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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Welcome to the INDY's Raleigh City Council live blog

Posted by on Tue, Oct 20, 2015 at 1:05 PM

There's a lot on the agenda today, folks.

Downtown parking is probably the biggest item. Will the City Council go with a recommendation to charge a $5 flat fee Thursday/Friday nights, all day Saturday and for special events on Sunday in eight downtown parking decks? Not if the business community can help it. 

Also up: Larry Jarvis' 2016-2020 affordable housing plan, also being recommended for adoption by Council.

Plus a pilot program for musician loading zones at downtown's live music venues, review of research on the city's flag, a hotel feasibility study, some rezoning cases and more. 

1:06: John Odom is in the Mayor's seat, so I guess he's running the show today.

1:08: Mayor Nancy and Councilman Weeks are both out. Nick Fountain is here on behalf of the Raleigh Kiwanis (sp?) club. He's announcing a partnership with the city and the group is making a $100k gift to a children's playground in one of the parks "so all the children in Raleigh can play together." 

1:13:They also give money to the Boys and Girls club and dictionaries to 3rd graders, and $ to the Tammy Lynn Center and Step Up Ministries. They have a lot of Raleigh Hall of Famers in their club. Like Charles Meeker and Tom Bradshaw. And the club is also in the Raleigh Hall of Fame. 

1:16: John Odom says Kiwanis has been a great partner and he looks forward to another 100 years of partnership. Because they started in 1920. MAB says she has happy to see Rep. Gary Pendelton here with a big check; he says "it's negotiable."  John Odom moves along quickly.

1:17: The consent is up. Warehouse District Parking will be taken up later. Consent is approved.

1:19: Planning Commission report. 4 rezoning cases need to be scheduled...Stephenson wants more discussion on case on Bloodworth (this is townhomes across the street from the Lincoln apartments). Ken Bowers says to have more discussion this case would have to be converted to conditional use case and go to public hearing.

1:20: Attorney Mack Paul says remapping needs to be put in place to allow this project to happen. The project is asking for five stories but intention is not to build 5-story townhomes. There are just issues that can't be addressed via zoning.  

1:25: This property was recommended to ask neighbors whether they want it to be OX (office mixed use). There are historic neighborhoods nearby which could be impacted. 

1:26: It's going to public hearing.

1:28: Next is a rezoning case to build a new school, which needs some more height, 2 more cases are requests from WCPSS for school sites. There are sewer odors at a proposed site on Poole and Barwell Roads. Because if it's not toxic waste, it's sewer outlets. But a school system spokesperson says we need a site with 22 acres to build a school- and Raleigh is running out of land. 

1:31: Stephenson says there are 2 nearby elementary schools that are under-enrolled, so ppl asking why we need another elementary school. Bowers says NE and SE Raleigh are the places where the land is for new development. .No transit plans that extend this far out either.

1:33: John Odom says he is glad the Legislature is out of town so they'll stay out of city business and that we need to stay out of schools' business. Hear hear. These cases go to public hearing.

1:34: Special items: Musician Loading Zones are up. Ruffin says staff has looked at opportunities for musician loading zones where musicians can have a permit to park to unload and load up equipment. There's a proposal for 4 month pilot program in live-music establishments which have a regular need: like Pour House, Lincoln Theater, Tir Na Nog. 

1:35: Already motions to approve, and it's approved unanimously. That is good for musicians. 

1:36: A street connectivity text change will be held over. Now onto the flag. Odom says he wants (or doesn't want?) to have squirrels on the flag. Maiorano says why are we even discussing this? Is this really the highest and best use of our time for us to have this conversation right now? (what could be a higher and better use of our time than a discussion about the symbol of the essence of all that is fair and good about our beloved city symbolized by a deer and an oak tree seal , Mr. Maiorano????; also help me out here someone: does Raleigh have two flags:



1:37: Bonner says everyone has a different perspective. Do we have a bad flag? Yes. Could it be better? Probably.  WM says let staff evaluate options and give recommendations. Bonner says that is what we are here to discuss now, i.e. that is already what happened

1:38: MAB says this is a bigger picture issue. Bonner says we have spent more time talking about whether we should talk about the flag than talking about the flag. Sooo, there will be a flag presentation.

1:39: Communications director Damien Graham is up. Here are some reccos from the North American Vexicollogical Association (flag people): keep it simple, use meaningful symbolism, limit to 3 colors, no letters or seals and be distinctive. 

1:40: Grand Rapids, Provo, Pocatello- uses 80's clip art, the rest are also really bad. Milwaukee has a lot going  on, like a flag on the flag and a giant ship. These are the bad designs. I urge you to Google these flags. Chicago, Tokyo, Des Moines and Hong Kong have examples of good design. 

1:41: Raleigh's is meh. It was put together in 1899, using Sir Walter Raleigh's colors of red and white. The deer/roe buck: Anglo Saxon words meaning meadow of the deer. Because there used to be a lot of deer. (Still are!) Some places use the flag as part of their brand...but what is Raleigh's brand? This is getting super existential. 

1:42: So we have a muddled mess of icons and logos for Raleigh, Damien says. In January, Communications will come back after taking on a larger branding initiative. Clarity on "who is the city of Raleigh." It's not an easy task, he says. "Finding one thing to encapsulate all that Raleigh is is very difficult." So they are going to take time and work hard to do this. He asks them to hold off until they begin the branding process and the flag can be part of that.

1:44: That sounds great, Bonner says. The goal here was to get this in the hopper. And John Odom says don't throw away the squirrels. 

1:45: City manager's report. First up is the hotel feasibility study presentation. Jim Greene is presenting. There was a market analysis with DRA, Convention and Visitors Bureau and Raleigh Chamber. And some consultants, naturally. 

1:47: The consultant says Raleigh's downtown transformation is truly remarkable. They looked at a lot of different components, like the Convention Center and downtown plan. 

1:49: So Raleigh has some inner core hotels already, in the heart of downtown. But we need more. Average daily room rates are currently $135, and occupancy rates approach 73%. Business travel drives demand, and it is growing. Marriot has the the highest occupancy.

1:51: Event planners have things to say about Raleigh. Those are: they love the downtown amenities, the ease of access, the geographic location in the center of the state. The primary weakness is that there is an inadequate hotel package downtown for events. Also limited air service. Also, limited dining (????) But mostly it's the inadequate hotel package and insufficient meeting space. Never price! Price for events is favorable. 62% said they were very or somewhat likely to come to Raleigh with adequate hotels. 

1:53: Market outlook: 750 new hotel rooms should be open by 2018, and likely more after then. 12 story hotel at South Wilmington and East Lenoir, as well as one at McDowell and Cabarrus. Expect a dip in occupancy with the new supply. 

1:55: There are a lot of hotels within walking distance of the Convention Center, but the occupancy is so high that it is an increasing problem. But there are 2 more coming! "That would help."

1:58: There are two analyses, adding a 400 room hotel and a 1000 room hotel. There's a gap in funding for both scenarios; private full-service hotels aren't coming in, so there would need to be some kind of incentive. How to incentivize?:

2:01: Publicly finance, but not allowable under NC state law. So we are limited to doing a public-private partnership. Tax incentives (TIF- increasing property, lodging or sales taxes), or use federal programs which give benefits to investors, or making related infrastructure improvements on streets and neighborhoods or invest in parking (also a huge issue in downtown). Or land acquisition, construction "function space" or cash contributions. 

2:03: Durham has incentivized hotel development: 21C Museum, the Durham, the Residence Inn by Marriot and the Jack Tar. Raleigh has competition. Raleigh is not doing well compared to national competitors (like DC, Baltimore, even Myrtle Beach)

2:06: But a 400 room hotel would definitely have a positive impact on Raleigh Convention Center attendance. 

2:07: Conclusions: Downtown is growing rapidly and it's in an adolescent phase, needs to mature. We see lots of new residential, retail and entertainment, which will be a source of demand and create a more attractive environment. Raleigh Convention Center has had initial success but has not been able to grow. That will stay the same and it will be increasingly difficult to maintain that business if it doesn't increase hotel supply. 

2:08: Transit is a component. Businesses want their people to be able to walk to and from their hotel when they're downtown. Overall development costs are very high. Don't have the ability to convert existing buildings. And weak average daily room rates for a downtown market. 

2:11: MAB asks about parking requirements as a barrier. From a developers' perspective, the consultant says, you have to build structured parking which adds to the cost of hotel development. The current ordinance is a 1 space per room ratio, which he says is unusual in urban areas. It's usually less than 1, he says. That would be a way to ease the cost burden. "An obvious step you could take without expenditure and loss in revenue to make hotel development feasible downtown."

2:14: The consultant says the adolescent comparison is a good analogy "because adolescents grow unevenly and proportion needs to be added back."

2:15: MAB makes a motion for staff to study parking ratio change in context of new hotel.That passes unanimously.

2:16: Moving on: Business Investment Grant Policy. It is sent to the Budget and Economic Development Committee.

2:17: Downtown and weekend parking is up. KC makes a motion to move the discussion to November since 2 Council members are missing. MAB says since so many people are here for this issue, let's hear the discussion and vote later. 

2:18: Staff will give the presentation. Ruffin says there are 2 main questions regarding balance: first, how do we encourage downtown activity while keeping assets clean and well-maintained? How do we strike that balance? 2: Who pays? That is the big element of this. Additional activity requires additional cost, so where is that best suited?

2:20: Mike Kennon is presenting. So there has been a huge increase in demand for night and weekend parking downtown. Heavy use of facilities, and increase in cleanliness issues and vandalism. 6 people cover cleaning and maintenance of eight downtown decks. Six! Not even one person per deck. This will not be sustainable with the existing staff, clearly. 

2:22: Basically parking deck use increases from little use Monday through a lot of use on Saturday. They looked at peer NC cities, many of which continue their daily rates into the evening. Private decks in downtown Raleigh already charge for nights and weekend. 

2:25: There were 7 meetings with stakeholders from hospitality, churches, museums, DRA and other businesses. The stakeholders came up with plans vetted by city staff. They want simplicity, not to confuse people. And they wanted high level of service: 3 expenses are cashiers, janitorial and equipment and maintenance. 

2:27: There were a lot of plans. 5 p.m. is the good starting point to start charging evening flat fee rate. Collect the fee upon entry at 5. Downtown employees get a discount of nights a week for $30/month. The plan is $5 flat fee, Thursday, Friday, all day Saturday and Sunday for special events. 

2:29: That's revenue for janitorial services 5 nights a week. Sandwich boards color code decks so people remember where they park now, because #Drunktown; the color theme is proposed for use throughout the decks. And Marbles Museum's 9 family events for low-income families will offer parking validation for those. 

2:32: MAB asks what are special events? Mike says over 10k participants/spectators. So races with a lot of spectators etc.

2:33: MAB asks about decks that are excluded: Blount Street, Convention Center/Charter Square and Performing Arts decks. There won't be changes to those. MAB asks whether they looked at not having to charge all day Saturday but just the evenings? Mike says they felt strongly that they needed janitorial and maintenance, and could not get revenues to pay for those if not charging all day Sat. "We don't feel like we can provide service levels to make a substantial difference.'

2:35: Ruffin says the city could look at other ways to pay for increased services, but who? This plan is revenue neutral. Parking fund is currently subsidized by general fund at $500k per year, and they want to bring that down. 

2:36: City subsidies pay for decks and services. WM: The driver of fee structure is to pay for services, operation and maintenance of decks- if we want to put in the high level services proposed, we will have to increase city subsidies? Ruffin: Or find revenues somewhere else. 

2:39: Stephenson: So we don't want to shock downtown business' models, so we will have to find a way to phase in full cost recovery over time to keep downtown assets in good shape? Bonner concurs with slow phase-in to monitor impacts to business owners. Odom says we should take another look at "bid" money (?) which should be growing, as downtown is growing. 

2:41: The General Assembly has passed new legislation on municipal service districts. Those kick in next spring. The attorney says staff has already been looking at the new rules. 

2:44: KC asks if we have done an audit of the DRA; Odom says City is contracted with them to use funds. DRA does an annual audit. 

2:45: David Meeker will speak for a few minutes. "A couple thoughts." If trying to encourage Downtown retail it's hard to imagine competing with Cameron Village, North Hills and Seaboard where there's no charge for parking. Also: Too much, too fast. Some percentage of people will simply not come down who did before, because of the parking fee. "We are begging you guys to start small with this, so it's during a limited amount of time, while we're busiest already so we're not dealing with lost revenue, and phase it up from there."

2:48: And a lot of ppl stand up to back up what he's saying. MAB says look at Thurs, Fri and Sat from 7pm to 7am, not all day Saturday. The conversation will come back up at the next meeting. 

2:49: Moving on! Human Relations Commission annual work plan is approved. "Greta job," John Odom says. 

2:51: RHDC voted to make Crabtree Jones House a historic landmark, under the name Nathaniel Jones house.  Council approves.

2:52: Here are petitions from citizens: Jeffrey Morrison wants Compiegne Park  on Hillsborough Street to be reclassified for functions similar to an urban park rather than a neighborhood park. Like let groups get a permit to use the park for special events serving alcohol. 8,000 people come out to events at that park sometimes, they need booze to deal with 7,999 other people. And the Hillsborough Street Community Service Corporation has adopted that park and takes care of it, so they just want a little flexibility to use it. Ruffin says staff is fine with it. Council approves the request.

2:55: "Take good care of your new park there, Mr. Morrison," WM says. Xin Rui Xia wants more time to work on his 100 year old property on Poole Road. He gets a one year extension.

2:56: David Zaas and Stephen Dilinger wants to keep a fence for the home on Churchill Road. 

2:58: Robert Mulder wants the nuisance property at 2815 Capital Boulevard to be demolished. But there are actually plans to renovate it back to use as a hotel. He says it's been allowed to fall into blight and disrepair, with a negative economic impact on neighboring properties. "It's been used by homeless people to live in."

3:00: Jared Burnette wants more time to do repairs to his home on Edenton Street. Approved. 

3:01: Oakwood may have its banners for its Candlelight Tour, so as to avoid complete and utter tragedy. Crisis averted. Lee Churchill wants to discuss deregulating taxis, as per usual. KC bites: maybe we can get staff to see if there is a better way for taxis' regulation costs. JO: Ms. Churchill, we appreciate it. I am a small business owner and I also believe in deregulation, and you've been before us many times so we will have a report back to you in a week or two. Wow, that is the furthest she has ever gotten! Probably bc Mayor Nancy and her formidable timekeeping are not here.

3:06: Isabel Mattox is asking Council to authorize text change to allow for townhouse lots in the Edenton-New Bern Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District. "A townhouse presents a better model for an under-occupied home, which should be a main goal of controlling development in this area," she says. More density, more affordable housing units, better and more use of transit, and a more attractive looking dwelling than a box of apartments. She says they will be talking with stakeholders but asks the Council to start the conversation. They will look into it. 

3:09: Public hearings are up. There are a whole bunch of public nuisance properties. They'll all get a lien against them, bc no one shows up to defend them. 

3:12: Richland Creek Sanitary Sewer Property Exchange. That will happen. And here come the rezoning cases.

3:13: First is some office mixed use development of 9.5 acres up around Brier Creek near Glenwood.

3:24: It is near some big box boring-ness.  The developer asks to hold the hearing open to work on frontages. There's no opposition to the proposal. They hold it open.

3:29: A rezoning on Departure Drive from industrial to residential mixed use. There's no residential now; this would allow 36 units on 5 acres, for Senior housing. No opponents. 

3:36: Odom says it is industrial and retail all around, and he's in favor because it's a unique location. KC says wouldn't it just behoove us to make sure a bus shelter is there since it's isolated and seniors will be living out there?

3:37: Michael Birch, the attorney, says the facility will provide transportation for all their residents. It passes with only KC voting against.

3:38: Rezone less than half an acre on Hines Drive south of Wake Town Drive from office and institution to residential. This is near the shopping center with the Trader Joe's.

3:41: Helen Green lives next door and just bought the land. She wants it residential to match the rest of her neighborhood. Her CAC and Planning Commission don't have a problem with it. It's approved.

3:42: Next up, Six Forks road rezoning from the last meeting. Outstanding concerns have been addressed, but the attorney wants to keep it open to discuss access. 

3:43: Patrick Martin, Midtown CAC chair, says he has concerns about conditions and conditions that need to be put in place. Still traffic concerns; a fully functional traffic light on Six Forks in front of Capital Towers is needed. NCDOT is still looking into it, Bonner says. Martin says it will be win win win for neighbors and developers if DOT can bring the stoplight. 

3:46: Crowder says DOT is slow to act on traffic lights, can the city do anything to hurry them along? Historically, the city has not been successful in changing the light.

3:48: Another resident, John Cady, says Six Forks will be developed with a median so no left turn. People are going to need a way to make a U-turn to get left turn access into residential streets. So the traffic light will be imperative. This will be held open.

3:49: The Oberlin rezoning case, also continued from the last meeting will be held open as well. 

3:52: Another rezoning on Six Forks Road, also from the last meeting. Mark Valetta said the family who wants rezoning of residential property to office mixed use have come forward with conditions, like no 24 hour businesses, restricted dumpster locations. They're ready to support the rezoning now. Council will vote on this next time.

3:56: Council approved a franchise agreement with Public Service Company of NC.

3:57: Next up is the 2016-2020 affordable housing plan. No discussion, the plan is approved per recommendation from the Budget and Economic Development Committee. (Look for upcoming INDY reports on the plan).Three watershed protection projects are also approved. 

3:59: Comprehensive Planning Committee has worked out some items regarding outdoor storage and transportation incentives and Comprehensive Plan amendments and infrastructure replacement and retrofitting suburban retail centers. And a text change for nonconforming development standards. 

4:06: There's some back and forth about when and how additions can be made to the back of existing buildings.

4:10: Costco's attorney has concerns about gasoline pumps that are close to Wake Forest Road. "It's likely given demand and significant queuing that Costco may want to expand those and there is some confusion over the application of the text change to expansion of canopy or site element." Do existing buildings mean site elements or canopies? They should be considered as similar, the attorney argues. 

4:12: This will be held for a while. No report from Law and Public Safety. They're currently considering the dangerous dogs ordinance. There's a plan for that, the attorney says, but it won't be ready in time for the meeting.

4:13: Public Works. Leesville Church Road extension is approved. No report from Technology and Communication.

4:14: Bonner says closing Transylvania Street stub needs to go to public hearing, so that happens. The issue of early voting: that needs to be studied for ]the budget, anticipating 2017 election (where he will presumably be running for Mayor). No other reports and that's a wrap. 

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