a black male, 25-30 years old, between 5’6” and 5’10” tall, 150-160 pounds with a goatee,” he says. “That he was wearing a hat with the words ‘Killin’ it’ on the front of the hat, and then a black hoodie with the words ‘Durham Tech’ printed on it.

“Our hope is that that description might be distinctive enough for somebody to recognize that person might be and call us with some information.”

If you have any information, please call the Chapel Hill Police Department at 919-968-2760 or Crime Stoppers at 919-942-7515. Calls to Crime Stoppers are confidential and anonymous, and you may be eligible for a cash reward up to $2,000 for information that leads to an arrest.

Storrow Will Run for Chapel Hill Town Council in 2015

Chapel Hill Town Council Member Lee Storrow will run for reelection this fall. Storrow made the announcement on WCHL’s Morning News with Ron Stutts.

Storrow says he doesn’t believe the job he started four years ago is done.

“From some issues that I care a lot about, like getting sewer infrastructure put in place into the Rogers Road community, to some new issues that I’ve been able to tackle over the last four years, like expanding economic development opportunities and visitor promotion for Orange County and Chapel Hill,” he says, “I know there’s still more work to be done.

“And I think I can get those things done if I serve a second term of the town council.”

Storrow adds attending the ribbon cutting for the Rogers Road Community Center was a moment he is very proud of from his first term.

“I think it was one of the most powerful moments I’ve had over the last four years,” he says.

He says it will be important to work across governmental lines to continue moving issues forward that are important to residents.

“That we, as local leaders, build relationships with each other, and work together, and are willing to do the hard work to get things done outside of council meetings,” he says. “Because the reality is, things that happen on the school board and ensuring that we maintain a quality public school system, has a big impact on the quality of life and the type of town that we want to be in Chapel Hill.

“And if we’re not collaborating and working with our colleagues on the school board, or the Board of Alderman, or the County Commission, then we’re not doing our job right.”

2015 has a lot on the agenda, specifically involving budget discussions. Storrow says that he is excited about the discussions had so far in that process, which could include a bond referendum for capital needs projects.

Storrow was first elected to the Town Council in 2011.

Chapel Hill Police Make Heroin Arrests

Chapel Hill Police have made several arrests in recent weeks involving heroin.

Lieutenant Josh Mecimore says two arrests were made as part of a narcotics investigation that dates back to July of last year.

“There was an arrest on March 4 of an Allison Elizabeth Murrow for trafficking heroin, maintaining a dwelling for the purpose of trafficking heroin, and possession with intent to sell and deliver heroin,” he says.

“And then Nathaniel Corwin [was arrested] for the exact same charges but an additional charge of possession of a firearm by a felon.”

RELATED: Chapel Hill Police to begin carrying Naloxone kits.

Mecimore says, in this case, 6 grams of heroin were recovered, as well as 4 grams of marijuana, and more than $800 in cash. He could not provide further details because the investigation is ongoing.

He adds, in an unrelated incident, additional arrests were made on drug charges, including possession of heroin.

“The amount seized in that was .9 grams, an additional .8 grams of marijuana, and then two cut straws with heroin residue,” he says, “and a glass pipe typically used for smoking marijuana.”

In this case, 25-year-old John Trevor Colvin was charged with felony possession of heroin, and 22-year-old Neil Joseph Colvin was charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

Mecimore says those arrests were the result of a traffic stop.

“An officer ran a license plate on a vehicle,” he says. “The tag was no longer assigned to a vehicle; it shouldn’t have been on a vehicle. So the officer stopped the driver.”

All four suspects mentioned in these two separate cases made their first court appearances in Orange County Court on Monday.

New Leadership Renews Cooperation Among Fire Departments

Change in leadership for the Carrboro Fire Department is leading to its renewed cooperation with the Chapel Hill fire officials.

Chapel Hill Fire Chief Dan Jones says in the past Chapel Hill and Carrboro firefighters have worked in close conjunction to best serve citizens of both towns.

“At one time, we had a very close working relationship,” he says.

But Jones says differences arose after a change in management at the Carrboro Fire Department.

“And some differences in philosophy – about how responses are handled and, basically, command and control at emergency scene differences – put some stress on the relationship,” he says. “The personnel in the field continued to work together through that period of time.

“We never stopped working together. It just wasn’t the level of cooperation it had once been.”

Jones says most of the differences in philosophy were highly technical.

After the resignation of Carrboro Fire Chief Travis Crabtree and Deputy Chief Richard Cox earlier this year, an Interim Chief was brought in to lead the Carrboro Department. Jones says that change has brought a renewed sense of teamwork.

“The Interim Chief, Chief Styons who is there now, is of the philosophy that used to be the case in Carrboro and matches well with Chapel Hill,” he says. “We immediately reached out to each other and reestablished that relationship.”

Jones says that decision will lead to a system of close cooperation between the town’s fire departments.

“We’re going back to where we were a few years ago,” he says. “For example in the mutual aid, instead of waiting to see if someone needs help and then calling for that help, it goes back to an automatic mode.

“Which means that the assistance is automatically dispatched by the 911 center in Orange County just on the nature of the call, not waiting to see if it’s serious enough to need help.”

He adds with Chapel Hill and Carrboro in such close proximity it is most beneficial to residents that the crews work together.

“The Interim Chief, Chief Styons, has moved Carrboro back into, probably what I would consider to be, more the mainstream thinking of how things are done,” he says. “So that relationship is very positive again and moving forward.”

Carrboro Interim Fire Chief Rusty Styons retired from the City of Raleigh Fire Department in 2012 as the Assistant Fire Chief, after serving for 30 years.

Thousands Gather at UNC to Pay Tribute to 3 Shooting Victims

Thousands filled the Pit at UNC on a chilly Wednesday evening to pay tribute to three young Muslim college students who were gunned down the day before in Chapel Hill – allegedly, over a parking dispute.

Many, however, say they believe 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks committed a hate crime.

The vigil began with UNC dental students, in their white coats, standing together in the center of The Pit, and holding candles in remembrance of their classmate Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha; and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha.

There were several speakers, including town and university leaders, and friends and family of the three shooting victims.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt thanked everyone for coming out, including busloads of students from N.C. State and N.C. Central universities.

“As is often the case at a time of tragedy,” said Folt, “when you think you’re going to reach out to try to help people, you find that the people you’re trying to help are the ones that, in fact, help you.

“That has been my experience today, as I’ve talked with groups of students, with faculty, with Imam Abdullah, sitting in and watching the prayer ceremony, and even coming here tonight.”

N.C State Chancellor Randy Woodson said it was a day to remember the three young students for all they were, all they wanted to be, and what they could have been.

“Tonight, we remember Razan,” said Woodson, “an amazing design student at NC State, an amazing breath of fresh air for the college, and for that school; Yusor, an outstanding biology student at N.C. State, that was so excited, having only been married for six weeks, to begin her journey in the dental school at Carolina; and Deah.

“If you’ve met Deah, you know that this is a man that possessed the most amazing bear hug that you could ever experience.”

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt told the crowd that he appeared before them with “a broken heart.” The mayor paid an emotional tribute to the victims, and to the town he said they exemplified.

“This community, this university, this town is a welcoming town,” said Kleinschmidt. “It’s a compassionate town. It’s a peace-loving town. I know this for at least three important reasons. The three souls we lost helped not only create, but sustain that truth about who we are, as a community.”

Imam Adbdullah Antepli, the chief representative for Muslim Affairs at Duke University, said that in his 25 years of studying theology and philosophy, he’s never read the passage in any book that could make sense of a tragedy like this.

Still, he offered words of hope in troubled times.

“Three cruel, hateful bullets snuffed out lives that were just coming to fruition,” said Antepli. “We cannot undo the hatred. We cannot undo the hate crime. We cannot undo the bullet…I hope we’re able to leave here with the faith that, at the end of the day, knowledge is somehow more luminous than ignorance; that justice is more beautiful than tyranny.

“And that most important lesson of all: that love is more divine than hatred.”

Deah Barakat’s brother Farris said he’s comforted by his belief that the victims have gone to paradise, where they are elated and happy. He echoed the Imam’s call for peace and tolerance, here on earth.

“If, and it is quite possible, that this was an act based off of evil and a scared, ignorant man, do not let ignorance propagate in your life,” said Barakat. “Do not reply to ignorance with ignorance.”

Chapel Hill couple Chris and Abby Fulton told WCHL that they came out to show support for the families of the victims.

“Three people being brutally murdered so close to home…” said Chris Fulton.

“Yeah, it’s just so sad,” Abby Fulton continued that thought. “it’s like, the least you can do is come out and say this is horrifying, I’m here to say this is horrifying, and to show you that I’m one among many who want to surround you with love from your community, as much as possible.”