November saw final action on important changes to development standards related to streets and sidewalks, as well as progress on some important transportation projects and other significant neighborhood concerns.
Election results and start of new council terms:
First, let me thank all of you in the Southwest Ward for the opportunity to represent you for another term on the City Council. Done right, election campaigns are always a lot of hard work, and this year was no exception. Neighborhood coffees and meetings, door-to-door canvassing, and constituent phoning take a lot of time. (They also take a lot of volunteer support—thank you to my volunteers for all your help!) But the process is well worth the time by providing extensive direct constituent feedback, without which it is not possible to do a good job as your representative.
New council terms formally start at the first meeting in December, which at this point is tomorrow night (December 5). There are two new council members, and all eight of us and the mayor will be sworn in again for our new terms. I confess that I find such ceremonial events to be on the dull side, but that’s just my personal taste. If you enjoy the pomp and circumstance, you are invited to join us for the meeting at City Hall on Monday, December 5, starting at 7:30 p.m. (You may want to arrive earlier to be sure of getting a seat.)
Revised streets standards approved:
Back to regular business: At our meeting on November 7, the City Council gave final approval to revised streets standards for new development. The revised standards deal with street and sidewalk construction requirements in new residential and commercial development. They include the standards for street network connections, maximum length of blocks and cul-de-sacs, and minimum placement of sidewalks and street trees. I made the motion for approval of the revisions, which passed unanimously. Among the important changes are the following:
--Sidewalks must be included as a standard part of new commercial, multifamily, and residential subdivision developments. Sidewalks are a key to public safety, creating attractive and welcoming neighborhoods, and making healthy living possible in the city. Under the revised standards, sidewalks must be included on at least one side of new streets, and on both sides of new thoroughfares. New commercial construction on existing streets can trigger new sidewalk construction requirements where sidewalks are included on the city’s pedestrian facilities plan.
--New residential subdivisions must include at least one street tree per lot.
--These are the requirements for plans that need be reviewed only at the staff or Planning Board levels. Requirements can be modified or strengthened for site plans that have to go through City Council or County Commission review.
Transportation projects report:
I have good news on several transportation projects of significance to our area. First, the Hanes Mall Boulevard lane and bridge widening project started construction on November 2. This will address the traffic bottleneck around the HMB bridge over I-40. Second, the N.C. Dept. of Transportation has approved funding for construction of new sidewalk on Silas Creek Parkway between Miller Street and Lockland Avenue. This section is heavily used by pedestrians now, despite the heavy traffic, lack of sidewalks, and safety risks. A pedestrian was seriously injured along that section in an accident last summer. Third, new federal legislation has made additional funds for transportation planning available for the Winston-Salem urban area. Those funds will be used to pay for uses including an added traffic engineer to speed work on projects like traffic calming and congestion management, and for bike lane pavement markings to help make biking safer in our city.
Progress on neighborhood break-ins:
Residents in the Ardmore and Knollwood Manor areas reported an extended string of home break-ins during late October and November. (The problem appeared to be shared with neighborhoods in other wards, such as West End and West Salem.) In response, the Winston-Salem Police Department (WSPD) increased marked and unmarked patrols in affected areas, and met with concerned neighbors. The Knollwood Manor Neighborhood Association in particular conducted a very well-attended meeting (over 60 residents) with WSPD representatives to discuss the problem and what they could do to address it.
As of this report, the WSPD has made at least two arrests of persons believed to be connected to the problem, and associated crimes seem to have fallen off. However, officers caution that we are entering the time of year when holiday-related thefts increase, as families leave their homes unoccupied while visiting relatives, and shoppers leave purses, gifts, and other packages in their cars. This is an important time to increase vigilance against such property crimes. WSPD officers are available to address neighborhood meetings on safety tips, and help to set up neighborhood crime watches. For more information, contact the Crime Prevention Office at 773-7835.
Noise control ordinance:
The City Council’s Public Works Committee continued discussion of proposed changes to the city’s noise control ordinance, which would address problem situations for several neighborhoods. Of most interest to neighborhoods in our area would be a provision to prohibit dumpster collection in (or close to) residential areas between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. I believe that this is an important quality of life improvement which should be approved as soon as possible. However, not all my Council colleagues are yet convinced, and the changes remain under discussion in committee. If this issue is of interest to you, and you have friends in other parts of our city who have been affected by it, now would be a useful time for them to discuss the matter with their representatives.
Institutional expansion in neighborhoods:
The Council during November discussed two issues related to institutional expansions in residential areas.
The first issue related to the addition of "mobile units" to schools. The Planning Board reviewed and recommended changes to the standards for those units (i.e., trailers), dealing with setbacks from the property line, buffering, landscaping, and accessibility and safety. However, during the Council discussion on November 7, it became clear that the Planning Board would not have authority to turn down requests to add mobile units when those setback and other conditions were not met. (Addition of new mobile units to schools, especially private schools, on streets facing private homes in neighborhoods has been a source of complaints.) The Council voted to return the changes to the Planning Department staff for consideration of language to address that problem.
The second issue related to some church facility expansions in residentially-zoned areas. This is a controversial topic which is still in the early stages of discussion. At present, churches are the only institutions which can undertake construction of new buildings and facilities in residential areas without meeting setback or bufferyard requirements which would automatically apply to any other commercial or institutional use. That has produced frictions as some churches have expanded accessory uses like schools, daycares, or structures like gymnasiums close by homes on residential streets. The City Council is beginning to wrestle with the question of what requirements should apply to such expansions, and will be seeking input and discussion from religious institutions and neighborhoods as the topic is examined over the coming year.
National League of Cities conference:
Winston-Salem is a member of the National League of Cities (NLC), which works on issues important to city residents and services at the national level (especially in Washington). The NLC also sponsors two major conferences annually, at which city officials meet to discuss issues and share information about effective solutions to local problems. These can be very useful learning opportunities for elected officials. For the past two years, however, I have not attended those national conferences because I was hesitant to spend city money in tough budget years on flying to distant and expensive locations. Fortunately, this year’s conference is this month in Charlotte. I will attend with a special emphasis on seeking good ideas and information on energy (including fuel) conservation (as energy costs rise), dealing with transportation safety and congestion problems, addressing land use conflicts, and controlling rising municipal health care costs. (Health care cost increases have been a leading cause of local budget problems here.)
That’s my report for November. Sorry to be a few days late on its circulation. As always, you’re welcome to contact me with questions or suggestions at
email@example.com or 722-1674. Thanks.