Affordable workforce housing issues were the big debate drawing attention in August. First, though, I’ll take a look at progress on capital projects investing the voter-approved city bond funds.
Bond projects update: The city council held a special meeting on August 31 to hear and discuss updates on implementation of the citizen-approved bond-funded projects. I am pleased to be able to note the progress made on a broad front of the projects in streets and sidewalks, public safety, and parks and recreation. For this update, I will focus on work being carried out within the Southwest Ward. In streets resurfacing, work has been completed on the following Southwest Ward streets: Kimwell Drive, Somerset Drive, Griffith Road, Burke Mill Road, Beckwood Drive, Springhaven Drive, Birchway Lane, Stonekirk Court, Atwood Road, Atwood Court, Huntington Woods Drive, and Lockwood Drive. In public safety facilities, the design of the Police District 3 Station near the intersection of S. Stratford Road and Somerset Drive is in progress, with a target time of April/May 2016 for the start of construction. In parks and recreation facilities, a public meeting on planned renovation work at Miller Park should take place this fall (no date set yet), with a target time of late spring 2016 for the construction contract. The planned water sprayground facilities (nine citywide), including the one at Little Creek Park, are in the design stage now, with targets of getting construction contracts to the city council in January/February 2016, and opening of the facilities by mid-summer 2016. Future updates will include more information on the status of sidewalks and other pedestrian and biking facilities. In the meantime, if you have a question about the status of any particular project, you can check it out here: www.cityofws.org/departments/budget/2014-bonds
Cloverdale Apartments/Ardmore Terrace community meeting: More than 170 residents of the Cloverdale and Ardmore Terrace apartments, neighbors, and other concerned citizens met at Miller Park on August 24 to discuss the future of their community. I set up the meeting in response to plans released by agents for the apartments’ owners to demolish all the existing buildings and redevelop the site with completely new construction. These plans would require the displacement of hundreds of families who currently live in good, safe, affordable housing in a location ideally suited for people who need to be able to walk to work, shop for groceries, or pick up medical prescriptions at pharmacies. They would also demolish over 90 contributing structures within the Ardmore Neighborhood Historic District, and eliminate the largest single concentration of affordable workforce housing in the Southwest Ward (and probably in this half of the city). For those reasons, I have opposed the owners’ redevelopment plans as proposed. At the August 24 meeting, we heard many accounts from worried residents who would be directly impacted, including families with children, adult workers without cars, and senior citizens on fixed incomes who have lived in their apartment homes for decades. I intend to listen to their concerns and do my best to represent their interests at the city level.
The owners have indicated that they will honor current leases and give some other (unspecified) advance notice to affected residents. The owners’ preferred plan would require city approval, which provides some opportunity for the community to influence what takes place. I am currently engaged in discussions with the owners and their developer on possible alternatives or compromises to their initial plans. Because those discussions are ongoing, there is no timetable available for whatever plan is finally adopted. I will report back monthly on the status of these discussions.
Affordable workforce housing program: The Cloverdale/Ardmore situation is just one example of a larger problem facing Winston-Salem, as well as other cities around our state and nation. Housing prices in our cities are rising faster than median incomes. As a result, housing in areas served by good schools, grocery stores and medical facilities, parks and other amenities is becoming harder for average families (and people on modest fixed incomes) to afford. Walkable neighborhoods are especially high in demand. We saw this problem first show up in our rising downtown area, and now it is expanding to include other walkable urban neighborhoods as well.
In August, the city council adopted our first effort at comprehensive guidelines for affordable workforce housing in projects assisted with city funds. The guidelines include defining the target audience (households earning between 50-80% of median family income, and between 80-120% of median family income). Projects can include both new developments and redevelopments. This is a new endeavor for us locally, so the initial guidelines are designed to be flexible. We will need to move carefully, watch the results closely, and be prepared to adapt based on experience.
Business 40 update: As I’ve previously reported, the state Board of Transportation has approved a statewide transportation improvement plan which includes the planned safety-related renovation of Business 40 through central Winston-Salem. The project is scheduled to go to bid in 2016. We hope that a contractor will be selected by mid-year and that construction work will begin by early 2017. However, because the contract is being let as a “design-build” project (in order to control costs and speed up construction), we won’t know the more exact schedule of work until the successful bidding contractor is selected. Construction is expected to begin with the reconstruction of the Peters Creek Parkway-Business 40 interchange, and when that is completed move on to the downtown bridges and interchanges. The complete closure of Business 40, with its associated detours, is not expected to begin until the Peters Creek Parkway interchange work is done, and to last up to two years from the time the closure begins.
State budget notes: As of this writing, the state budget for the fiscal year which began July 1 still has not been adopted. The latest “continuing resolution”, under which state agencies and programs are funded on a stop-gap basis, runs through September 18. Local school systems, counties, and city governments (including Winston-Salem) have all started our own fiscal year without complete information on what state funding and budget limitations will be for the fiscal year now underway. For example, we do not yet know what funding will be available from the state for the “betterments” associated with the Business 40 renovation project, including the sound walls required by federal law. The N.C. Department of Transportation (DOT) had agreed to provide $4 million to enhance the appearance of those walls (similar to work which has been done in recent years for other similar projects in cities like Durham and Greensboro). However, one provision in the state budget draft now under consideration would prohibit state funding of such improvements. As a result, DOT has declined to finalize its local agreement with Winston-Salem for related work until the state budget is finalized. School systems are operating now without knowing how much state funding will be provided for teacher assistants and other costs in the current school year. These are the kinds of problems which result from long delays in the state budget adoption process.
Ardmore utilities project reminder: The next phase of the multi-year Ardmore area utilities renovation project is expected to get underway shortly after Labor Day. This work replacing water and sewer lines which are up to a century old will take place over the following 15 months in the sub-basin area roughly bounded by Westover Drive, Miller Street, Hawthorne Road, Hoyt Street, and Magnolia Street. A map of the affected area is posted here: http://www.cityofws.org/Portals/0/pdf/utilities/southwest%20flyer_7-15jt%20Newestcopy.pdf Residents will receive notice of work starting on their block at least the week before. Service interruptions will be brief and noticed at least 48 hours in advance (except for emergencies). Detours will be posted. Residents can direct other questions about the work to city civil engineer Michael Stover at email@example.com or 336-747-6840.
National Night Out: Multiple neighborhood groups in Winston-Salem met on August 4 for this national annual evening event celebrating the partnership of police departments and neighborhood groups in promoting community safety. Neighborhood events in the Southwest Ward included Healy Towers, Seasons Chase, Stonekirk-Bridgeport, S. Sunset, Sandersted, and Burlwood Drive. Would you like more information about how a neighborhood watch works, and how to set one up in your area? See http://www.cityofws.org/departments/police/crime-prevention/neighborhood-watch. Let me know if you need a hand!
Emergency Preparedness Month: September is Emergency Preparedness Month in North Carolina, including Forsyth County. Local Emergency Management agencies are using the month as a chance to educate citizens on disaster/emergency planning. For information on matters like weather emergencies, warnings, evacuation plans, and household emergency supply kits, see http://www.readyforsyth.org/category/emergency-preparedness/
That’s my report for August. As always, you are welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments or questions. Thanks!