On Monday, 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.
May 3, 2016
There was a slight change at the beginning of Tuesday afternoon’s Council session: no invocation. Pastor Willie Brown from the True Gospel Pentecostal Church of Christ was unable to make it out, so a moment of silence/reflection was held instead. This was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, led by Councilor Dickie Thompson.
Presentations & Awards
Following a number of special designations and announcements — May is “National Historic Preservation Month,” the 37th annual Artsplosure will be held this weekend in downtown Raleigh, the 2016 Raleigh Hall of Fame Inductees will be sworn in October — Lisa Rowe gave a brief presentation on her organization PLM Families Together.
“We’re working to address the urgent needs of families with children; families deserve a home and no child should have to wonder where they’re going to sleep at night. In Wake County, some 4,000 children will end up homeless this year,” Rowe said.
PLM, Rowe added, also works to provide emergency short-term housing to families most at risk of separation in a shelter situation so they can live together while they work to find affordable housing.
Three items were pulled from the Consent Agenda before it was approved Tuesday, let’s run through them real quick:
- Joint Venture Rental Program: The first item on the agenda was the first to be pulled; Mayor Nancy McFarlane said it appeared that “everyone” had wanted this one pulled. A little background: The Joint Venture Rental program provides low-interest loans to developers of affordable multifamily housing in order to build or purchase and rehabilitate privately owned and managed rental units.” Since its inception in 1988, it has provided funding for more than 2,000 affordable units. Staff had recommended funding two affordable projects, although this would be dependent on the developers receiving federal tax credits in August. The first recommended project is Booker Park North, a 72-unit affordable senior living complex at 2001 Booker Drive from DHIC Inc. They are requesting $2.2 million. Next up is Amber Spring at 2000 Spring Forest Road, a 45-unit senior living complex from Evergreen Construction. They are requesting $525,000. One project that was analyzed but not recommended by staff was Beacon Ridge, a 72-unit development for low-income families planned for 1440 Rock Quarry Road in southeast Raleigh. DHIC, which is working on the project, was requesting $720,000. Staff recommended denial for a number of reasons, including a lack of surrounding elements, including a school and a grocery store. A number of Councilors, including Corey Branch, spoke out to the importance of this project to southeast Raleigh, and the need to move forward, as it is expected that by the time the development gets built, there will be an agreement in place with the schools and more surrounding parcels will have been developed. Councilors voted to approve funding for all three projects.
- Stone’s Warehouse Contract Change: In January 2015, City Council authorized the sale and redevelopment of the Stone’s Warehouse property in Southeast Raleigh to Transfer Company LLC. Transfer is made up of a number of local developers including Matt Flynn, Will Jeffers and Jason Queen. Steve Schuster, the founder of local architectural firm Clearscapes and the chairman of the City’s Planning Commission, is involved as well. We reported on some of the specifics of the redevelopment in early March. This contract amendment will allow Transfer to switch their designated contractor from Clancy & Theys to C.T. Wilson. Councilor Thompson motioned to send the item to the Growth & Natural Resources Committee for further discussion. We will be keeping an eye on this one, so readers, if you know anything about the contract change, please write in.
- Hillsborough Street Contract Award: After bidding and rebidding (they didn’t get enough responses the first time around) Phase II of the Hillsborough Street Revitalization Project, the City now has a low bidder they’d like to award the contract to: Pipeline Utilities Inc., which priced the job at $14,243,243. Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin wanted to know if the proposed roundabouts were adding a significant cost to the project; Chris Johnson from Public Works explained that the money saved by not installing traffic signals would essentially balance out the added cost of building roundabouts. Councilors voted to approve the contract with Pipeline Utilities.
Planning Commission Report
- TC-7-15: This Text Change proposal would legalize short-term property rentals, such as Airbnb, within the City of Raleigh. We wrote about this issue in detail here. Councilors voted to schedule a Public Hearing for June 7 evening session, at which point every aspect of the text change will be up for debate, including a whole-house rental option not currently included that caused some division among Planning Commissioners, who recommended approval of the text change by a vote of 6-2. Aside from the whole-house rental option, Councilors also asked whether Homeowners Associations would be able to block short-term rentals; the answer is yes.
- TC-4-16: This Text Change would halve the requirements for parking for overnight lodging facilities such as hotels located within the downtown overlay district. Councilors voted to schedule a Public Hearing for May 17 afternoon session for this case.
- Z-6-16: This rezoning case would allow the developer, Halpern Enterprises, to build a 63,000 square foot shopping center anchored by a 50,000 square-foot grocery store on a parcel of land near the intersection of Leesville and Strickland Roads. Councilors scheduled a June 7 Public Hearing for this case.
- Z-39-15: This rezoning case would allow for a 78-unit apartment complex on the 1800 block of Trailwood Drive. Due to a paperwork issue, this case will be held over for two weeks.
- Facade Grant Update: Established in the 1980s, the City’s Facade Grant program has doled out more than $700,000 to a total of 47 businesses around Raleigh to help them improve their building’s exteriors. A few changes are coming to the program, including expanding the eligible areas of the City in which people may apply for the grant, a stronger focus on giving grants in low-income areas and the funding of murals and art programs through the grant.
City Manager’s Report
- 2030 Comprehensive Plan Annual Update: Councilors received as information a status update on all actions taken over the past year related to the City’s Comprehensive Plan. In 2015, Councilors had heard a total of 47 rezoning cases. Of the 44 that were approved, seven were inconsistent. The three that were not approved were consistent and denied for other reasons. For a full breakdown of the presentation, check out this PDF we uploaded.
- Downtown City Campus Master Planning: The City is seeking to consolidate its offices into one centralized location in part due to the growth in City staff. Three options were considered for a location: building along the municipal block of Hargett Street where the Council Chambers and many City offices are currently located, the City’s Southern Gateway, and a site located east of Moore Square. The municipal block was chosen by staff as the best all-around option; it is also the least expensive. In addition to renovating the existing municipal building at 222 West Hargett, and demolishing the parking deck and former police station. Council voted to allow master planning to start for this consolidation process. The master planning process is anticipated to last 12-18 months, followed by a 6-9 month schematic design phase, a 9-12 month design development phase, a 6-9 month construction documents phase and finally, an 18-24 month construction phase.
- Northridge South — Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District: Councilors voted to authorize a text change that would allow the process for establishing an overlay district in the Northbridge South neighborhood, which will allow existing residents to preserve the existing character and aesthetic of the place.
- Municipal Service Districts: Contracts for Raleigh’s downtown and Hillsborough Street municipal service districts were renewed with the companies currently managing them: The Downtown Raleigh Alliance & The Hillsborough Street Service Corporation.
Historic Development Commission Report
- Per the recommendation of the Commission, Councilors voted to authorize two Historic Landmark designation requests for the Anna Riddick House at 1028 Cowper Drive and the Horton-Beckham-Bretsch House at 11 South Blount Street, as well as a boundary extension for the Wilmont Apartments at 3200 Hillsborough.
Parks, Recreation & Greenways Report
- In its work session last month, Councilors received a report on a fee assessment study done for the various programs and services offered by the City’s Parks department. The assessment found that the existing fees were mostly in line with the consultant’s recommendations; Councilors voted to adopt a comprehensive park users fee policy.
Retail Task Force Report
- In May 2015, Council established a Retail Task Force in order to “determine expectations of the City; to identify challenges and barriers to market entry; identify challenges and barriers for retail operations; and to determine existing advantages for retail in Raleigh.” A total of six meetings of this task force have been held. Pam Blondin, the owner of Deco in downtown Raleigh, summarized a number of the key issues discussed, including the encouragement of more pop-up retail, better engagement of landlords and property owners and greater “street-level activation” which refers to adding ground floor retail use to apartment or office buildings.
Growth & Natural Resources Committee Report
- Z-34-13: A Public Hearing on this case was opened at the April 5 City Council meeting. Councilors sent the case the Growth & Natural Resources Committee for further review. After two appearances before the committee, its members voted to recommend that Council deny approval of the project, which would allow for a higher-density townhome development on a piece of land at 6117 Hillsborough. For our most recent write-up in the ongoing saga of Z-34, check here. A motion was called almost immediately to deny approval of the rezoning; the motion was quickly seconded and approved unanimously.
- Z-3-16: A Public Hearing was already opened for this hotly contested rezoning case for a workforce housing apartment complex on Forestville Road. Like Z-34, this case was sent to GNR for further analysis. Significant neighborhood opposition cropped up at the last Council meeting, as a number of nearby residents had not learned of the case until then. The GNR committee then sent the case back to Council without a recommendation. At Tuesday’s Council meeting, Michael Birch, the attorney representing the applicant and Andrew Petesch, representing the neighbors said their clients had been able to reach an agreement just minutes earlier. Although a few neighbors were still unhappy, the developer’s concessions, which included capping stories and the number of 3-bedroom units, were enough to satisfy the majority. Councilors voted to approve the rezoning.
Individual Councilor Reports
- Councilor Branch brought up a presentation from the previous night’s Central CAC meeting by a student from Shaw University who was developing a noise-measuring device that could be used in downtown Raleigh.
- Mayor McFarlane requested that staff look into a three-way stop for Hanover Street.
- Councilor Baldwin said the large influx of pedestrian traffic due to the opening of the City’s Market & Exchange Plazas was presenting a bit of a safety hazard due to the lack of enforcement of pedestrian crossings on Wilmington Street. She also suggested establishing a $10,000 innovation fund that would reward City staff for good ideas. Councilors voted to approve this idea. Baldwin also requested an update on the Pullen Road extension and a study of the R-Line conducted by the City. Finally, she asked for the status on a “homeless change” program she had suggested that would offer kiosks people could deposit their loose change into that would then go to fund services and programs for the city’s homeless population.
Requests and Petitions of Citizens
- Virginia Tally requested $250,000 in funding for Advance Community Health in Southeast Raleigh. Their mission, she said, was to deliver “quality, compassionate health care to every patient, every time.” The item was referred to the budget committee.
- Billy Trott from the Raleigh Tennis Association was on hand to speak about the importance of tennis, and the need for more courts in Raleigh. Trott brought with him dozens of supporters decked out in yellow shirts. He said the City had a “moral obligation” to fight the scourge of childhood obesity and inactivity, and replacing and updating the City’s outdated tennis courts would go a long way toward helping.
- The remainder of the speakers were on hand to discuss the need for better police-community relations and a citizen’s oversight board for handling police misconduct. They also requested that the Raleigh Police Department consider de-emphasizing their enforcement of marijuana laws, laws they said disproportionately affected the city’s black and minority communities. A handful of speakers had brought these issues up at the April 5 Council Meeting, so before we get into this week’s presentations, here’s how we summarized City Attorney Thomas McCormick’s response to these issues at the time: As far as reducing the priority of the enforcement of marijuana laws, McCormick said, Council does not have the authority to pass an ordinance telling the police which laws to enforce. Council also lacks the authority, McCormick said, to create a board or commission with subpoena abilities. McCormick said he viewed the Councilors as the City’s citizen oversight board. “You’re responsible for these folks,” McCormick told Councilors. In addition to the Council, he said his own office was essentially a separate branch of government, as it does not, unlike the police force, operate under the direction of the City Manager. Additionally, citizens can go to the District Attorney’s office, or the State Bureau of Investigation if there are issues with police department. Having an additional citizens advisory board, McCormick said, would likely only make it more difficult for Council to address issues on which they may disagree with the advisory board.
- The first speaker this week was Earl Quiller of Southeast Raleigh who said as a black man, he felt “targeted” by the police, and recalled a night where had been pulled over three separate times while driving around with friends. Quiller, like many of the other speakers, is a member of Raleigh PACT (Police Accountability Community Taskforce) and said if Council chooses not take any action on the various problems they had laid out through the organization’s numerous presentations, meetings and emails, “It won’t be because you’re not experiencing it or hearing it or seeing it for yourselves, but because you’re turning a blind eye to it.”
- Quiller was followed by Barbara Smalley-McMahan who said as a white woman living in a nice suburb, her experience with Raleigh’s police department had been the complete opposite from what she had seen in the City’s minority neighborhoods, and that her every experience with the Raleigh Police Department had been an exceedingly pleasant one. “The white side of racism is white privilege,” Smalley-McMahan said. “I benefit from white privilege; it’s simply good policing, I want to see good policing, compassionate policing for all Raleigh residents.”
- Manzoor Cheema from Muslims for Social Justice was next to speak, who argued that anti-Muslim sentiments and Islamophobia are in large part a product of “anti-black racism in this country.” Cheema said he stood in solidarity with the black community in calling for improved police tactics and the need for a community oversight board.
- Terrence Perry, also a member of PACT, said if Council was willing to speak out against the so-called bathroom bill HB2, it should also speak out against police mistreatment of minority communities.
- PACT’s executive director Akiba Byrd was the last to speak on the issue. Byrd said while a few Councilors, including Branch, Cox and Gaylord, had met with his organization, the whole Council needed to get involved and respond to a list of questions they had previously submitted within two weeks. Byrd, like several others that night, called for a Public Hearing on police accountability to be scheduled for the June 7 evening session of Council. Byrd was joined at the podium by the mother of Akiel Denkins, whose son was shot and killed while fleeing from a Raleigh Police Officer. “Evading arrest shouldn’t be a death sentence,” Byrd said. He added that while Mayor McFarlane had campaigned on the concept of making Raleigh a better place for her grandchild, Ms. Denkins would “Never have a grandchild to worry about.”
- Although the City’s response was not as detailed as last month’s breakdown from McCormick, City Manager Ruffin Hall confirmed that staff was hard at work at responding to the eight points outlined in PACT’s inquiry and said the results would be made public as soon as they were available. This kicked off a brief exchange between Byrd and the mayor. “Does this mean an investigation will be started?” Byrd asked. McFarlane said she couldn’t comment until she had seen the report, but Byrd persisted. “Well can we have a Public Hearing?” McFarlane responded again that she didn’t know what would happen until she saw the report.
- Authorize Demolition of Unfit Property: A hearing was held to adopt an ordinance that will allow for the demolition of an unfit property at 507 Montague Lane; if the owner is able to sell the property by May 15, they will not have to pay the City to tear it down, which would be more expensive than hiring a private contractor.
- Authorize Property Lien: Councilors voted to adopt a resolution confirming a lien against a property at 6913 Glendower Road.
- City-Owned Property Sale: The City will sell 14 lots it owns on Oakwood Avenue, Idlewild Avenue, East Jones Street, East Lane Street, and Seawell Avenue to Evergeen Construction, RD Construction Company and Habitat for Humanity of Wake County via private sale with the requirement that the property will be used for creation of affordable homeownership opportunities. Octavia Rainey and another member of the community argued that the sale was a CivilRights violation.
- Belvin Drive Right-of-way: Councilors voted to hold for two months a request to close a right of way on Belvin Drive.
- North Harrington Street Alley: Councilors voted to authorize the closure of the North Harrington Street Alley.
- Sylvia Dean Street Alley: Councilors voted to authorize the closure of the Sylvia Dean Street Alley.
- I-40 Bridges Pedestrian Retrofit: Due to the large number of items on Tuesday’s agenda, which also included an evidentiary hearing, Councilor Baldwin began this hearing by asking if anyone was present to speak in opposition. After getting no response, Baldwin requested they forego the presentation on this subject. This was done, and Council voted to authorize bicycle and pedestrian improvements along Trailwood Drive, starting near Lineberry Drive and ending near Main Campus Drive to include installation of sidewalks, curbs, gutters, bike lanes, metal rails, and fencing along both sides of the roadway for approximately 1,495 linear feet.
- John’s Pointe Subdivision Paving Assessment: This hearing was also kept short, and Councilors voted to authorize a resolution confirming the cost for completion of deficient punch list items/developer required improvements to the public streets in John’s Pointe Subdivision Phases One and Three.
- Wade Avenue Sidewalk Assessment: A hearing to consider improvements to the sidewalk on Wade Avenue from west of Westridge to Faircloth Street was held over for two weeks to allow Meredith more time to study the assessment fees they would incur as a result. Councilor Thompson, who noted he was married to a “Meredith Angel” made the motion to approve this extension.
- Z-27D-14: Tied into the Citywide remapping rezoning case from last year, this case deals with the recommended remapping of a total of 19 properties throughout the city. The hearing was sped along by Council, which voted to authorize the remapping.
- Z-43-15: This case would rezone an 18.2 acre site on the south side of Tryon Road near the intersection with Dover Farm Road from R-1 to R-10, which would allow for higher-density residential development. According to the zoning application, the property could be developed with a maximum of 109 residential units. Councilors voted to approve the rezoning request.
- Z-4-16: This case would rezone a .36 acre parcel of land on Oberlin Road near Wade Avenue and across from the Oberlin Court development to allow for office and residential development. It is currently only zoned for residential use. There was some speculation from neighbors that the facility would be turned into a medical office building, but Marshall Rich, a representative of the property owner said this would not be the case. The case was deferred to the Growth & Natural Resources Committee to discuss several issues related to the project, most notably the existing traffic and transit problems in the area.
- Outdoor Amplified Entertainment Permit for the Merrimon-Wynne House: This property on Blount Street is home to an upscale wedding and corporate event venue. In an effort to allay neighborhood concerns regarding noise, an outdoor tent was replaced with a new enclosed event building. City restrictions meant this building was smaller than the Merrimom-Wynne owners had wanted, and they now want to renew an expired outdoor amplified entertainment permit that would allow them to leave the doors to the venue open from time to time. John Strenowski, who owns the venue along with his wife Jodi, said only about 30 percent of the 100 or so events they hold annually would have a need for this. He said the new building could comfortably hold about 200 people, but if there was a party of 225, space became an issue. Neighbors and a few Councilors pointed out that the reason the Strenowskis had constructed the new space was to do away with the need for an outdoor amplified entertainment permit. Strenowski said the permit wouldn’t allow bands to perform outside, rather, it would just allow the doors to remain open so those outside the building would be able to hear the music. The owners of the nearby Burning Coal Theatre said in the past noise from the venue had been so loud that it disrupted their shows. Councilor Corey Branch, echoing the desires he espoused in a recent interview with The Record, said he wanted to extend the case for a month, and allow the neighbors and the Merrimon-Wynne people more time to come to an understanding and possibly work out an agreement. His fellow Councilors agreed this was the best course of action. The case will come before Council again at its June 7 meeting.