in Follow-Up, Politics, Raleigh

Minutes from my April 2014 city council petition for a Frank Street sidewalk

To go along with my last post on the Frank Street sidewalk, here are the official minutes from my petition to the City Council for a Frank Street sidewalk, from the Council’s session of 1 April 2014. Don’t think I ever blogged about this here, for whatever reason (oh yeah, because I had just started a new job). One councilor told me afterward it was one of the most engaging presentations he had seen at City Council.


Mark Turner was on the agenda to request that a sidewalk be installed on the south side of Frank Street between Brookside Drive and Norris Street. He read the following statement into the record:

Good evening. I’m Mark Turner and I live at 1108 Tonsler Drive in East Raleigh. Tonight I’m here to ask that Frank Street be added to the City’s list of Sidewalk Projects.

Conn Elementary School has served the surrounding neighborhoods for almost 60 years. Generations of kids have walked to and from this school and dozens still do every school day. During October’s national Walk To School Day, Conn families were featured on the school system’s website when they demonstrated how much they value walking to school.
Over the years that my own kids have attended Conn, I’ve watched families walk down Frank Street along a dirt path (seen here on the lower right). This path often becomes muddy when it rains, forcing some to walk in the road to avoid the mud. I became concerned that these families did not have a safe and convenient way to get to school, so I decided to petition the property owners to approve a sidewalk.
The proposed sidewalk would be located on the south side of Frank Street between Brookside Drive and Norris Street. Roughly half of the property is City-owned as part of Meadowbrook Open Space (or known to the kids as “The Creek”). The other half is owned by a single owner. This presents an unusual situation. One-half of the affected property is publicly-owned and one-half has a single, private owner. Because City staff does not factor any City-owned property into sidewalk petitions, this means that just one signature made the difference of whether this project would live or die.

Well, in spite of two years of petition attempts (and all of these signatures I delivered on a thank-you card to the property owner), I have twice been unsuccessful at obtaining the property owner’s permission for a sidewalk, and that’s why I’m here before you this evening. The lack of just one signature keeps dozens of kids and their parents walking in the mud … instead of walking on a sidewalk.
Now, I think this is a shame and I hope you’ll agree. Sixty years with no sidewalk is long enough. Please consider adding Frank Street to the list of Sidewalk Projects for the benefit of our community. Thank you.

City Manager Ruffin Hall said Assessment Supervisor Jimmy Upchurch was present to answer questions. The petition process is the subject, so this request could be approached through regular sidewalk funds. If Council decides on that approach, staff suggests a public hearing be held.

Assessment Supervisor Upchurch stated Mr. Turner did not indicate there is existing sidewalk on the north side of Frank Street from Brookside Drive to Wake Forest Road. He learned from his conversations with the property owner through the petition process that she is reluctant to sign a petition because her thought is the existing sidewalk is already there and pedestrians choose not to use it. There was some thought that pedestrians might use the sidewalk if the crosswalk at the intersection was on the other corner; the crosswalk to the school is on the south side of the intersection instead of the north side where the existing sidewalk is located. He thinks the school system provides a crossing guard at that intersection. Mayor McFarlane asked if the crosswalk could be moved. Assessment Supervisor Upchurch replied he had talked to City Transportation staff. They looked at the intersection and indicated it is not conducive to relocate the crosswalk due to sight reasons. There is a lot of traffic coming over hill to the signalized intersection and the crosswalk’s location on the south side of the intersection provides an additional distance barrier.

Mr. Gaylord asked if the property owner understands she would not have to pay for sidewalk installation. Assessment Supervisor Upchurch replied the first petition was submitted under the City’s prior process where there was sidewalk assessment, and he is not sure whether that affected her decision not to sign. It was clearly indicated in the second petition that there would be no cost to her. The woman’s daughter spoke to Assessment Supervisor Upchurch on her mother’s behalf. The woman who owns the property is an elderly woman and the property is rental property with a quadraplex unit on the site. The owner has several concerns/reasons for not wanting a sidewalk on the south side of Frank Street. She believes the existing sidewalk could be utilized in a better fashion, especially if the existing crosswalk could be relocated. She is not interested in signing the petition. The City’s policy has always been that the City remains neutral in a petition so it does not sway a petition one way or the other. City-owned property is not counted in the requirement for sufficiency and the City does not sign to promote or block a petition. Since there is only one property owner, her signature is needed to validate the petition.

Mr. Odom asked if this involve a full-length sidewalk or just a section. Assessment Supervisor Upchurch responded it is a section. Ms. Harris’ property and the City’s property are bounded by Norris Street, Brookside Drive, and Frank Street. Parents park on Norris Street while dropping their children off for school in the morning and when waiting for them to get out of school in the afternoon. The children coming up Norris Street have to cross Frank Street to get to the north side to walk on the sidewalk. That is why they tend to walk on the dirt path on that side. If a sidewalk was installed, there would be a safe place for children to walk on both sides of the street for that block. There has not been a petition request to install sidewalk all the way down Frank Street on the south side in that block.
Mr. Gaylord noted this is a good example of the challenge caused by the high percentage requirement of property owner signatures under the City’s current policy. This is a public right-of-way being used by the public, and this property owner gets to decide whether the City proceeds with a public amenity being used by the public in a public right-of-way. He would like an analysis of the number of projects approved under the new process v. the old process.

City Attorney Tom McCormick reminded the Council members they can authorize sidewalk installation without a petition. This is a unique situation where the Council may want to exercise that authority. Mr. Gaylord said he was going to suggest that. Ms. Baldwin stated this seems an appropriate conversation to be having because it reflects what Council spent a long time discussing this afternoon relative to school safety, sight lines, and leapfrogging other projects. She drives by this area frequently and there are a lot of issues with sight lines and safety. This falls under the bigger issue Council discussed today, i.e., school safety and how Council moves request like this forward. She thinks it should be discussed with the item that was referred to the Law and Public Safety Committee earlier today. Ms. Baldwin offered to have an off-line discussion with Mr. Turner about the discussion that took place during the Council’s afternoon session. Mr. Gaylord asked that staff come back to Council with statistics regarding the adoption rates of sidewalk projects as he mentioned earlier. Mr. Weeks said he agrees with Mr. Gaylord’s comments.
Without objection, Mayor McFarlane referred this request to the Law and Public Safety Committee.