An update from our workshop on Monday:

-We had a very lengthy discussion about density, setbacks, and growth in general with the Planning Board and a panel of representatives from the building and real estate industries. Council ultimately directed the Planning Board to come up with an amendment to the Land Development Code that incorporates a more strategic use of setbacks to ensure that we are managing growth in a responsible and forward-thinking way. Some of the ideas that we kicked around included tying setback requirements to particular geographic areas or zoning districts versus more of the one-size-fits-all approach that we currently use. I noted that that are some areas of the city (particularly down the peninsula and South Point Road) that are already stretched very thin and that we need to be mindful of our approach to those areas so that we don’t make a difficult situation worse.

We agreed to a year-end deadline for a Council vote on the amendment that the Planning Board will work up. In the meantime, Council will take a series of tours of recently completed development projects around town (in our brand new bus!) to get some ideas about what we like and what we don’t like about some of the newer projects that have come through. This is shaping up to be a great focus for the rest of the year, and I think this will help address the concerns that I have heard from many of you.

-We also agreed to make a change to our Water and Sewer Extension Policy that will allow non-annexed properties that have an existing city water line running through the property to connect to the city water system. Sewer system connections will still require annexation, as will any development that requires any sort of infrastructure to be built (such as roads) or any development that results in 8 or more homes connecting to the water system. Non-annexed properties will continue to pay double water rates. This change should greatly simplify the policy, which has changed multiple times over the last five years.

Our next City Council workshop will be Monday, Sept. 21, at 4pm at Techworks. You can find the agenda here: http://ow.ly/lu0m50Bv5W9

-We will be taking a look at residential setbacks (which help determine the spacing between adjacent houses) with the Planning and Zoning Board to determine if we need to make any changes to the Land Development Code in this area. This will be an important conversation as whatever changes we decide to proceed with will impact the kind of development that comes into Belmont in the future.

-We will also be discussing our strategy for approaching requests for water and service for non-annexed areas outside the city limits. In general, current policy requires annexation for sewer connections, while a property may be able to connect to our water system based on its inclusion in the HB-630 area (which addressed issues surrounding Duke’s coal ash ponds) or its inclusion in a subdivision. You can find a more complete history and current status of the policy here: http://ow.ly/nXEU50Bv6Ju

If you have any questions, let me know!

An update from our City Council meetings this week:

-We spent a lot of time discussing the proposed tree ordinance at our meeting on Monday. Under the terms of the grant we’re using to update the ordinance, the State needs to review it before we adopt it. The State had not completed its review by Monday, so actual adoption of the ordinance will likely take place at our October meeting. One of the key points of discussion centered on the application of the ordinance to infill development. City staff and our consultant recommended exempting infill from most of the requirements from the ordinance, while the Planning Board recommended not exempting them. The crux of the disagreement is how to balance the rights of the individual property owner with the public interest in preserving the tree canopy. I don’t want to create an overly burdensome process for people looking to build a home on a lot that they own. At the same time, I think we need to be mindful that infill development, especially by non owner-occupant developers who will flip the newly developed lots, has the potential to degrade the quality of the tree canopy over time (which has happened in other municipalities). After chewing it over for a bit, I think the best balance would be to create some sort of incentive that encourages the preservation of larger trees while still allowing the property owner to build a house as they see fit. One of the suggestions that came out of the Planning Board was to allow infill property owners to get a “credit” for the trees that they save on the lot and use that towards the required landscaping trees that they would be required to plant post-construction (and which they would be required to plant outside of any changes made to the Tree Preservation Ordinance). I think something along those lines strikes the best balance, respecting individual property rights while also encouraging the preservation of existing trees.

-One aspect of our Tree Ordinance that I highlighted was the payment-in-lieu option that developers can use as a mitigation option for tree save. The way the ordinance currently reads, developers can pay a fee equivalent to the value of the land that would need to be set aside for tree save for up to 50% of the required tree save in the development. So, if 50 acres of tree save is required, the developer could pay a fee to the city equal to the value of 25 acres of land in the development. I said that I would prefer that we encourage actual tree save and/or tree banking instead of the payment-in-lieu. It is much easier to simply cut a check than it is to go out and plant some trees, so I was concerned that the payment-in-lieu option would come to be the default option for new development. I also don’t want the City to have to manage a large tree save fund, where we then have to figure out what to do with the payments-in-lieu. After some discussion, we decided that we would align the ordinance with the process for our Open Space payments-in-lieu, where the City Council has to accept the payment-in-lieu before the developer can use it as a mitigation option. I think this change will allow the Council to verify that the payment-in-lieu is truly being used as a last resort.

-We delayed action on the two code enforcement cases on the agenda because there were some legal concerns about proceeding on such old cases (the original hearing dates for these two cases was over 9 years ago). So, our new code enforcement officer will restart the process on these cases, and staff has assured Council that they have updated their internal processes to ensure that we are taking timely action on these cases.

-Council also decided to locate the new skateboard park at the new CityWorks/Rec Center property. The new location will be in the upper portion of the lot across from the CityWorks parking lot.

-Yesterday Council met with a development team looking at developing the old Imperial Mill site across from the Hawthorne neighborhood. They are still very early in their process and were looking to get some feedback on their project plans before they start the formal development process. The project calls for a mix of commercial use, town homes, and apartments on the site. I raised some concerns about their plans for the apartments and encouraged them to explore some commercial uses for that part of the site. We also discussed the need to ensure that whatever town homes are located across the street from Hawthorne are compatible with the existing neighborhood. The development team seemed receptive to our feedback and said that they would take it all in as they come up with a plan for that site. So, we’ll see what they come back with.

Our next City Council meeting will be Tuesday (not Monday), September 8 at 6:45pm at Techworks. You can find a copy of the agenda here: http://ow.ly/eBnW50BhFsP. Here are some of the highlights:

-We will be voting to accept a grant from Gaston County to help cover expenses the city incurred as a result of COVID-19. The funding for this comes from North Carolina’s slice of CARES Act funding that was subsequently distributed to each county by the General Assembly. The total amount of Belmont’s reimbursement is about $180k.

-We will also be holding a public hearing and voting on our updated Tree Protection Ordinance. The general intent of this ordinance is the protection and preservation of larger trees, especially in areas impacted by new development. At a very high level, it would require new development to inventory the existing trees in the development, develop a tree protection plan, and submit a planting plan to correct for any deficiencies created by the development. You can find the full text of the proposed ordinance here: http://ow.ly/RHyL50BhFIG

-We will also be holding a public hearing and voting on an update to the Land Development Code that would allow for the construction of “Accessory Dwelling Units”, which is a smaller, separate living space either attached to a “principal” dwelling unit (i.e. a house) or located on the same lot as one (similar to an in-law suite). You can find the text of that proposed ordinance here: http://ow.ly/ZZFa50BhFUT

-There are two code enforcement cases: 114 Morning Glory Ave and 325 Todd Street Ext.

-The Downtown Belmont Development Association has also proposed an advertising agreement for the red kiosks that would allow them to begin renting out ad space on those.

-We will also be discussing the location of the proposed skateboard park. Current candidates are Davis Park and two different locations at the new Rec Center.

If you have any questions, let me know!