December 2002 Highlights

The Board of Aldermen took final action this month on two important policy items of substantial public interest: false fire and police alarms, and the Atkins School / Winston Lake Park land arrangements.

False fire and police alarm ordinance: False alarms have been a significant problem in Winston-Salem, accounting for more than 19,600 fire and police calls per year, and consuming 13-14% of the total workload for our Police and Fire Departments. This is costly both in tax money (over $2 million/year), and in public safety, since police officers and firefighters chasing after false alarms are unavailable to respond to genuine emergencies. In that regard, it’s worth keeping in mind that 45% of the Fire Department’s responses now are for medical emergencies. They’re the fastest responders around, to situations where minutes often make the difference between life and death.

The need to reduce false alarms that interfere with real Police and Fire work resulted in the Board of Aldermen’s adoption on December 16 of an ordinance designed to address that problem. In brief, the new ordinance will set up a system of increasing civil penalties for false alarms which come four or more times in a year from the same address. Most of these multiple-false alarm locations are commercial or institutional users, and result from unremedied mechanical problems or system user problems. The civil penalties are designed to give these alarm systems users the incentive to repair system problems and educate staff on proper system use.

The city staff is working with professional alarm-system companies to be sure that their clients understand the system and how to prevent problems. The new ordinance will require that alarm systems be registered with the city, but there is no registration fee. The new ordinance takes effect April 1, 2003. The new ordinance was strongly recommended by both Police and Fire Departments.

Winston Lake Park: The debate over the city/county school system’s request for additional land from Winston Lake Park for the new Atkins High School site received a lot of press attention over the past two months. On December 16, the Board of Aldermen adopted a compromise proposal which stands a good chance of concluding the debate. The school board will consider the proposed compromise at its first January meeting.

In brief, here’s the summary: The city had agreed in 2000 to exchange 28 acres of Winston Lake Park to the school system for a high school site, in exchange for about 47 acres of other land scattered around the city. The school board concluded this summer that the 28 acres agreed to by the city would not be adequate for its school site needs, and proposed an increase of about 22 acres in land to be taken from Winston Lake Park.

A number of people objected to that increase in land to be taken from Winston Lake Park. My concern was for the unique nature of that park, as one of only two in the city’s park system with a large unbroken tract of wooded land suitable for low-impact outdoor trails and recreation. (Salem Lake Park is the other one.)

After a number of public comment meetings and additional negotiation with school officials, a compromise proposal was developed which would do the following:

  • Confirm the original land swap approved in 2000, of 28 acres from the park for the school site in return for 47 acres in smaller tracts around the city, primarily for use as recreational, park, or greenway space.
  • Add an additional approximately 15 acres from the park for the school site. 
  • Add in exchange from the school system about 20 acres adjacent to Salem Lake Park, suitable for additional wooded trail development.
  • Reconfigure the land to be provided from Winston Lake Park in order to reduce the impact of the school site on the remaining acreage of Winston Lake Park (which will still be most of the existing park).
  • Retain a wooded buffer strip between the school site and the Winston Lake Park.
  • Require unusually strict erosion control measures during school site construction so as to protect the streams within and flowing to Winston Lake Park.

I helped to craft the compromise proposal’s terms and voted for it. I believe that on balance it protects the public’s parkland uses as well as possible under the circumstances. I will in the future continue to work for protection of our existing parks and addition of more parkland. They are important public resources, adding greatly to our quality of life for our families and our children's children.

Updates:

Traffic calming: The long-awaited report on "traffic calming" options was briefly previewed to committees of the Board of Aldermen this month. The full report and detailed recommendations are scheduled to come to board committees in February (probably the Public Safety Committee on February 10 and the Public Works Committee on February 11).

Public transit & rail planning: Do you have comments on the options for regional public transit in the Triad? If so, the clock is ticking down on the time for public suggestions regarding the preliminary report by the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation (PART), comparing intercity bus and light rail options for Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and High Point. The comment deadline is January 27. For more info, see the PART website at www.partnc.org, or call 662-0002.

Air quality & "Early Action Compacts": As reported last month, Early Action Compacts (EACs) are an approach to planning for early cleanup of priority regional air quality problems. The Piedmont Triad is pursuing an EAC between local governments here, the state, and the federal EPA. The Board of Aldermen approved participation in the effort on December 16; paperwork outlining the request has been submitted to the state.

Other constituent interest items:

Leaf collection problems: Wondering about why piles of soggy leaves are sitting out there longer than usual this year? Unusual fall weather patterns created the problem. October rains kept the leaves on trees longer than usual, and rains and the ice storm since then have interfered with the collection schedule. The soggy condition of the leaf piles has also slowed the collection equipment. As a result, collection crews are having to work longer into the winter season to get all the leaves. Questions about your street? Call Katrina Payne at 727-2638 for info.

Northwest Boulevard & Hinshaw Avenue traffic issues: The city Dept. of Transportation completed the requested study of traffic at the intersection of Northwest Boulevard and First Street, and determined that it meets the peak load standard for a traffic signal. Installation of the signal is expected early in 2003. Also, the DOT will look at placing lines and reflective markers along the side of First Street in an effort to make it easier and safer to leave Hinshaw Avenue onto First St.

Mi Pueblo sign at Mission Road: I followed up with the city Inspections Dept. concerning a resident complaint that the sign going up at the new Mi Pueblo restaurant on Stratford Road was larger than permitted and interfered with the vision of drivers pulling out from Mission Road. It was determined that the sign was a problem and it will be moved back from the street to permit clearer traffic vision.

Water quality & river basin planning: For those interested in water quality problems in our area, there’s an opportunity next month to hear a summary of Yadkin River basin water issues, and to comment on your concerns. The state Div. of Water Quality (DWQ) will hold a public comment meeting on the draft Yadkin-Pee Dee River Basinwide Water Quality Plan, on Thursday January 9, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the regional DWQ office, 585 Waughtown Street. (Phone 771-4600.)

Peters Creek sewage spill: Speaking of water quality problems, there was another spill into Peters Creek on December 18. Damage to a private sewage line serving the Hanes Dye & Finishing site on Northwest Boulevard apparently was the cause of a sewage spill into the storm sewer system and the creek. The spill was stopped and the problem fixed. Later checks of the creek showed no visible discoloration or fish kill, and testing has not indicated a lasting problem