Monday, February 22, 2010

Week in Review 2/15/10 - 2/20/10

I want to start by thanking all of you who have taken the time to contact me to express your appreciation of my efforts to better communicate with citizens through this blog. It means a lot to me.

I realize that some of you may not always agree with every decision I make, but I have committed to keeping each and every one of you informed about why I voted a certain way, or why I supported a particular initiative. I do work for you after all.

I was sent to town hall to do a job – not to be everyone’s best friend. Heck, that’s government’s biggest problem today. The more government tries to be everything to everyone, the more it becomes nothing to no one and we can’t afford it any longer. But I digress.

Anyways, thanks again – Now on with my week in review.

The Town of Cary’s Sign Ordinance Review Task Force met again on Tuesday evening. Discussion items included potential changes regarding ground signs, monument signs, and directory signage, as well as allowable colors. While at times it seems we are going around in circles, I do believe we are making progress towards Cary becoming a little more business friendly while continuing to protect the visual landscape of our town. One of the challenges we face is Cary’s strict buffer and streetscape ordinances – which no one wants to tamper with. But requiring so much screening of development makes it very difficult for potential customers to see what businesses are in a particular development – often resulting in businesses going out of business due to lack of exposure. One example is Waverly Place (yes I realize Waverly also has topography issues). Unless you regularly patronize a particular business inside Waverly, you have no idea what other businesses are in there.

Cary’s Planning and Development Committee met this past Thursday. We had three consent agenda items and only one discussion item on our agenda. There just isn’t any development occurring in town right now to speak of. While it makes for a rather quick meeting, it doesn’t make for a sound financial situation. Just as business needs to grow to remain financially healthy, so does the town – or any municipality for that matter. A growth rate of around 3-4% provides new revenues to the town to fund new capital projects while at the same time allowing infrastructure to keep pace with development.

Our one discussion item was the re-adoption of Cary’s existing resolution of consideration of annexation. Cary has a comprehensive annexation program and state law requires it be readopted every two years. This program identifies land or properties that may be considered for future annexation. Re-adopting this resolution does not mean that Cary intends to annex these properties any time in the near future, but it does make it a lot easier for Cary to annex when and if the council decides to do so.

I oppose involuntary annexation and believe that affected property owners deserve a voice and a vote in the process. Given the ongoing debate in the General Assembly I also believe that Cary should wait and see what changes the state implements before moving forward with any annexation plans. The committee recommended sending this item to our next council meeting for discussion as we were divided on whether or not to approve it, and because this is a political issue that deserves council discussion. I intend to vote against this resolution.

Friday morning was a lot of fun. I spoke to 5th graders at Davis Drive Elementary School regarding the importance of reading. I spoke both from my experiences as a business owner and as a member of the council. The students were a lot of fun and asked a number of great questions.

Afterwards I attended a follow up meeting with town staff and Councilwoman Julie Robison regarding an issue we have been working on in the Silverton Community. Staff will be following up with us in the near future with potential options.

On Saturday I had the honor and privilege of representing the Mayor and Council at the 12th annual African American Celebration held at the Herb Young Community Center. I spoke to those in attendance about the importance of diversity, encouraging youths to become involved in their community, and that while we have made great progress towards eradicating racism in America; we still have a lot of work to do. I also presented a proclamation recognizing February and National African American History Month.

Well those are the past week’s highlights – as always, thanks for reading!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Week in Review 2/6/10 - 2/13/10

On Tuesday council held a worksession to hear from a number of presenters regarding the proposed high speed rail, light rail, and regional rail projects. Speakers included Mr. Pat Simmons from NCDOT Rail, Mr. David King from TTA, Mr. Joe Durham and Mr. Tim Maloney from Wake County, and Mr. Ed Johnson from CAMPO. All presenters spoke to the current status and long term goals for these projects.

Council requested this worksession since Cary had received little to no information regarding these initiatives – and given these projects will directly impact Cary, we want to know what is going on – and who is planning what for our town. Sounds fair enough right?

What we learned is simply unbelievable. While the light rail and regional rail projects have merit, and we should be planning for these initiatives now so that in 20-30 years when they really would be an asset to our region we are prepared, the high speed rail project is absolutely absurd.

$5 Billion Boondoggle. The high speed rail project will cost taxpayers $5+ billion. So what do you get for $5 Billion? You’ll get to Charlotte 30 minutes faster than Amtrak currently does. That’s worth $5 billion right? Now I’m not sure what data NCDOT Rail is looking at, but the folks trying to get to Charlotte or Richmond aren’t the ones clogging up our roadways. It’s the folks who are trying to get to work and back each day.

What is terrifying is that NCDOT Rail’s goals are to ELIMINATE every at-grade crossing from Raleigh to Charlotte, and Raleigh to Richmond. Yet they will most likely not be the one’s paying to construct above or below grade crossings. Guess who will have to pay to grade separate should we desire to keep crossings open in Cary? Cary citizens, that’s who. NCDOT Rail has already submitted their recommendations regarding the route from Richmond to Raleigh. Care to guess how many crossings they recommend being closed? 156. That’s 156 roads that will now most likely dead end where they meet a RR crossing.

Mr. Simmons stated their goals are to move people and public safety. Now I can understand their concerns regarding public safety, but how in the heck does this project “move people” when they have shut down every at-grade crossing? How will you be able to drive through Cary – or any other municipality for that matter – when NCDOT Rail has essentially eliminated your ability to cross over RR tracks?

This dark cloud might have a silver lining however. The feds have currently allocated NCDOT Rail $545 Million – they still require another $4.5 Billion to complete the project. Given the current makeup in Washington and their lust to spend, spend, spend they might have a shot at getting it. However, after this fall’s elections I am not so sure that will be the case. For all our sake let’s hope not. In the meantime you can be assured that we will do everything in our power to represent Cary’s interests.

Wednesday morning I attended the North Carolina Community Foundation Breakfast at the Mathews House in Downtown Cary. The guest speaker was James W. Narron, Chairman of the Board of the North Carolina Community Foundation. He gave a great speech on how to better encourage folks to become more involved in their community by giving back through charitable contributions.

Our council meeting was Thursday evening. Notable topics included a potential partnership between SAS and the town regarding the Veteran’s Freedom Park, a comprehensive transportation plan amendment, and our federal legislative agenda.

Council directed staff to work with SAS and prepare a report to come back to council for discussion regarding SAS’s offer to donate the Veteran’s Freedom Park property to the town and their desire to construct a monument in the park honoring our veterans. While the specifics of what may be required of the town aren’t available yet, for us not to consider such a partnership would be criminal. I’ll report more on this item once I know more.

I pulled our federal legislative agenda off our consent agenda for discussion to propose the addition of a request to seek federal assistance regarding stormwater/flood damage protection. Stormwater and flooding problems are a big concern for a number of Cary citizens and I believe any assistance we can obtain from Washington to help assist us in this regard might better help us provide some relief to folks in town. Council unanimously approved my request.

On Friday I attended a meeting with Councilwoman Julie Robison and representatives of Silverton to discuss a signage issue they have been trying to work through with our staff. We will follow up with our town’s Planning Director to discuss further.

Well that’s this past week’s highlights. As always, thanks for reading!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Week in Review 1/25/10 - 1/30/10

I hope everyone had a great time playing in the snow and stayed warm and safe! The kids had a blast and we now have a miniature snow family in our freezer. ;-)

I attended Cary’s Planning and Zoning Board meeting on Monday evening so I could hear the board’s thoughts on two items of interest. The first was a public hearing on the proposed Silverton/Singh development at the corner of Cary Parkway and Evans Road. Much progress had been made in regards to satisfying neighborhood concerns, but unfortunately one in particular we recently learned is in conflict with our town’s Land Development Ordinance; specifically the proposed turning restrictions out of the development onto Winfair Drive. This is very disappointing to me as I believed this concession went a long ways towards reducing the amount of traffic on Winfair. The elimination of the proposed turning restrictions also further impacts a property owner at the corner of Winfair and Cary Parkway. The applicant requested this item be tabled so they could have more time to try and address these concerns.

The second item of discussion was proposed amendments to our LDO regarding signage. After a healthy debate the board recommended that the majority of the proposed amendments be addressed by the Sign Ordinance Review Task Force which is currently undertaking a comprehensive review of our ordinance. The board did however recommend for approval to increase the number of open houses a homeowner could advertise with signage from two to five. Currently Cary only allows homeowners the ability to advertise 2 open houses with signage. Yet given the current economic climate many homeowners are having a difficult time selling their homes and may need to host 3, 4, 5 or more open houses. The proposed amendment was recommended to have a two year sunset clause (will revert back to the current ordinance in two years) in the hopes that the economy will improve by then. Given how well the feds have done thus far however, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Tuesday evening council held a worksession to discuss Cary’s Public Art Master Plan and hear from the town’s consultant and staff. Needless to say I was not surprised to hear that they were further recommending ways in which to implement public art into town constructed facilities. What was shocking however was that they were also recommending we create an ordinance or policy that requires a certain percentage of the cost construction be allocated to public art – 1% was their recommendation. What this means to Cary taxpayers is that if Cary were to build a $10 million community center for example, $100,000 must be allocated to public art. Sound familiar? What about made me fall out of my chair was that they stated this would NOT increase the cost of construction…seriously! When I asked how that was possible the consultant stated we could reduce construction costs by using cheaper doorknobs. I am not kidding! While council did agree to perform a comprehensive review of the town’s Public Art Master Plan – as it has been ten years since the plan was created and it’s probably time to review it – I will NOT support any plan that requires a percentage of construction be spent on public art. And honestly I don’t believe our current plan is broken so I’m not sure why we’re trying to fix it.

On Wednesday morning I attended the Cary Chamber of Commerce’s Eye Opener Breakfast to hear Mayor Weinbrecht’s State of the Town Address. Mayor Weinbrecht did a great job with his speech and it was wonderful to see so many friends and business colleagues.

On Thursday afternoon I had the honor and privilege of attending the Lady Daze Grant Awards presentation at the Page Walker Hotel. Monies generated from Cary’s annual Lazy Daze festival are given back to the community in the form of grants to local non-profits. $31,000 was presented to 28 area non-profit organizations.

Afterwards I high-tailed it to council chambers for our council meeting. Notable topics included LDO Amendments pertaining to adult businesses and home day cares, and a rezoning of the Russell Hills neighborhood in downtown. While I believe most everyone would agree we would rather not have any adult businesses in town, the reality is we cannot legally prohibit them from locating “somewhere” in town. The proposed ordinance amendment would require they not be sited within 1000 feet of a school, not be sited within 2000 feet of another adult business, and be allowed in the office, research, and development district in the airport overlay. Council directed staff to pursue making adult business a special use in the airport overlay and bring back information to council at our next meeting. Since our meeting I have heard from a citizen asking why 1000 feet from a school, yet 2000 feet from another adult business? – shouldn’t it be the other way around or 2000 feet for both? I can’t argue with that logic and I have asked our legal department to address.

In regards to home daycare uses I believe the ordinance amendment passed is a good compromise that protects both the rights of home day care operators and residents of residential neighborhoods. The amendment also only pertains to new home day cares – existing day cares would be grandfathered in.

On Friday I had the pleasure of speaking to 5th graders at Weatherstone Elementary about government, and my role as a member of the council. This was a lot of fun. Kids are so honest and have no idea what political correctness is. ;-) Some of the more interesting questions I was asked were, “What is the difference between a Republican and a Democrat?” “Have I ever met President Obama?”, and “Why doesn’t Cary have its own school system?”

That's the highlights from this week - as always, thanks for reading!