Two projects axed or paused by the Raleigh City Council this year may be resurrected after council members met with residents who say their voices weren’t heard before the council’s decisions were made.
On February 5, David Cox abruptly motioned to delay the $2 million River Bend Park project while staff looked into transferring its remaining funds to another park. Since acquiring land in Northeast Raleigh for the park in 2012, the city has spent $285,000 designing it and was preparing to solicit bids from contractors. A few weeks earlier, Stef Mendell had pushed to cancel a half-million-dollar sidewalk project along Oxford Road that also had been under development for five years, citing the complaints of a few residents.
After meeting with more residents since those votes, Cox and Mendell seem to be reversing course. Cox held a meeting with thirty River Bend community members last week, many of whom bought their homes with the expectation that the city was building a park there.
“It would have been great to have input before any decision was made,” says Charlie Farrell, who purchased a house in the neighborhood last month. “It seemed like this wasn’t something that was put on an agenda; we didn’t have an opportunity to say anything before [Cox] went to council and proposed this, so we just felt like it was certainly a surprise to us.”
After that meeting, Cox did an about-face, posting on social media: “I, frankly, screwed up this time.” When the issue comes back before the council on March 19, he’ll no longer support transferring the money.
“I normally go out and meet with people in neighborhoods and hear their concerns and take those concerns into consideration before making a proposal or a decision,” Cox says. “In the case of River Bend Park, because it was new construction—it didn’t actually exist yet—I failed to do that, and I should have.”
After the INDY wrote about Mendell’s move to kill the Oxford Road sidewalk, she met with Fallon Park residents on February 9, then posted on Facebook that she’d “like to explore what can be done to address both safety and environmental concerns.” For now, she wants to hold the money the city planned to spend on the sidewalk in reserve—rather than diverting it to another project—while city staff, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, and the Transportation Committee consider additional options. Depending on their recommendations, the city could eventually build a sidewalk along Oxford Road after all—or not.
Mendell also thinks the city should consider revisiting the sidewalk petition process in general.
For Nicole Stewart, the lone vote against canceling the sidewalk and moving the park funds, both cases “speak to how we’re engaging residents.”
“My sense is that some council members are hearing from some pretty vocal individuals and doing what they think is best for their own community, and they are acting from what they are hearing, as opposed to taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture of what’s going on,” she says. “We, as council members, need to do a better job of listening and thinking about the big picture, thinking about the future.”
Contact staff writer Leigh Tauss by email at email@example.com, by phone at 919-832-8774, or on Twitter @leightauss.