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City Council, June 18

Increased scrutiny planned for public works
Council to change law in relation to vehicle collisions
Marc Knapp

Discussion over the Spring- Fishburne Drainage project dominated the Ways and Means Committee meeting on Monday. The Committee had a number of items relating to the project on its agenda, all of which related to increased spending. As the multi million-dollar project is already estimated to be $53 million over budget, Council members were not happy. Two of the items were sent back to the Public Works Committee. But perhaps more importantly, Council agreed that the present approval process for capital projects was inadequate and the Council members needed to be more fully briefed and in a more timely manner.

The items on the agenda that provoked discussion were three amendments for fees payable to Davis and Floyd - $30,700 for construction, engineering and inspection, $348,200 for design and professional services, and $1.171million for construction engineering and inspection services caused by the need to extend the time of a contract. The last two items were those sent back to the Public Works Committee for further review.

There was plenty of criticism of the process with Council member Waring claiming that Council and the Ways and Means approved items without having a full understanding. He also questioned the role of staff in deciding on contract amendments, and details given to Council. Council member Wagner noted that members often had very little time to properly review information on some items that deserved scrutiny. Council member Shahid opined that the problem was poor communication. The Mayor noted the criticism made by Council. But he indicated that the claims of too short a time for review were not true, at least on some items. He gave dates of when information was available and when the item came up for approval by Ways and Means. There was no criticism by any Council member, only praise for Matt Fountain, the recently hired head of Stormwater Management. He has brought more clarity to the Citys programs.

We expect in the light of the meeting, the Public Works Committee will provide more detail on its decisions, and possibly in writing. There will also be better coordination between the Committee meetings, the Budget Committee and staff to allow more time for considerations.
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It seems the complaint that I and another citizen made about the mild penalty imposed on drivers involved in DUI events and who left the scene of the accident were heard. The Public Safety Committee addressed the issues in its last meeting. According to the Chairman, Council member Shahid, the miscreants escaped heavy punishment because of a legal loophole. Presently the law allows a driver to leave the scene of the accident if the collision is not with a vehicle. As the two collisions were with a tree, and a pedicab surprisingly not defined as a vehicle, the drivers were not obliged to stop. This will be changed and the ordinance strengthened. No mention by the Chair as to the weak punishment for DUI but we will wait to view the amendments being shaped which will come before Council shortly.
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It was an interesting issue. It took up some time but Council member Seekings came up with the likely and best solution. The item was a rezoning to General Business of a 1.4-acre right of way (ROW) on Summerville Avenue in the Neck area and close to the Rosemount Community. The rezoning request emanated from the City, and it made this move to protect the community and the businesses along the road. It seems that the right way or road is private property. It was commonly thought the City or County owned the road. They did not. And as the property is not zoned, the owner can construct what ever it likes.

A developer bought the property for $55,000. It plans to develop part as an addition to the parking lot that serves a building it owns. It also plans to facilitate curbside parking on the rest of the road.

There was opposition to the plan. The plans of the developer will impede the passage of large trucks that serve the warehouses and industry along the road.

Council members were groping for a solution particularly as the road probably overlays utility lines. Surely there were records of ROWs for these utilities. Then Council member Seekings adamantly declared that whatever the situation, this was a property very suitable for acquisition by eminent domain. It made sense. A decision was deferred to allow the City to obtain more information about the property and the utilities.
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Despite the considerable effort by the Mayor and staff to make a change to the allowed uses in the Light (LI) and Heavy Industrial (HI) zones, Council was not moved. There were two items before Council. The first was to remove residential, school and personal care uses from allowed uses in the Industrial zonings. Accompanying this was a list of proposed re-zonings of Industrial properties whereby a residential use may be appropriate.

There was some support to simplify the zoning and the removal of the uses. But to rezone properties without the approval of owners was not right and opened up the City to litigation, some said. But staff noted that existing property owners still retained the right to develop their properties under the uses that presently exist in the ordinance. Council member Waring opposed the change because he thought that the removal of residential from allowed uses would restrain the development of affordable housing. Under the LI zoning, 19 dwelling units could be constructed per acre, and under HI, 24 units per acre.

Perhaps for a variety of reasons, Council unanimously rejected the proposed changes. The Mayor was not happy.

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