Council questions new annexations, says no to new floodplain rules

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City councilors put the brakes on the city-initiated annexation program for residential properties Tuesday. They will still consider annexations that involve commercial areas and other properties that don’t require assessment fees.

During a work session last week councilors agreed that assessment fees charged when new residential units are connected to the city’s sewer and water systems are too high given the current state of the economy. Councilors are in the beginning stages of reviewing assessment fees and whether they put too high a burden on property owners who don’t ask the city for the annexation.

The city’s annual annexation program expands Raleigh’s boundaries and tries to fill “donut holes” in the city limits. City Manager Russell Allen asked council to give him some direction on the plan this year, so he can “stop the staff effort and save us some time” as they work out the annual annexations.

Commercial properties and areas that won’t require assessment fees will be back before the council at their November 19 meeting.

Floodprone area regs get a no

A controversial text change to limit development in flood-prone areas received a unanimous no vote from city councilors Tuesday. More than 50 people showed up for this week’s meeting wearing red to show their opposition to the proposed rules.

The change would have tightened regulations for areas that are considered within the 100-year floodplain, in other words they have a 1-percent chance of flooding for any given year. The restrictions would have only allowed parking lots, farming and recreational uses such as golf courses or parks in the areas. The rules would have also eliminated the exception for lots smaller than half an acre.

Planning Director Mitch Silver told the council he thought the rules were “premature” because the city did not have enough data to make a good map of the 100-year floodplain. But, Silver said, the council would need to act on similar rules sometime in the future because “this could put future properties at risk.”

State law meets contract realities

File this under The Continuing Lightner Center Saga, and it’ll likely be the oddest item in that file.

Councilors voted 5-3 Tuesday to follow state contract law. This particular piece of the saga goes back to the end of last year when the city manager gave the design team working on the Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center the go-ahead to continue working on the design without having a contract amendment approved by city council.

During a council committee meeting a couple weeks ago, at-large councilor Russ Stephenson and District D’s Thomas Crowder took Allen to task for moving forward with the work without their approval.

Allen argued that at that point the Lightner project was moving forward quickly and waiting for a contract to be written up and signed would have delayed the design. He said he had clear instructions from the council at that time to keep the project on track.

In that same meeting, City Attorney Tom McCormick said that under North Carolina law governing municipal contracts the city should have had a signed and approved contract before allowing the designers to move forward. He also said that if there is no contract, than the designer and the city official who approved the work were the ones ultimately at risk if the city didn’t want to pay the bill.

City councilors did decide to pay the $140,000 bill, but two weeks ago Crowder moved for “the city to follow state law.”

Allen told the council this week that the city does have policy to follow state law, but “there are occasions, such as when council has approved a course of work” that he has moved forward without a contract.

District E’s Bonner Gaylor countered Allen, he said, “Having a policy we follow unless we don’t is not having a policy.”

Before the vote, Allen said, “If you pass that motion I will take that to mean that I should never take that risk, even if I think it hurts the city.”

The motion passed 5-3, with Mayor Charles Meeker, at-large councilor Mary-Ann Badwin and District C’s Eugene Weeks voting against.

Solar roof for the convention center

Councilors gave approval for a new practical use for the roof of the convention center. The city will lease the roof to FLS Energy and PowerWorks Electric so they can install an array of solar panels to general electricity to sell back to Progress Energy.

The roof-top array will generate about 500 kilowatts of electricity by using 60 percent of the roof, with an annual total in the area of 725,000-kilowatt hours. That will be enough energy to power 100 homes for a year.

The city already has one solar array operating at the E.M. Johnson Water Treatment Plant and another one at the Neuse River Waste Water Treatment Plant expected to come online in coming months.

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