At the center of the District B City Council race is the question of how, or how fast, the city should continue to grow.
Political newcomer David Cox is running against incumbent John Odom to represent District B, which includes northeast Raleigh.
Cox wants to be a voice for residents, he said. He is open to continued growth, though his activism as a resident has often made him appear to be wary of development.
Incumbent Odom is more open to development, and said he wants to continue developing to match residents' wants and needs.
The conflict in District B is echoed across the city.
Downtown Raleigh has to determine whether quieting nightlife is the only way to protect downtown residents. Southeast and East Raleigh are grappling with protecting low-income residents as downtown creeps outward.
Over the last year and a half, Cox has emerged as a citywide leader for neighborhood protection, fighting to keep large commercial development away from residential areas.
He began in his North Raleigh neighborhood when developer Morgan Property Group wanted to build a Publix grocery store at the intersection of Dunn and Falls of Neuse roads.
It became one of the city's most contentious rezoning cases in recent years. Neighbors and developer worked for months to try to create a compromise but couldn’t amend the project to please both sides.
The company withdrew the rezoning request in May and council unanimously voted the request down.
Since then, Cox has visited with communities across the city to teach them more about planning documents and what it means for neighborhoods. It showed him why he needed to run for City Council, he said.
There is a major disconnect between Raleigh’s Comprehensive Plan and the Unified Development Ordinance, Cox said.
The Comprehensive Plan lays out a vision for how the city will grow and the UDO contains all the rules that are meant to help implement the Comprehensive Plan.
“We have a very good Comprehensive Plan,” Cox said. “The UDO has some gaps that don’t implement what’s in the Comprehensive Plan.”
He’s also concerned about the city’s willingness to put large developments near neighborhoods that are meant to be quiet.
“A lot of people like living in those areas,” Cox said. “They need to be protected.”
Differing on development
Cox solidified his role as a neighborhood leader by staying in touch with city staff and leaders and reading through the UDO and Comprehensive Plan on his own time.
There is no doubt that Cox is a strong candidate, said Odom, who is running for his ninth term.
“I'm definitely running a race,” he said.
But Cox’s goals and dogged tenacity worries Odom.
As a resident, Cox often undermined staff by suggesting their interpretation of key documents were wrong, Odom said.
Cox often visited City Council meetings to air his concerns and regularly questioned staff outside of meetings, according to emails between Cox and the city's administrative and planning staff.
In addition to that, Odom is concerned that Cox could be powerful enough to single-handedly change the city.
“I’m worried David Cox would stop the growth of Raleigh,” Odom said.
But Cox said he doesn’t plan to stop anything.
“Developers won’t be able to build everything they want, everywhere they want,” he said. “If that’s considered roadblock (to Raleigh’s growth), then I plead guilty.
Cox said Odom has been a dependable vote for developers on the City Council throughout his nine terms.
Odom, who served five consecutive terms on City Council starting in 1993 before taking a brief hiatus and returning to Council in 2009, said he’s personally supported developments that he voted against at the request of residents.
One such development was a proposed Sheetz at the intersection of Buffalo and New Hope Roads in 2013. He was open to a gas station, but hundreds of residents opposed the idea.
He recently supported a plan for place a Walmart at the same intersection, saying the company would provide jobs in an area that needs them.
Odom has navigated the process of approving major developments across the city for years. He recalls that the development of Triangle Town Center was as controversial as the Publix rezoning.
Development will come, Odom said, and he intends to welcome it whenever possible. He has few objections to the location of projects, so long as the residents have had a chance to work with developers, he said.
Born: Dec. 13, 1946, Bennettsville, S.C.
Occupation: Small business owner
Political Experience: Raleigh City Council, 1993-2003 and 2009-present.
Education: Attended Oak Ridge Military College and Richmond Technical Community College.
Born: Warren, Penn.
Occupation: Computer scientist
Political experience: President of the North Raleigh Coalition of Homeowners Association.
Education: Bachelor’s in biochemistry; master’s in computer science from Pennsylvania State University; Ph.D. in computer science.