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!

Yesterday, City Council met with representatives from NCDOT, Ronnie Worley Gaston County Commissioner, and Representative Dana Bumgardner to discuss the intersection of Belwood Drive and South Point Road in front of the new middle school. There were also several residents from the Belwood Drive neighborhood present.

There was a general consensus among the group that the current design for that intersection presents a number of issues both from a safety and traffic flow perspective. I think that the current design basically creates either a situation where traffic deadlocks every time someone needs to go into or out of the Belwood Drive neighborhood or a situation where (young) pedestrians are in close proximity to drivers distracted by attempting to make a very quick turn.

There is some development interest in the property across the street from the middle school which may provide an opportunity for a long-term solution to this problem. However, even under the best-case scenario, it is unlikely a fix under this route would be in place by the time the new school opens. So, Council directed staff to obtain cost estimates for the work necessary to fix the intersection so that we can determine the level of financial commitment necessary for this project and explore some possible creative financing opportunities. There seemed to be a shared commitment among the different parties at the meeting yesterday to find a solution to this problem, so I am cautiously optimistic about our chances of figuring out a fix for this.

In other news, the agenda for our CIP workshop on Thursday is now available. You can find that here.

There are two Council meetings this week to be aware of:

-The first is tomorrow at 2pm at TechWorks. We will be meeting with staff from NCDOT to discuss the intersection design for Belwood Drive and South Point Road (in front of the new middle school). DOT’s current design for that intersection calls for creating two separate three-way intersections (one at Belwood Drive, the other at the entrance to the new school). The City is working with DOT to see if it is possible to shift Belwood Drive’s intersection over a few feet to create one four-way intersection. The agenda and some related schematics are located here.

-The second meeting will be Thursday at 3:30pm (also at TechWorks). We will be discussing our Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for the current fiscal year. The CIP is the process by which the City funds all of the “big” projects and, there are usually more projects on the list than we can fund in a given year. So we will be prioritizing projects for funding at this meeting. I will post a link to that agenda once it is available.