From: David Simonton
Date: Wed, Dec 9, 2015
To: Eric Haugaard
Cc: Kay Crowder, City Council Members, Nick Sadler, DonettaPowell, Donna Burford, Currie and Sharon Mixon, Jane Porter (INDY Week), The Watchdog (N&O)
We met and chatted last week on Jane Fenn’s property here on Lorimer Road in West Raleigh.
I’ve been looking at the City of Raleigh’s website today, and see that the Lorimer Road Street Improvement Project is now in the Design Phase.
With that in mind I thought it might be helpful (since you said you’ve just recently been assigned to the project) to restate for you what residents of Lorimer Road were told by the person responsible for circulating the Petition and collecting signatures, Donna Burford, and by Donetta Powell, Assessment Specialist, Public Works, City of Raleigh, the person with the City residents were told to contact if they had any questions or concerns about the Petition, about this part of the process.
We were assured, by both the Petitioner and City Representative (via Ryan Barnum), that we would all have a say during this stage of the project.
To be clear, many residents signed the Petition based on these assertions and assurances:
-By Donna Burford:
—In an email to residents dated February 6, 2015, Donna Burford wrote, “A petition for a sidewalk on Lorimer Rd. was started. Sidewalks are now funded by the City of Raleigh. This will address safety of everyone walking on an already to narrow road and hopefully the storm water and poor state of the road itself will be addressed as well! All of the details have not been ironed out but if there is anyone that would like to help in this process please contact Donna Burford [email] or Beverly H. Thomas [email].” —By the time this email was written, the Petition, which included the precise details of what the project would entail, had been in the Petitioner’s hands for two-and-a-half months; it was issued on November 18, 2014.
—”The extent of what will be involved will be addressed once this petition is approved and the engineers and design teams have been hired to review the project.” —Donna Burford, in an information sheet distributed to all residents of Lorimer Road (from Kaplan Road to Garland Drive) during the petitioning process.
—”Just sign [the petition] – the proposal is just something the city puts on things – we’ll be able to talk about it and come to an agreement of how we want it to look.” —Donna Burford to resident Karen Rochford during an April 2, 2015 visit by Burford and her sister, Sharon Moll Mixon, Karen’s next-door-neighbor.
-By Donetta Powell (her statements were recounted in Facebook posts by, and a discussion I had in person with, Ryan Barnum, 1300 Lorimer Road. Barnum stands to be assessed $10,000 if this project proceeds as spelled out in the Petition, and was, understandably, very reluctant to sign; he was finally persuaded to by Ms. Powell):
“I halfheartedly signed the petition after speaking many times with Donetta, the woman in the office handling this initially. She told me that this thing is pretty much happening either way and it’s best to just sign the petition now to put it through before the rates go up and it’s even worse…. I also spoke to Donna [Burford] at length…. Everybody I spoke to about it assured me they would push for a two-foot setback with a five-foot sidewalk….” —Ryan Barnum, FB, 9/2/15
—“Donetta said there would be several meetings during the design phase that we could voice our concerns and work on something that appeases everybody.” —Ryan Barnum, FB, 9/2/15
Residents are very concerned that this project, launched as it was by a tainted petition, is proceeding regardless. And now we’re concerned that, despite numerous and repeated assurances, we may not have a say in the design after all.
In Charlotte, NC an appeal process is built into their petition policy: “The reason for an appeal is to ensure the validity of the petition.” In Raleigh there is no recourse or remedy for citizens who have been misled (or worse) during the petition process.
And in the case of many Lorimer Road residents, the City of Raleigh has failed to protect us against a blatant abuse of this powerful instrument of the City by an individual it entrusted it with, and who was ill-suited and disinclined to handle it responsibility.
Dismayingly, on October 20, 2015, at a neighborhood meeting, Representative Kay Crowder said, “Because of UDO rules, all new development or improvements will be 6-foot setbacks.”
Resident: “[But] we were told we had way more flexibility in terms of size of setbacks and sidewalks.”
Crowder: “The new UDO says no.”
Representative Crowder stated that, “3.5-foot setbacks are no longer possible.” But, surely they’re “possible.” (And keep in mind that, once widened to 27 feet, Lorimer WILL be a “conforming” road.)
On December 1, as on September 1, when residents were given the opportunity to appeal directly to Council to report these concerns and to have their grievances heard, Council Members seemed disinterested and best, and unsympathetic; on December 1 the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem spent more time talking to one another than they did listening to what a sincere and articulate resident, Erin Salmon, had to say about the flawed petition, a compromise alternative, etc.
The Lorimer Road project has been deemed controversial—there is now a City official in charge of handling all correspondence, phone calls, etc. related to the project:
“Due to this projects controversy we have been asked to refer all requests to Nick Sadler in the Council Office who has been assigned the responsibility of handling all correspondence related to the Lorimer Road street and sidewalk improvements.” —Donetta Powell, in an email to me, 11/13/15
Perhaps there is controversary for a reason, and a reason it is not going to go away. Why were citizens told things—assured of things, in fact—that weren’t true? Why the subterfuge? or any effort at all to mislead residents? And why does Council seem to be bothered more by our (well-founded) complaints than they do by the ample (and well-documented) evidence of a willful abuse of the City’s citizen-initiated petition process?
Whatever the answer is to these questions, I trust you will keep in mind as you proceed in these early stages of project design, the promise that persuaded so many residents on Lorimer Road to agree to sign the petition in the first place: a considerably smaller footprint apropos for our quiet, little-travelled street, and continuing resident-input into the design of what our distinctive and much-loved neighborhood will look like going forward.
Thank you, Eric, and good luck in your new position,
1218 Lorimer Road
Raleigh, NC 27606