UPDATE: Read Silver's entire presentation here, and Tuesday's story here.
At a Wake Commissioners committee meeting today, Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker and Planning Director Mitchell Silver argued against a county ordinance change that would allow commercial development in the Falls Lake watershed and several other county watersheds.
Meeker argued his case from a policy standpoint, while Silver said the change is inconsistent with the intent of "nonconforming" land uses and is being proposed in the wrong section of the county code. Silver listed several typical options for nonconforming uses, and redevelopment wasn't one of them. He said the move would open "Pandora's Box" to other arbitrary changes in the future. For background on the ordinance, go here.
The text change would essentially allow commercial development for parcels of land that have been "grandfathered" for such use. Those include a lumberyard and cement plant in the Falls watershed, and several bare parcels in other county watersheds. Meeker and other city officials warn the move could further pollute already impaired Falls Lake, which the city is trying to clean to avoid millions in future costs. They say the text change would undermine Raleigh's efforts to reduce urbanization in Durham
that's harmful to the water quality, and potentially obstruct cleanup
The lake is the source of water for more than 65 percent of Wake County citizens, Meeker said this morning, including all of Raleigh and several other towns. It is polluted primarily because of urbanization in Durham, Granville and Person counties.
Commissioners and county staff took issue with Meeker and Silver's arguments. Commissioner Stan Norwalk challenged Meeker's claim that the text change would send the wrong message to Durham.
"What's to prevent us from sending the message that we're actually tightening the standards?," Norwalk said. "You're worried about sending a message, but why?"
Meeker responded: "That's sending a mixed message. We want to send a clear one."
County Attorney Scott Warren said some of the issues Silver raised "will have to be sorted out." And others took issue with his interpretation of the county code.
Commissioner Paul Coble, former Raleigh mayor, blasted the city afterward for presenting their concerns at the 11th hour. And Board Chairman Tony Gurley said during the meeting that "this is stuff that should have been handled long before it reached our board. If we could get all of this rebuttal back and forth done ahead of time, I would greatly appreciate it."
Commissioner Betty Lou Ward, who chairs the committee and lives in the watershed, said it was an example of why they need a countywide planning operation.