An Open Letter to Kay Crowder

September 1, 2016

Dear Council Member Crowder,

Today marks one year since the City Council’s decision to approve the petition for improvements along Lorimer Road in West Raleigh. As you know, that petition called for a 27’ back-to-back road, a 6’ sidewalk and a 6’ setback. You requested at that meeting that Council reduce the width of the sidewalk to 5′, which it did. The setback, however, remains at 6’.

And that’s why I’m writing today, to appeal to you to follow through on the numerous assurances property owners received: that the setback will be reduced as well. I believe this is a fair and reasonable request, given that residents here were repeatedly told that the setback width could be adjusted — told that by the petitioner, by City staff and by you.

1. On August 5, 2015, a little less than a month before the September 1 City Council meeting, Donna Burford, the petitioner, wrote to you and Nick Sadler:

“I would like it if you both could advocate for us and put a suggestion in that a narrower setback and sidewalk be used in the design of the Lorimer Street project. [This possibility] was suggested to me by Donetta and Jimmy…as a feasible alternative to the standard 6’ sidewalk and 6’ setback, because of the unique type of situation we have here…. I mentioned this alternative to the property owners and they have all agreed that this what would be less invasive and cost effective. I believe we received a 71%* approval based on this assumption…. [*the actual figure is 68.29% residents approving]

“I would appreciate if Kay would be the one to bring up the adjustment of 5’ sidewalk and 4’ or even 3’ setback to the rest of the council, being that public speaking is not my forte. Please?”

2. During a telephone conversation with resident Ryan Barnum, Donetta Powell from Public Works assured him “there [will] be three design meetings after the petition passed where we [can] negotiate down to a 25’ road with a 2’ setback and a 4’ sidewalk.”

3. And according to contemporaneous notes taken by a resident who was present at the April 1, 2015 neighborhood meeting, you told residents who were concerned about the project’s impact, “I’ll bet we can argue that down to 3’,” referring to the 6′ setback.

The petitioner reiterated her appeal to you and other Council members at that meeting one year ago: “…On behalf of the neighbors…[I want to] request the smallest footprint possible for the sidewalk, so that it has the least amount of impact for our neighbors…”  Her sister, Sharon Mixon, essentially to co-petitioner, echoed that request: “We’re here because we really want to make sure it’s not a 6’ and 6’. We’re hoping it can be the least footprint [possible].”

Bonner Gaylord asked Jimmy Upchurch at one point if, in the interest of equity, a 3½’ setback on the west side of Lorimer Road would be possible. Upchurch replied, “[The Public Works Department] would be receptive to that.”

And yet — when Mayor McFarlane asked about the 6’ setback, you said:

“I’m not certain about that. I did talk to Public Works about if it’s possible to go with a 5’ sidewalk…. I’m not certain about the setbacks.” With all due respect, wouldn’t this have been the perfect opportunity for you to “argue that down to 3’”?

Then as now, a smaller footprint on Lorimer Road is what your constituents want to see happen – those who signed the petition and those who didn’t. A 5’ sidewalk and a 3’ setback makes much more sense for this street than 5’ and 6’ does. Such a drastic change would be utterly out of character here; we’re not a new development, after all.

As for the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), Christine Darges, Manager, Development Services, explained it this way to Donetta Powell (6/7/2014):

“…This petition is like any other. It is not due to the UDO requirements…. There is no retrofit obligation or requirement for neighborhoods and streets to comply per the UDO.”

She also said, in a different context, “Basically the neighborhoods aren’t really going to change at all [because of the UDO]. We want to preserve neighborhoods.” I know that you’ve made the preservation of Raleigh’s older neighborhoods one of your signature goals, which is laudable. Fortunately, the Lorimer Road project is still in the early planning stages, so there is still time to make things right.

I hope and trust that you will do whatever you can to assure that, five years from now, Lorimer Road is not only walkable, but that it retains some of the unique character and charm that her residents now enjoy—and have, some of us, for decades—at least as much as that’s possible.

Finally, I would like to ask that at the 25% Design Meeting consideration be shown to the property owners at 1208 (Lot 20) and 1210 (Lot 19) Lorimer Road, whose houses—built in 1977 and 1952 respectively—sit unusually close to the road (see below). I ask that an even narrower sidewalk with no setback be considered in those cases, along with the narrower setback overall.

Thank you very much.

Sincerely,
David Simonton
1218 Lorimer Road [Lot 17]

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In response, on September 2 Senior Project Engineer Talal Shahbander wrote his collegues the following email:

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