The Orange County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday for the first time since July 14, and they had plenty to talk about.
The commissioners convened for nearly four and a half hours, with the main items up for discussion being a proposal for an office park in Hillsborough and an update on the county’s response to COVID-19.
The meeting kicked off with over 25 residents speaking in opposition to the development of the Research Triangle Logistics Park, a large office park and distribution center proposed to be built on the intersection between I-40 and Old N.C. 86 in Hillsborough. The public comment section is typically limited to 20 speakers, but the Board made an exception on Tuesday due to high public interest.
The BOCC first began reviewing the application from Barrister Commercial Group, the RTLP's developer, on Aug. 5. The group referred to the project as “a coordinated, cohesive development that meets the demand and guidance for economic development at this location” in a PowerPoint presentation to the Board.
Jo Massey was one of many residents who expressed concerns that the project would have detrimental impacts on the environment, resulting in decreased water quality and noise and emissions pollution. She and others said they worried about the inability of surrounding roads to handle the increased traffic flow, particularly of large trucks, that would result from its construction.
“Build on the charm of our town, don’t kill it,” Massey said.
The next step of the review process for this project will be a public hearing, which the BOCC will hold on Sept. 15.
After the public comments, the board moved on to unanimously pass a resolution in which they commemorated the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and encouraged the U.S. Congress to pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020.
They also discussed sending a letter to N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein, encouraging him to support the US Postal Service and, as Chairperson Penny Rich put it, “stop the shenanigans” going on at the federal level.
Rich also sent a resolution to decriminalize marijuana to Board members via email. She said this would be discussed further in the Board’s next meeting.
The BOCC went on to receive a briefing on the county’s response to COVID-19 from Orange County Health Director Quintana Stewart and a report on the spending of federal CARES Act funds from Deputy County Manager Travis Myren.
Stewart reported that, as of Tuesday, the official confirmed case count in Orange County was 2,305 and the death count was at 50. She also said about 25 percent of the county’s population had been tested as of Aug. 26, with a positivity rate of 12.4 percent. The positivity rate has since fallen to 10 percent.
She also addressed how the county would respond to the controversial change in COVID-19 testing guidelines the CDC made last week, which stated it was no longer recommending to test asymptomatic individuals that had been in close contact to an individual who tested positive.
“We are not adhering to that recommendation here in North Carolina,” Stewart said. “We will continue to test individuals with close contact (to positive-testing individuals), both symptomatic and asymptomatic.”
Following Stewart’s briefing, Myren elaborated upon how the county was spending the federal funding it received from the CARES Act to fight the pandemic.
He said the county received over $5.5 million in funding from the federal government, $3.2 million of which was retained by the county and the rest allocated to the towns of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough and Mebane. Notable uses for these funds include over $1.2 million in emergency housing assistance to prevent evictions and foreclosures and over $500,000 to support county employees working remotely.
In the later stages of the meeting, the BOCC addressed Commissioner Renee Price’s resolution to adopt Juneteenth as an official paid county holiday.
She discussed how Black people go along with the celebration of Independence Day on July 4, but said that holiday isn’t a celebration of true freedom for people of color and those of African descent.
She also said this was part of a larger movement for governments at every level to pass similar resolutions that has been picking up steam in recent years, with Wake County passing their own version of the resolution this July.
“This really is to acknowledge that Juneteenth really is a day of freedom for African Americans,” Price said.
The Board unanimously passed the resolution and agreed to have the county manager’s office send it to all other counties in the state.
The BOCC will continue to discuss these issues and more at their next work session on Sept. 10 and their next business meeting on Sept. 15.