What We’re Watching this Spring

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There’s a lot on tap during the next couple months in local government. Raleigh City Councilors are getting ready to pass a new zoning code. Wake County school board members need to vote on a new member to replace Deborah Goldman, the second member to be replaced this year. They also need to hire a new superintendent. Wake County Commissioners want to take power away from the school board for building new schools. And the board and commission need to work together if they want to get a new school building bond on the ballot this fall.

You might call it a busy season for local government. In truth, it’s always a busy time for local government. Once they figure out all these big issues on their collective plates, it’ll be time to pass a new budget before the fiscal year begins July 1. Then the entire City Council and some School Board members will have to start campaigning for this fall’s election.

Raleigh’s Getting a New Zoning Code
The Unified Development Ordinance, UDO for short, is a more or less complete rewrite of the city’s zoning code. Regular Record readers may already know more than they ever wanted to about the politics and policy going into this new code.

Councilors, most notably Mary-Ann Baldwin, say they want to pass the UDO this month. They may not get all the kinks worked out in the next two weeks, but they’re getting close. The city could have a new code in place in another four weeks. It will take six months to take effect.

The mantra at the beginning of this process was to put “the right ruled in the right place” to make things easier and more predictable for developers and residents.

The UDO has been in the works for almost three years and it’s a complicated document. The idea behind the UDO is to simplify the existing zoning code, which has been amended, appended and obfuscated for more than two decades. There are amendments on top of amendments as the city’s elected leaders have worked to change the laws regulating land use as the population has exploded, first moving out and creating new suburbs and now moving towards a more dense urban core.

The UDO will shape the way Raleigh looks and feels for decades to come.

Once the full City Council adopts the UDO, it will be time to map the whole thing out. That’s when the public will really get engaged on the new code, when they have a visual representation of how the city will be set to grow in the decades to come. The mapping could take at least a year and will again require public hearings, careful study and full City Council approval.

School Board Want Ads
The Democrat-controlled School Board last week elected Tom Benton to replace Republican Chris Malone, who left at the end of last year to take a seat at the North Carolina House of Representatives. But now there’s another open seat.

Almost simultaneously, news came our from the Wake County Board of Elections that Deborah Goldman, another Republican on the so-called nonpartisan board, moved out of the county and is no longer eligible to serve on the school board. So now the Democrats will get to fill another open seat and secure their majority on the board that has seen turmoil and turnover during the past couple years.

When Chris Malone left the board, it took a month for members to bring on a new member. Chair Keith Sutton said last week that he expected the process to take about the same amount of time for this seat.

The candidates will have to live in District 9, made up primarily of Cary and Apex. Resumes are due Feb. 22.

The board is also in the process of a national search to find a new superintended. This will be the third superintendent in as many years.

A Fight May Be Brewing
All this is going on at the same time as the County Commission and the School Board are working together to put a new school bond on the ballot. The county uses bonds, which need voter approval and get a lower interest rate, to build new schools and complete renovations.

Complicating the bond debate is a move by the County Commission to usurp the authority to build new schools. That authority is set by the legislature. School Board members are talking about hiring lobbyists to fight this out in the halls of the General Assembly.

There’s a lot going on in local government this spring. Stay tuned to the Record as our reporters follow these issues and more every day.

@duncanpardo

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