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!

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!

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.

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!

An update from our meeting on Monday:

-We had a good conversation about the plans for the new Rec Center. Overall, the plans incorporate most of what we were trying to accomplish with this building. At a very high level, there will be three indoor basketball courts on the first floor and then an indoor running track on the second floor. There are also a variety of different rooms to facilitate different types of training/classes and exercise. The second floor will also have some flex use space attached to a patio overlooking the Catawba that will be available to rent. We also talked about locating the proposed skate park at the Rec Center site (as opposed to locating it in Davis Park). The Parks and Rec Board will discuss this further when they review the Rec Center plans later this week.

-Council also talked through a strategy for our paving program. We decided to continue with our data-driven approach (based on the results of the last street condition survey) for the fall and will look to do a larger program once the loan balance from the last large paving program is paid off next Spring. I requested that we set aside some funds in that larger program for sidewalk repair/extension. With COVID, more people are out using our sidewalks, and I know that some of them could use a little TLC. If you happen to notice any sidewalks around town that need some work (especially if they present a tripping hazard), or if there are any gaps between sections of sidewalk where it might make sense to create a connection, please let me know so that I can add it to my list.

-Council also ordered the demolition of the building at 951 Cason Street (across from Linford Park). Per staff, actual demolition should begin in about 3-4 weeks, and then it will take roughly four weeks to take the building down. Based on that, demo should be complete sometime in October.

-We also had an interesting conversation about affordable housing. Staff provided an overview of some of the strategies that other municipalities employ in this area, and we directed them to continuing researching best practices so that we can decide what makes sense for Belmont. Representatives from Habitat for Humanity also made a presentation about a small (28 home) mixed-income development that they are trying to put together on a site in North Belmont (off Lee Road). Apparently, this particular project almost came to fruition several years ago but fell apart due to some funding issues. They are still in the early phases of this project, but we encouraged them to continue communicating with us as they move forward.

Our next Council Workshop will be Monday at 4pm at Techworks. You can find a copy of the agenda and a link to the live stream here: https://cityofbelmont.civicweb.net/Portal/MeetingInformation.aspx?Id=431

Here are a few of the highlights:

-There will be a presentation of the initial design for the new recreation center. You can find the schematics and some renderings on the city’s website here: https://www.cityofbelmont.org/recreationcenter. If you have any feedback on the designs, I would love to get your input. There will also be a community meeting in September where you can view the plans and provide input.

-We will also be talking about our fall street paving program and deciding how we want to approach street maintenance. The City Engineer has done a needs analysis around both streets that are in the greatest need of repair and streets that get the most use. You can find that linked here.

-We will also be reviewing the status of the code enforcement case at 951 Cason Street. Earlier this summer, Council set a final deadline to complete the needed repairs at this property by the time of this workshop (8/17). So, we will receive an update on the status of this building and proceed accordingly.

-We will also be having a discussion about affordable housing in Belmont. Representatives from Habitat for Humanity will also provide an overview of a mixed-income project they are considering in the city.

A quick update from our meeting on Monday:

In addition to accepting the Governor’s Highway Safety Grant for a new DWI enforcement officer in our police department, staff announced that the City was also successful in an application for a Carolina Thread Trail grant that will help fund the design work for the Abbey Creek Greenway. The Tarheel Trailblazers also received a grant from the Thread Trail for the Phase I improvements in Rocky Branch Park. Both of these grants will do a lot to help grow and enhance the greenway/trail system in Belmont.

After reviewing the South Central code enforcement case, we had a general discussion about code enforcement in Belmont. Staff indicated that there are several other cases ready for review by City Council. The general consensus among the Council was that we would like to work through as many of those cases as we can before we get too busy later on in the year. So look for more of these cases to show up on future agendas over the next month or two. I think that it’s important to not allow these to linger for too long as many of these cases involve genuine health and safety risks to the nearby residents. We are still on-track to review the pending commercial case in North Belmont (on Cason Street) at our next workshop on 8/17.

Our next workshop will focus on affordable housing, where we will get an overview of some of the techniques and strategies that other municipalities in NC have deployed to maintain affordability for their residents. I believe that will be a very interesting discussion and worth tuning into if you have the time.

If you have any questions, leave me a comment!

The next City Council meeting is Monday, August 3 at 6:45pm at TechWorks. The livestream will be available at cityofbelmont.org/livemeetings .

There are only two items on the regular agenda. The first concerns the addition of a position for an Assistant Public Works Director, which is largely to assist with succession planning in our public works department. The second item is a code enforcement case for the property at 603 S Central Avenue, where we will consider a demolition ordinance for the building on that property.

Our consent agenda also includes the acceptance of a Governor’s Highway Safety Grant which will fund a new DWI enforcement officer in our police department. The grant covers 100% of the cost of the officer in the first year and then provides successively smaller amounts over the next three years (covering 50% of the cost in the final year).

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments!