August 2012 Highlights

Fall is on the way, to the relief of those of us who like cooler weather. Happy Labor Day to all!

Labor Day week sanitation schedule:      City offices will be closed this Monday, September 3, for Labor Day. All yard waste and recycling collections for the week of September 3 will be postponed by one day: Monday routes collected on Tuesday, Tuesday routes on Wednesday, etc. Garbage will be collected on its usual days (no postponements for garbage pickup).

September street closures:      I have two affected areas to alert:
--South Fork:    Several streets will be affected on the morning of Saturday, September 8, by the Moravian Challenge 5k Race. Beginning at 7:45 a.m. that morning, officers will close entrance into the race route along Kilpatrick Street, Southfork Avenue, Rosalie, Sylvia and Lindbergh Streets. Residents who need to leave can drive out, but normal traffic won't be allowed in until about 9:30 a.m.
--Ardmore:    Utilities line renovation work will continue during September in the Ardmore neighborhood. Updates will come out weekly as usual. For the week of September 3, the following streets will be affected: Craig St., Corona St.,Elizabeth Ave. between Miller and Irving, and Irving St. in the Elizabeth Ave. area.

Union Station and Davis Garage:      Casual observers can easily be excused if they're confused about the status of Union Station/Davis Garage. (Haven't we been discussing this for years?) This issue is of significance to Winston-Salem transportation planning generally, and a related zoning issue is of special interest to some neighborhoods in the Southwest Ward. I'll summarize the background and explain what's happening now.

The historic Union Station, located near Winston-Salem State University on the east-west railroad line, was our city's principal rail passenger terminal in the 20th century. When passenger rail service to our city ceased in 1970, the station was closed. Harvey Davis bought it in 1975 and has used it since as the site of his garage and towing service. When the current revitalization of passenger rail began nationally, local interest began to focus on Union Station as ideally located for a renewed public transit hub for Winston-Salem. A feasibility study concluded in 2002 that the site and plan would work, and federal funding for the acquisition was approved in the mid-2000s. Mr. Davis was willing to sell, but an agreement on price proved difficult to reach. After extended plan debates, negotiations, and court maneuvers, a settlement was reached earlier this year. The city (with most of the funds coming from the federal grant) paid $1.35 million, and is to take possession on December 1.

More recently, Mr. Davis has requested a two-year extension of possession of the building while he completes relocation of his towing service and garage. Unfortunately, as he has acknowledged, he plans for most of that time to go into a process of rezoning and construction of a new garage on property owned by his corporation off Jonestown Road near its Stratford Road intersection. This property is now zoned residential. Area land-use plans call for it to remain residential or low-intensity commercial. Residents of adjacent neighborhoods (Huntington Woods, Lockwood) have strenuously objected to the proposed rezoning, which has already been rejected twice in the city/county planning process.

On August 6, the city council and mayor voted 5-4 to postpone action on Mr. Davis' lease extension request until November. I made the motion to postpone action. I tried to make it clear that I would like for the city to be willing to work with Mr. Davis for a reasonable, short lease extension (no more than six months) if he needs that time to complete relocation to another legal site. However, I am not willing to support any extension to the lease just to provide time for yet another request to rezone the Jonestown Road site. Mr. Davis knew that property was not zoned for the use he wanted when his corporation bought it. His rezoning request for that property has already been turned down twice. I will continue to represent my constituents' interests in protecting their neighborhoods from incompatible development nearby. Mr. Davis has alternatives for relocation; he should take them.

In the bigger picture, repairs and renovations to Union Station to prepare it for use as a new transportation center will take several years to plan and complete. Now that the city owns it, we need to get our staff and workers into it to begin that process. In a few years time, we should see a renewed Union Station as a 21st century hub of public transportation for Winston-Salem.

Parks improvements:      The city received two corporate grants for small parks improvements during August, which will include the costs of work at two city parks in the Southwest Ward. The basketball courts at Little Creek Recreation Center will be refurbished, and Miller Park will get some raised garden beds. Work will also be done on the basketball courts at Easton Park.

Change of Use reviews available:      The city/county Inspections Department is working to spread the word about a new service available to business owners or potential businesses looking at buying an existing building for a possible new business use. In this "Change of Use" review, Inspections Department staff will come in for a thorough advance review of what changes would be needed to make a building safe and legal for a possible new use (plumbing, wiring, fire safety, ventilation, zoning, etc.). (An example of a new use might be conversion of retail space into a restaurant.) The information would be provided in writing in detail sufficient to allow an architect or engineer to incorporate any needed changes into a building plan before it was submitted to the Inspections Division for approval.
     This new review service has been put together in response to business community requests for ways to make it easier to open new enterprises. This is an optional service, not a new permit requirement for anyone. The idea is to help business owners and prospective owners know how well a location suits their plans before they commit to a lease or purchase. There is a one-time fee of $250 for a change of use review, to help cover costs of staff time for the work. We anticipate this will be a handy new tool to facilitate small business expansions.

September events:      Some city activities of interest during September: 
--The Winston-Salem Fire Department has a recruiting fair for men and women who may be interested in becoming firefighters, from noon to 5 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 7, at Fire Station No. 1, 651 N. Marshall St. There will be an opportunity to talk with firefighters, watch video demonstrations, and fill out applications. The application deadline for the next firefighter training class is Sept. 10.
--The Forsyth Health Department's fitness/wellness program, Step Up Forsyth, will kick off its fall challenge with Sunday Fun Day on the Greenway on Sunday, Sept. 16, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Brushy Fork Greenway and Skyland Park, off of Big House Gaines Blvd. (This is also a chance to come take a look at our new section of Brushy Fork Greenway.) More details can be found here:
--Winston-Salem's downtown street festival, Rock the Block, will take place on the evening of Friday, Sept. 21, and on Saturday, Sept. 22.

National Night Out a citywide success:      The nationwide celebration of the partnership between police and neighborhood groups cooperating for the improvement of public safety was held August 7 at almost 40 locations around Winston-Salem, including nine neighborhoods in the Southwest Ward. I was able to make it to five locations (including Gales Ave., Irving St., Sandersted, and Atwood/Bridgeport) before I ran out of time. Thanks to everyone I visited--and as usual, if I missed you this year, I'll try to catch you next year.