December 2011 Highlights

Rooming houses and public protest rules were among the hot debates in December. 

Rooming houses:    The topic of rooming houses in single-family zoned areas came up for debate again last month. This is an issue that was debated at great length in 2007-2008, after residents of several urban neighborhoods began to complain about effects from large older houses which had been converted from single-family use to multi-occupant rooming houses. After extended debate, public hearings, and public comment pro and con, the city council voted to require that rooming houses which had been improperly created in single-family zones would have to come into compliance with the zoning rules of those neighborhoods. That meant that they would be required to either re-convert to single-family use or successfully seek re-zoning to multi-family use. In order to prevent hardships, a three-year compliance period was allowed. This transition period expires at the end of this month.

Earlier this year, a group of rooming house owners began asking the city council to reconsider that decision. Few of the city council members believed that their constituents wanted that debate revisited. However, in November the rooming house owners were given another opportunity to argue their case, again, to the council's Community Development, Housing, and General Government (CDHGG) Committee. At the end of that meeting, no member of the CDHGG Committee made any motion to formally revisit the decision or suspend it from going into effect as scheduled. The rooming house owners were advised to continue to prepare for the change to take effect at the end of this month (December 2011). Rooming houses will continue to be allowed in multi-family zones, but any remaining in single-family zones must be closed at that time.

The city is taking steps to assist any rooming house residents who get caught in the house owners' failure to use the three-year transition period to phase out the rooming houses located in single-family zones. Information on options for relocation and applying for housing assistance programs, if needed, is being made available. In addition, two community information sessions have been set up in early January for rooming house occupants: Thursday, Jan. 5, 6 p.m., at Hanes Hosiery Community Center (501 Reynolds Blvd.); and Thursday, Jan. 12, 6 p.m., at Sprague Street Community Recreation Center (1350 East Sprague St.). More information is available from Stephanie Stimpson at 336-734-1272 or stephans@cityofws.org

Public protest sites and rules:    Temporary rules clarifying where and when open-air public meetings and protests can take place on city property will be the subject of a public hearing at the city council meeting on Monday, January 3, at 7 p.m. Your comments are welcome. First, let me explain what is actually being proposed.

Contrary to what some of you may have heard or read elsewhere, I have NOT proposed that City Hall no longer be public property. That would be absurd, and the Winston-Salem Journal should have acknowledged that it was in error to print the claim, after my phone call and letter pointing out its mistake.

Here's what the proposal would actually do:

  • Require that open-air public meetings on the City Hall grounds stay on the paved steps, walkways, and sidewalks. (In other words, that provision amounts to a "keep off the grass" sign for the ornamental landscaped grounds in front of City Hall.)
  • Limit the hours for "open air public meetings" on city property to between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. (Pickets and vigils on public sidewalks could continue to go all night.)
  • Both of those temporary provisions would expire March 27 unless modified or renewed by the city council after full public comments and discussion.

I proposed these temporary provisions in order to prevent the kind of confusion and conflicts over what constitutes an "open air public meeting" that took place on the City Hall grounds this month. I am concerned that unless we clarify what the ordinance means, those confrontations could be repeated. Even worse, we could see dangerous conflicts between different groups trying to use the same limited space at the same time. For us to have both unfettered public speech and assembly on public property, and public safety, the rules on "time, place, and manner" need to be reasonable and clear.

Neither I nor anyone else on the city council wants to suppress the Occupy Winston-Salem folks from public speech and assembly. I personally believe that they have points which need to be heard regarding the excessive influence of money in politics, the problems created by inequalities in opportunity in society, and abuses in the financial industry. I was prepared in November to support the proposed encampment agreement on city property beside Marshall Street, an offer which the Occupy group rejected. I also understand, however, that we have to be sure that the same public property use opportunities are available to all groups over the long run, under rules that are fair to everyone. Balancing those needs requires careful consideration and action. 

Pedestrian projects:    Several projects designed to improve pedestrian safety and mobility are under development in the Southwest Ward. Like all public sector capital improvement projects, they seem to take forever to complete, so I'm including a short summary update here. First, the Old Vineyard Road sidewalk between Country Club Road and Jonesborough Court has been completed. The Ebert Street sidewalk between Cherokee Lane and Hawthorne Road has had its right of way staked out and it should be built as soon as weather permits. Pedestrian safety improvement projects at the intersection of Peters Creek Parkway and Academy Street, and along Cloverdale Avenue between Oakwood Street and Miller Street, are under development and should be done in 2012. The first phase of the Little Creek Greenway connecting the Atwood and Salem Woods neighborhoods with the Little Creek Recreation Center and providing pedestrian and biking access to Hanes Mall Boulevard ran into unexpected design issues that have delayed its construction to 2012. I'm also in the process of looking into what can be done to improve pedestrian safety along Griffith Road and elsewhere in the ward. This continues to be one of my major priorities.

Keep Winston-Salem Beautiful recognized:    Keep Winston-Salem Beautiful, our local litter prevention and community clean-up organization, received three awards this month from national Keep America Beautiful, including two for its cigarette litter prevention programs. Congrats to the staff and volunteers involved in these efforts! For the details, see http://www.cityofws.org/Home/Departments/MarketingAndCommunications/NewsArchive/News2011/Articles/KeepAmericaBeautifulHonorsKeepWinston-SalemBeautifulWithThreeAwards 

Citizen Survey posted online:    Finally, here's an easy option available now to submit your comments on city service delivery, including improvements needed. Just go to the city website at www.cityofws.org and fill out the online survey form with your thoughts. If you have trouble locating it on the website, the direct link is here: https://survey.vovici.com/se.ashx?s=05A850D022F37734 

The survey is open through January 5. After that, the results will be compiled, added to the feedback from a random community survey sample collected earlier, and provided to the city manager and city council for use in improving city services. Thanks for your help!