Two rezoning requests from Wal-Mart occupied much of the City Council’s attention over the past month. At the same time, work continued on several other topics of interest to city residents.
Wal-Mart splits a double-header:
Wal-Mart already has two existing "supercenter" stores in Winston-Salem, and this year has been pursuing the construction of two more. During the past month, the City Council approved one Wal-Mart rezoning request (on Peters Creek Parkway), while the other (on Reynolda Road) was withdrawn in the face of strong neighborhood opposition and the likelihood of denial by the Council.
Those following this issue will recall that the City Council last year approved a new ordinance designed to accomplish two goals: (1) limit the development of new very-large-scale ("big box") retail stores to locations that can handle the additional traffic and other community impacts; and, (2) require that new "big box" stores which are approved use appearance design, buffers, lighting designs, stormwater controls, street/sidewalk improvements, etc., to mitigate their impacts on the surrounding community.
Both of those tests were applied in these cases. After very careful consideration, it seemed that the Reynolda Road location was not suited (in road access and other ways) to deal with the impacts of "big box" development. On the other hand, the Peters Creek Parkway site was located on a four-lane divided highway with good transportation access, as well as in a "community activity center" area targeted for more active commercial development. In reviewing that rezoning request, I paid special attention to the site plan requirements for noise and visual buffers between the new store and the adjacent neighborhood.
Other zoning cases:
At the City Council’s May 2 meeting, we also considered two zoning cases with noteworthy implications for Southwest Ward residents.
--Harper Street: On Harper Street in the South Fork area (just west of Silas Creek Parkway), we denied a request for expansion of a private tennis/swimming club on this mostly residential street. The requested rezoning would have resulted in loss of a residence and its replacement with a 100+ space parking lot, as well as the construction of a new 17,000 square foot indoor tennis/workout facility. The proposal was actively opposed by several neighbors, who worried about the additional traffic and other impacts. Before the City Council meeting, I canvassed block residents and reviewed the plans. I concluded that the proposal was another in a series of requests to expand commercial and institutional uses on Harper Street at the expense of residential uses there. Harper is part of an area of small to mid-sized homes and mostly well-maintained properties, that will maintain its viability as a good residential area if (and only if) further commercial/institutional intrusion onto the street is controlled. I opposed the rezoning request, and it was turned down by the Council.
--Country Club Commons: The new Country Club Commons office complex on Country Club Road west of Old Vinyard Road and east of Jonestown Road submitted several site plan amendments as part of incorporating the corner property at Country Club and Old Vinyard. During the process, several residents of Randall Avenue and Arminta Drive (behind the new development) raised concerns about noise and other spillover effects on their neighborhood. In order to address their concerns, new conditions were added to the development site plan to require a planting of trees along the rear retaining wall, and the relocation of trash dumpsters away from the rear property line.
Traffic and pedestrian safety notes:
There was somber news during April in this area. At least four people were killed in traffic accidents on Winston-Salem city streets this past month. That underscores the urgency of implementing "traffic calming" and pedestrian safety efforts at danger spots citywide. At each of the fatal accident sites, the city Transportation Department will use police reports and site visits to study whether street design or conditions contributed to the accident—and whether street changes could make the areas safer. At the fatal accident site in the Southwest Ward, on Cloverdale Avenue, the responses being considered include adding parking restrictions in order to improve visibility for merging traffic.
I am continuing to make traffic and pedestrian safety a point of special emphasis. I encourage concerned neighborhoods to consider initiating a "traffic calming" review process for your safety trouble spots. I am available to work with you and city traffic engineers to help move this approach forward.
Historic Preservation Month:
Winston-Salem neighborhoods have participated in a very active effort for citywide historic preservation and renewal. Over the past year, new National Historic Register recognitions have been awarded to the neighborhoods of Ardmore, Waughtown/Belview, and West Salem. In honor of those achievements and other good work (from the Waughtown Street bridge to the Happy Hills historic homes), the City Council on May 2 joined other communities nationwide in recognizing May as Historic Preservation Month.
That makes May an especially appropriate time for the upcoming Historic Preservation Tax Credit Workshop, to be held Thursday, May 12, 7 p.m., Ardmore Methodist Church (630 S. Hawthorne Rd.). The public is invited to participate and learn about how state and federal tax credits can be used to help finance renovation of homes and other buildings in designated historic districts. Further information can be obtained from the Ardmore Neighborhood Association,
Air Awareness Week:
On April 18, the City Council adopted a resolution recognizing April 24-30 as Air Awareness Week in North Carolina. This statewide effort to raise public awareness of the need to control our air pollution problems coincided with the start of "ozone season" in North Carolina. Ironically, the preceding week saw 2005’s first two "orange alert" days of unhealthy ozone levels in Forsyth County. That reminds us of the need to move forward assertively with our air cleanup strategies, especially for our more vulnerable people—such as the more than 16,000 children and 60,000 adults in the Winston-Salem area who suffer from asthma.
Declining urban activity centers:
Part of the city’s strategy for economic development is to promote the revitalization of declining commercial areas that already exist within our urban area. A plan for targeting these "declining urban activity centers" (DUACs) and pushing them on the road to economic recovery is under development now. Not incidentally, the economic revitalization of these areas will also help the adjoining neighborhoods, which often suffer the spillover effects from the DUACs’ blight. One proposed targeted DUAC (West Salem) surrounds the intersection of Academy Street and Peters Creek Parkway on the eastern edge of the Southwest Ward. The plan for encouraging revitalization of this and other DUACs is expected to be ready for public review and comment later this summer. Plans should include a combination of public infrastructure (streets, lighting, etc.) improvements, and incentives for private investment in improving buildings, facades, street tree yards, and the like.
Parks and open space plan:
Also reviewed in committee last month was the new draft Parks and Open Space Plan for Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. It too is expected to be ready for public hearings and comments later this summer. I have encouraged city staff to think in terms of several hearings at locations (such as recreation centers) around the city. I’ll be sure to spread the word when they’re scheduled.
Constituent service notes:
One constituent this past month asked about city rules regarding dog waste. Doesn’t the dog’s owner have the responsibility to clean up after their pet? The answer is yes. The owner is required by city code to clean up their pet’s waste left on another person’s property or on the street/sidewalk. An irresponsible owner is subject to fines. Like most laws, the application of this one is primarily dependent on the voluntary compliance of the majority of responsible residents. However, a recurring offender who does not respond to polite requests may certainly be the subject of a report to police or the Code Enforcement office (727-8486), both of whom have enforcement authority in this matter.