Name as it appears on the ballot: Jonathan Melton
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: www.jonathanmelton.com
Occupation & employer: Family Law Attorney, Gailor Hunt Jenkins Davis Taylor & Gibbs, PLLC
Years lived in Raleigh: 15
1) Given the direction of Raleigh government, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?
I think the city is doing well, but if we want to keep moving in the right direction we need to course correct on recent regressive decisions and come from a place of “yes” when addressing new opportunities or challenges. We need to change our zoning policy, encourage and allow for more diverse housing options, and make it easier to do business with our city.
2) If you are a candidate for a district seat, please identify your priorities for your district. If you are an at-large or mayoral candidate, please identify the three most pressing issues the city faces.
Housing and transportation are two issues that demand immediate attention. Other cities have found solutions to providing accessible transportation and to incorporate affordable housing into their growth – we can do the same in Raleigh. Another issue, which should be constantly revisited, is how growth in our city affects equity. We need to ask ourselves if resources are appropriately distributed, especially where they are most needed.
3) What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective as a member of the city council and as an advocate for the issues that you believe are important?
As a community organizer and nonprofit leader, I have seen firsthand what happens when we greet all people with open arms. And as a family law attorney, I spend every day finding compromise solutions between parties who disagree with one another. On City Council, I will use those same skills to facilitate discussions between local government, new and existing businesses and ventures, and concerned citizens. As a younger candidate, I’ve also personally experienced many issues being discussed in this election, such as housing affordability.
4) Most people agree that Raleigh faces a housing affordability crisis. Do you believe the council made a wise decision not to place a bond on this year’s ballot? Why or why not?
I absolutely think that our housing affordability problem has reached the point of “crisis” and requires action. I think a well-planned bond proposal is better than one that is rushed, and I support the decision to place the bond referendum on the ballot next year. In the meantime, there is work we can be doing now to address the housing affordability crisis. We can adjust our zoning laws to make it easier to build multi family homes. We also can begin facilitating discussions between the city, county, and developers on ways to collaborate on thoughtful solutions.
5) Assuming the council places a bond referendum on the 2020 ballot, how much money do you believe the city should ask for? What do you believe it should fund? Outside of a bond, what steps should the city be taking to promote housing affordability in Raleigh?
Durham and Charlotte both successfully passed bonds ($95 million and $50 million, respectively), which makes me think that something in that range would be appropriate for Raleigh. The money needs to be directed towards building workforce and transitional housing and supporting a foreclosure assistance program. Also, one aspect of housing that drives up the cost is land; money that comes from a bond could also be contributed to a land trust. Outside of a bond, a key component of housing affordability is housing diversity. The city needs to be more flexible when it comes to zoning, allow ADUs as a matter of right, and make it easier to build multifamily housing developments.
6) Discussions surrounding housing often turn on questions of protecting neighborhoods’ characters or promoting density in the city’s core—i.e., what kinds of new housing the city should add, and where? At the crossroads of this conversation is the rapid gentrification of Southeast Raleigh. What role should the city play in ensuring that the longtime residents of those neighborhoods can continue to afford to live there?
The city should encourage duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, and other multifamily housing developments. These types of housing would be most appropriate downtown and near transit. Gentrification is a tough issue many cities are facing. Over time, it’s natural that neighborhoods will change. But the city can do a lot to make sure that change happens inclusively, and doesn’t box out existing residents. One very overlooked aspect of solving the rapid gentrification problem in Southeast Raleigh is that residents of that area need to be genuinely included in the conversation. There is great value in hearing from people actually affected, who have lived in the area for decades and see gentrification in action. Those voices are necessary when addressing ways to solve the problem. Also, one readily available solution for the city to explore is providing foreclosure assistance and tax relief.
7) The city currently has twenty neighborhood conservation overlay districts, which can restrict new development. Do you believe this tool is being used effectively? How would you change the city’s approach to NCODs, if at all?
No, I do not believe it is being used effectively. I would advocate that NCODs have time limits and be re-evaluated after a period of 5-10 years. I would also eliminate NCODs within a certain distance of high frequency transit corridors and BRT routes in order to promote density along major transit corridors.
8) If you could change anything about the city’s unified development ordinance, what would it be and why?
While the UDO made significant improvements to how Raleigh regulates land use and development compared to the old City code it replaced, it is a complex document that regulates every aspect of land use from building a storage shed behind a house to a 40-story mixed use building. Like any complex regulatory document, it needs to be viewed as a living document that needs continual refinement based on citizen and staff feedback. With regard to specific changes that I would like to consider:
1. Regulate building height by stories only and eliminate the maximum height per floor that is in the UDO presently. Virtually no other city regulates building height by both stories and feet. This will allow more creative architecture and design flexibility to meet the changing needs of businesses.
2. I would like to see duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes permitted in more Residential Zoning Districts to promote “Missing Middle” housing options.
3. I would eliminate the 5-acre minimum requirement to build senior housing and eliminate the need for special use permits for senior housing. This would promote more affordable housing options for seniors in our community.
9) Earlier this year, the council required homeowners who wish to build an accessory dwelling unit on their property to petition their neighbors through an overlay district process. So far, no neighborhoods have started the application process. Do you believe this is the right approach to ADUs, or do you believe they should be allowed by right? Please explain.
This is not the right approach to ADUs. It’s too restrictive and acts as a functional ban. They should be allowed by right. The compromise would be to allow them within certain distance of transit corridors and downtown Raleigh first, as a trial run.
10) When considering new downtown development projects—e.g., John Kane’s proposed tower on Peace Street or new developments in the Warehouse District—how much consideration do you believe the council should give to automobile traffic and parking concerns?
City council should strongly prioritize making Raleigh a less car-dependent city. By doing so, we could eliminate parking minimums. Kane’s proposed (and recently approved) Peace Street tower is a perfect opportunity to build density on a transit corridor, which, in other cities, has significantly reduced single car traffic and overall VMT.
11) Developers are eyeing at least three parcels on the outskirts of the downtown business district for twenty-plus-story buildings. Do you believe this area is an appropriate place to add height and density? What conditions should the city attach to such projects, if any?
Yes, the city should encourage these projects to incorporate bus and bike infrastructure. We can also encourage affordable units in residential projects, but we need to be careful not to hold developers hostage in order to do so. Any new projects should be based in collaboration with all stakeholders: the city, the developers, local businesses and existing nearby residents.
12) What are your thoughts on the city’s approach to alternative transportation options downtown? Is the city handling issues such as regulating e-scooter companies and building protected bike lanes the right way? Why or why not?
The city has not approached downtown alternative transportation in a progressive or thoughtful way. There is demand and need for protected bike lanes, as well as traffic calming techniques in high-traffic areas to be mindful of pedestrians and cyclists. The electric scooter situation was very poorly handled. Something new arrived in our city, and rather than learn more about it or explore a mutually beneficial relationship between the city and the companies, this city council majority essentially said “no” right away.
13) Earlier this year, the city passed an ordinance banning whole-house rentals and regulating other short-term rentals. Are you concerned about claims that this ordinance might conflict with state law? Do you believe the city’s policy is the best way to regulate Airbnb and other short-term rentals? Why or why not?
As an attorney, yes, I am concerned that this regressive ordinance will pull Raleigh into unnecessary litigation. The current city policy is not the best way to regulate Airbnb and short-term rentals. I know from speaking to many short-term rental owners that the current policy is extremely detrimental to many residents who rely on that income.
14) Do you think Raleigh’s system of Citizens Advisory Councils is the best way of fostering engagement with local government? If not, how do you believe the CAC system should be reformed?
I support Citizens Advisory Councils – some of the most civically engaged citizens participate in CACs. The city council should work to more widely promote CAC meetings and explain their purpose, and to make them more welcoming to newcomers. My concern with CACs is that they are not very equitable as they exist now. Some CACs represent a larger area of residents than others. CACs have the potential to be invaluable resources to city council but only if all voices are given equal weight, and if all citizens are given equal access to have their voices heard.
15) Four council members have called for the city to join a lawsuit over the RDU Airport Authority’s quarry lease with Wake Stone. Do you support RDU’s quarry lease? Do you believe this case is something the city should involve itself in? Why or why not?
I want RDU to have the resources it needs to be successful; that is very important to our city and this entire region – if the RDU Airport Authority Board thinks the quarry lease is necessary for the continued growth and financial well-being of the airport, I am inclined to defer to their judgment. I understand the environmental concerns given the site’s proximity to Umstead. But the mining industry is heavily regulated by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, and Wake Stone has no environmental violations in their decades-long operation of the existing quarry adjacent to the site at issue. This proposed quarry expansion was publicized years ago as part of the RDU 2040 vision plan. I would only support action on Raleigh’s part if all four owners of the land were involved. As a city council member, I would support a meeting between Raleigh, Durham, Durham County, and Wake County in an effort to form a consensus on how, if at all, to act. I think good leadership is acting in a manner that does not to inflate public fear, but works to reach consensus and builds coalitions.
16) When Mayor McFarlane announced her decision not to seek reelection, she cited increasing incivility among council members. Do you agree with her assessment? If so, what would do to lower the temperature in city government and make the council more productive?
I agree with the mayor’s assessment. I believe that I am equipped with the personal and professional skills to mediate conflicts between council members and facilitate conversation as new challenges arise and opinions differ. As a community organizer I have undertaken many projects with multiple stakeholders and moving parts. As a family law attorney I bring disagreeing parties into a discussion in search of compromise solutions, and as Raleigh grows and we are confronted with tough choices and new challenges, this skill can only help in moving our city forward.
17) Do you believe the city needs a community police oversight board? If so, what should the board look like, and what powers should it have? Do you believe the city can or should challenge the state law that blocks access to certain police personnel records?
Yes, Raleigh would benefit from a community police oversight board. The board should have representatives from many different areas, including mental health professionals, retired law enforcement, and community stakeholders, like an activist from each of the five city council districts. Also on the board should be a sitting City Council member and an appointed city government liaison. Professionals serving on the Board need to be versed on issues that arise in the city at-large. The advisory board’s function should be two-fold: (1) to examine the responsibilities of the RPD in their relationship with the community; and (2) to explore the responsibilities of citizens in their relationship with the RPD officers. The board should examine, review, and make recommendations for updates/changes to the policies and procedures of the Raleigh Police Department (RPD), specifically, the training of new recruits and the ongoing training of veteran and ranking officers. I believe the board should also have subpoena power. However, I do not believe the city should challenge the state law that blocks access to certain police personnel records.
18) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.
Raleigh is at a critical moment in our history. We are faced with a choice: we can accept the status quo, or elect new leaders who value compromise and collaboration and come from a place of “yes” when approached with new opportunities, rather than shrinking from the challenges they might present.