2/2/2021 meetings summaries: Short term rentals, rezonings

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We had afternoon and evening Council Meetings yesterday, February 2, 2021. Below is a summary of pertinent items.

1. We received an update on our small business relief program. In April 2020, in response to COVID-19, we directed staff to create a relief program for small businesses and allocated $1 million in funds to the program. We then partnered with the business community to raise an additional $600k for the program. The City partnered with Wake Tech and the Carolina Small Business Development Fund to handle the application and funding process. We targeted small businesses (defined as having 49 or fewer employees). At the meeting we learned that the $1.6 million helped 224 small businesses.

2. We approved staff’s recommendations to improve Raleigh’s Municipal Equality Index (MEI) Score. You may recall, at my request at our first meeting this year, Council sent this issue to the committee I chair for action. I wrote about it here.

At our committee meeting last month, we reviewed a staff presentation about this topic, including recommended actions to improve our score. You can review the complete presentation here.

The recommended steps include:

  • Adding the Executive Director of Equity and Inclusion as the city’s LGBTQ Liaison to receive requests from the public to be evaluated;
  • Implementing new required Equity training for all staff;
  • Adding funding of programs to prevent homelessness including partnerships with Wake County and Legal Aid of NC;
  • Adding LGBTQ-specific programming to attract applicants and promote diversity in the workplace;
  • LGBTQ employee resource group;
  • LGBTQ-inclusive diversity training for all city staff; and
  • Recruitment program that actively advertises available positions to the LGBTQ community.

There is also a good deal of work the city already does that is not rated or captured in the MEI, including our talk series with the LGBT Center of Raleigh, Social Equity Book Club, sponsoring LGBTQ business and networking events, and advocating for LGBTQ businesses within City of Raleigh services.

There is more work to be done, and additional actions we can take to further improve the score, including expanding our Nondiscrimination Ordinance and adding an LGBT Liaison in RPD, which are initiatives I am still working on.

3. We approved a rezoning request for the Creamery Building in the Glenwood South neighborhood. The rezoning fully preserves and protects the historic Creamery Building but allows for redevelopment of the non-historic structures and surface parking lots on the site. The developer plans to create a pedestrian and retail space, better connect the site to the surrounding areas, and build two new structures up to 20 and 40 stories tall. I’ve attached some diagrams.

4. We approved two other noteworthy rezonings in the Warehouse District and on Hillsborough Street.

The rezoning in the Warehouse District is adjacent to Red Hat Amphitheater on a site that’s mostly vacant. Development in this area will activate the streetscape and hopefully begin or continue a trend of developing a lot of the underutilized space and surface parking lots in that area.

The rezoning on Hillsborough Street allows a development in the surface parking lot next to Player’s Retreat, facing the traffic circle. They plan to build a hotel, similar to the Aloft in that area. I am excited to support these infill projects and glad developers are continuing to invest in our city.

5. We (finally) approved rules to allow short term rentals. This was an issue the city has struggled with and stalled on for years and upon which I campaigned, heavily. Short term rentals, like Airbnb were technically banned in Raleigh, though the ban has not been enforced and sites like Airbnb and VBRO list hundreds of rooms and homes available in Raleigh. Despite having basically no regulations for nearly 5 years, we have seen minimal issues. Raleigh has not experienced the negative effects seen in some more tourist-oriented cities. If those unintended negative effects arise, they should be addressed. But I don’t believe we should govern out of fear or create rules to create problems.

The prior City Council had enacted rules that purported to allow short term rentals, but operated as a functional ban. The old rules banned whole house rentals and limited room rentals in an owner occupied house. At our first City Council meeting of our term, in December 2019, we suspended those restrictive rules while working to create new ones.

The rules we enacted last night allow for short term rentals. Owners have to get a city permit, and permits will be revoked if they receive violations. I have talked with many short term rental owners who depend upon the income to pay necessary expenses, like daycare for their kids or their own mortgages. I am glad we are supporting this industry.

We have a work session next Tuesday, February 9, 2021 at 4 p.m. and our next Council Meeting is Tuesday, February 16, 2021 at 1 p.m.

jonathan.melton@raleighnc.gov

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