Wake Wired

There's a sewer monster living underneath Cameron Village. There's a man in Moore Square who plays football all by himself. Somewhere in Raleigh, we've heard, there's a kudzu vine that looks just like Alfred Hitchcock. These small marvels don't always fit inside a regular newspaper. A lot of them are too funny for those highfalutin' pages. So we've tucked him in here, where they'll be safe. Take a look and let us know about the oddities in your life. We'll show up and snap a picture.

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Over or under? Transportation planners weigh pedestrian tunnel or bridge for Western Boulevard

Tags: WakeWatch

If you are among thousands of downtown commuters or N.C. State University visitors who use Western Boulevard, you might be relieved to know that help is on the way for the chronically congested thoroughfare.

And not just help for cars, but also for pedestrians and cyclists.

1352496891 Over or under? Transportation planners weigh pedestrian tunnel or bridge for Western Boulevard The News and Observer Copyright 2011 The News and Observer . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

SBI lab is leaderless again

The SBI crime lab remains leaderless.

Gerald Arnold, former chief judge of the N.C. Court of Appeals, said today that other commitments have caused him to decline the job as interim director of the troubled crime lab.

“The time frame for me was not right, I wish it had been,” Arnold said. “It just didn’t work out.”

On September 8, Attorney General Roy Cooper announced that Arnold would act as interim lab director while a national search for a permanent director was underway.  Cooper said Arnold would make sure that the lab would provide test results that are accurate and properly reported.

“It is critical that Judge Arnold take a good thorough look,” Cooper said that day. “If problems are found, they will be fixed.”

The crime lab has come under widespread criticism and scrutiny that threatens pending cases as well as concluded cases. A recent audit found that SBI lab analysts withheld or misreported the results of blood tests in at least 229 cases.

That audit, by two retired FBI supervisors, focused on evidence withheld from prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Arnold said he did not have a difference of opinion with SBI leadership about how to do the job.

“It wasn’t’ that they said I couldn’t do this, I couldn’t do that,” he said. “I think I would have done whatever I wanted to do."

(updated below)

Cooper is "frustrated with this unfortunate development," according to an email from Noelle Talley, Cooper's spokeswoman. Cooper believes he's found an excellent replacement for Arnold to conduct an independent legal review, the email said, but did not specify whom the replacement would be.

Mini-flags to the rescue

Tags: WakeWatch

 The Stars and Stripes, though miniature, will still be out at today's Tax Day tea party demonstration on the state Capitol grounds in downtown Raleigh.

The Wake Republican Party and the North Carolina chapter of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity plan on handing 5,000 of the miniature U.S. flags at the rally planned for 5 p.m. on the State Capitol grounds in downtown Raleigh.

That's in response to new rules adopted by the state capital police and N.C. Department of Administration banning any flag poles or signs braced with sticks for fear the poles and posts could turn into weapons.

The miniature flags meet the permit rules.

If protesters and tea party attendees were to show up with large flag poles, the state capital police could invalidate the permit and shut the protest down.


Raleigh council takes another stab at public safety building

Four city councilors will meet tomorrow to talk about how to resolve their differences with the Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center, a proposed tower to house Raleigh's emergency response departments that was shelved because of concerns about the project's cost.

The meeting will put down the ground work for bringing in professional architects and public safety experts as consultants to help the council work through their split over the issue. Attending will be Mayor Charles Meeker and council members Mary-Ann Baldwin, Russ Stephenson and Bonner Gaylord.

There's been no public discussion about what those consultants would cost city taxpayers.
The $205 million Lightner project has been in the planning stages for years, but attracted scrutiny this winter and spring as more information came out about a proposed tax increase to pay for it.

Other concerns have since popped up with the building design itself, a 17-story building based in downtown Raleigh that would house the city's police, fire, emergency communications and information technology departments.

The city has already spend $23 million on the project, including design costs and the renovation and relocation of police to an interim headquarters in North Raleigh.

Want to go? Tuesday's meeting is open to the public at will be held at 11 a.m. in room 305 of the city municipal building, 222 W. Hargett St.

Waiting for Google

Google is keeping pretty mum about where it'll choose to put down fiber-optic cables as part of an experiment to wire up an entire community with really, really fast Internet access.

But it did offer a glimpse here of where they got submissions before the March 26 cut-off date. The small circles show where governments applied, while the larger circles are spots where more than 1,000 individuals contacted Google on their own.

So just how fast would this Internet be? Data could get sent at speeds
of one gigabit per second, more than 100 times faster than most
residential services.

Cary, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham, Greensboro and Raleigh all asked Google for consideration. Durham probably took the cake locally for gathering the most community input, with an aggressive online campaign led by interested citizenry as well as offering a photo snapped from above the Durham Bulls Athletic Park with people on the field using their bodies to spell out "We Want Google."

Raleigh, oddly enough, probably ended up with the most extreme offer to come out locally when councilman Bonner Gaylord anted up at the last-minute and said he'd name his unborn twins after Google's co-founders if Google chooses the Oak City.

Google promises to make its decision by the end of the year. 


City, county clash over text change

UPDATE: Read Silver's entire presentation here, and Tuesday's story here.

At a Wake Commissioners committee meeting today, Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker and Planning Director Mitchell Silver argued against a county ordinance change that would allow commercial development in the Falls Lake watershed and several other county watersheds.

Meeker argued his case from a policy standpoint, while Silver said the change is inconsistent with the intent of "nonconforming" land uses and is being proposed in the wrong section of the county code. Silver listed several typical options for nonconforming uses, and redevelopment wasn't one of them. He said the move would open "Pandora's Box" to other arbitrary changes in the future. For background on the ordinance, go here.

The text change would essentially allow commercial development for parcels of land that have been "grandfathered" for such use. Those include a lumberyard and cement plant in the Falls watershed, and several bare parcels in other county watersheds.  Meeker and other city officials warn the move could further pollute already impaired Falls Lake, which the city is trying to clean to avoid millions in future costs. They say the text change would undermine Raleigh's efforts to reduce urbanization in Durham
that's harmful to the water quality, and potentially obstruct cleanup

The lake is the source of water for more than 65 percent of Wake County citizens, Meeker said this morning, including all of Raleigh and several other towns. It is polluted primarily because of urbanization in Durham, Granville and Person counties.

Commissioners and county staff took issue with Meeker and Silver's arguments. Commissioner Stan Norwalk challenged Meeker's claim that the text change would send the wrong message to Durham.

"What's to prevent us from sending the message that we're actually tightening the standards?," Norwalk said. "You're worried about sending a message, but why?"

Meeker responded: "That's sending a mixed message. We want to send a clear one."

County Attorney Scott Warren said some of the issues Silver raised "will have to be sorted out." And others took issue with his interpretation of the county code.

Commissioner Paul Coble, former Raleigh mayor, blasted the city afterward for presenting their concerns at the 11th hour. And Board Chairman Tony Gurley said during the meeting that "this is stuff that should have been handled long before it reached our board. If we could get all of this rebuttal back and forth done ahead of time, I would greatly appreciate it."

Commissioner Betty Lou Ward, who chairs the committee and lives in the watershed, said it was an example of why they need a countywide planning operation.

Taking sides in the Lightner building debate

Haven't made up your mind yet about how you feel about the Raleigh's proposed Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center? Read on to see the pro and cons of the $205 million city project.

Parking issues on deck for Raleigh council

Raleigh's City Council has been occupied with the debate of whether or not to build a $205 project for a new public safety center but have plenty of other issues on their plate today

Parking, a hot-button issue is just about any community, is on the front burner. Two controversial issues, front-yard parking and ticketing of cars parked too far from the curb, in front of the eight-person city council at the meeting scheduled for 1 p.m. today.

The first, front-yard parking, has been simmering in a city committee since this summer after Raleigh City Councilman Thomas Crowder launched a campaign to have more regulation for residents who decide to park cars in their front-yards.

If the council approves a text change today, pulling up on a front lawn and leaving a car there will no longer be allowed. Residents will have to either pave a driveway or put down gravel with a defined edge provided by vegetation or some other type of marker.
Repeat violators could eventually be fined.

Also in front of the council is a recommendation to have parking enforcement slow down the amount of  tickets written for cars parked a foot away from curbs.

The council is expected to pass an ordinance that gives motorists a break as long as they park within the 8-feet-wide spaces marked on streets in downtown and near N.C State University campus, where most of the city's parking enforcement is concentrated.

The enforcement of what's become known as the "12-inch rule" skyrocketed last year with 4,587 of the $20 tickets written in 2009 for cars parked more than a foot from city curbs. That was a big jump from 2008, when just 379 of the tickets were handed out.

Several city council members, including Mayor Charles Meeker and councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin, said they thought the ticketing was being a bit too picky and were worried it would discourage the downtown visitors the city has been trying to attract.

Check back with www.newsobserver.com, WakeWatch or your print edition of tomorrow's N&O to see what the council decides.

 Want to tell us what you think? Leave your comments here, or email sarah.ovaska@newsobserver.com. 

Scrap the Lightner public safety center?

Three of the eight members of Raleigh's City Council came up with another idea this week about what to do about the the Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center.

Start over.

In a two-page memorandum, councilors Thomas Crowder, Bonner Gaylord and Russ Stephenson, asked city staff to figure out how much it would cost to renovate the current police headquarters at 110 S. McDowell St. and build a new emergency communications center just for 911 dispatchers.

"At a time when some are calling for burdensome tax increases and others are calling for painful sevice cuts, we believe there is a middle path that is responsive to our long-term emergency services needs -- without raising taxes or overshadowing other important current and future needs of our citizens," the three wrote in a letter to the rest of the council and Raleigh City Manager J. Russell Allen.

The proposed Lightner Center had been in the works for years, but catapolted into the public arena once Allen unveiled the proposed way to pay for it -- by bundling it with $250 million worth of public works projects and raising property taxes by 8 percent.

If built, it would house police administrators and detectives, fire adminstration, the emergency communications center, traffic management staff and the city's information technology department.

The Lightner Center, named for the Raleigh funeral director who served for one term and was the city's first and only black mayor, would be 17-stories high and 300,000 square feet. It'd be the biggest, and most expensive, city building. 

There's little about the building that hasn't become controversial, with differing opinions from different city political corners weighing in on whether its needed, what it should cost and who should decide if the public safety center should be built.

The most controversial aspects have been the proposed tax increase to pay for the
building, a call to have the decision to build decided by voters at in
a citywide bond referendum and original plans to include up to $705,000
in public art in the project.

The request for a tax increase comes in the midst of an economic recession, and Raleigh's entire council has gotten hundreds of e-mails protesting the project, or asking to delay the project until the economy gets better.

Many of the opposition letters were identical, and appear to be a push from conservative quarters that think the issue should be decided by voters and not by city councilors.

Mary-Ann Baldwin, one of the council members, said she doesn't think the plan rolled out by Crowder, Gaylord and Stephenson meets the needs of the city, and reiterated that hte current 50-year-old bulding is falling apart and not suitable.

Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, who wants the project to go forward in order to cash in on what he says is $50 million in savings, hopes it will still pass, but with a different funding scenario. Some of the remote operations projects can be delayed, and the cost of the building might be able to be absorbed by impact or facilities fees. Meeker also asked that the art budget be narrowed to a third of the size. 

The council has avoided taking action on the Lightner Center three times this year, and it's expected to be back in front of them at their next meeting on Feb. 16.


72,000 doughnuts later...

Tags: WakeWatch

It's one of Raleigh's oddest athletic events, the Krispy Kreme Challenge.

Today, organizers announced they'd reached their limit in runners with 6,000 signed up to run and scarf down donuts.

The race, scheduled for Feb. 6, is the brainchild of a handful of N.C. State University students who came up with the idea several years ago to run from campus to the Krispy Kreme store on Peace Street and back, eating a dozen donut in between. Fast forward a few years, and the KKC attracts thousands of runners, and raises money for the N.C. Children's Hospital.

The true challenge is to run the two miles from the N.C. State University Bell Tower, eat the dozen donuts, and run back in an hour, while keeping the doughnuts down.

Stretches of Peace, St. Mary's and Hillsborough streets end up getting littered with the partially-digested doughnuts by those runners who can't quite hold on to the baked goods.

If all the runners eat their donuts, that will mean a total of 72,000 doughnuts inhaled in one morning. Probably not a fun day to be on the clean-up crew. 




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