An update from our meeting on Monday:

The rezoning for the Smith Property was postponed to our April meeting, as the developer is still reworking their proposal.
The River West/Woodlawn Industrial Park rezoning was approved. This rezoning adds 19 acres to the original site and enlarges the total square footage of the buildings by 20,000 sft. The most significant aspect of this latest rezoning is that it provides for an 8-foot wide sidewalk along Woodlawn Street and 5-foot wide sidewalks along Acme and Cason Streets. The original rezoning approved in 2019 only provided for a 5-foot sidewalk along Woodlawn and no sidewalks along either Acme or Cason. So, this will be a significant improvement to the sidewalks in this part of town.

We also heard an update from Belmont Trolley. COVID has created some delays in their initial timeline, however design work for the barn is planned to begin over the summer. Once the design and various site surveys, etc. are finished, they are planning on having an estimate of the total cost by early Fall. They are also preparing to ramp up their (private) fundraising efforts over the next few months. Because the next 6-ish months will be very important for the viability of this project, they agreed to meet with us again this Fall once the design aspect of the project wraps up and their fundraising is fully under way. They have also invited the City to provide a staff member to sit as a member of their board to further ensure consistent communication between their board and the City.

Demolition ordinances were approved for 114 Morning Glory Ave and 325 Todd Street Ext. We already have bids in hand for the demolition work, so those structures should be coming down in the next few weeks.

Council also approved staff’s recommendation for the new solid waste services contract with Waste Pro. Waste Pro will retain trash, recycling, and bulk pickup. Yard Waste and Leaf Collection will be handled by our Public Works staff, and they are beginning the process of obtaining the necessary equipment to do that. Historically, Yard Waste and Leaf Collection have been the areas with the most complaints, so I think moving these services in-house is a great way to both save money and ensure consistent and high-quality service for our residents.

***Also tonight (at 6:30pm) is the community meeting for the proposed Del Webb Senior Community off Armstrong Ford Road. You can find more about this project as well as instructions for how to join the meeting (see the Community Meeting Notice) at this link: https://buff.ly/2P7qTFy. This project will likely be heard at the Planning Board’s March 18 meeting.

The next City Council meeting is Monday at 6pm at CityWorks. You can find a copy of the agenda and a link to the livestream here: https://buff.ly/37T6Ocr

It’s a very full agenda, but here are the highlights:

-First up is consideration of the rezoning for the Smith property that was held over from last month. The last I heard on this, the developer was requesting additional time to rework the project plan. So, it’s likely that this will get pushed to the April meeting.

-The River West Industrial Park in North Belmont is also coming back to Council to add 19 acres to their existing site plan. The new changes would add an additional 20,000 sf in building size to the existing 600,000 sf in the approved plan and make a few other smaller changes to a few of the buffers and driveway locations. In addition, one of the more positive aspects of this new plan would require 8-ft sidewalks along Woodlawn Street. When Council originally approved this rezoning in 2019, they allowed this project to cut that sidewalk width to 5 feet (as 8 feet was what was initially required in the Land Development Code). Given the amount of truck traffic that this project will attract, I think these wider sidewalks will do a lot to enhance pedestrian safety in this area. You can find full details of the project here: https://buff.ly/3aYt1I3

-We will also be receiving an update from Belmont Trolley on the status of their project. Belmont Trolley agreed to provide these updates in advance of the City releasing its promised five annual payments of $60k to support the project. This year would represent the second $60k payment.

-There are also two demolition ordinances on the agenda related to code-enforcement issues: 114 Morning Glory Ave and 325 Todd Street Ext.

-We will also be reviewing staff’s recommendation for a new five-year solid waste contract. The recommendation has Waste Pro continuing to handle trash, recycling, bulk waste, and portable restrooms as they do now. Yard waste and leaf collection would be handled internally by the City. The new cost per household per month for this new arrangement (which includes the costs associated with the City handling yard waste and leaves) would be $17.16, which is an increase from the current contract’s $13.58. Notably, the solid waste services fee (which you pay as part of your water bill) is $7 per household per month, and that is designed to cover 50% of the cost of our solid waste services (the rest is paid out of the General Fund, which is funded by property taxes). So, Council will need to make some decisions about how we want to fund the new contract as we work through the budget over the next few weeks. You can find more details about the cost, etc. here: https://buff.ly/37ShFDu

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to let me know!

An update from our workshop on Monday:

We had a very productive conversation around our traffic impact ordinance with the Planning Board, NCDOT, Kimley Horn, and Rep. John Torbett. We decided to explore some adjustments to our ordinance (specifically around in-lieu payments) in order to ensure that we are quantifying traffic mitigation needs consistently from project to project.

In situations where a developer is required (by our ordinance) to provide traffic mitigation measures but is unable to do so (most commonly because the developer doesn’t own the land where the improvements need to be made), our ordinance allows the developer to make a payment to the city in-lieu of providing the required mitigation. However, our ordinance does not currently provide very clear guidance on how that payment should be calculated. One solution we talked through was creating a formula that accounts for all the costs associated with providing the improvement – everything from land acquisition to attorney fees to a growth rate (to account for inflation). The Planning Board will be taking a deeper dive into this over the next few weeks/months.

We also discussed ongoing legal threats to the TIA process in general. In particular, there is a case in Mooresville (currently on appeal) that was decided against the town and centers around the ability to require off-site traffic mitigation. While the NC statutes are fairly clear on our ability to require on-site improvements (i.e. on the land that the developer actually owns), it is less clear on our ability to require off-site improvements (as when a large development impacts not only the immediate roads around the development, but also intersections down the street, etc.).

So, city staff and legal counsel will be working with our legislative delegation to see if there is a way to provide some additional clarification in the law so that this does not become an issue for us down the road. Owing to our unique traffic circumstances (especially on the peninsula), I suggested that we look at obtaining a “Local Act” that would apply just to Belmont. Because they do not affect the whole state, Local Acts/Bills don’t require the governor’s signature to become law and the general custom of the General Assembly is to allow these bills to become law so long as the entire relevant legislative delegation is on board. I think given the situation on South Point Road, we need to be able to continue using the TIA to manage our growth in a sustainable manner. So, I am hopeful that we will be able to work out a solution with our representatives in Raleigh.

traffic

The next City Council workshop is tomorrow at 4pm at CityWorks. You can find the agenda and link to the livestream here: https://buff.ly/3jNFKAn

The workshop will be a joint meeting between City Council, the Planning Board, NCDOT, Kimley Horn (the city’s consultant for traffic impact analysis studies), and members from our legislative delegation to discuss our traffic impact analysis (TIA) ordinance. The way our ordinance currently works, only developments that generate a certain level of new traffic are required to implement mitigation measures through the TIA process. So, if a development is small enough that it does not create enough new traffic, it does not need to go through the full TIA process. However, there is some concern that this could lead to a “death by a thousand cuts” situation, where in a series of smaller development projects, no one project generates significant traffic, but collectively they create the kind of traffic degradation you would normally see from one large project. So, we want to ensure that our planning process accounts for that and think through some ways of addressing that problem.

In addition, recently, in other parts of the state, there have been some lawsuits filed by developers against municipalities challenging the cities’ authority to require traffic mitigation measures as part of the development process. The success of these lawsuits would make it impossible for Belmont to continue using our TIA process as we have and severely handcuff our ability to manage growth in a responsible and sustainable way. So, we are proactively involving our representatives in Raleigh to ensure that they are aware of the success that we have had with our TIA process and understand how important it is to protect this very important tool. We want to be prepared in case these lawsuits are successful against the other municipalities.

It should be a very interesting workshop! If you have any questions, let me know!

An update from our meeting on Monday:

At the top of our meeting, one of the actions we took via the Consent Agenda was raising the minimum starting salary of our police officers to $45,000 (from the current $39,749). Generally, most of the police officers hired by the City start at a salary above the minimum due to various certifications, experience, etc. that they bring to the job. However, the number for the minimum starting salary is the number used when the department advertises new positions, so it is important that it be competitive with what other municipalities offer. The new $45k level we adopted is more in line with what other peer cities offer. There is minimal impact to the budget as a result of this (as most of our officers already make above that level), but it will make us more competitive in recruiting new talent.

There were two major land use decisions on the regular agenda, and the first was for the Dixon Village neighborhood proposed by Habitat for Humanity. We received a lot of public comment on this project during our meeting (both for and against). And Habitat actually made several substantive changes to their proposal between last week’s Planning Board meeting and our hearing on Monday. As a Council, we weighed the pros and cons of sending it back to the Planning Board to give them a chance to review the changes, but we ultimately voted against doing that and then proceeded to approve the proposal unanimously.

I think what Habitat has proposed for this neighborhood is a positive step forward in addressing affordability in our area. Additionally, they have been very receptive to all of the feedback they have received on this project over the last few weeks, and a lot of that was reflected in the final proposal we saw Monday night. They have clearly put a lot of thought into making this neighborhood a very nice place to live, and the mixed-income approach they are taking is not something that has been tried in our area before. So, I am very excited to see how this project turns out.

We also heard the proposal for the Smith property across from the new middle school. This development calls for a mix of 42 single-family homes and 57 townhomes (99 units total) while also providing for the realignment of Belwood Drive. The Council discussed this project at length. There was an overriding concern about the density of this development. Most of the larger properties south of Stowe Road (including the middle school property right across the street from the Smith property) are zoned to a maximum density of 3 dwelling units per acre.

By what appears to be a unique set of circumstances, the Smith property was not included in the overlay district that down-zoned much of the peninsula, so the zoning on this property is set at 3 dwelling units per acre but may go up to 6 units per acre on a project-by-project basis. The proposed development would have a density of 4.3.

My view is that this property probably should have been included in the overlay district that limits density to 3 units per acre, so while the property can technically be developed at up to 6 units per acre, the fact that the land use code allows this on a “project-by-project” basis seems to imply that that density is not automatic. In this case, I think the most appropriate density is 3 units per acre as that is consistent with similarly situated properties along South Point Road. I think when you also consider the impact that an additional 99 homes would have on the traffic infrastructure in that area, the lower density also makes sense from that perspective.

For an idea of the impact this seemingly small change in density would have on this project, consider that 3 units per acre on 22.84 acres would result in about 68 homes, which is a 31% drop in the number of units from the proposed 99. Presumably, this would also mean 31% fewer cars on South Point Road as a result of this development too.

The general feeling on Council was that this project is too dense, and we provided that feedback to the developer. The development team seemed open to revising their project to incorporate our feedback. So, rather than voting the project down, which legally would preclude them from applying for another rezoning for 12 months (and would also mean that any realignment of Belwood Drive would have to wait another 12 months), we deferred action on their application until our March meeting to give them time to revise their project and come back with another proposal.

I think this was actually a very positive outcome. I definitely want to see Belwood Drive fixed, but we do also have to be cognizant of the impact this development will have on the surrounding area. Based on the tone of our conversation, I look forward to seeing what they come back with, as I do think there is an opportunity for a win-win situation with this property.

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

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!

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!