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Railroad wants $7.1 million for Durham Beltline

Hopes for turning the Duke Beltline into a greenway have met another rebuff.

City Manager Tom Bonfield said Monday that the Norfolk Southern Railroad, which owns the abandoned line, has reappraised the property and raised its asking price to $7.1 million.

In an email to Beltline trail supporters, Bonfield said the railroad might be willing to lease the 2.25-mile right-of-way to the city for up to 10 years, at a price the railroad would determine.

“It does not appear that the City has much leverage at this point to persuade Norfolk Southern to a different conclusion,” Bonfield said.

City officials and members of the Durham Open Space and Trails Commission had hoped to persuade Norfolk Southern to donate the property, or sell it at a reduced price.

Clement reaches milestone on Durham council

City Manager Tom Bonfield took a moment during his budget presentation last week to recognize a milestone: the 30th anniversary of Councilman Howard Clement’s tenure on the City Council.

Clement was not on hand, though, due to the extended illness that has kept him away from almost all council meetings since late 2011.

“Thank you for this longevity of service to the City Council and this community,” Bonfield said, addressing Clement who had promised to be watching on television.

Clement was appointed to a council vacancy in 1983 and has won election to the Ward 2 seat seven times. His current term expires this year.

“We miss your presence and hope to see you back with us soon,” Bonfield said. “Mainly, we want you to know this great milestone was not missed … because you could not be with us.”

Durham divided on nonprofit grants

County commissioners Chairman Fred Foster wants the city’s advice on nonprofit funding, but his fellow Commissioner Michael Page wants the city to rethink its policies.

Grants to nonprofit agencies came up during a meeting of commissioners and City Council members last week, when Foster asked Mayor Bill Bell how the city ended its “non-city agencies” grant program

“We put a plan in place over a four-year period, told those in the queue we would be ending funding after a certain time and no new applications would be taken,” Mayor Bill Bell said.

The city program ended after the 2011-12 fiscal year. Durham County still makes cash grants to various organizations that apply for its Nonprofit Agency Funding Program. For the current fiscal year, the county gave out $794,849 to 41 agencies.

“It can be a burden without a benefit,” said Councilman Eugene Brown. The grants constituted about .25 percent of the city budget, but took as much council time in budget meetings as the Police Department, he said, and some organizations were doing no fund-raising on their own.

“I agree with you,” Page said, but then said, “I really do hope at some point you rethink this process.

“There are some nonprofits that are really providing services … that work very hard to serve citizens, particularly citizens no one else serves,” Page said.

Durham does give money to some “very targeted nonprofit initiatives,” particularly in low-income housing, City Manager Tom Bonfield said. Some city departments have partner arrangements that support nonprofits through departmental budgets or by in-kind donations.

“We realize we have limited resources,” said Bell. “There are instances where we’ve had people come in who had no experience working with the city … and ask for city money.”

Page said the county got “an enormous number of applications” for arts and recreation programs, areas the city formerly funded as non-city agencies.

“You were carrying some of this weight,” he said.

“People can always ask,” said Bell.

'Sequester' effects on Durham so far unknown

Durham officials aren’t sure what effect, if any, the federal government’s “sequester” budget cuts would have on the city if they take effect Friday.

“I am just real hesitant to get involved in the rhetoric about that,” City Manager Tom Bonfield said.

The most direct possible effect Bonfield had heard of was a cut in Community Development Block Grant money the city uses for neighborhood revitalization and low-cost housing.

“But that’s just in very preliminary conversations,” he said.

Community Development Director Reginald Johnson, whose office administers CDBG grants, said he hasn’t had any information from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development department, or from private organizations that keep tabs on federal action affecting housing.

The sequester is “something we’re looking at,” Johnson said, “but right now … we have no idea what that means at the local level.”

House votes to force Durham on 751 South water

The state House gave final approval this afternoon to a bill that would require the city of Durham to let Southern Durham Development link its 751 South subdivision onto the city water system.

In February, the City Council voted unanimously to deny the developer's application for a utility connection.

SB 382 won approval 66-50 on its third reading and now goes to the state Senate for its concurrence. Because it is is a rewritten version of a bill the Senate had approved in 2011, it can be confirmed there with a single vote.

Anticipating a quick Senate approval, City Manager Tom Bonfield said the City Council will hold a special meeting on the bill July 5.

Bonfield has declined discussing any action the city might take in response.

House members debated the bill for more than an hour Tuesday before approving its second reading. Today, state Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, used a legislative procedure to prevent further debate.

Durham Rep. Paul Luebke, who tried unsuccessfully to remove the bill's section affecting Durham during Tuesday's debate, called Moore's move "completely inappropriate" and "reprehensible."

Luebke had said Wednesday morning that he planned to reiterate his argument that "this is a bill on behalf of private interest, this is a private interest that didn't agree with the city council decision."

Blocking debate before the final vote, he said, "is very, very wrong and, members (of the House), I hope it never happens again."

Kentucky developer wants $5M for SunTrust conversion

A Kentucky developer has confirmed its interest in renovating the Hill Building into a hotel – "with significant city and county assistance."

In a statement this afternoon, 21c Museum Hotels of Louisville said it had been approached by Greenfire Development, the Durham company that bought the 17-story landmark from SunTrust Bank in 2006.

According to the statement, 21c wants a $5 million public incentive and will come up with $40 million on its own for the conversion.

City Manager Tom Bonfield said an agreement with 21c is "in play."

However, in a memo to county commissioners last week, Deputy County Manager Marqueta Wilson said she had told 21c President Craig Greenberg that Durham County was "not prepared" to meet his request for $2 million. She said city officials taking part in a conference call also said they were "not prepared to offer the full amount requested."

In 2010, the city approved a $4.2 million incentive and the county $1 million for Greenfire, providing Greenfire began construction work by July 31, 2011 and completed the project by July 31, 2013. Greenfire met the first deadline by obtaining demolition permits for interior work, but has demonstrated little if any progress since then.

Bonfield said the 2010 incentives are still technically on the table, but it would be impossible for Greenfire to meet the completion deadline.
 

Durham budgets: 'Something's got to give'

City administrators and council members came away from a Friday meeting on next year's budget with some good news and a good many questions.

The good news was that the city appears poised to finish the current fiscal year on budget, with no need for the sort of last-minute cost-cutting there has been in recent years past.

Most of the questions pertained to dealing with a 2012-13 budget shortfall projected at $2.6 million, and how to fund the "dedicated revenue stream" for low-cost housing that Mayor Bill Bell called for in his State of the City address last Monday.

"Something's going to give," said City Manager Tom Bonfield. "We haven't determined (what) yet."

'Don't Shoot' on Durham reading list

"Don't Shoot: One Man, a Street Fellowship and the End Of Violence In Inner-City America" is a must read (well, maybe a you-really-ought-to-read) around City Hall and Police HQ these days.

"It's something that caught my attention," said City Manager Tom Bonfield. After he read it, Bonfield bought copies for City Council members. Bonfield said Police Chief Jose L. Lopez has also bought copies for his command staff.

"There's a lot of people looking at it," Bonfield said.

Occupy Durham calls at City Hall

A delegation from the Occupy Durham protest arrived at City Hall while the City Council was meeting tonight. Mayor Bill Bell adjourned without giving them a hearing, but City Manager Tom Bonfield and City Attorney Patrick Baker stayed behind to meet with the group for about 20 minutes.

About 45 protesters wanted to know what city ordinance prohibited them from pitching tents at CCB Plaza, where the demonstration began on Sunday. They said they had been informed about 4 p.m. today that the city sanitation department would remove the tents if they were not taken down by 5 p.m.

By 5 p.m. the tents were gone, but demonstrator Mary Grace said police, when asked, had not cited an ordinance.

At City Hall, Baker said the city code does not specifically ban tents at CCB Plaza, but it is standing policy of the city parks department that erecting shelters there – "camping" – is not allowed without a permit.

City Councilman Mike Woodard, who stayed to watch the exchange, said afterwards that he had told protest organizers more than a week ago that they needed to apply for the permit in advance, but they had not done so.

Baker and Bonfield said the demonstrators were welcome to remain at CCB Plaza as long as they like, but not to raise tents or other structures.

They also refused to turn on the Plaza's electricity, which was cut off after demonstrators used it Sunday without authorization, despite a request from City Council candidate Victoria Peterson.

Questioned further, Baker offered to meet with Occupy Durham representatives on Tuesday after he consults with Bonfield.

Bonfield appeared to become testy as the meeting went on and questioners pressed for specifics such as the city's definition of "camping" and whether the shelter ban would be enforced in case of bad weather or in the case of homeless persons.

"You're going to do what you're going to do," Bonfield said. "We'll respond when you do it."

The group thanked Bonfield and Baker and returned to CCB Plaza, where an unsheltered "general assembly" continued the Occupy Durham demonstration.

Rain stops water restrictions after all

This week's rains have forestalled water-use restrictions in Durham.

"Miraculously," City Manager Tom Bonfield said today.

More than 2.5 inches of rain fell Monday and Tuesday in the watersheds of Lake Michie and the Little River Reservoir, replenishing the city's water supply from about 70 percent of capacity to about 82 percent, Bonfield said. Seventy-five percent is the point at which Stage One restrictions are supposed to take effect.

At Tuesday night's City Council meeting Bonfield said he did not expect the rain to raise reservoir levels enough to avoid restrictions. But for the time being, he said, "We will not be moving forward with any water restrictions."

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