February 2011 Highlights

In February, the city council approved a new conditions code for vacant non-residential structures. Plus, several public input opportunities of interest to Southwest Ward residents are coming in March.

Council adopts code for vacant non-residential buildings: For the past two years, the city council has worked to draft a building conditions code to help us address problems with vacant non-residential property. These are problems like damaged walls, broken windows, and other signs of serious deterioration that can present public safety hazards and degrade the value of other nearby property. We've worked with our inspections staff to identify the gaps in our enforcement authority and plan how to fill them in with code provisions narrowly tailored to address the real problems with our limited available staff resources. We've worked with property owners and managers to avoid unintended costs and adverse consequences to that majority of responsible commercial property owners. We've heard from neighborhoods about which types of issues create the biggest concerns, especially the real eyesore buildings which absent or irresponsible owners have allowed to sit vacant and decaying for years. On February 7, by a vote of 6 to 2, we adopted Winston-Salem's first vacant non-residential structures conditions code. It will go into effect six months from adoption, and staff are already preparing their targets list of the worst offenders. Under the authorizing state statute, we are required to give those owners a two-year action deadline--which seems like an excessively long time to me too, frankly--but at least the cleanup clocks have begun ticking.

Little Creek Greenway public meeting: A public input meeting on the proposed phase 2 of the Little Creek Greenway will be held Tuesday, March 1, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Little Creek Recreation Center on Foxcroft Drive. Phase 1 of the greenway, connecting the recreation center and park, as well as a nice shopping/dining center on Hanes Mall Boulevard, with Salem Woods and the Atwood neighborhoods, is already funded and finalized and (I hope) will be built this year.

For more details on Little Creek and other greenway sections under review, go to http://www.cityofws.org/Home/Departments/Planning/Articles/NowFeaturing

Talk of the Town meeting scheduled for March 8: Mayor Allen Joines and I will hold our annual "Talk of the Town" public input session for the Southwest Ward on Tuesday, March 8, starting at 6 p.m. at Trinity Presbyterian Church, 1416 Bolton Street. Topics up for discussion will include the city budget, public safety, transportation improvements and safety, and recreation and parks issues. (Those are examples--bring any other questions you want to review as well.) We'll make brief presentations, followed by an extended Q&A period between citizens, the mayor, myself, and senior Winston-Salem staff.

Capital project priorities under review: As a part of our mid-range planning process, the city council keeps a rolling list of new capital projects needs. Then, we periodically propose a capital bond referendum for public review (and, we hope, approval). Proceeds from the last such bond, approved a decade ago, are running out, and we've started the process of looking at what should go in the next one. As part of the public input process, we set up a Citizens' Capital Needs Committee, with 13 members who include at least one representative from every city ward.

That citizens committee now is seeking public opinion on priorities for such capital improvements as sidewalks, greenways, other transportation needs, and new fire stations. Sessions will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, March 1, and at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 3, to present the current list of identified capital needs, explain the projects and possible ways to pay for them, and solicit thoughts on priorities. Both sessions are expected to last two hours and will be held at City Hall. A list of potential projects is posted online and can be examined before the meeting. Citizens who are not able to attend can give their opinions online through March 5. www.cityofws.org/Home/Departments/MarketingAndCommunications/NewsArchive/News2011/Articles/CitizenInputSoughtOnCapitalProjectPriorities

Northwest Area Planning process: The Northwest Area planning process got underway February 17, with the opening community "vision session" held at Whitaker school. The Northwest planning area includes pieces of four city wards; the Southwest Ward's section is bordered by Silas Creek Parkway on the west, Business 40 on the south, and Country Club Road on the north. The Citizen Advisory Committee for the Northwest Area Plan includes about 20 Winston-Salem citizens, including four from the Southwest Ward. It will meet for the next six--eight months to study conditions and goals for the area, prior to making its recommendations to the Planning Board. Ultimately, the new Northwest Area Plan will come before the city council for final review, public hearing, and approval.

Other small area plans containing parts of the Southwest Ward which have already been approved include the Southwest Suburban Area, the Southwest Area, and the South Suburban Area. The West Suburban Area planning process is also underway now, including citizen representatives from the Southwest Ward. (There are a total of 13 small area plans covering the city, under the Legacy comprehensive plan.)

Ardmore post office update: Here's the latest information I have regarding efforts to keep a post office branch which is easily accessible to the large Ardmore neighborhood and other nearby residents. As I previously reported, WFU/BMC hospital was willing to offer a lease extension for the current site of the Ardmore branch. Local USPS officials seemed ready to consider this. However, it was announced in mid-February that the USPS instead intends to open a small branch in May, inside an anticipated new hardware store in the nearby Cloverdale Plaza shopping center. In terms of parking convenience, this would likely be a step up from the current location. However, as announced it would not include P.O. boxes, which are being relocated (at the renters' option) to the downtown branch. I will make further inquiries and indicate in a future update if this remains the final plan.

Lockland Avenue update: Residents on and users of Lockland Avenue have continued to express their interest in two questions: Is the "traffic calming" project there helping to reduce speeds? When will the permanent repaving of the street be completed? I have an update this month on both questions.

On the speeding question, city transportation engineers have completed their "before and after" traffic study for Lockland, and report that the average speed of cars measured has been reduced 2 to 5 m.p.h. since the project's installation. That may not sound like much, but it is considered a significant drop by traffic engineers. (Remember that this is average speed, which includes the many cars which were always obeyed the speed limit there.) Of course, nothing can prevent the truly oblivious driver from speeding in any situation, but by dropping the average speed significantly, we improve the safety of the street.

On the paving question, here is the schedule as provided by the city Utilities Department. As I've reported previously, the final repaving is waiting on completion of the underlying sewer line renovations. Like all public capital improvement projects now, the major sewer renovation project of which Lockland is a part must go through a competitive bid and contract approval process. In this case, the entire project is to be bid out April 5, the contract awarded by the Utilities Commission in May, and the work to start in June. Under the contract to be used, staff will specify that the Lockland work is to be done first (since it has been waiting so long on repavement). The Lockland sewer renovation work should be completed in July and the final repaving done shortly afterward.

Bulky item pickup about to begin: City sanitation crews are scheduled to begin the first bulky item pickup routes for 2011 this Monday, February 28. Wait--don't rush out and put your stuff at the curb this weekend! CHECK to see what week YOUR street is scheduled: http://www.cityofws.org/Home/Departments/Sanitation/Articles/BulkyItems

Use the link provided, enter your street address, and you should get the date your section is scheduled to start. Then, put your stuff out the Sunday evening before that Monday, in order to ensure it's picked up that week. Please keep in mind what can and can't be collected. All those details are provided on the page linked above.

Cleanup at Brookstown and First Street: Finally this month, the council voted on February 21 to require the demolition and removal of 15 vacant houses across from the new baseball stadium. I've been hearing (legitimate) complaints about those eyesores for a year now, and we've finally been able to work our way through the required notice process to require their removal. We expect it to be complete by the start of the baseball season.