INDY Article (9/30/2015) & Comments

September 30, 2015 (INDY Week)

A Raleigh neighborhood doesn’t want the city’s street “improvements”

By Jane Porter

On Sept. 1, the Raleigh City Council voted unanimously to make street improvements to a section of Lorimer Road, a completely routine thing that usually engenders gratitude (or at least ambivalence) from affected residents. (Who doesn’t like “improvements”?) But that’s not the case here.

Some residents say the improvements, which include adding a six-foot sidewalk with curbs, gutters and drains, should only go toward the southern end of Lorimer Road, where there is more traffic. More than that, they’re unhappy with how their Council member, Kay Crowder, handled the matter.

The request for improvements was brought to Council via citizen petition. But the petitioner, Donna Burford, does not live on Lorimer Road, but rather on Fairway Ridge Drive, to which Lorimer connects. (Her sister lives on Lorimer.) Burford told Council that the street needed sidewalks to make it safer for kids. She pointed out that there’s no shoulder on the sides of the road, just ditches. And, she said, some neighbors have experienced flooding; gutters and drains can help with that.

But neighbors on the northern end of Lorimer say Burford’s petition contained inaccuracies, including a statement that residents would have to pay more in assessment fees if the improvements weren’t done right away. Several residents signed the petition without knowing that it was an official document, they contend. Some have requested that their names be removed.

Nevertheless, after a few neighborhood meetings, the petition went before Council, and Council voted to make the improvements.

The neighborhood’s 14 property owners will end up being assessed a total of $53,600 for the repairs, which works out to between $2,000 and $10,000 each, depending on lot size, for houses worth around $200,000. The city will pick up the rest of the tab, around $1.5 million.

More than the money, though, they say the improvements will encroach into their front yards, and they don’t believe the traffic on Lorimer warrants that much work. They’re also worried about the erosion of the gravel Onslow Road, and the impact to the creek that runs parallel to Onslow and intersects Lorimer.

Neighbors say they tried to bring their concerns to Crowder, but she was unresponsive. “My correspondence with [Crowder] has been respectful and has offered positive suggestions but it does not agree with what she is clearly pushing,” property owner Jane Fenn wrote on Sept. 10 in a neighborhood Facebook group. “I personally have not had any reason to think at this point that she is fulfilling her responsibility of being representative of those she represents.”

Crowder says she reached out to Fenn and is “very willing” to answer residents’ questions. “Unfortunately, we can’t make everyone happy,” Crowder says. “In governance, it’s just not possible. It is the goal of the city to move forward with what the majority of people on the street want, and that’s what we did on Lorimer.”

Homeowner Erin Salmon, who opposes the street improvements, says she and other neighbors will continue to press their case to Council.

“We were given no other options by the city, and people believed this proposal was the only way to get a sidewalk,” Salmon says. “Our neighborhood is working hard to overcome this divide and repair relations.”

Crowder is up for election Tuesday, in what is expected to be a close race with newcomer Ashton Mae Smith. It’s unlikely, however, that Lorimer Road residents’ disappointment will factor into that contest.

There simply aren’t enough of them.

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I was really looking for some considered thought from Kay Crowder about this. She responded to my email with a non-answer and lost my vote.
This is our street. We do not support the unnecessary, expensive, and invasive sidewalk plan (which also includes pipes and gutters putting all street runoff directly into Bushy Creek rather than through the permeable, vegetated side ditches already there). Although 68% of residents signed the petition, many feel they misunderstood key information, and some even feel that they were misled by the two persistent neighbors behind the effort. And the petition was submitted before it had to be. A reasonable compromise is possible.
-Steve Grothmann

—Posted by Steve Grothmann on 09/30/2015 at 9:29 AM

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Kay Crowder is very willing to answer questions? That’s news to me. It only seems be the case when she is asked questions by those in favor of the sidewalk. Though to be fair, when she was asked by a concerned citizen what to do about the increased traffic and traffic speeds that widening the road from 20 feet to 27 feet would likely lead to, she did tell residents to just park their cars in the street, so there’s that.

—Posted by DrB on 09/30/2015 at 9:47 AM

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 This is not the first time!!! From 2010 – News and Observer
Neighbors at odds over sidewalk
City approves Merwin Road plan despite opposition from residents.
BY RAY MARTIN – Staff Writer
“The City Council at its meeting last week unanimously approved installation of a sidewalk on the west side of Merwin Road, where only four of the 14 property owners who participated in the most recent public meeting want it.
After City Manager Russell Allen told the council that most residents voted to go without a sidewalk, Councilman Thomas Crowder, whose district includes the neighborhood, made a motion to approve its construction.”
There is another project in the neighborhood that will cause much controversy too! Just drive down Swift Drive and you will see Ashton smith signs on one side of the road and Crowder on the other. This is not what government should be about! City councilors should be a voice for ALL of their constituents, not just their friends and political contributors. It is time for the Ole Boys Club to move on. Vote for Ashton!

—Posted by GV on 09/30/2015 at 10:02 AM

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“…After a few neighborhood meetings, the petition went before Council….” For the record, there was only one meeting, on April 1, 2015. Yet the Petition was issued to Donna Burford on November 18, 2014. One question I have is, Why were some residents kept in the dark for so long (4 months) about a proposal that would impact all of us? One more question: Is the City of Raleigh aware of how the petition process was mismanaged in this case? And if so, is it the least bit concerned about it?
—Posted by David Simonton on 09/30/2015 at 1:10 PM

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Jane Porter-
The City Council does not even consider these petitions without the signatures by more than 50% of the affected property owners. In this case, more than 70% signed. The City Council approved it with an 8 to 0 vote and you neglected to mention either of those pertinent facts. Two of those who don’t want the improvements say many of the petitioners were duped. Instead of interviewing even a single petitioner to determine if they feel mislead or that Crowder was unresponsive, you published these unfounded accusations. And you closed the article with a plug for Smith for City Council. Are we to believe that Smith and the Indy Week are anti-sidewalk?
-Donna Burford

—Posted by DonnaB on 09/30/2015 at 7:03 PM

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Thank you Donna, I am aware that 51% is the threshold needed for the City Council to consider a citizens’ petition. I began the story by pointing out that the council voted unanimously to make the sidewalk improvements. Perhaps you would like to explain why you continued to distribute a petition to your neighbors that you knew contained factual inaccuracies and were asked to correct but apparently did not. Please do not try to confuse this issue with whether or not we support sidewalks. We enjoy walking on sidewalks and we enjoy drinking on them and last week we endorsed Kay Crowder for the District D seat over a capable challenger, Ashton Mae Smith.

—Posted by Jane Porter on 09/30/2015 at 7:24 PM

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I am completely unaware of any inaccuracies in the City of Raleigh Petition, you may need to investigate that with the City. I didn’t write the petition nor do I have the authority to revise it.

—Posted by DonnaB on 09/30/2015 at 7:53 PM

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Responding to Donna Burford (Petitioner), Perhaps what Jane Porter is refering to in her article, rather than the Petition itself, is “the letter of talking points that I drew up for all the neighbors to read” (your words), that was distributed as you solicited signatures for the Petition, that contained the following assertion: “Eventually the City of Raleigh will require [Lorimer Road] to be brought up to standard as a conforming road and the property owners will pay the increased fees of assesment at that time if it is not handled now.” As you know, that contention was discredited at the meeting on April 1 by the City officials in attendance (with Kay Crowder presiding)—and yet you and your sister continued to distribute that same misinformation to neighbors the very next day.

—Posted by David Simonton on 09/30/2015 at 9:12 PM
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Jane Porter: Check your numbers? There are 41 homes on Lorimer included in the petition. Is your 14 a typo?
Donna: 28/41 rounds to 68%.

—Posted by Steve Grothmann on 10/01/2015 at 8:04 AM

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Steve, there are 14 property owners on the northern end of Lorimer (north of Onslow Road I believe) who will be assessed a total of $53,000 for these street improvements; 41 properties on Lorimer Road total, per the petition. 9 of the 14 property owners on the northern end of Lorimer did not sign the petition. The total amount assessed on property owners on Lorimer will be more than $175,000. So it looks like the neighbors on the northern end of the street are paying for the lion’s share of the improvements. (I got these numbers from attorney Ben Kuhn’s presentation at the City Council meeting)

—Posted by Jane Porter on 10/01/2015 at 9:21 AM
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There are 14 property owners with homes on or fronting Lorimer Road whose properties are located between Onslow Road & Garland Drive. 9 of those 14 property owners did not sign the Petition—a 64% majority. A representative for our block went before the City Council seeking to have our block removed from the Petition, arguing that “majority rules” should be applied both ways: If the majority of residents* between Kalplan Drive and Onslow Road were in favor of the changes as spelled out in the Petition, and the majority of residents between Onslow and Garland were opposed, then why not stop the sidewalk at Onslow? a natural stopping point as it’s a gravel road and the location of Bushy Creek. Why wasn’t this reasonable (and equitable, and money-saving, and environmentally sound) request even discussed by the City Council? Why was this process rushed? Why the hurry to approve a $1.7 million project—for a 27′ road, with a 6′ setback and 6′ sidewalk—for a quite, little-travelled street in an old residential neighborhood?
*Now that it’s known misinformation was spread to secure a number of signatures, all of these numbers and percentages are in question.

—Posted by David Simonton on 10/01/2015 at 9:41 AM

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This is too bad, Crowder’s husband did a superlative job shepherding the calming improvements currently unfolding on Kaplan. He answered every email/call I placed with him, and soon that street will finally be livable.

—Posted by Sogno on 10/01/2015 at 1:42 PM

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@Jane Porter OK, thanks for clarifying.

—Posted by Steve Grothmann on 10/01/2015 at 8:08 PM

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 I think it’s really important to get this clear. There’s a lot of faulty logic in this story. Roughly 41 homes compose the street/neighborhood. So 68% of the neighborhood supports the proposition – that includes the northern end of the street. If you break out the northern end of the street into a smaller subset, there is a similar ratio of homeowners that did not sign the petition (from the numbers presented, you can’t say that someone that did not sign is automatically against it – just that they did not sign. But that’s a separate issue.). There are clearly neighbors that are against the project, but their tactic has been to over-state the level of “doesn’t want the city’s ‘improvements’ “. As an example, they have gotten their dissatisfaction put into IndyWeek.
Now, the title of this article is more than misleading; it is patently false to say that the neighborhood doesn’t want the “improvements”. Some do not, but clearly the petitioned numbers show the opposite for an overwhelming majority. This “article” seems much more like an opinion piece, written not from a journalist.

—Posted by CMixon on 10/07/2015 at 10:44 AM

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To provide some context and perspective, “CMixon” (comment below) is the Petitioner’s sister’s husband. The Petitioner’s sister initiated the Petition.

—Posted by David Simonton on 10/07/2015 at 6:19 PM
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UPDATE: On December 1 an unsympathetic City Council, in effect, forced its agenda on our quiet neighborhood block (from Onslow Road to Garland Drive; established in the 1950s), where 10 out of 14 property owners now stand opposed to the project. A counter-petition was therefore submitted to Council, asking that our block be removed from the original (tainted) petition. The Council members were silent in response, offering no comments.

And so, apparently, goes government…and government officials. And there, alas, goes this City of unique and diverse old neighborhoods, if what’s happened in our case serves as a precursor of what’s to come.

Brace yourselves, y’all: it looks like uniformity & conformity will be ruling the day from here on out.

(One is left to wonder: Did developers play a part in any of this? Time will tell….)

—Posted by David Simonton on 12/02/2015 at 1:11 PM
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