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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Numerous Issues Await New Raleigh City Council Members as They Are Sworn in Monday

Posted by on Thu, Nov 30, 2017 at 7:30 PM

A stack of longstanding issues, and at least one controversial new one, will loom ahead for new Raleigh City Council members when they meet Tuesday for the first time since their election in October.

At-large member Nicole Stewart and District E representative Stefanie Mendell will have their shot at debating matters such as Airbnb-style rentals, granny flats, and the evolving Community Engagement Board. Mendell, who defeated long-time council member Bonner Gaylord in October, says she's excited about serving and looks forward to clearing away several years worth of underbrush.
click to enlarge Stefanie Mendell
  • Stefanie Mendell

"I'm hoping that we'll be able to make some progress on some of the things that have been held up in the past," Mendell says. "I don't know how it's going to go. I think it's going to be very interesting."

Stewart in effect replaces another council veteran, her at-large predecessor Mary-Ann Baldwin, who decided not to run for reelection after ten years in the seat. Stewart says she wants to build consensus on the panel, choosing not to show her cards in advance on contentious issues.

Some observers have predicted a NIMBY-ish, slow-growth bent for the new body. Mendell makes the case that she's not anti-development but in favor of smart growth.

"I'm for appropriate development that respects the environment, is compatible with the surrounding community, and has appropriate infrastructure," Mendell says.
Nicole Stewart
  • Nicole Stewart

In November, the current council turned down a renewed proposal for accessory dwelling units, or granny flats, as well as the latest version of a short-term rental proposal.

Planning commission member Matt Tomasulo also had a plan shot down that would have created affordable housing for downtown workers in two historic buildings that the city would have sold to Preservation North Carolina, then to Tomasulo.

Reached Wednesday, Tomasulo said he's still digesting the council's decision to nix the proposal, designed as one of many efforts to ease the city's growing affordable-housing squeeze.

Another proposal likely to become controversial involves removing the necessity to get a special use permit   from the city and procure a five-acre lot before setting up housing for older people in certain zoning classifications. Already passed by the planning commission, the proposal is facing opposition from residents who think that it would allow for low-cost, poorly maintained homes for older people that do not provide adequate care.

"In looking at the code, I was unaware and I was alarmed that any house in a R10 can be converted to senior congregate care, no licensing, just a custodian," Bob Geary, a longtime INDY contributor who chairs the Hillsborough Citizen Advisory Council, said in a citywide meeting of CAC representatives in November. "You are in danger of having housing converted to substandard housing for seniors, who cannot look after themselves."

Mendell says she's already hearing concern about the change to the city's unified development ordinance. The text change would allow amenities for residents such as a private chapel, bank, hairdressers, pharmacy, library, and convenience shopping.

"You have to look at the impact on an existing neighborhood," Mendell says. "If you have one thing in an existing neighborhood, it might be OK. If there are suddenly whole bunches of them, it really does affect the character of the neighborhood."

Proponents may encounter questions because of the new language used to describe the proposed elder housing, now known as life care communities. Instead, the ordinance calls for a change to the term "continuing care retirement community."

At the state level, continuing care retirement communities, or CCRCs, are heavily regulated by the Department of Insurance. They "are unique to the area of long-term care in that they provide various levels of care within one community to older adults," the state DOI site says. Springmoor in North Raleigh is an example of a CCRC.

People who buy into existing CCRCs are purchasing not only a place to live but in many cases care for life in independent housing, assisted living, nursing homes, and hospice settings. Whereas the CCRC posited in the proposed change to the UDO would have no minimum lot size, the state's licensed CCRCs range in size from fifteen to more than two hundred acres.

With plenty of work already on their plates, the 2017–19 Raleigh City Council will be sworn in at six p.m. Monday at Meymandi Concert Hall in downtown. Tuesday, the panel holds a work session at eleven thirty a.m. and regular meetings at one p.m. and seven p.m., all in the Raleigh Municipal Building.

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