January 4, 2021

Winston-Salem City Council Meeting Merry-Go-Round: January 4, 2021, Gunshot Detection, Belview Rec Center, Affordable Parking + Union Station!

The Winston-Salem City Council started the year off with a rather dull meeting. They met remotely, as they have done since Covid-19 emergency orders were implemented last March. The Council, led by W-S Alliance President and WSNC Mayor Allen Joines, did not allow public comments. For some months now, local activists with the Triad Abolition Project, Housing Justice Now, and Hate Out of Winston have offered a blistering critique of the Council’s priorities (funding the WSPD, not funding affordable housing, inaction in the midst of an eviction tsunami).

By consent, without any discussion, the WSNC City Council approved a new Gunshot Detection System. This new, high-tech, costly solution doesn’t address the root causes of crime. According to the WSPD, the initial system will be deployed at Piedmont Circle. In all likelihood, the WSPD’s new Gunshot Detection System will be expanded to more neighborhoods in coming years with ballooning costs-unless the City Council changes course.

 

Next, Councilmember Scippio introduced a motion to squash $1 million in additional funding to renovate and upgrade the Belview Recreation Center. The vote failed. Larson roasted James Taylor’s “troublesome” reappropriation of city funds. Moving a million dollars around from one designation to another during the middle of a budget crunch is foolish. But by a 5-3 margin, the Council approved an additional $1 mil for Taylor’s rec center.

The City Council gives Councilmembers too much latitude to do whatever they want in “their wards.” Three million dollars (the amount originally designated for Belview) should have been enough money for one recreation center. An extra $1 million could fund a badly needed community center at Southeast Plaza for Spanish speaking residents living in Winston’s Latinx triangle (Cole Road, Sprague Street, and Waughtown).

“I am also concerned about all of the maintenance that’s needed on [at] our 17 recreation centers. And we do have 79 different parks. And I would love for us to take time to evaluate this move, of using those funds in connection with all the other things that are going on and needed in Parks and Recreation…  ” -East Ward Councilmember, Annette Scippio

“We are taking money that has been allocated in the bond specifically for park acquisition and we are reallocating it to a capital improvement project. I am not sure that is exactly what the public had in mind when they allocated the funding bond. We know that land acquisition is an important part of our parks program, development program. In this particular case, we seem to be taking an extraordinary large percentage of that park acquisition fund and dedicating it specifically to one location for a capital improvement project that has already been funded at $3 million. That I find troublesome and I would like to vote against it.” -South Ward Councilmember, John Larson

After blowing the Parks and Rec budget, the City Council reduced single-family development parking requirements to one space per unit. This appears to be in step with a national movement to reduce residential development parking requirements. This amendment to the City’s UDO (Unified Development Ordinance) will reduce developer costs. But it will do little to increase Winston’s affordable housing stock. Mayor Pro Tem Adams mentioned that the city’s affordable housing deficit is estimated to be between 14,000-15,000 units. Winston doesn’t have a parking problem-it has plenty of parking. In the last 30-40 years, the City of Winston-Salem has built too many downtown parking decks and not enough affordable housing.

“So it appears to me that it really doesn’t enhance affordable housing other than the fact that it might make the apartments cheaper if the land is cheaper or the development is cheaper to develop. That’s about the limit of what we are going to see in this.” -South Ward Councilmember, John Larson

“What is different now is an evolving understanding that urban lifestyles are changing. Traditional parking ratios are outdated and too much supply can be as harmful as too little.” -Northwest Ward Councilmember Jeff MacIntosh quoting the American Planning Association

In the last meaningful measure before the Council, Councilmembers amended the City’s Union Station lease agreement with Winston-Salem State University. I’m glad WSSU is utilizing Union Station. It’s a beautiful, historic building practically on Winston-Salem State’s campus. What a shame that for decades it was allowed to be used as an auto garage. But the City hasn’t gotten much bang for the $20 million they put into Union Station. Union Station’s redevelopment has been poorly conceived and badly executed. Let’s hope that 2021 is the year Winston’s Union Station begins to realize its potential.

“It is a three-story building. When you drive by, it appears to be a one-story. That’s actually the third floor that you see, that’s street level. There is two floors below that. The bottom floor is where the City Transportation Department has relocated. The middle floor is the floor in question. The top floor is still available, and we are looking at more of a public use for it. The middle space is proposed to be rented to Winston-Salem State. I will say we have gone back-and-forth for many, many years, it seems like on what to do with this building. And what we voted for was kind of a compromise by eliminating, the original lease included a small amount of space on the third floor…”       -West Ward Councilmember, Robert Clark

The Grand Reopening Of Winston’s Union Station. September 3, 2019 

 

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