The last month of 2013 saw a major tightening of rules on where electronic sweepstakes businesses (a.k.a., "internet cafes") can be located.
Electronic sweepstakes business zoning changes approved: The city council on December 16 approved new zoning rules regulating where businesses selling access to electronic sweepstakes games can operate. Effective immediately, new electronic sweepstakes businesses can only be opened in Highway Business (HB) zones. Existing electronic sweepstakes businesses in other zones can continue to operate there until the end of June 2015, by which time they must move to an HB zone or close. This will require 11 of the 26 existing sweepstakes businesses in Winston-Salem to move or close. Sweepstakes machines also cannot be added to other businesses as "accessory uses".
These new limits are justified under zoning law principles because electronic sweepstakes businesses tend to attract users who come in and stay an extended time, often run until late at night, and attract users from outside the neighborhoods where they locate, uses that are not compatible with quiet residential neighborhoods. They are not neighborhood-oriented services.
Adding these local zoning limits on sweepstakes businesses has been made necessary by the extended difficulties which the state has faced in trying to ban them altogether. Cities don't have the legal authority to ban them. I personally would be happy to see electronic sweepstakes businesses eliminated. They don't make any net positive contribution to the local economy or jobs base, and they too often drain resources away from people who can't afford to lose them. In the meantime, however, local zoning limits like the ones we have just adopted here should limit these businesses' adverse impacts on neighborhoods.
Cell tower zoning changes under continued review: The Community Development, Housing, and General Government (CDHGG) Committee of the city council received a report on the Planning Board's recommendations for changes to the ordinance regarding the location of cell phone towers in residential areas. As requested by the telecommunications industry, the proposal would increase the areas in which cell towers could be located without elected body approval. The CDHGG committee decided to hold the item in committee for further discussion in January. The CDHGG meeting will be Tuesday, January 14, at 6 p.m. on the second floor of City Hall.
For information on the Planning Board's recommended ordinance changes, see here: http://www.cwsonline.org/sirepub/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=756&doctype=Agenda
Group and individual comments are welcome. Neighborhood groups who would like more information are invited to contact me.
Gun safety efforts: The rise in gun-related crimes over the past year is a matter of intense concern to many city residents, including myself and other members of the city council. We have asked for a report on what is being done to address this issue in other cities, and recommendations from city police on options for action here. This concern will be a focus of attention in 2014.
Miller Street improvements: Increasing traffic on Miller Street between Five Points and Cloverdale Avenue has contributed to the development of possible plans for improving safety and traffic efficiency there. As part of the rezoning received for the former Masons' property there, the developer of the planned new Publix grocery store must help pay for a turning lane, signal, or other improvements. The signal will be located to serve traffic to and from other businesses in that area as well, and internal connections between adjacent business lots will be improved. This issue and possible plans were discussed at the city council's Public Works Committee on December 10, and the city Transportation Department will refine the plan details.
Miller Park gets dog waste stations: In response to public requests, the city Recreation and Parks Department has added two dog-waste disposal stations to Miller Park, a popular dog-walking destination. One is located on Westover Drive beside the lower athletic fields, and the other is located on the paths near the corner of the Bellview Street parking area beside the upper athletic fields.
Fluorescent bulb disposal: A recent constituent question raised the issue of how to safely dispose of old fluorescent light bulbs. In Winston-Salem, the best way is to drop them off--for no charge--at 3RC, the Enviro-Station, on Martin Luther King Drive near Bowman Gray Stadium. The city contracts with the Enviro-Station to handle household hazardous wastes, including these bulbs. Here's a link to the address, hours of operation, phone number, and details about materials that are accepted: http://www.cityofws.org/departments/utilities/residential-services/household-hazardous-waste-disposal
New committee assignments: As the newly elected council members were sworn in for our terms on December 2, we approved a reshuffling of many council committee assignments. As part of those changes, I will now chair the city council's Public Works Committee, whose responsibilities include oversight of our city's transportation systems, from streets and intersections to bus transit, sidewalks and pedestrian safety facilities, biking facilities, and greenways. I expect to focus attention on systematic improvements to city services and infrastructure in all these areas over the next three years. In addition to my new role as Public Works chair, I will also continue to represent Winston-Salem on two regional transportation-related boards: the Winston-Salem Urban Area Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC), which oversees transportation planning (roads, transit, and bike/ped) and funding for our extended urban area (which includes parts of four counties); and the board of trustees for the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation (PART), which operates the intercity public transit system for the Piedmont Triad region. I've also been appointed as one of North Carolina's representatives to the National League of Cities' (NLC) Transportation Infrastructure and Services (TIS) Policy and Advocacy Committee, which helps shape NLC's policies and initiatives on the national level in the transportation area. NLC is the major organizational voice for the interests of cities and towns at the national level.
--I met with a new neighborhood crime watch group on South Sunset Drive on December 8. We discussed neighborhood safety concerns and how residents can communicate to help address crime issues, as well as possible traffic calming improvements on Sunset Drive. I strongly encourage the organization of more neighborhood watch committees. They're great tools for getting to know your neighbors and working together on shared community concerns.
--I took part in the opening of the latest school food pantry on December 10, for Moore Magnet Elementary School. The pantry will be operated at Highland Presbyterian Church with assistance from Temple Emanuel. The pantries make nutritious food items (especially canned and dry goods) available to student families in need of help. I also went to the official recognition event for the latest BackPack program, at Ward Elementary School. The BackPack programs use private donor funding and volunteer workers to provide weekend food packages for students who get free or reduced cost meals during the school week but are in danger of going hungry on the weekends. Both of these outstanding hunger-reduction programs operate with aid and organizational assistance from the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina. The continued great need for these efforts demonstrates the degree to which hunger is a large and widespread problem in our community.
That's my report for December. As always, you are welcome to email me at email@example.com with comments or questions. Thanks.
In the meantime, Happy New Year to all, and my best wishes to you and your families for a safe, happy, healthy and prosperous 2014!