September 2004 Highlights

Several major policies were adopted or reviewed by the city this month. Among the most noteworthy topics were major retail development, residential trash pickup, the city bus system, and public notice procedures for emergency management.

"Big box" retail development ordinance: The City Council voted 7 to 1 on September 20 to create a new MRB-S (Major Retail Business—Special) zoning district for new large-scale retail business developments. The new MRB-S zoning district will apply to new retail construction with a single-plate ground floor space of 125,000 square feet or more. Proposed new retail developments of that size would need a public hearing, review by the Planning Board, and approval by the City Council. I strongly supported creation of this new zoning district requirement. Retail developments of that size have a unique impact on the surrounding community, including on traffic safety and congestion, stormwater runoff and other environmental considerations, and demand for expensive new taxpayer-funded public infrastructure investments. The City Council needs to be able to hear public comment and determine whether a proposed new site for such mega-scaled development is reasonable and acceptable in its public impacts. Now we can.

The City Council on September 7 had earlier approved a related ordinance providing "design standards" for new large retail developments. The design standards address issues such as parking lot size and configuration, building appearance and materials, buffers, streetyard trees and plantings, and related issues. These standards are designed to help mitigate and "soften" the community impacts of large new retail developments, wherever they may take place. They will apply to new retail developments of 75,000 square feet ground floor space or more.

Residential trash pickup: At the suggestion of the City Manager and some Council members, the City Council on September 27 once again held a workshop and discussion on the issue of residential trash pickup (backyard vs. curbside). Following the discussion, it was clear that a majority of the Council (myself included) continue to support retention of backyard pickup. No formal vote was taken. By consensus of the members, the staff was authorized to return to the Council with a proposal for creating a purely voluntary curbside-pickup option. Under that proposal in concept as sketched out on the 27th, the city would make available without charge up to a certain number of rollout carts per year for residents who wish to roll their trash to the curb. If a sufficient number of residents elected to take advantage of the option, after a few years trash pickup routes could be reconfigured and total crews reduced, resulting in some cost savings. Staff is expected to report back on possible details later in the fiscal year.

Public notice procedures for emergency management: Handling public notice in the event of an emergency is always a challenge. What’s the nature of the emergency? Who needs to be notified? How quickly? What about follow-up information? The considerations can get complex.

Many folks will recall various incidents in Winston-Salem in recent years which showed up gaps in our local procedures. After the Chatham Road fire at a chemical warehouse near downtown, some neighbors were left unsure of smoke dangers and risks of contact with downstream water. After a chemical spill at Sara Lee on Stratford Road, there were problems for a neighbor family resulting from the unexpected exposure of a household pet to the spill.

I have been involved in discussions with city public safety staff and county emergency management staff for some time about ways to improve our public notice processes. In a workshop on September 13 before the Public Safety Committee, representatives of the Fire, Police, and Emergency Management departments went over local emergency response procedures. (These deal with emergencies from small fires through hazardous material releases up to major disasters.)

The new procedures will include several improvements in public notice, especially for the category of events designated "Level II (Limited Emergency Condition)". (This is the middle level of events, including those like the Chatham Road fire or tanker truck spills and explosions.) The procedures spell out requirements for notifying neighbors of hazards, and provision of follow-up information once the hazards have been contained and eliminated.

City transit system: The City Council on September 27 also held a workshop on the status of ridership and finance of the Winston-Salem Transit Authority (our city bus system). Among the important items: Utilization of the bus system has been fairly static since 2000, with "fixed route" ridership varying between 2.66 and 2.83 million per year. (This does not include the TransAid buses on call for the disabled, or vanpooling/carpooling programs.) The Council, in joint discussion with members of the Winston-Salem Transit Authority board, considered options for boosting the utilization and efficiency of the system. Staff will prepare further information and report back to the Council and board on items such as redesign of bus routes, creation of "shopper loops" for major retail areas, improving bus time information availability, and promotion of employee bus pass programs among major employers.

Constituent service activity:

Neighborhood meetings: I had the opportunity this month to visit with the Westbrook Neighborhood Association at its annual late summer picnic on September 11; and with the Burke Park Neighborhood Association at its annual officers/board election meeting on September 26. As always, I appreciated the chances to talk with active residents of different neighborhoods and discuss your concerns. I’m always interested in participating in neighborhood meetings (especially here in the Southwest Ward) whenever possible.

Pedestrian crossing signals: Thanks very much to the Miller Street resident who contacted me earlier this month about the lack of pedestrian crossing signals at the intersection of Miller Street and Silas Creek Parkway. This concerned resident bikes to work at the school system Career Center, and has found the absence of a crossing signal button there for bikes and pedestrians to be frustrating and potentially dangerous. Thanks to him, the city Transportation Department has reviewed the intersection and will propose a pedestrian/bike signal button there to the state Transportation Department (which controls Silas Creek Parkway).

Calendar notes:

The Westbrook Neighborhood Association will hold its annual elections meeting on October 12 at 7 p.m. at Forsyth Friends Meeting on Westchester Road. Contact association president David Brown at 774-1524 for more information.

The Lupus Foundation will benefit from a community fundraiser "fun walk" to be held October 16 between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Salem Lake. For more information, contact Bill Scales at 765-1712. Bill and Betty Scales organize the Diane Scales Pulliam Research Memorial Fund to promote research for a cure to lupus.

The Ardmore Neighborhood Association will hold its annual elections meeting on October 21 at 7 p.m. at Temple Emanuel on Oakwood Drive. For more information, see the ANA website at www.ardmore.ws.