The big stories this year will include the next developments in some of the biggest stories of the past year. Here are five to keep an eye on during 2016.
Any predictions of where the NCAA investigation into UNC’s academics scandal will end are worth just about as much now as NCAA Tournament bracket picks.
The investigation started more than a year ago, and it was delayed even more last summer when UNC announced more self-reported problems, bringing a new NCAA “Notice of Allegations.” That kicked the can of worms even farther down the road.
Given the time needed for a formal NCAA finding and for UNC to respond, it is unlikely UNC’s case will conclude before April or May. In other words, not before the NCAA basketball tournament is finished.
The important thing to many at UNC was that the latest allegations centered on women’s basketball and men’s soccer – not football and not men’s basketball, UNC’s greatest sources of prestige and athletic revenue.
Neither the Weinstein Report nor the NCAA’s notice leveled any allegations at a specific Tar Heel basketball or football player or coach. And while the issue of UNC’s widespread “lack of institutional control” is serious, it applies to a broad spectrum of 3,100 students (fewer than half of them athletes) over an 18-year span. Further, the NCAA reportedly views that as possible “impermissible benefits to student-athletes” – not academic fraud.
While no one knows when the NCAA will render judgment or what that judgment will be, it probably won’t take any wins or titles away from the biggest sports.
“We do believe the cloud is beginning to lift,” UNC coach Roy Williams said last fall. “Gosh, we’ve been investigated six times. ...We know what went on, and let’s go ahead and move forward and get it over with.”
Light rail decisions
The proposed Durham-Orange Light Rail wouldn’t run its first train from UNC Hospitals to Alston Avenue in Durham until 2026 – but 2016 will bring key decisions on whether the $1.8 billion project can even continue.
The North Carolina legislature threw a wrench in light rail plans, when lawmakers capped all state spending on light rail projects at $500,000 – even though the state Department of Transportation had already allocated $138 million for the Durham-Orange Light Rail. The House later voted to remove that cap, but the Senate kicked the decision into the rules committee. The committee will meet this year, but isn’t even obligated to vote on removing the cap.
Seeking federal funding for up to 50 percent of the project’s cost, GoTriangle will submit a Draft Environmental Impact Statement to the Federal Transportation Administration in February. Yet as GoTriangle gathered community input for the impact statement, many residents questioned the expense and neighborhood disruption for a project whose goals, they said, might be better achieved through a stronger bus system.
Supporters still describe light rail as essential for smooth, environmentally-sound growth. But the light rail line’s future hinges on state and federal funding decisions.
Meanwhile in downtown Historic Hillsborough, the future of the 177-year-old Colonial Inn also is also teetering. The Hillsborough Town Board began eminent domain proceedings to take control of the inn and save it from decay, after a 12-year struggle with owner Francis Henry.
The once-handsome building at 153 W. King St., granted “Statewide Significance” by the State Historic Preservation office, has crumbled under Henry’s ownership. Since Henry bought the inn in 2002, the town has wielded some legal tools to try to save the inn, charging Henry with demolition by neglect, fining him for lack of timely repairs, and condemning the property.
What will happen next? The town will have to make the case that it’s in the public interest to save the inn – and reach an agreement with Henry on adequate compensation.The inn’s fair market value comes in at $143,000, and restorations could cost nearly $3 million, according to a report by the UNC School of Government’s Development Finance Initiative, commissioned by the town.
If the town gains control of the inn, commissioners must decide how to restore and use the space. They’ve discussed a public-private partnership, and a mixed-use plan that could include a restaurant, to help recoup some costs of redevelopment. In 2016 Hillsborough will learn more about the chances of turning the eyesore into a gem.
IFC FoodFirst kitchen
The plans for a new Inter-Faith Council community kitchen located in downtown Carrboro have tested the coolest heads in town.
Local business owners worry that locating a community kitchen to feed the homeless in a location like the IFC’s 110 W. Main St. office could deter diners and shoppers who enjoy a sense of personal safety and comfort in the town’s “feel free” pedestrian-friendly environment.
Public hearings and less formal forums are expected in the spring to discuss possible sites for the kitchen as well as transportation needs for residents who are staying at the IFC’s new shelter located on Homestead Road.
The aldermen have been a little chippy with each other on the issue. Business owners have been mum, fearing public scorn in speaking out, but their concerns are legitimate says Alderwoman Jacquie Gist.
Over email, Alderman Sammy Slade told Damon Seils that he has been steadfast from the start that Carrboro should coordinate with others to resolve the issues involved, but points to a key factor: location.
“The best place for a service that helps people in need (many of which may not have personal motorized transportation) is a place where they have easy access to the many services that are provided by both non-profits and businesses. Downtowns are by definition places where such concentrations exist,” Slade wrote.
Town Council changes
Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, after taking her oath of office Dec. 2, said the Town Council will handle some big issues in the new year and spend more time working with UNC, the county and other partners.
The Ephesus-Fordham district will be a top priority, she said, because it lacks the design standards and incentives that encourage developers to meet community visions, including more commercial space, affordable housing and environmental protections.
The council could look, too, at speeding up infrastructure projects, such as sidewalks and greenways, and developing concrete goals for affordable housing, she said. One possibility is asking developers to provide those amenities in exchange for the right to build taller, denser projects.
The leadership change could affect the future of at least three proposed developments: 55 acres of retail, apartments and offices at Carraway Village (formerly the Edge) on Eubanks Road; high-rise apartments planned for Amity Station on West Rosemary Street; and a senior living center proposed for the Central West district at Estes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
"I know that we all share a love of Chapel Hill," Hemminger said. "This is our town, and we’re committed to fostering our diverse community and to planning out a sustainable future to keep it that way."
Sports editor Elliott Warnock, staff writer Tammy Grubb and correspondents Julia Sendor and Jean Bolduc contributed to this report.