Growth debate highlights Raleigh mayoral race
Posted October 1, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — Raleigh's population has doubled in the last 20 years, and it's expected to double again in the next 20. Managing that growth has become a major campaign issue in the mayoral race.
Mayor Nancy McFarlane, who is seeking her third term in office, faces chiropractor Bob Weltzin in next Tuesday's election, when all seven City Council seats will also be up for grabs.
Weltzin, 46, who lost to McFarlane in 2013, says she has provided poor leadership.
"I see the current mayor providing (for) special interest groups," he said. "There are a lot of people angry and upset that aren't getting represented by this City Council or this mayor."
He cited the controversies over a curfew on sidewalk seating at downtown restaurants and bars and a proposed parking fee in city-owned garages for nights and weekends.
"We don’t need to pass new regulations that hinder businesses and discourage growth because we’re building up the downtown community, and it’s very vibrant and we want to keep it that way," he said. "What we’re doing now is driving businesses away."
McFarlane, 59, dismisses the notion that businesses are being driven out of downtown and says the City Council had to address sidewalk seating because it has become a public safety issue, with police and others unable to access some areas because of overcrowded sidewalks. Officials will talk with businesses and review the curfew in November to see if any changes are needed, she said.
"It’s great to be a growing city," she said. "It really is about, how do we plan for the growth – we know it’s coming – and accommodate it and keep the quality of life?"
McFarlane cites her experience as mayor and, before that, on City Council as being best-positioned to guide Raleigh's growth.
"I think Raleigh is at a pivotal point when we talk about the growth," she said. "It’s not just transit. It’s housing, it’s all of those things. I think the plans we make now are really going to shape what the city looks like for a great number of years to come."
Weltzin said that, if elected, he would focus on upgrading Raleigh's infrastructure.
"Every road you go down, there’s a pothole. Why? Where’s the priority in getting our roads taken care of?" he asked. "We need to be focusing on the basic infrastructure right now. I don’t see this mayor concerned about that. She’s more concerned about the Dorothea Dix property. Our city is crumbling."
McFarlane called the 306-acre Dix property, which the city bought from the state for $50 million, a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" that will generate economic development south of downtown for years to come.
She also noted that Raleigh invests heavily in its infrastructure, assessing its water and sewer pipes, taking over sidewalk maintenance from homeowners and working with the state on road repairs
"We work very hard on infrastructure," she said. "It’s a big job. It’s just that a lot of people don’t know it’s going on. They’re only aware if it breaks."