Category Archives: Civic Duty

When Glitches Are More Than Inconvenient

Yes! Weekly is reporting on problems with a rollout of North Carolina Department of Health and Human Service's NC FAST program:

North Carolina Families Accessing Services Through Technology, which is being implemented across all 100 counties of North Carolina, is designed to integrate various social services, including food stamps, Medicaid and WorkFirst, creating a kind of "one-stop shop" for clients seeking assistance. The Forsyth County Department of Social Services calls it a "no wrong door" approach.

Beginning in early July complaints began to crop up in Forsyth County about food stamp benefits being held up for current clients applying for reactivation. A number of clients said their benefits had been delayed for months on end, and food pantries and agencies that provide free meals reported an increase in demand that was partially attributable to disruption in food stamp benefits. Those complaints were a reprise of similar concerns expressed in neighboring Guilford County where the program was piloted.

Many of us have lived through the inconvenience of a software upgrade that didn't go as smoothly as planned, or improved our lives as much as the upgrader promised, but I seriously doubt many of us have lived through such dire consequenses as the result of a systems upgrade. Combine this with the recently constrained unemployment benefits and it's apparent that we all need to be prepared to step up our game to help our local food pantries meet the spike in need in the immediate future. 

We’re Talking Downtown

Over at the NC Legal Landscapes blog attorney Tom Terrell writes about the changes proposed for High Point by consultant Andres Duany:

Duany described High Point’s furniture market as “the most complete monoculture I’ve ever seen,” adding that all it is good for is “fame and tax base.” The town is designed and constructed to support a semi-annual economic event that, in itself, causes High Point to exist on statistical ledge, waiting against an unexpected event – any event – to topple it to the canyon floor below. “If the monoculture sneezes,” Duany noted, “there is no Plan B.”

In both standing-room-only public presentations, Duany expressed amazement at the obstacle created by the “market.” “When the market is gone, the entire downtown hibernates. . . . I’ve been to many places but never to a place where all the storefronts hibernate.”

In economic terms, Duany explained that the market is a “spike,” and spikes are terrible for commerce because businesses must continually “staff up and staff down.” High Point, he marveled, has the “Everest of spikes.”

Duany’s antidote is to create a mixed use town anchored by one “hot destination” district. Since the historic downtown is unavailable for that, he recommended another area several blocks north. “All it takes is two and a half blocks to create a famous destination,” citing examples of 2-3 block famous areas all of us had heard of.

High Point also must plant trees along that stretch and engage in “road dieting,” something he described as a non-negotiable aspect of the plan. Road dieting eliminates the hostile experience of speeding traffic, creates places for parking and landscaping, and nurtures a friendly, desirable place to visit.

For those of us working on Lewisville's downtown we don't need to worry about a hibernating downtown, but we do need to worry about how a bedroom community like ours can develop a downtown that hasn't really existed before. It's amazing how similar our concerns are to High Point's, especially our desire to create an environment that "nurtures a friendly, desirable place to visit."



Who Joins Zoning Boards?

Apparently someone has studied the composition of zoning boards and has come to the conclusion that people who join them are disproportionately people who have something to gain from their service:

What kind of person would volunteer to serve on a zoning board?  It’s not exactly a lucrative position. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that a new study byJerry L. Anderson, Aaron Brees, and Emily Renninger finds that most zoning board members have something to gain from their positions.

It's shocking, SHOCKING, I tell you.  One might argue that with my job I fall into that category with my service on the Lewisville Planning Board, but I joined the Zoning Board of Adjustment and then the Planning Board before I took my current job.  In fact before I took my current job I had no experience in real estate and I had absolutely no business reason for joining the ZBOA or Planning Board.  I was, however, really interested in learning about how things worked in town and so I happily volunteered to serve.  I guess I'd add one caveat to the findings outlined above, and that is there are geeks like me out there who actually like sitting through planning sessions and find the topic interesting whether or not we benefit from the position.  Mind you there aren't many of us, but we are out there.

Want to Force Me and Kenny Beck to Shave Our Heads?

Anyone who's been watching WXII this week knows that they're making a serious push to raise food for Second Harvest so that kids won't go hungry this summer.  One of their morning show members, Kenny Beck, has been doing goofy stuff like the chicken dance in exchange for financial donations.  I asked him via Twitter what it would take to get him to shave his head and he said $1,000. When I indicated I might be serious he said he was too, and we agreed to a low setting on the clippers (not bald, but pretty short).

This dovetails nicely with the food drive that my office is doing for Second Harvest and I thought that if Mr. Beck has the guts to do it, then so should I. So here's the deal:

  • If you want to donate to Second Harvest please contact me via email at jon.lowder AT and coordinate the donation with me.  Once we amass $1,000 I'll arrange to get it to Kenny and we'll get his head shaved.
  • Once we pass the $1,000 mark for donations I'll start adding to the tally for TAA's food drive.  If you tell me you're donating in hopes of getting me to shave my head then once we reach another $1,000 I'll get my head shaved too (most likely a high and tight like the Marines). I'll post pictures on this blog, my Facebook profile, Twitter, and anywhere else. It won't be pretty, but it's for a good cause. BONUS FEATURE: The largest single donor actually gets to do the hair cutting on me (can't offer that up for Kenny).

So that's it.  If you want to see Kenny Beck and me get our heads shaved then email me at jon.lowder AT, or call me at (336) 899-0238 to arrange donations. You can also simply mail a check made out to Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina and write "Make Kenny and Jon Shave Their Heads" in the memo field and mail it to me at:

Triad Apartment Association/Attn. Jon Lowder
3407 West Wendover Ave., Suite E
Greensboro, NC 27407

Of course you can mail it directly to the Food Bank, but if you want it to be counted towards our impending baldness you need to send it to me so I can keep track of our progress.

Also, I've also set up my very first Facebook group for the cause. If you visit it you can see one of the worst pictures ever taken of me Photoshop'd to show me bald.  Like I said, it's gonna be ugly.

Census Response Rate Map – Forsyth County’s Response Better Than Guilford’s

If you're interested in how many people are actually sending in their completed 2010 Census forms there's a handy-dandy map to use right here. FYI, 16% of US citizens have sent the forms in so far, but in NC only 10% have done so.  In 2000 72% of US citizens completed the Census when all was said and done, and 66% of North Carolinians did so it looks like we're keeping to our underachieving ways.

FYI, according to the map Forsyth County's response rate is currently 15% while Guilford County's is 13%, Mecklenburg County's is 12% and Wake County's is a paltry 4%.

Transparency When No One’s Looking

Last night we had a public meeting for the Lewisville Planning Board so that we could explain the access management ordinance that we've been working on for the town the last couple of months.  One person from the public showed up and since she represents a coalition of realtors and developers she was essentially paid to be there.  Now I know this stuff can be dull as dirt, but this is where the rubber hits the road.

Let's put it this way.  If you plan on building in Lewisville in the future and you want to know where you can access a road from your property, i.e. build a driveway, and you want to know what kind of driveway you can build, how far away it has to be from your neighbors' driveways and other details then you might want to take a look at what we're doing.  Or if you want to redevelop your land, you might want to know how the new ordinance will affect you.  Whatever, this is the kind of stuff that directly affects people but even when we advertise the meetings, as we did this one, people generally don't show up in droves.

Access management is just one of the things we're working on right now.  Because our Town Council declared a six month moratorium on development until we can get some new ordinances in place we're meeting every week to work on an access management ordinance, a stormater/watershed ordinance and a multi-family housing ordinance.  All of these will affect propert owners in one way or another so I would recommend that people check in on our meetings to see what's going on. 

Now, we're by no means the final word on these ordinances.  We'll eventually send our recommendations to Town Council and they'll make the final decisions, but most citizens don't realize that by the time it gets to the Council a ton of work has already been done and they've missed some golden opportunities to influence the ordinance before it even gets to the powers that be.  Every one of our public meetings has a public comment segment and we really do welcome any feedback we can get.  In fact we've already incorporated changes to our early drafts of the ordinances thanks to the feedback we've gotten from people who attended earlier sessions.

If you're a resident of Lewisville or are a business owner in Lewisville you really should check out what we're doing so you can be part of the process.  Don't wait until everything's 99% done and you have to fight the inertia of a downhill train.  It's not too late.  We continued our deliberations until our next public meeting which is May 13 at 7:30 at the community center next door to the library.  Hopefully we'll see you there.  If you'd like to catch up on what we've been doing you can check out our minutes here.

Talking About Driveways

Last night we had a public meeting of the Lewisville Planning Board to show the public an early draft of the access management ordinance we're working on for the Lewisville business district.  In a nutshell we're trying to plan for what we think will be some pretty significant growth through the 2035-ish timeframe and trying to make sure our Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) is up to the task of managing that growth.  A big part of the future plans are to build a parallel road to Shallowford Road (the main drag through town), turn make both roads one way with two lanes, to build some connector roads between the two and to put in a couple of new traffic circles at entry points on either end of town.  That's the big picture, but as with most things in life the real work is in the details. 

Until we started this process I didn't understand the impact of driveways on traffic design.  Simply put you have to make sure that driveways, or road cuts, are spaced far enough apart and far enough from intersections so that they don't create a hazard by having people exiting and entering the roadway in close proximity to each other.  It sounds mundane, but if you've ever tried to enter a busy roadway from a parking lot that happens to be too near an intersection with cars turning into your path then you'll know why we're spending so much time on this.

As you might expect we ended up with quite a few comments from the 20+ members of the public who attended the meeting.  There was some understandable concern about the increased traffic through town, about motorists speeding even more than they do if we go to two lanes in each direction and about the impact on commercial property.  All were valid concerns and I think Marty Myers, our town planner, did a good job answering them.  Since we're only at the draft stage of the process we'll be able to incorporate any changes that might need to be made based on the feedback we get, but based on last night's meeting I think we've made some really good progress.