Carrboro Commons

Enough to feed a town

Posted on April 14th, 2011 in Environment,Events,Food,Lifestyles by jock

By Louie Horvath

Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

Above the buzz of the crowd, local area groups performed as part of Carrboro’s 14th annual Community Dinner at McDougle School’s Cafetorium on April 10.

The event’s slogan is, “sit down with a stranger, leave with a friend,” and it seemed that all of the participants took that mantra to heart, rarely ceasing the chatter for more than a couple of seconds at a time.

Orange County Jammers Senior Cheerleader Clem Self serves desserts at Community Dinner on Sunday afternoon. (Staff photo by Allison Russell.)

“Half the world might reach for the other half and hold tight to a new friend who now can save them,” Jay Bryan, Carrboro’s poet laureate, said while reading a poem he penned for the occasion.

“Saying one to another, ‘I am looking after you. Your comfort comes before mine.’ It is happening today at Carrboro’s Community Dinner. Why not everywhere?”

The dinner had many food options, ranging from fried chicken to pasta, with fixins and desserts aplenty. The cook was Chapel Hill’s renowned cook Mildred Council — or as she’s more famously known in her books and in the name of her eponymous restaurant — Mama Dip.

Food was served on a slightly different plate than what Council usually dishes out at her famous restaurant on Rosemary Street. Both the plates and the utensils were made of 95 percent compostable and recyclable materials, as Muriel Williman of Orange County Solid Waste Management said.

“I hope you are enjoying your meal, and you might have noticed they are on paper plates,” Williman said to the crowd. “What you may not know is that the plates were made from potatoes. The silverware is made from corn.”

Williman went on to say all of the plates and utensils put in the compost would be sent to a composting facility that can break down the materials and one day use them again.

Along with food from Mama Dips, the event had food from the Carolina Inn and Bandido’s Mexican Café. Several local churches and restaurants offered side dishes and desserts to supplement the main course.

All that added up to an event that was not only healthy for the attendants of the dinner, but also healthy for the rest of the community.

“It is wonderful to see sitting here different ages, different cultures, different genders, different ethnicities, different colors, everything, all here together in one room enjoying a meal,” event emcee and WCHL radio host Ron Stutts said. “It is just something that is really meaningful that we can all come here and share this together.”

Tickets for the event cost $8 for adults and $3 for kids. Donations were also accepted, as a $22 donation would feed a family of four.

The festivities were highlighted by performances by KidZNotes, an East Durham program focused on teaching small children to play musical instruments, and Puzzle 44, a local middle school a cappella group.

A local Brazilian Capoeira group wrapped up the event with their intricate steps captivating the Carrboro crowd.

“Me and my girlfriend just heard about this from a friend, and we decided it was something we wanted to do,” event volunteer Alex Gillon said. “It is a really good idea.”

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Emergency employees view Japan with Carrboro plans

Posted on March 24th, 2011 in Environment,Town government,Uncategorized by jock

By Louie Horvath
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

While the rest of the world watches the destruction caused by the earthquake and subsequent nuclear complications in Japan with worry, local emergency management employees watch with a different purpose.

These personnel are the ones charged with ensuring that no matter the catastrophe, their local community is ready if such an event does occur.

Instead of waiting for a catastrophe to happen in their area, they are constantly probing and tinkering with their plan should such an event occur. So far, they feel good about the quality of the plan in light of the disaster in Japan.

“We have not made any changes to the plan,” Orange County emergency planner Darshan Patel said. “Our plan is pretty robust right now. Through the planning process, we take many things into consideration. We don’t have any immediate changes yet.”

Carrboro fire inspector Ethan Cicero echoes much of the same opinion.

“This is something that’s been worked on, planned for and revised, but specifically to the Japan catastrophe? No,” said Cicero.

The UNC Chapel Hill Cogeneration Facility is part of a broad-based plan in the area to be prepared in case what happens in Japan happens a little closer to home. Staff photo by Louie Horvath

While both emergency personnel stressed that the emergency preparedness document is an ever-changing tablet, they both did not feel the need to add to it or make changes because of the events in Japan.

They cannot give out those plans to the community because of the threat of a terrorist plot that would disable the county’s contingency plans.

“The specifics of these items are not given out outside of the county, in case someone’s trying to plan something,” said Cicero. “They are reviewed annually if not quarterly. It’s something that many people are involved in. Not just EMS or police.”

The contingency plans also include larger risk buildings, such as the UNC-Chapel Hill Cogeneration Facility on Cameron Avenue, hoping to safeguard against the same electrical problems that have afflicted Japan. But emergency planners know that no matter how foolproof a plan appears there is always a risk factor involved.

“Any sort of large facility that does power generation, whether it’s hydroelectric, cogeneration, nuclear or coal burning, there are always inherent risks in there, and some may be more than others,” Patel said. “There’s always some level of risk.”

There is no higher risk than at Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant just outside of New Hill, N.C. While Orange County lies outside of the 10-mile emergency planning zone, it still lies well within the 50-mile radius that could be affected by a nuclear plant meltdown. Carrboro is roughly 30 miles from the nuclear plant.

“We have emergency drills that we perform with the county and the state,” said Julia Milstead, the Progress Energy spokeswoman for the Shearon Harris plant. “We are required by federal law to have these drills twice a year, but at Progress Energy we always try to meet and exceed the requirement that’s put in front of us. We typically here at Harris have eight emergency drills every year.”

On April 26, 2011, the Shearon Harris plant will have a test that is graded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Patel confirmed that along with the local Wake County officials, emergency preparedness responders from Orange County would be taking part in the drill.

The entire emergency preparedness state of the U.S. was jolted to the front of the country’s mind after the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, and many of those changes have spurred the creation of the National Incident Management System (NIMS), a federal system that ensures that many different agencies could keep in touch at a moment’s notice.

“When 9/11 happened, frequently there wasn’t a lot of cross communication,” Cicero said. “A lot of people were hurt or killed because of that. The government realized that there was a problem. They had to create a common system that everyone uses.”

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Bolin Creek Greenway project stalled

Posted on November 16th, 2010 in Environment,Growth and development,Town government,Uncategorized by jock

By Mary Withers and Stephanie Bullins
Carrboro Commons Co-editor and Staff Writer

More than a year after concept plans for the Bolin Creek Greenway were finalized, contentious debate about the project continues.

Disagreement between the local advocacy group, Save Bolin Creek, and proponents of the project has slowed further work on the final phases of the Greenway.

Mary Sonis, who walks along Bolin Creek three to four times a week and takes wildlife photographs there, stands in front of Bolin Creek where a multi-use paved pathway is proposed to run along the creek following the sewer easement. Sonis is a member of Save Bolin Creek and opposes the paved path. (Staff photo by Mary Withers)

Thus, Carrboro Transportation Planner Jeff Brubaker says the project doesn’t have an expected date for completion.

“The Board of Aldermen has asked town to proceed with certain phases of the Greenway while looking for public input on the final phases,” he said. “They have basically put off implementation of those phases for now.”

Town board member Lydia Lavelle says the current arguments are unnecessary because the board will hold public hearings and will listen to public commentary before it decides on the best route for the Greenway.

“The board’s view is that there’s no urgency to get into a big fight about it,” she said.  “All we have are the plans that the Greenways group suggested, and we’re aware that there’s a part of the community that thinks otherwise.”

The debate is hinged on the final two phases of the Greenway, which include construction of a 10-foot path along the creek that would run through the Carolina North Forest and private property.

Environmental Concerns

In opposition to the paved path plan, local environmentalists formed Save Bolin Creek a year ago. Instead, the group recommends an alternative less-direct route north of Estes Drive extension.

According to Save Bolin Creek, building the paved path would be unnecessarily expensive, complicated to maintain, a threat to local water supply because it runs into Jordan Lake and a detriment to valuable natural wildlife along the riparian zone.

Mary Sonis, a member of Save Bolin Creek, says warmed water from the pavement would wash into the creek and kill the salamanders and frogs that live there. In turn, this would affect the owls and hawks that feed on them.

“We’re concerned ecologically what it will do,” said Sonis, who walks along the path every three to four days and takes wildlife photographs there. “This is a creek that’s one of our last natural areas in Carrboro. That’s a big deal.”

On the other hand, Dave Otto, a member of the Carrboro Greenways Commission, says a paved path would have ecological benefits for the creek.

He says Save Bolin Creek looks at the tract of land as a pristine wilderness, when in fact it’s a path along a sewer line that trucks regularly drive on. He said the path is in bad shape and needs to be replaced.

“It serves a very important purpose to help preserve a degraded environment,” Otto said. “It will be a fantastic contribution to Carrboro that everybody will be able to use as the town grows.”

Ken Moore, the former superintendent of the North Carolina Botanical Garden, and Johnny Randall, the assistant director for conservation, both support the paved path. They say the pavement would prevent the mud from washing into the creek after it rained, preserving the natural ecology of the creek.

Mary Sonis checks under rocks for salamanders. Sonis says the creek supports a vast array of wildlife that would be endangered by a paved path. (Staff photo by Mary Withers)

Further Debate

Robert Crook, member of Save Bolin Creek and vice chair of Friends of Bolin Creek, said the trail makes bad economic sense.

“Carrboro has no budget for maintaining the Greenway after it’s built,” said Crook, who has a master’s degree in forestry and soils from N.C. State University and works on consulting jobs to conserve natural resources and agricultural projects. He adds that since the trail is in the floodplain, it would require regular cleanup. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

But proponents of the Greenway said it could promote economic development by creating jobs and increasing property values, as well as improving accessibility and promoting safer alternatives for recreation and transportation.

Otto says one major benefit of the Greenway would be a safer commuting option.

“I don’t want to risk my life on a bikeway on Estes Drive,” he said. “These are amenities people need and people will use.”

Another benefit of the Greenway would be encouraging active lifestyles, Otto added.

“It will get people out of vehicles and onto bicycles,” he said.

Connecting Two Towns

The Greenway, conceptualized by Greenways Inc., a group that was hired by the town in 2008, is designed to link Carrboro to future developments like Carolina North, Carolina Commons and ultimately to the Chapel Hill Greenway.

The Town of Chapel Hill is also constructing a greenway along Bolin Creek that would connect with the Carrboro project.

“The municipalities have planned to connect their greenways,” Brubaker said. “Bolin Creek stretches through Carrboro and Chapel Hill jurisdictions, so there is a natural need to work together.”

Bill Webster, assistant director of the Town of Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation Department, said the town has not received any complaints about construction potentially damaging the area, and added that most of the criticism has been directed toward the Carrboro project.

“There’s no project that you can ever envision that everyone will be happy with,” he said.

Webster still has high hopes for the completion of the entire project.

“Long after I’m gone, and the town finally finishes the Greenways, Inc. plan as envisioned, we will have a system of greenways and bike paths that will let you get almost anywhere in town,” he said. “You’ll be able to travel with minimal contact with motorized vehicles, and there will be fewer street crossings. Once you have that, there will be a safer transportation system and recreational opportunities.”

Developer fights to build sustainable, affordable community

Posted on October 6th, 2010 in Environment,Growth and development,Town government by jock

By Mary Withers
Carrboro Commons Co-editor

Thirty-nine dilapidated trailers at Pine Grove Mobile Home Park on Fayetteville Road could soon be replaced by 39 new completely sustainable and affordable homes.

Since the average turnover rate for a tenant at Pine Grove Mobile Home Park is six months, developer Trip Overholt said he will not be displacing people from their homes. (Staff photo by Mary Withers)

With features such as a rainwater catch-and-reuse system, a native plant garden, bamboo flooring, recycled countertops and solar panels capable of creating enough energy to run the whole community, the proposed Veridia community would go above and beyond the features normally included in green communities to merit both a LEED and Energy Star certification.

“We’re laboring mightily to create a green affordable community like nothing else in the state,” said developer Trip Overholt.

Overholt is the current owner of the Pine Grove Mobile Home Park. He said the trailers, which are more than 50 years old, are falling apart and have unbelievably high maintenance costs. Water leaks, sewer backups and electrical cable shortages are common problems.

He also said more than 50 percent of his tenants do not pay their rent on time, and many have histories of substance abuse, domestic violence, or not being able to hold down a job. He said when the economy had a shock last year, 12 of his 39 tenants left with no prior notice, leaving six trailers completely destroyed.

Since the average turnover rate for a tenant is six months, Overholt said he will not be displacing people from their homes.
He has tried everything he could to make the trailer park into a profitable business, he said, but he is losing about $500 every month. The only solutions are replacement of the trailers or development.

He said he wanted to create a development that reflects his love for the earth.

“My primary goal is to honor my earth mother,” he said. “We’re not driven by money; we’re driven by honoring our earth.”

He said he has striven to make the homes as affordable as possible. The 1,350 square foot homes in will average at $310,000. The average 2009 sales price of a home in Carrboro and Chapel Hill was $371,000, according to Community Home Trust.

The next step: Approval by the board of aldermen

When Overholt and his partner, David Bell, first presented the idea to the Carrboro board of aldermen in 2008, the projected cost of each home was $289,000. Overholt said he and Bell increased the price to $310,000 so they could add more green features. On Sept. 22 the board of aldermen was unwilling to approve the development due to the recent increase in price.

Board member Lydia Lavelle said she is concerned about the price of the homes.

Veridia Community, a completely sustainable project, could replace Pine Grove Mobile Home Park on Fayetteville Road. (Courtesy of David Bell)

“They sold it to (the board) as a wonderful new affordable development that incorporates a lot of new green features,” Lavelle said. “I would definitely like to see them keep prices as low as they can.”

Board member Sammy Slade said he is concerned that removing the trailer park would displace affordability in favor of more expensive green technology. He said it’s important for Carrboro to maintain socio-economic diversity.

“It’s not good to have a community that’s not diverse,” he said.

Lavelle said Veridia reflects two competing interests of the town—sustainability and affordability.

Overholt and Bell said they could develop the trailer park without the board’s approval, and they could develop a non-green community at a greater profit margin. However, some of the plans, such as moving the driveway from the center of the property to create a pedestrian commons and vegetable garden, must be approved by the board due to a 1970 lawsuit between the town and the trailer park’s former owner.

Overholt said the board is only legally allowed to reject the development if it has proof it will adversely impact the health and welfare of the community or surrounding communities. He said the board’s questioning of Veridia’s affordability was inappropriate.

“We are voluntarily submitting ourselves to the board,” Overholt said. “And we’re offering our houses at the same price or less than other communities.”

Bell shares his sentiment.

“Our great vision is to create one of the most sustainable communities in the state,” he said. “Ironically, we need the board’s approval to prove that.”

The board will decide whether to approve Veridia’s development plans at a later meeting.