October 2002 Highlights

Several important policies were up for discussion this month; and please note the special information about water bills and late charges under the "constituent service" section.

Rooming/boarding houses: Some neighborhoods in the southeastern part of the city have been feeling overrun with rooming houses for some time now. Rooming houses are residences which are rented out to tenants by the room. There are city rules about where they can be located and operated, but loopholes in the definitions have made enforcement difficult and ineffective. The Community Development/Housing/General Government Committee of the board of aldermen is looking at suggestions for tightening the city’s ordinances on this topic. Your suggestions and opinions are welcome.

Park land transfer: Over the past two years or so, the Board of Aldermen has voted at least three times to sell or transfer city park land for other uses (a retirement home, college playing fields, public school uses). Now the city/county Board of Education is again seeking a transfer of land from Winston Lake Park, to be incorporated into the grounds of the proposed new high school on Old Greensboro Road. (The request is for 22+ acres.)

The proposed uses have all been good purposes. I am concerned, however, that the city has been far too easy-going in alienating its highly limited store of public parkland, losing open recreational and wooded space from general public use. As our population grows and in-town open space shrinks, our future generations will wish we still had that parkland available.

The board will hold a public hearing on the evening of November 18 on the latest proposal to peel off park land from Winston Lake Park. I would invite comments from any constituents who share my concern about this city policy area.

"Panhandling" ordinance: We’re all familiar with the folks who sit or stand at major intersections around the city, holding signs soliciting charity. Less regularly, we also see at those same spots people running around with buckets soliciting contributions for various organized charities.

State law and local ordinance prohibit "aggressive" begging, but not the other activities in the median strips. The Public Safety Committee of the board of aldermen is looking into the question of whether the presently unrestricted soliciting constitutes enough of a traffic safety hazard to ban. An ordinance under consideration would prohibit all soliciting (begging, sales, and charities) from the medians and road lanes. (Sidewalks would not be covered.) State law and court decisions make this an all-or-nothing proposition. If we bar "panhandling", we also must bar sales (including the newspaper vendors). I’ve received a lot of comments on this issue, mostly in favor of the proposed ban. Any other suggestions or comments are welcome.

Redevelopment of declining areas: A column by Mary Giunca in this morning’s paper lamented her conclusion that a small business opening on Peters Creek Parkway could expect no attention from the city. In fact, that situation is now changing. There is increasing recognition that declining commercial areas, such as the Peters Creek Parkway strip, need redevelopment attention. The West Salem shopping center at Peters Creek and Academy, for example, lost its anchor grocery store and its drugstore within the past two years. When areas like these are left to decay, it not only hurts our economy but fosters bad social conditions as well. As their economic vitality and opportunities decline, area crime rates often rise.

To help reverse that pattern, the Board of Aldermen at its October 21 meeting approved a "Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area Building Rehabilitation Program". This will encourage the rehabilitation of commercial and industrial properties in targeted areas. Matching loan funds will come from appropriations previously limited to the Liberty Street Corridor. The Peters Creek/Academy commercial area is at the top of the list of areas newly eligible for this targeted attention. This should be the start of serious efforts to promote its recovery.

Utilities Commission development investment: The board of aldermen this month also approved a proposal which would allow the City/County Utilities Commission to invest part of its substantial cash reserves in the form of land purchases, to be held for resale for industrial development. This was viewed as a way of using some of those reserves as an economic development tool, at no additional cost to taxpayers. In order to guard against investment decisions that could be out of line with our city/county land use and growth policies, I sponsored an amendment to the proposal, which will require that the investments follow the Legacy Growth Guide and land use plan.

Zoning cases: Two zoning cases of particular public interest in the Southwest Ward were decided this month.

In the Atwood/Vest View area, an apartment/townhouse development was approved. The development will serve as transitional zoning between the intense commercial uses on Hanes Mall Boulevard to the immediate north, and the mostly single-family neighborhoods to the south. A major point in favor of the development was its traffic-control arrangements. It will provide access for its residents to go to the north and to the southeast, but will not permit cut-through traffic from Hanes Mall Boulevard to enter the neighborhoods to the south. The development’s southeastern-facing entrance will also direct its own traffic out of the neighborhood and toward Stratford Road. The developer had negotiated buffer and traffic control provisions with the Atwood Neighborhood Association as well as the city/county planning staff.

In the Knollwood Manor area, a zoning amendment was approved for the Honda dealership which sits just north of the neighborhood, off Stratford Road at Westview. Attached to the approved site plan were several provisions designed to reduce the already existing noise problems for the adjacent homes. They include a re-routing of the unloading trucks, gates to the existing back parking area, additional sound buffers (trees and a fence), and a bar on loud activities like pressure-washing and vehicle testing behind the building. Again, neighbors were actively involved in negotiating the terms of the rezoning approval, with support from the Ardmore Neighborhood Association.

Ardmore 5k "Home Run": Redeemer Presbyterian has organized this 3.1 mile footrace on Saturday, November 9. So far as I know, it is the first road race to be held in the Southwest Ward. There’s a one-mile "fun run" at 8:30 a.m. and the 5k race at 9 a.m. Complete race registration info is available at www.twincitytc.org. I’ve entered—come on out and beat the politician!