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Proposed social district in Durham would allow you to carry open alcohol

Leonardo Williams was pleasantly surprised one evening when, while vacationing in Savannah, a bartender let him know that he could enjoy his drink outdoors. Sipping leisurely as he browsed through the Historic District’s array of shops, the Durham city councilman was struck with an idea. 

I thought it would be, you know, just something cool to have in Durham,” Williams said. “I think it’ll be appropriate with our local culture here.”

In social districts like the one in Savannah, Georgia, people can consume alcohol outdoors and on city streets within defined boundaries. After Gov. Roy Cooper signed House Bill 890 last September, these districts are now coming to North Carolina. Supporters say social districts bolster local economies, drawing customers to breweries and other businesses that rely upon foot traffic. 

They’ve already popped up in Greensboro and Kannapolis. And on July 5, the Raleigh City Council approved a pilot social district along Fayetteville Street, which is expected to kick off August 15. Now, Durham may be next.

“I’m sure many of you can’t wait for this to happen in Durham,” Williams tweeted on July 6 in response to the news about Raleigh. “I’m with you and good news, it’s hopefully coming soon. We provided this as a legislative ask and are now in the process of making it policy for Durham.” 

Downtown Durham, Inc., a nonprofit working toward downtown revitalization, is leading his initiative. DDI leaders recently visited the Downtown Greensboro social district with city officials, where they gained valuable insight. For instance, Greensboro authorities report that litter has not been an issue as feared. DDI also collected ideas for graphics and signage, which would identify participating businesses and the boundaries of the district. 

DDI President and CEO Nicole Thompson hopes to see Durham’s social district cover most of downtown. The current proposed map draws borders at Foster Street to the north and Highway 147 to the south. The district’s eastern and western edges would lie along Wall Street and S. Buchanan Blvd., respectively.  

“Our restaurants are spread out through that entire district, so [we’re] not wanting to prohibit or limit businesses being able to take advantage of this,” she said. Thompson added that hours would likely follow Raleigh’s model, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m daily. 

In addition to requiring cities to set aside specific hours for social districts, House Bill 890 mandates clearly labeled cups and imposes drink size limitations. Patrons may not bring their own drinks into the district. 

DDI has reached out to local business owners to better understand their feelings and concerns. A March 2022 survey of 93 business owners revealed that nearly 80% endorsed a downtown social district. In a second survey that went out to the public, responses were similarly enthusiastic. Of the 671 individuals surveyed who live, shop and/or work downtown, 94% said that a social district would be “a good idea for downtown Durham.”

Durham business owners, many of whom struggled during the pandemic, welcome a social district, Seth Gross, owner of Bull City Burger and Brewery. 

“The damage and destruction that happened in the previous two years, it’s going to take five or more years to try to recover from,” said Gross, who also owns Pompieri Pizza. I think it’s absolutely critical to helping our downtown.”

Chris Creech, who co-owns The Glass Jug Beer Lab with his wife Katy, was also excited about a social district. It could help brewery businesses like his own, he said, and encourage people to enjoy the scenery the city has to offer.

For example, The Glass Jug sits just across the street from Durham Central Park. “Folks could buy beer from our taproom and walk out into the park and have the beer with a picnic or doing whatever they want to do in the park,” he said. “Eating, drinking, playing games.”

The benefits may extend even to businesses that don’t sell alcohol.

Maybe people grab a drink at one of the lovely establishments next door and then come and mosey on to us,” said Megan Cain, owner of The ZEN Succulent, a plant and gift store with locations in both Raleigh and Durham. Both she and Creech hope to see the city install recycling bins and educate the public about this proposal.

Some business owners fret that social districts would make downtown unsafe for kids and families, the survey found. They worry that relaxed alcohol policies could increase bad behavior and place an additional burden on police.

“I really think it’s going to be essential for when this rolls out that we have plenty of great messaging,” Cain said. “But also plenty of great signs downtown, letting people know where the district starts, where it ends, so that we’re not having a strain on our already strained law enforcement.” 

Thompson doesn’t expect downtown Durham to morph into the next Bourbon Street. “This is not going to be Mardi Gras,” she chuckled, emphasizing that existing alcohol laws will remain in place. 

“I want to be very clear that the social district does not supersede ABC laws. It’s just allowing you to carry an open container,” she said. “So I don’t foresee the ability to carry an open container changing downtown, overnight, to a rowdy experience.” 

City staff plan to present a proposal to the city council at a meeting in August. If it is approved, Thompson thinks the Bull City could launch a social district as soon as fall

The pandemic might have dealt a heavy blow to the city’s nightlife. But by Labor Day, the plaza of American Tobacco campus could teem with people relaxing with their drinks. Checkered picnic blankets could break up the brilliant green of Durham Central Park. 

I do think that it’ll create more of a vibrant culture,” Williams said. He added, “I think it’s going to draw people from all over to come to Durham.”

Above: A proposed social district would allow people to walk around with open containers of alcohol in downtown Durham. The envisioned area would encompass the American Tobacco Campus. Photo by Ana Young — The 9th Street Journal. 

60,000 stray cats breathe a sigh of relief as county leaders limit euthanasia

As soon as County Attorney Willie Darby began a public hearing to decide the fate of thousands of cats in Durham on the night of July 11, it was clear where most people stood: A majority of the nearly 40 people in attendance nodded as he read off proposed amendments to the Durham County Animal Control Ordinance. With teary eyes and shaky voices, proponents of the changes persuaded the County Board of Commissioners to unanimously pass the amendments, 5-0, all but outlawing euthanasia for community cats.  

Highlights of the changes to the ordinance include establishing a TNVR program (trap, neuter, vaccinate and return) for abandoned and stray cats—now legally known as community cats—which would be euthanized only if they’re sick and unlikely to recover. Under the changes, non-profits would administer the program. 

“What we’re doing now, it’s just — it’s not working,” said Wendy Jacobs, vice chair of the Board. “We need to do something different; this is a community problem that needs a community-based solution. I really look forward to the next steps.”

The amendments’ supporters argue that administering neutering and vaccination services to community cats will reduce their population. Anything short of this is inhumane, they say. Opponents are unsure whether the legislation will fulfill its purpose, arguing that ending euthanasia and trap programs could harm the local bird population, as cats are predators.

Currently, there are nearly 60,000 community cats in Durham, Jacobs says. The cost of euthanizing them all would be $120 million. The county spent $70,000 in 2021 on euthanizing around 350 cats. 

“This is not something that we’re gonna solve tonight. It’s not something that can be solved in one ordinance,” said the hearing’s first speaker, Danielle Bays, a senior analyst for Cat Protection Policy at the Humane Society of the United States. “But it’s not going to be solved by continuing down the path that Durham is on now.” 

Handgun in her pocket and hair in a bun, Lt. Wendy Pinner, of animal services at the Durham County Sheriff’s Office, matter-of-factly told the audience that her department traps animals only when Durham County residents request removal from their property. And because they recently paused the animal trapping program due to overcrowding at the Animal Protection Society shelter, she has had many “frustrated” and “angry” citizens come into her office.

“We had one address in Treyburn [a neighborhood in north Durham] where we received 171 calls for services to trap animals,” she said after stressing that the sheriff’s office is not staffed to carry out trapping.

Andrew Hutson, Vice President of the National Audubon Society and Executive Director of Audubon North Carolina, and Barbara Driscoll, president of New Hope Audubon Society, also opposed the amendments.

Hutson, who represented 2,000 members of the Audubon Society in Durham, said that the trapping and vaccination program “fails on all accounts” because it is “nearly impossible for 100% of cats to be trapped and vaccinated.” He added that “cats also have toxoplasmosis” — a disease that comes from a parasite found in cat feces  — and kill more than two billion birds yearly in the U.S.

Driscoll restated Hutson’s claims that the programs have failed to reduce populations and added that it makes “abandonment by pet owners easier.” She worried that these efforts would make it harder to have a “more bird-friendly Durham.”

On the other side, Shafonda Allen, executive director of the Animal Protection Society of Durham, a local shelter, told the Board how much work the community is willing to put into protecting these cats. 

For instance, Susan Elmore, a veterinarian for Independent Animal Rescue (IAR), a local non-profit that provides homes for unwanted cats and dogs, is already helping cats for free. (She was among those who spayed and neutered roughly 1,500 cats at IAR and at Orange County Animal Shelter and Durham County Animal Shelter last year.) 

“We realized now the reality is that we have these community cats. But if we spay and neuter, their numbers will go down,” Elmore, a veterinary anatomic pathologist in Chapel Hill who attended the public hearing, said in an interview with The 9th Street Journal. “And we have seen this done successfully in many counties in North Carolina and in many states in the country. So this isn’t new ground that we’re breaking, you know, this is a tried and true method of taking care of the community cat population.”

Before Allen’s two minutes were up, she asked everyone in the room, “who is in support of the Animal Welfare Committee’s ordinance changes to allow TNVR in Durham” to stand. The majority of the room stood up.

“These are your citizens; these are your voters,” Allen said. “Everyone here is willing to do something to help with this problem. They notice this doing more, not less. And for every person that calls, that wants them just removed and doesn’t know they will die, there are more who are willing to help them.”

Above: Shafonda Allen, executive director of the Animal Protection Society of Durham, testifies before the Durham County Board of Commissioners on July 11th. Later in the evening, a majority of the audience stood up to indicate their support for ending euthanasia for abandoned and stray cats. Photos by Ana Young–The 9th Street Journal.

 

With pools often shuttered, parents and kids seek out shade and “spraygrounds”

It’s 97 degrees, and at Forest Hills Park, children sprint up the playground stairs and chase each other down the slides. “Tag, you’re it!” they scream. Like clockwork, when a few minutes in the sun have passed, they soothe soon-to-be burnt skin by running through a “sprayground” — water that mists from colorful metal tubes. When it is time for a breather, the kids head to the shade, where parents offer snacks and water bottles.

Less than 100 feet from the playground, a fence gate padlocks the entrance to the pool. On a typical summer’s day scores of people would crowd into the water. But today, the pool sits empty. No submerging and simmering down from the hot and humid air, it appears. 

Forest Hills Pool is one of three public outdoor swimming pools in Durham, the others being Hillside and Long Meadow. Yet, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, none of them is open. Hillside is not open on Saturdays either. But on the days they are open, each is only available for swimming for four hours during the afternoon. On Saturdays, Forest Hills and Long Meadow are open between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.

“That’s such a restricted time frame,” says Taylor McCarther, who recently moved to Fletchers Chapel Road from Greensboro with her two young sons and partner Ben. “Yeah, it’s kind of weird that it’s just that chunk of time. I mean, I get it. But not really.”

As she says this, her younger son, Kayden, tears up before he walks toward the shade.

“You’re the one standing in the sun,” she says playfully.

The city has seen temperatures soar beyond 90 degrees 10 times since July began. Staffing issues have hampered Durham since the outdoor pool season started in early June. There’s a lifeguard shortage — not just on the local level but statewide and nationally. 

The American Lifeguard Association says the lack of lifeguards affects one-third of the nation’s pools. Pools in the three most populated cities in North Carolina — Greensboro, Charlotte and Raleigh — have found themselves understaffed. 

Even some of the country’s major cities such as Seattle, Denver, Chicago, Houston and Boston have struggled with shortages.

“I recently learned that there is a city in Michigan that is paying $27 an hour to try and entice lifeguards to work for them,” says Jason Jones, assistant director of Durham Parks and Recreation. The average lifeguard salary in the U.S. is $13.94 per hour, according to Indeed.com.

To address the shortage, Parks and Recreation partners with Durham Aquatic School to provide free lifeguard certification training for participants 16 and over. It also offers a competitive salary. The city government website says that lifeguards for Durham pools make between $17.99 and $21.56 an hour, which Jones says makes it the highest pay for lifeguards in the Triangle. 

He says no one has called his department to voice concerns about the reduced pool opening hours.

Jenny Rendon, who has lived in Durham for 18 years, used to take her children — who are 8, 9, and 20 months old — to the pool once or twice a week. But this summer’s restrictive schedule changed that.  

“That’s one of the biggest things, that sometimes with those schedules and depending on the distance, for example, if I go to the….closest one, you know, it’s not [always] available on the day that I want to go take my kids,” Rendon, a homemaker, says.

“You know, some people don’t have enough personnel, staff, to run their places,” she adds, referring to the Department of Parks and Recreation. “So I don’t blame it on them.” 

When swimming in a public pool is not an option, spraygrounds are an alternative. They are open seven days a week, for free, at four parks throughout the city: East End, Edison Johnson, Forest Hills and Hillside. Each operates between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m.

McCarther and her family have spent many days exploring water spots, such as Jordan Lake and the Eno Quarry. Since moving to the area, they have come to Forest Hills Park twice. They liked it because it is surrounded by a forest. The family has also been visiting other playgrounds around the city, seeking to get the children outside to play — and get wet. 

As she sits on a shaded bench, McCarther, who is in her mid-to-late 20s and expecting her third child, watches children at the park play. Next to her lie orange peels and a red-and-white soda cup.

Her little boys are part of the crew of children making use of the sprayground this afternoon. The older one, Kellan, almost 4 years old, is an “outside child,”she says. He has “super-high energy, and playgrounds are always just perfect for him to just let all that energy out. Sun beating down on him, letting that energy out.” 

Kellan runs around in a soaked red T-shirt that his mother says will be dried out by the sun. Kayden, 18 months old, stomps, chasing his brother in a navy blue fox-themed onesie and a diaper.

“They don’t need swim trunks,” McCarther says. “They don’t need any of the extra specialties. Like if it’s there, they’re ready to go—dirt, mud, water, sand—they love it.”

Above: With Forest Hills Pool (top) and other swimming pools open limited hours, Taylor  and Kayden McCarther (center) seek out shade. Photos by Ana Young — The 9th Street Journal

For Erwin Road cyclists, the question is where to draw the line

Cars zip past the small sidewalk, blurs of metal and exhaust. Pedestrians run across streets, and sidewalks appear to be an afterthought. Five lanes of traffic screech to a halt at one stop light, drivers fuming impatiently as they wait to hit the gas. Bikes pedal furiously in front of cars driving far too close for comfort.

Along other roads, simple white lines separate tons of speeding steel from riders protected only by plastic helmets and their own cycling skill. The presence of bike lanes may seem like a no-brainer. But along Erwin Road, where bike lanes are a rarity, painting those white lines is not so simple.

Starting this week, Erwin Road is being resurfaced from Main Street to Cameron Boulevard. The resurfacing gives an opportunity to create new bike lanes, pedestrian crosswalks, and other alternative transportation lanes by restriping the road. But the decisions rest in the hands of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), which owns and maintains the road, along with other heavily traveled arteries. 

And the clock is ticking on the resurfacing design plans, due by the end of August.

Erwin Road has long been known as a dangerous corridor for walkers and cyclists, with 45 pedestrian and 10 bicycle crashes over the last 14 years. Transportation advocacy nonprofit Bike Durham and other concerned cyclists hope to get their wheels in the door by pressuring the city and state to address their many concerns about bike and pedestrian safety.

Dismounting from their bikes after their weekly Thursday night ride on Erwin Road, a group of Bike Durham cyclists congregated over picnic tables, bemoaning cycling issues over their post-ride meal: wings and fries from Heavenly Buffaloes.

“I’ve had a number of incidents where people coal-roll me,” said James Nishimuta, a former board member of Bike Durham. Scotty Mathess, a local cyclist sporting a baseball cap reading “One Less Car,” groaned. 

“Coal-rolling,” they explained, can happen when cyclists approach a diesel truck. A truck driver presses a button to release black fumes onto a biker behind them as a sort of punishment for sharing the road. Bikers are engulfed in a cloud of smoke, coughing and unable to see. 

And coal-rolling is not the only danger cyclists face. Nishimuta recounted the time when he was riding to the Eno River with his children on small backroads.  A driver close-passed him and laid into his horn, shouting “Get the f*** off the road!”

“Do you know how loud horns are when you’re outside the car?” Mathess chimed in. The others nodded in agreement, solemnly dipping their fries into the ketchup.

Bike Durham’s goals include “zero fatalities, zero disparities in access, and sustainability,” said the group’s advocacy director Erik Landfried. But Bike Durham isn’t the only player in this game.

The Erwin Road resurfacing plan is part of NCDOT’s five-year resurfacing program, which funds  the state road maintenance on a 5-year basis. 

The City of Durham is charged with reviewing Erwin Road and developing ideas for new surface design and traffic signals, and the state will repave guided by those recommendations. 

However, the state’s five-year resurfacing program only pays for basic maintenance; it does not include funding for projects beyond the existing curbs. That means cyclists’ hopes for sidewalk repair and construction of multi-use off-road paths are not on the docket during the current repaving, said DOT district engineer John Sandor. 

“It’s a possibility, but it would have to come with a different project, not a resurfacing project,” Sandor said.

Despite those roadblocks, the city still hopes to accommodate alternative transportation as Erwin is repaved. 

“We’re looking at the different scenarios where we can improve the operation to provide greater convenience or safety,” said Brian Taylor, transportation planner for the city. “For someone who’s riding a bus, maybe helping their bus arrive on time or if they’re riding a bike, actually have a bike lane or protected bike lane, or improving a crossing, whether that’s maybe making it a more visible crossing and reducing maybe a turning radius.”

But until DOT approves the resurfacing designs, the scenarios proposed by the city are not guaranteed.

The city originally proposed creating business access travel lanes, which are lanes designated for buses and cyclists. The lanes speed up bus transit by giving buses their own lane to move freely outside of automobile traffic. Those lanes also can be used by cyclists, removing them from the path of cars. 

However, DOT has specific traffic capacity guidelines that city recommendations must follow. A city consultant’s traffic analysis in May found that the shared bus and bicycle lanes would increase auto congestion beyond those guidelines and the proposal was sidelined.

“[The road] functions poorly today,” said Sandor. “There’s no spare capacity to give up without having tremendous impacts, and those will be negative.”

After that, many cyclists turned their attention to making smaller improvements on Erwin Road where they can, at least for now, said Landfried.

On a recent morning, the group met at the Old West Durham Cocoa Cinnamon, a local coffee shop with origins as a mobile coffee shop called bikeCoffee. Co-hosts Arleigh Greenwald and David Bradway welcomed five other attendees, most of whom rolled up on their bikes.

The group drew people of all ages and occupations; local bike-tivist Greenwald, wearing a cap emblazoned with her Twitter handle, “Bike Shop Girl”; Bradway, a Bike Durham member working at Duke University with a Ph.D, in biomedical engineering; Langston Alexander, a Duke master’s degree candidate; aspiring cyclist Karen Singleton from Cary; and Bennet, a loyal Bike Durham supporter. They sucked down iced coffee in the heat amidst debate over the possibility of sustainable transport in Durham.

Bikers have long complained about the lack of bike lanes on Erwin Road, which endangers even those cyclists who are brave enough to ride the road, they said.

“I know a lot of people that would bike to school, but they don’t because it’s intimidating, and it feels unsafe for them,” said Alexander, “which makes sense because there’s no bike lanes.”

As the ice cubes in their coffee melted, the group dug into the topic of strategy. “When you look at any movement or policy change,” said Greenwald, “you have to look at the dominoes—and which domino needs to fall.”

The cyclists are determined to make sure the city considers alternate forms of transportation in design plans for the road. And as the city moves into the public engagement part of its design process, things seem to be looking up.

“One of the things that we heard a lot on Erwin is that [city officials] haven’t heard otherwise. Nobody is complaining, nobody’s asking for better,” Greenwald said.

The city would like to move towards more sustainable transport, said Brian Taylor, the city transportation planner. In the case of Erwin Road, restriping may be the best option for now, he said. “They might be modest improvements because this is an NCDOT road,” Taylor said. “but we’re hoping to see some improvements for people bicycling, people crossing Erwin Road, and people riding the bus.”

Real change may take longer. But for the cyclists, the fight is still on. 

“It’s a mindset of cars first,” Landfried said, “and we reject that notion.”

On a recent morning, Greenwald led a walking audit of Erwin Road, to spot issues with the corridor and report them to the city. She snapped photos on her iPhone of cracked sidewalks,  skinny and scant bike lanes, and dirt covering walkways (which Bradway had spent an hour shoveling two nights before). She uploaded each into Durham OneCall, an app where citizens can report service requests. 

Behind her, sustainability advocate Jason Bennett pulled out a pair of gardening shears and began hacking at the branches that extend over the sidewalk, blocking the path for pedestrians and cyclists. The sun glinted off the blades as he completed the work he wanted to see done.

Editor’s note:  Bike Durham Community Meeting  about the Erwin Road corridor takes place July 11, 7-8:30 pm, Durty Bull Brewing, 206 Broadway Street. The City of Durham is also holding two pop-up events this week that focus on Erwin Road. The events take place July 12. 6:45 to 8:45 a.m. at the corner of Erwin Road and Fulton Street and July 13, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the corner of Erwin Road and LaSalle Street and the corner of Erwin Road Downing Street. 

Above (from top): A bike rests in a rack along Erwin Road. Photo by Maddie Wray — The 9th Street Journal; Bike Durham member Jason Bennett trims branches along an Erwin Road sidewalk. Photo from the Durham Streets Twitter feed 

 

Banana peels and pizza crusts: City pilot program turns food scraps into compost

Browning banana peels, decaying fishbones, crumbling pizza crusts. These ingredients may not seem appetizing to most, but to seedlings hungry for fertile soil, they’re the stuff of a gourmet meal. 

A city food waste collection program in the Walltown neighborhood has redirected more than four and a half tons of waste from landfills since it launched just six months ago. Through a curbside pickup system, the pilot program processes food scraps from 80 Walltown households and returns them to the environment as rich compost.

Every Thursday evening, small black carts line the streets of Walltown. One of these belongs to Hafeez Dalla and his partner, Carina Barnett-Loro, who joined the program when recruitment efforts began in late 2021. Neighbors often inquire about the container, they said.

“Actually, a lot of people have come up to us and said, ‘Oh, what’s that? I haven’t seen it before’,” said Barnett-Loro, sitting on her back porch which overlooks her fruitful garden. Some of those neighbors have since signed up, she said, eager to make their neighborhood a greener place. 

The program represents a collaboration between the city, a local company and Duke researchers. The city collects the food waste and delivers it to Atlas Organics, a company that converts the scraps to compost. This final product is sold to gardeners and landscapers and also distributed for free at occasional public giveaway events, such as a June 11 Compost Giveaway at the Briggs Avenue Community Garden. The city will work with Atlas Organics to host another event in the fall. 

Melissa Southern, who first began composting in 2019 to nourish her garden beds, was also excited to see the project serve her community. “It seems that Walltown does not typically get picked for these kinds of pilots,” she said. “I love that our neighborhood was chosen, and to see it do so well and so many people participate is really…it’s encouraging.” 

Southern lives in Walltown with her husband and one-year-old, and has seen her household’s garbage output shrink to just a third of what it once was. 

“We went from maybe three trash bags a week or two trash bags a week, to one a week,” she said. “And I think that’s really impressive.” 

The pilot project was originally intended to run for just 12 weeks, according to Wayne Fenton, the city’s assistant director of solid waste. But when the trial period was up, all participants opted to continue curbside food waste collection. 

The environmental benefits of composting extend beyond improving soil health and conserving water. By keeping food waste out of landfills, composting helps curb methane emissions that contribute heavily to global warming. Nevertheless, some deterrents keep people from taking up the practice: for instance, the odor. 

Dalla recalled a recent party he and Barnett-Loro hosted in which composting played a role. 

We had a party here not that long ago, and we got all compostable plates and cups and stuff and thought it’d be great if everyone just put their stuff in the compost. And it was…I don’t think we anticipated just how stinky the bin had gotten over time,” he said, chuckling. “But, you know, we hosed it out, and it was fine.” 

Despite this minor hiccup, the couple has enjoyed their experience. “We love the program. We’d love for it to get expanded for all of Durham,” said Dalla.

To run smoothly, the program relies on psychology as much as earth science. In order to motivate and sustain the habit of composting, the city collaborates with the Duke Center for Advanced Hindsight to formulate strategies and messaging. The city issued countertop food waste collection bins with acceptable items illustrated clearly on the front and also encouraged participants to download the Durham Rollout app, which sends weekly reminders about food waste pickup days. 

Lyndsay Gavin, innovation project manager for the city, says programs such as the Walltown pilot may encourage environmentally friendly behaviors in other areas of life and foster engagement with one’s community. 

“Does collection of your food scraps in the morning make you think about turning your thermostat down or reducing your water use, or some other kind of pro-environmental behaviors that we would consider spillover from participation in this?” she said. 

“And then, even beyond environmentalism, this is a city-run municipal service that’s being brought to you. So does that also make you think more about belonging to your community or engagement with your local government?

Project leaders are currently scouting out a new candidate area for phase two of the project, which is expected to kick off in mid-August. The second phase will reach  roughly 500 households, in addition to the 80 still receiving service in Walltown. In this phase, researchers from the city and the Duke center will analyze how much waste is diverted from landfill. They will also assess whether behavioral interventions reduce contamination of the compost and will conduct surveys and interviews to gauge participants’ attitudes towards the program. 

Barnett-Loro is optimistic that her vegetable peelings and coffee grounds are making a difference. “I think it is, from a behavioral change standpoint, one of those daily reminders of, you know, this is the kind of the impact that I’m having,” she said.

Above: Hafeez Dalla and Carina Barnett-Loro are taking part in the city’s pilot food waste collection program. Photo by Maddie Wray — The 9th Street Journal 

Residents lambast Fayette Place plans

On a Monday evening, Hayti residents, community leaders and city representatives file into the Monument of Faith Church sanctuary. The room bustles with anticipation as attendees exchange greetings and scribble their names and addresses on public comment cards. The subject of the meeting is the Durham Housing Authority’s proposed Fayette Place project in Hayti; the goal, community reconciliation. 

Earlier this year, the housing authority stirred controversy after tapping Durham Community Partners to redevelop the Fayette Place site. The proposal calls for the construction of 774 affordable housing units on Fayette Place, a parcel of vacant land within the historically Black Hayti neighborhood. In 2017, the City of Durham awarded the housing authority a $4.2 million grant to purchase the plot, stipulating that the agency create a community engagement program for the project. However, Hayti residents argue that little has been done to include them. 

Mayor Elaine O’Neal opens the meeting and introduces City Attorney Kimberly Rehberg and Durham Housing Authority CEO Anthony Scott, who outline the details of the Fayette Place development. Using PowerPoint slides that feature tiny, indiscernible words, Scott explains the project’s timeline, the selection criteria used in scoring proposals, and the RFP (“Request for Proposal”) process that resulted in the selection of Durham Community Partners. Audience members interrupt Scott often, criticizing his presentation as inaccessible to the visually impaired.

“We can’t even see the slides! You’re talking, and we’re losing it,” says Lavonia Allison, a longtime Durham activist and former chair of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. Anthony Scott closes shortly after, and the public comment period opens.

Some speakers have come to criticize the housing authority’s rejection of Hayti Reborn, a community revitalization project that was one of five proposals submitted to the housing authority for Fayette Place.

Hayti Reborn proposed a 2000-acre mixed-use commercial, retail, and residential space on Fayette Place, along with the establishment of an R&D fund to reinvest wealth into the community.

Anica Green wears a black T-shirt emblazoned with the Hayti Reborn logo. On the back, white lettering reads, “The more things change… The more they stay the same!” 

“The reason for inequality in this country is because we use white supremacist standards and processes to make people compete when there are inadequate equal resources,” Green says. “You are making multi-national, national, and international organizations compete with local, homegrown organizations.”  

Henry McKoy, project director for Hayti Reborn, says the process for choosing the Fayette Place developers was not transparent. 

“Hopefully some folks don’t think it’s just a kind of a sore loser syndrome here, right?” McKoy says. “We entered into this RFP. We weren’t accepted—so now we’re sore losers. But, the work that happened on this goes long before this RFP ever came along,” 

Allison is among the final speakers. While other speakers are asked to migrate to one of  two mics strategically placed between the sections of pews, “Mama E” orates from her seat—per the Mayor’s request. Her walker sits untouched in the aisle. 

“Those 20 acres have got to be used for the benefit of Black folk who have lost everything!” Allison says. “We can not turn it over to the housing authority. They have not been successful.” 

The mayor and fellow city council members close the meeting by expressing sympathy for the Hayti community. Still, Mark-Anthony Middleton, the Mayor Pro Tempore, explains that the housing authority’s RFP process has strict legal guidelines to prevent misconduct and favoritism. The city does not have jurisdiction over Durham Housing Authority contracts, he says, echoing earlier comments by the city attorney. 

“We don’t have the authority to cherry-pick an RFP,” Middleton says.“If I could do it for you, I could do it for a friend—or family member. You don’t want that.”

City council members, including DeDreana Freeman and Monique Holsey-Hyman, advocate for continued conversation. So does O’Neal, who grew up in Durham. “I’ve spent years walking down Fayetteville Street… We got to get to a yes,” the mayor says. 

The Durham Housing Authority will hold additional community meetings about the development this month and next. The first is scheduled for this evening  at 6 p.m. at the W.G. Pearson Center, 600 E. Umstead St. The remaining meetings will be held on July 14 and 28. 


Above (from top): Durham Housing Authority CEO Anthony Scott; speaker Antonio Jones; one of several speakers wearing Hayti Reborn T-shirts; longtime Durham activist Lavonia Allison. Photos by Maddie Wray — The 9th Street Journal

Skating fans seek retread for Wheels

With its skating rink, go-karts, mini-golf and a snack bar, Wheels Family Fun Park was once among Durham’s most popular venues for parties and community-building events. 

Now, the city’s plans to build a swimming pool on the eight-acre property have sparked the concerns of Durham residents. At a Monday evening city council meeting, nearly a dozen gathered to express their hopes of keeping the rink alive for generations to come.

Wheels closed in 2020 after four decades of operation, and was later purchased by the city. Last month, city parks and recreation officials announced a $31 million project to install a swimming pool on the Hoover Road site. However, the plans left Durhamites with few answers regarding the fate of the beloved roller rink.

At Monday’s meeting, speakers highlighted Wheels as a safe space for marginalized youth. Allison Swaim teaches at Riverside High School, where the majority of her students are Black and Latino. As an assignment, she asked her students to design a Google map of their favorite places in Durham. Most included Wheels.

“I would love to see this become— stay—a public resource, that our community could have joy together in,” Swaim said. “So please look into what it would take to save this facility that already exists.”

Seven of the night’s speakers represented Bull City Roller Derby, a Durham-based skating group whose members spoke about the sense of community they’d found on the rink. Roller Derby member Erin Bueno says skating at Wheels helped her battle major depressive disorder and become more comfortable with her identity.

It saved my life in terms of helping me through my first depressive bout in 2018 and then also giving me a healthy outlet to again, transmute my feelings into something that’s more productive,” she said in an interview with The 9th Street Journal. “And it gave me a way to find myself as a queer person.” 

The Raleigh-Durham Skaters’ Association, headed by Eddie Watson, also hosted events at the rink. Watson, who leads weekly skating classes in Raleigh, has seen increased attendance as the pastime surged in popularity during the pandemic. Some skaters are young women whose interest was piqued by TikTok trends. Others are elderly folks that have been skating for decades. “Between the people, the music, the atmosphere, it’s all creating the juices to inspire, or to just be a part of something,” he said in an interview.

On Monday, some council members seemed receptive to citizens’ concerns. After the meeting, council member Mark-Anthony Middleton called Wheels  “part of the DNA of Durham,” and said he was open to continuing the dialogue.

“I would love to see if we could preserve it,” he said.

Several speakers said that, as a year-round venue, a roller rink could draw in more revenue than a seasonal aquatic center. Middleton expressed that, though finances would be taken into consideration, value to the Durham community was of greater importance to him.

At a Thursday afternoon city council work session, Middleton said that making a decision about preserving the skating rink would be “premature.”

“It’s way too early to suggest we’re going to go into the skating business as a city, at this point,” Middleton said. “We might, but I think the staff should have the opportunity to look at this.” 

Council member Jillian Johnson also stressed the importance of getting more input.

“I think we should wait until we have a full picture of what the community wants” before we make a decision,” Johnson said. 

Mary Unterreiner, public information and communication manager for Durham parks and recreation, said in an interview that plans for the former Wheels site are still underway. 

Unterreiner said the department has sought community engagement for the project through pop-up events, presentations and a survey that received 500 responses from Durhamites. 

Outreach will continue this summer, and parks and recreation will present its recommendation for the site to the city council in September, she said. Construction for the aquatics center will take several years, and the facility will not be open to the public for an estimated three to four years, she added.

Unterreiner stressed that while funding has been allocated to the aquatic center in the proposed city budget, the pool and a skating rink are not necessarily mutually exclusive. 

“It is not an either-or situation,” Unterreiner said. “The two can absolutely coexist right now. It is a matter of priority.” 

“What we do know is, what we have the funding for is the aquatics facility—the aquatic center—at the Wheels Fun Park site. But that’s not to say that there couldn’t be a future where the existing amenities or the skating rink also exist. And that could be a really exciting feature.”

Above: Photo of the Wheels Family Fun Park — The 9th Street Journal. Photo of Erin Bueno The 9th Street Journal’s Ana Young. 

Fayette Place development sparks criticism from Hayti community

It’s not a place that people tend to visit.

At the corner of East Umstead and Grant Streets sits Fayette Place. A metallic fence that’s taller than a street lamp post encloses the 20-acre site. But even from the outside, anyone can see the honey-colored grass that isn’t mowed; the clusters of crumbling red bricks that aren’t paved; the bits of trash that are carried inside by the wind or trespassers. 

But Fayette Place won’t remain vacant forever. In January, the Durham Housing Authority (DHA) released its proposal to build 774 affordable housing units on the property. The ground plan features a variety of building designs: garden-style walk-ups, L-shaped low-rise apartments, a parking structure and a 2,000-square-foot retail parcel. 

The City of Durham is funding this three-phase project. Five years ago, officials awarded the DHA a $4.2 million grant to purchase the land. The agreement comes with a stipulation: the city must allow the community to “contribute input in connection with the redevelopment of the site and the surrounding area.” 

The housing authority claims it has done just that. But residents of the local Hayti district—encircling Fayette Place—say that the authority has not considered their feedback. 

***

“From what I have heard and assessed,” Hayti resident Melvin Speight said, “they [the DHA] have talked to very few people.”

Speight grew up in the historic African-American neighborhood. It’s the place where he attended services at nearby Mount Vernon Baptist Church with his four sisters. It’s the place where, as a young man, he joined his father’s business, Speight’s Auto Services, at 422 Pettigrew Street. It’s the place where  Speight is at home.

Speight is one of many Black entrepreneurs who form Durham’s African-American commercial heart. In the 20th century, over 200 African-American-owned businesses lined Fayetteville, Pettigrew and Pine streets in Hayti. Residents of the district want to ensure that the community’s history as a cultural and commercial hub is not forgotten.

***

“My dream and vision,” resident Faye Calhoun says, “is that a Black history tour will start.” She gently smiles, revealing laugh lines that curve up to her silver glasses. Her curly ash-colored hair rests atop her beaming face. 

Since 2017,  Calhoun has lived near the Fayetteville Street corridor. Her home is an understated, yet picturesque, brick property with four bedrooms. She hopes that Hayti becomes a destination that represents Durham’s African-American history. 

Yet Calhoun hasn’t had the chance, she says, to voice her aspirations to the housing authority. “They know how to contact us,” she says, shaking her head. “And they did not.”

***

Bishop Clarence Laney’s concern for the neighborhood’s history stems from his 26 years of work in the community. He currently leads a congregation of nearly 300 people at the Church of God of Prophecy. Even though services are being held over Zoom, Bishop Laney stays connected with parishioners through regular coffee chats outside of church.. 

The housing authority has overlooked Bishop Laney’s congregation and their feedback, he says. “The DHA has not done a good job, in my opinion, in making sure that the voices of those who live in the community are centered in this project,” he says.

Speaking via Zoom from his home office, against a backdrop of burnt-orange walls, he says he wants to see “a park or some sort of memorial, which reflects the true history and past of this community.” 

***

Other members of the community would like to see the housing authority contribute to Hayti’s economic development. Among these people is Henry McKoy, who serves as the project director of Hayti Reborn, a developer that aims to revitalize the Fayetteville Street corridor.

“There is a desire to create something that would spur permanent jobs, economic opportunity, and upward mobility,” McKoy says. He pauses and reclines in his black swivel chair. The subtle motion creates a few wrinkles in his white checkered button-down. 

McKoy believes the DHA should prioritize generational wealth-building because of his own upbringing. As a child, he watched his 15-year-old mother drop out of high school.  McKoy stood by her, 15 years later, when she passed her General Educational Development test before she graduated from Fayetteville Technical Institute. Inspired by her, he eventually became the first person in his family to attend graduate school.

He believes that upward mobility and economic development go hand-in-hand. 

He views the housing authority’s current approach to Fayette Place as nearsighted. “There’s a tendency to think,” says  McKoy, “that poor African-Americans only need to be housed.” 

***

When the DHA announced its purchase of Fayette Place five years ago, an optimistic buzz filled the Hayti community. The land would no longer be vacant. It could serve a purpose. It could offer affordable housing to Hayti. 

“Right now, housing in Durham is getting to be not affordable,” said Calhoun. “Unaffordable. So affordable housing is a good thing.”

Yet many Hayti residents’ perception of the housing authority soured as plans for Fayette Place unfolded. Subsequent to the land acquisition,“Our next steps were going to be a planning process to determine what we would build on the site,” says the DHA’s CEO Anthony Scott.

This planning process for Fayette Place was part of the DHA Downtown Neighborhood Plan (DDNP). The plan is a comprehensive 10-year roadmap to develop mixed-income, mixed-use communities across nearly 60 acres of downtown Durham’s publicly owned land. 

For each DDNP site, the housing authority ordered a market study. The Fayette Place analysis, however, delayed the site’s development. “The market study determined that the Fayette Place site was not one of the sites that we should immediately look to develop,” says  Scott, “just because of the market conditions of the community—the community being the Durham community as a whole.” 

Scott did not explain how the market conditions of Durham “as a whole” delayed Fayette Place’s development. Nor did his communications manager, Aalayah Sanders, respond to a follow-up email sent on March 26.

It wasn’t until January 2022 that the DHA announced the selection of its developer for Fayette Place: Durham Development Partners, a joint venture team that includes F7 International Development, Greystone Affordable Development and Gilbane Development Company. The housing authority chose Durham Development Partners over other developers, including Hayti Reborn.

A February 2022 letter released by Hayti Reborn complained that the chosen developer “came into the community and met with residents for a brief afternoon. At no time was the schematics, the plans, none of that was shared with the community prior to being selected by DHA.”

Scott, however, defends the housing authority’s community engagement at Fayette Place: “We’ve been very methodical. We spent a lot of time in getting the feedback from the community,” he says.

Scott did not say how or when the DHA connected with community members. 

In March, the housing authority formally responded to Hayti Reborn. Scott wrote a five-page letter to McKoy, explaining the developer selection process. He says that Hayti Reborn received the lowest aggregate score from a selection committee. No selection criteria were specified.

A spokeswoman for the housing authority also says, via email, that “All proposers had ample opportunity to provide feedback on the selection process and DHA did not receive any concerns during the approximately 90 day solicitation period.”

McKoy is now calling upon the Durham City Council for help. He is concerned about the committee’s review process.

In an April 4 letter to “Honorable Durham City Leadership,” McKoy writes, “Hayti Reborn was the ONLY team not allowed to present its plan through interview to the DHA Review Committee prior to their selection.” 

McKoy says that he’s asking for three things. First, he wants to schedule a public Durham City Council hearing. Second, McKoy is requesting a “city injunction” ordering the housing authority to pause its Fayette Place development plans until a city hearing occurs. And third,  he asks that “The diverse public of Durham be allowed time and space to offer feedback to the City Council.”

At the housing authority, “you’re going to find a couple of African-Americans over there in leadership positions,” Calhoun says. Scott and several other top DHA officials are African-American. 

 Calhoun adds: “They ought to be ashamed of themselves.”

Above: A view of the Fayette Place site; photo by 9th Street Journal writer and photographer Chloe Hubbe. Portraits of Melvin Speight, Henry McKoy and Faye Calhoun by 9th Street Journal photographers Kulsoom Rizavi and Simran Prakash.

Upgrades to Durham Bulls Athletic Park will exceed $10 million

When the City of Durham was asked to spend twice as much as expected to make improvements to Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the result was never really in question. But that didn’t keep the council from debating the question when it met on Monday. 

The city leases the Durham Bulls Athletic Park to the Durham Bulls team, and is required, under an agreement with Major League Baseball, to make upgrades to the Bulls’ stadium by April 2025 in order to keep the Bulls in Durham.

With that in mind, the Durham City Council voted 5-0 Monday to spend an extra $5.35 million to renovate the ballpark, on top of the original $5.22 million it approved in June 2021, for a total cost of $10.57 million. The Durham Bulls are contributing $1 million in renovation costs but it’s up to the city to cover the other $9.57 million. 

During a work session in March, John Paces-Wiles, senior project manager with the city’s general services department, relayed that the upgrades will include renovations to player locker rooms, coaches’ offices and a new batting tunnel.

Prior to Monday’s meeting, Skanska, the company that won the bid for the project, reported to city officials that the higher costs resulted from the coronavirus pandemic, which has affected the entire construction industry. Costs for construction materials went up an average of 45 percent since March 2021, the company reported.

Though the council voted 5-0 to approve the additional expenditures, members were divided on whether the deal to keep the Durham Bulls, which was brokered with the council back in 2014, was truly worth the money.

Prior to the meeting, At-Large Council Member Jillian Johnson and Ward 3 Representative Leonardo Williams debated the topic on social media. The debate continued Monday as each member weighed in on the issue.

Johnson lamented that the council had committed itself to paying for upgrades to the stadium, and pointed out that the baseball league requires many cities across the nation to pay for upgrades to their stadiums. Durham’s lease with the Bulls expires in 2033. She urged the council to broker a better deal with the league at that time.

“I hope that we can have a little more equity in the future for how the city, the Bulls, and maybe even Major League Baseball can split the costs,” Johnson said. “I’m disappointed that it’s falling all on our residents.”

Paces-Wiles and the general services department provided information regarding the Durham Bulls’ cultural events, revenue and overall contributions to the community, statistics which Leonardo Williams reiterated in arguing that the Durham Bulls were, indeed, worth the monetary investment.

Williams pointed to the Bulls’ direct economic impact on the city, which included generating $48.5 million in revenue last year. In addition, the Bulls’ presence in Durham directly supported 23,130 jobs and indirectly supported over 25,00 jobs last year, according to the report from the general services department.

Williams and Mayor Pro-Tempore Mark-Anthony Middleton lamented that there was debate about whether to pay the money.

“This is a real city, and we got to put our big pants on,” Williams said at the council meeting. “Which means we need to have assets to welcome people to the city to spend so we can generate the revenue to address the social issues that we have.”

Mayor Elaine O’Neal echoed Williams’ statements, pointing to the Durham Bulls’ history in her life, and the life of Durham.

The Durham Bulls moved from Durham Athletic Park to the team’s current downtown home, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, in 1995. 

Durham Bulls Athletic Park hosted 70 home games in 2021 and dozens of other events, including the city’s Fourth of July celebration. 

Williams and O’Neal also mentioned the fame generated by the film “Bull Durham.” The Durham Bulls are at the center of the 1988 movie, which was filmed at Durham Athletic Park. 

Elaine O’Neal’s family home is just three blocks down from Durham Bulls Athletic Park, and she recalled her father’s pride when “Bull Durham” was released.

“For my father’s 103rd birthday, he wanted to go to a Durham Bulls game, and we have a photo of him and the Bulls mascot up in our home,” O’Neal said. “The Durham Bulls…will never ever go away, if you have been a part of this community for as long as I have.”

Despite the lively conversation, the motion to fund the ballpark renovations passed unanimously.

Opening Day for the 2022 season is set for April 12, when the Bulls will face the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.

Above: Photo of Durham Bulls Athletic Park by Henry Haggart — The 9th Street Journal

City Council hears mixed views on ShotSpotter gunfire detection system

More than 1,900 shooting incidents have taken place in Durham since the start of 2020.

They’ve left more than 650 wounded and nearly 90 dead.

“Folks are asking for help,” said council member Leonardo Williams at last week’s Durham City Council meeting. “They’re saying, ‘Just do something more, please.’”

That “something more” may be ShotSpotter, a controversial gunfire detection system that the council blocked in June 2019 and September 2020. Now, the council is one step closer to setting aside $197,500 for a year-long pilot of ShotSpotter.

A majority of the council voted last month to move forward with a budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year that would include money for ShotSpotter. The council must vote on the budget before June 30, but during public comment at a council meeting last week, several Durhamites showed up — either in person or via Zoom — to oppose funding for the technology.

ShotSpotter uses microphones placed around a city. When the microphones sense gunfire,  police are notified and dispatched. By improving police response times and sending officers to scenes that might otherwise go unreported, ShotSpotter could save lives, proponents say.

Mayor Pro Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton, arguably the council’s most ardent supporter of ShotSpotter, said that last year in Wilmington, two police officers received awards for saving lives after responding to ShotSpotter alerts. (Only one incident involved gunfire; in the other, someone had sustained injuries breaking a window.)

“This is about when someone needs help,” Middleton said. If someone is hurt, even “in the middle of the night, someone will come and see about you.”

But does ShotSpotter work? The MacArthur Justice Center found that in Chicago, 88.7% of ShotSpotter alerts were “dead ends” — incidents in which no gun was actually involved.

“What ShotSpotter is effective at is manufacturing consent for increased policing,” council member Jillian Johnson said in an interview. “It increases the number of times that police are called.”

Naana Ewool, who is involved with Durham Beyond Policing, a coalition that advocates for “community-led safety and wellness,” says most cities place microphones only in small areas…or in certain neighborhoods. “And those neighborhoods are often the ones that are majority Black and brown, with a higher number of folks being criminalized.”

“Police who arrive on the scene often escalate situations and introduce violence, so folks are more likely to get injured or killed,” Ewool said. “There’s public health research that shows that regardless of the type of interaction, the more interaction folks have with police, the worse their health outcomes are.”

Danette Wilkins, a health professional and resident of Durham’s Cleveland-Holloway community who works for Johns Hopkins University, implored the council to reject ShotSpotter. She cited a report by the City of Chicago that says  “the very presence of this technology is changing the way Chicago Police Department members interact with members of Chicago’s communities.”

Opponents think the $197,500 would be better spent elsewhere.

In general, “we need gun control, we need housing guarantees, we need a living wage,” Johnson said. “That’s how you end gun violence.”

Johnson said the city can “invest as much as we can into prevention and intervention techniques,” like the violence intervention program Bull City United and the We Are The Ones Fund.

Middleton says these reforms and ShotSpotter are not mutually exclusive: “I think the people reject the zero-sum game. It’s not either/or.”

He resisted comparisons to Chicago and Charlotte, which canceled its contract with ShotSpotter in 2016. “I have to govern based on data from Durham,” he said. “But we don’t have that, and so I really want this to be a pilot in the truest sense.”

In an interview, Ralph A. Clark, president and CEO of ShotSpotter, said the technology bridges “a fairly significant public safety gap.” He pointed out that “80 to 90 percent of gun fired events go unreported. So that means guns are fired, there’s no call to 911, which means there is no police response.”

In Oakland, California, Clark said, ShotSpotter technology has saved more than 100 gunshot wound victims. The company also says its sensors detection rate is 97%.

Clark added: “It’s very confusing to me to see people have a negative reaction to the idea that police are able to respond to incidents of gunfire.”

Williams agreed. “Give us a chance to try this,” he said. “If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, we’re going to try something else.”

Council member Javiera Caballero, who would prefer that the city fund other violence-reduction efforts, says officials will have six months to collect the data about the gunfire detection technology. After that, the city has to pay for ShotSpotter.

She doesn’t think Durhamites have had enough of a chance to hear about the technology, but she expects it to be funded when the council votes on the budget.

Opponents want the city to keep searching for solutions.

“Communities are dealing with so much grief and so much fear because of gun violence,” Ewool said.  “Just offering them something—anything—isn’t fair. People deserve things that are going to provide real solutions and real healing.”