August began with wide neighborhood participation in the annual National Night Out event.
National Night Out: Dozens of neighborhood groups met around our city on August 3 for this annual event celebrating the partnerships between police and neighborhood crime watch groups to boost public safety. Starting with the citywide kickoff (this year at the Foxhall neighborhood), I made it to four other gatherings (Fenimore/Ardmore, Brantley/Gales/Lockland, Preston Downs, Seasons Chase) before the evening wore down. It was good to see neighbors there--and for my friends in Sandersted, Healy Towers, and Mar-Don Hills, sorry to miss you, and I'll try to catch your events next year. Thanks to all of our citizens who are involved in these important community safety initiatives.
Bicycle safety: Speaking of safety, there's been ongoing public discussion this summer of the need to address conflicts between autos and bikes on our area streets and roads. As a driver, I understand that bicyclists have equal rights to use our streets safely. It's important that we all learn to share the road. If I'm driving too fast to take into account an unexpected cyclist, then I'm driving too fast for conditions, period. If I'm coming around a blind turn, then I have the responsibility to slow down and be ready for anything--whether it's a stopped delivery truck, a child chasing a ball into the street, or a bike. Please help us spread that understanding to all our friends who drive in our city. Cyclists also need to obey the traffic laws and stay constantly aware of their surroundings. Cycling is healthy exercise, and biking commuters help reduce air pollution and congestion for all of us. Let's help keep them safe.
In the meantime, making our city safer for all the users of our streets continues to be a personal priority of mine as your council representative. That includes efficient traffic signals, sidewalks, bike lanes, greenways, intersection and pedestrian crossing improvements, and traffic calming measures.
Research Park development: One of the top priorities for effective economic development in our city is continued expansion and improvement of the Piedmont Triad Research Park. In April, we approved city participation in a project partnering with Wake Forest University Health Sciences which is bringing more jobs and an estimated $87 million in taxable investment to the park. In September, we'll consider plans to make street and utilities improvements in the research park which will help continue its growth. By committing $4 million from Dell repayment funds and the city/county utilities Economic Development Fund, we can draw a matching $4 million investment from the state Dept. of Transportation. The detailed description and public hearing on the plans will take place at the city council meeting September 7.
"Change of use" simplifications: Over the past year, the city/county planning department and city council have been working to address problems of concern to our local business community in what are known as "change of use" requests. These issues come up when a commercial building or property used for one type of business activity is proposed for another business use. When the change proposed is to a use requiring a different zoning category, then the property owner involved must seek a zoning change, which can be an extended and expensive process.
Clearly, there are some commercial uses that can be less compatible than others with existing neighbors. However, it's also important not to be so restrictive that we keep small businesses from re-using existing commercial properties in ways that create jobs without adversely impacting neighbors. In August, the city council gave final approval to some use category consolidations which should help improve this balance. For example, miscellaneous health services and general business offices have similar impacts, and so were consolidated into a single "offices" category. This and the other approved changes to the UDO (unified development ordinance) were finalized after themselves going through the public review and comment process.
Salem Lake construction: I know that a great many of my constituents are regular users of our city's beautiful Salem Lake Park, so I figured that plans for the reconstruction of the Salem Lake dam will be of broad interest. As many of you know, that dam was originally built in 1919, and much of the current structure dates from 1947. Our engineers tell us that, while there's no immediate danger, the dam does not meet current standards and needs major repairs or replacement. The needed repairs would cost more than replacement. Therefore, water/sewer bonds have been approved to finance the dam's replacement. Construction of the new dam is scheduled to begin in November. The new dam will be built about 100 feet downstream from the current dam. For safety during the construction process, Salem Lake will be partially drawn down. While the central areas of the lake will remain, the shallow upper reaches of the lake bottom will be exposed for a while. Boating and fishing will be closed during that period. However, the wildly popular Salem Lake Trail will remain open during the construction period. Construction of new sections of that trail, which will go around the new dam, will begin in September. Upon completion, the trail will even have been improved, with more manageable slopes replacing the steep drop-offs which now flank the current dam's face. Biologically, the lake itself should recover fully and in short order after it is re-filled. And the "lunkers" lurking in the bottom channels will still be there when the anglers return late next spring.