“Unity In The Community” Joins, Heals

More than a dozen organizations are coming together to host an event called “Unity in the Community” this Saturday, April 16, from 11 am to 4 pm at Hargraves Community Center.

It’s free and everyone’s invited to enjoy food, music, dancing, a martial arts demonstration, and more.

The idea for Unity in the Community originated with St. Paul AME Church; last year’s event took place in the Rogers Road community, where the church is in the process of building a development called St. Paul Village. This year’s event, though, takes place in Chapel Hill’s Northside neighborhood – where Maleah Williams, just 14 months old, was shot and killed on Christmas Day. Organizers say one of the themes of this year’s event will be “healing.”

Along with St. Paul AME Church, co-organizers include the Rogers Eubanks Neighborhood Association, EmPOWERment, Inc., Habitat for Humanity of Orange County, the Jackson Center, United Church of Chapel Hill, Piedmont Health Services, the Student Health Action Coalition, Faith Tabernacle Oasis of Love, Grape Arbor Development Corporation, the Immigrant and Refugee Community Partnership, the Chapel Hill Teen Center, Blue Ribbon Youth Leadership Institute, and the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. (The Student Health Action Coalition will be providing free health screenings, including blood pressure and blood sugar checks.)

Rev. Thomas Nixon of St. Paul AME Church, Delores Bailey of EmPOWERment, Inc., and Adwoa Asare of Orange Habitat discussed “Unity in the Community” with Aaron Keck on WCHL.


Commissioners Award Construction Bid for Rogers-Eubanks Community Center

Orange County Commissioners have awarded a bid to finally build the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association Community Center.

“This has been a long time coming. This has been something that has been anticipated – but, I think, with some degree of skepticism.”

That’s Orange County Commissioner Earl McKee, who voted along with all of his fellow commissioners on Tuesday night to award a $522,488-bid to Riggs-Harrod Builders of Durham for the construction of the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association Community Center.

Director of Asset Management Jeff Thompson of Riggs-Harrod said that if the permitting process runs on a fast track, construction could start in early May, and take six-to-eight months.

The project has been in the works for a long time. It’s part of a remediation plan for the historically African-American neighborhood that straddles the jurisdictions of Orange County, Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

Residents have lived with a landfill and its environmental impact for 40 years.

The community center was put on hold last September, when bids came in at between $1.3 million and $1.6 million. Commissioners had authorized $650,000 for the project. So it was, literally, sent back to the drawing board.

On Tuesday, Project Architect Patric LeBeau of Perkins + Will in Durham explained to commissioners how small changes in design allowed for the bid to come in under-budget this time.

“The building has shrunk a little bit in height and elevation, but we feel like it’s still going to be a great community center. We’re happy about it and we hope you guys will be as well.”

The site will include a basketball court and playground. The building itself will have a large community room that holds 70-to-80 people for events; as well as office and kitchen space, a computer room, a library and a regular classroom. Commissioner Mark Dorosin expressed his excitement, and made this proposal:

“If this total project comes in for less than $650,000, I would support us committing to the $650,000 we said we would put in for any additional furniture or kitchen equipment – any of the things that might have been pulled out.”

The next day, Minister Robert Campbell, president of the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association, said he was grateful for all the people who worked together to get this far.

“There are so many things that can be accomplished with this community center,” he said, “to give our young people somewhere to socially engage, but also to help enhance the community through different programs.”

Campbell said those will include after-school programs, classes for parents, and nutrition workshops. He added that the center may also be home to a food bank.


Despite Looming Investigation, Rogers Rd Plan Sees Progress

ORANGE COUNTY – The Rogers Road Community has fought for sewer services for a long time with out seeing any results. The Environmental Protection Agency announced plans recently to investigate claims of racial discrimination by the Orange County Planning Department toward the neighborhood. This has created questions how much the county can do now to help and how all this will affect the work of the Rogers Road Task Force.

“We’ve just heard so much of the same things before. I think that this final document coming in August should clarify a lot of things and get us back on track. That was one of the better parts [of today’s meeting] that there were definite dates and times for our expectations on getting a lot of things accomplished,” said David Caldwell, president of the Rogers Eubanks Neighborhood Association (RENA), following Wednesday’s task force meeting.

Because the neighborhood is stretched over the jurisdictions’ of Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County, decisions on how to provide services to the area have been challenging. That’s why a task force, made up of elected leaders from the three municipalities, was charged with finding a solution. The group plans to compose a final report, detailing plans to help provide the Rogers Rd. neighborhood with the service(s) denied to them for years, and then to present the report to their respective boards.

RENA filed the EPA complaint in 2007 alleging that the county’s failure to apply for federal grants to fund the Rogers Road sewer extension was because of intentional discrimination. After six years, the EPA announced it’s jurisdiction to follow through, complicating an already complex issue.

Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich, who serves on the task force, told WCHL prior to Wednesday’s meeting that she was concerned that county could not move forward with any recommendations due to the investigation. Fellow commissioner Renee Price echoed the same sentiments.

“This is just an investigation; there may be no mediation. Who knows what will happen? Right now it’s just an investigation. We have no idea whether there’s going to be a need for some type of settlement,” Price said to the task force.

Beth Eynon, a community inclusion attorney fellow at the UNC Center for Civil Rights (the office representing RENA in their EPA complaint), said that an investigation does not mean that the county’s action will be halted. Rich disagreed and said the county attorney ordered that they not vote on any final decisions.

However, Rich said the county representatives can move forward with discussions in the task force meetings.

Eynon explained because it is a complaint, and not law suit, it most likely can’t be dropped and a timeline for resolution is unknown.  She said there’s a possible option to seek mediation between the county and RENA through EPA investigators. Eynon additionally added that if the task force were to move forward with a recommendation for sewer infrastructure, investigators would likely work with the county at that point.

Caldwell acknowledged to the task force that the investigation has complicated the process, effectively putting Rogers Road neighbors in a “catch-22.” Still he said it was a necessary action.

“It was something that the organization had to do to get things started. We were in a learning phase. It was one of those things that opened some eyes. I’m surprised it took as long as it did,” Caldwell said.

Despite the looming EPA investigation, the task force did make progress on several measures. The group passed a motion to preference a $5.8 million sewer plan that will serve 86 properties. The group passed then passed a recommendation to move forward with a 43 percent Chapel Hill; 43 percent Orange County; and 14 percent Carrboro cost sharing proposal.

Caldwell said RENA would support the plan as long as there was a definite timeline given and a commitment to follow through.

The proposal, however, is contingent upon Chapel Hill extending extraterritorial jurisdiction to include the neighborhood. Lee Storrow, of the Chapel Hill Town Council, explained the council’s rationale to consider an ETJ extension.

“I don’t want to treat our first step as an immediate endorsement by all nine members of the council of an ETJ process, but we felt that if we didn’t start and get moving, we were going to keep punting the ball and not making decisions,” Storrow said.

The task force agreed to explore a second $3.7 million option providing sewer services for 67 properties in the historic area of Rogers Road if the first plan doesn’t pan out.

Price and Rich noted that BoCC can’t discuss either proposal until their next meeting in September, at the earliest.

Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil said the various had met with their staffs to discuss an approach to Rogers Road. He wanted to “add meat” to the task force’s report.

“I think there’s way for us to proceed and put this together to compliment what you [the task force] is already doing. I think this will have the potential to speed it up and provide resources to do things in a faster way.” Stancil said.

The task force then passed a motion to hear a report drawn up by the municipalities’ town mangers on their suggestions for the project. That report will be presented to the task force next month.

The group also recommended moving forward with discussions calling for Chapel Hill to annex properties in the Neville Tract, with the hopes of providing water and sewer services to that area. Additionally, Town and County Managers will make suggestions to the task force concerning the entire Greene Tract area.

The task force’s next and final meeting is set for August 21 when they hope to have final draft of the report.

Caldwell said that though decisions are being made he does not feel satisfied. “I haven’t felt good in a long, long time,” he said.