EDITOR’S NOTE: We originally sat down with Nancy McFarlane before the Dix lease issue came up in the North Carolina General Assembly. This week we followed up with questions about the lease.
Believe it or not, the news world is already starting to gear up for election season. It seems like just yesterday Nancy McFarlane was elected as Raleigh’s mayor.
She let us know that we can expect to see her name on the ballot in October. Before everything ramps up, we decided to catch up with her and see how she feels about her first year in office.
The Record: How was your first year in office?
McFarlane: It was good. It was busy. Of course I think it’s the best city in the world to be mayor of. But you know, I thought it was a really good year. Raleigh performed really well. You look at other cities across the nation and we’re continuing to thrive and grow.
Record: Is there anything that you didn’t accomplish during your first year that you’ll try to take on in your second?
McFarlane: I think that the biggest thing that did not happen last year was not moving the transportation schedule forward. I’m really hoping that we can see some movement on that this coming year.
Record: In your opinion, what is your biggest accomplishment this year? What are you most proud of?
McFarlane: Getting the Dix Park lease, without a doubt. The city has been working on that for — I think it’s nine years. It’s a very long time. When I was on the Council, I was engaged in some degree. There’s so much community interest in that. Two years ago when I was running for mayor, everywhere I went people asked me, “When are we going to make Dix a park?” I’m just really thrilled that we were able to get that lease accomplished and just get ready for that. It’s just an incredibly asset for the city and the state.
Record: How do feel about the state trying to cancel the Dix Park lease with the city?
McFarlane: I think that it sends a very negative message to anyone that wants to do business with the state of North Carolina. They do not feel an ethical or moral obligation to honor their contracts.
Record: What’s the city doing to fight this?
McFarlane: It’s complicated legally and we’re certainly looking at every avenue open to us. I just think we’re getting such strong support from businesses, from people, from the community. I guess there’s a part of me that hopes that the legislature won’t go through with this because where does it end? If they can undo a contract that was signed and sealed, can they go back and undo every contract? I would be worried about having a contract [with the state]. Is there a two-month limit, a two-year limit? Every time that we get a new legislature does that mean they can undo anything that they didn’t get enough money for? It just sends a really bad message.
Record: What are your thoughts on HB150, the bill that would prohibit most building regulations in residential zoning districts?
McFarlane: It takes away the fundamental right of people to have a say in what their community looks like. That’s the issue. Every city, every town is different around the state and sometimes people might choose where they want to live because of that. We have a really great process. Just [Tuesday] it just announced we’re the fastest-growing city in America. Well, there’s a reason for that. And a lot of that is the processes and the things that we do by engaging the community to make us the best place to live. Why the legislature wants to take that away from us is a mystery to me. You would think that you would look at the most successful place and model after that. Look at best practices, but this piece by piece dismantling, it’s just really concerning to a lot of people.
Record: It seems that out of nowhere you just have to take on the state.
McFarlane: There are a lot of things that seem to be against cities in general. Certainly HB150. The metro mayors are all opposed to this. The issues that are affecting Raleigh are affecting everybody. Mayors across the state are really concerned with what’s going on. I certainly never expected the state to go back and break its word and it is disconcerting and it’s not what, as a mayor, we want to be focused on. We’re focused on making this city what people want it to be, building that economic engine. All of those things are going to make the city run really well and it’s unfortunate that so many mayors across the state are going to have to focus on these other issues that are coming at them.
Record: We heard a lot about increasing density and traffic and how it’s going to affect our road infrastructure. How would you like the city tackle these traffic concerns as the city becomes more dense?
McFarlane: We have a 30-year comprehensive plan that is really based on having a viable public transportation system as infrastructure to support that. We’re predicted to have a million people or so move here and we are at such a fortunate place and time where we can put in that plan. We know it’s going to take a long time to build it out, but the most important thing is to have that plan for the transportation so as we grow and develop, we can sort of ratchet up that transit to really support that, rather than having everybody just be car dependent.
We’re really seeing more people are asking for it. Two demographics that are growing: single people that don’t want to drive a car and us aging baby boomers that either will choose not to or cannot. Those are the kind of people that are asking for a more compact, livable, walkable area. But if you can’t link those areas with transit to really get around, we’re just going to keep creating the car problem.
Record: Do you think the proposed transit referendum for a half-cent sales tax will happen this year?
McFarlane: I personally just think it’s going to take discussion. One of the key parts of the development between the plan and the referendum is education. You gotta sell it. I mean people have got to understand why it’s important: why they should pay a half-cent sales tax. What it is, how does it benefit everybody. It’s a county-wide plan. It’s obvious in certain parts of Raleigh, or cities, or if you’re driving down Route 1 from Wake Forest to Raleigh you sure get it. But we’re asking for a county-wide referendum and I think that it’s very important to really be able to tell people, here’s what it’s like now, here’s the expected growth, here are your travel times, here’s what we think we can do with this amount of money and how we can leverage it for other monies. Until we get that plan worked out at the county level then you can’t start that education process. I think it’s only fair to people to let them know what they’re asking them to vote for.