Sunday, November 16, 2008

Week in Review 11/10/08 - 11/16/08

Monday evening council participated in a joint worksession with our town’s planning and zoning board to discuss proposed changes to the town’s land development ordinance (LDO) – specifically the conservation residential overlay (CRO) in the Southwest Area Plan (SWAP). Ya, I know – too many acronyms. ;-) In a nutshell, staff has recommended changes to the density bonus formula that currently exists within the CRO. My first concern is that the proposed formula is very complex and difficult for the average Joe like myself to understand. I just don’t like it when staff can make numbers work but I can’t – it throws up red flags...makes me worry.

The SWAP has six guiding principles – the first of which states, “Preserve Rural Character”.

Under the recommended changes, a developer could utilize the overlay and cluster their development (smaller lot sizes/increased density) in exchange for preserving a greater amount of open space. Studies show that this is in fact better for the environment and water quality (another guiding principle of the SWAP) than large lot single family home development. But it darn sure isn’t very rural in character. Sure, you could surround the development with the open space to hide it, but once inside you would be in a development that resembles most every new subdivision built in Cary over the last 10 years. Is this in line with the vision of previous councils, residents, and land owners for this area? I don’t know, but the worksession did help answer a lot of questions I had, and I really valued hearing each of the P+Z board member’s thoughts. I’m just not sure yet if the proposed changes are the right balance between environmental protection and preserving the rural character of the area.

Thursday and Friday I traveled to Newnan Georgia in Coweta County with members of the Wake County Public School System to visit Central Educational Center (CEC) – a vocational high school that has become a model for other communities both in the United States and throughout the world. CEC’s mission is simple – “to ensure a viable 21st century workforce”. CEC is a charter school designed and operated by a partnership of business and industry, Coweta County Schools, and West Central Technical College. Students voluntarily enroll from one of the three area high schools. Students take core classes at their base high school then travel to CEC for career education courses such as dental assistant, automotive repair, welding, aviation, cosmetology, CAD, video editing/3D animation and a host of other career prep courses. Students may also take dual-enrollment courses as early as age 16 - simultaneously earning credit towards their high school diploma and a technical college associate degree.

What was also unique was that the teachers at CEC were not your typical educator – they were industry professionals. The dental assistant course instructor is a dentist – the aviation course was taught by a pilot- the auto repair instructor was an automotive technician and so on. By not having to hire “certified teachers” CEC is able to hire those most qualified to teach a specific trade. Another interesting point- students are not only graded on course work, they also are graded on work ethic.

To say I was impressed with what I saw at CEC would be an understatement. I was blown away is more like it. So were representatives of WCPSS. It is my sincere hope that somehow, some way we can replicate CEC here in Wake County. It will be difficult, and it will be expensive. But if we really want to address the dropout rate and truly provide a workforce education we must invest in career training education. Municipalities, county government, WCPSS, Wake Tech, industry and business, our chambers of commerce, and the community will all need to work together to make this happen. But as we saw in Newnan Georgia, it can be done! Many thanks to WCPSS Board Members Eleanor Goettee and Horace Tart for inviting me to go along. I only wish other elected officials and business leaders would have attended (I was the only attendee not associated with WCPSS). I also valued the opportunity to get to know the school board members better. We sure don’t agree on everything, but it’s nice to know we are able to put differences aside and work on things we do agree on.

As always, I also spent a good amount of time this week answering email - I try my best to answer every one I receive. I believe every Cary citizen who takes the time to contact me deserves a response. The bulk of emails this week pertained to the proposed fly tower art at Cary Elementary (which I have spoken about in earlier blog posts), Habitat for Humanity funding, and the Singh development in Silverton.

Well that’s about it for this week. Thanks for reading!