10/6/2020 meeting summary: new City Hall, more housing

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We had afternoon and evening City Council meetings on Tuesday, October 6, 2020. Below is a summary.

Also, I want to acknowledge that my election was one year ago today, October 8, 2019. Although this year has been very different than what I anticipated when I ran, I am thankful every day for the opportunity to serve this city. Thank you, so much.

1. We approved the creation of a special study group to consider and make recommended changes to City Council terms, council member compensation, and voter engagement and participation in municipal elections. As some of you probably know, we have a Manager/Mayor form of government, where the Mayor and City Council act like a Board of Directors and the City Manager and staff act as officers who carry out the business of the city. We currently serve 2-year terms, and our employment and compensation is considered part-time. This focus group will look at other cities and determine what changes, if any, should be made, with a goal of expanding opportunity and access for more individuals to seek elected office.

2. We received an update of the East Civic Tower project, which is the first part of the city’s new Civic Campus Master Plan, basically the new “City Hall.” This process was started several years ago by a prior City Council, as our current building is nearing the end of its usable life. Our current municipal building was constructed in 1983, when Raleigh had a population of fewer than 150k residents. We now have a population of nearly 500k residents. As such, our city services are presently spread out into additional buildings across the city, some of which we rent at a cost of millions per year and rising. We are also paying additional costs in maintenance and energy consumption for our older facilities, and because our employees and services are spread out, we’re paying more in duplication of resources and increased cost of infrastructure. Many of our leased facilities do not meet ADA requirements.

The first phase of the new Civic Campus is a new 20-story City Hall building to be built adjacent to our existing building. The building will be paid for by the sale of existing city-owned property, money currently being paid toward leases, and existing debt capacity. There will be no tax increase.

We voted to approve the conceptual design of the new East Civic Tower and approve demotion of the former Raleigh Police Headquarters, where the tower will be built. The project will include hiring MWBE (Minority and Women- Owned Businesses) to work on construction and a focus on workforce development, by utilizing subcontractors who hire local residents.

I’ve attached some pictures of the project. You can find the full presentation with more details here

3. We approved a text change to make it easier to build missing middle housing and housing for senior citizens.

The first part of the text change addressed housing affordability and providing more diverse housing options by lessening restrictions on development of adjacent properties with similar uses. Staff opined that the change is not anticipated to have adverse impacts and would remove barriers to housing in mixed use districts. This change will reduce the overall cost of construction by reducing the amount of land needed to build a residence and reducing the amount of time required by the city to review construction plans. It also allows for more residential units on a property.

The second part of the text change aligned our development code with federal and state requirements for building Congregate Care and Continuing Care Retirement Communities. It also removed barriers to constructing that senior housing in our city.

 

4. We approved a rezoning request for increased housing near the Hanson quarry, on land presently owned by Hanson quarry. This property was already zoned for residential construction and has an interesting history. Years ago, a prior City Council negotiated a settlement with the Hanson quarry such that the quarry agreed not to expand onto this property, and the quarry would instead sell it for development at some point. The proposed project received significant attention prior to our vote and was held at the council “table” for several weeks while additional zoning conditions were negotiated.

The final, additional conditions submitted were:

  • No retaining walls within 50’ of adjacent residential properties;
  • 50’ neighborhood transition yard with a 15-foot minimum and 25-foot average width natural buffer or Tree Conservation Area;
  • Planting materials along the adjacent residential parcels;
  • No buildings within 55 feet from adjacent residential parcels;
  • A pedestrian connection from Duraleigh Road to the future greenway trail;
  • All stormwater drainage from the new impervious surfaces will be directed away from adjacent residential parcels to proposed stormwater control facilities and released to Crabtree Creek.

Near the property is a site called “Azalea Falls” that is owned by the City of Oaks Foundation. Initially, the City of Oaks Foundation objected to the rezoning request. After the new and additional conditions were offered, they withdrew their objection.

The Executive Director of the City of Oaks Foundation emailed all council members on Monday stating that the new zoning conditions provide “more protections to our land than were included in the original zoning application and even more than would exist if the applicant simply built under the current zoning.He specifically thanked Council Members Knight and Buffkin for their work mediating a compromise solution. I thank both of them as well!

5. We terminated the Emergency Authority powers of the City Manager. On March 17, 2020, at the onset of COVID-19 State of Emergency, we adopted a resolution granting the City Manager the authority to execute contracts without council approval and approve budget transfers for those contracts, if necessary. The purpose of the resolution was to assure that the business of the city would continue in the event City Council was unable to regularly meet. It turns out, we found a way to meet regularly, virtually, and that additional authority was not needed.

We have a work session next Tuesday, October 13, 2020 at 3 p.m.

Thank you for reading. jonathan.melton@raleighnc.gov

 

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