No single issue dominated city work during January, but actions were taken on a number of public safety and neighborhood concerns:
Public safety: The City Council in January accepted and approved matching funds for a four-year $1.16 million federal grant to hire 12 additional firefighters. The 12 new positions will allow the WSFD to better serve growing areas of the city with fire suppression and medical call response. They will also allow the department to shift its Hazardous Materials Team base to the Arbor Road Fire Station near Five Points and concentrate that team on its core mission of hazardous materials release response.
The council also authorized purchase and renovation of property for a new police evidence storage and training facility. The WSPD requested the new facility for several reasons: Existing storage space is scattered at five locations around the city, requiring extensive staff travel time and delaying property retrieval; not all the existing space has satisfactory climate control; and increased use of DNA evidence has greatly increased the demand for permanent, climate-controlled storage space.
Noise control improvements: The council on January 17 gave preliminary approval to improvements in the city’s noise control ordinance. The city’s existing ordinance includes a general prohibition against "the creation of any unreasonably loud and disturbing noise" with references to specific examples such as car horns, music, and animals. The proposed improvements add several specific items that are deemed to be unreasonably loud. In particular, these include the operation of a front-end loader for refuse collection between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. in any residentially zoned area or within 300 feet of any residence in the city. The changes were proposed in response to recurring complaints from some citizens about middle-of-the-night "dumpster alarms" from such garbage collection near their homes. (If you’ve never been awakened at 4 a.m. by the repeated crashing of a dumpster being shaken by a loader arm, you’ve missed a unique experience.)
Some private waste-haulers spoke in opposition to the change, citing concerns about traffic safety issues from collections later in the day. Proponents of the change noted that other cities (such as Charlotte) already enforce similar restrictions with no report of increased safety problems. I spoke and voted for the new restrictions. Because the changes were approved by a relatively close vote, 5-3, they must be voted on a second time at our next regular meeting. If the council confirms its support at the February 6 meeting, the changes will become law.
Other neighborhood concerns:
House break-ins: Even though the incidence of break-ins is still down from a rash of incidents during October and November, there are still incidents in our area. WSPD officers and neighborhood association leaders remind us to be alert for suspicious activity on our streets or strangers snooping around neighbors’ homes. There was also a string of auto vandalisms around several neighborhoods during the late evening of January 29. To report suspicious activity, please call the WSPD at 773-7700. If you see a crime in progress, of course, call 911. For more information on crime prevention tips or setting up a neighborhood watch, contact the WSPD Crime Prevention Office at 773-7835.
Streetlighting requests: When neighborhood residents contact the city with a request to improve streetlighting at a particular location, the review is handled by an office within the Transportation department (747-6873). If the review shows that increased lighting can be justified, the city places an order with Duke Power, whose crews install the new lights. I have learned that sometimes a city order is delayed by communications problems within Duke. One such delay has recently affected a part of Revere Road. City staff have confirmed the order for new lighting on Revere, and are communicating our concern about delays to the appropriate staff at Duke.
Stormwater runoff and flooding: This is a regular subject of calls and complaints from around the Southwest Ward (and the city as a whole). I have two new notes on this issue. First, the "Shoppes at Little Creek" development on Hanes Mall Boulevard has completed the installation of improvements to its stormwater control structures, which should reduce the downstream streambank erosion problems along that tributary to Little Creek. Second, the City Council agreed at our strategic planning meeting on January 30 to include improved stormwater management as a priority work item over the next four years. We will need to address both city policies on new construction, and improvements to city infrastructure (drains, pipes, catchbasins, etc.).
Coming in March: City-County Planning staff are in the process of developing a draft Pedestrian Plan for the improvement of pedestrian safety features (e.g., crosswalks and signals) and sidewalk networks. The target date for presenting a draft plan to the City-County Planning Board is late March, to be followed by a formal public comment period.