Council Member David Cox – Preserving Our Trees in the Richland Creek Watershed

Council Member David Cox – Preserving Our Trees in the Richland Creek Watershed

David Cox, PhD, the three-term District B representative on Raleigh’s City Council, submitted the following “Guest Blog” to Livable Raleigh for publication.

 

The Richland Creek watershed drains into the Neuse River. Why is that important? Because City Council is considering removing the forestation requirements for the watershed. Trees are vital for ensuring the health of the Neuse River. They absorb water and through transpiration help to remove pollutants. Their roots hold the soil in place and prevent sediment from entering our streams that drain into the river.

I am a member of the City Council’s Growth and Natural Resources Committee along with Council Members David Knight and Stormie Forte. The committee is chaired by Council Member Nicole Stewart. We, as a committee, have been discussing inconsistencies between the city’s Richland Creek Watershed forestation requirement and the impervious surface rules brought to our attention by a developer. The forestation rule requires 40% trees in the watershed, allowing up to 60% for development. In contrast the city code also allows up to 70% impervious surface. Clearly, we can’t have both.

We ended our previous meeting with a proposal by Council Member Stewart to retain the forestation rule but to resolve the conflict by either decreasing the amount of required forestation or by decreasing the amount of allowable impervious surface, perhaps compromising at 35% forestation and up to 65% impervious surface.

When I arrived at the most recent committee meeting on 10/27, I expected to continue this conversation to keep the forestation requirement for the Richland Creek Watershed but to tweak it a little and add some exceptions to address the inconsistencies in the regulation.

Instead, City Attorney Robin Tatum pointed out that the preferred legal approach allowed by our local act granted by the State is to create a Resource Management District. This was all new to me so I followed up with Robin to obtain some more details.

For those who don’t know, the NC State Legislature passes “local acts” that are specific to individual communities. One of Raleigh’s local acts allows the City to regulate trees in certain designated areas. Two of those areas are in a “reservoir” watershed and in something called a Resource Management District. There is a dispute about whether or not the Richland Creek Watershed is or isn’t a “reservoir” watershed. The City Attorney said she is looking into getting that clarified.

In any case, the City Attorney said a cleaner approach legally is to create a Resource Management District. Once the district is established it would be applied like any overlay district through a rezoning process. It would be advertised in the paper, it would go to the Planning Commission for review, and eventually come to Council for a public hearing and a vote.

I like this approach and support it. That way we can hear all concerns and develop a Resource Management District that addresses everyone’s concerns.

Council Member Stewart, however, opposes this approach preferring to eliminate the forestation requirement entirely and instead create a city-wide tree ordinance. But there are serious problems with that approach.

Going back to what the City Attorney told me, we don’t have authority from the State to create a city-wide tree ordinance. It would require another local act to do so. However, we do have the authority to regulate trees in Resource Management Districts – which is exactly the mechanism the City Attorney proposed for the Richland Creek watershed. According to the City Attorney, we could create Resource Management Districts elsewhere in the city as needed and can customize them for each area.

Second, creating a city-wide tree ordinance will take at least six months to a year. And who knows what it will look like at the end of the process? In the meantime, if we eliminate the forestation requirement in Richland Creek, then all bets are off. The 17 acres at Raven Ridge and Falls of Neuse that we worked so hard to get rezoned (the property next to Mt Pleasant Baptist Church) will likely be clear cut. We were counting on the forestation requirement to prevent that from happening. All properties up and down Falls of Neuse as well as elsewhere in the watershed would be at risk.

To summarize, we have a few options:

Remove the forestation requirement entirely – I oppose that approach

Keep the forestation requirement and work towards a city-wide tree ordinance – I oppose that approach as well. We don’t currently have that authority and there is too much uncertainty about what the result will look like even if we did have it.

Keep the forestation requirement and create a Resource Management District – I support this approach. It satisfies immediate needs and will result in tree regulations customized for the Richland Creek Watershed that arise from public discussion and consensus.

David Cox, PhD
Raleigh City Council

Click on the images to read more about the importance of the Neuse River

Neuse River Fish Kill is Longest in Decades

Are the Neuse and Cape Fear Rivers Endangered?

 

 

Courtney Napier Weighs In on Forte Appointment and Gentrification

Photo by Seasons4Photos

Posted here are some excerpts from Courtney Napier’s recent op-ed for INDY Week.  Read the entire piece here

Why did Raleigh City Council give Carmen Cauthen unanimous support, then turn around and vote six-to-one for Stormie Forte to take the District D seat vacated by Saige Martin?

Cauthen comes from a long line of civil servants and has spent the majority of her life in service to government and community, most recently with the Southeast Raleigh Community Engagement Strategy Sessions and the Wake County Housing Justice Coalition.  Read more about Cauthen here.

Forte is a lawyer and real estate agent who is a part of the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association (RWCA) and its affiliate, the Wake County Voter Education Coalition, both of which work to nurture Black political leaders and support voter turnout

Both women were excellent candidates, yet the city council needed someone to fit certain criteria: a candidate who would communicate their support of Raleigh’s Black community while also letting them gentrify their neighborhoods with little pushback.

A couple of days after the council chose Forte, Cauthen demonstrated why she didn’t make the cut. During a “Downtown South” community engagement meeting hosted by consulting firm APCO and Kane Realty, Cauthen asked probing questions regarding Kane’s commitment to creating a community benefits agreement.

It is common knowledge in the Raleigh activist community how Mayor Baldwin and the council truly feel about the issues most impacting its Black and Brown residents. In a forum before the 2019 election, Nicole Stewart said she did not support a police accountability board with subpoena power because “the only people who want it are from District C.” Jonathon Melton said that while City Manager Ruffin Hall and Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown have made decisions that have negatively impacted the Black and Brown community “that he doesn’t agree with,” he does not believe they should be fired.  Listen to Nicole Stewart on Police Accountability.

Forte is a part of an organization that represents Raleigh’s Black political establishment. Several Black politicians on the city, county, and state level value RWCA and the WCVEC as a source of support. But when one looks at the platforms and voting records of those politicians, one questions their effectiveness in advocating for working-class and working poor Black people.

With their eyes on the 2021 election—and on the developers that have exchanged financial contributions for support of ambitious building projects—Baldwin and her allies needed a candidate who was impervious to media scrutiny but wouldn’t hinder their controversial, injurious gentrifying developments. It remains to be seen if Forte will fulfill this role, but it was clear that “bystander” was not a position Cauthen was willing to take.  Stormie Forte gets District D seat (no surprise); what will she do about John Kane’s massive upzoning bid?

 

Stormie Forte gets District D seat (no surprise); what will she do about John Kane’s massive upzoning bid?

Stormie Forte

Raleigh attorney and political manager Stormie Forte is the new District D Council member by a 6-1 vote. Councilor David Cox (District B) voted for Carmen Cauthen.

Forte was Mayor Baldwin’s choice virtually from the day Saige Martin resigned, which was June 26. Almost immediately, Forte was telling friends that she had the Council vote sewn up.

Weirdly, Baldwin announced an elaborate application process a few days later, with a virtual candidates forum thrown in. Some 56 people applied, including Forte, Cauthen and former District D Councilor Kay Crowder. Two weeks of breathless suspense ensued, with the outcome in as much doubt as a Hallmark holiday classic (“Will She Find Happiness?”). Yesterday, the saga ended with Forte’s no-surprise selection. Baldwin pronounced it “historic,” and it was — Cauthen and Forte were vying to be the Raleigh Council’s first-ever African-American woman. Forte claimed that honor, and she is also the first LGBTQ woman.

LR supported Cauthen’s candidacy after it became clear that Council would reject Kay Crowder. We don’t really know Forte, whose work to date has been in the state government arena rather than the city. She clearly has skills. They’ll be tested almost immediately by a massive development project proposed for District D.

 

Kane’s giant project looms in South Raleigh

We’re talking about Z-13-20, John Kane’s bid to have 133 acres of land up-zoned around the intersection of South Saunders Road and I-440 (see the map in the linking zoning application).

Kane is the developer of North Hills and of the massive buildings downtown on the south side of Peace Street. (40-story tower approved but not built as yet.)

But his so-called Downtown South plan–the South Saunders tracts, touching South Wilmington Street on the east–would dwarf Kane’s other projects if approved as submitted.

This is the plan with the stadium that may or may not be built for a major-league soccer team that so far does not exist. (Kane is seeking a big city-county subsidy for the stadium, but so far hasn’t gotten it.)

The stadium, frankly, is a kind of shiny object in an application that asks for an open-ended right to build 40-story buildings, 20-story buildings and 12-story buildings adjacent to Swift Creek, in a part of town with serious flooding issues.

So far, nothing in the application promises a stadium, or affordable housing, or stormwater management beyond the minimal requirements of city code. Nor does it say how the community will benefit from the fact that the location is in a federal Opportunity Zone, that Trump-created developer boondoggle that is supposed to benefit the poor but seems actually to  be a handout to the rich.

In fact, the only thing that’s promised in the application is no strip clubs, car repair shops, gas stations or prisons. Otherwise, it’s an open-ended “ask” for the right to build whatever.

In a Zoom meeting with residents yesterday, Bonner Gaylord — Kane’s representative — offered no specifics, and he insisted that no specifics, no design details, nothing can be decided until after the up-zoning is approved. Let us build to the max, and THEN we’ll consider what you want, seemed to be his message.

Carmen Cauthen was on the Zoom and asked whether Kane will enter into a Community Benefits Agreement with South Raleigh residents as part of the up zoning application.

Gaylord put her off.

Such an agreement — a CBA — might pledge enhanced flooding controls. It might pledge affordable housing units. It might pledge an inclusionary zoning approach so that existing low-income residents won’t simply be pushed out of South Raleigh in a new wave of gentrification.

Does South Raleigh really want a stadium? Didn’t sound like it from the Zoom meeting. They might prefer a library. Or a school.

What Will Stormie Do?

Stormie Forte’s first job as District D rep, if she’s up to it, will be to take the side of residents and wring some promises out of Kane, while also considering whether 40-story buildings in a flood-prone area makes sense for this part of the city. The application for Z-13-20 was filed in February, but a study of traffic impacts was lacking. According to Gaylord, that study has now been sent to city staff and the application is ready to move through channels this fall.

This fall meaning September. Meaning it’s coming fast.

City Council meets just once in August. Before you know it, the Kane project will get to Council, where Mayor Baldwin has long since promised to support it, whatever it is.  That, of course, is Baldwin’s history: She’s all-in for the developers.

Forte was hand-picked by Baldwin. On the other hand, if she plans to seek election in District D next year, Forte may want to declare her independence.

 

Forecast for District D appointment by Council: Clear through the weekend, Stormie Forte on Tuesday

Forecast: Clear Thru Weekend, Stormie on Tuesday

As of this morning, 34 “hopefuls” have submitted their applications to be the next District D representative on Council, replacing the ill-fated Saige Martin. The deadline to apply is today at 4. It’s quite a contest.

Poring through these many, bulky submittals is unnecessary, however. When the appointment is made on Tuesday, it will go to Raleigh attorney and Democratic campaign consultant Stormie Forte.

Forte’s had the nod from Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin virtually from the time Martin resigned. And with the fractious Martin off Council, only District B’s David Cox ever questions — or crosses — MAB.

Forte will be the first African-American woman ever to sit on the Raleigh Council, which is truly shocking. Formerly a lawyer with the state, she is now in private practice. As a political consultant, she helped state Supreme Court Justice Mike Morgan win his seat in the 2016 elections, unseating Republican Justice Bob Edmunds and shifting control of the Court from GOP to Democratic.

Forte had not applied as of close of business yesterday, so her resume is not online as yet.

♦♦

By the way, if you’re wondering why Baldwin insisted on having all these applications, and told the Council to read them carefully by Saturday morning, when they are supposed to choose (by secret ballots) five panelists for a virtual candidates forum on Sunday at 3 pm — we have no idea

But then, we could be wrong. Maybe Forte isn’t a lock, and watching on Sunday won’t be a complete waste of time.

Or, you could watch Hamilton. Again.