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.
Chronicle Mill Belmont NC

There were two big projects before the Planning & Zoning board last night. Here are some of my thoughts:

Adding a Story to Chronicle Mill

As a bona fide history nerd, I certainly appreciate the value and importance of buildings such as Chronicle Mill. Especially given the mill’s importance to the history of Belmont in particular, we should be looking for creative ways to preserve those parts of our history.

The project proposal includes adding an additional story (for a total of 5 stories) and 25 apartments (for 240 total) on the top of the mill. Right now, the ordinance sets the maximum building height at 3 stories. I have the same concerns as other people at the meeting around this excess building height, as this development takes advantage of some vagueries in the land development code about how the height of a building should be measured. In my opinion, we need to update the ordinance to clearly spell out how building heights are measured (and from where they are measured). I don’t think there’s any real good policy reason to effectively grant a “bonus” level for developments that happen to be built on hilly lots. I think that could have a lot of unintended consequences and result in projects with higher densities than were initially planned for.

Second and notably, there aren’t enough parking spaces in the current site plan to meet the parking requirements spelled out in the land use ordinance. The Chronicle Mill development would have 240 apartments, 10 town homes, and 10,000 sqft of retail. We have to think about the impact this is going to have on the local neighborhood, especially with regard to traffic and parking. This issue was basically punted to city council, but the traffic mitigation piece is really up in the air, and I don’t see how it makes sense to move forward on something like this without (at the very least) having that figured out.

North Belmont Warehouse Project

There was also a project presented that would build 2-4 warehouses on an industrial site off Woodlawn Street. Per the Gazette, the site would potentially create 250-350 jobs once the site was built out and leased. Our Pedestrian Master Plan does call for 8-foot sidewalks in that area (along Woodlawn and Acme Streets) both in recognition of some significant pedestrian activity that already occurs there but also in anticipation of additional student housing being installed in that area at some point in the future.

So, I was really disappointed to see the sidewalk and pedestrian improvement requirements basically tossed right out the window. In the same vein as the building height issue noted above, I don’t understand why we spend all of this time planning only to cast it aside as soon as a developer threatens to walk. Does anyone really think that they’re going to walk from a $35 Million project over a couple of sidewalks? I think there were a lot of valid points raised about pedestrian safety and the potential for more development in that area that the city will need to address sooner or later. And the developer didn’t really provide any reason for not doing the improvements beyond basically just not wanting to do them. I think economic development is important for the city, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hold the development to our plan.