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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Welcome to the INDY's Raleigh City Council Live Blog

Posted by on Tue, May 17, 2016 at 1:11 PM


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Welcome, everyone, to the tres Tuesday meeting of the Raleigh city council.

We've got a long consent agenda again, covering transit, affordable housing and budget amendment action items, then city manager Ruffin Hall will present his budget proposal for the next fiscal year.

Also look out for a rezoning on Trailwood Drive and a Raleigh bike plan update. And, the council will discuss whether to send a rezoning case from an anti-abortion group that wants to open up next door to a women's health clinic that provides abortion services to public hearing.

1:15: The meeting is called to order. 

1:19: Mayor Nancy is honoring William Ivey Long, a North Carolina native and famous costume designer for Broadway shows. She gives him his own day. He says they unveiled a plaque for his lifetime achievement award yesterday that looks like a tombstone. He's "pleased as punch" to be celebrating arts and theater in North Carolina. 

1:22: Now an agency grantee presentation to SAFEChild, Wake's only nonprofit child abuse prevention agency. 50 percent of families served in the county live in Raleigh city limits. 

1:24: Onto consent agenda. It's approved.

1:25: Report and recommendation from the Planning Commission. Chairman Schuster says a lot of people will be attending the public hearing to discuss the use inside the building that the anti-abortion group that wants to relocate to on Jones Franklin Road. Schuster says use is not supposed to be considered in rezoning. Ruffin Hall says there is a really full agenda already for June 7; Crowder motions to move it to the June 23 meeting. And that passes. The other 2 rezoning cases will happen June 7 because not controversial.

1:27: Special items, the Trailwood Drive rezoning is up. MAB moves for approval. 

1:29: The case is actually kinda complex, wants to leave out one parcel of land on the tract to be rezoned. That's approved.

1:30: Manager's report. First is the bike plan update. Jason Meyers is presenting. This is an update to a plan first adopted in 2009. In last 5 years national landscape and best practices for bike facilities in other cities has evolved.

1:32: We have bike lanes and a plan for 8-80 year-old users. We looked at bike plans in Atlanta, Seattle and Buffalo. We began work on this part of the plan back in May of last year. Final draft went to Raleigh Bicycle and Pedestrian planning committee last April and they voted to recommend adopting the plan. 

1:34: There was a steering committee of cyclist and community stakeholders. The plan is to create an environment where people of all ages and abilities can feel comfortable biking and can bike anywhere they want to go. They made an effort to go to people at events and festivals rather than try to bring them to city meetings. Public said they weren't necessarily comfortable biking on Raleigh streets. Staff showed them pictures of different visions to get their feedback, got their guidance on what kinds of programs they wanted to see. 

1:36: That led to 8 recommendations. All ages and abilities and new programs were priority. Upgrade bronze level bike community status to silver level status and we can do that with the plan. Next, analysis of the state of bicycling in Raleigh, including where riders of all ages and abilities are not served currently. 

1:38: A primary conclusion of the analysis is the current system does not serve all ages and abilities on city streets. Facility types in the plan include separated bikeways withing a street corridor— these kinds of facilities have quadrupled in the U.S. since 2010 and there has been a huge increase in biking in American cities.

1:39: Next is neighborhood bikeway, low speed and low volume, taking advantage of existing streets, using wayfinding. Also, greenway trails and bike lanes are facilities for the network. 

1:41: There is a long-term Bikeway Plan that is designed to become part of the city's comprehensive plan. It's a master plan vision for biking in the city. 

1:42: They prioritized the facets of the study for phase one of the Ten-Year Priority Plan, a strategy for infrastructure and bike programming for the future. Bike routes and wayfinding will help people use the facilities, and they recommend replacing the existing system with something that's "destination-based."

1:45: New programs will help reach under-served communities who  haven't been reached before.  Policy recommendations include updating streets design manual, maintain facilities, more bike parking. 

1:46: Finally, implementation, the "bicycle project delivery process." 

1:48: David Cox asks about effects on parking. As we repave and re-stripe roads for bike lanes, what if there is a reduction in parking on city streets? Does it come to council for approval? It would. But generally the plan looks at where parking is already not allowed/underused in the design process. They reach out to residents to see if parking should be eliminated. They would bring a set of projects to council eventually.

1:50: Corey Branch asks what we're doing to connect bike lanes to schools in city limits so people can bike to school? It's happening through a grant. Walking is top priority but biking is a component. A school as destination project would score highly. WCPSS transit rep was on the steering committee. Serving schools is definitely a goal of the plan, Meyers says. 

1:53: Russ calls the plan a "quantum leap forward," says equity analysis—creating equal opportunities for all citizens to bike places—is important. MAB asking about communication plan: where is it and how will we educate public about what we have done and will do? Eric Lamb says they're working on it, a forum net week, working with public affairs staff on a public info campaign. Dickie Thompson thanks staff for continuing to work on the plan and tweaking it, because he'r hearing lots of confusion/concerns from citizens about bike lanes. 

1:55: Council approves adopting the plan unanimously. 

1:57: Manager's budget proposal is up. He says they have made every effort to link the budget to the strategic plan. There's a video first called "Raleigh: Our City Our Numbers." 457,608 is the population. We have 28 fire stations and 611,087 911 calls are processed. 6 police stations. $55,181 is median household income. 2,297 miles of sewer mins. 7,700 creative jobs. I think I missed some stuff, but there you go. 

2:01: Benjamin Canada, interim budget director is presenting. Total city budget proposal is $858.6 million, an increase of $25 million over last year. We have had 2% growth in property taxes, expect $4.6 million and 5% growth in sales tax revenue. We absorbed million in business license tax revenues (the Legislature did away with it). 

2:03: This is split up between focus areas of strategic plan. Propose 15 new positions to improve cleanup downtown, plus downtown coordinator position. Absorb it into transportation department. Body worn cameras for RPD proposal will cost $1.5 million. Also propose funding a new police training facility. We've outgrown the old one. 

2:05: 12 new positions to 911 call centers, 10 call takers, 2 supervisory. Fund fleet modernization proposals for fire departments. One additional fire inspector position. Replace Fire Station 1; sell it to take it out of the Warehouse District. 

2:06: Propose new bill assistance program to help eligible citizens with past due water and sewer bills. $200,000. Arts and Cultural Resources: $850,000 for public art for new city projects like the police training and new fire department and the new civic campus, plus a new art exhibit curator position. Also, preservation planner position and survey historic properties for National Historic Register position. 

2:08: Two positions and operating funds to expand marketing for economic development, more diverse retail, research and support. Plus $500,000 annually for Building Upfit Grant. For development community: improve online planning and permitting system. Six new positions to focus on major projects, review and inspections. Plus funding for area plans, two new positions: civic design and historic preservation. Plus get staff to attend all CAC meetings for rezoning discussions. 

2:10: $1 per month increase for expanded capital program or stormwater plus 12 new positions (2 new crews to complete projects.) Public utilities: increase monthly volume- based rates for infrastructure by $1.99 per month for average customer, support for the infrastructure program. Solid waste services: 5 new positions for route efficiency and yard waste plus 75 cents collection fee increase Allocate $1.1 million to operate new or renovated park facilities over next 18 months.

2:12: Transportation and transit: 4 new positions for road widening and transit projects, continue to implement $75 million bond program. Bike share needs a program coordinator and city needs to provide matching funds for a grant to implement the program. And two positions for Union Station. 

2:13: Organizational excellence: re-brand public affairs as "Communications Department." Add two new positions for graphics and video support. Realign staff for a centralized graphics unit. Fund a citizen survey this fall to get feedback on services to help with city decision making. Major capital project is consolidation of civic campus. It would bring 1,100 staff members to one site on the municipal block. Demolish police headquarters and parking deck next to municipal building, to be replaced with larger structures. Improve customer services and efficiency. 

2:14: Funding 2.5% average merit increase for city employees, plus one additional city holiday, bringing holiday days from 11 to 12. There's increase in medical claims and costs. City will absorb 82% of cost increase; premium increases tied to cost drivers, there will be a spouse surcharge. Raleigh's health plan remains competitive despite those changes. 

2:17: So we will need additional resources to do all this. Wake County's property re-evaluation process was just finished. 8% increase in overall property tax base. Residential remains flat, commercial increased 23%. The budget proposal would lower the property tax rate by .27 cents from current 42.10 cents down to 41.83 cents which is not revenue neutral. 1 cent of tax revenue ($5.7 million) would be allocated to affordable housing and 1 cent of revenue would be allocated to funding the debt service on acquiring Dorothea Dix.  

2:20: There are 32,000 cost burdened renter households in Raleigh and 16,000 severely cost burdened rental households. Last year, council approved affordable housing improvement plan. Why tackle now? We have committed all affordable housing bond funds from 2011; we need to start investing now to realize benefits sooner; it's important for long-term economic growth. 

2:23: Affordable housing has different meanings, and has come to mean people who can't afford housing themselves. But it also includes workforce housing, housing for people who already work (retail workers, home health aides, grocery workers, firefighters, teachers, daycare workers). There's economic and community benefits to funding affordable housing.

2:26: Other cities in the southeast are grappling with affordable housing. In Durham, there was a 1-cent on the property tax rate for  affordable housing in 2013, Nashville proposed $10 million annually for affordable housing. 

2:27: If we allocate 1 penny in Raleigh, that's $5.7 million a year. It's a significant policy choice for the council; important so we put it on the table. We thought it was best option to address council's priority, and will fund 125 new units, on top of 200 units supported by federal funds. Goal is average output of 325 units, a 63% increase. City could spend housing funds on rehab for exiting stock, protecting loss of existing housing units. We recommend 1 penny for stable (affordable and workforce hosing) to maintain vibrant economy, options for all residents of all income levels for housing, have an ongoing funding stream for long term challenges. 

2:31: Budget work sessions begin in June. Public hearing is June 7 at 7 p.m.

2:34: Next up: matters scheduled for public hearing. No one is here to speak on limited obligation bond reissue. It passes. Next is  a petition annexation, no one here, it passes. Here's a text change to amend vehicle parking for overnight lodging downtown. It passes, cutting in half the number of parking spaces hotels are required to provide. Next is sidewalk and pavement assessment on Wade Avenue (Ridgewood Shopping Center). They continue it.

2:42: There's an "unusual" evidentiary hearing today about a subdivision at the intersection of Person and Lane Streets in the Oakwood District. Owners want to subdivide .2 parcel called the Fleming Subdivision. This is a quasi-judicial hearing which needs Council approval because it's in a historic district. It's all already been approved by the Raleigh Historic District Commission. Council approves unanimously. 

2:47: Growth and Natural Resources committee voted not to use a CMAR- Construction Manager At Risk for the Moore Square redevelopment, as city staff had originally recommended. They will put it out to a construction bid. City staff will manage the project with an arborist on call. Corey Branch asks if there is a way to avoid this in future? Dickie Thompson says CMAR should have been hired at the beginning of the project, not when it is already 80% designed. There are lot more fees involved with CMAR, he explains. Branch says he hopes that extra money could go to Chavis Park.

2:49: GNR recommends to rezone on Oberlin Road. And Stone's Warehouse developers are allowed to change their contractor. Council approves all of these. 

2:51: Report of Council members. David Cox says he has gotten comments about intersection of Raven Ridge and Falls of Neuse. No left turn arrow. People want to look into that. Also need for left turn arrow at Fox and Spring Forest Road. Cox says he has had discussions about sidewalk construction on Highwoods Blvd, public-private partnership where private business would pay for half of $500,000 project. Caveat: city would have to move it higher up the sidewalk project priority list. He wants to discuss policy changes to private-public partnerships at a work session.

2:53: Bonner says we have had these discussions in past, but hard to apply those funds systematically across the city. He says he'd be willing to continue talking about it. Cox asks staff to bring it to a work session with a recommendation or suggestions on how to handle it. He would hate to walk away from $250,000 in private funding. KC says it would take money away from projects in the que which have been waiting. But that's just why Cox wants to have a conversation. Mayor Nancy says do some research on other cities that have been able to do this successfully. Cox says there has to be a way to do this in a way that has equity but also free money. 

2:58: Ruffin says staff can bring the list, public private partnership operations and Highwoods info to a work session. Russ says Fire Station 5 renovations have made neighbors worried about trees. Have city look at ways to preserve trees where gravel etc. can get into the roots. Have staff look at opportunities to mitigate impacts. 

2:59: Corey Branch congratulates Shaw and St. Augustine's grads and WCPSS grads. Alicia Quarles (Orage Quarles' daughter) spoke at Clarence Lightner Junior Achievers event last week in Southeast Raleigh too. KC wants city to offer financial literacy classes though Triangle Family Services, as a budget note for outside agency funding. Help people buy homes, pay debt, stay out of foreclosure. Bonner went to Beertown show last week, thanks the arts community. Dickie Thompson thanks everyone for the budget. Commends Grace Home report. 

3:03: MAB thanks staff too and Ruffin Hall and assistant managers for attending Oak City Outreach Center fundraiser last week. Thanks everyone who made that successful. 

That's it from me. See you all June 7. 

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