On Monday, we previewed what would be coming up at City Council with our Agenda Preview, an in-depth look at the issues scheduled for discussion before council. Today, we bring you The Council Record, an informal but nevertheless comprehensive look at the most recent City Council meeting.
April 5, 2016
As always, the Raleigh City Council meeting last week began with an invocation, led this time by Rabbi Lucy Dinner of Temple Beth Or, who in a reference to HB2 asked that Councilors “reject the state’s legislation of discrimination and fear.” The invocation was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, led by Councilor Kay Crowder.
Presentations & Awards
Following a number of special designations and awards — Tuesday was “National Service Recognition” day, while April is “Raleigh History Month,” “National Child Abuse Prevention Month” and “Donate Life Month” — Rick Miller-Haraway from Catholic Charities was on hand to present Councilors with an update on his organization’s efforts.
Miller-Haraway began by thanking Councilors for their continued support of the organization’s programs, including Oak City Outreach at Moore Square and the Support Circle program for homeless families.
Miller-Haraway said Catholic Charities had helped nearly 50,000 people in Wake County in the past year, including housing 372 people through the Support Circle Program. At any given time, he said, there are an estimated 450 school-age children in Wake County living in motels and in cars, and his organization wants to do everything they can to end this.
He cited the example of Penny, a single-mother who came into the program through her church, and after going back to school and landing a job at a childhood education center has turned things around and is able to provide a safe, stable life for her children.
“Now she can look into the eyes of her children and see hope for their future — that’s the story for today,” Miller-Haraway said.
Councilors thanked him and the organization for their continued efforts to help the less fortunate.
Only one item was pulled from the Consent Agenda, a request for a temporary removal of Taxi and Bus Zones on Martin and Harrington Streets from Kane Realty related to their work on the old Dillon warehouse.
Councilor Bonner Gaylord requested that the item be pulled so he could recuse himself from voting on it. Gaylord is the General Manager at North Hills, which is owned by Kane Realty.
The entire consent agenda, including the taxi and bus zone request, was approved unanimously.
Report and Recommendation of the Planning Commission
Planning Commission Chariman Steve Schuster came before Council on Tuesday with requests for public hearings on three separate rezoning cases.
The first, Z-3-16, would rezone a parcel of land of Forestville Road from RX-4 to RX-3 CU, allowing for future residential development.
As the developer is hoping to meet a deadline to qualify for affordable housing tax credits, they requested a public hearing be set for April 19, instead of the May 3 date originally suggested. Council agreed and scheduled a hearing for the 19th.
The next two cases, Z-43-15, a residential development on Tryon Road and Z-4-16, a small office/residential project on Oberlin Road, both had hearings scheduled for May 3.
For our full report of the most recent Planning Commission meeting, see here.
Report of the City Manager
City Manager Ruffin Hall had no report for Councilors this week, but he did request that the Council’s April 12 work session be canceled due to staff scheduling conflicts. Council agreed to the cancellation.
Historic Resources & Museum Advisory Board
Barbara Friedman, Chairwoman of the Historic Resources & Museum Advisory Board, was on hand to present a 2016 annual work plan. Most of Friedman’s presentation, however, was spent promoting a number of upcoming education events around the city, including a historic walking tour that will be held every Saturday in April and a new exhibit focused on city government planned for the Raleigh City Museum.
“It will include a table with eight seats for the mayor council, and a seat for the city clerk of course. There will be narrative material and exhibits explaining the history of city government, how it works and encouraging citizen involvement.”
Friedman also noted that both their volunteer base and the number of people attending their events have grown significantly over the past year, a trend they expect to continue.
Council approved the 2016 work plan unanimously.
Waste Reduction Task Force
The longest presentation in an otherwise short meeting came from Jennifer Martin, President of Shop Local Raleigh and a member of the Waste Reduction Task Force. Full disclosure: Martin is also a board member for the Raleigh Public Record.
The Task Force was created in November 2014 to “identify waste reduction goals and further evaluate the strategies outlined in the Comprehensive Plan Material Resource Management Plan through a set of guiding principles which would be developed considering social equity, fiscal impact to the City and its citizens, as well as environmental impacts.”
Martin began her presentation with a piece of good news: Raleigh’s waste diversion percentage was 31 percent in FY2005 and had climbed to 36 percent by the end of FY2014. Waste diversion is the percentage of garbage diverted from the landfill.
The WRTF offered a recommendation that the City “collect data to develop a baseline of waste disposal and diversion across all generation sectors in the City, including single family, multifamily, commercial, and construction and demolition debris. From the baseline, the City should then track and report on the effectiveness of the waste reduction strategies and other programs implemented.”
Martin also outlined a number of specific waste reduction strategies the task force had come up with.
These included a mandatory recycling program, a “pay as you throw” waste disposal system whereby users would have to pay by the pound to have their garbage shipped away and encouraging local businesses to move away from plastic bags, Styrofoam containers and other packaging deemed harmful to the environment.
Martin also spoke to potential changes in the way construction and demolition debris would be dealt with. Currently, City projects have a recycling program in place, and LEED-certified private-industry projects do as well, but most construction waste ends up in a landfill, often one specially designated for that use.
Councilors expressed some concern over the “pay-as-you-throw” program, with both Crowder and Baldwin asking how this would affect the poorer segments of the Raleigh community and whether they might end up paying more.
Martin told Councilors that pay-as-you-throw programs often ended up charging people less, especially if they began to use and waste less materials, one of the program’s main goals.
Councilor Bonner Gaylord said it was unfair that his family of five currently pays the same for trash and recycling services as does the widow across the street.
Baldwin asked that staff look into a pay-as-you-throw program, taking into account how it would impact the poor and elderly, how it would work with Wake County, which manages the landfill and what kind of equipment would be necessary to implement the program.
Councilor Corey Branch asked that a recycling program be studied as part of this review, but Baldwin said pay-as-you-throw programs often approach recycling in a different way, such as through the donation of goods such as clothes and books.
Councilors then moved on to discussing more traditional recycling — and how best to bring it to the city’s multifamily developments and non-LEED-certified construction sites. Mayor McFarlane asked that they avoid any sort of “mandatory” program. City Manager Ruffin Hall said staff would look into the issue and come back Council with more details.
Economic Development and Innovation Committee
In its first meeting last month, the Economic Development and Innovation Committee discussed a newly refined version of the City’s Targeted Economic Development Zones map and an expansion of the City’s Facade Grant program.
The map would clearly establish new boundaries and allow businesses located within those economic development zones to qualify for larger grants from the City.
Councilors voted unanimously to approve the new map.
The Facade Grant Program allows business and property owners downtown and within certain pedestrian overlay districts to receive grants to help them fund upgrades or improvements to their buildings’ exteriors. The proposed expansion would include all economically distressed areas on the map for eligibility and allow the funds to be used for murals and artwork.
Councilor Branch noted that many of the facade grants had been given out to a relatively small applicant pool, something we noted in our report here.
“How do we help those that haven’t participated in the past?” he asked.
“I’m looking at a way for this to be equitable across the entire city.”
James Sauls from the City’s economic development office said one of the main reasons they wanted to expand the program was to provide eligibility to a greater number of businesses and applicants.
Although Branch was hesitant to approve the expansion without learning more about the new outreach efforts, Councilor Baldwin proposed a solution: approve the expansion, but require staff to come back with a report, and prevent any grants from being approved until Council has had more opportunity to look into the issue.
Baldwin’s motion was approved unanimously.
Report of the Mayor and City Council
Councilor David Cox announced the April 16 grand opening of the new Northeast Regional Library in Wakefield and encouraged everyone to attend.
Councilor Russ Stephenson mentioned an April 27 event being held by local nonprofit the Triangle Community Foundation, which will focus on establishing healthy communities and overcoming inequalities.
Councilor Corey Branch used his time to thank Julien Durant, a student from NC Central who had been shadowing him all day and learning about how Raleigh’s government operates.
“Hopefully you learned some good things, if you learned anything bad, don’t tell me about it,” Branch joked.
Mayor Nancy McFarlane noted a letter she had written in support of Wake County Schools, which had recently applied for a grant. Council voted to approve her comments, which she described as “Yay, we love our school system.”
McFarlane also asked that the Lake Johnson Woodland Center, currently under construction, be named in honor of former Councilor Thomas Crowder, who died from cancer in 2014.
“Thomas worked for years to secure funding for that facility, and in conjunction with the neighborhood, placed the building on the wooded side of the park. I can think of no greater honor to Thomas’ legacy in his district than naming this facility the Thomas G. Crowder Woodland Center.”
Councilor Kay Crowder, Thomas’ widow who was appointed to his seat following his death in 2014 and elected to it in last year’s municipal election, thanked the Mayor and the rest of Council for their support.
“It makes my family happy, it makes me very happy,” Crowder said.
Before moving on to Councilor Dickie Thompson’s comments, City Attorney Thomas McCormick posed a question: did the Mayor’s naming resolution also suspend the usual process for naming parks and facilities? It did, and the new name was approved unanimously.
Thompson then spoke, saying he’d enjoyed a recent tour of the city’s Sonoco recycling facilities and offering praise to the city staffers who had served as his tour guides.
Councilor Mary Ann Baldwin thanked Councilor Cox for attending a recent awards ceremony honoring women in the culinary industry. Baldwin said it was good to see women “being recognized for contributing to our economy and food scene,” and that it had been a great event.
Report of the City Clerk
A typically mundane portion of Tuesday’s meeting involving the appointment of citizens to various City committees and boards was sped along by Councilor Baldwin, who asked that Council be able to submit a blanket approval for all board members who wished to continue on in their roles.
The resolution was approved unanimously, but there were still a few individual appointments Council needed to discuss.
The most high-profile of these involved the resignation of Lemuel Whitsett from the Planning Commission. Councilor Stephenson nominated Steve Smith to take Whitsett’s place, but Baldwin asked that they hold off.
“It’s important to have a second choice — we have almost all men on the Planning Commission, and I have a real problem with that lack of diversity,” Baldwin said.
“It doesn’t lend itself to the best thinking, and I’m going to be looking for a candidate who does have that diversity and who better reflects our community. I ask that our colleagues take this very seriously.
“Having one woman on a board doesn’t look like our community.”
Historic Landmark Designations
Tania Tully with the City’s planning department presented to Council two properties seeking historic landmark designations and one where staff is seeking a technical boundary change.
- Anna Riddick House: 1028 Cowper Drive, built in 1952 with a guesthouse added in 1960 and a tool shed and car port in 1980. It was designed by New York Architect William Dewey Foster in what was described as a “distinctive example of the Georgian Revival style in mid-twentieth-century Raleigh.”
- Horton-Beckham-Bretsch House: 11 South Blount Street, built in 1895 with major renovations in 1982. The architect is unknown, but the city details the property as a “one-story frame Victorian cottage, described as an Eastlake cottage and as a ‘decorated cottage.'”
- Wilmont Apartments: 3200 Hillsborough Street, already designated as a historic landmark, staff is seeking a minor boundary change for a right of way due to a recent acquisition by the City of 798 SF of the property. The City owned property is .02 percent of the designated .89 acre lot.
Councilors voted to close the hearing but agreed to hold off on a vote until the May 3 meeting in order to allow staff more time to refine property coordinates.
Requests and Petitions of Citizens
- First to speak was Suzanne Harris, representing the Homebuilders Association of Raleigh-Wake County. She was there to request a change in the UDO language that would change a two-year construction and two-year warranty period into a three-year construction and one-year warranty period. “In the course of a lot of conversations I’ve had,” Harris said, “concerns were brought up about the aggressive nature of the two-year [warranty] period.” City Manager Ruffin Hall said he would have staff follow up on the issue.
- Next up was Scott Benrube, who’d previously appeared before Council to discuss issues the City’s Leesville Road widening project had caused for his property. Although the bonding company now managing the road widening project has already repaired the damages the City determined were caused by the initial work, Benrube claimed he was owed an additional $1,785 in reimbursements. Staff said the drainage issues Benrube was describing were a pre-existing condition. The Mayor and several Councilors said they were inclined to agree with the City engineers, and said the slope of his property, rather than the road widening project, were responsible for his issues. Benrube persisted, but was told by Councilor Baldwin that he was making her angry, as this was the second time in a row he’d gone over his allotted time. She then proposed a solution: have staff look into Benrube’s eligibility for a stormwater mitigation grant. City Manager Hall said he would look into it.
- Khaled Assell was also on hand to discuss stormwater issues on his property, but as these issues were not caused by the City in any way, there was nothing Council could do. Assell complained about the difficulty of maintaining the property, explaining that he’d tried to sell it off. “If you purchased the property, you’re responsible for the maintenance of it,” McFarlane pointed out. As with Benrube before him, Assell persisted. This time, it was Councilor Crowder who brought the issue to a close. “You bought a piece of property; whether you saw it before purchasing it or not … it was a private transaction, the City was not involved, we have no responsibility for your private transaction. As much as we hear your frustrations, sir, you’re done for tonight.”
- Nicholas Voss said he and his neighbors had been having a problem with nearby nightclub the Hawg Pen, located on Paula Street in North Raleigh. Although there are a total of four clubs in the vicinity, Voss said their complaints about noise issues with Hawg Pen appeared to fall on deaf ears. He said it had been operating without an amplified noise permit, and had only received one citation for doing so. By comparison, several surrounding clubs have received a number of assorted citations this year. Voss alleged that the club was “protected” by the Raleigh Police Department, although Captain Tommy Klein, whose district the club is in, said there was no proof of any police involvement with the club beyond the possibility that some officers drink there when off-duty. UPDATE: we reached out to a representative of the Hawg Pen for comment on this issue. We were told that Voss is the only neighbor to have lodged any complaints against their club, and that they went out of their way to be good neighbors and have met with Voss several times to address his concerns. The representative from Hawg Pen said although it is a member-owned private club, the Hawg Pen does not count among its owners any officers or agents of the RPD, and thus the lack of violations from RPD is evidence that the club is not a nuisance.
- Sarah Preston from the American Civil Liberties Union addressed Council regarding the best practices for using police-worn body-cameras. She said there were three main issues the City should address before the cameras are implemented. First, the conditions under which the camera can be activated (and deactivated). Second, restricted access to the recordings. Victims should be allowed to view the footage, Preston said, but unless it is deemed to be in the public interest, the general public should not. Finally, Preston said the City needs to adopt a retention policy: what tapes are kept and for how long.
- Kimberly Muktarian, president of the nonprofit organization Save Our Sons, was one of three speakers to address Council Tuesday night regarding police accountability issues in Raleigh. Muktarian also participated in a press conference with the Police Accountability and Community Task force before the Council’s evening session. During her period of public comment, Muktarian said there was a genuine concern within her community as to the City’s plans for increased police accountability efforts. “We are here today to to ask for our community to be present at your table through an oversight board that gives accountability and transparency; that goes a long way with us.” Muktarian asked that this oversight board be granted subpoena power.
- Geraldine Alshamy from Mary Magdalane Ministries said one of the biggest policing issues facing the black community was a disproportionate number of arrests for marijuana. Despite being around 20 percent of the population, Alshamy said, blacks represented nearly 67 percent of the low-level marijuana arrests in Wake County. When a person is arrested at a young age, Alshamy said, that criminal record can make it more difficult for them to find work or a place to live. She asked that Council pass an ordinance making marijuana enforcement a low-level law-enforcement policy, which would allow the RPD to “focus on more important offenses, ones that are dangerous to public health and safety.”
- Charnessa Ridley, a board member with North Carolina Women United, echoed Muktarian’s request for a citizen oversight board. As Ridley has worked extensively with sexual and domestic assault victims, she said that the survivors often face a number of barriers that prevent them from seeking help. Part of this, she said, stems from a lack of trust in the police. By having a citizen oversight board, Ridley said, it would make people less fearful of involving the police in their affairs.
- There was no ninth speaker, but City Attorney Thomas McCormick did deliver a response to the comments from Muktarian, Alshamy and Ridley, thanking them for their excellent presentations. As far as reducing the priority of the enforcement of marijuana laws, McCormick said, Council does not have the authority to pass an ordinance telling the police which laws to enforce. Council also lacks the authority, McCormick said, to create a board or commission with subpoena abilities. McCormick said he viewed the Councilors as the City’s citizen oversight board. “You’re responsible for these folks,” McCormick told Councilors. In addition to the Council, he said his own office was essentially a separate branch of government, as it does not, unlike the police force, operate under the direction of the City Manager. Additionally, citizens can go to the District Attorney’s office, or the State Bureau of Investigation if there are issues with police department. Having an additional citizens advisory board, McCormick said, would likely only make it more difficult for Council to address issues on which they may disagree with the advisory board.
- The first matter scheduled for public hearing was an Annual Action Plan for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. The hearing is a requirement for receiving housing grants from the federal government. The three types of grants the City receives, said Shawn McNamara of housing and neighborhoods, are Community Development Block Grants, HOME Investment Partnership and the Emergency Solutions Grant. Councilor Baldwin asked if any of these grants could help the kind of homeless families described by Rick Miller-Haraway from Catholic Charities during the Council’s afternoon session. The Emergency Services Grant, McNamara said, would help with this. A number of tangentially related public comments were offered, the first from community activist Octavia Rainey. Rainey said several past analyses of impediments to housing solutions had largely been ignored, and that it was increasingly difficult for poor black people in Southeast Raleigh to find affordable housing, which she said was a serious threat to the community. Rainey brought up a friend of hers, Rhonda Starr, who lives in a house handed down from her parents that requires a lot of repairs. As a retiree on a fixed-income Starr was having trouble affording the repairs required by the City. Staff will look into a way to helping her. Finally, Laura Gaines, a local high school student, spoke to Councilors about climate justice and what she saw as a need for the City to adopt environmentally responsible practices, such as building environmentally friendly housing. The public hearing was then closed.
- Petition annexations for the Magnolia Grove Apartments and Cardinal Gibbons High School were approved quickly and unanimously, with Mayor McFarlane taking a moment to remind the packed crowd that each side would be given eight minutes during the upcoming zoning hearings.
- Z-34-13: This rezoning case deals with a 6.4 acre parcel on Hillsborough Street currently zoned both residential-10 and residential-4. The applicant wants to rezone the property to residential-10 to allow for a townhome development. The case has met with opposition from neighbors, and when it was heard in front of the Planning Commission recently, several residents turned out to speak against it. No neighbors were present Tuesday night to speak against the project, although Councilors had several objections of their own. Mostly, they felt that the R-10 designation was too dense for the area. Councilor Crowder said she had driven out there, and Councilor Thompson said his office is nearby and as a result has driven by the site countless times. Both felt the rezoning would be inappropriate. The case, which has been in the works since 2013, was sent to the Growth and Natural Resources Committee for further discussion. Nicole Toma, the daughter of the property owner and whose personal involvement with the project is more recent, was visibly disappointed by the lack of a vote.
- Z-39-15. This rezoning would allow for a 78-unit apartment complex on the 1800 block of Trailwood Drive. Three of the Planning Commissioners, Veronica Alcine, Joseph Lyle and Adam Terando, voted against recommending this case for approval. Councilor Crowder expressed her appreciation of the applicant’s willingness to work with the surrounding residents. The neighbor who turned out to speak against the project said they would be willing to drop opposition to the project if conditions offered by the developer in a recent meeting of the Growth and Natural Resources Committee were put in writing. Council deferred a vote on the project to allow time for these conditions to be added.
- Z-41-15. This case would rezone a portion of the 3100 block of Hillsborough Street to allow for a five-story neighborhood mixed-use redevelopment. The Wade CAC said they had voted 15-10 against the development. Many were concerned about adding another large student housing development to the area, and expressed a preference for a more mixed use of the property. They were also concerned about the added height requested for the project. Planning Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend approval. Although most of the concerns had been addressed, including the building’s height, which will vary due to the topography of the land, Councilor Stephenson expressed concern about a lack of a specific condition limiting the percentage of 4-bedroom+ units allowed to 51 percent. Councilor Crowder said there should be a condition specifying the type of retail planned for the ground floor, saying that a “yoga studio for residents” or a “sales office for the apartments” would not be acceptable. The developer, Blair Sweeney, said he was coming up against a contractual deadline and would not have time to add these conditions, although they were implicitly part of the project. As Councilors Stephenson, Crowder and Cox all voted against the case, it did not receive the number of votes necessary to approve a rezoning on first hearing. Councilors and Sweeney agreed that he would add the conditions regarding 4-bedroom units and ground-floor retail and return in two weeks for approval.
- Z-46-15: This case would rezone a small (. 37 acre) parcel of land in Southeast Raleigh at the corner of South West and West Lenoir streets from R-20 to I-X. This would allow for a broader range of uses once the site developed. The applicant, James Goodnight, hasn’t announced specific plans for the site and in documents filed with the city, proposes the possibility of “light industrial, commercial, service/retail, and residential uses.” Attorney Ben Kuhn was on hand to present the case on behalf of Goodnight. “If you take a look at the projects Mr. Goodnight has done around town, he takes interesting-looking buildings and makes them much more interesting: Nehi Bottling, Death & Taxes and my personal favorite in Glenwood-Brooklyn, Raleigh Fire Station No. 4. Council unanimously approved the rezoning request.
- TC-3-16: Text change for the General Historic Overlay/Streetside Historic Overlay. This amendment would change certain requirements for certificate of appropriateness reviews, including building paint colors, height and setbacks, the appeals process, and the process diagram. Councilors voted unanimously to approve this change.
- Z-2-16: This case would designate the Glenwood-Brooklyn neighborhood in central Raleigh as a Historic Overlay District. Located off Glenwood Avenue near Fred Fletcher Park, the neighborhood traces its roots back to the early 20th century. The historic overlay on Glenwood-Brooklyn would not change the underlying zoning for the 80 acres it encompasses. Rather, it would create a design review process for exterior changes on the front of the property. It would have limited application to changes made on the side of a property and would not apply to most rear changes. Although a heavy contingent of neighborhood supporters turned out in favor of the project, a handful of owners and representatives of business owners in the district were on hand to request their exclusion from the overlay. Councilor Thompson proposed a compromise: approve the overlay, and exclude those property owners who had requested exemption. Councilors Thompson, Baldwin and Gaylord were the only ones to vote in favor of this. A motion was then put forth to approve the case as-is with no exceptions; this was approved 6-2, and the historic overlay district will go into effect immediately.