Dear City Manager Hall:
I am writing on behalf of many Raleigh residents. First of all we want to thank you for your leadership during this time of unprecedented crisis. We appreciate the very big challenges you and other City staff are facing as you endeavor to run our local government safely, effectively and fairly during these uncertain times.
We are wondering how the City will handle the many development projects currently “in the pipeline” and we want to share some of our concerns as you deliberate on how to conduct these processes going forward.
One topic of particular interest is how the City will handle future public hearings, in light of federal and state guidelines recommending social distancing in order to slow the spread of the virus.
Raleigh has a good track record in providing public notice and affording residents participation in City decisions, such as those concerning the approval of new development. The City provides the opportunity for input from many advisory boards and from the public during various public meetings, and that input, in our opinion, has always improved the projects.
We recognize that maintaining open government during this unusual time of public health crisis is of utmost importance and that the City must be fair to applicants. However, it would be inappropriate and contrary to the public’s expectations for projects to proceed through the pipeline without providing citizens an equal opportunity to be heard and have their viewpoints received and understood.
Several of the rezoning projects currently under consideration would result in huge impacts if approved in their current form. The public therefore must have full access to their elected officials and to the decision-making process at public meetings to ensure careful, informed decisions on these and other projects. Hitting the pause button on these processes now seems prudent given that most economic activity has been similarly paused.
Therefore, we respectfully recommend that the City not alter any public notice requirements nor curtail customary public input and that the City pause the review process for projects in the pipeline until the public can again participate. Providing online content and inviting questions is helpful but not adequate to meet notice requirements.
I have included a link to an article from the IOG’s Coates Cannons blog, which I am sure you are familiar with.
Rather than alter our processes to assist potential development projects, we suggest that the City’s current focus should be on our most vulnerable residents – the homeless, the “housing insecure,” the increasing number of workers who are being laid off, and on our local small business owners.
We urge you to make these folks your top priority and to ensure that we devote adequate resources now to assist them in the short term, as well as proposing plans for how we can help them moving forward.
The impact of this crisis on City revenues should make us think carefully about our spending priorities. Clearly, the spending priorities that existed even as recently as last month, need to be reconsidered and may need to change to aid our City’s recovery and to ensure that all of Raleigh’s residents receive the support they deserve. Obviously we will need to coordinate closely with our county, state, and federal governments to achieve the best possible outcomes.
Chair, Livable Raleigh