Duncan Murrell's blog

The One-Two Punch.

I love it when I can detect a certain love ... errr... affinity shared between our two leading North Carolina think tanks -- the Common Sense Foundation and the John Locke Foundation. The topic on which they seem to most often agree is the practice of government giving incentives (tax breaks, cold cash) to corporations in exchange for what is often a meager or nonexistent return on the investment. In the last week, both groups have issued rousing attacks on the practice, from a couple different angles.

It's a Mixed-Use Free For All!

On the heels of the impending destruction of University Inn in favor of another mixed-use development, we get news of yet another one planned for a tract out on Eubanks Road, across from the Northwood community. We're being surrounded!

I'm not at all opposed to the "mixed-use" concept in theory, but in theory it's supposed to strengthen communities by getting people to brush shoulders with each other, congregate, and increase foot traffic (and therefore walk-in sales for merchants). Chelsea (in New York) would be a good example of a strong mixed-used neighborhood, and also that neighborhood on the east side of Washington Square Park, I always forget its name. I'm having a hard time grogging how building self-contained pods on the outskirts of town accomplishes this, but I'm willing to be enlightened. Nevertheless, I'm getting the sneaking suspicion that "mixed-use" is a term being thrown around to gussie up development plans that may be technically mixed-use, but are certainly not embracing the spirit of the concept.

A Taxing Situation Downtown

,Well, it always amused me that the first thing the town/gown/merchant committee took up, while thinking about how to organize the effort to create a nonprofit downtown development entity, was whether to drop the downtown special tax. Oh, so that's the problem! Forget about the empty storefronts and buildings kept empty by landlords who have driven up rents beyond what's reasonable on Franklin Street, and who won't countenance the idea that the market has changed, that with the explosion of retail space in the Triangle, the rents they enjoyed in the 1990s (adjusted for inflation) are no longer fair market rents. No no! It's a levy of 6.2 cents per $100 that's killing commerce downtown!

Robust Redhorse Rises Reluctantly. Really.

OK, I'll admit it: I'm posting this mostly because I love fishing (Micropterus salmoides fears me) and this is a cool story. But even though the story is about a fish native to the PeeDee River, the natural history of the robust redhorse (that's a fish) is a cautionary tale about erosion, soil runoff, and the importance of protecting watersheds -- issues of local interest, I do believe.

The fish is cool, too. Did I say that?

What's A Little Toxic Sludge Between Friends?

Wheww. It appears they've found the barrels of toxic waste that went missing in January from the demolition of the University's Medical Science Research Building. This hasn't assuaged the concerns of subcontractor Southern Site & Environmental Corporation, who apparently took the barrels away to test them, after having their complaints about the presence of toxic waste at the site rebuffed. According the firm's lawyer, they found mercury and arsenic after being assured that the site was safe. The company believes the University has broken state law by exposing its workers to the toxic waste; the University says the waste was well-contained and that workers had been instructed to stay away from it. The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources is investigating.

[The subcontractor] expressed their concerns last Thursday in a letter to Doug Holyfield, director of compliance for the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.



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