Russ is for...

Promoting High Quality Growth that Also Protects Neighborhoods.

Building a Solid Foundation for a Great City.

Strengthening Neighborhoods while Keeping Raleigh Competitive into the Future.

Protecting our Natural Resources while Attracting the Best Companies and Jobs.

Promoting Development that Pays Its Own Way Without Unduly Burdening Taxpayers.

Professionalism, Integrity, and Commitment to Excellence.


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    Citizen Engagement

    Yesterday, the Raleigh City Council was presented with the Citizen Engagement Task Force’s recommendations for re-shaping the process by which Raleigh handles community-city dialog. I’ve received a number of questions about my vote on the issue of creating a new Community Engagement Board (CEB), so I wanted to take a few moments to explain my rationale. The short explanation is that my vote was contingent on the assurance that Council will select CEB candidates based on a process designed by nationally recognized consultants in authentic participation and social equity. This will ensure the CEB makeup is a legitimate and equitable reflection of Raleigh's economic, social, and ethnic diversity and community values.  Here is why that is critically important: Since their creation in the early 1970’s, Citizen Advisory Councils (CACs) have been an invaluable asset for engaging citizens in neighborhood affairs and for communicating with City Council and city departments. However, due to various legacy issues, when Council created a Citizen Engagement Task Force (CETF) to recommend ways to update and improve citizen engagement, the Task Force decided it would be better to work around the CACs, rather than to renovate them. The most important Task Force recommendation is to create a new Council-appointed Citizen Engagement Board, responsible for developing a hierarchy of community engagement entities which would parallel, extend, and overlap traditional CAC functions. Unlike the autonomous CACs, the new entities would be governed by CEB rules. For CAC advocates who are concerned about reduced autonomy and more layers of bureaucracy between citizens and their elected leaders, 2007 changes in how our Parks Department engages the community offers an important case study for how best to proceed. At the time, the department suffered from a complete lack of community trust. With the help of nationally-recognized citizen engagement and conflict resolution consultants at NC State, the new director, Diane Sauer, has turned the entire culture of the Parks Department around, making it now the model for community engagement within the city. In order to build community trust, it is critical that this new CEB be a legitimate reflection of Raleigh's economic, social, and ethnic diversity and community values .   As was done in the Parks Department, to achieve this, we need to bring in the best consultants for citizen engagement and social equity - such as Mary Lou Addor and Mickey Fearn of NC State University.  My concern was that if yesterday’s vote was deadlocked, it would create a vacuum in which the five votes needed to hire these community engagement professionals would be unlikely. Before voting for the proposal yesterday, I was assured that the consultants' first and most important job will be to identify a best-practice process for selecting CEB members that are a legitimate and equitable reflection of Raleigh's economic, social, and ethnic diversity and community values. If the CEB selection process doesn't proceed this way, I doubt there will be 5 votes to appoint CEB members and the entire process will stall. Changing any organization's ingrained attitudes and processes is not easy, but the transformation of Raleigh’s Parks Department is proof that with these three elements: (1) the best professional guidance, (2) staff who are committed to citizen engagement and (3) a strong public will, it can be done.  The first step, before any other action on the CEB, must be to hire the professional consultants in citizen engagement and social equity.  
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    Ensuring Affordable Housing

    I was pleased this week to answer the questions below for Congregations for Social Justice, an advocacy and education group made up from 40 communities of faith and nonprofits throughout Raleigh. 1 - What is your vision for mixed-income neighborhoods and economic diversity across Raleigh? The strength of a community is in its diversity. In these times of increasing economic inequality it is more important than ever to foster familial bonds of everyday communication and harmony. When I visit Pullen Park I am always struck by the many generations, incomes and ethnicities. Parents bring their children to a setting of diversity and communal enjoyment. Raleigh must continue striving to build that spirit of community and harmony in every day life across the city with more mixed income neighborhoods. 2 - What plans do you have to make this happen? The first step is to increase public awareness of why diversity is so important to the success of our city.  That is why I have reached out to the Congregations for Social Justice to help lobby the City Council for a permanent Affordable Housing Advisory Board. That board can act as an independent source of advice to Council and City Staff in refining and implementing our new policy recommendations for affordable, mixed income and geographically diverse housing. 3 - What role will you play in increasing the number of affordable housing units in our city? By the City Manager’s count, Raleigh has about 14,000 affordable units, but needs 40,000 units.  The city’s current average production rate is about 137 units per year.  On the day the city’s new Affordable Housing and Location policy documents were first presented to Council, my two fundamental questions were: (1) When will we set realistic production goals to meet our growing affordable housing needs and (2) When will we establish a reliable funding source to meet our production goals? I will continue to work for the creation of a permanent Affordable Housing Advisory Board to help build support for affordable and mixed income housing production goals and reliable funding sources.
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    Discretion and the UDO

    Traffic from development impacts neighborhoods, so it is critical that Council have discretion to consider traffic on rezoning, and not leave those decisions to unaccountable bureaucrats. Raleigh's new UDO zoning rules are designed to promote infill redevelopment that maximizes street connections to the surrounding community.  While these are both good-planning principles, the UDO was designed to make those street connections mandatory, with no City Council discretion. There is another good-planning principle that I believe is more important than connectivity.  That is the recognition that every project is different, both in the impacts it generates and in the community setting into which it is placed. For that reason, I made the motion on April 7th to give Council discretion, as elected representatives of our citizens, in judging the vehicular impacts of a project, and deciding how those impacts should be borne by the surrounding community. I repeated my call for this text change as part of my formally submitted list of 11 UDO Refinements on July 27. At the August 4th meeting, one Councilor offered an amendment that would require a super-majority vote of Council to place any restrictions on rezoning street connections. That amendment was not accepted, but was sent along to the Planning Commission for review as a separate item. Both my street connection text change and the super-majority proposal are currently being reviewed by the Planning Commission.th. During this period, I worked with a land-use attorney who is a UDO expert and supports my text change effort.  Ultimately, he worked with city staff to develop the text change language that was presented to Council and approved on August 4th. This street connection text change, along with the other 10 UDO Refinements I've submitted to Council and staff represent my work over the last several years as Council's resident UDO expert.  As an architect, urban design consultant and long-time chair of Council's Comprehensive Planning Committee, I understand the importance of getting these new UDO rules right - making sure they provide a predictable and equitable development process that yields quality growth and protects the quality of life of our citizens.
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    Downtown Visioning

      With Dix Park finally secured for our city, Raleigh Union Station under construction, and a building boom underway, a long list of challenges and opportunities are ahead for Downtown Raleigh. The N&O summed it up this way: "A new, taller, more crowded, faster-moving downtown Raleigh is coming. That’s inevitable. Whether it will be a downtown people will want visit or live in, or whether it will be a congested, expensive, disjointed center they want to avoid, depends on how well the city council sees a better tomorrow today."   That was my point in May and June when I suggested to Council that with so many important decisions ahead for the future of downtown, let's make sure we have a strong guiding vision to focus our downtown efforts, especially before we take on anything as significant as downtown remapping. We don't have to look too far to see the results of actions taken without and with a vision. The first example is Capital Boulevard, where large strips of land were up-zoned several decades ago to promote economic development and capture retail tax base.  But without a clear vision of the outcome, we have discovered that bigger doesn't guarantee better. The second example is the 2003 Livable Streets initiative, which focused public and private investments on a few clear goals and a strong vision for a reconstructed Fayetteville Street.  That vision launched the revitalization of downtown Raleigh.  On any given day, Council is confronted with a complex and often conflicting mix of questions about what to do downtown to get the best results: where to encourage tall buildings, how to sell valuable city-owned land, how and where to promote more urban green space, where and how to promote more living options and fund affordable housing, how to promote a better mix of downtown retail including a grocery store, and where to focus public infrastructure investments and zoning entitlements. Fortunately, all of these issues have been debated in public over the past year and a half and are now reconciled into a coordinated draft vision to guide decision-making over the next ten years. This Downtown Plan provides a set of strategic goals and action items, and five 'catalytic project' opportunities for major public and private investments. Now that Dix Park is assured, lets add it to the downtown vision and have a public discussion about how to prioritize our efforts - as we did with Livable Streets - with a clear, bold vision for a great downtown.
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