The next City Council meeting is Monday, December 7 at 6:45pm at the new CityWorks building (in the large conference room on the first floor). You can find a copy of the agenda here.

At the beginning of the meeting, we will take care of some administrative items dealing with our meeting schedule and committee appointments for 2021. The most significant change is a shift in our regular meeting time from 6:45pm to 6:00pm (still meeting on Mondays). The thought here is that meetings that start earlier can also end earlier while still starting the meetings at a time when people can attend (or tune in) after the regular work day.

We will also be conducting a public hearing and considering an ordinance that will increase the side setbacks of new single-family homes. The current ordinance sets the minimum setback at 20% of the lot width, with a minimum space between houses of 6 feet for homes on an alley lot and 11 feet for homes on a street lot. The proposed change sets the minimum distance between houses at 10 feet (or 20% of lot width, whichever is greater) for alley lots and 12 feet (or 20% of lot width, whichever is greater) for street lots.

I think this change will do a lot to address the concerns I have heard about the compactness of newer neighborhoods. The extra space between houses should help reduce the “crowded” feeling that some of these developments have and improve the look, feel, and livability of new neighborhoods. Of course, I welcome your input, and you can feel free to let me know what you think or you can present your comments during the public hearing on Monday.

We will also be considering some changes to the McLean Development (designating an additional section as a low-impact area) and approving some changes to the trail system in the Morgan’s Branch Development.

There is also a Facade Enhancement Grant application from KBN Interiors for their new location at 331 Catawba Street. They have applied for a $2,500 grant, and you can find the details (including a rendering) here.

Also, note that we will not be having a workshop this month in order to give everyone a bit of a break before Christmas.

An update from our meeting on Monday:

We ended up just meeting with the Main Street Board. The Environmental Sustainability Board requested that we postpone our meeting with them, but we did have a very productive conversation with the Main Street Board. They gave a presentation on several of the initiatives they have been working on this year, including the Keep the Lights On campaign, the utility box wrap art, and Trains on Main.

We also talked about the Façade Enhancement Grant program (which provides grants from the City to restore/upgrade building facades in the downtown district). Council discussed the possibility of making changes to this program in the future to ensure that the criteria for the program align with downtown’s current needs. For my own part, I suggested that grant applications that seek funding for things like wall art (on the side of a building) or more permanent façade improvements (such as upfitting or repairing a brick façade) would be a better use of funds versus grants for more temporary improvements (for things like building canopies, etc.).

The dog park initiative was also a key discussion point, and we encouraged the Main Street Board to continue collaborating with the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board on that project.

We also had a good conversation around public art and a general desire to see more of it. Given the expense involved with these sorts of projects, the Main Street Board indicated that they would look into the availability of non-public funds (grants, etc.) for public art projects.

All around a good conversation. I think check-ins like this with the advisory boards are a good way to keep everyone rowing in the same direction, so I look forward to doing more of these in the future.

The next City Council workshop is Monday, 11/16 at 4pm. We will be meeting at the new CityWorks building (not TechWorks). You can find a copy of the agenda here: http://ow.ly/T2Ue30rjYa9

We will be meeting with both the Main Street Advisory Board and the Environmental Sustainabilty Board to review their work plans for the upcoming year. This will provide the full Council an opportunity to check in with these boards and ensure that we are all aligned on goals and strategies for 2021.

In other news, our police department successfully completed its CALEA certification on Friday. This makes them only one of 17 agencies in the state (among agencies with less than 74 employees) to obtain this national certification. The certification process involves a rigorous review of the police department’s policies and procedures against a set of national standards and is a demonstration of their professionalism and dedication to our community. So, this is a significant accomplishment for our police department and Chief Hawkins and his team.

An update from our meeting on Monday:

-The changes to the Land Development code promoting greater public participation in the development process were adopted. So, as new projects start to come through, you should start to see the new signs with all the information about the development (maps, contact information, website, etc.) on the project site. We also moved the neighborhood meetings to occur earlier in the development process so that feedback from the community can be incorporated into the project plans before changes become prohibitively expensive.

-We also approved the contracts for the Rocky Branch Park Trail enhancement and the Abbey Creek Greenway. We had some discussion around what the preferred route for the greenway should be – but the project team will be looking at a couple different options to see what makes the most sense, balancing considerations around cost, utility access, and proximity to the creek and other natural features.

-There was also some discussion around the Christmas Parade. At present, Belmont is the only municipality in Gaston County (outside maybe Lowell) that is proceeding with its parade this Winter. So, we had a discussion with representatives from the Montcross Chamber (which is organizing the parade on behalf of the City) to get an idea of what the parade might look like this year. They confirmed that they have had strong interest from groups looking to participate in the parade, and that they are developing plans to ensure that spectators can view the parade in a socially-distant manner. A lot of what can or cannot happen will depend on the specifics of the Governor’s latest executive order (which is due to expire next week). So, the Chamber and the City will be keeping a close eye on that and adapting appropriately.

-As a follow-up to a discussion we had at our last workshop, Council decided to accelerate the process by which we would amend the the Land Development Code to restrict the use of stand-alone apartment buildings downtown. We had initially planned on doing some public outreach on this. However, given the consistent feedback we have received on this topic since last year’s election, we were comfortable pushing forward on this change as it is very clearly something that most of our residents would like to see happen. Based on our discussion, we are looking at a late January/early February timeframe for a vote on this change.

Our next City Council meeting will be Monday at 6:45pm at TechWorks. You can find the agenda and a link to the livestream here: http://ow.ly/LtyE50C7yFL

We will be holding a public hearing on and voting on updates to the Land Development Code to reflect several of the changes that we discussed earlier in the year around public engagement with the development process. The primary changes are requiring the placement of new signs with information about the proposed development (a rendering of the sign is attached to this post) and requiring neighborhood meetings earlier in the development process and for additional development processes (including major development plans and conventional rezones).

I think these changes will do a lot to facilitate greater community involvement in the development process while also ensuring that interested residents can easily locate information about a proposed development (with much of the information provided right on the sign). I’m looking forward to discussing these further at our meeting.

We will also be considering a contract for the Rocky Branch Park Trails Enhancement project. If approved, construction would begin sometime this winter.

There will also be an update on the Abbey Creek Greenway project and, we will also be considering the approval of some surveying and hydrology studies for that project. You can see a map of the proposed alignment and some conceptual drawings (which actually look pretty cool) here: http://ow.ly/XXzI50C7zFM

Any questions? Let me know!

new rezoning sign

An update from our workshop on Monday:

We had a pretty wide-ranging conversation on several different aspects of development in Belmont. Staff started off by sharing some interesting statistics about growth in Belmont. Since 2010, our population has grown by about 20% and much of the fastest growth in Gaston County is occurring in Mount Holly, Belmont, and Cramerton (which you’ll notice are the three communities closest to Charlotte). Last year, Belmont saw about 350 new housing starts, and we are on track to meet or surpass that this year. So, we are seeing some very real growth (especially within the last two years or so).

To address this, we decided to begin making some updates to our Comprehensive Land Use Plan and our Land Development Code that will target different areas of the city to ensure that the planning for those areas is consistent with the community’s (and Council’s) vision for that area. Some of the changes we discussed involved limiting high density multi-family housing (i.e. apartment buildings) to the Wilkinson Blvd corridor and specifically keeping them out of the downtown district. We also discussed what sort of residential development we’d like to see downtown (such as second- or third-story units built on top of first-floor commercial/office space). Building height was another topic of interest, and we talked about the importance of preserving the vista of our downtown and not crowding it out with buildings that are too large.

I also suggested that we look at our planning specifically in the area where the Catawba Crossings project is being proposed. I’ve heard some concerns about what the proposed bridge would mean for that part of the peninsula. I think it makes sense for the City Council to be proactive about creating the vision for that part of the City. So, we’ll look at creating some specific planning in a Small Area Plan for that part of the city.

Given the scope of the changes we discussed, we’ll also be soliciting public input by way of a series of meet-and-greets/coffee hours in different neighborhoods throughout the City. Look for more information on these early next year. You can, of course, always feel free to reach out to me directly.

There’s a lot going on in our City, so if you have any questions, let me know in the comments below!

Our next workshop will be on Monday, October 19 at 4pm at Techworks. You can find the agenda and a link to the livestream here: http://ow.ly/QIUT50BUuyR

The focus of the workshop will be an in-depth discussion on development in Belmont (specifically around things like density, building height, and the appropriate location for multifamily development) in order to determine if we need to make any changes to the Land Development Code and/or the Comprehensive Land Use Plan. Both the Land Development Code and the Comprehensive Land Use Plan help determine what type of development occurs within the city and where it occurs, so we want to ensure that these plans and ordinances align with the Council’s current vision for the City. I think this will be a very interesting and important discussion, as whatever changes we make will have a significant impact for future development projects.

An update from our Monday meeting:

-Both the rezoning requests for the new hospital and the new recreation center were approved. In discussing the hospital, the height of the proposed building (about 100 feet) generated some discussion around where additional building height is appropriate in the city. The concerns weren’t necessarily specific to the hospital, but we did agree to take a closer look at things like this as part of a broader review of land use in the city (more on that below).

-We also finalized the Tree Ordinance that we initially took up last month. The only substantive change was to place Residential Infill development back on the exemption list. Staff confirmed that the way our ordinances are currently structured, Infill Development can get a credit for tree save to use against their landscaping requirements, which should provide enough of an incentive for property owners to preserve existing trees where it makes sense without the City being too heavy-handed from a regulatory perspective.

-We also received an update from our new Code Enforcement officer on the various cases that she is working. Of note is the case involving the commercial building on Cason Street in North Belmont. City Council approved a demolition ordinance for that building in August, but the property owner has since filed suit against the City. So, that case is effectively on hold until the litigation is resolved.

-Council also received an update from the City Manager on a couple capital projects that have been completed. These include the purchase of a new city bus, the Art Wrap project on the utility boxes on 6th Street that the Main Street program has been coordinating, and the construction/rehab of sidewalk along South Point Road and South Main Street.

-At the end of the meeting, the Council had a discussion about our next workshop. We decided to postpone our joint meeting with the Environmental Sustainability Board in favor of having a broader, strategic discussion about land use and planning in Belmont. Given that development interest continues to be strong in the City, we thought it best to have this conversation sooner rather than later as any changes that we would need to make to our ordinances or land use plan would take time to put together. So, we’ll being tackling that at our next workshop and look to meet with the ESB at a future workshop.

The next City Council meeting will be Monday (10/5) at 6:45pm at TechWorks. You can find an agenda and a link to the livestream here: http://ow.ly/HL8r50BI2Ic

-There are two significant rezonings on the agenda. The first is for CaroMont’s new hospital in Belmont. The site of the hospital is right off I-85 at Exit 27. The project plan calls for a 54-bed hospital, medical office building, and a future parking garage. The hospital will also likely become a significant employer in the city, with the addition of up to 400 jobs on the new medical campus. You can find some renderings of the buildings, maps, and other details here: http://ow.ly/UnDR50BI3rK

-The other rezoning involves the project to build the new Recreation Center. There haven’t been any significant changes to this project in the last few weeks, but you can find the packet with building renderings, traffic and parking information, and maps here: http://ow.ly/u90P50BI3Aa

-We will also be taking a final look at (and voting on) the Tree Preservation Ordinance that we initially reviewed last month.
-The Council will also be receiving an update on various Code Enforcement issues in the city.

If you have any questions, let me know!

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.