August 2004 Highlights

August has been another relatively quiet month for city issues, but there are still several activities worthy of note.

Fire station dedication: The new Fire Station Number Two in southwestern Winston-Salem is about ready to open. The Winston-Salem Fire Department will hold the September 11th Commemoration and Dedication of Fire Station Number Two on the morning of Saturday, September 11, beginning at 9:45 a.m., at the new station at 405 Somerset Drive. Please join us there if you can. The new station will be large enough for the department’s most modern equipment, and will improve emergency response times.

"Big box" retail development ordinance: The City Council held a workshop on August 9 to review questions about the proposed new ordinance governing new large-scale retail developments. During discussion, most council members reached consensus on refinements to the proposed design standards for such developments. The changes will be reviewed, and public comment invited, at a final public hearing on the issue set for the council meeting of Tuesday, September 7 (7:30 p.m. at City Hall). (The meeting will be Tuesday rather than the usual Monday due to Labor Day.) There continues to be more question among council members regarding whether to adopt the proposed new MRB-S zoning district for major retail business establishments. The new MRB-S zoning district, if adopted, would apply to new retail construction of 125,000 square feet or more. The council may act on either or both questions after the public hearing on September 7, or it may postpone action to its next meeting on September 20.

In my view, the establishment of a new zoning district category for the very large-scale retail developments is critical. Retail developments of that size have a unique impact on the surrounding community, including traffic safety and congestion, stormwater runoff and other environmental considerations, and demand for expensive new taxpayer-funded public infrastructure investments. An elected local governing body must be able to determine whether a proposed new site for such mega-scaled development is reasonable and acceptable in its public impacts.

CATV-6: The City Council on August 16 voted not to approve a new cable television subscriber fee and other public funding requested by CATV-6. A majority of the council concluded that there is insufficient public support for a new mandatory fee on all cable TV subscribers for that purpose. With cutbacks and even layoffs in city departments resulting from revenue shortfalls, there also was certainly no room in the city’s budget for CATV’s other requested additional direct public subsidy. At the same time, the council directed the city manager’s office to study and report back on other options for the future provision of a community access channel. I supported this decision. I believe that a community access cable TV channel is a good public service, but in difficult economic times we have to live within our budget. Fortunately, Winston-Salem is also a community with extraordinary resources such as the N.C. School of the Arts. We should look for innovative ways to provide community access television opportunities in financially thrifty ways. If there is sufficient public support, that should be possible.

Greenways committee: Readers of these monthly updates know that I am an enthusiastic supporter of the community values of greenways, linear public parks along streams and other natural features. They provide safe, healthy, family-friendly recreation (and even transportation) for our neighborhoods and growing population. The walking, biking, and running opportunities of greenway trails even boost our city’s attractiveness to new business and young people considering a move.

I’ve been working for three years on promoting new greenway development in Winston-Salem. With our budgetary limitations, it’s been a slow process. Now I’m organizing a citizen committee to promote public education and support for new greenways. I set up what had been intended as a small exploratory discussion meeting on September 2, and it looks as though the meeting room will be overflowing. Please let me know if you’re interested in working on this effort.

Constituent service notes: Formal City Council action may have been slow this month, but constituent service issues were hopping. Here are some items of possible interest from August:

Landfill passes: Winston-Salem residents are entitled to up to two free passes annually per household for dropoffs of residential material at city landfills. In response to a constituent inquiry, we confirmed that passes should be honored at the regular city landfill on Hanes Mill Road, the yard waste facility on Overdale, and the construction and demolition waste facility off Old Salisbury Road. Any questions on this policy can be directed to Utilities Administration at 727-8418.

Jonestown Road safety: Traffic safety continues to be a particular concern on Jonestown Road, where there have been a couple of additional serious accidents involving vehicles leaving the road at a curve this year. Previously, the city has lowered the legal speed limit, painted new lane lines, added raised pavement warning markers on the problem curve, and targeted the road for additional traffic enforcement patrols. I have now asked the Streets department to study adding a guard rail at this location.

Sedimentation/erosion control: I investigated a complaint of sedimentation leaving a construction site off Brent Street and being carried into back yards there. I have been informed that the site has now been brought into erosion-control compliance. Do you have a report of sedimentation problems resulting from construction activity? In western Winston-Salem, those reports should go to the city Inspections Division’s Erosion Control staff at 727-2421 or JAYS@cityofws.org.

Miller Park trees: If you use Miller Park, you may have noticed some recent clearing activity behind the tennis courts there. This was necessary to make repairs to a sewer line which has been responsible for overflows into the creek. City vegetation management staff worked with crews to see that as few trees were removed as possible.

Playground equipment fundraiser: And speaking of parks, a volunteer effort is underway to raise funds for new playground equipment at Miller Park and Lockland Park. A silent auction is planned for September 18. Want to help? Contact David Lane at 727-0528.