Items from across the Triad and beyond
HAGAN ASKS VA TO INTERVENE IN CLAIMS BACKLOG IN WINSTON-SALEM
US Sen. Kay Hagan has asked Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki to send senior officials to the regional office in Winston-Salem to help the agency resolve severe backlogs in disability claims. Hagan cited a recent memo from the Department of Veteran Affairs indicating that more than 7,000 veterans have been waiting at least a year for the office, which also serves Fayetteville and Cape Fear region, to rule on their disability claims in a March 28 letter. For more than 700 veterans, Hagan said, the wait has exceeded two years.
“I’m sure you agree that these delays, which fall far short of the agency’s stated goal of processing all claims within 125 days, are deplorable,” Hagan wrote.
The senator said the Winston-Salem office has the second highest wait time in the Southeast. Last year, the US General Services Administration filed a “load-bearing study” finding that the 6th floor of the Hiram Ward Federal Building, which houses the Department of Veterans Affairs, was “an extreme fire load and possible structural overloading concern” because of the weight of filing cabinets. A General Services Administration spokeswoman eventually said that the agency “does not currently consider the 6th floor to be in danger of collapsing.”
Hagan told Shinseki: “While the figures alone are alarming, I am also greatly concerned that the current system in place in the Winston-Salem office is not capable of clearing this backlog.” — JG
SOUTH ELM STREET REDEVELOP- MENT PLANS OUTLINED
A memo last week from Sue Schwartz, Greensboro’s planning director, articulated specifics of the plan for the South Elm Street redevelopment project. The city sold the site south of Lee Street and straddling South Elm Street, which is about seven acres, to the South Elm Development Group on March 19.
The group, headed by Bob Isner and Bob Chapman, plans to build two 500-space parking decks, a 150-room hotel, 210 apartments and about 100,000 square feet of “adaptable use space” for commercial or educational purposes. Construction, recruitment of sub-developers and “continued community and neighborhood outreach” are among the next steps, according to Schwartz’s memo. The redevelopment plan is split into five phases and is anticipated to be fully completed by 2025. The total anticipated investment for the project is $81.7 million, which includes $11 million of public funds.
The redevelopment of the land has long been a major goal for the city but the project has hit several snags over the years, including contamination from previous development and nearby residents who were frustrated by the process and floated a proposal for a hotel there. The city has received grants from the Environmental Protection Agency and Housing and Urban Development to clean up the contamination of the site.
The future path of the downtown greenway borders part of the land, and developers say they aim to help make the location a gateway to the city. A 66-page redevelopment plan and other information are available on the group’s website, southelmstreet.com. — EG
PARMON FILES BILL TO PROTECT RELATIVE CAREGIVERS
NC Sen. Earline Parmon (D-Forsyth) is among a trio of lawmakers who have filed the Caregiver Relief Act which requires employers to provide the same protections that parents enjoy under the federal Family Medical Leave Act to siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, stepparents and parents-in-law to care for relatives without fear of losing their jobs.
The bill, which was filed on March 28, notes that North Carolina ranks 6th in the nation in the number of children living in households where a grandparent provides the child’s primary care. The number of such grandparents has increased from 86,000 in 2007 to 113,000 in 2011 as the state’s population has aged.
Other Senate sponsors include Sen. Ellie Kinnaird or Orange County and Sen. Angela Bryant of Nash County, both Democrats. Rep. Alma Adams (D-Guilford) and Rep. Larry Hall (D-Durham), the Democratic leader, are the primary sponsors of the House version. Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) has also signed on in support of the bill. — JG