Concerning the Proposed Falls Whitewater Park

Last week, the Raleigh Parks and Rec advisory board, on which I serve, heard public comments on the proposed Falls Whitewater Park. The “for” group was well organized and had a lot of info to present. The “against” group is primarily made up of folks that either live near the site of the proposed park, or are “friends of the river” and are concerned about the impact of the park.

I felt like the “against” group didn’t really have a concise list of issues about which they were troubled. By nature of being a group of concerned citizens rather than an organization (like a paddle club), they ¬†were a bit less focused in their comments. I don’t want to put words in their mouths, but I’m going to try to make that list for them and give some of my personal thoughts on each issue.

Note: I spend a lot of time outdoors with my family enjoying Raleigh’s parks and greenways and I’m looking forward to the completion of the Neuse River Greenway, but I’m not a paddler.

  • Impact on natural beauty of area
    My ¬†understanding is that the proposed updates will look pretty natural. Locally-quarried rock and river stones will be used. The park will be open dusk-to-dawn and will have no lighting. The Army Corps don’t plan to change the way they release water into the Neuse, so there won’t be higher water levels.
  • Too many people, too much noise
    I don’t really have an answer to this one. I don’t imagine that the people using the park will be more noisy than the people that currently paddle in the Falls Dam tail-race.
  • Worried about trash, littering
    My impression of paddlers is that they love their rivers. The paddling groups volunteer their time doing cleanup and restoration.
  • We should be spending the money elsewhere
    The Falls Whitewater steering group have announced that they plan to fully fund the park via grants and private contributions

My personal opinion is that we (Raleigh) should strive to offer outdoor recreation of as many types as possible. The 586-acre Forest Ridge Park that will soon be built nearby will offer ropes courses and outdoor adventure education. The under-construction Neuse River Greenway will offer walking and biking options. The nearest whitewater paddling options require a coupe hours of driving. By its nature, you can’t build a park of this kind just-anywhere. Putting a whitewater park here seems to make a lot of sense.

What are your thoughts?

Raleigh's Unified Development Ordinance

I make it a point to attend my CAC’s monthly meetings. Citizens Advisory Councils are the connecting point between Raleigh’s citizens and our local government. The meetings serve as a way for citizens to communicate with the government and as a way for the government to inform citizens. CACs are the only advisory boards to the city council that aren’t appointed. They’re completely independent, setting their own agendas and electing their own officers. A typical meeting of my CAC will involve presentations from the Raleigh Police Department on crime trends in the area, information from Parks and Recreation regarding local events and hearings concerning rezoning cases within our CAC.

At this month’s meeting, we had a change of pace. Members of the Department of City Planning organized a workshop to help us understand Raleigh’s new unified development ordinance (UDO) project. The UDO will replace the existing complicated and outdated zoning ordinances.

What is the UDO?

The basic idea of the UDO is that each parcel of land in Raleigh will have a code applied to it that will describe the type of use permitted (commercial, industrial, residential, etc.), the allowed height of buildings (in number stories) and the type of frontage the parcel will have. Frontage addresses how the building relates to the street and specifies the required distance from the street that buildings on the parcel must maintain as well as the character of the part of the building facing the street. In some cases frontage may even specify that there be a buffer of trees between the building and the street. The UDO puts a lot of emphasis on mixed-use properties.

Once the text of the UDO – the ordinance itself – is adopted, the process of translating the zoning of existing parcels into the new classification begins. This is tricky because city planners want to make sure that when they apply the new zones, they don’t conflict unnecessarily with what actually exists on the land. They also want to be careful not to ‘up-zone’ a property, which would increase the taxes paid by the land owner as well as open up the possibility of the owner using the land for undesired types of development. When there are questions about how to apply the new zone, planners often refer to the Future Land Use Map that’s part of the 2030 Comprehensive Plan. This map shows the type of use that Raleigh desires in an area in the future (for example, planning for an area to move more toward residential uses or toward commercial uses). The Comprehensive Plan is a long-term “vision” document intended to guide growth.

Rolling up our Sleeves

At our CAC meeting, we broke up into groups and tackled the translation of an area in our CAC from the old zoning rules to the UDO. Planners were available to answer our questions and give advice as we consulted the current use of the area and the future use maps to decide what UDO classifications we’d use. It wasn’t easy – we had a block of land that has a shopping center on it as well as a pocket of residential homes that have been been cut off into a “pocket” as new roads and development grew around them.

The exercise was very satisfying. We got some hands-on insight into the complicated issues that Raleigh planners face. I think it’s great that they made an effort to bring us into the process in such an interesting way.