October 6, 2020 will go down in Raleigh history as one of the worst days for environmental conservation, as the Raleigh City Council voted 7 to 1 (Cox dissenting) to destroy Azalea Falls, one of only a handful of state designated Natural Heritage Areas in our entire city.
Council’s vote to permit clear cutting and mass grading for dense development (upzoning Z-47-19) of the steeply wooded hillsides overlooking Azalea Falls guarantees that Azalea Falls and its special forest ecology, possessing “natural values justifying its recognition by the State as an outstanding part of the natural heritage of North Carolina,” as documented in the NC Dept of Natural and Cultural Resources Resources ‘Natural Heritage Registry,’ will be lost to all future Raleigh generations. (see Note 1 below)
To justify this horrific act, Councilor David Knight rationalized at length, but with great care to make NO reference to Azalea Falls’ statewide Natural Heritage Designation. (see Note 2 below) Rather than negotiating data-driven zoning conditions that would preserve the important ecological habitat, Knight offered only his profoundly flimsy ‘feeling’ that the developer would do what they could.
And so it continued, with Knight offering a stream of anti-environmental deceptions, distortions and omissions. The rest of Council watched in stone-faced silence.
NO UMSTEAD COALITION FACTS, only DECEPTION
Without offering any details, Knight referred to The Umstead Coalition’s recommendations about Azalea Falls as if the Coalition supports the Z-47-19 upzoning. They do not. (see Note 3 below) The Umstead Coalition recommendations call for ensuring the preservation of Azalea Falls and the state-designated Natural Heritage Area, but Knight avoided mentioning any such commitments, instead offering only more flimsy evasions: He would “like” the developer to be “cognizant” of the Umstead Coalition’s “ideas;” to “look” at their ideas and “take those in mind.” (see Note 4 below) What a giant pile of nothing.
Knight knowingly misrepresented the Umstead Coalition’s call for careful study and environmental protection of Azalea Falls. No press was there to challenge him.
NO TRANSIT DATA, only DISTORTIONS:
Nevermind that City Planning’s Walkscore data for this location ranks it as one of the least walkable, least transit accessible and most car dependent in the entire city.
Nevermind that, accordingly, Raleigh’s long range transit plans call for NO bus service in this area. Nevermind that adding density here is contrary to Raleigh’s long range plans to focus density near downtown, near transit and near walkable community centers. Nevermind that car-dependent density here will only add more air pollution, more toxic parking lot runoff, and a downward spiral of more road congestion and more road widenings – all anti-environmental outcomes.
Knight brushed these inconvenient climate protection facts aside, saying he’s seen pedestrians near the site (no data offered) and proposed a new bus line serving the vicinity. If Knight was serious about transit on Duraleigh Rd, he would have asked for actual data about its viability, but he did not. He knew the data would only prove his bus service suggestion was as preposterous as the rest of his anti-environmental double talk. Again, no press was there to challenge his preposterous proposal.
NO ENVIRONMENTAL DATA, only GLARING OMISSIONS
While a few Councilors praised the environmental significance of the Azalea Falls, of those who supported the upzoning, NONE ASKED THE MOST IMPORTANT ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION: ‘What zoning commitments do we need from the developer to ensure this environmental gem is protected?’
While we expected and got nothing from Mary-Ann Baldwin, who, in all her years on Council was never endorsed by the Sierra Club, we hoped to hear a strong environmental defense from Councilor Stewart. But Nicole Stewart, Council’s self-styled enviro pro, didn’t utter a single word – environmental or otherwise – over the course of three separate Council deliberations about the fate of Azalea Falls and the Natural Heritage Area. That is a shameful record of environmental malpractice.
WHY RESORT TO SUCH DESPICABLE BEHAVIOR?
As always, this Council is cowed by development industry donations (See Note 5 below) and profits, enforced by Baldwin’s threats and left concealed by a local press that has all but abandoned holding Council accountable for their actions. So now, a Council that first pledged to be data driven has learned that deceptions, distortions and omissions are much less work than standing up to Baldwin, especially when no one is checking for the facts.
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