Monday, October 8, 2007

Open Letter to Raleigh City Council

Open Letter to Raleigh City Council
by Sharyn Harris

I attended the Tuesday [September 18] City Council meeting on the downzoning proposal in the Fallon Park area. I support the rezoning. I have friends and family who have lived in the Fallon Park area for 30 plus years and live in nice older homes that have very reasonable square footage. My family member lives on Medway and supports the downzoning of her property. I believe the stance the City Council takes on this issue will affect future infill throughout Raleigh.

However, my concerns are more encompassing of the teardown situation than the zoning issues. Do you know how many of the 588 teardown houses were demolished versus deconstructed? A good PDF about the benefits of deconstruction is available at the following URL: The agency that produced the publication is: PATH (A Public-Private Partnership for Advancing Housing Technology). I believe the benefits of deconstruction outweigh the fast-paced need to demolish a house. Deconstruction could be a true win-win for everyone, including builders. I hope you will consider reviewing the PATH publication. It provides a clear presentation of how deconstruction can benefit a community.

Another concern I have is about asbestos and lead paint. The News and Observer has recently published concerns about the need to protect the health of workers and nearby neighbors when demolitions take place. I am aware permits must be obtained to do demolitions, but is there any oversight of the process by city staff?

How many large trees are really being protected when rebuilding occurs? Unless the protection fences are placed far enough from the trees, death of the trees will occur within a decade of the new construction. In the publication, A North Hills Lifestyle Midtown (page 24), a local arborist affirms that this is a major concern and provides the best practices to promote the health of the trees being saved.

My last concern is for citizens with disabilities. When affordable rental properties and homes are demolished, what does that mean for the residents who have been displaced? This issue is very important to me. In the 1980s I was involved in the founding of a support group for women with disabilities. Many of the women in the group listed safe affordable rentals or homes close to public transportation as being of utmost importance. This was not a convenience issue, but one that could affect their ability to have gainful employment and live independently.

I think Tom Bland, president of Preservation Homes indicates how little concern is being focused on citizens with limited financial resources. In A North Hills Lifestyle Midtown (page 17), he stated,

“We typically buy a property that’s dilapidated and not been managed well, and we’ll work our way down a street and try to basically gentrify the neighborhood. And while the renters may not like that, I think it serves the city and everybody else involved because we’re putting something there that has a higher tax value for the city, and we’re not out building new streets or running new sewer lines or adding more people to the suburbs. We can take some pride in building a new house that maybe wasn’t the greatest place to live before that.”

I have not heard anyone say that the Fallon Park area is not a great place to live. In fact comments have been made that it is a desirable place to live. Builders are speculating on that fact because their demographics indicate it is a desirable place. The theory seems to be if they build big houses the people who “have the money to buy what they want, where they want,” will come. A quote contributed to Cindy Penny, a broker with Penny Realty Group in Midtown (page 18).

Gentrification usually occurs in areas that have crime; poverty and other urban problems. Halifax Court is the best example I can think of where gentrification has benefited people with differing social-economic means. Fallon Park has been a solid middle- to upper-class community that has in the past included affordable housing options. Gentrification for such a vibrant neighborhood is nothing more than builders speculating that their wealthier clientele—many who have no previous financial or personal investment in the community—are more worthy to live Inside-the-Beltline than those who have helped to make Raleigh the desirable place it has become.

Please enact policies in Raleigh that will be just and kind for all its citizens.

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