Baldwin & Council majority set surprise Dec. 15 public hearing on Kane’s “Downtown South” scheme: Fast-track to approval?

Baldwin & Council majority set surprise Dec. 15 public hearing on Kane’s “Downtown South” scheme: Fast-track to approval?

The Planning Commission is still looking at it, and City Council was not scheduled to meet again until January. You know, “Deck the Halls?”

Until, that is, Mayor Baldwin and her band of Council followers stepped in to fast-track developer John Kane’s “Downtown South” scheme.

Suddenly, as the result of their 7-1 vote on Tuesday, Council will hold an extraordinary extra meeting in December solely for the purpose of taking up Kane’s massive up-zoning application and conducting the legally required public hearing. The meeting/hearing is set for 7 pm December 15.

Approval could occur immediately following the hearing. Or, if not, Baldwin also set up an extra December 17 meeting, again, just for Kane.

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Now, if you’re asking how Council can set a public hearing on a rezoning case while the Planning Commission is still gathering information about it —  good question!

Customarily, Council waits until the PC makes a recommendation, for or against. Then, at its next meeting, Council sets a public hearing for some future date. It’s unprecedented for Council to reach in and grab a case before the PC is finished. 

But then, John Kane is this Council’s favorite, and he did contribute tens of thousands of dollars to their campaigns. (As he did to fellow developer Donald Trump’s campaign.)

By the way, the PC is allowed up to 90 days for its fact-finding efforts on a case, and the 90-day clock on Kane’s application does not end until January 11. The next PC meeting is December 8 — next Tuesday — and the Kane project is on the agenda, along with a half-dozen other cases.

By setting the public hearing for Kane a week later, Baldwin is in effect putting a gun to the PC’s head, telling them to finish up and get out of the way. Supposedly, the hearing is contingent on the PC being finished. But finished or not, the hearing is set. 

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Meanwhile, opposition to Kane’s “project” is growing, and Baldwin and her Council allies are obviously concerned that the more the public learns about it, the less they’re gonna like it. 

The Planning Commission has been discussing Kane’s proposal since mid-October, and the more they talk about it, the more problems they see for surrounding communities. Problems like gentrification, displacement of residents, enormous traffic congestion on area roads, and especially the downstream flooding prospects as this giant “Downtown” is built on and around the flood-prone Walnut Creek. 

The biggest problem with the Kane Realty scheme is that it is so un-specific. Kane wants the right to build 40-story buildings and 20-story buildings, but doesn’t want to give the first detail of what the buildings will be for or where on the site they will go up.

Of course not: Once the land is zoned for mega-development, Kane can sell it off, piece by piece, at huge profit, for whatever someone else wants to build.

From the developers’ standpoint, this makes perfect sense. But how is the community supposed to know what the impacts will be — the flood impacts, the traffic impacts, the gentrification impacts — when the developer has offered no specifics about what will be built?

The only prudent course is to assume that the buildings will be as big as possible, generating maximum negative impacts, unless Kane offers legally binding assurances that they won’t be — assurances that in a zoning case are called “conditions.” 

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Several PC members have suggested that Kane should withdraw the application and start over with a new one that lays out a “Planned Development” — one that shows the “what” and the “where” and offers specific community benefits such as parkland, affordable housing, a library, a job training center, something. 

Remember, also, that the Kane site is in a federally designated “Opportunity Zone,” a Trump creation that was supposed to help disadvantaged communities but, in many instances, doesn’t. 

So far, nothing in Kane’s application suggests that he’s got the best interests of the disadvantaged in mind. 

Kudos to Councilor David Cox, the only “No” vote against fast-tracking the case, for pointing to the elephant in the room.

“This is supposed to be an Opportunity Zone,” Cox said. “Not an Exploitation Zone.”

 

 

 

The Wake County Housing Justice Coalition gives voice to Raleigh residents threatened by a perfect storm of pandemic-magnified racial, environmental and economic injustices

The Wake County Housing Justice Coalition gives voice to Raleigh residents threatened by a perfect storm of pandemic-magnified racial, environmental and economic injustices

Kudos to the Wake County Housing Justice Coalition (WCHJC) for their Virtual Public Forum on November 23, lifting the voices of those who would be most impacted by John Kane‘s Downtown South project.

With the decline in local, independent investigative news reporting, the Coalition has stepped into the role of giving voice to Raleigh residents threatened by a perfect storm of pandemic-magnified racial, environmental and economic injustices driven by Baldwin, her Council cohorts and their wealthy development donors

The Wake County Housing Justice Coalition has stepped into the role of giving voice to Raleigh residents threatened by a perfect storm of pandemic-magnified racial, environmental and economic injustices

The Coalition’s Monday night forum was attended by more than 100 impacted and concerned residents, making it larger by far than any city or developer-sponsored zoning session. Attendees included members of prominent faith organizations, environmental organizations and impacted neighborhoods, especially those threatened by rapidly increasing gentrification, flooding and other systemic racial and economic disparities.

The speakers were joined by one Councilor and offered a strong vision for equitable prosperity for all, where a successful Downtown South project begins with the voices of the public in determining what is truly “in the public interest.” That means balancing Council’s valuable grant of zoning development entitlements with equally valuable community benefits, including Affordable Housing, eliminating flooding and providing the kinds of community-serving institutions and businesses that strengthen and revitalize existing neighborhoods rather than simply erasing them in a flood of 40-story sports and entertainment profits for the already-wealthy.

The full Virtual Public Forum video is available at the Wake County Housing Justice Coalition’s Facebook Page, along with a recap of community comments and the results of polling conducted during the meeting.   


A pattern of silencing community voices

The Wake County Housing Justice Coalition‘s efforts are especially important since Mayor Baldwin and her pro-growth Councilors, in their rush to approve Kane’s largest ever development in Raleigh, have made no attempt to invite the voices of the people. Instead, Council has again sent the fox into the henhouse, with Kane‘s development team controlling who will be heard and imposing an artificial deadline designed to let the clock run out on negotiations. 

This is the latest example of how this Council has consistently rewritten zoning review rules to silence community voices in favor of development profits: In February, the new Council planned in secret and voted without public notice or public input to defund Raleigh’s Citizens Advisory Councils (CACs). Council replaced the community run CAC review of upzoning cases with a developer run process, held out of public view, at a time and place decided by the developer, and with the community’s independent vote replaced by a sanitized developer report to Council.

Want to know more about Kane’s $300M+ stadium subsidy or the Planning Commission’s courageous efforts to make the Downtown South proposal comply with Raleigh’s own strategic growth goals?  Read more Livable Raleigh Blogs HERE.

 

 

 

Give It Up for John Kane: His Downtown South Plan is a Power Grab, Money Grab and Tax Grab

Give It Up for John Kane: His Downtown South Plan is a Power Grab, Money Grab and Tax Grab

What do we know about Kane Realty’s Downtown South (DTS) plan after a 3-hour long Planning Commission meeting on Friday? The answer is, we didn’t learn one thing on Friday that we didn’t already know; and going into Friday, all we knew about developer John Kane’s intentions is that he’s not telling — and doesn’t think he has to. (As we told you last week.)

What did become clear on Friday, after the fog of verbiage generated by Kane’s spokespeople dispersed under some withering questions from Planning Commission members, is that Kane’s upzoning application, Z-13-20 in City of Raleigh jargon, is:

          • A raw Power Grab.
          • A huge Money Grab.
          • A Tax Grab with the potential to take hundreds of millions of dollars from city taxpayers. 

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Click on image for Walnut Creek Flooding details

The three tracts of land that comprise Downtown South are important sites for Raleigh, and have the potential to be a great complement to our Downtown if built to the right scale with careful, inclusive design. The design must take into account the character of the surrounding neighborhoods and the fact that the DTS site straddles Walnut Creek, where major floods are frequent and sometimes devastating. It must make room for low-income as well as high-income residents. Given the water on site, it ought to be a place that is free for all to enjoy.

Kane, however, wants the right to build whatever he wants, to whatever scale he wants, as massive as he wants with only minimal flood controls. If he gets his way, the City — its residents, its Planning Commission, even its elected City Council — will be by-standers only.

Who needs City Planning when we have John Kane to do it for us? 

Incredibly, Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin seems ready to turn Kane loose and hand him a huge tax break to boot. It remains to be seen whether a majority of City Council will be equally submissive.

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How Is This a Power Grab?

Put simply, Kane is insisting that he doesn’t need to say what he intends to build in order to justify a rezoning application that would allow 40-story buildings on nearly all of a 145-acre site in South Raleigh.

Nor does he need to show how a massive project in a flood-prone area of the city will not make the flooding worse in downstream neighborhoods like Rochester Heights, an historic African-American community.

Nor does he need to state whether he intends to include any affordable housing in his project, and if so, where it would go.

Click on image for details of who has the power in Raleigh

Nor how he would mitigate the dislocation and gentrification impacts of his project on adjoining neighborhoods like Caraleigh, Fuller Heights and South Park, which are situated between the actual Downtown Raleigh and Kane’s putative Downtown South.

These are the normal elements of a rezoning application: What are you going to build? How big is it? What are its impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods? How will you mitigate any negative impacts? And, since this site is on a future Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route down South Wilmington Street, will you offer to include affordable-housing units near the BRT stop as called for in the city Planning Department’s new Equitable Development Around Transit proposal?

But none of these elements are in Kane’s proposal, with two exceptions: (1) a relatively trivial amount of park space (2.5 acres out of the 145-acre total); and (2) a last-minute add-on that would strengthen slightly the level of stormwater (flood) controls to which Kane is willing to commit.

Other than that, Kane wants City Council to give him a blank-check rezoning. Only after it is approved — and Council has given away all of its leverage — would he sit down with Council to negotiate the kinds of things that should’ve been assured before the rezoning was approved. 

Kane did not appear before the Planning Commission. Instead, he sent a team of emissaries led by former City Councilor Bonner Gaylord, who worked for him when he was on the Council and still works for him. They spoke at great length about what the project could be, might be, even oughta be. But they committed to nothing.

Gaylord, on Kane’s behalf, warned that Kane is in a hurry to get his application approved, though Gaylord also says that this project will unfold over decades, not just years. Neither the PC nor Council should do anything to slow Kane down — is Gaylord’s message. 

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How Is This a Money Grab? 

So here are a couple of numbers from the Raleigh Planning Department’s analysis of Z-20-13. If approved as it stands, it would allow:

          • Up to 32,000 new housing units.
          • Up to 38 million square feet of commercial and office space.
          • Resulting in 150,000 additional car trips to and from the site every day

The TOTAL commercial space in our current downtown is 32 million s.f.

Downtown South could have more.

Or consider this: Raleigh’s new director of Planning and Development, Patrick Young, says that Raleigh’s growth is generating a need for 7-8 new housing units a day. That’s 3,000 a year — citywide.

Thus, Kane is grabbing for the right to control 10 years worth of new housing demand in Raleigh in a single location, and be the sole planner of a new downtown plopped squarely onto flood-prone land.  

Now, the numbers in the staff report are estimates and probably greatly exaggerate what Kane, or other developers that Kane sells to, could actually build. Still, even half of that amount would represent a corner on the market for new housing and commercial development in South Raleigh, with Kane in complete control of the form, price and whether surrounding communities benefit or get pushed out. 

Interestingly, Gaylord says that the Downtown South project will not be 40 stories (or won’t be ALL 40-story buildings) even as Kane Realty applies for a rezoning that would ENTITLE each future element to rise to 40 stories. 

Huh?

It may be that Kane thinks that the City’s Comprehensive Plan should not apply to him, though it does — so far — apply to every other development in Raleigh.

The point of the Comp Plan is to define the desirable scale of development in every community and neighborhood by neighborhood, taking into account the character of the place and the available capacity of roads and other infrastructure.

For this South Raleigh location, the Plan suggests heights up to 12 stories and perhaps 20 if close to a BRT stop. But not 40.

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How It This a Tax Grab?

Again, simple. Kane is proposing that he (and anyone he sells to) be allowed to pay property taxes on this site for the next 30 years as if it hadn’t been developed. Actually, it’s a little more convoluted than that, and much worse: He’ll pay the property taxes as they’re assessed, but wants them given back.

And not just as he pays them, but up-front.

No kidding, he wants 30 years worth of the additional property taxes that this site will generate paid to him before he even starts. The City would have to borrow against future revenues so Kane could have his money now. It’s called Tax-Increment Financing, or as Gaylord referred to it in this case, a “Tax-Increment Grant.”

It’s legal in North Carolina, has been for almost 20 years. I believe it is also true that no municipality has been talked into doing it.

So how much would Kane’s grant be?

Hard to say since the scale — and future success — of Kane’s development plans are a complete unknown.

But for starters, Kane wants to use his TIG — the taxpayers’ money — to pay for a new stadium or entertainment venue of some kind as the anchor for all that would follow.

So that’s your first, what, $200 million? More? From incremental property taxes.

Anything after that could pay for affordable housing in the Kane project, because — while he would “love to” include some affordable units (per Gaylord) — he’s not gonna pay for them. We will.

If he has his way. 

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By the way, this is the same sports venue Kane used to call a soccer stadium with 20,000 seats, big enough for a Major Leader Soccer franchise. But of course, we don’t have a MLS franchise. It went to Charlotte.

We do  have a terrific women’s team, the N.C. Courage, arguably the best women’s franchise in the world, and a minor-league men’s team, the NCFC, and both of them fit very comfortably in the stadium built for them — by Wake County and Raleigh taxpayers — in Cary.

But Kane has not given up, and is now pitching his 20,000 seat venue as a home for Shaw University sports, a replacement for the Red Hat Amphitheater (wasn’t that supposed to go to Dix Park?) and/or the Walnut Creek Amphitheater, and/or maybe in the future for the PNC Arena that is home to the Carolina Hurricanes and N.C. State men’s basketball. 

Anyway, this entertainment / sports venue continues to be the shiny object that Kane shows whenever he’s asked what the Downtown South project will be, even though the stadium is not specified in any way in the rezoning application.

But Gaylord, Kane’s spokesman, is quick to say that without the venue, the project won’t happen. And without a TIG that puts the cost of the venue and the cost of all other community benefits onto the taxpayers, it won’t happen. According to Gaylord.

OK, then. Maybe it shouldn’t happen.

Because there are a lot of other, more pressing needs at this time in our community for that $200 million (or more) than another sports venue. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raleigh City Council and Pay to Play Cronyism

Raleigh City Council and Pay to Play Cronyism

Tim Niles, a resident of Raleigh, delivered the following comments to the City Council on Tuesday, October 20.

Mayor Baldwin and members of City Council.  Good afternoon,

One of the first actions taken by this council was to abolish recognition for CACs and their formal role in city government.

You took this action claiming CAC participants were not representative of the demographics of Raleigh.  They were, you said, mostly older, white homeowners, ignoring the fact that eight of the eighteen were in majority Black neighborhoods.

You said you wanted to “right-size” the voices being heard by the city.  To that end, you also said you would be intentionally appointing persons to boards, commissions and task forces with diversity as a goal.

You clearly took this approach with both the Human Relations Commission and the Police Advisory Board.  In these cases you held open the application processes until you received the diverse group of applicants you wanted.  You went so far as to plead in public for the African American community to submit their names for the Police Advisory Board.  You specified seats on these boards to be allocated by race, sexual orientation and the like.

But, when it comes to the new Council Study Group, you have made no effort for diversity.  You set no standards for the seats on this group.  When few applications came in, you made no public plea to the community.  You went with what you received.

How many members of the applicant pool are African American, Latino, Asian, Indigenous?  How many are renters versus homeowners?

You have selected seven people from this pool to be members of the study group.

    • Four are lawyers
    • Three represent District A
    • Two are past candidates for City Council
    • One is past President and CEO of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce
    • One is a Real Estate Agent
    • One currently sits on the Raleigh Housing Authority and is currently being recommended for the DIX Edge Area Study

Is this what you consider to be a right-sizing of voices to participate in Raleigh government.

Even more shocking, two of your seven selections for this group contributed large dollar donations to your campaign coffers.  One gave over $25,000 while the other gave $5,000.

If the goal of your citizen engagement improvement process is to widen the circle of those engaged, why have you selected an applicant who already serves on the Raleigh Housing Authority and who you have recommended for the DIX Park Study and who gave you $25,000 and who is an older, white homeowner?

The average Jane or Joe can’t even get an email delivered to members of City Council without it getting trapped by a spam filter and sent to quarantine.  But, big dollar campaign donors, CEOs, lawyers and members of the development community go to the front of the line to help decide if the city should raise your salaries and extend the length of your terms in office.

This makes a total mockery of your claims of wanting to expand citizen engagement.  This is nothing more than pay to play and political cronyism.

 

 

Disinformation in Local Elections

Disinformation in Local Elections

On Tuesday, October 20, Raleigh’s News and Observer is hosting a webinar, “Disinformation in Local Elections: How to spot it and what you can do”

I decided to write to the N&O on the eve of their webinar because I have three examples of the role disinformation has played in local politics here in Raleigh.  All three examples are important because the information published  – or not published – affects the quality of life for the residents of Raleigh.

Dear News and Observer,

What could be more local than municipal elections for Raleigh’s City Council?

What could have more impact on the lives of the citizens of Raleigh than the decisions made at the municipal level?

What can voters do to educate themselves when their own local newspaper, the Raleigh News & Observer:

    1. Helps to disseminate instead of dispel campaign disinformation.
    2. Refuses to cover campaign disinformation even when it misrepresents source material from the N&O itself claiming that the content published supports a position that in reality it does not.
    3. Refuses to cover disinformation from elected officials after they have been sworn into office.

Let me provide an example of each of these for your panelists.

1. Helps to disseminate instead of dispel campaign disinformation. 

During the 2019 Raleigh City Council election a piece of direct mail was sent to voters’ homes.  That piece depicted a woman with duct tape over her mouth with the claim “David Cox thinks you should shut up.”  The mailer was an independent expenditure sent by the Triangle Government Alliance.  It was roundly derided as inappropriate.  The N&O covered it.  But, their coverage of it simply gave it a wider audience since nowhere in their coverage did the N&O actually explain that the claims made in it were false.

Read full N&O article through this link

Nowhere in their article do they state that the update made to the Rules of Decorum stopped NO ONE from speaking to council, made NO ONE shut up and didn’t limit what anyone could say.  All it did was limit citizens from directing a question to a councilor by name and asking for a response.

2.  Refuses to cover campaign disinformation even when it misrepresents source material from the N&O itself claiming that the content published supports a position that in reality it does not. 

Again, during the 2019 Raleigh City Council election another piece of direct mail was sent to voters’ homes.  This time it came directly from Councilor Cox’s opponent’s campaign.  It made the claim that Cox voted to underfund repairs to aging water and sewer infrastructure intended to keep our water safe.  It cited  two N&O articles as proof of this claim. Upon investigation, neither of the N&O articles support the claim made by the mailer.

The first article cited actually says the spill had nothing to do with any lack of maintenance of aging pipes.

“The spill was caused by a build up of grease and debris inside the line, but the city is also investigating whether rain contributed to the spill, he said”

Read full N&O article through this link

The second article cited actually says a pipe was undergoing maintenance repairs at the time when an accident happened which caused the spill.  So, the very charge being made, a lack of maintenance funding, makes no sense when you cite a spill from a location where maintenance was being performed.

“The largest spill came when nearly 5 million gallons of sewage spilled into Marsh Creek at 3204 Yonkers Road. Raleigh-based Moffat Pipe was repairing “aging infrastructure” and had set up an 18-inch bypass pipe. The area flooded and an equipment trailer at the construction area struck the bypass pipe, causing the break.”

Read full N&O article through this link

Lastly.  If you contacted the city at the time you would have been told that lowering the INCREASE to the rates for water & sewer funding from a 3.2% increase to a 1.6% increase did not have any negative effect on the maintenance funds.  The city was already funded for planned maintenance at over 150% and no planned maintenance went unperformed because the rate increase was lower than requested.

All of this information was provided to the N&O and they CHOSE not to report it.  Is it possible that in both examples 1 and 2, the N&O made their reporting choices because they had endorsed Cox’s opponent?

3. Refuses to cover disinformation from elected officials after they have been sworn into office.

In 2020 the Raleigh City Council approved a request to upzone property abutting Shelley Lake.  Two members of the council made inaccurate claims to justify their votes in favor of this case.  Councilors Melton and Buffkin lied.  They both made claims that the upzoning for increased density at this location next to Shelley Lake would provide increased protection for the lake because one of the conditions offered by the applicant created a “buffer” of 215 feet between the development and the lake.

Click on this image to read the details provided to the N&O

This buffer claim is not true.  The condition created a “setback” of 215 feet between the residential housing and the lake.  Anything other than the residential housing units can be developed in that 215 foot area.  All of this information was given to the N&O.  But, they refused to tell the citizens of Raleigh that two sitting members of city council LIED to them to justify their votes.

After the lie was pointed out as part of Public Comment at a City Council Meeting, Councilor Melton updated his website, doubled down and kept lying.  He changed his original assertion that called the “buffer” a “tree buffer” and simply removed the word tree.  But, he kept the assertion that there was a buffer when there is no buffer.  The property owner can build anything BUT the condos in that area, including parking, maintenance buildings, leasing offices, club houses, dumpster enclosures and the like.

Once again, this information was provided to the N&O and they chose not to report it.  And, once again the two councilors involved were endorsed by the N&O.

Conclusion

Certainly the N&O doesn’t have enough resources to discuss every campaign mailer and every lie told by any politician.  But, resources aside, if they know the facts, they owe it to their subscribers and the residents of Raleigh to report the facts.

The first example, because they did report on it.  But only in a manner which gave it a wider distribution without noting it was factually incorrect.

The second example, because the N&O’s own reporting was being used to prop up the lies and give them credibility.  Campaigns tend to use this tactic because they know the vast majority of recipients will not bother to check the citations.  They will just assume the citations prove the accusations.

The third example, because there is never an excuse for allowing an elected official to lie to the constituents with impunity.  It just teaches the official they won’t be held accountable.

Regards,

Tim Niles

Raleigh resident