“As with all residential street and sidewalk petitions, these are citizen initiated requests and City of Raleigh staff takes on a neutral perspective during the routing of the petition for signatures. The petitioner is provided with the petition packet and charged as the liaison with residents and City staff as they go door to door to obtain signatures in favor of the requested improvements. Staff addresses questions from residents according to City policies and does not try to persuade anyone as to whether they should sign or not sign.
“The petition for the Lorimer Road street and sidewalk improvement project was initiated by a citizen and not the City of Raleigh. After determining the petition met all requirements, City staff agreed to move forward with it. All information about the improvements was openly shared with impacted property owners. Property owners are being assessed only for the street improvements, not the sidewalk improvements. The sidewalk improvements are being funded by bonds.”
This letter was sent to The INDY by David Simonton. An edited version appeared in the Backtalk column of the print edition on XXX:
The City of Raleigh’s response to Jane Porter’s article, “Cracks in the sidewalk plan” (January 27), typifies the bald-faced misrepresentation employed throughout this petition process—by the Petitioner, Donna Buford, her sister, Sharon Mixon and a City staff member, Donetta Powell with the Public Works Department.
The City responded, “…staff takes on a neutral perspective during the routing of the petition for signatures.” While that may be true in some or even most cases, it was not true on Lorimer Road, as reported in the article. Donetta Powell played an active and vigorous role in pursuing and securing a property owner’s signature, Ryan Barnum’s; emails to Barnum from the Petitioner herself confirm this fact.
Also, “Staff addresses questions from residents according to City policies and does not try to persuade anyone as to whether they should sign or not sign.” This statement too is contradicted by the facts. Barnum, in his sworn affidavit, wrote: “I was given misinformation by Powell…. I was told…there would be three design meetings after the petition passed where we could negotiate down to a 25’ road, a 2’ setback and 4’ sidewalk; [that] at [these] meetings we could discuss putting the sidewalk on the opposite side of the road.” He singed. Now that he’s learned that little if anything Powell told him is true, however, he’d like his name removed from the Petition.
Finally, “Property owners are being assessed only for the street improvements, not the sidewalk improvements.” That’s some “only!” $5,700, $6,900, $10,600, etc. Burdensome assessments, even as six residents face no assessment whatsoever; a seventh faces a reduced assessment of $256. All seven signed the Petition—and yet their signatures counted as much as everybody else’s.
“…The petition met all requirements.” But was the process legitimate? Are the (questionable) results valid?
January 27, 2016 (INDY Week)
By Jane Porter
Ryan Barnum lives at 1300 Lorimer Road, a shady, narrow street in west Raleigh. When he bought his 1950s house last April for $284,000, he’d never heard of an in-the-works proposal to install a 6-foot sidewalk on a stretch of that street, along with curbs, gutters and storm drains.
Soon after he closed, a woman named Donna Burford contacted him. A few months earlier, Burford—who lives on an adjacent street—had started gathering signatures on a citizen petition for the street improvements, lobbying neighbors up and down Lorimer to gain the 50-percent-plus-one support the city requires to validate such petitions. Barnum says Burford pitched the sidewalk improvements as a way to fix flooding issues.
“I was very reluctant to sign the petition,” Barnum says. He had good reason: The 14 property owners on the northern side of Lorimer would be assessed a total of $53,600 for the improvements; city taxpayers and property owners on the southern end of Lorimer will pick up the remaining $1.7 million. Because Barnum has the most property fronting the street, he’ll be charged more than $10,000. Later, he says, he learned that he could have started his own citizen petition to have the city merely repave the road and install stop signs for a fraction of the cost. Continue reading
September 30, 2015 (INDY Week)
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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