January 2004 Highlights

I delayed the January update for a few days so that I could discuss the outcome of a zoning issue on which I spent a lot of work time this past month:

Hanes Mall Boulevard rezoning case: We all know that Hanes Mall Boulevard is the poster child for bad planning and traffic problems in Winston-Salem. So why even consider another rezoning case there? Here’s the background—

On the south side of Hanes Mall Boulevard, slightly east of the bridge over I-40, is an undeveloped tract of land which has been in a zoning category for dense multifamily residential development, RM-18. In late 2003, two local developers submitted a proposal to rezone a part of that site (33 acres) for a "village" shopping center of small stores. The center was designed to be a "pedestrian-friendly" retail and office development, with a tree-lined internal street with sidewalks, a gazebo, and a pedestrian trail connection to the Little Creek greenway corridor.

In the view of city Planning staff, this proposal represented a positive change from the area’s theme of huge "big box" retail complexes surrounded by seas of parking asphalt. If traffic issues could be addressed, it would be a good proposal.

The required transportation impact study showed that it could be done without adding to traffic delays along HM Boulevard, but only in connection with the planned widening of the boulevard (and its I-40 bridge) to four lanes, together with appropriate turning lanes and signal additions. Therefore, approval of the project was conditioned on limiting its buildout until those infrastructure improvements are completed (2006). The developers of this project will pay their share of those costs.

Another issue is stormwater runoff. Little Creek downstream of this area already experiences flooding problems in heavy storms. I called city staff and the developers’ engineer together to address stormwater planning. The developers had already proposed an on-site stormwater management system to limit runoff from the site to its pre-development rate. Conditions were added to the rezoning to make that enforceable, and to require locally unprecedented monitoring and reporting on erosion and sedimentation control during construction. These are substantially stronger controls than would have been required for the site’s development under its previous zoning.

Finally, consultations with the neighborhood to the south of the site, represented by the Atwood Acres Neighborhood Association, had identified one additional concern. They wanted a safeguard against retail traffic gaining a future cut-through route into their neighborhood. To address that, I had a condition of the rezoning altered so that any future development on the remaining multifamily-zoned land behind the shopping center would have a private access easement to get out through it—but there would be no public right of way across the center to hook into the neighborhood’s residential streets. With that condition change, the neighborhood association also checked off on the proposal.

All told, the project had ended as an example of smarter design that addressed its overall impacts successfully and even achieved neighborhood support. It was approved unanimously by the Planning Board in January and by the City Council this week.

Let’s be candid: We can’t correct all the planning mistakes of the past easily or overnight. Nothing we can do today will turn driving through the "big box" retail traffic during Christmas shopping season into a relaxing experience.

However, we can insist that those problems not spread, and also insist that future growth in an already impacted area (like this one) be tied to the improvements in infrastructure necessary to handle it. This rezoning as conditioned met those requirements, and should serve as an important example of how to do commercial development in a better way. When we get those good examples, we need to encourage them.

Other streets and traffic items: Folks who have been complaining about the condition of Hawthorne Road will be happy to hear that the City Council on January 20 approved a contract to repave Hawthorne from Academy Street all the way past Forsyth Medical Center to Silas Creek Parkway. The work will be done later this year.

One of the first "traffic calming" meetings in our ward produced initial results this past week. A study of accident patterns in the Rosewood Avenue area identified two intersections where four-way stops should improve safety for cars and pedestrians. Four-way stops went up last week at Rosewood and Melrose and at Magnolia and Queen.

Snow and ice: Winter storms had street scrapers out for multiple days in January. We’ve noticed one of the usual side-effects: missing reflective pavement markers. Jonestown Road, Westview Drive, and Lockland Avenue are among the streets affected. I’ll speak with the Public Works Department about getting those replaced once we’re past snow season.

Budget season: We’re starting into budget season once again. The news seems perhaps not quite as bad as last year, but it’s still not good. Many of the one-time or temporary savings opportunities have been used up. We will face difficult fiscal choices again this year. The Finance Committee begins its review next week.

Closing on another positive note: Winston-Salem got its grant application into the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund yesterday for the proposed greenway extensions from Salem Creek to the Waughtown area and to the School of the Arts area. (There’s no guarantee on the response, of course.) I will continue to dig for dollars from similar sources this year for expansion of these healthy, family-friendly recreational facilities, greenways.