Raleigh parks bond recommendations a ‘travesty’ for one part of city, says councilman

Anna Johnson
·5 min read

A list of possible projects for a Raleigh parks bond gives one part of the city “the short end of the stick,” its City Council representative said this week.

“I appreciate the work that was done by everyone, but I have to admit, this is a travesty for District B,” Council member David Cox said. “I cannot support the recommendations for District B because frankly there aren’t any recommendations for District B that meet the priorities of the community.”

The City Council is debating a parks bond for the next municipal election. It asked the Parks, Recreation and Greenway Advisory Board to recommend park expansions and improvements and reviewed those suggestions Tuesday.

The recommendations, totaling $200 million have not been finalized by the council yet. District B, the northeast portion of the city, has only one named project among two dozen named recommendations.

David Cox
David Cox

“I am really disappointed in what has come out of this process,” Cox said. “District B is a diverse district, and I think there are parts of District B that are underserved. And, if this were to go forward, it will be many years before any parts of District B are able to be served with regards to parks.”

“So I am very disappointed with what has come out of this process, and I think the residents of District B are getting the short end of the stick,” he said.

What is the District B project? The one project specifically mentioned in District B is a whitewater park at the Falls Dam on the Neuse River. Cox isn’t against it but said he is concerned it won’t be approved because of potential environmental impacts.

“I view the white water park, should approval be granted, as not only a city-wide facility but also as a regional facility,” Cox said in an email to The News & Observer Wednesday. “It should not be viewed as a District B park anymore than Dix (Park) is viewed as a District D park.”

District A, which makes up the central, northern part of the city also has one named project. Council member Patrick Buffkin, who represents the area, said this is just the “start of the process, not the end.”

“We are now shifting to a phase where the onus is on council to put together a bond package that voters will approve,” he said. “So there is still a lot of work ahead.”

What else is on the project list? Other proposed improvements include an expansion of the Biltmore Hills Tennis Facility, the second phase of construction at Chavis Memorial Park and a new trail through Barwell Road Park.

The list also includes playground improvements or park improvements for about 24 locations, but only one is in District B. A majority are in southeast and southwest Raleigh.

“I just want to thank you and the board’s work, and also to your attention of equity,” Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin told Jennifer Wagner, chair of the parks board. “We have a number of facilities and parks that have been under-invested in over the years and it is clear you looked at that.”

Has Cox expressed concerns before? Yes.

Baldwin originally pitched a bond package in late 2019, calling it a “moon shot” that would include bonds for affordable housing, Dix Park and the city’s other parks.

In February 2020 the City Council asked the parks board to develop a proposal. Buffkin, who made that motion, also included a caution.

“To protect the integrity and fairness of the process, I encourage Council members to refrain from attempting to influence the parks board or commenting on specific projects until we receive the Parks Board’s recommendations,” he said.

Cox objected to that comment and later sent the parks board a list of District B parks with partially implemented master plans, parks in need of renovation and tracts of land slated for future parks.

Baldwin asked the parks board to “disregard” the message.

“The motion approved by the Council asks that no council member attempt to influence the parks board in its deliberations and decision making,” she said in a Feb. 28, 2020, email. “In the meantime, I would ask each council member to honor the approved motion and respect the process outlined and approved by the Council.”

Cox responded saying “Once again the mayor is wrong” and the parks board should ignore her advice.

“The information being passed along was simply factual — a list of parks and their current state of development,” Cox said in a follow-up email. “She interprets this as ‘influence.’ Indeed, the influence being asserted is by the mayor by attempting to prevent this information from reaching members of the parks board. It is very disappointing to see the heavy handed approach that the Mayor has been taking this past month to exclude me from decision making and ensuring that citizens do not have a voice.”

The parks bond was eventually put on hold in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What happens next? The City Council will discuss the parks bond at its March 12-13 retreat at the Raleigh Convention Center. It will be streamed online.

Is there definitely going to be a bond? The council has to formally vote to put a referendum on the ballot, but it’s likely.

Has an amount been determined? No, and the projects have yet to be finalized.

When does that have to happen? The City Council has until May 18 to vote on a bond under the current election schedule. However, a delay in releasing U.S. Census data may push back the 2021 election, and the deadline may change.