Elections, leaves, zoning debates--November was a full month, and at least two hot topics will start discussion before City Council committees in December:
Election results: Let me first thank all of you for the opportunity to continue serving as your representative on the city council. This has been an especially gratifying public service opportunity for me, and I look forward to continuing to work for you and all the people of the Southwest Ward and Winston-Salem. The incoming mayor and council will begin our terms this Monday evening, December 2. I expect that it will be another challenging three years. (Due to legislation passed last year, Winston-Salem's city elections unfortunately were switched to presidential election years, so they will next take place in 2016.) I will continue to focus on strengthening neighborhoods and helping to provide good city services--especially public safety, sanitation, and transportation--as efficiently as possible. Communication is a key to doing that. I want to continue to hear from you.
Leaf collection update: The southwestern quadrant of Winston-Salem is the last area to be collected this year. Combined with the relatively heavy early leaf fall, that has left leaf piles along Southwest Ward streets for about two weeks longer than usual, and I have been hearing all about it since mid-month. The good news is that the wait is about over: Leaf collection in the Southwest Ward is now projected to begin December 4. It is possible that a truck may be able to start sooner on a few streets. I appreciate your patience. You may remember that last year our quadrant was the first to be collected--this year it was our turn to wait.
This will be the first of three city-wide passes of the leaf collection service for this season. Throughout leaf collection season, you can track the progress of collection crews online, and get the latest updated estimate of when to next expect them in your neighborhood, here: http://www.cwsonline.org/leafcollection/ Please remember not to park on or in front of leaf stacks on any day when the collection trucks may be reaching your street. Trucks won't be able to collect those leaves.
Possible improvements to the leaf collection system will be discussed during the budget period again next year. We've been trying different tweaks to the process, and at this point the real question is going to be whether to spend substantially more for additional equipment and staff. We can do that, but if so it will have to be reflected in the tax rate. During this year's budget process, we actually had to resist calls to dramatically cut back leaf collection service in order to save a penny on the tax rate. We can't have it both ways on this one--it's a time- and labor-intensive service that would cost a good deal to significantly improve.
Electronic sweepstakes business zoning: These proposed changes to planning/zoning ordinances would define the "electronic sweepstakes" use, and limit the business zoning categories in which so-called "internet cafes" (or other electronic sweepstakes operations) could be located. The proposal was originated by the city council itself following multiple neighborhood complaints regarding the expansion of these uses into pedestrian business and other inappropriate areas. The Planning Board approved one version of the proposal and returned the matter to the council for consideration. In November, the council's Community Development, Housing, and General Government (CDHGG) Committee heard discussion of the alternatives and recommended a stricter version (which would limit these uses to Highway Business zones only). I expect the matter to be heard and decided by the full city council following a public hearing at our December 16 meeting (Monday, Dec. 16, 7 p.m., City Hall).
Cell tower zoning changes: Changes to the planning ordinance regarding the location of cell phone towers in residential areas, requested by the telecommunications industry, have been recommended by the City/County Planning Board. The proposed changes now come to the City Council for review and discussion. I and other council members clearly understand that this is a hot button topic to many neighborhoods, and the proposed changes will be thoroughly reviewed from the ground up. The next stop for the proposals will be the council's Community Development, Housing, and General Government Committee. The CDHGG Committee's next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, December 10, beginning at 6 p.m. at City Hall. I expect that this item will be on the agenda for discussion. It is not scheduled as a formal public hearing in committee, but there may be comment time provided. (There is always a formal public hearing at the full council level.)
The original change proposal and notes from the public hearing before the Planning Board can be found here: http://www.cityofws.org/Portals/0/pdf/Planning/Zoning/ZoningCases/November2013/UDO244.pdf
The Planning Board recommended approval with some changes, but the modified version is not yet available online.
Cloverdale pedestrian safety work completed: The Cloverdale Avenue pedestrian safety improvement project (phase one, Oakwood to Melrose) is complete! Cloverdale now has sidewalk on the heavily used north side (as well as the south) along that entire section; two dangerously wide intersections have been narrowed with crossings clearly marked; and three pedestrian crossings of Cloverdale itself have been narrowed and clearly marked. This heavily used pedestrian area should now be substantially safer and more walking-friendly, both for the many apartment residents adjacent to Cloverdale itself and to the many other nearby neighbors who walk along or cross Cloverdale for shopping and other activity.
Magnolia Street problem property update: The house at 700 Magnolia Street, site of a recent tragic homicide and long regarded as a problem property by neighbors, is under renewed intense scrutiny by the city. Housing inspectors gained access to the interior of the house and have cited the owner for several unfit violations of housing code. Failure by the owner to act on those violations would allow the city to move forward with condemnation. There appears also to be the prospect that the property will change hands to in-state ownership. I will continue to press for resolution of the issues surrounding this property.
Zoning cases: Two rezoning cases in the Southwest Ward were heard in November. One requested changes to a previously approved shopping center site plan on Hanes Mall Boulevard. Appearance issues were worked out to the satisfaction of neighbors and the request was approved. The other request was for after-the-fact approval of rezoning a lot on Brent Street from single to multi-family in order to allow continued duplex use of a house which had been illegally converted several years ago. The request drew opposition from neighbors and would have set a dangerous precedent for the neighborhood. It was denied.
In a case outside the Southwest Ward but of broad interest, the council approved a request for changes to the site plan for property near the intersection of Country Club and Meadowlark. That site had been rezoned years ago for a shopping center. The new proposal was controversial in that the location was recently purchased for construction of a Wal-Mart grocery store. Nearby neighborhoods objected to anticipated traffic and other impacts. Changes were negotiated under which the developer will pay for lane additions and roadway work, modify building appearance, and add trees and buffering to the site. Neighbors supported the rezoning with those changes. A factor in neighborhood response was the fact that the zoning already in place would have permitted construction of the Wal-Mart store even without changes. The developer indicated that his client intended to build on the site even if it was necessary to do so under the old, less desirable, site plan.
National League of Cites conference report: I helped to represent Winston-Salem at the National League of Cities (NLC) annual conference in Seattle in November. This meeting marked the conclusion of my two-year term as a member of the NLC Board of Directors, which has taken much of my time at the conferences, as well as other meetings and conference calls in between. I anticipate returning to service on the NLC Transportation Infrastructure and Services Policy Committee now. The NLC board service has provided useful contacts and experience for my work for Winston-Salem, but I am looking forward to getting back to concentrating on the transportation policy work that I have found most valuable to my efforts here at home.
While at the conference this month, I was also able to participate in sessions on transportation programs which provided some good ideas and information sources on how to advance our local transportation priority projects (including roads, public transit, and walking/biking facilities).
--The city council approved creation of a Downtown Business Improvement District (BID), which will permit the addition next year of a small tax surcharge only on real property located within the district, to be used for downtown business enhancement activities. Those will be recommended by a special committee of downtown residents and property owners, appointed by the city council, and may include items such as enhanced cleaning, safety patrols, street trees, sidewalk improvements, etc.
--The city's Human Relations Commission has received a federal grant for fair housing work including a public education campaign on "emerging issues" such as the legal protections against housing discrimination against victims of domestic violence, immigrants, and LGBT individuals.
--The Police Department has received additional federal and state property forfeiture funds, which will be used for specialized officer training and equipment, as well as expenses for the K-9 unit.
That's my report for November. As always, you are welcome to email me at email@example.com with comments or questions. Thanks!