The next City Council meeting will be on Monday at 6pm at City Works. You can find the agenda here: https://cityofbelmont.civicweb.net/Portal/MeetingInformation.aspx?Id=507

The two biggest items on the agenda are rezoning requests for Dixon Village in North Belmont and the Smith Property across from the new middle school.

The Dixon Village request is from Habitat for Humanity to build a mixed income neighborhood in North Belmont (off Lee Street). The proposal calls for 28 homes, one-third of which will be homes built through Habitat’s traditional “sweat equity” process, and the other two-thirds will be market-rate entry-level homes. The Planning Board heard this proposal at its January meeting and recommended against approval on a 5-1 vote, largely because of concerns about the density of the project (current zoning allows for 23 homes on the site by-right, versus the 28 they are looking for).

Ordinarily, I think density is one area we need to be very mindful of. However, in this case, the difference between what is allowed and what Habitat is asking for is only 5 houses – which I don’t think is likely to significantly alter the impact of this project. However, because of the density issue, the Planning Board did not have a chance to review some of the other aspects of this proposal that I think warrant a little more study (things like setbacks, the road coming into the neighborhood, etc.).

I think this is a worthy project and addresses a very real need around affordability in our community. I also believe Habitat’s use of a mixed-income approach to this project is a very good idea and could potentially serve as a model for future projects (even beyond Belmont). So, I am optimistic that we will be able to figure out a way forward.

The second rezoning proposal involves the Smith property directly across from the new middle school. This project calls for the construction of 57 townhomes and 42 single-family homes (99 units in total) while also providing for the realignment of Belwood Drive.

The realignment of Belwood Drive is very important (as DOT has made it very clear that fixing it is not a priority for them), however, I am concerned about the number of townhomes that are proposed for this project and the impact that will have on traffic in the area. At the same time, failing to realign Belwood Drive will also create traffic issues after the new school opens. And I have not completely decided which problem is worse. I think some allowance for additional units makes sense in this situation if it helps get Belwood Drive fixed. However, I am concerned that we may be going too far.

If you are interested in attending the meeting or participating in public comment, the City has some details about how that will work on their Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/cityofbelmont/posts/10158824882061648

You can also feel free to leave me a comment below!

trash truck

The City’s contract with WastePro expires at the end of this fiscal year, so one of the things we talked about at our retreat are our options for waste and recycling collection going forward. To continue receiving the services that we currently have (garbage, recycling, bulk waste, yard waste, and leaf collection), pricing for a new contract is significantly higher than what we currently pay (approx. $300k-$400k more per year than what we pay now). So, we’re looking at our options.

One of the largest cost drivers is the cost of yard waste and leaf collection. It’s also worth noting that this is also the service that tends to generate the most complaints (of leaves not being picked up, etc.). So, one of the options we are exploring is taking that service in-house, and the biggest expense involved in that is the purchase of three vacuum trucks and a claw truck for about $762k. Landfill fees would also be about $30k per year. The good news is that the trucks last anywhere from 5-7 years, and it sounds like our Public Works staff will be able to work through the logistical challenges of driving the trucks.

I think this deal makes sense, as we will likely be able to recoup the cost of the trucks in about 2.5 years and, this will also give us more control over the quality of the service provided for yard waste and leaf collection. I also suggested that we look into the feasibility of investing in some mulching equipment that we could use to grind up the yard waste we collect to either sell it back to the public or use it as part of the City’s landscaping around town. Assuming it makes financial sense to do so, I think this would be a great way to reuse waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

goal

We had a very productive retreat this past weekend, reviewing our progress over the past year and planning for the future. We covered a lot of ground, so I’ll just hit the highlights in this post. Over the next week or so, I’ll go more in-depth with individual posts on some of the bigger topics.

Successes for 2020 include:

-Progress on several long-standing capital projects, including the Rec Center, new city bus, Skateboard Park, CityWorks, Sidewalks, and a new irrigation system for the planters downtown

-Updates to the Land Development Code: increasing side setbacks, requiring apartment development by conditional rezoning only, the Tree Protection Ordinance, and enhanced community engagement (new/bigger rezoning signs, additional requirements for community meetings, etc.)

-A new website and enhanced land development project pages

-Livestreaming of council meetings and agenda packets made available to the public

-COVID Response: Small business emergency loans, Al Fresco Dining, Keep the Lights On Campaign, etc.

Looking ahead, we also talked about the new Solid Waste Services contract (which expires this year), Leaf Collection, new zoning for the Wilkinson Blvd corridor in anticipation of the light rail (as well as general growth concerns), and the budget for next year.

I will post separately on the budget, but the City is in very solid financial shape and, we appear set to have another surplus at the end of this fiscal year (assuming current trends continue). There are many municipalities around the state that are not so fortunate (and are having to figure out how to keep their lights on), and I believe the way everyone in this City pulled together this year has a lot to do with the numbers we are seeing.

I’ll post more in the coming days, but if there’s anything in particular you have a question about, feel free to leave a comment below.

it security

An update from our workshop on Tuesday:

We spent the first part of the meeting getting an update on some of the IT projects that our IT Specialist, Seth Norket, has been working on over the last 12-18 months. The highlights include replacing over 100 pieces of old and outdated equipment (which is not only inefficient but also a security risk), the installation of cloud surveillance devices around City buildings, installing fleet-tracking GPS devices on City-owned vehicles, upgrading the City phone system to provide better service to callers and greater accountability for staff, refreshing the City website (which is now faster and more secure), and implementing a modernized job-tracking system that allows for better management of man hours but also includes an online portal where residents can submit service requests (https://www.cityofbelmont.org/services). If you create an account, you can also track the status of your request, and a text-for-service system is currently in pilot.

We covered a lot of ground, so I would encourage you to watch the full presentation (http://ow.ly/h0El50De5fu), but it’s clear that we’re making a lot of progress in providing better security and better service (for both staff and residents) with our technology.

Planning staff then provided an update on various transportation projects from around the City. Many projects were pushed back as a result of NCDOT’s cash problems last year, with the result that projects like the I-85 widening and the improvements to the Wilkinson Blvd/Main Street intersection are now looking at potentially starting in 2025. On the Silver Line, a potential site at Hawley Ave and Wilkinson Blvd (in front of BB&T) is being considered for the location of Belmont’s station. And if you haven’t already, I would encourage you to complete the public survey for the Catawba Crossings project (http://ow.ly/Zq1750De5rt). Public comment for that project is open through Feb. 4.

blueprints

Next week is shaping up to be a busy week. There is a City Council Workshop on Tuesday (the 19th), a Planning Board Meeting on Thursday (the 21st), and Council’s annual retreat kicks off on Friday (the 22nd). All meetings are at CityWorks.

Agenda for Workshop
Agenda for Planning Board

At our workshop on Tuesday, we will be getting an update from the City’s IT staff about the various software and technology upgrades that have been made over the last few years. We will also be getting an overview of how the City is guarding against cybersecurity threats. It should be a very interesting presentation.

We will also be getting an update on various transportation and pedestrian improvement projects planned and/or underway in the City. Council will also be discussing a potential leasing of the old Planning Department building (which was vacated when the Planning staff moved to CityWorks).
On Thursday, the Planning Board will be hearing two development proposals. The first is a Habitat for Humanity Project in North Belmont (off Lee Road) for 28 mixed-income single-family homes. A summary of the proposal is here: Link

The second proposal is for the Smith Property located directly across from the new Belmont Middle School on South Point Road. The project calls for 43 single-family homes and 56 townhomes and provides for the realignment and reconstruction of the intersection of Belwood Drive and South Point Road. A summary of the proposal is here: Link

If you would like to comment on either of those projects, you can either comment in person at the Planning Board’s meeting or email your comments to the Planning staff before the meeting (contacts for each project are located here: https://www.cityofbelmont.org/projects/). I am also happy to pass along your comments to staff if you would like.

Council’s annual retreat will be Friday evening and Saturday morning (1/22-23). The agenda is still being finalized, but it will be open to the public. I will post more information on this as it becomes available.

If you have any questions, let me know!

apartments

An update from our meeting on Monday:

The biggest item on our agenda was the text amendment to the Land Development Code to make (effectively) all apartment/multi-family development outside the Wilkinson Blvd corridor subject to the conditional zoning process. I think we had a very robust and interesting conversation on the two different options that the Planning Board explored.

I favored the option that would have removed apartments as a building form from the ordinance, which would have effectively precluded the construction of new apartments in most of the city (except along Wilkinson Blvd). I believe that owing to the stresses that are already present on our infrastructure in much of the city, apartment development is not something that the city can effectively support without significantly compromising the quality of life of the people already living in those areas. So, for me, I believe that a clean exclusion makes more sense for where we are as a city right now. I moved to adopt that amendment over the proposal recommended by the Planning Board.

After some discussion, my motion failed by a 2-3 vote. However, we did end up adopting the original proposal (which pushes these projects through the conditional zoning process) unanimously. So, now, any new apartment development will need to come before Council before it can be approved. While this was not my preferred option, I do believe that this is an improvement over the existing process and, it does make Council accountable for these projects. So, I am glad that we were able to get that done.

We also received an update on Code Enforcement. The most significant case involves the building at 951 Cason Street. This case is in litigation and was scheduled to be heard at the end of December. However, due to Chief Justice Beasley’s 30-day hold on judicial proceedings (due to COVID), the hearing was rescheduled for the end of January. The property owner apparently continues to make repairs to the property, so it is possible that the situation may resolve itself prior to the hearing at the end of the month. So, we will see.

If you have any questions on anything, please let me know!

apartment building

The next City Council meeting will be Monday, January 4 at 6pm (note the new time) at City Works. The Watershed Review Board (comprised of the entire Council) will also be meeting prior to the regular meeting (at 5:45pm in the same room) to review a permit for Caromont’s new hospital. The agenda for the meeting is here: http://ow.ly/kFBY50CY8wL

The biggest item on the agenda is an amendment to the Land Development Code that would require all new multi-family development outside of the Wilkinson Blvd corridor to go through the conditional zoning process. Except for multi-family/apartment projects along Wilkinson Blvd and those located within one of the Institutional Campus districts (which are used for things like Belmont Abbey College, South Point High School, City Works, etc.), any new multi-family development would need to come before Council for approval.

The Land Development Code currently permits multi-family development in several situations by-right (meaning that Council has very little opportunity to influence the direction of those projects). This change effectively limits those by-right developments to Wilkinson Blvd and gives Council the ability to reject unsuitable projects in the rest of the city.

We will be holding a public hearing on this change, so you can sign up before the meeting to speak if you’d like to make comments to the full Council. You can also feel free to leave me a comment below or email me at mseelinger@cityofbelmont.org.

There will also be a public hearing on a request to subdivide a lot at 402 Ferrell Ave into three new lots to build three new homes.

We will also be getting an update on Code Enforcement activities from our Code Enforcement officer. Code Enforcement is something that I’ve been getting a lot of questions about, so during our December meeting, I asked staff to give us an update on where things stand with these cases.

If you have any questions, let me know!