Last week, 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.
June 21, 2016
Councilors had two items on their Work Session Agenda Tuesday: an update to an interlocal agreement regarding hospitality taxes and a proposed public-private partnership for a sidewalk along Highwoods Boulevard between Capital Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue.
For the past two months, City and County staff have worked on a Phase I review of existing Interlocal Agreements; the updates they’re recommending would be the 20th revision of the agreements.
Some of the main goals for Phase I included a review of maintenance needs for existing facilities, considering more realistic revenue assumptions and maintaining the 85/15 percent allocation of uncommitted funds between the Convention Center and other projects.
The most significant changes are a temporary boost to the hotel room and food tax rates. The current room tax rate is three percent; staff are proposing it rise to five in FY17, and drop to four percent in FY18. It would stay at four percent through FY21 and drop back down to three after that.
The five percent food tax would rise to six percent in FY17 and remain there until FY21, after which it would go back down to five.
Also increasing would be the current $450,000 annual business development fund for the Greater Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau, which would go up to $600,000 in FY17 and stay there indefinitely.
A new capital maintenance fund for the Performing Arts Center will be established at a rate of $500,000/year for ongoing maintenance work.
The public-private partnership, proposed by Highwoods Properties for a sidewalk along Highwoods Boulevard, was the next item up for discussion.
A joint recommendation is expected in July.
Eric Lamb, the City’s Transportation Planning Manager, kicked off the next topic with a general overview of public-private partnerships.
Lamb said for public-private partnerships, the City is generally approached by a private party in the context of a development plan. The City must then determine whether the developer is required to do the improvements, whether public funds would lead to a better project outcome and if the funding is in the public’s best interest.
Typically, the developer will provide right of way and easements, along with administering the design and construction, while the City pays 50 percent of the construction costs.
Highwoods Properties, which owns some of the buildings located along Highwoods Boulevard, proposed the current $505,000 sidewalk plan, which would include two side streets along with Highwoods Boulevard itself.
Councilor Gaylord said there needed to be a fair process established for such partnerships, as many developers would like to install amenities such as sidewalks if the City would pick up half the construction costs, while Councilor Dickie Thompson argued that the City needed more of these partnerships, not less.
Tuesday’s afternoon Council session began with an invocation from Pastor Tracey Bell, New Bethel Christian Church. This was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, led by Councilor Russ Stephenson.
Presentations & Awards
Although there were no special awards distributed at the most recent Council meeting, Alfred Leech, Chair of the Board for Passage Home, was on hand to give a brief presentation about his organization.
Passage Home works primarily in Southeast Raleigh restoring old and building new homes, and relies in part on funding from the City. Leech said they were currently operating 120 units, and looking to expand. In the last two years, through the various services they offer, Passage Home served 360 families.
Mayor Nancy McFarlane thanked Leech and the organization for their contributions to the city, saying they’d done some incredible things.
The entire Consent Agenda was approved unanimously. A rare event!
Planning Commission Report
The first item presented to Council by Planning Commission Chairman Steven Schuster was a text change, TC-5-16, that would allow the development of townhomes in an overlay district on New Bern Avenue. Councilor Gaylord supported the change, saying it would help create more affordable housing. Due to neighborhood opposition to the change, however, the item was moved to the Growth and Natural Resources Committee for further discussion.
This was followed by a much briefer discussion over text change TC-9-16, which would create protections for the North Ridge South neighborhood. It was scheduled for a July 5 Public Hearing.
Next up was zoning case Z-9-16, which would allow the Kimberly Development Group to build a new office building on a piece of land at 5932 Sandy Forks Road currently zoned to allow only for residential development. It too was scheduled for a July 5 Public Hearing.
A Public Hearing was not required for the next item, which dealt with the waiver of a 24-month waiting period for a new rezoning application for a piece of land at the intersection of Falls of Neuse and Dunn Road. We covered this case earlier this month, when it appeared before Planning Commission. Instead of a wildly unpopular grocery-anchored shopping center, the developers are now proposing a senior living facility for the site, a plan which has neighborhood support.
Councilors voted unanimously to approve the waiver.
The final item from Planning Commission was another text change, TC-10-16, which relates to Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District in Oberlin Village. Councilors voted to schedule a July 5 Public Hearing for the case.
At its June 7 meeting, City Council opened a Public Hearing for rezoning case Z-5-16. The applicant added several conditions to the project, which were presented to Council June 21. Councilors quickly voted to approve the rezoning.
The second special item dealt with an outdoor amplified entertainment permit for the Merrimon-Wynne House, a case Council had discussed twice before and had apparently approved in its previous meeting. As it turns out, some findings and conclusions of law had to be examined. They apparently were, so Councilors formally approved a three-month trial period for the permit.
Bicycle & Pedestrian Committee
The annual plan for BPAC was quickly approved for adoption by Council. Some of their goals include promoting Raleigh’s new bikeshare program and the “WalkRaleigh” brand as well as a number of community outreach efforts. For a full summary of the plan, please click here.
Parks, Recreation & Greenway Advisory Board
Before voting on whether to move ahead with Phase I of the John Chavis Memorial Park implementation study, Matthew Keough from the City’s Parks and Recreation department presented Council with a brief overview on the park’s historical significance.
The park is listed on the National Historic Register, and one of the main reasons for that was its significance as a public gathering place for African-Americans before the implementation of the 1965 Civil Rights Act, one of the only public spaces available between Atlanta and Washington D.C.
With the range of community and recreational services it offers, Chavis Park has always been a significant community asset to Raleigh, Keough said. The first phase of this project, which will be funded with $12.5 million in bond money, will include a brand-new, two-story community center. The existing center will remain open during construction as to not cause an interruption in services. The entire project is estimated to cost about $52 million.
Council voted to approve moving forward with the plan, the next step of which will be a one-year design phase. The new center is currently anticipated to open in the summer of 2019.
Next up was a rapid approval for the schematic design phase of the Buffaloe Road Dog Park and Jaycee Park Dog Run projects, which Councilor Baldwin said had been in the works for some time.
Growth & Natural Resources Committee Report
Although Public Hearings were next on the Agenda, it was not yet 2 p.m. by the time Council voted to approve the dog park projects, so they skipped ahead to committee reports.
The first item from the committee was an update on the City’s drainage assistance policy, which Council voted to approve.
The next item was an omnibus text change amendment to the Comprehensive Plan. Councilor Stephenson brought up the issue of recycling bins being left on the sidewalks and asked whether they could find a better way to deal with this issue.
A Public Hearing will be held for the changes.
Report of Mayor and Council Members
Councilor Stephenson brought up a proposal of his to bring in an equity consultant to work with City staff; Council agreed to meet with the Consultant during a future work session. For more information on Stephenson’s equity goals, see our recent interview with him here.
Councilor Branch reminded everyone of the July 30 Community Day in Southeast Raleigh, which will be held at Chavis Park. Branch also mentioned a Fatherhood Conference he had recently attended at the Family Resource Center, during which he said he heard some “very encouraging words.”
Councilor Baldwin requested a $10,000 sponsorship for a Habitat for Humanity project and that Council move forward with a Change for the Homeless program she had brought up earlier this year. The program would encourage people to deposit their spare change into boxes at various locations including the airport, which would then be funneled into assistance programs for the homeless. Council approved both of Baldwin’s proposals.
Baldwin also took a moment to thank Kate Pearce, the City employee leading the Dix Park study and who gave a recent tour at the park that Baldwin thoroughly enjoyed.
Requests & Petitions of Citizens
Although there were three petitions scheduled, only two petitioners showed up.
The first was Sara Wilson, who lives in a residential neighborhood off Wade Avenue and who experienced significant problems with a builder encroaching on her property. Wilson said that infill plans needed to be addressed better, and more needed to be done to ensure no one else went through what she did. Councilor Crowder said they were working to address some of these issues in the Growth & Natural Resources Committee.
Wilson was followed by Emelia Cowans-Taylor, who was speaking on behalf of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Cowans-Taylor said the museum needed to come up with a total of $250,000 by the end of the month in order to fund a special exhibition titled “Race: Are We So Different?” Although they had commitments of $110,000 so far, she asked that the City contribute $50,000. Council said they would take it under consideration.
The first Public Hearing dealt simply with the authorization of a demolition for an unsafe building at 4004 Wingate Drive and was quickly approved by Council.
Next was a resolution to approve authorization of liens against several properties deemed public nuisances in order to pay for necessary repairs, which Council voted to approve without discussion.
The biggest item on the agenda, Z-7-16, which would allow Hand of Hope, a Christian Pregnancy Center, to open next door to the Preferred Women’s Health Center abortion clinic on Jones Franklin Road. While a significant number of people had turned out to speak in favor of and opposition to the project, it was revealed that letters sent out to surrounding property owners announcing the hearing had listed it for 7 p.m., instead of 2 p.m.
Ira Botvinick, a City Attorney, suggested that Council hold the hearing open and not take a vote that afternoon due to this error. As the case had already been delayed due to a packed agenda at the previous Council meeting, and due to the fact that so many people had turned out to speak, Councilors were reluctant to concede to Botvinick’s suggestions.
Instead, they decided to move forward with the hearing and decide at the end whether to leave it open.
As each side was only given eight minutes to speak, there were four speakers in favor of Hand of Hope and four against, although the against crowd had turned out in larger numbers, and included more neighbors. As it happened, none of those who spoke in favor of the rezoning lived in the surrounding neighborhood, although all were residents of Raleigh.
The supporters argued that Hand of Hope was already operating a facility down the road, and that because they owned the building they wanted to move into, it would create a better long-term situation. They also noted that the planned use was consistent with the surrounding properties, and that no protests would be held on their property.
Tanya Baker Nelson, Hand of Hope’s director, said their organization “provides education; we don’t protest, that is not who we are, we don’t need to protest.”
When the Record initially looked into this rezoning case, we found no connections between the group leading the Jones Franklin protests, Hope Before the Door, and the Hand of Hope organization or any of its members.
Those speaking against the project listed a number of concerns, including potential conflict between the two neighbors, the possibility of misleading potential clients of Preferred Women’s and the disturbing and graphic imagery many of the neighborhood’s children have been subjected to as a result of anti-abortion protests.
“I don’t want my daughter to look at pictures of dead bodies,” noted Cary Rodgers.
When time ran out for both sides to speak, Councilor Baldwin asked Botvinick what the procedure would be for holding the case open and whether it would have to be re-advertised. He said the City would need to re-notice people, and post a notice so that anyone who showed up that night at 7 for the hearing would be aware of the new date.
Councilors decided to hold the case open until their July 5 meeting. It should be noted that only those who did not speak at the June 21 meeting will be allowed to speak at the July 5 hearing.
The final item scheduled for Public Hearing was a text change that establishes new priority areas throughout the City for economic development. As this issue had been discussed a number of times by Council in the past, it was quickly approved.