Catching up with our story from a week ago, "North Raleigh residents fight quarry expansion," the Raleigh planning commission voted 8-1 in favor of Martin Marietta Materials' rezoning application, finding that it's in the public interest to let the company use a 97-acre tract it owns as a dump site for its RDU quarry rather than be required to comply with the city's comprehensive plan and the residential-commercial zoning that MMM itself sought for the property in the '90s.
Residents in the nearby Wyngate neighborhood say they bought their homes believing that MMM would develop the acreage as houses and a shopping center they'd like to have. That's what the current zoning on the tract calls for. If it's used as a quarry dump, the value of their homes will be hurt, they believe.
MMM argued that it's running out of places around its RDU quarry to dump the "overburden" — the dirt and loose rocks that come off when it blasts down to the granite. Adding the 97 acres to its quarry operations will allow the company to expand the actual quarry slightly and dig deeper, extending the quarry's useful life from about 20 to perhaps 45 years without the need to truck the overburden to some other location.
The upshot for Wyngate residents: Not an appealing neighbor, but rather one whose property they're barred from entering that over time becomes, at best, an 80-feet high forest of scrub pines.
"I personally think a hill with trees on it is not a detriment to the community," planning commission member Steve Schuster said. Nor, he added, is MMM under any obligation to develop its property at all — so Wyngate residents shouldn't have been counting on homes or stores going there.
Another commission member, Erin Sterling Lewis, went even further. Development along the lines of the current zoning is merely "hypothetical," she said. If Wyngate residents wanted to argue that MMM should be held to residential and commercial uses, they should've come to the planning commission with a buyer for the property and a plan to develop it in that way.
Taken as a whole, the comments of the eight members who voted with MMM amount to saying that the company has a right to use its property the way it wants to — whether that use complies with the comprehensive plan and current zoning or not — as long as any harm to neighboring properties is sufficiently mitigated. "It bothers me when I hear a property owner (i.e., the Wyngate HOA) tell another property owner what to do with his property," commission member Quince Fleming said.
Only Waheed Haq, ordinarily a reliable pro-development vote on the commission, dissented. Haq said Martin Marietta sought the zoning it now wants to ignore, giving Wyngate residents grounds for their understanding that the tract wouldn't be quarried or used in connection with the quarry.
Moreover, Haq said, if MMM wanted the zoning changed, it should've come forward during the city's rewrite of the comprehensive plan in 2007-09. Instead, it was silent and the new comp plan calls for the land to be used as zoned for housing and some retail.
Last week we reported on the Republican General Assembly's plans to send big chunks of public funding to private and Christian schools. [Inventively headlined: "GOP plan would send public funds to private schools"]
Since then, the Republican scheme's been steaming along. The House budget contains money for it, and various reports suggest that the Senate will go along. Expect a budget veto from Gov. Bev Perdue. But last year, five Democrats in the House deserted her, and with their aid and comfort the Republicans overrode her veto in both houses.
Today, Facing South is out with a detailed report on these "neovouchers" for private/Christian schools and the billionaires who love them. We knew about the Walton Family Foundation, i.e., Walmart money. Didn't know about Betsy DeVos — at least, not in this regard.
Who is Betsy DeVos? She's the —
billionaire wife of Amway founder Richard DeVos and former chair of the Michigan Republican Party. Betsy DeVos' younger brother is Erik Prince, founder of the North Carolina-based private security firm previously known as Blackwater; their father was the wealthy founder of an auto parts company noted for his right-wing politics. The DeVoses have spent tens of millions of dollars to support school privatization efforts.
A good reporting job, by Sue Sturgis.
Or a depressing one, should you think billionaires might not be wisest arbiters of how your public school funds should be spent.
[Update, 6/8, 2:30 pm. I've spoken to several city officials now, including Mayor Nancy McFarlane and Councilor Thomas Crowder. Nobody wants to say anything on the record about Citrix. That's all very hush-hush and a real estate deal still to be made. But as to whether TTA told the city that it was planning to sell the warehouse building in the first place, all said they think the answer is no.
McFarlane and Crowder said on the record that that they were not aware that the property was for sale. Both said further that they were weren't told when TTA received an offer nor were they told that TTA was advertising the property thereafter for the legally required 30 days — the upset-bid process — to see whether a better offer was available.
Councilor Russ Stephenson commented on the original post this morning, and I responded to him — as you can see below — with that same question. Did the Council not know that TTA was selling the property? When I called him, he was heading into a meeting,
but I'll be checking with him shortly ... just spoke with him: Stephenson didn't know anything about the sale of the building until Monday or Tuesday, when he found out about it in the course of conversation with a county economic development official involved in the Citrix incentives deal.]
The original post follows from yesterday at about 8 pm —
Does the Citrix announcement today mean the city's plan for a grand multi-modal transit station in the Warehouse District — a fabulous "Union Station" — is dead?
I'd say so.
R.I.P. one more attempt to build a great city in Raleigh. Or maybe there's a Plan B?
The upshot of the Citrix news, if what I'm hearing is correct, will be that a light-rail station on the west side of downtown, if and when it's built, would either be cut off from the other transit facilities (Amtrak, the commuter-rail service) two blocks away, or ...
... the light-rail stop will need to be put somewhere other than on West Morgan Street, where it's slated to be.
So dust off all those alt. light-rail routes and schemes (down West Hargett Street; over the Boylan Bridge; sweeping to the south where the Convention Center is) that were considered and rejected not long ago by the Raleigh City Council.
The Council decided on the West Morgan Street route for light-rail — and decided the station location — less than a year ago.
And it endorsed the Union Station plan, which is dated September 2010. You can read it:
But if I'm right about Citrix, those decisions will need to be revisited. Because Cintrix wants to be — will be — where the Union Station was going to be.
Through an intermediary, Citrix is apparently in the process of buying a portion of the Union Station site — specifically, one of the two big warehouse buildings that occupies the site — from Triangle Transit, which owns it. TTA General Manager David King confirmed that the building is up for sale.
Meanwhile Raleigh, with its glittering plan for a Union Station not old enough even to have dust on its shelf, is apparently uninterested in purchasing a building that's critical to making its plan a reality.
Ah, well. Maybe there's a Plan B?
None of this is official, and in fact the financial support that Raleigh's promised to Citrix is in return for jobs somewhere in the city, without any reference to where they should be.
That said, the evidence that Citrix is buying part of the Union Station site is compelling.
Yesterday, the social media were buzzing about a big deal coming soon to the Warehouse District.
Today, we have the announcement, by Mayor Nancy McFarlane and N.C. Secretary of Commerce Keith Crisco, that Citrix Systems is looking to expand its operations in Raleigh. The state is kicking in money in the form of a Job Development Investment Grant. Raleigh's adding money from its incentives fund. The grants are tied to job creation targets. Citrix, the city says, will
... create 339 new, permanent, full-time positions with an average wage of $70,914. The new jobs are to be created over the next five years. In the same time frame, Citrix Systems will make a capital investment of between $11 million and $26 million in Downtown Raleigh to house the workforce of more than 450.
Citrix employs more than 100 people in Raleigh now in an office just outside the Beltline (in Laurel Hills). They want to move downtown into space suitable for 450 or more. Where could that be?
The exact location of the facility has not been disclosed. With a vacancy rate hovering around 10 percent, downtown Raleigh has few large blocks of vacant space available. Given the amount of money Citrix plans to invest in the new location, the company may be more likely to renovate an existing property rather than have a new building constructed.
When I heard that Citrix, notwithstanding the N&O report, has in fact fixed on one of the West Street buildings, I called David King. He didn't know anything about Citrix, he said. But yes, Triangle Transit received an unsolicited offer for one of the buildings a few months ago — the one which occupies almost all of the block between West Morgan and West Hargett Streets.
The only part of the block the building doesn't occupy is the little garage that fronts on West Morgan — the Men at Work garage — where the TTA's light-rail stop is supposed to go.
Anyway, according to King, Triangle Transit accepted the offer as an upset bid (a floor), advertised for buyers to beat it, and got no takers. So the building is ticketed for sale to the only bidder, which is a partnership of Cherokee Investment Partners and the Crown Company, King said. He said it's his understanding that they are acting on the part of a "tenant."
That would be Citrix, according to other sources.
The sale is subject to approval by the Federal Transportation Administration and the state, King said, because it was their money — or 75 percent of it — that TTA used to buy it. And if it's sold, they'll get 75 percent of the proceeds, and TTA only 25 percent.
King, for his part, said he was "never that excited" about the Union Station concept, and in any event the building they're selling isn't integral to his agency's plans today.
OK, but it sure was integral to Raleigh's.
Raleigh's been eyeing (with the state DOT) another of the warehouse buildings, the old Viaduct Building on the northwest side of the West Street-Martin Street intersection as a potential new home for Amtrak, of an Amtrak-like commuter-rail service that would operate between Durham and Garner, and for the Southeast High-Speed Rail service, should it ever materialize.
There's a second warehouse building on the north side of the Viaduct Building that TTA isn't selling and that is now being looked at, King said, as a potential bus station for the West Side. Stay tuned for news there.
It was that second building and the third one, the one Triangle Transit is selling, that were to be the raw material for the Union Station plan. It called for a two-blocks long grand concourse that would bring together all of the transportation elements, including Amtrak and commuter rail and high-speed rail and light-rail and bus, in one great hall.
The concourse was supposed to be multi-level, with stores and restaurants and perhaps some sort of people-mover — like they use in airports — to help folks get from one end of of Union Station to the other. Could there be offices in there too? Sure. Apartments above? Maybe.
I mean, read the Union Station plan. T'was something:
Raleigh Union Station will dramatically change the look and feel of the west side of downtown. Currently a low-density collection of warehouses and vacant land, Raleigh Union Station stands to change the economic development potential of the area and offers the following advantages:
• Increases transit use
• Establishes a transit identity
• Allows for future modes
• Ties together western edge of downtown
• Anchors the downtown circulator
• Creates a gateway destination
• Maximizes developable space/parcels
And from page 64 of the plan:
The general development concept for the project area is to develop the Triangle Transit owned properties (generally the two blocks bound by West Morgan Street, South West Street, West Martin Street and the rail tracks as well as a portion of the “Wye” interior) as a new Union Station that will provide multi-modal transit services and also include a significant amount of mixed-use development within the development on these properties. The strategy also seeks to surround Union Station with additional mixed use development of sufficient quantity to contribute significantly to the vitality and success of the station and the downtown as a whole.
Yes, It was all pretty conceptual — exception for the location. The location was critical.
But if Citrix buys the third warehouse building and cuts it off from the others, that will mean a passenger arriving, say, on the commuter-rail line from Garner and wanting to switch to the light-rail line to get over to the State Government complex, would be forced to go outdoors and walk around the Citrix building to make the connection.
Or is there another way? King thought there were options other than a concourse — "There's all sorts of ways," he said — to connect the light-rail station to the other rail and bus platforms without going through the building that his agency's put up for sale.
You could go around it on the sidewalk, he said. Or you could build a walkway over it. Or build a grand something or other out over the railroad tracks.
You could do a lot of things, I suppose. But the Union Station plan was a pretty good one when Raleigh Planning and Economic Development Director Mitchell Silver unveiled it. As he told WRAL:
"You want to have a grand waiting hall like other cities – Washington, New York," Silver said. "(It would move Raleigh) to the 21st century to have a grand space for passengers and (for) welcoming people into the city."
If that plan's dead, what's the new plan?
Orange County will be voting on the 1/2-cent sales tax for transit in November. That decision was made by the Orange County Board of Commissioners last night.
Durham County, of course, has already passed the 1/2-cent tax in a referendum.
A presentation by Cooke would start a process that could result in Wake County also voting in November — at the same time as Orange County — on the 1/2-cent tax issue. Delaying Cooke's report any longer, Portman said, probably means killing the transit-tax question for 2012 without the BOC even discussing it.
To which Chairman Paul Coble, speaking for the Republican majority, said dismissively: "Nah."
He didn't say no. The word Coble used was — nah.
"We are not driven by the desires of special interest groups to put something on the ballot," Coble added a bit later.
Before this exchange occurred — it came at the very end of Monday's meeting — I spoke with County Manager David Cooke about the status of the Wake transit plan. Cooke brought a finished proposal to the BOC on November 14. That's going on seven months ago. The BOC heard it and set it aside.
Since then, Cooke and David King, general manager of Triangle Transit, have visited every municipal government in the county presenting the plan and getting their feedback. The feedback has been positive.
The munis haven't raised a lot of issues with the plan, Cooke said, probably because it represents "a compilation" of what they asked for in the first place — through their representatives at CAMPO.
"It's not my plan," Cooke said, when I asked him whether he regards it as his, or his and King's. "It is meant to be a bottom-up plan based on what people see as the needs of the future."
That certainly describes the bus portion of the plan, which is all the 1/2-cent tax is going to pay for — at least for several years.
The rail portion, as Cooke said, contains the routes and service frequencies that Triangle Transit has concluded from its federally funded "alternative analysis" are the most feasible for the region should federal and state funding be available to build them.
A commuter-rail line from Garner to Durham could be operational within a decade, with stops about three miles apart and focused on bringing folks to work in downtown Raleigh, downtown Cary, RTP and downtown Durham.
A light-rail system within Wake County, with stops a mile apart or less — and much more frequent service than the commuter-rail line — is more than a decade away, probably a lot more.
(If Orange County passes the 1/2-cent tax, light-rail service between Chapel Hill and Durham will be running years before anything gets on the ground in Cary-Raleigh.)
But to be clear, the decision about whether or not to approve a 1/2-cent transit tax in Wake County isn't about whether Wake will build rail lines. It will build them if it has a 1/2-cent tax ... and if federal and state money is available ... and if the BOC decides that it wants them.
In the first place, though, the 1/2-cent tax is about buses, and whether Wake County will have the money to support the improved system of bus transportation that the local officials in every municipality are saying they need.
This is the decision that Coble and the Republican majority on the BOC are not only stopping the public from making, but are refusing even to talk about in time to keep the possibility of a referendum alive this year.
This, as Portman says, is after the BOC made a decision about the transit tax part of its work plan for 2010, but didn't discuss it ... and for 2011, but didn't discuss it ... and it's part of the work plan for 2012, and they're not discussing it.
Is Cooke ready to make a presentation? I asked. (Remember, this was before the Portman-Coble exchange.)
"We're still working on some final numbers," Cooke said. "But the plan's not going to be modified greatly, based on the feedback from the municipalities, so we could essentially do that [present it] at any time."
Interestingly, if you go to the Wake County website, you'll find a concise summary of the report from November with a link to the full (58 MB) version.
It outlines next steps: 1) Visits with the munis; 2) BOC considers their feedback in the spring; 3) BOC decides whether to call for a November referendum.
Where I come from, spring means March to May, and June is summer. But even if you think June is late spring, the BOC — led by Coble and Tony Gurley, who's in a runoff in July for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor (Motto: Why do we need any taxes?) — is refusing to do its job.
Here's the plan's outline for spending:
Wake County’s share of the five-year bus plan would be $138.3 million of the total $344 million cost for both capital and operating. Bus services currently receive some state and federal funding, which would cover the remainder.
Commuter rail would cost $650 million. Wake County’s share would be $330 million, and Durham would pay $320 million. Commuter rail is projected to be in place in 2019 or 2020.
Light rail is estimated to cost $1.1 billion (2011 dollars), to construct the rail line and pay for stations and park-and-ride lots. Operating costs would be $14 million per year. This portion of the Transit Plan will not be implemented without state and federal funding.
With the 1/2-cent sales tax added to existing funding streams from federal and state sources, Wake County could afford its bus plan and the commuter-rail element of the rail plan, Cooke told me. Light-rail is what's costly, and it can't be done without new funding from federal and sources to cover 75 percent of projected costs.
h/t BlueNC ("North Carolina becoming a national joke"):
Sea-level rise of one meter or more? There's no way to know what that would mean.
Because it's metric.
And other Stephen Colbert gems about what our NC Republicans are up to that, unfortunately, are both funny and true.
Carlie Huberman, who grew up in Boylan Heights and graduated from American University last month, is now in Australia. She's on the first leg of a five-month backpacking adventure that will take her to enough different countries that, when she rattled them off, it made me dizzy.
Naturally, I thought of John Steinbeck's Travels With Charley — though his explorations were across the U.S.
My travel plans this year include a jaunt to Carrboro this summer followed by Charlotte in September to see who's protesting at the Democratic National Convention and why. (Yes, I am looking for sympathy.)
So Carlie, who majored in film production, put me on her distribution list for the short travel pieces she'll be making and posting along the way. Her first, about 90 seconds, is from Melbourne and is about its street art. I like it a lot.
I think she's calling this series "Have Camera Will Travel." (?)
I'm calling it "My Vicarious Vacation(s)."
She also has a website, carliescamera.
Bicentennial Mall is the space between the Capitol and the General Assembly building, flanked by the state Museum of History and the state Museum of Natural Sciences. In other words, it's a good place to visit on any given Saturday.
Tomorrow, from 11-3, it will be especially good as (at last count) 19 progressive organizations set up shop — tables — to let the public know what they're doing to make North Carolina a better place to live.
The ON TRAC N.C. Community Engagement Fair has a Facebook page, of course.
The Raleigh Action Collective (TRAC) is among the organizers, along with the core group of folks who kept Occupy Raleigh going all those many winter months. Consider this Occupy Raleigh 2.0.
This probably won't appeal to you if you're part of the 1% — or want to be — or you think Mitt Romney is a helluva candidate. (Does anybody really think that?) For the rest of us, there are a variety of rooting interests to get with.
Also important: Stacie Borrello, one of the Occupy Raleigh organizers, will speak on behalf of a coalition of progressive groups Tuesday night at the Raleigh City Council meeting. She'd like your support if you can make it. (7 pm at City Hall.)
She's asking the Raleigh Council to get behind efforts to overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which allows multinational corporations and rich individuals to spend unlimited sums of money — anonymously, if they want — to influence election campaigns.
This cause, too, has a Facebook page. It contains the resolution the group would like the Raleigh City Council to adopt:
RESOLUTION OF THE RALEIGH CITY COUNCIL TO SUPPORT ACTION TO OVERTURN THE “CITIZENS UNITED” SUPREME COURT DECISION, AND TO RESTORE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS AND FAIR ELECTIONS TO THE PEOPLE.
(1) Whereas, transparent and fair elections are essential to democracy and effective self-governance;
(2) Whereas, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. FEC broke with long-settled legal precedents that acknowledged the power of citizens through their elected representatives to limit the influence of private interests in elections;
(3) Whereas, polls show that 79 percent of American voters support repeal of Citizens United, along with 66 percent of the nation’s small business owners;
(4) Whereas, so far in the current election cycle, spending by super PACs, corporations, unions and others exceeds $90 million, more than double the amount spent in any previous election;
(5) Whereas, unregulated and excessive expenditures by any organization allows the election process to be corrupted, encouraging elected officials to vote against their constituents in order to compete for financial campaign support; and
(6) Whereas, it is anti-democratic to allow private interests to outweigh the rights of ordinary citizens by using concentrated wealth to disproportionately influence candidate selection, election outcomes, elected officials’ votes, and, ultimately, public policy decisions.
Therefore, be it resolved, that the City Council of Raleigh, NC encourages federal and state legislative action to defend democracy by calling for a stop to anonymous, unlimited political donations and supporting a Constitutional amendment establishing that:
Only human beings are endowed with constitutional rights, not corporations or any other type of organization, and
Since the Constitution is meant to protect the rights of all individuals equally regardless of wealth, regulating excessive and/or anonymous spending in political campaigns is not equivalent to limiting political speech, and is necessary to preserve equitable and transparent democracy.
This Resolution is supported by The Raleigh Action Collective and Coalition Organizations OnTRACNC@gmail.com