Transportation Advisory Committee: In January I was appointed as one of Winston-Salem's three representatives to the Forsyth metropolitan area Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC). (The appointments were made by the Board of Aldermen at the recommendation of Mayor Joines.) The TAC is an advisory body to the N.C. Department of Transportation, dealing with our metro area’s thoroughfares and overall transportation system planning. The TAC has representatives from the City of Winston-Salem, Forsyth County, and several of the smaller municipalities within Forsyth. During its January meeting, it heard presentations on the proposed updates to both the countywide thoroughfare plan and the 2025 Multi-Modal Long Range Transportation Plan. In a nutshell, these deal with transit development from sidewalks to railways, and include recommendations on where state money for road construction and improvement should go. Both important and potentially controversial items abound. The TAC will be voting on the overall plans at the end of February, following input from each of Forsyth County’s elected local government boards. Let me know if you have questions about any particular item.
Greenway plan: Among the things which make a city a good place to live are public open and green space, and opportunities for outdoor recreation. Greenways provide both. They’re linear parks, often along streams or lakeshores, which include paths for walking, running, and biking. Winston-Salem already has a few, especially Salem Lake and Salem Creek trails, but we fall short of what is provided in other growing cities like Raleigh and Greensboro. The 2015 Winston-Salem and Forsyth County Greenway Plan would change that by substantially increasing the mileage of greenways in our county. In addition to recreational value, a good network of greenways can provide wildlife corridors, protect stream quality, and even provide safe alternative transportation routes for bicyclists. The City-County Planning Board approved the updated greenway plan in January, and it will be considered by the several local municipal boards this spring. If you’re interested in working to develop more greenways locally, please let me know.
Business 40 construction noise: One of the important roles of an alderman is to act as an ombudsman for constituents with a problem that involves government action. One serious concern by many people who live near the construction work on Business 40 has been the level of night-time noise there. After receiving several calls on this problem early in January, I worked with city transportation officials to try to get the level of night construction noise reduced. There are apparently a couple of problems: (1) For safety reasons, the contract for the construction work (between the state Department of Transportation (DOT) and the construction contractor) actually requires that much of the paving work be carried on at night. (2) The contractor was apparently not following the restriction that some of the loudest activities (old pavement crushing) be limited to daylight hours. I received reports that pavement crushing was being carried out at night. City transportation officials and I spoke with state DOT representatives, and have been informed that the night-time pavement crushing has been halted. Regarding the new paving, however, DOT asserts that its contractors are exempt by state law from local noise ordinances, and the new paving will continue in part during evening hours. (Our city attorney has checked the state law and they could be right.) City officials will continue to press for control of night noise in this construction work, but it will be a negotiation process with the state DOT.
Bolton School land: The Board of Aldermen had been scheduled to consider a request by Novant Health (which operates Forsyth Hospital) for rezoning of a tract of land behind Bolton Elementary School. Prior to the hearing date, however, I began receiving calls from residents concerned about the loss of school playground facilities and a walking track on that land. Investigation turned up the fact that neither the local school board (which had approved the sale) nor the Planning Board (which had recommended approving the rezoning) had been aware of these active uses of the land in question. Members of the school board looked into the issue and put the sale of the land on hold. On my motion, the Board of Aldermen postponed action on the rezoning request while the school system works out the problem. I have been assured by a school board member that the land with the track and playground facilities will not be sold, and will remain available for the school children and community to use.
Cable TV franchise: There has been a great deal of interest in the renewal of the Time Warner Cable franchise for providing local cable TV service in Winston-Salem. The Board of Aldermen approved that new franchise agreement in January. By federal law, the amount of franchise fee that a cable provider can be charged is limited to 5%, and that is the level of fee contained in the new franchise agreement. Also by federal law, the franchise agreement is not exclusive—that is, another cable TV company can apply for a franchise to compete with Time Warner locally. (Some larger cities actually do have more than one cable company, although unfortunately, medium-sized cities like Winston-Salem rarely do.) The cable franchise agreement (also by federal law) permits the city to regulate only the fee for "basic cable", the most limited service provided. All of the extra-tier and optional channels are a matter of market price (whatever people will pay, given the alternatives of buying satellite TV or doing without the extra channels). Finally, federal law no longer allows a local government to require franchisees to pay for the public cable channels (like government meetings coverage, Channel 13 locally; and public access channels, CATV-6 locally). The Board of Aldermen is continuing to review the question of whether to enter into a service agreement with CATV to operate the local public access channel, and if so what the terms of that agreement should be.
Group homes: In my December report, I discussed several issues involving local zoning as it affects group home location and operation. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in January meeting with interested parties concerning this issue, and I anticipate that ordinance change proposals will come up for consideration by the Community Development/Housing/General Government Committee in February. I’ll report next month on what comes out of this process.
Economic development: Finally during January, the Board of Aldermen approved several initiatives designed to boost local economic development. One of those was further work on making Fourth Street downtown into a more active pedestrian and sidewalk-oriented restaurant and entertainment district. This is a key part of the downtown redevelopment plan for Winston-Salem. I supported this action. I believe that we must both encourage downtown redevelopment, and be careful that we do so in a cost-efficient manner. The entire city will benefit from encouraging a vibrant city center as the economic hub of our metropolitan area. A healthy and active downtown is one key difference between living in a real city and living in a ring of sprawling suburbs surrounding a decayed core. I think we want to live in the former, not the latter.
On other economic development efforts, I split my votes. I voted for business incentives designed to boost the location and growth of a pharmaceutical research firm in our downtown Triad Research Park. On the other hand, I voted against incentives for an out-of-town printing company to establish operations here. I considered the investment of tax money in that case to be unnecessary, as well as unfair to local printing businesses already operating here.
In general, my votes on these items reflect the principles which I will apply to economic development proposals: Will they benefit the local economy generally by creating or retaining jobs? Are they cost-effective for taxpayers? Are they necessary to achieve the benefit proposed? Can we afford them within our city budget? Are they environmentally benign? And are they fair to existing businesses and employees?