February 2014 Highlights

Cell tower zoning changes were approved, and the process of setting the size and content of a possible public bond referendum was started in February. First, here's an important announcement regarding "bulky item pickup".

Bulky item pickup begins in March: The annual bulky item pickup collections this year begin in March and will run into early September. The service only comes through each neighborhood once a year, during a specified time. A large area in the Southwest Ward is on one of the early routes this year, the week of March 17. (Most other areas in the Southwest Ward are on routes scheduled for June or July.) Check the schedule and don't miss your pickup opportunity! http://www.cityofws.org/departments/sanitation/collections/bulky-items

Cell tower zoning changes approved: The City Council approved the compromise version of proposed changes to city development ordinances regarding the location of cell towers at our meeting Feb. 3.

Two differing versions of the proposal were considered. One was the version recommended by the Planning Board last fall, based on the original request from the petitioning companies. That version would have both considerably reduced the restrictions on locating cell towers in many residential areas, and provided for approval of requests by a zoning board from which decisions are not appealable to the city council. Instead, we approved the version recommended by the council's Community Development, Housing, and General Government (CDHGG) Committee. It was based on discussions between the sponsors of the proposed changes and neighborhood groups, moderated by the CDHGG Chair Molly Leight. It will permit some types of cell transmitters to be located in some residential zones, but will require city council approval for new towers located in any residential area. This approved version takes several positive steps. It recognizes the increasing demand for strong cellular service throughout the community, and provides opportunities to expand service into existing 'dead spots' and poor reception areas. However, it also recognizes the need to protect residential areas from unnecessary appearance problems. To reduce those, it sets up incentives for co-location of transmitters on existing structures as a preferred alternative, and for concealed tower designs where new towers are needed. It also provides a way for the elected representative body to say 'no' to proposed new tower locations that are unacceptable to the surrounding neighborhoods. The final adopted changes can be seen here: http://www.cwsonline.org/sirepub/cache/2/l1tgac3ygi0lnh551prwqhe2/37886102262014060022850.PDF

Capital investment in city needs through a public bond referendum: The city council held a special meeting on February 24 to begin the process of sorting through whether to ask citizens to approve a capital projects bond referendum this year--and if so for how much, and which priority needs to include. We've gotten a lot of input already on the needs, including a focused study by a citizen committee last year. Winston-Salem's last bond referendum was in 2000. Since then, a great deal of facility deferred maintenance has built up, and our size and population have grown. We've gotten pretty good at finding places from which to pull resources for the most urgent needs or special opportunities, but most of those sources are running very low by now.

Important unmet capital investment needs can be found in the areas of transportation (streets, sidewalks, and transit); public safety (badly needed renovations of our main public safety center, for example); parks and recreation (decaying trails, tennis courts, recreation centers, etc.); economic development (business/research parks, for example); and public facilities (major maintenance and upfits for the convention center).

There will be a formal process for public input over the next several months, before a final decision about what (if anything) to put on the ballot must be made by early August. In the meantime, I welcome your comments on priorities and questions about alternatives. I will ask city staff to begin putting information about our options online next month.

Bus system operational analysis: In February, the city council's Public Works Committee received the Comprehensive Operation Analysis (COA) for WSTA (our city bus system). This COA is a detailed study of system usage (where riders get on and off, and when) as well as potential service demand. It makes preliminary recommendations for how to reconfigure our routes to improve service quality and efficiency. The entire city would be affected. Some neighborhoods would get better service, but some others would lose connections. The draft was held in committee and will be discussed further at our April 15 meeting. In the meantime, I and other council members will be seeking input from neighborhoods that would be most directly affected. Once the committee is comfortable with a recommendation, more formal public hearings will be held. The COA materials and maps can be reviewed online here: http://www.cwsonline.org/sirepub/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=795&doctype=Agenda

NextBus tracking system: One important step toward making our city bus system more user-friendly is being launched now. It's the NextBus tracking system, using GPS technology, that will allow anyone to check when the next bus on any route will arrive at the nearest stop to you. It can be accessed through the web now, and a mobile app is available. To try it, go to www.wstransit.com.

Gun buyback events: The gun buyback project approved in January has scheduled two events, on March 15 and April 12. Full details of the events (and the program) can be found online here: http://www.cityofws.org/home-center/gun-buy-back
As discussed in my January report, this project is designed to reduce the number of guns on the street by giving citizens the opportunity to trade them in for a modest cash payment. Guns that are found to have been stolen must be returned to their owners; other guns can be disposed of safely. It's a way for citizens to get rid of undesired weapons, reducing the threat of accidents or theft in those cases. As much as anything else, it's an opportunity for public education on the issue of gun violence and community safety. Most gun violence involves suicides, accidental shootings, or domestic violence. This program is intended as one part in a comprehensive approach to improve community safety. A total of $10,000 was approved for the buybacks at this time.

Other upcoming activities/notes:

--Citizens Police Academy: Applications are open now for this 13 week, once a week program to help citizens better understand the work of our police department. The application deadline is March 17. Full details and an online application are available here: http://www.cityofws.org/departments/police/vips/citizen-police-academy

--Forsyth Creek Week: Don't forget Forsyth Creek Week (Mar. 15-22), this year's version of the annual public education and cleanup activities event for clean streams in our community. For more information, see www.ForsythCreekWeek.com/

That's my report for February. As always, you are welcome to email me at danbesse@danbesse.org with comments or questions. Thanks.