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.

Our next City Council meeting will be on Monday, July 6 at 6:45pm at TechWorks. You can attend in person or find the livestream here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqOtdtH7gyyToZnnC8kKLQQ

The most significant item on the agenda is providing authorization for the signing of a contract for a Construction Manager at Risk for the new parks & rec multipurpose facility. The CMaR will take this project through the rest of the pre-construction process, including design and bidding of the project.

There will also be a public hearing on a special use permit application from Belmont Abbey to allow them to utilize temporary student housing on campus until their new residential dorms are complete.

Also – the City will be hosting its annual fireworks display tomorrow night at 9:30pm. You can find a parking and street closure map here: https://www.facebook.com/BelmontMainStreetDBDA/photos/a.1909020652650314/2832751306943906

An update from this week’s City Council meeting and other goings-on:We will be having a special meeting on Monday, May 11 at 4pm to review our Stormwater Management Program. We will be reviewing the scope of the program (what it does and what it doesn’t do) and the Stormwater Capital Program for the next fiscal year. You can find the agenda and a link to listen to the livestream here: https://cityofbelmont.civicweb.net/Portal/MeetingInformation.aspx?Org=Cal&Id=441

From our regular meeting this week:

-We endorsed two grant applications (from the Carolina Thread Trail) for the Abbey Creek Greenway and Rocky Branch Park Enhancement Project

-We also formally adopted the Small Business Emergency Loan Program under the City’s statutory authority for economic development

-We also had a very productive conversation around the code enforcement issue on Cason Street in North Belmont. We decided on a final deadline for compliance of August 14 (which is one year from when the building was officially found to be non-compliant with our ordinance), whereby if the building is not brought into compliance by that date, our intent would be to adopt the demolition ordinance at our August 17 meeting that would allow for the removal of the building. The property owner had originally proposed a final finish date that was well into October. I believe that we have already been exceedingly generous with our handling of this situation, and I do not want to see this issue continue to linger into the fall. So, for me, the building either needs to become compliant or needs to be gone by August.

-As mentioned previously, as of today, all park facilities (except for bathrooms and playgrounds) are now open. Please be sure to continue to practice social distancing as you use the parks. You’ll see helpful reminders posted around the parks that will help you use the parks safely.

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One of the bigger projects I have been involved with over the last few months is the new Parks and Recreation Master Plan (draft final version as of this writing). The last Belmont Parks master plan was updated in 2003 (!) and obviously quite a bit has changed since then. The consultant we hired conducted a lot of community meetings, surveys, staff interviews, etc. to get an idea of what we have, where we want to go, and how we can get there.

One of the most valuable aspects of the new master plan is where it benchmarks Belmont parks against a set of standards for peer cities and then projects our anticipated parks/recreation needs based on current growth projections (while also accounting for current deficiencies). So, for example, right now the greatest need for new park facilities is in North Belmont and South Point and, the plan calls for the addition of two Neighborhood Parks by 2029. Now that we know what we as a community need (as far as parks go), we can start planning around those needs, and if an opportunity for some new parkland presents itself we can take advantage of that. It sets expectations for residents as far as what the city will look like in 10 years while also setting some benchmarks to evaluate our city leaders against. So, in 10 years, if we don’t find a way to get those two parks – we can hold our city council members accountable.

I think this approach to governing is something that would benefit other areas of the city, not just Parks. Believe it or not, there is actually a Comprehensive Land Use Plan for Belmont that was just updated in 2018 and contains a plan for land use and growth for the city for the next 20 years. There are actually a lot of good ideas in the Land Use Plan. Unfortunately, those ideas aren’t worth very much if they aren’t effectively implemented. This, I believe, is part of where we’ve started to stray. Increasingly, we are reinterpreting the Land Use Plan to fit development projects when we should be reshaping these projects (and/or saying “No Thanks”) to fit the Land Use Plan.

What we need on city council are more people willing to stick up for what we, as a community, have collectively decided we want the city to look like. We can’t allow ourselves to be distracted by showy PowerPoint presentations and pie-in-the-sky economic projections from people who don’t even live here. We have to be willing to fight for what makes Belmont special.