Earlier this week, we previewed what would be coming up at City Council with our Agenda Preview, an in-depth look at the issues scheduled for discussion before council. Today, we bring you The Council Record, an informal but nevertheless comprehensive look at the most recent City Council meeting.
July 5, 2016
Councilors breezed through the July 5 afternoon session in less than an hour, so we’ll do our best to keep it short! [Editor’s note: at 3,600+ words, we’ve apparently failed in this endeavor.]
Councilor Bonner Gaylord was absent and excused.
As always, the meeting began with an invocation from a local religious leader, this time led by Father Misaeil Abou El Kheir of the St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church. This was followed, as always, by the Pledge of Allegiance, led by Councilor Corey Branch.
Presentations & Awards
July 5 was officially declared “Play Day” by Mayor Nancy McFarlane in honor of the new “Your Parks, Your Stories” campaign from the City’s Parks, Recreation & Cultural Resources department. Parks director Diane Sauer said the campaign was designed as a way to connect people and places.
“We use stories to learn, we use stories to imagine and we use stories to remember experiences, and those experiences are what help create those wonderful memories throughout the summer,” Sauer said.
Sauer was followed by Jackie Craig from the Green Chair Project, a nonprofit that helps provide home goods and furnishings for the homeless and other disadvantaged groups. Craig specifically thanked Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin and Mayor McFarlane for their past donations to the organization. Baldwin noted that her condominium complex, The Cotton Mill, holds an event every year where people are able to donate their furniture.
“This is such a deserving organization because you work with so many groups and make people’s dreams come true: it makes me very happy,” Baldwin said.
This sentiment was echoed by several other Councilors, including Dickie Thompson, who noted he was impressed the business model and its innovative “points system” that allows people to choose which furniture they will receive.
Councilor Russ Stephenson added that his local Wade Citizens Advisory Council was also a big supporter of Green Chair, and that he had worked with them to drive around collect furniture for the organization.
The entire consent agenda was approved without any discussion or dissent. For a full rundown of everything that was in that agenda, see our summary from earlier this week. The most interesting item approved was likely a one-year, $53,380 contract (with an option to renew for two additional years) with Deep South Entertainment for the production of the Oak City Sessions music show.
The show will air on the City’s public television station, RTN 11 and is described as such: “A new monthly music series focusing on popular local musicians and their original music premieres tonight on Raleigh Television Network channel 11. Produced by the City of Raleigh, the series is designed to help inform the world about Raleigh’s prolific and creative local music scene.”
Planning Commission Report
The Planning Commission only had two items to bring before Council this week, and both were requests to waive a two-year moratorium on new rezoning cases for properties that have recently been either approved or denied for rezoning by the City Council.
First up was a waiver for rezoning case Z-7-14. In June 2015, Council approved rezoning a parcel of land in North Raleigh at the intersection of Litchford Road and Dixie Forest Road to Neighborhood Mixed Use. The developer is now requesting a waiver so it can be rezoned Commercial Mixed Use: they want to build a self-storage facility instead.
Local land-use attorney Isabel Mattox, representing the applicant, said the only significant difference in zoning would be the allowance of a self-storage facility, which is not permitted under Neighborhood Mixed-Use. All other Commercial Mixed Use uses would be prohibited.
Mattox said a self-storage facility would be much less impactful than the developer’s original plans for a small office, and would generate significantly less traffic.
Councilor David Cox raised some concerns about a proliferation of self-storage facilities in the area, noting that a rather large one is already underway on Atlantic Avenue and that the area is populated with several more of these facilities.
Councilor Baldwin said she was happy to approve the waiver, but announced she would likely vote against the actual rezoning request for the new facility; the request for waiver was approved unanimously.
The other case seeking a waiver was Z-16-14, which would have rezoned a three-acre parcel in southwest Raleigh on Varsity Drive near Avent Ferry Road to allow for the creation of a four- or five-story apartment building consisting of 180 units. The case was denied by Council in April 2015.
The original case sought to rezone the property to “Residential Mixed Use-5 stories-Urban Limited-Conditional Use with Special Residential Parking Overlay District (RX-5-UL-CU w/ SRPOD)” The new case will toss one more acronym into the mix: “GR,” short for Green.
As with the self-storage case, Baldwin signaled her support for the waiver but indicated she may not vote for the actual rezoning; the waiver was approved unanimously.
Before wrapping up the report, Planning Commission Chairman Steven Schuster announced that this would be his final report to Council, and that new leadership would be elected at their next meeting.
“I’ll still be there, I’ll just be moving to the end of the table where I started five-and-a-half years ago,” Schuster said. He began his term as Chair in July 2014.
Baldwin thanked Schuster for helping to guide Council through the complicated Unified Development Ordinance process.
“That was no easy task,” Baldwin said.
“You lent a lot of expertise and assistance.”
City Manager’s Report
The only item from the City Manager’s report this week was an update on the Destination Dix festival scheduled for July 23 at the City’s newest and biggest park.
Kate Pearce from the City’s parks department, who has been spearheading the Dix efforts in general, was on hand to discuss the plans for Destination Dix.
The event will feature a total of 14 bands playing across three stages, and offer many of the dining and entertainment options that have become synonymous with City-sponsored events, including street performers, kids rides and a Ferris wheel.
Even more importantly than that, “There’ll be plenty of food and beverage options,” Pearce noted.
“20 food trucks, picnic areas so people don’t have to stand, and we’ll have a number of other vendors on hand as well.”
Pearce added that the City would be offering seven pickup locations throughout downtown Raleigh and NC State’s Centennial Campus, as there would not be a lot of parking available on the Dix Grounds the day of the festival.
“There’ll be 40 shuttles running consistently; we’re estimating around 5,000 people per hour.”
For those who choose to bike to the park, Pearce said, “valet bike parking” will be offered care of Spokes and Oaks.
For a full breakdown of the event, you can visit the City’s website for it here.
Parks, Recreation & Greenway Advisory Board
The first item from the Parks board was a request to rename the Lee Street Park to the “Junious N. Sorrell Park.” Board chair Mike Surasky said Sorrell had been a longtime volunteer and advocate for the park since it was opened more than 30 years ago. Sorrell, Surasky said, had helped bring a water fountain, benches, play equipment and other amenities to the small .3 acre site.
“He’s retired, but you wouldn’t know it,” Councilor Branch said of Sorrell.
The renaming was approved unanimously.
The board’s next item was its annual work plan, which was quickly approved by Council. A summary of that plan can be viewed here.
The final item from the board was a request for approval for the schematic design phase of the Sierra/Lineberry Drive Park. Without seeing the presentation, Councilors quickly voted to approve the design. Following this approval, Council Thompson asked to see the presentation, which highlighted the future plans for this 2.4 acre park in Southwest Raleigh. As it’s a relatively small site, the most significant part of the pans dealt with a small on-site shelter, similar to the ones found in other Raleigh parks.
Once the design is finalized, it is expected that the construction of the park will be finished sometime next year.
Report of Mayor and Council Members
Councilor Cox was the first to give his report, and announced that he had recently had the pleasure of participating in a video “Can’t Stop That Raleigh Feeling” which allowed him to show off his dancing abilities and which has so far generated more than 11,000 views. The full video can be viewed here.
Next up was Councilor Branch, who said he wanted to get a summary of the City’s various boards and commissions and get information on their goals and purposes. We’d be interested in seeing this as well! Once the report comes out, maybe we can run a poll to find out what everyone’s favorite board or commission is. For this reporter, it doesn’t get any better than Raleigh’s Planning Commission, but to each their own.
Branch was followed by Councilor Crowder, who once again brought up the need for a formal conduct/ethics policy for Council members. Crowder said she wants to form a committee to help establish a clear code of conduct for Councilors. The committee would be made up of a number of different players, including former Councilor Wayne Maiorano, attorneys from the City, officials from the UNC School of Government and more.
McFarlane said the UNC School already has a template for ethics policies, and City Attorney Thomas McCormick added that the existing law for the ethical conduct of Council members is already quite clear. Crowder persisted, saying that the committee could help clarify a lot of issues and bring better transparency to the City’s governance. Her motion for the formation of said committee was approved unanimously.
Editor’s note: In our Agenda Preview, we reported that several members from the Police Accountability Taskforce were set to address Council regarding their ongoing concerns regarding the Raleigh Police Department’s enforcement tactics. Included in the Agenda were two memorandums concerning the City’s response to these concerns, which we assumed would be discussed as well.
While the members from PACT did address Council, and held a brief press conference before the meeting, Mayor McFarlane noted that an official response from Chief Deck-Brown will be issued by the end of July.
We published copies of those memorandum yesterday, so if you want a sneak peek at that response, all you have to do is click here.
Requests & Petitions of Citizens
Rolanda Byrd, the mother of Akiel Denkins, a Southeast Raleigh man who was killed while fleeing Raleigh police earlier this year, was the first to speak.
Byrd began her presentation with a discussion of the City’s recent decision to implement body-worn cameras for its police force. She said it was crucial that officers not be able to turn off the cameras at-will, and expressed concerns over a recent move by the State Legislature that would severely restrict access to footage from those body-worn cameras. Byrd said it was crucial that police be held accountable and build a better sense of trust with the entire Raleigh community.
Byrd was followed by Wanda Hunter, who cited statistics showing that African American males are much more likely to be stopped by the police despite a lower likelihood of having contraband on them, and also much more likely to be arrested on a low-level marijuana charge. Hunter said that Council should work to provide a forum to dialogue these kind of issues and noted that they seemed to have plenty of time to devote to rezoning cases because “all of you are funded by developers except for Mr. David Cox,” but apparently lacked the time to discuss issues of police accountability.
“I beseech you, the leaders of this City, to look into this, it’s become an issue, it’s become a problem because policing in my community is not the same as in your community and injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Hunter said, quoting Martin Luther King Jr.
Tara Romano from NC Women United was the next to address Council on behalf of PACT. As an advocate for survivors of domestic and sexual assault, Romano said she was very disturbed with stories she had heard of the way victims are treated by the police. This treatment, she said, including forcing women to take lie detector tests when bringing rape charges and discouraging them from reporting rapes that happened while they had been drinking.
Although PACT had also planned to present several videos to Council, an apparent technical problem prevented the videos from playing. Akiba Byrd, the leader of PACT, said they would be back to present those videos and address further concerns related to RPD policing tactics.
The two other petitioners set to speak, both of them local business owners seeking permission to install sidewalk dining options, were not present.
The first Public Hearing was for an annexation request at 2409 Gresham Lake Road, which was quickly approved by Council.
This was followed by a continuation of the Hearing for Z-7-16, which sought to rezone a single-family home on Jones Franklin in order to allow its owners, a Christian Pregnancy Center named a Hand of Hope, to operate there. As the site sits next to Preferred Women’s Health, an abortion clinic, the case generated a significant amount of controversy.
The hearing was held open due to a misprint in a notice sent to surrounding neighbors about the date and time the case was to be presented. Neighbor Ed Bell, who was supportive of the case, was the only one to speak, although a large crowd holding “Just say no to rezoning Z-7-16! Don’t permit harassment!”
Kay Crowder read from a prepared statement, and was the only Councilor to speak on the case.
Crowder said the case was inconsistent with a wide range of Land Use policies, including LU 4.4 (Reducing VMT Through Mixed Use) LU 4.5 (Connectivity), LU 5.2 (Managing Commercial Development Impacts), LU 5.6 (Buffering Requirements), LU 7.4 (Scale and Design of New Commercial Uses) and LU 8.3 (Conserving, Enhancing, and Revitalizing Neighborhoods). We’ve included full summaries of the Land Uses policies at the bottom of the article, but if you want to read the full chapter on the City’s Land Use Policies, go ahead and click here (warning: lengthy PDF).
Interestingly enough, none of these inconsistencies were noted in the staff report on the case, which noted that the rezoning was consistent with several Land Use policies: LU 1.2 (Future Land Use Map and Zoning Consistency), LU 1.3 (Conditional Use District Consistency Policy), LU 2.6 (Zoning and Infrastructure Impacts Policy), LU 10.3 (Ancillary Retail Uses Policy), T 4.8 (Bus Waiting Areas Policy) and T 4.15 (Enhanced Rider Amenities.) Those last two are classified as transportation, rather than land use, policies.
When the Planning Commission voted to recommend the case, it did so unanimously because they found it to be in compliance/consistent with City code.
Of course, the Land Use inconsistencies were not Crowder’s only objections. She noted that rezoning only one lot on a dead end street would have a negative impact on all the other properties, and that it would make more sense if several of the lots were rezoned at the same time. She also argued that allowing a low-impact, one-story office use was not the highest and best use of the property, as a higher-intensity development would likely generate more tax revenue.
Crowder, who never brought up abortion or Hand of Hope specifically, said the case was simply not in the public interest as defined by the City’s Comprehensive Plan. When she finished reading from her statement, Crowder motioned to deny the case. Councilor Baldwin seconded the motion, and the case was denied unanimously by Council.
The next Public Hearing was for rezoning case Z-9-16, which would allow for a new office building on a piece of land at 5932 Sandy Forks Road that is currently zoned to allow only for residential development.
While Mayor McFarlane expressed concern about the “steady march” of office development along Sandy Forks, attorney Michael Birch said the new office would be built by the Kimberly Development Group, which has developed the other Sandy Forks office projects as well and that their expansion plans had a definite “end point.”
Councilor Thompson said approving the case seemed to be the logical next step, and noted that it had received unanimous support from the local Citizens Advisory Council. The case was approved unanimously.
The next item for Public Hearing was CP-1-16, an omnibus text change amendment that will remove or modify a lot of outdated language from the City’s Unified Development ordinance. You can read the 24 or so pages worth of changes here, but we thought Councilor Branch’s one-line summary was quite good: “The goal is to remove things from the plan that have already been accomplished.”
Councilor Cox said he had a number of questions related to the proposed changes and suggested sending it to committee, but it was pointed out that the Growth & Natural Resources Committee had already discussed the change and recommended it for approval. The change was then approved unanimously by Council.
Text change TC-8-16, which will “modify the Construction Surety, Acceptance and Warranty provisions for development-related improvements to reallocate a period the required construction period to allow for more time for infrastructure completion” was held at the table by Mayor McFarlane, who said there were still a few details she needed to be sure of.
The penultimate Public Hearing Tuesday was for TC-9-16, a text change that would help preserve the character of the North Ridge South neighborhood by creating a Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District.
Carol Jones spoke on behalf of the residents who had initiated the change, arguing that the NCOD would help preserve the neighborhood’s long-standing characteristics. The change was initiated due to a “groundswell of concerns” following the development of two homes on a single lot.
No one spoke in opposition, although the case could potentially have a negative impact on new homebuilders seeking to build denser, more profitable homes. To this point, Jones said of the neighborhood: “This is not a business opportunity, this is a place we’ve chosen to live and raise families.”
Councilor Thompson joked that the only thing confusing about the proposal was the neighborhood’s “North Ridge South” name.
“You guys make for a textbook case of how a neighborhood can organize and educate yourselves and learn the process; you guys have been here through every step of the process, and I applaud you for that, and I know Councilor Cox and I feel very strongly this is a good case.”
The final hearing of the night was for yet another text change: TC-10-16, which would change the language in the Oberlin Village NCOD to more clearly limit the maximum building height to 25 feet. The existing language states that buildings may not be higher than “25 feet OR two stories” — TC-10 would modify the language so it reads “25 feet AND two stories.”
Although City Planner Eric Hodge joked that it was “one of our more simple text changes in terms of wording that I’ll ever bring you,” the case generated a surprising amount of discussion from both sides of the aisle.
A number of neighbors who spoke in favor of the change said they were essentially being punished for following the spirit of the law, as developers had come in and built homes that, while technically in line with the code, were much higher than 25 feet and frequently included a third-story attic that didn’t technically count as an additional story.
As these new developments tower over the existing homes, often blocking lines of sight or significantly altering the character of the street, residents said both their property values and quality of life had been negatively impacted.
Those against the change (at least two of them were homebuilders…) pointed out that the old “25 feet” designation referred to the midpoint of the roof, but the new UDO measures buildings differently, so strictly enforcing the new “25 feet” designation would make it very difficult to build decent two-story homes. Due to the small lot sizes, one homebuilder said, most buyers seek to build two-story homes.
After a lot of back-and-forth between Councilors and the City Attorney to determine whether they could both approve the proposed text change and modify the code so that the 25-feet measurement was to the midpoint of the roof, it was determined that the second part would have to be done separately.
Councilors voted to approve the case, and authorized staff to move forward with a text change that would set the building measurement standards for NCODs back to the old method of measuring to the roof’s midpoint.
Policies Z-7-16 was found to be inconsistent with:
Policy LU 4.4 Reducing VMT Through Mixed Use: Promote mixed-use development that provides a range of services within a short distance of residences as a way to reduce the growth of vehicle miles traveled (VMT).
Policy LU 4.5 Connectivity: New development and redevelopment should provide pedestrian and vehicular connectivity between individual development sites to provide alternative means of access along corridors.
Policy LU 5.2 Managing Commercial Development Impacts: Manage new commercial development using zoning regulations and through the conditional use zoning and development review processes so that it does not result in unreasonable and unexpected traffic, parking, litter, shadow, view obstruction, odor, noise, and vibration impacts on surrounding residential areas.
Policy LU 5.6 Buffering Requirements: New development adjacent to areas of lower intensity should provide effective physical buffers to avoid adverse effects. Buffers may include larger setbacks, landscaped or forested strips, transition zones, fencing, screening, height and/or density step downs, and other architectural and site planning measures that avoid potential conflicts. (See Text Box: Transitions Defined)
Policy LU 7.4 Scale and Design of New Commercial Uses: New uses within commercial districts should be developed at a height, mass, scale, and design that is appropriate and compatible with surrounding areas.
Policy LU 8.3 Conserving, Enhancing, and Revitalizing Neighborhoods: Recognize the importance of balancing the need to increase the housing supply and expand neighborhood commerce with the parallel need to protect neighborhood character, preserve historic resources, and restore the environment.