Local politics may not always be as interesting as national politics, but the Raleigh municipal elections sure were a shake up. On October 8, citizens of the City of Raleigh voted to choose a new mayor and decide if they wanted to give each of the council members another term.
The voters decided they wanted change. Three council members won’t be returning to city hall after losing re-election to challengers: Councilman Russ Stephenson, District D Councilwoman Kay Crowder, and District E Councilwoman Stef Mendell. Mayor Nancy McFarlane and District A Councilman Dickie Thompson decided not to run for re-election, meaning that when the council is sworn in in December, there will be five new faces in city hall.
News outlets and critics consider the new council very pro-development. “Right now we are not making good use of our land, and we are running out of space. We need to prioritize more multifamily housing, That will prevent urban sprawl and actually help ‘protect neighbors’,” said City Councilman-elect Johnathan Melton in an email to The Mycenaean.
Melton’s response answers the key question that controlled this election: Can you be pro-development while protecting neighborhoods? Anyone who lives in Raleigh knows that it’s not like New York City. While Raleigh does have a bustling downtown, the city is also made up of several suburban neighborhoods. Even the Leesville area is not an urban hot-spot.
“[I was] for responsible growth that balanced the interests of developers and Raleigh residents. We all had support from some responsible members of the development community, realtors, home builders, etc. The new Council is far too dependent on big-time special interest groups, and I am very concerned for the future of our City,” said City Councilwoman Stef Mendell via email.
Mendell currently represents District E, which emcompasses most of the Leesville area. Mendell lost re-election to challenger David Knight. Mendell blames the drastic change in the council on “Trump-style politics”. “There was a concerted and coordinated campaign by pro-development special interest groups. They funneled big money to the challengers and promoted negative attack ads that spread lies and misinformation,” said Mendell.
Mendell says she’s worried for Raleigh’s infrastructure and environment. But the Mayor-elect has a strong rebuttal to her arguments.
“Creating walkable, mixed use communities on transit corridors…allowing accessory dwelling units,…and allowing townhomes in more areas of the city will not hurt neighborhoods. Instead of labels, we’re looking to work with everyone to create needed policy changes that currently impact housing affordability. Our goal is to offer more housing choices so our residents can afford to live here,” said mayor-elect Mary-Ann Baldwin in an email to the Mycenaean.
Affordable housing was the top issue on everyone’s campaign. Everyone knows that Raleigh is growing exponentially, about 3.4%t a year. You can’t go anywhere without seeing some type of development. It is predicted that by 2025, Raleigh will be the fastest growing city, and if the city council doesn’t properly prepare, it will be a disaster.
The new council has said that they will develop many forms of lower income housing such as apartments, townhouses, and secondary housing units. The council says that they will be able to build all of these while also protecting neighborhoods and tree coverings, while working with homeowners associations.
If the council needs an example of what not to do, all they need to do is look to the city of Wilmington. In 2016, Wilmington and New Hanover County found themselves in a legal battle with the neighborhood of Echo Farms. The city and county had made a deal with the neighborhood’s developer to build townhouses that would replace the 102 acre golf course. Echo Farm residents went up in arms against the deal, saying that they were not given any say. The Echo Farms residents sued, leading to a lengthy court case, ending with the city’s plan going through anyways.
If the Raleigh city council doesn’t plan and include talks with homeowners associations, they’ll end up unpopular and in conflict after conflict.
The City of Raleigh will swear in the new council and mayor in December. Residents can expect more electric scooters stationed downtown, greater Airbnb rental options, and an affordable housing bond on next year’s ballot. Whether Stef Mendell’s worries come to fruition or Mary-Ann Baldwin’s aspirations end up helping the city, Raleigh residents will have to wait and see.