Orange County leaders did not fulfill their 40-year promise to build a community center on landfill-saddled Rogers Road, but it did close the center that determined neighbors have made their own.
Chapel Hill town officials shuttered the Purefoy Drive facility on Aug. 11 because of several permitting and building code concerns, including worries over jammed windows, insufficient fire exits and more.
"It's just one thing after another," says David Caldwell Jr., an organizer for the popular community center in a historically black, low-income Chapel Hill neighborhood long blighted by a leaky landfill and a dearth of sewer and water.
Rogers Road residents have wanted a community center since making a pact with town leaders four decades ago to house the Orange County landfill for 10 years in exchange for amenities such as sidewalks and a recreation center.
Forty years passed. The landfill remains, and the upgradesincluding needed sewer and water accessnever materialized. Officials never delivered on the center either, but RENA made one out of a 70-year-old rental home, at least until this month.
Fixing the center would cost roughly $36,000, Caldwell says, cash leaders of the Rogers-Eubank Neighborhood Association (RENA) won't pay for a home with a $26,000 tax value.
According to a memo last month from Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil, the center was not properly permitted for its uses and failed to meet building and fire safety codes.
"These were life-safety issues," said Chapel Hill spokeswoman Catherine Lazorko. "If they can come back into compliance, that would be a different picture."
Stancil said the town has offered to help RENA in identifying a better location. That's no small task for the upstart center, Caldwell said.
In 2013, Orange County commissioners plan to close the landfill, a portion of which is unlined because it was built prior to regulations requiring such protections to prevent contents from seeping into the soil and groundwater. Residents in the historic community blame health problems and polluted well water on the dump.
Local officials have balked on assisting the community over the years, rejecting the long-ago agreement as a nonbinding, unofficial accord made by previous leaders, Caldwell said.
An ongoing local taskforce of Orange County, Chapel Hill, Carrboro and RENA leaders is charged with finding solutions to provide public utilities and a community center in the Rogers Road neighborhood, although leaders have differed on how to pay for a project that is expected to exceed $6 million.
Caldwell admits RENA failed to obtain the proper permits, but he adds organizers were not trying to "pull the wool over people's eyes" and duck regulations.
He added that the center's programswhich included back-to-school drives, community meals, tutoring, literacy courses and moreare on hold until RENA finds another site.
"The longer the programs lay dormant, the harder it is to wake it back up," Caldwell said. "That's what I am afraid of."