Fast tracking this project is a betrayal of your relationship with the citizens

Fast tracking this project is a betrayal of your relationship with the citizens

Longtime Raleigh resident, Rachel Wooten, PhD, delivered the following remarks to the Mayor and City Council for public comment Dec 1, 2020

 

To Mayor Baldwin and Council Members,

I have just sent an email to you as a member of ONE Wake.  I am following up with a personal email. I’m copying council staff, as I would like this read into the public record at your meeting tomorrow night.

This project and the way it’s being fast tracked is a betrayal of your relationship with the citizens of Raleigh.  You have just won our support to spend our tax dollars for affordable housing in our community.  A pittance of what is actually needed, but a good start.  Now you’re proposing that our tax dollars be given to support a private development, while having no legal agreement with the developer to provide any affordable housing.  You’re proposing giving away future tax revenues that should be appropriated by the city for housing and any number of other critical needs, now and in the future, during a time of ongoing economic distress.

As a psychotherapist, I will share one of the best definitions of addiction I’ve ever heard: “You can’t get enough of what you don’t need.”

Raleigh DOES NOT need more hotels, more restaurants, another sports venue, and more expensive high rise apartment dwellings.  We are in a pandemic.  Businesses, restaurants and hotels are hanging by a thread. Not to mention entertainment venues.  And yet you’re proposing to offer tax dollars for a private developer to bring in new businesses? At this time?

The issue of betrayal of our African American community looms large here as well.  Decades ago, white development split Oberlin in two and left it in shreds.  In more recent times in Durham, a bypass was run through the Hayti community.  We need to stop our white privileged approach to these communities.  If we want to bring new development to their neighborhoods, shouldn’t we be asking them what they want? Shouldn’t we all be at the table together, building communities together, rather than superimposing on them our profit-driven developments?  Developments that are far more likely to benefit white people, and not the citizens they will most profoundly effect.

The issue of betrayal also looms large in the manner you’re going about this.  If there were no pandemic, the meetings about this rezoning would be packed.  The word is barely getting out about the project because of current gathering limits.  As you know, there is substantial opposition to this development on the part of multiple religious communities, represented by ONE Wake.  I believe you would have notable push back from the business community as well (ie, the latest article in Triangle Business Journal) for all the reasons I’ve listed above.

This appears to be a ‘done deal’ between John Kane and a number of you who received campaign contributions from him.  It appears that the tail is wagging the dog.  Raleigh is in no rush for this rezoning to be approved.  Council appears to be rushing because John Kane wants this done.  You were elected to serve all the citizens of Raleigh, not just private developers.

In closing, let me say that the optics for this project are bad from all sides.  From a “pay to play” appearance, to a white privilege appearance with no real engagement with our African American neighborhoods, to pushing for something that people need more time and information and ability to come to the table.  We are all extremely stressed and pre-occupied with Covid-19 and this hideous election cycle.

As a career psychotherapist and mediation teacher, I assure you that people are deeply traumatized at the moment, with very little bandwidth for anything other than keeping their lives going.  To push through a massive project at this time looks opportunistic and uninterested in the needs and opinions of the citizens you represent.

I’m asking you to postpone your rezoning decision until after the new year.  I’m asking you to do a great deal more outreach and information gathering about what Raleigh really wants and needs from this or any other development.  This simply is NOT the time to rush a rezoning for such a massive project with so many possible negative outcomes for all Raleigh citizens.

Sincerely,

Rachael Wooten

 

Rachael Wooten, PhD
Diplomate Jungian Analyst
Author of Tara: The Liberating Power of the Female Buddha. Sounds True, April 2020.
rachaelwootenauthor.com

 

 

Rachael Wooten, Ph.D., is a Zurich-trained Jungian analyst and a licensed psychologist who has been in private practice for over 40 years. She has taught meditation in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition for 20 years. Rachael was a founding Mother of The Women’s Center in Raleigh. A long-time activist on behalf of women and the environment, Rachael relies continuously on the principle of the Interdependence of all Being, which values the sacredness of all beings–human and otherwise–as guidance in her relationships, her vocation , and her activism. She is a member of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Yavneh, a Jewish Renewal Community, ONE Wake, and Livable Raleigh.

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.

***

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. 

**

 

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.” 

***

 

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.

 

 

 

Taxpayer Subsidies: Not Needed Then, Not Needed Now.

Taxpayer Subsidies: Not Needed Then, Not Needed Now.

Taxpayer subsidies to developers are rarely, if ever, a good idea. John Kane is asking for public money to fund his proposed “Downtown South” development. Because of my concerns, I spoke to the Raleigh City Council during the public comments period of the November 4th evening meeting. Below are my prepared remarks (click here to hear them). The City staff had a technical problem, and the video I sent them didn’t play. Click here to watch the 2-minute video.

“Hi Mayor Baldwin and City Council members. Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you. After you came into office in 2019, you did a wonderful thing for Raleigh citizens when you expanded the opportunities to speak before this council, and we really appreciate it! You probably don’t hear that enough.

This evening I want to address the Downtown South rezoning request and tax payer subsidies. Developer John Kane has a great track record, especially his reinvention of a struggling North Hills Mall that he turned into the thriving mixed-use development it is today.

In 2007 he asked the City for tax breaks to develop land east of North Hills, claiming he could only build a strip mall without them. My friend Charles Meeker thought subsidies weren’t a good idea at the time. Kane didn’t get the subsidy and North Hills East still got built. Recently I reminded Charles of that during one of our weekly breakfasts. Here’s a video of what Mayor Meeker said back then. Please play the video…”

— Michael Lindsay, Livable Raleigh Communications Chair

Click on the image to play the 2 minute video presentation not seen at city council

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My Letter to the Mayor and City Council

 

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. 

**

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.

**

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. 

**

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.

**

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. 

**

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.