City council discusses drought

Durham's water conservation efforts and a new report on locations for affordable housing dominated the discussion of Tuesday night's Durham City Council meeting, delayed one day due to the Labor Day holiday.

Officials presented new data on the progress of the drought and the effects of recent rain. Following the significant amount of rainfall over Labor Day weekend, water levels rose at the Lake Michie and Little River Lake reservoirs, officials reported. The city, however, remains at Stage III of the Water Conservation Ordinance, a moderate level of mandatory restrictions on activities such as car washing or serving water in restaurants without request.

"We were seriously considering going to Stage IV of the city water conservation ordinance," said A.T. Rolan, director of the Environmental Resources Department for Durham. The city had been purchasing water from Cary but recently decided to stop to minimize impact on the budget.

Also at the meeting, city housing officials presented a status report on attempts to revise the Housing Impact Policy, passed in 1996 to set guidelines for site selection of affordable housing.

The council had called for a revision of the policy to address a variety of concerns, and participants at the meeting cited several: a lack of data on existing subsidized housing, disagreement about the exemptions required for housing benefits, the reliance on 1990 census data, a lack of public participation in debate and the reactive nature of the policy.

Planning Director of Housing Bonnie Estes and Housing Community Development Director Charlene Montford addressed the concerns, saying that an inventory on existing subsidized housing, census data from 2000, information on inclusionary zoning, and a review of the exemptions will all be available in November. In addition, a session for public participation will occur in February, a month before the final draft of the policy revision is due.

Council members stressed the importance of including in the policy the controversial practice of inclusionary zoning, which requires that additional affordable housing be built wherever new development occurs. Such a measure spreads the affordable housing all over the city instead of concentrating it in just a few areas.

Council member Cora Cole-McFadden said that because the Housing Impact Policy strongly affects East Durham, there needed to be some residents from that area on the ad hoc committee dealing with policy issues. As it stands, the bulk of the committee is composed of developers and builders.

Although the next draft is due in March, council member Thomas Stith mentioned that the potential for improvement on the housing policy will always exist.

"We're just scratching the surface of what we can do," he said.

IN OTHER BUSINESS: The meeting opened with a local salute: "I would like to congratulate the Duke Blue Devils on their victory," said Cole-McFadden, referring to Saturday's football win.

Mayor Bill Bell was absent from the meeting due to a diplomatic engagement in China.


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