Eugene Weeks officially joined the Raleigh City Council Tuesday to represent District C after being sworn in at the beginning of the meeting. Following the swearing in, councilors went through their usual business of approving new solar panels, reviewing street plans and street closures, and ended their meeting by approving a very contentious zoning case.
The other matter of council business now that James West has moved on to fill the seat vacated by Harold Webb on the county commission is appointing someone to serve as mayor pro-tempore. Or in this case, two someones. Mayor Charles Meeker appointed At-large councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin to serve as the mayor pro tem for the next six months and District A’s Nancy McFarlane for the six months after that before the new council comes in late next year.
After more than a year of wrangling, planning commission debate and 10 hours in the council’s comprehensive planning committee, council gave final approval to rezone a tract of land at the intersection of Morgan and Hillsborough streets.
The property, known as the Bolton tract, has been vacant for some time. The rezoning sets the stage for a large residential and commercial development along Hillsborough Street between NC State University and the state capitol.
Zoning cases tend to take a while to make it through the city beaurocracy, but this project faced opposition from neighbors and had a harder time than most getting to final approval. Even at the council meeting, when the big issues tend to already be resolved, this case was the subject to about half an hour of questioning from Thomas Crowder, who represents District D where the property is located.
Crowder went almost point by point through the conditions of the zoning, asking questions of the developer’s representatives and city staff.
Meeker attempted to cut Crowder off a couple times, but Crowder resisted.
“We’re sitting here with words that will be interpreted,” Crowder said, and he wanted the interpretations on the record.
Former councilor Phillip Isley, an attorney who retired from his District E seat last year, showed up at the meeting to represent the developer. He accused Crowder of “hijacking to meeting.”
“If you don’t like the project, don’t vote for it,” Isley said.
Crowder didn’t vote for the rezoning, and it passed 6-1.
Lightner contract kerfuffle
Two years ago when the Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center seemed like a done deal, City Manager Russell Allen gave the go ahead for the designers with Kling Stubbins to continue their work without having a signed contract amendment to pay for it.
That bill for $147,000 came due a couple weeks ago, along with a total invoice of more than $455,000. Council did decide to pay for the amendment even though there was no signed contract at the time, but not before two of the councilors opposed to the center chastised the city manager for letting the work go ahead.
In a committee meeting last week when this item came up for discussion, Crowder said, “I am extremely disappointed that we had a consultant go forward without a contract.”
At that same meeting City Manager Allen said that with these types of building projects, contract amendments “can take up to three months to get ready.”
Allen said it is a common practice for work to go ahead without a contract amendment in place.
But City Attorney Tom McCormick told councilors that under state law the city should have signed contract amendments in place before a consultant does the work.
Crowder kicked off the debate on this issue Tuesday when he made a motion “that the city should follow state law.
“Obviously we ought to try to follow state law,” Allen said, but “there are times when we need some flexibility.”
Councilors tabled the discussion for two weeks so city staff can look into the issues involved, the debate will continue at their first meeting in November.
Editor’s note: The editor’s spouse has publicly opposed the zoning case in this article, but her views are her own and in no way effect the Record’s reporting on this issue.