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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

McFarlane tops in Raleigh; moderates rule again on the Wake school board

Posted by on Wed, Oct 9, 2013 at 3:24 AM

For all the turmoil in North Carolina politics, Raleigh and Wake County were an oasis of calm tonight. The full results are on Wake County's website.

Mayor Nancy McFarlane thanking supporters
Two headlines:

* Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane stamped herself the undisputed leader of city government, winning re-election with 73 percent of the vote against a pair of lightweight Republican opponents. McFarlane is a political independent with strong support among progressive and moderate voters. She wasn't especially well-known when she succeeded Charles Meeker as mayor two years ago. But that was then. Today, she's popular and respected as a hard worker who gets results without being contentious or flashy.

* Order's been restored on the Wake school board, whose nine members now include zero — as in none at all — right-wing Republicans. Remember 2009, when a quartet of tea-party devotees won school board seats, giving the Wake GOP a 5-4 majority and a chance to wreck havoc — which they did? Tonight, the last Republican survivor from among the four, Deborah Prickett, was routed in her bid for a second term by Zora Felton, a retired teacher. And the $810 million school bond issue, which the Wake Republican Party opposed? Voters approved it easily by a 58-42 percent margin, rejecting the Republican brand once more.

***

The Wake schools are still under assault, but from without now, not from within.

From the outside, the Republican-controlled General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory are doing everything they can to diminish public education in the state and Wake County — the biggest district in the state — is right in their crosshairs. But at least within Wake County, tonight's election results are a vote of confidence in the school system and a board now controlled 9-0 by a moderate coalition of seven Democrats, one independent (Kevin Hill) and one moderate Republican (Bill Fletcher).

The calm tonight was in sharp contrast to 2009 and 2011, when Democrats turned the tables on the Republicans in a showdown school board election, sweeping all five seats on the ballot to take their own 5-4 majority. I chanced on my blog post from 2011 earlier tonight — here's what I wrote.

It's an oddity of the election system that four essentially suburban districts are contested at one time and then, two years later, the five remaining districts are elected, four of which represent the urban parts of Raleigh and the county.

The four on the ballot this year were the suburban districts, the ones swept by the Republicans four years ago. This time, all of the candidates backed by the Republican Party lost, including Prickett. In District 9 (Cary), two Republicans ran against each other. Bill Fletcher, the winner, comes from the moderate wing of the party and is a former school board member selected by the Democrats as a replacement for the departed Debra Goldman, who resigned nine months ago. Fletcher defeated Nancy Caggia, who ran with the Wake GOP endorsement.

If drama's your thing, you'll miss Goldman, John Tedesco, Chris Malone and "Papa Ron" Margiotta, the four swashbuckling Republicans who, with Prickett, comprised the "Margiotta Majority" in 2009-11. If you think the school board is a place for serious people interested in good schools, not their own fame or getting ahead as party apparatchiks, the new 9-0 majority will strike you as a little dull — as they should be.

Look for Christine Kushner, a smart and not very flashy member elected in 2011, to be the next school board chair. She's the current vice chair.

***

McFarlane is riding high in Raleigh, not just because of her election win but also because she has a new city manager to her liking in the person of Ruffin Hall, who starts Nov. 18. "He's awesome," McFarlane told cheering supporters tonight at Tir na Nog. Russell Allen, ousted as manager by a 6-2 vote of City Council this spring, was considered competent, even skilled, by many. But I don't recall anyone calling him awesome. And his prickly independence eventually lost him his job.

As Raleigh's leader, McFarlane has two big hills to climb in her second term. One is Dix Hill, the 325-acre former state hospital tract that the city wants to turn into a destination park. McFarlane said tonight that she talked with Gov. McCrory last week and remains hopeful that a deal can be reached on Dix over the next six months.

The second is passage, hopefully next year, of a half-cent sales tax for transit by Wake County voters. I'll have a column in the Indy tomorrow about the McFarlane-Ruffin Hall team as they tackle that challenge. Suffice it to say here that it won't be easy.

In City Council elections, six incumbents were returned for another term. Bonner Gaylord ran unopposed in District E. At-large members Mary-Ann Baldwin and Russ Stephenson won easily, as did John Odom in District B, Eugene Weeks in District C and Thomas Crowder in District D.

In District A, however, first-term incumbent Randy Stagner lost by a 51-49 percent margin to challenger Wayne Maiorano. Stagner, an independent, was a friend and ally of McFarlane's, the District A representative before she ran for mayor. Maiorano is a Republican and a land-use lawyer whose business is representing developers. How that won't be a conflict of interest, as he sits in judgment of developers' applications, is an excellent question even if Maiorano never has a client with a case in Raleigh — because Maiorano's law partner, Lacy Reaves, certainly will.

Maiorano can thank The News & Observer for his narrow victory. Somehow, the newspaper decided that firing Russell Allen was a terrible thing to do and that Stagner was responsible. The firing was debatable, perhaps. What wasn't debatable was that Stagner, a council rookie, had little to do with it. Five other members, including McFarlane, made the call to get rid of Allen. Stagner's vote made six.

Nonetheless, the N&O pinned the blame on Stagner in story after story, after which the paper endorsed Maiorano.

  • Pin It
    Nancy McFarlane wins easy re-election as mayor but loses a City Council ally as Randy Stagner loses to Wayne Maiorano — and the N&O.

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Raleigh: A new city manager and a new start on transit

Posted by on Fri, Oct 4, 2013 at 3:09 PM

When I listen to the recording, I'll tell you exactly how many times Mayor Nancy McFarlane used the words transit or transportation this morning as she introduced Ruffin Hall, the new city manager. For now, I'll just say it was a theme — THE theme, really — that Raleigh intends to get transit off the ground as its next big thing, and Hall is being counted on to help make that happen.

Ruffin Hall with City Councilor Eugene Weeks (right) this morning.
Hall comes to us from Charlotte, where he was an assistant manager and budget director with a big hand in all things transit, from adding bike lanes and the first streetcar line to building the Blue Line light-rail extension. (Hall's history is summarized in this press release from the city.)

Charlotte got the jump on Raleigh transit-wise in the '90s and has extended its lead every year since. Today, the Queen City has 15 years of progress under its belt. Raleigh? Zero years — or maybe we should be generous and say that the R Line counts for a month or two of progress.

Hall made an excellent first impression on his audience today. He's a polished, user-friendly public speaker and — here's another word McFarlane used repeatedly — "communicator." Russell Allen had many strengths as a manager. Communications, at least when it came to the public and the six City Council members who fired him, wasn't one of them.

Also, Allen seemed bored by development issues, or perhaps a better way to say it is that Allen gave every appearance of thinking that Raleigh isn't ready for transit. Hall, when I got a brief word with him, said he wanted to study the lay of the land before commenting specifically on Raleigh's transit potential. But he added that he's all about connecting land-use and transportation policies so they work in tandem.

"My background in Charlotte was very focused on transportation, transit and the relationship to land-use," Hall said. "That relationship is critical, to me, in high-growth communities."

The other knock on Allen, from the council members who lost patience with him, is that his concept of teamwork in city government didn't extend beyond the staff members who reported to him. Allen was popular with his staff. But the six council members who fired him — McFarlane included — got the message from Allen that he viewed them as not on his team, and maybe even an opposing team.

Thus, an excited McFarlane talked up Hall's commitment to the kind of teamwork that includes the Council and the public. And when Hall got up to speak, the big words out of his mouth were collaborations and partnerships, and he added nonprofit organizations, neighborhood leaders, institutions (e.g., NCSU) and the business community to the list of partners he intends to cultivate.

McFarlane called Hall a visionary, creative and a lot of other glowing words; today, at least, he exuded positive energy.

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

[Updated] Feeding the homeless in Raleigh barred by cops until Mayor and Council intervene.

Posted by on Sun, Aug 25, 2013 at 1:25 PM

{A brief update, 6 pm: Food Not Bombs did bring food and they were allowed to distribute it. The Raleigh police stood down after Mayor Nancy McFarlane and numerous Council members intervened today with Police Chief Deck-Brown and Acting City Manager Perry James. Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin is pulling this issue into her Law & Public Safety Committee meeting — the Council majority must vote to put it there, which they will do by phone; but 48 hours notice of the "meeting" must be given first, and I think the rule is 48 hours more before the committee can meet. Until the committee has a chance to gather information, Chief Deck-Brown and the city administration have agreed to let the various groups continue to distribute food without being hassled or threatened with arrest, McFarlane said.

McFarlane and Councilor Russ Stephenson came to Moore Square today, talked with representatives of Food Not Bombs. Human Beans and Love Wins (great names!) and with some of the people who depend on these groups for food every weekend. The two officials delivered a clear message that the city will be looking for ways to help get food to the people who need it, not for ways to gum things up. Councilor Baldwin said the same thing to me on the telephone; she was in another meeting and couldn't make it to Moore Square.

None of the three had any forewarning of what the police and city administration were planning, though it's now clear that this crackdown was in the works for several weeks if not months. Baldwin's committee (the other members are John Odom and Randy Stagner) should find out why they weren't informed ahead of time. But the bigger task is to use this brief crisis — now defused — as an opportunity to see how the city can do more to aid its growing numbers of homeless people and people with homes who are nonetheless poor.]

The original post from earlier today follows —

This story is exploding on social media since it was posted by Love Wins, a ministry in Raleigh. Human Beans Together is another group suddenly barred by the Raleigh police from giving out food to the homeless in Moore Square on the weekends, when soup kitchens don't operate.

Folks are heading to Moore Square today at 4, when Food Not Bombs is intending to do its regular food distribution — or try, anyway.

Read the linked blog post above for background.

Everyone wants to know why the Raleigh City Council is doing this. The short answer is, this is the Raleigh city administration at work, not the Council. Right now, Council members and Mayor McFarlane are working the phones trying to figure out what the administration is doing .. and why.

I posted about the issue on Facebook just now, as follows:

On the Moore Square/food distribution issue, I just spoke with Mayor Nancy McFarlane and have been in contact with other City Council members as well. (Mary-Ann Baldwin, Russ Stephenson, Bonner Gaylord, Thomas Crowder.) They're all scrambling to get information about why the police are suddenly barring church groups from giving out food to the homeless. There's more than one side to this — and meetings have been going on about it for some time between city agencies and the churches — but without the Council's involvement or, apparently, awareness. (It's yet another example of a part-time council trying to oversee a city administration that doesn't really welcome oversight.)

The problem, from the perspective of the Parks & Rec. Dept., the police and the city manager's office, is the mess left behind when some groups (apparently) just drop off food and leave without seeing to any clean-up.

The mayor wants us to know that feeding homeless people is something the city should be assisting, not preventing. So the issue is how ... and where. Councilor Baldwin chairs the Law & Public Safety Committee, and she's working to get the issue put before her committee. That's a good step. I suggested to her that Council somehow prevail on the police to take a step back and allow the churches to operate as before until Council can shape a new plan that gets food to the people who need it in the best way possible.

I am still planning to be in Moore Square at 4 today when Food Not Bombs is intending to do its weekly food distribution. We'll see what the police response is.

One more relevant fact: A city ordinance bars food distribution in city parks except by permit. But it's never been enforced against the groups who give out food on the edge of Moore Square — not in the park, exactly, but on the sidewalk.

A permit to use Moore Square is apparently $800 a day. That's an absurd amount, in my opinion, for groups that don't want the whole park, just a tiny corner of it. The park in front of my house allows picnics by permit, and it costs $25 — or it did the last time I was aware of the amount. $800 is what you charge Budweiser for a beerfest that draws thousands to Moore Square and results in a ton of litter that the city must remove.

Giving out food to the homeless ought to qualify for some lesser — much lesser — amount. Or a fee that's waived if you clean up after yourself.

  • Pin It
    Folks were in Moore Square today after do-good groups were barred from distributing food to the needy. Mayor McFarlane came too — with good news.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Breaking: Raleigh City Manager Allen out on 6-2 City Council vote

Posted by on Wed, Apr 17, 2013 at 10:07 AM

The City Council just met in special session and voted to end the tenure of City Manager Russell Allen effective July 1. The vote was 6-2. Mayor Nancy McFarlane said Allen's been a good manager for Raleigh but after more than a decade in that job, someone with fresh ideas and a different approach to the job is needed.

The meeting was over in a minute following the voice vote. Watching this online, I heard Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin's voice come through as one of the no votes. Not sure who cast the other one. [Update: Councilor Eugene Weeks and Baldwin were the dissenting votes. Voting to dismiss: McFarlane and Councilors Russ Stephenson, Randy Stagner, John Odom and — by phone — Bonner Gaylord and Thomas Crowder.]

The Council majority issued a statement:

Today, the Raleigh City Council voted not to renew City Manager J. Russell Allen’s employment contract.

The Council issued the following statement in making the announcement. “He has been a great service to our city, and we appreciate all he has done to help Raleigh become an award-winning municipality. Just as Raleigh has grown and changed, so have the skills needed to manage and grow the city.

“We are excited and look forward to the new possibilities and insight that a new city manager will bring us, and we are grateful for all the work Russell has done as well. Russell has agreed to stay through July 1 and we appreciate his willingness to work with us on an orderly transition.”

Allen's been in the job 12 years. He issued a short statement, per WRAL:

“I am honored and proud to have been the city manager of Raleigh for the last 12 years. I have always strived to make this a better city and have loved doing so. I have had the opportunity to work with some of the most professional, caring and dedicated City employees. They represent the heart and strength of our City organization. I also appreciate the strong partnerships we have forged with numerous public and private organizations throughout the city, county and region. Raleigh has a very engaged citizenry and I hope they feel that I have been respectful, accessible and responsive. Raleigh is one of the most successful cities in the country and is poised for even greater achievements. As much as I will miss this job, I am thankful for the experiences and confident in the City’s future.

  • Pin It
    After 12 years at the helm of Raleigh city government, Russell Allen will be out of his job at the end of June.

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

[Updated] Wake County voters are 2-to-1 for Dix Park plan, strongly oppose state reneging: Public Policy Polling

Posted by on Tue, Apr 2, 2013 at 9:36 AM

Dixphoto.jpg
  • indyweek.com

[Update, 10:30 a.m. Dix Park supporters are gathering on the site this afternoon at 5. See below for more.]

Wow, if there was any question about whether the Wake County Board of Commissioners — the Republican-led board of commissioners — were representing their constituents or their political party by coming out against the Dix Park plan, it's answered in the poll released today by Public Policy Polling.

They're sure not representing their constituents:

Republican state senators have passed a bill to invalidate the City of Raleigh’s lease for the former Dorothea Dix campus, but at least in Wake County, the main beneficiary of the proposed park, voters are strongly opposed to this bill.

PPP's statement goes on:

By roughly 2:1 margins, Wake voters want the park (52% support, 27% oppose), think the state should honor the lease (57-27), want the governor to veto the bill if it reaches his desk (54-27), and are less inclined to support the re-election of a legislator who votes for the bill (23% more inclined, 49% less inclined). By a smaller but still double-digit margin (50-38), voters also think throwing the lease out will harm the state’s business reputation.

Almost two-thirds (63%) of the county’s voters say they are very aware of the plan to replace the former hospital site with a destination park. Among these voters, the margins are even stronger, with 63% supporting the park, 65% saying the state should honor the contract, 62% saying Gov. McCrory should veto the bill, 54% saying the General Assembly’s action will hurt the business climate, and 56% less inclined to vote for an anti-park legislator.

Further, Republican lawmakers are out of step with their own voters. As political as they have made this issue, there is far less polarization on the park than on most issues on which PPP polls. Rank-and-file GOP voters in Wake County support the park by a six-point margin, think the state should honor the contract by 11 points, think their governor should veto the bill by 16, and are less inclined to support an anti-park candidate by five. 39% of them think it will be a detriment to our ability to attract business to the area.

***

The poll was paid for by Dix306, an advocacy group for the park. But the questions are straightforward. Are Wake County voters aware of the plan? Yes, they are — overwhelmingly so. Do they support it? Yes, 2-to-1. Should the state honor its lease with Raleigh or tear it up? Honor it.

Here's the full poll, with the questions and breakdowns of voters by party etc. along with a press release from Dix306 and Friends of Dorothea Dix Park.

***

It's a "flash" gathering today on Dix Hill, so says Bill Padgett of Dix306. Here's the location:

"We will be on the great hill overlooking the city. The hospital (McBride building) will be to our South and Western Blvd just below us to the North."

From Lake Wheeler Drive enter at Umstead Drive and about 300 yards on the right, we will be gathering.

From Western Boulevard turn onto Boylan Avenue and immediately as you are going up the hill on the Dix property, you can park at the lower parking (greenway/gazebo) by turning left immediately on Tate. If that is full you can drive up the hill, turn left at the stop sign at Umstead Drive and at the next intersection parking will be off to your right.

  • Pin It
    So why are Wake County Republican leaders lined up against their constituents?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Prognosis good: Raleigh Councilor Crowder being treated for testicular cancer

Posted by on Mon, Apr 1, 2013 at 4:01 PM

Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane began today's budget preview session with news about District D Councilor Thomas Crowder: He's been diagnosed with testicular cancer and will be enduring chemotherapy treatments over the next few weeks. His prognosis is good for a full recovery. He's out of action today and for tomorrow's regular Council meeting.

I spoke with Crowder earlier. He said he was hospitalized during the first round of chemo but the rest will be on an outpatient basis. His doctors told him he'll need to dial back his work through June, but he can expect to be back at full strength July 1. He's up for re-election this fall with the rest of the Council. He will be running again for a sixth two-year term, he said. First elected in 2003, Crowder is the Council's senior member and its most outspoken proponent of neighborhood-friendly development and public transportation.

  • Pin It
    Thomas Crowder said his doctors tell him he can expect to be at full strength by July 1. He will run for re-election this fall.

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Senate Republicans to Raleigh: Drop dead. (Contract? What contract?)

Posted by on Thu, Mar 21, 2013 at 2:26 PM

As expected, Senate Republicans this morning started the wheels in motion to tear up the state's lease with the City of Raleigh for the Dorothea Dix tract because, the GOP legislators said, former Gov. Perdue shouldn't have signed it. Perdue, as is required for contracts involving state land, won the approval of the Council of State before finalizing the lease.

By voice vote, the Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee approved Senate Bill 334 and sent it to the full Senate, out-shouting the opposition Democrats. The bill is a condemnation measure to terminate the lease and recapture the land.

The idea that a valid state contract can be discarded by the General Assembly because legislators don't like its terms — or the governor who negotiated them — struck Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt as "insane."

Yet the Republicans think anything done before they took over is fair game, Nesbitt said, from taking land away from municipalities to yanking Charlotte's airport away from Charlotte. "The people of this state," he said, "have a right to a little continuity of government."

Sarcastically, Nesbitt put the room on notice that any deals signed by Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, will be considered "bogus and void" by the Democrats when they regain control of the legislature.

Sen. Tommy Tucker, R-Union, assured one and all that the Republicans will be happy to renegotiate with Raleigh, though for only part of the 325-acre Dix tract, not all of it, and for a much higher price.

"You should hear yourselves saying that," Capitol Broadcasting Co. CEO Jim Goodmon told them moments later. "There’s no business person in the state who would agree with what you’re doing."

Goodmon, a member of the Dix Visionaries, one of the groups supporting Raleigh's effort to create a destination park on the Dix tract, was the only member of the public given a chance to speak prior to the committee vote. He ripped the Republicans for trying to back out of a negotiated lease.

"What lease are we going to not do next?" Goodmon wondered. "This doesn't make sense, and it's not honorable."

If the General Assembly can unilaterally void the current lease with Raleigh, Goodmon asked, what assurance would Raleigh have that, if it did renegotiate, a new deal wouldn't also be tossed by a future legislature?

Someone should tell MetLife, Goodmon argued, that its deal with the state could be in jeopardy. MetLife is moving some 2,500 jobs to Charlotte and Cary in return for promised tax incentives of more than $90 million — money Gov. McCrory has promised will be paid in future years as the jobs materialize.

"Nobody will trust doing business with the state," Goodmon said, if the General Assembly passes SB-334.

Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane was in the committee room along with other city officials trying to protect their lease. McFarlane and a unanimous City Council appear to be prepared to go to court should the bill be enacted, either to argue that the contract must be honored or, if it isn't, to claim damages.

Goodmon, whose company is a major economic developer in Durham, said the Dix tract "is extremely valuable" to Raleigh and a jury will decide what the city is owed if the state's condemnation power is upheld.

But the major damage will be to the state, he argued. Raleigh will pay rent on the land, and over time will invest — his guess — $100 million to $125 million developing the state's property as a destination park and a major economic development draw for the city, the region and all of North Carolina.

"You've got to understand how we feel on the other side of this lease," Goodmon concluded. "What I've said is perfectly legitimate ... and it's a matter of honor, we don't break leases."

***

The committee meeting ended on a combative note as Sen. Tommy Apodaca, a Republican from Buncombe County, objected to being "intimidated by the press."

He meant Goodmon, whose company owns WRAL and other media properties.

"I will not be threatened," Apodaca warned. "That is wrong."

"What?" Goodmon shot back. "I can't speak because of where I work?"

"I felt threatened by you, sir," Apodaca answered. His microphone wasn't on, however, and the chair quickly cut him off and gaveled the meeting to a close.

  • Pin It
    Raleigh's lease for the Dix tract is on Republicans' kill list. Today, a Senate committee meeting moved their plan along and ended in high dudgeon.

Monday, January 14, 2013

[Update: Wins by 5-3 vote] Raleigh Council asked to back "Return Our War Dollars" campaign

Posted by on Mon, Jan 14, 2013 at 3:29 PM

[Update, Tuesday: The measure passed by a 5-3 vote, albeit with a friendly amendment to remove the words " ... troops and ..." from the text — as shown below. Voting yes: Mayor Nancy McFarlane, Councilors Russ Stephenson, Eugene Weeks, Thomas Crowder and Mary-Ann Baldwin. Voting no: Councilors Randy Stagner, John Odom and Bonner Gaylord. The amendment, offered by Crowder, was addressed to Stagner's distaste for any implication that the troops were the problem for our wasteful wars (Stagner is a retired Army colonel). Stagner wasn't won over. Odom objected on grounds that there are no "war dollars" to be used at home, "it's all borrowed." Gaylord said he objects to voting on issues over which Council has no control.

[Some of the ROWD contingent were in the room for the vote, including Joe Burton, who coordinated the campaign. Betsy Crites, director of N.C. Peace Action, said she was unsure how the resolution would fare and "delighted" that it was approved.]

The original post from Monday —

Return Our War Dollars (ROWD), a coalition of Triangle area social justice and peace activists led by the leaders of N.C. Peace Action, presented a resolution to the Raleigh City Council two weeks ago and asked for its support. The resolution is on the Council agenda at tomorrow's 1 p.m. session.


After a number of whereas clauses, here's the punchline:

“BE IT RESOLVED that the Raleigh City Council call upon the U.S. Congress and President Obama to end our military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, bring our troops and war dollars home, and use those and other savings in military spending to meet vital human needs, promote job creation, rebuild our infrastructure, aid municipal and state governments, and develop a new economy based upon renewable, sustainable energy.”

According to the group, the U.S. Council of Mayors passed a similar resolution, as have several dozen city councils from L.A. to Cleveland to, in North Carolina, the Durham City Council.

There are eight Council members in Raleigh, including Mayor Nancy McFarlane. For the resolution to pass, it needs at least five affirmative votes.

Bring our troops home, cut military spending and use the savings to rebuild our domestic economy— with a focus on renewable energy?

Seems uncontroversial to me.

  • Pin It

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Meeting tonight: The new Raleigh zoning code and the problem of accessory dwelling units

Posted by on Mon, Aug 27, 2012 at 8:57 AM

Accessory dwelling units. They sound so benign, and in many cases they are — you put up a little cottage out back for grandma, or a college student, or as a place for your guests to stay if they're staying and, uh, staying.

But now picture this. Your neighbor builds an ADU, a honkin' two-story pad behind his house; but wait, it gets better (worse): your neighbor doesn't actually live in the house. No, he rents it out to four college students, and in the new "accessory dwelling unit," four more college students are suddenly resident, and they're living just a few feet from your house. Where you DO live.

Maybe they'll all be bookworms.

From the proposed Raleigh zoning ordinance
  • From the proposed Raleigh zoning ordinance
So you see the issue. Accessory dwelling units can be a good thing or not, and a big indicator of whether an ADU will be good or bad is whether the house it's "accessory" to is owner-occupied or isn't. In Raleigh, with its generous supply of houses rented to students, with the owners cashing the rent checks at an Apex or Cary address, an ordinance that allows even more students to be packed into a neighborhood where other families do live is, to put it mildly, problematic.

Yet this is what the new Raleigh zoning code, the so-called UDO (Unified Development Ordinance), seems to propose. Or so says Linda Watson, chair of the Glenwood Citizens Advisory Council, who's studied the issue for a year without assuaging her fears. She'd like to think the code would distinguish between places where an ADU is desirable and places where it isn't. Instead, she's pretty sure it will allow a rather large party pad to be built right up against the back lot line of a house even if the ADU looms over the backyard/house on the lot behind it. (And notice, in the graphic at right — which is taken from the proposed code — that the cottages are built on an alley. But unless I'm missing something, the alley isn't required. A two-story cottage can be erected within 10 feet of the back lot line, not counting roof overhangs and balconies, even if puts your backyard in the shade.

One other (huge) factor to consider. According to former Planning Commission member Betsy Kane, a lawyer-planner by trade, a North Carolina appeals court has ruled that cities cannot distinguish between owner-occupied homes and absentee-landlord houses when deciding whether ADU's should be legal or not. In other words, if ADU's are permitted at all, they must be available to slumlords and owner-occupants alike.

So Watson has called a special meeting of the Glenwood CAC this evening to air the issue. It's set for 6:30-9 p.m. at the Glen Eden Park Community Center, 1500 Glen Eden Drive.

You can read more about it in the Glenwood CAC newsletter:

GlenwoodCAC.pdf

***

By the way, where the heck is the Unified Development Ordinance? (Updated here and above to add the link — per John Burns' comment on FB that the answer to my question is, the UDO is online and has been for a long time. I didn't mean to suggest otherwise.)

The answer is, the consultants are finished writing it, the Planning Commission is finished reviewing it, and a mere three years after Raleigh adopted its new 2030 Comprehensive Plan, the zoning code that is supposed to put the plan in action is ready for consideration by the City Council.

Starting in September.

The code, as you may supposed, is replete with question marks. The ones surrounding accessory dwelling units have generated the first public skirmish, but no doubt not the last.

  • Pin It
    Raleigh can't let you build that cottage for grandma unless it allows the absentee landlords to build "cottages" too. Right behind your house, maybe.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

4-year terms for Raleigh City Council? Mayor McFarlane and Councilor Baldwin go another round.

Posted by on Fri, Aug 10, 2012 at 1:54 PM

One follow-up to the Raleigh City Council retreat story from earlier in the week:

In addition to their wanting some staff help and to push a bolder agenda of economic development tied to strategic transit and other infrastructure investments (click on the story if you missed all that), Council members were considering a change from two-year terms to four-year terms.

Introduced by Councilor John Odom in February, the proposal is — was? — to have all eight council members, including the mayor, elected at the same time every four years instead of every two years as has been done since 1947. (There would be no stagger in the terms. All eight would be on the same ballot.)

The subject of terms wasn't discussed at the retreat. But it was discussed, and a public hearing was conducted on Odom's proposal, at the Council's Tuesday evening public session. (You can watch it on RTN right here — scroll down to City Council, click, click on video for the Aug. 7 evening session, then jump to the last item on the agenda. Soup to nuts, it's a most interesting 10 minutes.)

I say public hearing, because that's what it was officially. Unofficially, the fact that only three people came forward to speak in favor of the change (with a fourth speaking against it) amounted to a great big yawn — i.e., the public is not in favor. And the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, which is in favor, either didn't lift a finger turning out a crowd, or else it couldn't muster one.

The happy family: (front row) Russ Stephenson, Nancy McFarlane, Eugene Weeks; (middle row) Randy Stagner, Mary-Ann Baldwin; (top row) Thomas Crowder, Bonner Gaylord, John Odom
  • City of Raleigh
  • The happy family: (front row) Russ Stephenson, Nancy McFarlane, Eugene Weeks; (middle row) Randy Stagner, Mary-Ann Baldwin; (top row) Thomas Crowder, Bonner Gaylord, John Odom

The hearing itself lasted about three minutes. When it ended, Mayor Nancy McFarlane was ready to get the question off the table by assigning it to a standing council committee, but that's when things got interesting. McFarlane was challenged (and not for the first time) by Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin, who made a motion, seconded by Odom, to instead create a special, 12-member citizens committee to study four-year terms.

That would, of course, keep the issue alive and give its proponents another chance to build a fire under it.

"I think we deserve, and our citizens deserve, a right to explore this and not just set it aside," Baldwin said. The last three words were said with negative emphasis.

"I don't think anybody's setting it aside," McFarlane shot back. She said the council had taken the issue seriously, adding: "That's why we had a public hearing."

Now, the merits of two-year terms vs. four-year are easily summarized, I think. Two-year terms keep the council members close to their constituents, as Councilor Thomas Crowder argued. (And the system's worked pretty well, so don't "fix" it, Crowder added.) On the other hand, if you want bold action, Baldwin said, a lot of the cities Raleigh's looked at as models — cities visited on the annual Chamber of Commerce trips — not only have four-year terms, but attribute their success to the added insulation from voter disapproval that their four-year terms provide.

What made the 10 minutes interesting, though, wasn't the merits of the argument. It was the politics.

***

Do you remember how Baldwin went after McFarlane, back in December, over the new mayor's very first official action, which was to name Councilor Russ Stephenson to the largely ceremonial post of mayor pro tem? Baldwin out of nowhere said Councilor Eugene Weeks should get the nod, which led to Stephenson offering to share the job with Weeks — one year each.

Jump forward to Tuesday night. Baldwin wants a special 12-member citizens committee created to keep the idea of four-year terms alive. McFarlane, who supports two-year terms, wants the issue referred to the Comprehensive Plan Committee, meaning that the council itself would control the discussion and be in a position to end it.

Now, sentiment on the Council seems to be in favor of two-year terms. I count McFarlane, Crowder, Stephenson and Bonner Gaylord as in that corner, with Randy Stagner on the fence. Not sure about Weeks. Baldwin and Odom are the only two pushing the idea.

Still, when it came time to vote on Baldwin's motion for a special committee, it looked like it might prevail.

Baldwin had Odom. Gaylord, who said he sees no need to change from two-year terms, nonetheless was fine with a citizens committee. Then Stagner, normally a McFarlane ally, also said there was no harm in a special committee, and he'd be interested in what it might find out about four-year terms and term limits too.

Add Weeks, and that would be five in favor — a majority.

Except that, to Baldwin's obvious surprise — she twice asked for the vote to be confirmed — Weeks voted with McFarlane, and against Baldwin.

Which meant that Baldwin's motion failed on a 4-3 vote, one short of the required five. (Stephenson, a McFarlane ally and a likely no vote if he'd been there, was excused due to illness.)

For the record, Weeks and Baldwin are Democrats, as are Crowder and Stephenson. McFarlane, Stagner and Gaylord are independents — registered unaffiliated. Odom's a Republican. But in city politics, party affiliation doesn't explain a whole lot.

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