4/5 and 4/6 meeting summaries: budget priorities, tiny homes, new development

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We had a Budget Work Session Monday, April 5 and regular Council Meetings Tuesday, April 6. Below is a summary:

1. At the Budget Work Session we reviewed proposals for our FY2022 budget priorities.

The city’s fiscal year ends June 30, so we are presently working on the FY2022 budget which would commence this July 1. At our Council retreat we discussed our “top” and “high” budget priorities for FY2022, including small business assistance, community engagement, pedestrian and bicycle improvements, equity initiatives, and affordable housing/homelessness.

After the retreat, staff put together proposals for how to accomplish these goals using some surplus capital reserves funds and recently-allocated federal funding.  The proposal includes some exciting initiatives, such as:

– Funding for building upfit grants for small businesses;
– Citywide disparity study and a new WMBE analyst position;
– a NEW Office of Community Engagement to advance our goal to improve and reimagine community engagement efforts;
– a Vision Zero Project Coordinator, new equipment to maintain bicycle infrastructure, funds to add more bikeshares, bikeways, and sidewalks;
– establishing a Department of Equity and Inclusion, funding citywide equity training;
– increasing funds to produce more affordable rental units, funding to support nonprofits that provide homeless support.

You can review the full presentation here.

2. We approved text changes to our development code to allow tiny homes construction, including movable tiny homes. The modifications would allow tiny homes as principal and accessory dwelling units and increase the density of cottage courts to allow for tiny homes (we previously expanded and allowed cottage courts in more residential zoning districts). Staff will research and come back with options in June, and then the text changes will go into the Text Change Portal for public comment, then to Planning Commission for review and public comment, and then back to City Council for a public hearing and final vote.

In the meantime, our other text change to allow other forms of missing middle housing (-plexes, townhouses, small apartment complexes) is nearing it’s way to City Council for final approval. While there is no singular fix to our housing affordability needs, I campaigned on and still believe that changing, eliminating, and loosening restrictive zoning laws to allow for more housing options is an important step.

3. We authorized the City Manager to execute an agreement for extension of West Street under the railroad tracks, to connect the Warehouse District and the area surrounding Dix Park. City Council had previously authorized this capital improvement project, and this new agreement establishes responsibilities for implementation. Under the terms of the agreement, NCDOT is responsible for construction, oversight, and railroad coordination, and the city will manage the project. The project is still in very early stages, and construction plans and final costs have not been determined, but this is a very important, exciting project for connectivity and access.

4. The committee I chair, Economic Development and Innovation, recommended we direct staff to re-examine the city’s mobile retail and temporary retail programs (including food trucks) to provide more flexibility and additional mobile retail throughout the City. Council approved the recommendation and that work will now begin. We also recommended, and approved, using City parks for neighborhood healthy food access by piloting farmer’s markets in parks. That program will begin Fall 2021.

The committee is continuing to work on examining, and possibly recommending changes, to allow for more retail in more places in the city, specifically corner stores. I think it’s important to place goods and services closer to people to reduce car-dependency and address food deserts. We will have more information to share soon.

5. We approved a rezoning to allow a mixed use tower up to 30 stories on the surface parking lot behind Marbles Kids Museum adjacent to Moore Square. Prior to COVID, the owners had hoped to attract a hotel development. Now, they are also considering residential. Either way, activating vacant or underutilized land (especially surface parking lots) in our downtown core is an important initiative as we work to create a denser, more walkable, and less car dependent city.

Our next City Council meeting is April 20, 2021 at 1:00 p.m. We have a Regular Work Session today, April 13, 2021 at 4:00 p.m.



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