Sunday, August 22, 2010

8/11/10 Council Meeting

I apologize for not posting my week in reviews as frequently as I would like, but with work, my council responsibilities, a campaign and trying to find some time for my family… well, there just haven’t been enough hours in the day.

This post will focus on our council meeting which was held on 8/11/10.

Our meeting had 2 notable discussion items: Consideration of a traffic light at the intersection of Kildaire Farm Road and Loch Highlands Drive, and whether or not to apply for a federal grant to assist with funding a section of the White Oak Greenway.

After NCDOT completed a road widening project and installed a new bridge on Kildaire Farm Road, citizens have been contacting the town regarding their concerns for pedestrian safety. The project resulted in an asphalt trail being removed that residents had used for safe pedestrian access. A new sidewalk was instead installed along the roadway and bridge. This section of road curves slightly, and residents feared that if a motorist took their eyes off the road for a second, or if a traffic accident occurred, vehicles could end up on the sidewalk – seriously injuring or killing a pedestrian. They asked the town to look into a guardrail or some other form of barrier.

Numerous attempts to work with NCDOT in an attempt to get a barrier installed failed. NCDOT was unwilling to modify the bridge, and informed Cary that any modifications would be the town’s responsibility as the bridge met state standards.

After further review, town staff recommended that a traffic signal with crosswalks be installed at the intersection of Kildaire Farm Road and Loch Highlands Drive. This would allow residents a safe manner in which to cross the street and use the multi-use path on the other side of the street…which has a concrete barrier between it and the road. Yes you read that correctly.

You see, NCDOT “cheaped out” on the bridge. The southbound side of the bridge was constructed with a multi-use path. However, in an effort to reduce costs that section of the bridge was not engineered to hold the weight of vehicles, so NCDOT installed a concrete barrier to prevent maintenance or emergency vehicles from parking on it. Nice huh?

After investigating numerous options, our town staff determined that installing the traffic signal would cost less than installing a parapet wall or barrier on the bridge, and once installed the signal becomes NCDOT’s responsibility. Staff’s traffic data also indicated that this intersection meets warrants for a traffic signal.

The traffic signal was approved by a vote of 6-1. I voted against it. While I do support the signal installation, I have grave concerns regarding next year’s budget and economic outlook. If this is truly a “need to have”, which I believe it is, then we should be willing to give up a “nice to have” to fund it. I also believe, as does our town staff, that we have numerous pedestrian safety issues throughout town (the bridge on Walnut Street at Crossroads and the lack of a crosswalk and sidewalks on Cary Parkway near North Cary Park are two that come to mind) that might be of higher priority. Without conducting a study there is no way to know.

I made a motion to table this for 2 weeks to give staff time to determine which already funded project(s) we could postpone to cover costs. No one supported my request.

Prior to this decision the council considered whether or not to apply for a $2.7 million federal grant to fund a section of the White Oak Greenway….in Apex’s jurisdiction. Yes Apex. If Cary receives the grant we are on the hook for $675,000 to cover our portion of the project. The decision to apply for the grant passed by a vote of 5-2. Councilman Smith and I voted no.

$850,000 spent in about 20 minutes.

I like greenways as much as anyone, but these are difficult times we’re living in folks, and I don’t see it getting better any time soon. Sure, $2.7 million in “free money” might sound hard to pass up. But I fear, as Councilman Smith so eloquently stated, “that we could go broke trying to save money”. Hopefully we are wrong.

That’s it for now – as always, thanks for reading!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Week(s) in Review 7/26/10 - 8/7/10

Busy Week!

Monday began with our monthly Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources Advisory Board Meeting. The main discussion topic was an update on the bad bug problem at the Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve. Aggressive Woolly Adelgids were discovered as the town was conducting an inventory of the Hemlocks. The bad bugs feed on the base of the tree’s needles which prevents nutrients from flowing to the needles - the needles drop and the tree dies. The town is currently working with a number of experts and agencies to develop treatment and management plans including the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, The United States Forest Services, NC State University, and Bartlett Tree Experts.

Rest assured the town and partnering agencies will do everything we can to protect and preserve our Hemlocks. Cary will also be releasing information to the general public soon so that those who have Hemlocks on their personal property will have the necessary resources to protect their trees as well.

On Monday evening Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson and I were the honored guests at a dinner with the Cary Chapter of the NC Police Benevolent Association. We were presented a plaque of appreciation for our work on the Town of Cary’s new shared leave policy. Councilwoman Gale Adcock was also recognized but was unable to attend.

National Night Out was this past Tuesday. National Night Out brings law enforcement agencies and citizens together with the goal of fostering partnerships for safer communities. I visited two neighborhood events with members of the Cary Police Department – Dutchess Village and Silverton. This annual event is always a huge success and a lot of fun, especially for the kids! The officers allow the kids inside the police cars and even let them play with the lights the siren! Heck, I’m 39 and I look forward to doing that! ;-) It’s always fun to see the looks on the resident’s faces as five police cars roll up with lights and sirens going.

I met with three different property owners this week to discuss their plans and my/citizen’s concerns regarding their proposed development projects. Two will be coming to council soon and one is still in the discussion/neighborhood meeting stage. I was pleased to see how hard they had been working to alleviate neighbor’s concerns and ensure that these projects benefit – not burden – their surrounding community.

I am also working with a resident regarding their concerns related to a proposed sidewalk installation on Walnut Street and will be meeting with staff next week to discuss further. Sidewalk installations in communities that were not developed with sidewalks in mind are always difficult. The public safety benefits of sidewalks are obvious, but folks are often hesitant to give up part of their property to accommodate them. We must be sensitive to the impact on property owners and design accordingly.

Over the last few weeks I have been working with our town staff to address an issue that has been negatively impacting certain small businesses looking to come to Cary. Cary’s water and sewer impact fees are calculated based on the type of use and square footage. The town uses a state of North Carolina chart that categorizes different uses and estimates their water consumption per 100 sq. feet to calculate peak water usage and determine the amount of fee. The problem is some businesses don’t necessarily fall into any of the categories, or the category they are placed in doesn’t accurately reflect the amount of water they use (over estimates) resulting in that business being overcharged for their “impact” to our water and sewer infrastructure.

Yes I do believe growth should ultimately pay for itself. But when the water and sewer impact fees for a 15,000 sq. ft. gym for kids that has no showers or kitchen (only restrooms) are calculated to be $150,000 we have a problem. When the fees for a 6,700 sq. ft. dance studio are calculated to be over $40,000 we have a problem. This discourages small businesses from locating or expanding in town and negatively impacts job creation.

Our town staff shares my concerns and has worked diligently to address this issue by allowing businesses to challenge the rate assumptions through data certified by an engineer that proves what their actual usage will be. I have proposed that Cary create its own fee calculation chart that better estimates usage, but unfortunately this may require hiring a consultant and conducting an extensive study which would cost thousands of dollars that we just don’t have right now. In the meantime our staff will work to better explain available options to small business owners until this issue can be resolved permanently.

Well that’s about it for now. As always, thanks for reading!