December 2017 Highlights

Recycling and yard waste collection schedules will change for the weeks of Christmas and New Year.  Also in this report:  new extended service hours on many bus routes; a controversial cell tower permit case is decided; West Suburban Area Plan update continues; and other notes.  Because of its length, the cell tower item is last in this report.

Recycling and yard waste schedule changes for the holidays:     
--For the weeks starting December 25 and January 1,

--Garbage collection routes will run on their usual days.  (That’s because there are no regular Monday garbage collection routes.)
--Recycling and yard-waste routes will all be delayed by one day:  Monday routes will be run on Tuesday; Tuesday routes on Wednesday; etc.

Expanded service hours on multiple bus routes go into effect January 2:     Beginning in January, Winston-Salem Transit Authority (WSTA) will put into effect a major set of service hour extensions on 11 bus routes across the city.  Nine of these routes will begin running evening service hours; eight will begin Saturday service; and nine will begin Sunday service.  These improvements were included as part of the city budget approved last June, and are in response to deficiencies noted by bus riders when the new route structure went into effect last January.  Among the changes of particular interest to the Southwest Ward, employees and visitors at both major medical complexes will finally have access to seven-days-a-week day and evening bus service.
These two routes serving the Southwest Ward will see service hour extensions:
--80 (Hawthorne, Peters Creek, Forsyth Hospital, Hanes Mall) will begin evening, Saturday, and Sunday service.
--107 (Hawthorne, Knollwood, Queen Street, Hanes Mall, and both hospitals) will begin Sunday service.  (It already has evening and Saturday service.)

--Other routes to be expanded around the city include routes 86, 90, 91, 92, 94, 101, 104, 106, and 108. 

--See the www.WSTransit.com site for more details on all these routes.

Sewage treatment plant odor issue:     Neighbors of the Archie Elledge Wastewater Treatment plant on Griffith Road last month began to report to me an increased frequency of odor problems from the plant.  When I asked into it, I learned that several months ago there was a partial collapse of a structure within part of the treatment system.  It doesn’t affect the treatment or quality of the discharge, but it creates additional water turbulence at a place within the flow that allows more sulfides to escape into the atmosphere.  When atmospheric conditions are wrong, that increases the spread of noticeable odor from the plant.  Staff were already working toward a long-term repair of the structural problem, but because of the expense of the permanent fix it is likely to take up to a year to get it designed, bid out, and completed.  At my urging, staff have now developed and implemented a temporary fix to reduce the odor emissions in the meantime.  Thank you to the neighbors who reported the problem, and to city staff who developed the temporary fix and put it in place. 

West Suburban Area Plan update public meeting Jan. 23:     Work on the West Suburban small area plan update is underway, and the next scheduled community input session will be held on Tuesday, January 23, beginning at 6 p.m., at the Mount Tabor High School Media Center (342 Petree Road).  Transportation and city facilities in the area are the focus of this meeting.  Area plans include recommendations for future growth and development that serve as guidance for city decisions about zoning requests, transportation, parks, and other public investments.  Citizen input is key to what we put in these guidelines.  The West Suburban area takes in those Southwest Ward neighborhoods north of US 421 and west of Silas Creek Parkway, along with much larger parts of the West and Northwest Wards.  More information on the area planning process is found here:  http://www.cityofws.org/Departments/Planning/Area-Plans

Leaf collections to conclude in January:     This leaf season’s final round of curbside loose-leaf collections is to take place in January.  Citizens can go to www.CityofWS.org/LeafRoutes to track the progress of leaf collection and to enter their address for an estimate of when the leaf trucks will next be in your neighborhood.  Residents who do not have access to a computer can call CityLink at 311 and a City Link agent will look up their estimated collection date.

    Please remember these guidelines to help ensure that your leaves are collected:

•   Rake leaves to the edge of the yard, behind the curb, and not in the street.  Please do not block sidewalks!

•   Sticks, rocks, and other debris may damage our equipment. Please, leaves only.

•   Do not park vehicles on, in front of, or near leaves.

•   Do not put leaves on a tarp or over a storm drain.

•   Leaf collection is provided to single-family houses only.  Leaf collection from commercially managed housing complexes is the responsibility of the property owner or the homeowners’ association.

Business 40 renovation work continues:     To check for the latest updates on the Business 40 work, go here:  http://www.business40nc.com/en-us/pages/Home.aspx  That site also has details regarding the full schedule of the renovation.  If you have other questions after you’ve reviewed that site, you can take those straight to the source (the NC Dept. of Transportation teams responsible for the project) using this contact info:  http://business40nc.com/en-us/pages/Contact.aspx 

Cell tower permit case:     The city council on December 18 dealt with a controversial land use permit request from the Twin City Bible Church (on Ebert Street near Silas Creek Parkway).   The permit request was for a type of cell tower, to be placed on the back of the church property, on land to be leased by the church to a commercial cell tower company.  The request was opposed by some of the neighbors and the Ardmore Neighborhood Association, which deemed the type of facility to be one which should not be allowed in residential areas.  Due to the controversy level and publicity surrounding this case, I will go into more detail about the case and how it was dealt with than usual in these monthly reports.

This request was not for a rezoning, but instead for a ‘special use permit’.  Under state law, such permit requests must be considered under different procedures and rules than rezoning cases.  In a rezoning case, the city council is acting as a legislative body, and can hear comments from anyone, discuss the case with concerned residents informally, and make a decision which takes into account neighbors’ opinions of the proposed change. 

By contrast, in a permit case, the city council is acting like a panel of judges in a court proceeding.  We are limited to considering sworn testimony and evidence that meets specific legal standards.  We cannot discuss the case with parties to the case or other interested residents outside the formal hearing process until the case is decided, so I was not able to answer questions or discuss concerns with my constituents while the case was going on.  Finally, if the permit request (‘petition’) meets the standards set by law, we have to approve the permit.

The type of cell “tower” requested in this case is not the traditional type of tower that comes to mind when thinking of these facilities—the very large lattice-construction towers with blinking lights and visible equipment hanging from the sides.  Instead, it is to be a newer type of tower designed to meet the visibility-reduction requirements which have been imposed by Winston-Salem and some other cities for new towers in residential areas.  It’s called a “concealed tower” or a “slick stick”, of limited height (150 feet in this case), no lights, and no visible equipment anywhere.  It has the appearance of an oversized flagpole.  It will be visible from some adjacent properties and some spots within a few block area, but will be substantially screened by trees in the area and other terrain and buildings.  The proposed location is on the back side of one of the few large undeveloped tracts of land in the Ardmore neighborhood area, near its southernmost edge (Silas Creek Parkway).  I have no reason to believe that this particular facility at this location will have a substantial impact on nearby neighbors, or any negative effect on the neighborhood as a whole. 

In dealing with cell towers in general, the cellular service companies over the past decade or so have been increasingly successful in lobbying Congress and state legislatures to restrict local government authority to decide where cell facilities can be placed.  For example, the federal government has tightly restricted the factors which can be considered in a cell tower permit case.  In North Carolina, the state legislature has gone even further in limiting local control over towers.  We can consider appearance, but we can’t keep them out of residential areas altogether.  We can consider possible impacts on property values, but only using “expert witness” testimony.  We’re specifically prohibited by state law from considering the opinions of neighbors about whether the permit may have an effect on property values in the area, or simply whether they’d like to have the facility nearby or not.

This has left opposing neighbors, and the city council as the permit issuing body, in a very restricted position.  In this case, the church’s request was argued by an attorney and real estate appraisal experts hired by the cell tower company.  They presented a case that met the legal standards for the permit, including studies of other cell towers in Forsyth County which did not find any effect on nearby property values.  The opponents had no evidence that the requested tower in this location would substantially affect property values.  They had only the opinion of some of the neighbors that the proposed facility would be bad for the neighborhood.  That’s the kind of testimony that we can consider in a rezoning case, but not in this special permit case.  The Planning staff, city/county Planning Board, and city attorney’s office all concluded that there was no legal basis to deny the permit request.  I and other council members closely questioned the witnesses for both sides.  We consulted our city attorneys in detail.  We even held the case record open for a month and a half to permit opponents to respond to all the evidence offered in the case, and allowed both sides extra time for testimony and argument at a second public hearing.  In the end, there was simply no evidence in the record sufficient to justify a decision to deny the permit.

A majority of the council voted to approve the request.  I voted with the majority to approve.  I did so because under state law and rules of legal evidence, the petitioner (Twin City Bible Church) was clearly entitled to the permit as a matter of law.  If we had denied the permit, our decision would have been appealed to court, where the appellants would have won in a legal ‘slam dunk’.  Under North Carolina state law, they could have sought and very likely would have won court and attorney’s fees to be paid by the city.  I would not support wasting your tax money in defending a decision that was clearly contrary to law.

I made the motion in this case because in Winston-Salem our city council relies on each member to make the initial recommendations on cases in our districts.  We are expected to undertake careful study of zoning/planning cases and permits in our districts, and to make informed recommendations to the council as a whole.  It would have been irresponsible for me to make a recommendation that I understood to be contrary to law.  Again, the city council in this permit case was acting not as legislators making the law as we wished, but as a panel of judges applying the law as written.  There are times when any judge worth his or her oath of office has to make a decision that they know will be unpopular, in order to follow the law.  This was such a case.

I believe that as a matter of good policy local communities should have the right to determine whether or not to allow facilities such as cell towers in their residential areas.  We have been restricted in this regard by the federal and state government levels, in ways that I believe are inconsistent with the interests of our residents. 

If you believe—as I do—that cities and counties have been excessively restricted by Congress and the North Carolina state legislature from representing the interests of our local citizens, then I would encourage you to communicate your concerns to your legislators.  And of course, you are always invited and welcome to contact me with your thoughts on these and other issues.  

That’s my report for December.  I wish for you all happy holidays with friends and family!  As always, you are welcome to email me at danbesse@danbesse.org with comments or questions.  Thanks!

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