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

A recap of Monday night’s meeting:

Public comment was likely the most interesting part of Monday’s meeting. We actually had two separate issues come up during public comment. The first few comments concerned the intersection design of the new intersection in front of the new middle school. The current design from NCDOT calls for a three-way intersection on South Point Road mere steps away from the existing Belwood Drive intersection. The speakers suggested aligning the intersection with Belwood Drive such that we would have one four-way intersection instead of two separate three-way intersections. I think this is a very sensible request and will do a lot to improve traffic flow and safety in that area. Unfortunately, NCDOT does not see it in quite the same way, so Council decided to work with our county and state partners to see if we can talk some sense into DOT.

The next 20 or so speakers spoke on the recent petition that seeks to change the Red Raider mascot at South Point High School. While this is not something in the direct jurisdiction of the City Council, I’m glad we were able to provide a forum for the community to come and voice their opinions. Particularly since I did not grow up here and do not have the same connection with South Point that many of the speakers have, I enjoyed listening to the speakers talk about what it means to be a Red Raider and why that is important to them. It was very educational for me, and I learned a lot from the speakers.

After public comment, we moved through the regular agenda pretty quickly – approving a special use permit for temporary housing at Belmont Abbey and authorizing a contract for a Construction Manager at Risk for the new rec center.

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a virtual conference put on by the League of Municipalities and in that conference, they devoted several sessions to IT security for city governments (specifically, the rising threat presented to small cities from malicious entities that lock down city systems and/or steal data for ransom). So, I shared some of the findings from that with the rest of the Council, and we discussed the City’s current security posture (which appears to be very strong). Our IT coordinator is going to provide a summary of what he’s done/is doing to protect our systems so that we can continue to be proactive in this area.

Councilman Turner also suggested that we discuss lot setbacks (the envelope around a building that creates space between one building and the next) as part of our upcoming discussion on development, and suggested that we use the $75,000 we will obtain as part of an upcoming (unplanned) property sale to purchase a new city bus. I think both of these ideas were excellent suggestions. I know that the bus in particular has been needed for a while (I believe the existing bus is 17 years old) and would be greatly appreciated by both the Gadabouts and the other programs that use the bus once those activities are able to resume. So, I look forward to having a conversation on both of those things over the next few weeks.

The next City Council meeting will be Monday (5/4) at 6:45pm. This will be another virtual meeting, so we will be following the same process that we used last month for public comment. If you’d like to make a public comment, you may email your comments to the city clerk, and they will be read aloud at the meeting. You can access the livestream at cityofbelmont.org/livemeetings

-We will be receiving an update on the Rocky Branch Park Enhancement Project

-We will also be considering several technical changes to our land use ordinance to make it consistent with recent changes in state law.

-There will also be a public hearing on the Small Business Emergency Loan Program. This is part of the formal ratification process for this program. It was initially established under the temporary authorities invoked by our local state of emergency, but this process will ratify the program under the economic developments statutes, which avoids some legal complications once the state of emergency ends. If you would like to submit a comment for this hearing, simply email it to the city clerk.

-We will also be receiving an update on the status of the code enforcement case for the property at 951 Cason Street in North Belmont

-We will also be considering a plan that involves the construction of bike lanes and sidewalks along Woodlawn Street as part of NCDOT’s next funding cycle.

The agenda for the meeting (along with all supporting information) can be found here: https://cityofbelmont.civicweb.net/Portal/MeetingInformation.aspx?Org=Cal&Id=331