Not Getting Your Taxes Worth…

A few years ago Raleigh hired a consultant to conduct a community survey. A key result of that survey is the need to address transportation. Transportation was the top concern of our citizens.

Not long after that survey the City Manager and the Planning Department began an update of the the City’s Comprehensive Plan. It has been more than ten years since the City’s plan for transportation has been updated.

Amazingly, despite spending thousands for the community survey and thousands more on the update, the City Manager’s update to the Comprehensive Plan does NOT include transportation. It will now be several more years before the City Manager addresses transportation.

In the meantime we have no meaningful transportation plan for north Raleigh and despite spending millions on sales taxes for transit, no plan to improve bus service in north Raleigh.

Mayor Nancy McFarlane and Manager Ruffin Hall, why has updating the City’s transportation plan been sidelined?

Falls of Neuse and Policy Priorities

My wife and I moved into our house off of Falls of Neuse Road about eleven years ago. Shortly after we moved in we got involved with our neighbors as plans moved forward to widen Falls of Neuse Road from a two lane country road to four lanes. There was a plan at that time to plan ahead for a six lane super street by placing the four lanes on the outside of six lane corridor. We did not share that vision of six lane super street and advocated for a four lane parkway. That vision for a four lane parkway, except for two desired traffic lights, was adopted by City Council and is what is on the ground today.

There has always been a plan memorialized in the City’s comprehensive plan to maintain as much as possible the rural character of Falls of Neuse north of I540. Development along the corridor has been predominantly residential. Commercial development has been kept to a minimum and there is no industrial development. This character of the corridor is why thousands of people have chosen to live here and to invest in their homes. The Falls of Neuse neighborhoods together form a small town that just happen to be in a city.

It is this small town/rural character that we are working to protect. This is why some 600 people turned out a few years ago to vote overwhelmingly against a grocery anchored strip mall at Dunn and Falls of Neuse Roads. It is why this room was packed again to oppose another strip mall at Raven Ridge and Falls of Neuse.

And it is one of the main reasons why I first ran three years ago for this seat on City Council.

Falls of Neuse winds past more than a dozen neighborhoods – Wakefield, Bedford, Falls River, River Oaks, Wood Spring, Woodbridge, Daltons Ridge, River Run, Oakcroft, Falls Point, Raven Ridge, and Raven Point to name a few. On the west side of Falls of Neuse is the Falls Lake watershed protection area and home to the Annie Wilkerson Nature Preserve and Falls Lake Park. On the east side of Falls of Neuse is the Richland Creek watershed protection area. And along the south side of the Neuse river run the Neuse river greenway that is a part of the Mountain to Sea Trail. And right on Falls of Neuse is the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church founded by former slaves and in continuous existence since the 1800’s.

The Falls of Neuse corridor is a unique location in Raleigh with a unique combination of low intensity residential, natural resources, and historic sites including the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, as well as the historic Falls Community. The vision of the residents and many visitors to the area is to preserve the character of this area as much as possible.

As the elected representative and a fellow resident of this area I am committed to that preservation. Make no mistake. The matter before us today is to widen a section of Falls of Neuse between Durant and I540. This widening is simply the first phase of three phases to transform Falls of Neuse from what is today a four lane parkway into a six lane super street.

As the duly elected representative of District B I want to be very clear to the community, to my fellow Council Members, and to the Mayor, that I do not and will not support transforming Falls of Neuse into a six lane super street. Keeping Falls of Neuse Road a four lane parkway and protecting the Falls of Neuse neighborhoods and community must, in my opinion, be a policy priority. And it is a policy priority that I represent and will fight for.

To that end, let us begin the discussion for a better plan for the future not only of the Falls of Neuse but all of North Raleigh and northern Wake County.

Thank you.

Regarding Scooters

From this week’s Manager’s update:

DATE: August 3, 2018
TO: Ruffin Hall, City Manager
FROM: Michael Moore, Transportation Director
RE: Bird Scooters

Background

Approximately three weeks ago, Bird, an electric scooter sharing company, began operating in the City of Raleigh. These scooters operate like dockless bike sharing companies, where users employ a smartphone mobile application to locate, unlock and rent their service. Approximately 150 Bird scooters are currently operating in Raleigh, with distribution focused primarily in Downtown, Glenwood South, and Cameron Village. In general, commercial activity that occurs in the right of way is not permitted without enabling action by the City. No such enabling action occurred prior the deployment of these scooters by Bird.

The City Attorney’s Office has determined that dockless scooters fall into a similar classification as mopeds. Mopeds require an operator to be a minimum of 16 years old and wear a helmet while operating the moped. Neither a driver’s license nor automobile liability insurance are required. Mopeds must also have a title and be registered with the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, and while mopeds are motor vehicles, they are treated more like bicycles than automobiles or motorcycles for the purposes of North Carolina’s motor vehicle laws.

Benchmarking

Several other cities, including Austin, Charlotte, Denver, Durham, Indianapolis, San Francisco, and Washington DC have implemented or are considering trial or pilot programs to more thoroughly evaluate the multitude of issues arising from dockless scooters in their transportation environment.

These cities have identified various operating parameters, addressing issues related to scooter specifications, permissible fleet size, fleet rebalancing, scooter condition and maintenance, parking locations, insurance requirements, data sharing, permitting, fees, and penalties.

Several cities, including Charlotte, have elected to permit scooter operations under pilot program or trial permit period. This approach affords local governments the opportunity to better understand the technology, the positive and negative issues it may generate, and its potential place in the local transportation system.

Current Work and Next Steps

City Staff, including representatives from Transportation and Police, met with representatives from Bird to further confirm the operating parameters of the company. A key focus of this conversation was, and will continue to be, ensuring public safety for all rental system users relative to other users of the public right-of-way.

Staff shared the City’s intent to maintain the quality of life for our citizens and to prevent any negative impacts on local neighborhoods or businesses. To this point, staff continues to share situations and issues where scooters were operated in contradiction to Bird’s terms and conditions of use (multiple riders, no helmets, etc.) or were improperly parked, posing tripping hazards for pedestrians.

In response, Bird has provided “push” notifications to their users and has a program to provide free helmets (for the cost of shipping). They have also conducted free helmet giveaways recently at the Downtown Farmers Market.

Raleigh’s Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Commission (BPAC) is currently discussing potential frameworks to recommend to City Council that would permit the operation of dockless bikeshare systems within Raleigh’s rights of way. While somewhat different than scooter sharing companies, these systems share many similarities with dockless bikeshare systems and can be permitted and regulated through similar mechanisms. Staff anticipates a final recommendation from the BPAC on an approach to dockless bicycles at their August 20 meeting that would be presented for the Council’s consideration on September 4.

Transportation staff will continue to work closely with the City Attorney’s Office on this matter and will provide another update to Council during the “Report of the Manager” portion of the regular meeting on August 21.

ADA Compliance

Here is an email I  received from the City’s Chief of Staff regarding ADA compliance by the City:

CM Cox,

City-owned buildings are compliant with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.

While existing city buildings may not have all the ADA accessibility features that more modern facilities may have – due to the era of construction – city buildings comply with the federal statute and amendments. We can always do better and there is always room for improvement.

The obligations of State and local government for ADA compliance and program accessibility are in the Department of Justice ADA Title II regulations 28 CFR Part 35.150. I have included a link to the reference here: https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/titleII_2010/titleII_2010_regulations.htm#a35150

The civil rights law which is the ADA recognizes the following:

35.150 (b)(2)(i) – Elements that have not been altered in existing facilities on or after March 15, 2012, and that comply with the corresponding technical and scoping specifications for those elements in either the 1991 Standards or in the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS), Appendix A to 41 CFR part 101–19.6 (July 1, 2002 ed.), 49 FR 31528, app. A (Aug. 7, 1984) are not required to be modified in order to comply with the requirements set forth in the 2010 Standards.

Based on this section of the federal regulation, it is not correct that City-owned buildings are out of compliance with the ADA.

Please let me know if you need anything further at this time.

Safe Passage

Raleigh passed an ordinance in August 2015 to allow outdoor seating at restaurants and bars downtown. At the December 5, 2017 Council meeting, Council Member Crowder indicated the outdoor dining program has been in place for about 18 months and she would like for Council to request the City Manager to prepare a staff report on the status of the outdoor dining permit program. She stated she would like for the report to include the following components:

  • A list of applicants for permits since program inception with appropriate data
  • A list of permits issued and establishments issued with appropriate data
  • A listing of renewed permits by fiscal year and disposition of permits not renewed
  • A reporting of citations issued against all permits in place.
  • A reporting of complaints that have been turned over to staff about the outdoor dining in general.
  • A city-wide reporting of all easement operating outdoor seating on the public right-of-way compared to the roster of permits issued as of December 1, 2017.

She moved that the report be prepared. Her motion was seconded by Council Member Stephenson and a roll call vote resulted in all members voting in the affirmative. The Mayor ruled the motion adopted on an 8-0 vote.

The report was prepared by staff and presented at the Feb 20, 2018 Council meeting. During the presentation, Councilor Crowder noted that the final sentence of “Suggested Amendments” on pages three and four of the staff memorandum in the agenda packet reads “The City Council may wish to consider removing this allowance.”  She asked if the allowance was for meandering.  APD Crane explained the City Code is not specific in that the pedestrian path must be a straight path on the block face.  The Code does not explicitly prohibit a path that might meander down the block face (he illustrated a meandering path on one of the slides).

Councilor Crowder said that adding clarity in the Code would be helpful and would also help pedestrians who are impaired in some way.  Councilor Branch opined it is very important to keep regulations for traversing sidewalks consistent throughout, especially from a public safety standpoint, so first responders will not have to meander around tables and chairs when responding to an emergency.

Councilor Crowder said she would like to move forward with stronger language about no meandering.  Mr. Thompson, whose mother was visually impaired, agreed and said it makes no sense to allow meandering as it is an accident waiting to happen.

Councilor Crowder moved to direct staff to revise the ordinance on outdoor dining to reflect today’s discussion.  Her motion was seconded by Councilor Thompson and carried unanimously.  The Mayor ruled the motion adopted on a vote of 8-0.

Upon passage of the motion staff was directed to review the draft ordinance with the Downtown Raleigh Alliance (DRA) and downtown businesses. The draft ordinance was brought back to Council in May.

At the May meeting Council Member Crowder moved approval as presented. Her motion was seconded by Council Member Branch and put to a vote which passed with all members voting in the affirmative except Council Member Thompson who was absent and excused. The Mayor ruled the motion adopted on a 7-0 vote.

On Doubling the Allowable Homes in Raleigh

Hello everyone,

You have no doubt heard at least a little bit about accessory dwelling units – small one or even two story homes constructed on the same lot as a larger main home.

Advocates of ADUs argue that every residential property in the city should be rezoned to allow ADUs. Here is why I think this position is wrong and why I think that overlay districts are the best approach.

Raleigh is geographically a large city with 144 square miles. It has many diverse neighborhoods ranging from historic neighborhoods to newer suburban neighborhoods at Brier Creek, Leesville, Creedmoor Rd, Strickland, Falls of Neuse, Louisburg Rd, New Bern, etc. Some neighborhoods are near universities and colleges. Some are not. Some like Boylan Heights, Glenwood-Brooklyn, and Oakwood are within walking distance of downtown high rises while others are within walking distance of Falls Dam, Falls Lake, and Umstead park – very different environments.

Advocates of ADUs have proposed rezoning the entire city with all its diversity to allow two residential structures per lot effectively doubling with the stroke of the pen the allowable residential density of Raleigh. In my view this is simply too dramatic of a change and it is a change that happens without real citizen engagement or input.

I support the use of overlays because it gives each of Raleigh’s neighborhoods a chance to consider if rezoning for ADUs is right for them. If some think that ADUs are right for their neighborhood, then let’s have a process whereby that neighborhood can have them. However, let’s not be so bold to impose one neighborhood’s wishes on every other neighborhood throughout the entire city. An overlay process allows that happen.

If enough people want ADUs in their neighborhood, then with an overlay process, they can request to rezone their neighborhood. What does this mean exactly? A typical neighborhood consists of about 30 to 70 homes. If one or more people live in a neighborhood, then they can request a rezoning. Upon receiving that request the City will start a public process to consider the request. If enough people in the neighborhood agree, the request will proceed to the city’s Planning Commission and the City Council.

Like any rezoning, the request will be considered publicly. The pros and cons will be heard and ultimately Council will render a decision. If Council agrees with the request, then an overlay district will be applied to the neighborhood allowing ADUs.

There is nothing new about overlay districts. Overlay districts have been used for many years to preserve the unique characters and history of many city neighborhoods. Overlays are a recognition that one size does not fit all. And overlays are an exercise in democracy allowing each neighborhood to determine its own destiny without dictating those terms to every other neighborhood in the city.

With overlays the city can move forward allowing rezoning for ADUs where they make sense and where they are wanted. Rather than rushing to rezone the entire city to double residential density everywhere, I think that taking a more measured approach allowing each neighborhood to participate in that important decision is the best approach.

Thank you for listening.

David Cox, PhD

Raleigh City Council

Do You Rent? Know Your Rights and Obligations

An updated version of the “Tenants’ Rights and Obligations Habdbook” published by the City of Raleigh Fair Housing Board is now available. Download your copy today with this link:

In English : https://www.raleighnc.gov/content/BoardsCommissions/Documents/FairHousingHearingBoard/TenantsRightsObligationHandbookEnglish

In Spanish: https://www.raleighnc.gov/content/BoardsCommissions/Documents/FairHousingHearingBoard/TenantsRightsObligationHandbookSpanish

Times of Change

(On the decision to appoint At-Large Councilor Russ Stephenson to the GoTriangle Board of Trustees)

Every new City Council brings change. Change happened after the 2015 election when Corey Branch, Dickie Thompson, and I joined the Council. And change continued after the 2017 election with Nicole Stewart and Stef Mendell joining Council. Prior to 2015 Kay Crowder had served only part of a term. Compared to 2013 all but two of the members of Council are new.

After the current Council was seated, we began discussions regarding assignments to boards and commissions. These discussions were happening as early as January with some of them documented in the January 9th City Council minutes regarding transit:

Councilor Stephenson expressed the opinion that Council should have a stronger voice in ensuring that planning for transit is in sync with the current Council’s vision. GoTriangle was specifically cited and Councilor Stephenson noted that getting transit funding and projects rolling out is painfully slow. Councilor Stephenson asked about accelerating the process of getting service on the ground. Council specifically discussed the Raleigh Transit Authority, TPAC, CAMPO, and the GoTriangle board and Council’s memberships and relationships to these organizations.

Since January individual Council members have continued to review the memberships of these organizations. Councilor Branch serves as liaison to the Raleigh Transit Authority, Mayor McFarlane serves as member of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) that oversees roads and highways,  and Councilor Thompson serves on the Airport Authority. TPAC (Transit Planning Advisory committee) is a staff-level advisory committee. The only regional transportation or transit organization that Raleigh does not have Council representation is GoTriangle (formerly known as the Triangle Transit Authority).

From the GoTriangle website:

GoTriangle is governed by a 13-member Board of Trustees. The region’s principal municipalities and counties appoint ten (10) members to staggered four-year terms. The North Carolina Secretary of Transportation appoints three (3) ex officio nonvoting members. By law, the Board of Trustees is authorized to make decisions and enact policy for the agency.

Representation of municipalities and local governments by elected officials is as follows:

  • Cary: Jennifer Robinson, Cary Council Member
  • Chapel Hill: Michael Parker, Chapel Hill Council Member
  • Durham County: Ellen Reckhow, Commissioner
  • Durham County: Wendy Jacobs, Commissioner
  • City of Durham: Steve Schewel, Mayor
  • Orange County: Mark Marcopolos, Commissioner
  • Wake County: Sig Hutchinson, Commissioner
  • Wake Forest: Vivian Jones, Mayor

Appointed by the Secretary of Transportation:  Valerie Jordan, Nina Szlosberg-Landis, and Andrew Perkins, Jr.

The City of Raleigh had no Council representation and the majority on Council decided to appoint At-Large Councilor Stephenson. Moving to this decision was no secret. Raleigh is limited to two positions on the Board of Trustees. Given that Mary Ann Baldwin had been a member since 2009, was previously Council’s representative but gave up her seat on Council, it was logical to replace Ms Baldwin with Mr. Stephenson.

I think it is unfortunate and, frankly, unfair for Ms. Baldwin to publicly characterize this decision as political retribution. I have had no personal conflict with Ms. Baldwin. On the issues of the day such as granny flats we mostly agree.  I acknowledge that I have been a much stronger supporter of protecting neighborhoods from the negative impacts of commercial development. However, any differences of opinion on these or other issues certainly do not rise to the level of exacting political retribution.

City Council did change in 2015 and again in 2017. More than 90 million dollars a year are now being collected for transit. In my view it is important that this Council’s direction be represented well and that those tax dollars be spent responsibly and in a manner that reflects that values and goals of the current Council and the electorate.

Like Ms. Baldwin, Councilor Russ Stephenson is an At-Large Councilor elected by all the citizens of Raleigh. As an architect and urban planner Mr. Stephenson has long been involved in transit. He is well qualified to represent Council’s interests on GoTriangle’s Board of Trustees.

Councilor Stephenson’s qualifications include:

  • Professional urban design and planning experience for communities from Virginia to Florida including work incorporated in Raleigh’s 2030 Comprehensive Plan (Stanhope Village Small Area Plan)
  • Received NC American Planning Association awards for multiple town plans
  • As Planning Commissioner in 2003-2005, led efforts to draft Raleigh’s first Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Ordinance
  • Since elected to Raleigh City Council in 2005, led every Council discussion on transit and land use, including transit and land use elements of Raleigh’s 2009 Comprehensive Plan and Raleigh’s 2013 Unified Development Ordinance
  • Directly responsible for incorporating “Complete Streets” policies in Raleigh’s Comprehensive Plan to promote multi-modal mobility.
  • Directly responsible for incorporating all transit modes in the UDO’s “Infrastructure Sufficiency” standards

It is my honor to support Councilor Stephenson’s appointment to the GoTriangle Board of Trustees.

Thank you.

David Cox, PhD
Raleigh City Council, District B

Accessory Dwelling Unit Overlays

Raleigh is a large city. One regulatory idea is that neighborhoods could petition the City to allow ADUs in their area. The process is referred to as creating an overlay district.

Overlay districts are used today. Some are historic overlay districts for preserving historic sections of the city such as Oakwood or Glenwood-Brooklyn. Others are neighborhood conservation overlay districts for preserving the architectural style of an area. A good example is the Five Points East neighborhood overlay conservation district.

For ADUs there could be two ways to apply overlays. In one way, ADUs would be permitted if a neighborhood requested them (the opt in approach). In the second approach, ADUs would, by default, be allowed everywhere but neighborhoods would create an overlay to disallow their use (the opt out approach).

For this poll, there are two additional options: allow ADUs everywhere without requiring any overlays and disallow ADUs everywhere without requiring overlays.

Which ADU overlay option do you support?