2018 Year in Review

2018 for Raleigh City Council began December 5, 2017 when the current Council held its first meeting. On that day our first act was to recognize Tom McCormick, Raleigh’s long time City Attorney who retired after more than 40 years with the City.

Our second order of business was to establish several Council committees. There was disagreement between the Mayor and Council about committee membership. These disagreements are rare. Historically, Mayors reach consensus by meeting with Councilors prior to the first meeting. However, this term consensus was not reached. The Mayor presented a list of committee assignments that contrasted with the desires of Council members. Ultimately, Council voted 5-3 for the following assignments (the asterisks represent the Committee chair).

  • Economic Development & Innovation – McFarlane,* Thompson, Branch, Stewart
  • Healthy Neighborhoods – Stephenson, * Stewart, Mendell
  • Transportation & Transit – Branch,* Crowder, Cox
  • Growth & Natural Resources – Crowder,* Thompson, Mendell, Cox, Stephenson

Environment

Durant Nature Preserve – One of Council’s first actions was to authorize the City Manager to execute a contract for a study that will determine the most appropriate and cost-effective design for improving the dam and spillway at the Upper Lake, and in turn, preserve the prominent six-acre lake that flows over the earthen dam into a 100-foot-long change toward the Lower Lake. The study is expected to take 18 months to complete sometime in mid-2019.

The Richland Creek Watershed – The Richland Creek Watershed protection overlay district encompasses an area from Falls of Neuse east to Capital Blvd and from Durant Road north to the city’s boundary with Wake Forest. The watershed protection overlay district was established by the State of North Carolina to protect the water quality of the Neuse River.

During the request to rezone land at the corner of Dunn and Falls of Neuse it was learned that the City code requires lots within all watershed protection areas when developed need to preserve 40% of the lots as forest. This requirement compels developers to either preserve existing trees or to plant new trees to provide the 40% coverage. Many developers disagreed with this requirement and routinely went to the City’s Board of Adjustment to request a variance. Routinely, developers were granted variances reducing the 40% preservation requirement to 0%.

One of my first acts this term was to bring this state of affairs with the Board of Adjustment to Council. In December Council authorized the City Manager to send a letter to the Board of Adjust instructing the Board to enforce the forestation requirement and to discontinue the practice of granting variances to the requirement.

Swift Creek Land Management – This year Council voted unanimously to execute an interlocal agreement to protect the Swift Creek Watershed area. In the 1990s the County of Wake, the City of Raleigh, and towns of Apex, Cary, and Garner adopted by mutual resolution the Swift Creek Land Management Plan to protect the water supply within the watershed. An accompanying Interlocal Agreement (ILA) was developed at that time as part of a multi-jurisdictional effort to administer land use guidance for the Swift Creek watershed area. For reasons unknown, the original ILA was never officially executed by the participating communities charged with administering the plan.

Despite the lack of formal agreement each community has followed the guidance contained within the plan for the last two decades, however with no agreed-upon procedure for amending land use designations within the watershed or a process for changing jurisdictional boundaries, land use issues have arisen from time to time. Most recently the lack of formal guidance was brought to Council’s attention during an Extraterritorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) Relinquishment case in early 2017.

The ILA was revisited in response to Council’s noted concerns and the concerns of the Swift Creek Management Plan partner communities and has resulted in formalizing a process to resolve issues. The Public Utilities and City Planning departments, in coordination with the City Attorney’s Office, have been involved with the development of the ILA and the agreement is fully consistent with the City of Raleigh Comprehensive Plan. The other jurisdictions party to the agreement have received approval of the respective governing boards.

Brockton Drive Lake and Dam – Phase one has been completed. On April 18, 2017, the City entered into a contract with Carolina Civil Works, Inc., to complete construction for the first phase of the Brockton Drive Lake and Dam Project. This work includes rehabilitating the upper lake dam to prevent structural failure of the dam by removing the dam’s non-functioning outlet structure and replacing it with a 3’x 6’ box culvert, reducing the frequency and severity of flooding to adjacent structures during smaller storm events by lowering the dam embankment elevation, and improving the water quality of the lake by removing sediment, establishing a free-flowing natural stream channel, and restoring a 50-foot stream buffer along both banks of the stream channel. Phase two should begin shortly in 2019.

Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 Initiative – In September I brought to Council a proposal to participate in the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 initiative which is an initiative for whereby cities can commit to 100% clean energy. Currently more than 70 cities nationwide have made this commitment. I noted that the Sierra Club is already working with Wake County and several other North Carolina communities on this initiative and that Raleigh should do so as well. Council moved that staff will explore this initiative.

Falls of Neuse Small Area Plan and Development in Environmentally Sensitive Areas – The Falls of Neuse small area plan is also listed below under Growth and Development because the plan provides important guidance for development in the area of Falls Dam and Falls Lake Park. I include this initiative under Environment as well because the development guidance in the small area plan is there largely to protect the environmental integrity of the Falls of Nesue corridor that is borders and includes the Falls Lake watershed and Richland Creek watershed protection areas. There is tremendous pressure to expand development – particularly commercial development – in the Richland Creek watershed. A prime area for greatly intensifying development is along the now 4-lane Falls of Neuse. My initiatives for this area as well as the Falls Lake and Richland Creek watershed is to limit development in these environmentally sensitive areas that include Falls Lake, Falls Lake Park, Annie Wilkerson Nature Preserve, the Neuse River, the Neuse River Greenway, and the NC Mountain to Sea trail. My goal is to preserve as much as possible the environmentally sensitive areas throughout the city.

Growth and Development

The Aspens – During the rezoning case for commercial development at Dunn and Falls of Neuse we heard repeatedly from citizens, “don’t turn Falls of Neuse into another Capital Boulevard” in reference to the miles of strip malls that were developed along Capital during the 1960’s and 1970’s. In the aftermath of that case a developer came forward with a new proposal to build housing for seniors. Expected to be completed this year, the Aspens is a 190 unit apartment building for those 62 years of age an older. In addition, the developer has preserved nearly a third of the existing trees with more to be planted as landscaping proceeds.

Wakefield Hills – Wakefield Hills are recently constructed affordable apartment homes in Wakefield Plantation. Constructed and operated by DHIC, Wakefield Hills offers 80 two and three bedroom apartments with easy access to schools, employment, public transportation, shopping, restaurants, and entertainment. Occupancy is restricted to households of less than 60% of the median area income for Wake County with rents starting at $380 a month. Amenities include professional on-site management, handicap accessible apartments, clubhouse, picnic area, and playground.

The Piedmont – The Piedmont is another development for apartment homes now under construction. This development features about 390 market rate apartments for one of the City’s designated growth areas at Triangle Town Center. This apartment complex will consist of seven buildings, a nearly 6,000 square foot clubhouse, a 1,500 square foot swimming pool, outdoor kitchen area, electric vehicle charging stations, garages, and a dog park.

Capital Blvd North Corridor Study – Mid year 2018 the City kicked off the start of the Capital Boulevard North Corridor Study to plan the future of Capital Boulevard between I440 and I540. The study focuses on future land use and zoning, neighborhood revitalization, commercial corridor revitalization, transportation and transit improvements including improvements for pedestrians and alternative modes of transportation such as bicycles. A strong emphasis on citizen engagement and involving citizens in developing the future of Capital Boulevard is being pursued throughout this study.

Falls North Small Area Plan – The Falls North Small Area Plan revises and extends the original Falls of Neuse Small Area Plan that guides development along the Falls of Neuse Corridor between Durant Road and the Neuse River. Residents throughout the corridor participated in developing recommendations for the plan that are consistent with the character of the corridor which is dominated with residential development, Falls Lake Park, Falls Dam and Reservoir, the Annie Wilkerson Nature Preserve, the Neuse River, the Neuse River Greenway, the NC Mountain to Sea trail, and the Falls Lake and Richland Creek Watershed Protection Areas. A first draft of the plan has been delivered to City Council after review of the Planning Commission. It is expected that the plan will be finalized in early 2019.

Oberlin Village Historic Overlay District – This year Council established the Oberlin Village historic overlay district. All buildings along Oberlin Road included in the district boundary were built for African Americans during the district’s 1873 to 1970 period of significance. The Oberlin Village Historic District retains a remarkable level of integrity in spite of the fact that its built environment created from the 1870s through the 1960s has been engulfed by the city of Raleigh since 1970. The district’s historic street layout is intact and its pattern of development during the period of significance remains essentially intact. Five Raleigh Historic Landmarks, one church and four dwellings, anchor this streetscape. In addition, two Raleigh Historic Landmarks are situated just off Oberlin Road: Oberlin Cemetery and the Latta House and Latta University Site. Although annexed to Raleigh in 1920, Oberlin remained a distinct segregated district until after World War II. It was my honor to vote to establish this important historic overlay district to help preserve this part of Raleigh’s past.

Capital Plaza Hotel – The Capital Plaza Hotel was once a centerpiece of Capital Boulevard. Today it is a burned out wreck serving as the city’s most prominent eyesore. In 2018 it was hoped that this property would take a turn for the better with interest from developer to tear down the buildings and construct a new housing community. At year’s end the deal to buy the property fell through as the developer discovered various issues as they pursued their due diligence before purchase. However, in December the same developer contacted me to say that the deal wasn’t quite finished. In the meantime, the State legislature passed some new laws that might make it easier for cities to deal with abandoned commercial properties. In 2019, I will continue to pursue options to deal with this property.

Affordable Housing

The Affordable Housing Improvement Plan – adopted by City Council in 2015, identified expanding the supply of affordable rental housing as a priority need of the City. Programmatically, the plan identified soliciting and supporting tax exempt bond financed projects (referred to as the 4% tax credit) as the mechanism most effective for significantly increasing affordable housing production. Subsequently in 2016 City Council authorized an additional one-cent on the ad valorem tax rate for affordable housing, utilized here to provide gap financing for such projects as well as to continue support of 9% tax credit projects. In April/May of 2018 Council approved eight housing projects for a total of about 1,000 housing units through a combination of city and federal financing. It was my honor to support this initiative.

Transportation

Accessible Parking – Every city has special parking for those with disabilities – right? That was always my assumption. It came as a surprise to learn that Raleigh had no on-street accessible parking for those with disabilities. For me with a niece and nephew who depend on the use of wheelchairs, this was not an acceptable situation. In July I met with Raleigh’s new Director of Transportation to discuss the situation. He immediately agreed and began a survey of downtown and selecting places where we could reserve spots for accessible parking. An initial map was drawn up and reviewed by the Mayors Committee for Persons with Disability and the Accessible Task Force working with the Downtown Raleigh Alliance. In November with both groups’ support, Council adopted the plan and began implementation.

Free Parking for Attending Public Meetings – In February Council adopted a measure to provide free parking for citizens attending public meetings such as City Council meetings, Planning Commission meetings, etc. This measure was adopted to make it easier for citizens to participate in their government. One of the hallmarks of my campaigns to run for City Council has been to increase citizen engagement in their government. Although our country is a Republic where power rests with elected officials, our country is also a Democracy that encourages citizen engagement and self-government wherever possible. It is my honor to find constructive ways to support our continuing goal of government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Mitchell Mill Road Widening – The first public meeting for the Mitchell Mill road widening project was held in September 2010. By 2016 the design for the road was completed and the construction contract was awarded. After nearly two years, the project has come to completion with the installation of landscaping, shrubs, and trees in December. The road has been widened to four lanes with sidewalks, bike lanes, street lights, and a new water main installation.

Old Wake Forest – In November Council approved a project to widen Old Wake Forest Road from the intersection with Litchford to Capital Boulevard. This section of roadway will be widened to four lanes with a 17 foot wide median. The design is novel because bike lanes will be separated from the roadway. On one side of the road there will be a 12 foot wide multipurpose path and on the other side there will be an 8 foot sidewalk. Both will be wide enough to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians. This design that separates bike/pedestrian travel from the roadway where speeds will posted at 45 mph will help to reduce accidents with bikes and pedestrians that often result in serious injury.

Parks and Greenways

Neuse Crossing Greenway Connector -The Neuse Crossing Connection Project originated from a citizen-led request for a means to access the Neuse River Trail from the Neuse Crossing and surrounding neighborhoods east of the river. Existing conditions prevent access from these neighborhoods to the trail due to a stream and pond. The project includes construction of a boardwalk and trail connection that will provide safe access to residents of the Neuse Crossing neighborhood, as well as residents from other areas east of the Neuse River and NC 401, to the Neuse River Trail, Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve, and the future River Bend Park. The project will also connect to new sidewalks being constructed with the Mitchell Mill Road Widening Project.

Brentwood Park Master Plan – The Brentwood Park Master Plan was developed through a community planning process that included public workshops, citizen engagement and monthly meetings with the Citizen Planning Committee (CPC) to form consensus around the planning decisions and priorities.  The values developed by the CPC for Brentwood Park include play, nature, safety, connectivity, and accessibility. Designed to fulfill these five values, the master plan provides a flexible framework that will continue to evolve as the neighborhood grows. In April Council formally approved the plan.