Raleigh looks ahead to 2014

ccampbell@newsobserver.com, sbarr@newsobserver.comDecember 29, 2013 

As the acorn drops on City Plaza to herald the start of 2014, Wake County residents can expect the coming year to bring heated debates, new buildings and traffic jams.

Raleigh leaders enter the new year with a wish list: an agreement that secures the Dorothea Dix property as a city park, a successful solution to the Moore Square food handout controversy, and smooth runs for downtown’s big events.

They’ll be looking forward to ribbon cuttings at some of the newest additions to the downtown skyline while dodging the inevitable traffic jams caused by construction on the southern Beltline.

In Wake Forest, voters likely will head to the polls to decide whether to support a bond referendum for projects such as parks and greenways.

And Wake County schools will draft a new student assignment plan and begin implementing an $810 billion school construction plan. The county’s commissioners and the school board could clash as the commissioners seek more influence over school buildings. The commissioners will also look to hire a new county manager sometime in February or March.

A Dix park resolution?

Raleigh leaders are hoping 2014 will bring a final resolution for the Dorothea Dix property.

After Republican legislators made a push last year to revoke the city’s lease on the 325-acre property, Raleigh reached a “standstill agreement” with Gov. Pat McCrory to begin negotiating a new agreement.

The standstill agreement calls for a new agreement by this spring, with the state keeping a chunk of land for Department of Health and Human Services offices. Supporters of the “destination park” planned for the property will be keeping a close eye on how much land the city gets and how much it will pay.

For now though, Mayor Nancy McFarlane is worried the state isn’t hitting its deadlines on environmental studies and appraisals leading to a new agreement. She’s called on McCrory to get involved and speed the process.

Homeless handouts to move

Food handouts for the homeless and indigent in downtown’s Moore Square will move just a few yards from the city park starting this spring.

City workers are fixing up a warehouse building behind the former Salvation Army headquarters that faces the square. The $110,000 plan will host weekend food handouts from a variety of groups each weekend, with shelter, bathrooms and hand-washing stations available to participants.

But the solution is only temporary. City leaders plan to begin talks this year with their Wake County counterparts to find a permanent location to house the charity work as the Moore Square site gets primed for development.

The push for a new arrangement began last August when several groups said they were threatened with arrest for giving out food in Moore Square, which requires a permit.

Beltline Jam to get worse

If you’ve been stuck in traffic thanks to the recent narrowing of the Interstate 440 Beltline in Southeast Raleigh, the jam is nothing compared with what’s coming in 2014 and beyond.

The N.C. Department of Transportation is moving ahead with a three-year project to replace every crumb of failing pavement on the southern I-40/440 Beltline, from U.S. 64 in East Raleigh to U.S. 1 at the edge of Cary.

Workers will return from a holiday break to reduce eastbound I-440 to two lanes from U.S. 64 to I-40. That section will remain two lanes each way through much of this year.

Beltline Jam, as it’s become known, will get even worse later this year when the work moves to an eight-lane section of I-40 in South Raleigh. Expect the heavy traffic to spill over onto other parts of the Beltline and various parallel alternate routes.

More cranes downtown

Construction on tall buildings in downtown Raleigh will hit its busiest frenzy since the recession, with work underway on several long-delayed projects.

Two towers will begin to rise and reshape the city’s skyline: the Charter Square office building at the south end of Fayetteville Street and the Skyhouse luxury apartment building along Moore Square.

And over in the Warehouse District, construction will wrap up on the new home of technology company Citrix. The building, which has been rising from the brick shell of an old Dillon Supply building, will house hundreds of workers and is expected to invigorate one of the sleepier corners of downtown.

More events, more visitors

As the skyline grows more crowded, downtown Raleigh will play host to an ever-increasing number of festivals and events drawing thousands from across the country.

The International Bluegrass Music Association will return in September for its second year of conferences, awards and concerts in Raleigh, following a successful debut last year.

In April, Raleigh gets a new event that’s already been making waves. The Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon will take thousands of runners – serenaded by rock bands – across the city. But with the event falling on Palm Sunday, downtown churches have been worried about the effect on traffic, and local race organizers are upset that the for-profit event has received special treatment.

Depending on how the race goes, expect more debate on how Raleigh should balance street closings with the inconveniences they cause residents.

Creedmoor water debate

Creedmoor city officials have said they want to join the regional water and sewer authority as full members rather than as outside customers, and negotiations are expected to pick up again in January.

The move would bring down water costs for Creedmoor residents, but it also would be a win for Raleigh. The city doesn’t want Creedmoor to pursue alternatives to joining the authority, like building its own wastewater treatment plant, which would divert water from Falls Lake – Raleigh’s water supply.

The issue is a political hot button in southern Granville County, where two newcomers to the Creedmoor Board of Commissioners won election in part because of their pledge to make sure the water issue is addressed.

Wake Forest bond vote

Wake Forest residents are expected to head to the polls sometime in 2014 to vote on a bond referendum.

If the referendum passes, the town can issue bonds to pay for projects such as improvements to Joyner Park, roadways and greenways.

The town could afford to issue as much as $25 million in bonds, consultants said earlier this year. A tax increase may be needed to support the bond issue unless there is sufficient town revenue growth.

Wake school assignment

School administrators have begun work on a student assignment plan that would reassign thousands of students for the 2015-2016 school year and the two subsequent years.

The plan is supposed to help fill 14 new schools that will open around the county.

A draft plan is expected in the coming months with hearings and revisions to follow before a final vote later in 2014.

Matthews heads Wake commissioners

Commissioner Phil Matthews will head the Wake County Board of Commissioners in 2014.

Among the issues the board is likely to discuss: the building, maintenance and ownership of Wake schools, just as the school system begins implementation of one of its biggest construction plans ever.

The Republican-led Board of Commissioners and the Democratic-led school board have clashed over control of school facilities, with the commissioners seeking greater influence over the process.

The first order of business for the commissioners will be finding a new county manager. David Cooke retired in December, and a consulting firm will interview candidates early this month and suggest finalists. The board will interview those candidates in February and hopes to have a new manager in place by March, in time to prepare next year’s budget.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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