Please remember to vote in city elections on November 8! In the meantime, there are several items of interest to report on city activities in October, and notes on two important policy decisions coming up in November.
First, just a further quick word about voting opportunities: If you expect to be unavailable on November 8, or if you just like to vote early, "one-stop" early voting has already started. Any registered voter may vote early at the Forsyth Board of Elections office in the new Forsyth County Government Center at 201 N. Chestnut Street in Winston-Salem. No excuse is needed, but first-time voters may need to show an ID. Early voting runs this week Oct. 31—Nov. 4 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Saturday Nov. 5 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. There’s no early voting on Monday Nov. 7. Election day is Tuesday Nov. 8. This election will probably be a low-turnout one, so your vote will count more than usual.
Now, on to other city business:
Neighborhood Conservation Overlay (NCO) district amendments approved:
At the October 3 meeting, the City Council approved changes to the NCO district to make it easier to use. The NCO district zoning classification is an optional extra category intended to help established neighborhoods protect their appearance and character by addressing issues such as building height and appearance, yard maintenance, lighting, signage, etc. The procedure for establishing an NCO district begins with written support from at least 55% of the property owners in the proposed district, and is followed by a multi-stage standards design and review process, concluding with approval by the City Council. A continuing commitment of active involvement by the neighborhood’s association would be required. At present, there are no NCOs in Forsyth County, although the NCO district category has existed here since 1995. I should emphasize that creation of an NCO district begins with neighborhood residents, and no NCO proposal is likely to be taken seriously without strong neighborhood interest, and ultimately overwhelming neighborhood support. (Sign-on by 55% of owners is the technical minimum, but in practice a much higher level of commitment would be needed politically.)
Housing Authority reform is on the way:
At the October 24 meeting, the City Council unanimously approved expanding the board of directors of the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem to nine members (an additional four individuals). The change was sparked by the recent revelations regarding questionable financial management at the agency. Since the Council’s action, the executive director of the Housing Authority has resigned. I strongly supported the Council’s action on this matter. I am confident that Mayor Joines’ new appointees will see that sound financial management is restored to the agency, while continuing to be concerned with meeting the needs of the agency’s tenants.
For those who are not familiar with the structure of the Housing Authority, I should point out that it is a quasi-independent entity, not under the regular management structure of the city. Under its existing charter, the only control the City Council exercises over the Housing Authority is the size of its board. However, several of us on the Council agree that it is time to re-examine that structure. Alternative approaches which strengthen the city’s oversight of financial practices at the agency need to be considered. One possible model, suggested by Council Member Clark, would be the City/County Utilities Commission, which handles matters such as purchasing and personnel through the regular city processes. I expect this to be worked on thoughtfully and carefully over the next several months.
Hanes Mall Boulevard widening contract approved:
The N.C. Board of Transportation during October approved a contract for the widening of Hanes Mall Boulevard, including the bridge over I-40. The project will eliminate that bottleneck and turn HMB into a consistent four-lane artery. This should improve traffic flow and safety through one of Winston-Salem’s most congested areas. Construction will begin with building a second two-lane bridge beside the first one over I-40. That will be followed by construction of the additional road lanes leading to it. Plans call for maintaining the existing two-lane traffic through the area throughout the construction process.
I recognize that adding lanes to HMB is far from a panacea for its problems. There is no substitute for good planning, and that area’s initial booming growth was not well-planned. At this point, however, we have to address its problems as well as possible under existing circumstances—and learn from the previous decade’s mistakes so as not to create more such problems elsewhere.
Ardmore Historic District signs approved:
The City Council on October 24 approved placement of official markers for the new Ardmore Historic District. I participated in the Ardmore Neighborhood Association’s (ANA) celebration event in Miller Park on October 15 dedicating the new district. The event was well organized and well attended, and the ANA deserves congratulations for its work. On a related note, installation of the new playground equipment at Miller and Lockland parks is now underway. Thanks again to all the hard work of the ANA volunteers in planning this project with city staff and raising the matching funds to make it possible. These are great examples of the good work that can be accomplished by an active neighborhood association.
Noise control ordinance improvements under review:
City Council committees are in the process of reviewing proposed improvements to our local noise control ordinance. At present, the ordinance simply prohibits "unreasonably loud and disturbing noise" of such "character, intensity and duration as to be detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of any individual". Unfortunately, the application of this rule has been difficult in practice.
The proposed changes to the ordinance would not eliminate this underlying standard, but would supplement it by adding several items that would be considered automatically "unreasonably loud". They would include the following between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., in any residentially zoned area or within 300 feet of any residence: operation of a front-end loader for refuse collection (i.e., emptying dumpsters), operation of construction machinery, operation of outdoor manufacturing equipment, and several other specific items. The proposed changes will be discussed again at the November committee meetings of the City Council.
Streets standards improvements to be considered:
The City Council is slated to consider at the November 7 meeting a package of improvements to the streets standards under the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). The proposed improvements have gone through public hearings and extensive negotiation among interested parties like the city’s neighborhood associations, homebuilders, and Realtors. They have been recommended by the City/County Planning Board and the City Council’s Public Works Committee. Among other changes, they would provide for more sidewalks in new residential developments, and more consistent sidewalk construction when there is new commercial development. For example, the new Walgreen’s on Cloverdale Avenue could have been required to include sidewalks along its frontage if these rule changes (and an accompanying city pedestrian plan) had been in place. I expect to support the new streets standards as a significant step forward in our community planning and infrastructure development.
October constituent service notes:
Enforcement of zoning conditions
: Some trees were cleared on Vest Mill Road in front of existing commercial buildings across from the Hannaford neighborhood. At the request of neighborhood residents, I asked Zoning Inspections staff to look into whether approved site plans for that area required maintenance of the treed buffer there. We learned that the site plans do require maintenance of the buffer, and Zoning staff will work with the property owners to see that this is done.
Neighborhood crime watch
: A number of break-ins occurred this month in the Knollwood Manor area, normally a very quiet section. The Knollwood Manor Neighborhood Association and the WSPD are circulating descriptions of parties observed acting suspiciously. WSPD patrols through the area have been increased, and neighbors are on the lookout, especially for unknown persons watching other neighbors’ homes.
: Lockland Avenue residents have formed a committee to work with city Dept. of Transportation staff in considering changes to slow and calm traffic along that busy residential street. I look forward to working with them on this process.