Moving Forward for Citizen Empowerment


Full house in support of Citizen Advisory Councils at the June 6th City Council meeting.


It was wonderful to see so many thoughtful and dedicated folks attend last night's City Council meeting to talk about citizen engagement and the Citizen Advisory Councils. We are at an exciting crossroads for Raleigh with the opportunity to build inclusive and effective two-way communication between the City and our communities. Let's do it right by utilizing all our citizens' talents and creating the best possible empowerment tools for Raleigh. Below is how I propose laying a solid foundation for that process:


Citywide Process for Improved Citizen Engagement and Empowerment

1. Statement of Purpose

For more than forty years, the Citizens Advisory Councils (CACs) have been Raleigh’s most important forum for citizens to participate directly in community affairs. City Council values the service that CACs provide to our community and wants to improve their effectiveness, with additional resources to increase citizen participation in all areas, including rezonings.

CAC improvements will be coordinated with a citywide facilitated process to improve citizen engagement and empowerment. That process is outlined below. 

2. Request For Qualifications (RFQ) Process

a. Engage RFQ facilitators who are highly qualified in the focus areas listed below to design one or more meetings to outline the principles, scope, schedule and deliverables of an RFQ for the Full Process described below. They would guide all aspects and design of meeting structure and agenda in order to promote trust in the process.

b. Develop a detailed consultant RFQ incorporating RFQ facilitator input and other stakeholder input in one or more public meetings. 

3. Full Consultant Process

Council will hire the highest quality consultant team, with nationally recognized skills in these focus areas: citizen engagement and empowerment, conflict resolution, social equity and parliamentary procedures. The consultant will undertake an authentic citywide citizen participation effort over the next 2+ years, incorporating the best local and national models, to develop citywide policies, structures and processes in these focus areas.  

Consideration of an advisory board or committee will occur after the Consultant’s citywide input and analysis task is completed. CAC improvements will enhance their effectiveness, with additional resources to increase citizen participation in all areas, including rezonings and be coordinated with a citywide facilitated process to improve citizen engagement and empowerment.

Listening to Citizen Voices




Thanks to the N&O for taking on the difficult task of finding common ground in today’s polarized debates. (May 16, N&O forum will focus on talking across the political divide’) While Raleigh has been the calm eye at the center of most political storms, the city experienced a bruising debate in 2007 over the lack of citizen involvement in park planning. The city listened and hired nationally-recognized experts in citizen engagement from NC State to train staff and redesign park planning to improve citizen involvement. Today, the Raleigh Parks Department is the model for engaging our citizens.

Council is now working to improve citizen engagement citywide. As before, there are strong opinions about the best way to proceed.  Fortunately, our success with parks offers a reliable path for reaching across the polarized divide. Let’s hire experts of the caliber that guided the Parks Department transformation, to step back, listen to citizen voices and focus on our shared values.  Let’s build trust in a new citywide vision that improves engagement and empowerment, incorporates the best new methods plus the time-tested ones, and gives voice to many new participants as well as those who have been our most engaged.

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.


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.

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 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.

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.

Planning for Creative Spaces

Russ and Mike Cindric of the Boylan Heights Maker Community

If you haven’t been there, check out the ‘Makers’ Community’ of artisan studios next to Boylan Heights.  This thriving community has long been one of Raleigh’s gems, and a great contributor to our city’s distinctive character.  Many of their wonderful creations can be seen annually at the Boylan Heights ArtWalk. Mark your calendar, this year’s event is on December 6. 

Protecting the uniqueness of neighborhoods keeps Raleigh’s creativity flourishing. We need to ensure that UDO remapping also protects this healthy mix of artist workspaces and historic homes. That’s why I’ve asked planning staff to meet with the Boylan Heights Makers’ Community and residents to find solutions to zoning change concerns.

Working together we can create quality growth while protecting neighborhoods.

Growing a GREAT city.

We must make sure we are promoting high quality growth that also protects neighborhoods. Those two goals are not mutually exclusive. In fact, accomplishing both goals is the difference between growing a big city and growing a GREAT city.

ABC 11 Story: Raleigh City Leaders Reconsidering Rezoning Proposal


UDO Rule Changes to Protect Neighborhoods

-UPHA_Brooks_Streetscape.jpgThere is a lot of interest in the new Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), and the changes it will bring to Raleigh. Citizens and citizen groups have flooded council with concerns about the effects to their neighborhoods and the city as a whole. I would welcome the opportunity to speak with you about some important issues the UDO remapping raises.

As an urban design consultant and an architect specializing in historic preservation, I've had a special interest, expertise and involvement over the past several years in the development of the UDO. The new UDO zoning rules are a vast improvement over the old zoning code toward implementing Raleigh's adopted 2030 vision of growth that is more compact and walkable, with vertically mixed uses and more car-free mobility options.  But that overarching drive to urbanize, redevelop and intensify has led to UDO rules that promote redevelopment in areas where there is no community consensus for redevelopment.

I have expressed these concerns in Council meetings and staff meetings, and I've made 23 presentations over the past 12 months to citizen groups across the city.  My message has been this: while the UDO is intended to implement Raleigh's Comprehensive Plan goals in a balanced way, the draft UDO rules tend to emphasize redevelopment goals at the expense of neighborhood preservation goals in a few significant ways.  

Here is a short list of UDO rule changes and remapping changes that are needed to protect the healthy variety and older grain of neighborhood edges including Oakwood south of Edenton.  Both of these UDO changes would reinstate protections that exist today in Raleigh's existing zoning rules, but that have been eliminated in the UDO.

1. Do not remap new UDO zoning districts onto existing neighborhood edge fabric that impose more intense uses, such as alcohol-serving establishments.  These changes will drive out low-density residential uses and promote more intense redevelopment.

Instead, create an updated version of the mixed-use buffer district in the existing code - one that protects the current healthy variety and older grain of the neighborhood edges. Develop a zoning district that is limited to low-impact, neighborhood-supportive office, retail and residential uses and apply it at neighborhood edges. 

2. Do not eliminate the existing zoning code's Transitional Protective Yard buffer protections for existing low-density residential uses. Eliminating these buffers will drive out low-density residential uses and promote more intense redevelopment. 

Instead, incorporate Transitional Protective Yard buffers into the UDO's transition rules and expand those rules to protect additional low-density dwelling types, such as attached single-family dwellings and dwelling-to-commercial conversions that preserve the neighborhood character and stability.

3. Council should convene a stakeholder group to work with staff to implement the UDO refinements outlined above - before the remapping is finalized.  There is no point in rushing to adopt the new UDO remapping rules until they protect the healthy variety and older grain of our neighborhood edges.

These issues are of central importance to maintaining quality growth in Raleigh, and the current conversation is essential in helping citizens understand some of what is at stakes in the remapping process. What are your thoughts? Join the discussion!

Challenges That Need To Be Addressed Before Citywide Remapping

The mega-Remap rezoning public hearing for 34,000 non-residential parcels across the city will be held on July 7th at 7pm.  

1. FUND AFFORDABLE HOUSING - Downtown draft remap involves granting $100M+ in land value entitlements without any corresponding community benefits, including dedicated funding for affordable housing.  That must change!

2. CHOOSE A DIRECTION BEFORE TAKING STEPS - The Downtown Remap is being undertaken BEFORE the draft Downtown Vision Plan is adopted.  This is totally backward!  The downtown vision plan must be adopted before allocating land value entitlements (see #1).  Vision first, implementation actions second!

3. PROTECT HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS - The downtown Remap proposes to grant high intensity uses across older historic African-American neighborhood blocks near downtown.  If approved, bars, nightclubs, taverns and lounges could set up shop and serve alcohol until 2am without any public review or input.  This is the ultimate disrespect for these neighborhood blocks. 

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