An update on this week’s meeting and other goings-on:

We had a productive workshop meeting on Monday. We authorized the Kayak Rental Program with the Riverkeepers, the Utility Repayment Program for outstanding water/sewer bills, and the contract for the South Main Street sidewalk enhancements (all of which you find here:https://cityofbelmont.civicweb.net/Portal/MeetingInformation.aspx?Id=430).

We also had a very good conversation around our planning and development process. I have talked with staff about the need to get more public input earlier in the development process so that residents can have a meaningful impact on whatever project is being proposed and have an opportunity to provide input before a lot of the key components of a project are already locked in. So, the planning staff presented a series of proposals for what I think will be a great improvement to our process. One of the biggest changes is that the community meeting (where the developer does a public presentation for anyone interested in the project and is a chance to gather input from the community) will be held much earlier in the process. There will also be individual web pages for each project that have all of the relevant plans and documents in one place and will also include a timeline that shows where each project is in the development process. There will also be much more consistent usage of the Zoning Notice signs and, those signs will have more information on them that will direct passers-by to the relevant project web page (by means of a QR code or other code) to make it easier to find information about each project. These changes will still need to go through the Planning Board and then be approved by the City Council, but I think we’re making good progress on this front.

We also spent some time talking about potential changes to things like increasing the setbacks between houses and switching our major redevelopment process from a largely by-right process (which is what it is today) to a conditional rezoning process (which is what most other cities and towns use). These are also changes that would need to go through the Planning Board before they come to Council, so we are looking at holding a joint meeting with the Planning Board in the next few weeks to flesh out some of these changes. So, more to come on those.
This week, the City Council also took a tour of the Carolina Orchards development in Fort Mill. The developer of that project is exploring the possibility of doing something similar (an age-restricted senior living community) along the northern third of the Pittenger Property (which is a large piece of land south of Armstrong Ford Road that runs along the South Fork River). There will likely be more to come on that in the next few weeks.
The next City Council workshop is Monday, July 20 at 4pm at TechWorks. The livestream will continue to be available at cityofbelmont.org/livemeetings.
 
During this meeting, we will be taking a look at our major development process for land use and zoning decisions. Staff will provide a presentation on our current state, and then Council will discuss potential improvements to the process. Some of the things we’ll be looking at are facilitating public input earlier in the process, use of conditional rezoning vs. by-right development, and residential building setbacks. This will be an important conversation and do a lot to inform how we approach new development for the next few years.
 
We will also be considering a utility repayment plan to help rehabilitate past-due water and sewer accounts once the Governor’s moratorium on utility disconnections expires on July 29. There is currently about $100k in outstanding balances due to the city and, the proposed plan will allow customers with past-due accounts up to 6 months to pay off their balances, balancing the needs of our customers while ensuring that we continue to manage our utility fund in a fiscally responsible manner.
 
The Catawba Riverkeepers have also approached the city about operating a kayak rental program at Kevin Loftin Park. The city owns several kayaks that were purchased with the intent of operating our own program, however staffing and other costs associated with such a program have complicated its roll-out. The agreement with the Riverkeepers would allow them to operate their own program (as a fundraiser) with the city responsible for providing the kayaks (which we already own) and the Riverkeepers responsible for the operating expenses and liability. City residents would be eligible for a discount on the hourly rental rates. This seems like a good way to get a kayaking program started and creates a win-win for the city and the Riverkeepers.
 
The final item on the agenda is a contract that would rehabilitate the sidewalk along South Main Street between Oak Street and Eagle Road and then extend it from Belmont Reserve to Dogwood Lane.
 
You can find the full agenda here: https://cityofbelmont.civicweb.net/Portal/MeetingInformation.aspx?Org=Cal&Id=430
Belmont Apartments

At the Montcross Chamber candidates forum last week, there was a lot of talk about growth – which makes sense given the mess that our roads are in, an ever-rising cost of living, and schools that have more students than seats. So, it was quite concerning to hear the three candidates who have perhaps more than anyone given the green light to the development currently overwhelming the city (through their current positions on city council and the zoning board) indicate that not only do they not get it, they actually want to accelerate it.

In the course of a discussion on the light rail (which according to current plans would pass through the Wilkinson Blvd corridor), these three candidates said that we actually need to bring in even more apartment development along Wilkinson Blvd so that there’s more people around to ride the light rail. This is exactly wrong for three reasons:

  1. Clearly none of these three commute up and down the 74/85 corridor every day. If they did, they’d realize that traffic there is already a mess, so throwing in a bunch of high-density, multi-story apartment buildings is only going to make getting up and down Wilkinson that much worse. The light rail is not some magical solution that will make all of our traffic woes disappear. At best, it will take some traffic off the road – but if you don’t control growth along Wilkinson, then whatever car trips you’re saving will quickly be overwhelmed by all the new car trips generated by the brand-new apartment buildings.
  2. CATS (Charlotte’s transit system) always overestimates how many people will end up using the light rail. The Blue Line Extension has been open for about 18 months now – and ridership is still about 10,000 riders less than what Charlotte initially projected for the line. So, this idea that everyone who lives in these shiny new apartment buildings is just going to hop on the light rail and never drive anywhere is pure fantasy. Sure, some of those people may ride the light rail, but most won’t.
  3. We really need to get away from this build now and ask questions later approach to development. If there’s anything to be learned from the situation down on South Point Road, it’s that you can’t build a bunch of housing and then hope somebody else (the state, the county, Charlotte?) will swoop in and save us from ourselves. Currently, the Silver Line is nothing more than an unfunded line on a map, which even in a best-case scenario won’t be operational until at least 2030. Has anyone considered what we’re supposed to do if we build out Wilkinson and the light rail gets pushed out to a 2035 or 2040 opening? What if the project gets cancelled? It’s happened in NC before.

What we need is careful, thoughtful planning based on the actual facts on the ground. Planning for the light rail is important, but it’s imprudent to unleash an avalanche of apartment development on Wilkinson in anticipation of a project that may or may not ever happen.