Lightner Center, bike lanes delayed; Moore Sq. master plan moves forward

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The Raleigh City Council delayed a vote in support of bike lanes on Hillsborough Street until March. Councilors again pushed the proposed public safety center back two weeks. But it did approve $184,000 to develop a master plan for Moore Square.

Bike lanes

At-large councilor Russ Stephenson said he had heard from bicycle advocates and business owners along Hillsborough Street. He said the two groups wanted time to discuss the options for bike lanes along the university portion of the street.

Council approved the delay and put the issue on its March 16 agenda.

Last week the council’s public works committee unanimously approved a resolution to put bike lanes on Hillsborough Street in the area that is currently under renovation across from N.C. State University. If council approves the move next month it will have to go to the state Department of Transportation, which maintains the street.

District B’s John Odom, who sits on the public works committee with Stephenson and Bonner Gaylord (District E), again came out in favor of the dedicated bicycle lanes. “If we’re going to put these anywhere, we should put them there,” Odom said, referring to the proximity to N.C. State.

Handicapped parking

Council passed a new ordinance Tuesday regulating handicapped parking downtown. After the new pay stations go in across downtown this summer, people with handicapped placards will have to pay the same dollar-an-hour rate that everyone else will. The difference will be that handicapped parkers will be able to park as long as they want in the metered spot, they will just have to pay for all the time.

The move on handicapped parking comes as the city prepared to put automated parking pay stations across downtown. Free parking downtown, with or without a time limit, will become a thing of the past. And the new rate will be $1 an hour, making the parking decks look like a more competitive option for downtown visitors’ parking dollars.

Moore Square redesign

Chris Counts’ Moore Square proposal won the juried design competition last year.

Councilors approved $184,000 to move forward with redesigning Moore Square. Chris Counts, a Charlottesville, Virginia landscape architect who won last year’s juried design competition for the park, will head up the planning process.

Taking the winning design, Counts and city staff will hold two public meetings, consult with stakeholders and designers, and bring a plan back to council in six months.

Site plan and subdivision appeals

A new ordinance that is supposed to bring the city into compliance with a new state law on approving site plans got pushed to committee. A state law that went into effect at the beginning of the year requires the city to have “quasi-judicial” hearings when site plan and subdivision proposals are appealed.

The new hearings will require anyone testifying to be sworn in, and only experts will be able to testify about impacts on traffic and property values.

Thomas Crowder (District D) asked the committee to look at the issue over who should be notified and who can appeal. The current version of the text change says only neighbors within 100 feet need to be notified. Crowder said he wants that to be 400 feet.

District A’s Nancy McFarlane said she had “multiple concerns” about the text change, but did not elaborate before asking it to be sent to the comprehensive planning committee.

Meeker suggested the council look into setting up a three-member panel to conduct the hearings, instead of having the appeals go before the full city council.

Lightner Center

The ongoing debate on the Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center had the same result Tuesday as it had for every meeting this year: council will take it up again in two weeks.

The $205-million building, planned for the where the current police headquarters sits at the corner of Hargett and McDowell streets, has stirred controversy since the new council came in late last year. The biggest issues on the table are the price tag and the proposed tax increase to pay for it.

Councilor Bonner Gaylord has called the proposed building excessive, given the current economic situation.

Mayor Charles Meeker and City Manager Russ Allen have argued repeatedly that the city can lock in low financing rates and cheap construction costs if the council moves forward this spring. According to Meeker, the city normally borrows money at about 4.75 percent. In Tuesday’s meeting, Meeker said the county had just gotten a 4.07 percent rate to build a new courthouse.

Meeker said city staff will continue to look at funding options that don’t include tax increases and bring it back up at the next meeting.

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