September 2005 Highlights


September was the month of the big Gulf Coast hurricanes. Winston-Salem is affected and involved in several important ways.


Hurricanes—disaster aid, energy impacts, emergency preparedness:

 

Following the devastation of New Orleans and much of the Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas coasts, Winston-Salem reacted as a community to help, and has continued to be affected and involved.


--Victim assistance: The loss of housing and public services was so sweeping, especially in and around New Orleans, that for a time victims were overloading the emergency shelter capacity of adjoining states. Several hundred were flown to North Carolina. Winston-Salem set up emergency shelter arrangements for 200 in the Coliseum Annex and held it available for several days in case it was needed. City officials also worked with private rental property owners to identify over 500 units which could be made available on a medium-term basis (up to several months) as needed without charge.


--Energy impacts: Much of the nation’s oil refining industry is located in Texas and Louisiana, and the major pipelines supplying the east coast run through the area worst-hit by the hurricanes. Supply was disrupted for days, and gasoline prices soared and have remained high. In order to ensure that limited fuel supplies remained available for emergency and basic sanitation services here during the supply disruption, the city took emergency measures to constrain its government fuel use. City government fuel use dropped by 50% overnight. This draconian cutback, however, included suspending important services like routine street maintenance, brush collection and vegetation management. Those have since been restored. Unfortunately, the lasting fuel price increases are still creating a long-term budget problem, hiking city expenses more than $1 million over this budget year. As a result, the city is looking hard at rapid implementation of longer-term conservation measures. Vehicle anti-idling policies are one good example of a common-sense measure that can be retained without loss of city service quality.


--Emergency preparedness: A disaster on the scale of Hurricane Katrina is always a call to look at how well our own community is prepared to respond to emergencies. City and county staff and officials are in the process of making those reviews. Winston-Salem has managed reasonably well in recent years in responding to events like tornado strikes and ice storms. We have seen smaller emergencies like chemical spills and fires, identified weaknesses in response and public notification, and made policy improvements. Among other scenarios which should be re-examined now are ones which would require larger-scale evacuations.


--Continuing disaster aid: Winston-Salem area residents reacted strongly in the wake of the hurricanes, collecting donations, holding fundraisers, and sending assistance to people in the stricken areas. Many have also opened their homes to individual evacuees and families who were able to make their way here. I want to express my personal appreciation to everyone who has been involved in these helping efforts. We also need to remember that the process of rebuilding the impacted areas will take enormous additional resources, including private aid, over a period of months (or years). Our local aid organizations are also dealing with resources depleted by their emergency assistance efforts and can use more help. If you or your church or other faith community do not already have an aid organization with which you are working, then just FYI my personal favorite is Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina, 3655 Reed St., Winston-Salem NC 27107. They are acting as a regional hub for food relief shipments, and are continuing to accept cash donations for the costs of transportation as well.


Sedgemont sewer:

 

A local public service problem which has been hanging for more than a decade is finally in the process of being resolved. The Sedgemont neighborhood off of South Peace Haven Road has relied on septic systems since its development, but some of those systems are failing and creating problems. Residents of this neighborhood of 50+ homes have been working for some time to achieve city sewer service connection, and have become frustrated with several delays. After being contacted by neighborhood representatives early this month, I met with them and Public Works staff to discuss system cost, quality, and timing issues. This will also be on the agenda of the City Council’s Public Works Committee on October 11 for a status review of the progress of service installation.


Salem Lake fire and services restoration:

 

Arson destroyed the warden’s station at Salem Lake early in September, resulting in disruption of Winston-Salem’s premier public fishing and boating facility for weeks. (Let me assure you that people who have been taking advantage of the great bass, catfish, and other fishing at Salem Lake for years are not shy about letting the city know that they were not pleased about being cut off from their favorite fishing spots.) When "red tape" problems with insurance compensation and federal regulations threatened to stretch out the closure of the lake’s resources beyond reasonable bounds, I pressed city staff to apply their imaginations to getting services reopened. They did, and were able to re-open lake fishing and boating September 25 on a temporary no-fee basis for the remainder of September. A temporary mobile-unit facility is in the process of being set up now for the restoration of full services during the first week of October. Planning for the replacement and expansion of the permanent facilities at Salem Lake will begin this fall.


Parks and Open Space Plan public meetings:

 

Public comment meetings are taking place now on the draft city/county Parks and Open Space Plan. The plan discusses priority needs and recommendations for improving our local parks and recreational resources over the next 10 years. Please let us hear your thoughts on these important community resources. The draft plan can be reviewed online at

www.cityofws.org/recreation. The public comment meetings most convenient to Southwest Ward residents will be held Wednesday, October 19, 6:30 p.m., Miller Park Recreation Center, at 400 Leisure Lane; and Thursday, October 20, 6:30 p.m., South Fork Recreation Center, at 4403 Country Club Road.


Burke Mill Road relocation progress:

 

Residents of Southwest Ward neighborhoods off South Stratford Road who use Burke Mill Road as an alternate route into the central city will be pleased to hear that progress is being made on its relocation. Issues with relocation of the railroad crossing have finally been resolved with Norfolk Southern Railroad, and the City Council in September approved several necessary property acquisitions for the realigned route. When completed, the realigned Burke Mill Road will connect to Stratford Road at Atwood Road in a signalized, fully functional intersection.


Rezoning case—"Wyngate" development on Romara Drive:

 

The City Council gave final approval September 6 to the Wyngate development on Romara Drive off of Jonestown Road. The review process for the proposal included multiple meetings with residents and representatives of the adjacent Westbrook neighborhood. Important issues which had to be resolved during the process included buffer yards, stormwater runoff impacts, transportation improvements, and traffic impacts. Among the measures included to control stormwater were reduced curb and gutter on Romara Drive, phased-in grading, and a stormwater study to design retention and engineered control improvements. At the request of the Westbrook neighborhood, a street connection to Stonington Road was not approved. Internal sidewalk connections are included throughout the new development.


Clean air:

 

There’s more good news on the clean air front. According to local and state agency monitoring and analysis, the Piedmont Triad region (through September) is on track to meet federal clean air standards for ozone by the end of 2005. That’s two years earlier than our commitment under the Early Action Compact agreement. But a caution—we have to keep it up, and that means following through with our clean air maintenance plans. Those especially involve promoting the use of cleaner vehicles, and controlling the growth of "vehicle miles traveled" per person, through good land development planning and providing transportation system alternatives.


"American Dream" Ambassador City Award:

 

I was pleased to be able to stand in for the Mayor on September 17 at Miller Park to accept Winston-Salem’s award as an "American Dream Ambassador City" from the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National Association of Realtors. The city and our local Realtors Association were jointly recognized for our community’s efforts to promote homeownership opportunities. Private and public agency participants are contributing to this work through efforts including first-time homebuyer financial planning education, affordable new home development, and Habitat home construction. Winston-Salem is one of fewer than ten cities nationwide to receive this award this year.


Biking safety improvement opportunities to be reviewed:

 

As noted in my last month’s report, the City Council during August approved a new Bicycle Plan for our urban area. Tragically, during September we were reminded of why such a plan is needed, as two bicyclists were killed in traffic accidents in Winston-Salem. I am asking that the Public Works Committee review at our October meeting what street safety improvements for bicycling can be started without further delay.


Street standards overhaul coming:

 

Also during October, the City Council will begin reviewing a long-awaited overhaul proposal for new street design standards. The changes were finally approved by the City/County Planning Board in September. They include street design, sidewalk construction, and street tree requirements for new developments. The formal City Council public hearing will probably take place at our November 7 meeting.


That’s a long report this month, and more will be coming in October. As always, please feel welcome to contact me with questions or comments at

danbesse@danbesse.org or 722-1674. Thanks!