Council receives petition to cut ties with sister city

Sep. 09, 2013 @ 10:21 PM

The Town Council on Monday received a petition from Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Councilman Lee Storrow asking their colleagues to sever ties with the town’s sister city, Saratov, Russia, because of the passage of restrictive gay laws by the Russian Duma.

The council took no other action other than to instruct the town staff to add the matter to a future agenda, giving citizens a chance to comment.

One resident took that opportunity Monday, urging the council to continue its relationship with the people of Saratov.

 “Do not sever ties, and I would ask that the council continue to work with them,” said Carl Schuler. “I think there is very strong and positive influence that can be brought. This relationship has been 21 years in the making. I would urge you to not dissolve the relationship this evening.”

Kleinschmidt and Storrow, who are openly gay, have written a letter to Saratov Mayor Oleg Grishenko explaining the reason behind the petition.

Grishenko has not yet responded, and Kleinschmidt said he would like to hear from the mayor and the community before the council voteson the petition.

 “We’re not asking for action on this tonight,” Kleinschmidt said.

At least one other person has asked Kleinschmidt and Storrow to reconsider asking the council to end its relationship with Saratov.

Silvia Tomaskova, a UNC professor in the Department of Slavic and Eastern European Studies, said she worries that UNC faculty and students may be prohibited from traveling to Russia and that the Russian government might deny visas for UNC affiliated staff as a result of ending the town’s relationship with Saratov.

Tomaskova told The Herald-Sun last week that cutting ties with Saratov seems like an “empty gesture” coming from the Town of Chapel Hill, which has not had any contact with Saratov for seven years.

“We would prefer to work on a meaningful and constructive conversation between Chapel Hill and the people of Saratov and Russia in general in figuring out how to help in any way to the LGBT community,” Tomaskova said. “Public gestures of this sort are not the best form of diplomacy; as a matter of fact, they are the antithesis of diplomacy.”

Russian leaders have passed a law imposing heavy fines on anyone who provides information about homosexuality to youth under 18 and banned the adoption of Russian-born children to gay couples and to any couple or single parent living in any country where marriage equality exists,and is now considering a bill that would strip gays of their parental rights. 

In other business Monday, the council:

-- Agreed to enter into the negotiation phase of its development agreement process with Grubb Properties, moving the redevelopment of Glen Lennox a little closer to reality.

The phase allows the town and developer to negotiate an agreement for long-term trade-offs and benefits of a development.

If an agreement is reached, it would provide a roadmap for how the project would be built and how it looks, for example. The agreement would also spell out what steps the developer would take to mitigate traffic congestion, school crowding and added pressures on town services.

At this point the process is non-binding and either the council or applicant may choose to end the development agreement process.

Grubb Properties’ redevelopment plans for the 1950s-era mixed-used development calls for the construction of two-story commercial spaces, new town houses and duplexes, office space and parking lots.

Located off Raleigh Road and Fordham Boulevard, the property is one of two – the other is Obey Creek – under consideration for the town’s development agreement process.

-- Moved money from the town’s fund balance to pay for repairs to the first floor of Town Hall, which suffered heavy flood damage in June. Repairs at Town Hall could take up to 12 months and are projected to cost more than $679,500.

The town’s insurance carrier will kick in about $267,000 for the work, bringing the town’s share to $412,484. 

The town’s Airport Gardens public housing community also suffered heavy flooding with damage to 18 of its 26 apartments costing $445,462.

The town’s share of the repair work will fall to $236,495 after its insurance provider pays its part, $208,967.

Money for those repairs will come from the town’s Housing Fund.