Raleigh is ready for change.

The neighborhood-protectionist majority is gone. Stef Mendell, Kay Crowder, and Russ Stephenson were defeated last week, and Dickie Thompson had already announced his retirement; David Cox held on but has been rendered irrelevant. 

In their place is a set of fresher faces: Saige Martin, twenty-eight, and Jonathan Melton, thirty-three, the city’s first openly gay council members, as well as David Knight and Patrick Buffkin. 

They’ll join the re-elected Corey Branch and Nicole Stewart, who has spent the last two years as the previous council’s black sheep. And leading them all will be the NIMBY crowd’s worst nightmare, Mary-Ann Baldwin, who surprised most observers—herself included—by first earning the most votes last Tuesday night and then by putting enough distance between her and Charles Francis to deter a runoff. 

“What we saw was Raleigh’s voters coming out and saying, ‘We recognize the pivotal moment we’re in,’ and that they want a council and leadership who is ready to embrace our future and who is ready to plan and build a sustainable and equitable city,” Stewart says. 

Now comes the hard part: governing.

The new council is younger (its average age will drop from fifty-seven to forty-three), queerer, bolder, and, well, if not sexier, then at least more fun. (Baldwin and Martin wore matching capes—capes!—at election night events.) The newcomers want a city that’s taller, denser, and more walkable (and scooter-able). They want to tackle affordable housing and climate change head-on. 

But what will that mean? And will they be able to deliver on their big campaign promises? The next chapter of Raleigh’s history is about to be written. 

Here are five things we think are likely to happen—and one that isn’t.

ADUs by right: Since the council required homeowners to petition neighbors for permission to build accessory dwelling units, none have been built. This is unlikely to last. Baldwin wants property owners to be allowed to build ADUs by right, and the council (other than Cox) has her back. Martin calls it “low-hanging fruit” and thinks it will get done within a hundred days of the new crew being sworn in on December 2. 

Revisit Airbnb rules: The current regulations, which go into effect in January, allow residents to rent up to two rooms in their home to up to two adults; they also ban whole-house rentals entirely. Expect the council to loosen the restrictions posthaste, especially with regard to whole-house rentals.

Bring back scooters: Last week, scooters hit Raleigh’s streets for the first time since they disappeared in July. But only a few hundred did, and only from one company, Gotcha. Because the new council wants Raleigh to embrace alternative transportation, it’s a safe bet that it will relax the high fees and tight restrictions and perhaps try to get Bird and Lime back out there. 

Address affordable housing: On to more complex challenges—and none are bigger than this.  It’s what they all campaigned on, and it will be their biggest test. Getting a substantial affordable housing bond referendum on the ballot in 2020 seems like a no-brainer, but it shouldn’t happen before some meaningful plans are put in place.

Whatever money the bond generates, some of the incoming council members say, should go to land banking near transit corridors and partnering with the private sector to create incentives for affordable units and multifamily housing. To that end, the city will have to streamline the process for getting development approved. 

Former mayor Charles Meeker—whose brother Richard owns the INDY—says developers have begun turning away from Raleigh because the current council made it so difficult for projects to move forward. A new team could draw new investment.

Cutting red tape may also help smaller contractors that have seen the permitting process slow down. Reexamining zoning to allow for more diverse housing choices will also be a piece of the puzzle.

“There is no silver bullet,” Martin says. “We have unique opportunities [to] really look at some of the structural reforms that are necessary.”

Take climate change seriously: This is the crisis of our time, and while Raleigh can only put so much of a dent in a global problem, it shouldn’t pass up an opportunity to lead. 

For starters, Knight believes the city should promote rooftop and commercial-grade solar projects. 

Infrastructure will be another big player in making the city greener; that includes maintaining and upgrading water and sewer lines to prevent spills. 

Likewise, the greenway system should be upgraded and maintained. Closing a section for months is unacceptable, Knight says, as people not only use the trails for recreation but also to commute to work, and promoting alternative commuter options could make the city less car-centric. 

But don’t fear the neighborhood apocalypse: After the election, Cox bemoaned the outcome, fretting on Facebook that the new council members would unleash development on the city’s suburban areas: a Sheetz on every corner, wider roads, garish billboards flooding downtown, and citizen advisory councils stripped for parts. 

This fear is unfounded, the newcomers say. Growth and neighborhoods aren’t mutually exclusive. The city can promote density and height downtown without wreaking havoc on quieter hamlets. 

“I don’t think it’s fair to say it’s turning over the keys to the development community,” Melton says. “I think the city should have a good relationship with the development community. Who is going to build all the housing we say we need?”

Contact staff writer Leigh Tauss at ltauss@indyweek.com.

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2 replies on “Five Things to Expect From Raleigh’s New, Younger, Queerer City Council”

  1. I’m so glad I don’t own a house in Raleigh after seeing the mistaken support for these problems in waiting. Guess what, it’s fine to be against NIMBY objections when the thing isn’t going up next door to you. I get to watch a damn gas pipeline get built out my back window. I shudder to think what the (probably half-crazy) neighbor’s crazy tenant does to kill my property value. I can appreciate the housing issues that are developing, it’s why I don’t, and can’t, live in Raleigh but you are forgetting that they will just let John Kane buy the neighborhood and build a super-mega apartment monstrosity wrapped around a massive parking tower. And to think building codes will allow the whole thing to be built out of match sticks. At least in my terrible, evil traditional neighborhood, my idiot neighbor can’t burn my house down.

  2. Who recruited your 28-year-old, unaccomplished, fresh-faced boy-wonder, Saige Martin, to run. He never even voted in a city election once before runnning for council and then lied about it.

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