An update from our meeting on Monday:

The rezoning for the Smith Property was postponed to our April meeting, as the developer is still reworking their proposal.
The River West/Woodlawn Industrial Park rezoning was approved. This rezoning adds 19 acres to the original site and enlarges the total square footage of the buildings by 20,000 sft. The most significant aspect of this latest rezoning is that it provides for an 8-foot wide sidewalk along Woodlawn Street and 5-foot wide sidewalks along Acme and Cason Streets. The original rezoning approved in 2019 only provided for a 5-foot sidewalk along Woodlawn and no sidewalks along either Acme or Cason. So, this will be a significant improvement to the sidewalks in this part of town.

We also heard an update from Belmont Trolley. COVID has created some delays in their initial timeline, however design work for the barn is planned to begin over the summer. Once the design and various site surveys, etc. are finished, they are planning on having an estimate of the total cost by early Fall. They are also preparing to ramp up their (private) fundraising efforts over the next few months. Because the next 6-ish months will be very important for the viability of this project, they agreed to meet with us again this Fall once the design aspect of the project wraps up and their fundraising is fully under way. They have also invited the City to provide a staff member to sit as a member of their board to further ensure consistent communication between their board and the City.

Demolition ordinances were approved for 114 Morning Glory Ave and 325 Todd Street Ext. We already have bids in hand for the demolition work, so those structures should be coming down in the next few weeks.

Council also approved staff’s recommendation for the new solid waste services contract with Waste Pro. Waste Pro will retain trash, recycling, and bulk pickup. Yard Waste and Leaf Collection will be handled by our Public Works staff, and they are beginning the process of obtaining the necessary equipment to do that. Historically, Yard Waste and Leaf Collection have been the areas with the most complaints, so I think moving these services in-house is a great way to both save money and ensure consistent and high-quality service for our residents.

***Also tonight (at 6:30pm) is the community meeting for the proposed Del Webb Senior Community off Armstrong Ford Road. You can find more about this project as well as instructions for how to join the meeting (see the Community Meeting Notice) at this link: https://buff.ly/2P7qTFy. This project will likely be heard at the Planning Board’s March 18 meeting.

The next City Council meeting is Monday at 6pm at CityWorks. You can find a copy of the agenda and a link to the livestream here: https://buff.ly/37T6Ocr

It’s a very full agenda, but here are the highlights:

-First up is consideration of the rezoning for the Smith property that was held over from last month. The last I heard on this, the developer was requesting additional time to rework the project plan. So, it’s likely that this will get pushed to the April meeting.

-The River West Industrial Park in North Belmont is also coming back to Council to add 19 acres to their existing site plan. The new changes would add an additional 20,000 sf in building size to the existing 600,000 sf in the approved plan and make a few other smaller changes to a few of the buffers and driveway locations. In addition, one of the more positive aspects of this new plan would require 8-ft sidewalks along Woodlawn Street. When Council originally approved this rezoning in 2019, they allowed this project to cut that sidewalk width to 5 feet (as 8 feet was what was initially required in the Land Development Code). Given the amount of truck traffic that this project will attract, I think these wider sidewalks will do a lot to enhance pedestrian safety in this area. You can find full details of the project here: https://buff.ly/3aYt1I3

-We will also be receiving an update from Belmont Trolley on the status of their project. Belmont Trolley agreed to provide these updates in advance of the City releasing its promised five annual payments of $60k to support the project. This year would represent the second $60k payment.

-There are also two demolition ordinances on the agenda related to code-enforcement issues: 114 Morning Glory Ave and 325 Todd Street Ext.

-We will also be reviewing staff’s recommendation for a new five-year solid waste contract. The recommendation has Waste Pro continuing to handle trash, recycling, bulk waste, and portable restrooms as they do now. Yard waste and leaf collection would be handled internally by the City. The new cost per household per month for this new arrangement (which includes the costs associated with the City handling yard waste and leaves) would be $17.16, which is an increase from the current contract’s $13.58. Notably, the solid waste services fee (which you pay as part of your water bill) is $7 per household per month, and that is designed to cover 50% of the cost of our solid waste services (the rest is paid out of the General Fund, which is funded by property taxes). So, Council will need to make some decisions about how we want to fund the new contract as we work through the budget over the next few weeks. You can find more details about the cost, etc. here: https://buff.ly/37ShFDu

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to let me know!

An update from our workshop on Monday:

We had a very productive conversation around our traffic impact ordinance with the Planning Board, NCDOT, Kimley Horn, and Rep. John Torbett. We decided to explore some adjustments to our ordinance (specifically around in-lieu payments) in order to ensure that we are quantifying traffic mitigation needs consistently from project to project.

In situations where a developer is required (by our ordinance) to provide traffic mitigation measures but is unable to do so (most commonly because the developer doesn’t own the land where the improvements need to be made), our ordinance allows the developer to make a payment to the city in-lieu of providing the required mitigation. However, our ordinance does not currently provide very clear guidance on how that payment should be calculated. One solution we talked through was creating a formula that accounts for all the costs associated with providing the improvement – everything from land acquisition to attorney fees to a growth rate (to account for inflation). The Planning Board will be taking a deeper dive into this over the next few weeks/months.

We also discussed ongoing legal threats to the TIA process in general. In particular, there is a case in Mooresville (currently on appeal) that was decided against the town and centers around the ability to require off-site traffic mitigation. While the NC statutes are fairly clear on our ability to require on-site improvements (i.e. on the land that the developer actually owns), it is less clear on our ability to require off-site improvements (as when a large development impacts not only the immediate roads around the development, but also intersections down the street, etc.).

So, city staff and legal counsel will be working with our legislative delegation to see if there is a way to provide some additional clarification in the law so that this does not become an issue for us down the road. Owing to our unique traffic circumstances (especially on the peninsula), I suggested that we look at obtaining a “Local Act” that would apply just to Belmont. Because they do not affect the whole state, Local Acts/Bills don’t require the governor’s signature to become law and the general custom of the General Assembly is to allow these bills to become law so long as the entire relevant legislative delegation is on board. I think given the situation on South Point Road, we need to be able to continue using the TIA to manage our growth in a sustainable manner. So, I am hopeful that we will be able to work out a solution with our representatives in Raleigh.

traffic

The next City Council workshop is tomorrow at 4pm at CityWorks. You can find the agenda and link to the livestream here: https://buff.ly/3jNFKAn

The workshop will be a joint meeting between City Council, the Planning Board, NCDOT, Kimley Horn (the city’s consultant for traffic impact analysis studies), and members from our legislative delegation to discuss our traffic impact analysis (TIA) ordinance. The way our ordinance currently works, only developments that generate a certain level of new traffic are required to implement mitigation measures through the TIA process. So, if a development is small enough that it does not create enough new traffic, it does not need to go through the full TIA process. However, there is some concern that this could lead to a “death by a thousand cuts” situation, where in a series of smaller development projects, no one project generates significant traffic, but collectively they create the kind of traffic degradation you would normally see from one large project. So, we want to ensure that our planning process accounts for that and think through some ways of addressing that problem.

In addition, recently, in other parts of the state, there have been some lawsuits filed by developers against municipalities challenging the cities’ authority to require traffic mitigation measures as part of the development process. The success of these lawsuits would make it impossible for Belmont to continue using our TIA process as we have and severely handcuff our ability to manage growth in a responsible and sustainable way. So, we are proactively involving our representatives in Raleigh to ensure that they are aware of the success that we have had with our TIA process and understand how important it is to protect this very important tool. We want to be prepared in case these lawsuits are successful against the other municipalities.

It should be a very interesting workshop! If you have any questions, let me know!

it security

An update from our workshop on Tuesday:

We spent the first part of the meeting getting an update on some of the IT projects that our IT Specialist, Seth Norket, has been working on over the last 12-18 months. The highlights include replacing over 100 pieces of old and outdated equipment (which is not only inefficient but also a security risk), the installation of cloud surveillance devices around City buildings, installing fleet-tracking GPS devices on City-owned vehicles, upgrading the City phone system to provide better service to callers and greater accountability for staff, refreshing the City website (which is now faster and more secure), and implementing a modernized job-tracking system that allows for better management of man hours but also includes an online portal where residents can submit service requests (https://www.cityofbelmont.org/services). If you create an account, you can also track the status of your request, and a text-for-service system is currently in pilot.

We covered a lot of ground, so I would encourage you to watch the full presentation (http://ow.ly/h0El50De5fu), but it’s clear that we’re making a lot of progress in providing better security and better service (for both staff and residents) with our technology.

Planning staff then provided an update on various transportation projects from around the City. Many projects were pushed back as a result of NCDOT’s cash problems last year, with the result that projects like the I-85 widening and the improvements to the Wilkinson Blvd/Main Street intersection are now looking at potentially starting in 2025. On the Silver Line, a potential site at Hawley Ave and Wilkinson Blvd (in front of BB&T) is being considered for the location of Belmont’s station. And if you haven’t already, I would encourage you to complete the public survey for the Catawba Crossings project (http://ow.ly/Zq1750De5rt). Public comment for that project is open through Feb. 4.

Belmont's Speeding

Typically, when we think of Belmont’s traffic problems, we think of congestion, particularly on the city’s main roads – South Point, Wilkinson Blvd, etc. However, there’s another side to this problem that may not seem immediately obvious – speeding.

What happens is that once the main roads start to back up (especially at rush hour), people start looking for alternate routes, which usually involves frustrated commuters cutting through adjoining neighborhoods (and often at high rates of speed). Julia Avenue is one street that recently received some attention around this, but I’ve met with a lot of concerned residents who have told me that this is a problem in a lot of neighborhoods throughout the city.

And it’s really a safety issue. In a lot of the areas where this is a problem, the speed limit is only 35 mph (and sometimes only 20 mph), which is generally what you want in a relatively quiet residential area where people are out walking, kids are playing in the street, etc. However, if a car comes through that area at even 45 or 50 mph, that creates some significant risks for people who may just be out enjoying their neighborhoods.

As Belmont’s traffic gets worse, I would expect that problems like this will only continue to increase. But this is all the more reason why we need to be fully considering the impacts of development on our community before we green-light them. We need to be recognizing not only the initial impacts to congestion on our main thoroughfares, but also the secondary impacts on the neighborhoods that feed into them. One development doesn’t just impact one neighborhood, it ripples throughout the entire city.

sad puppy

For everyone who has to commute to work everyday, we find ourselves leaving ever earlier in the morning just to get to work on time while getting home ever later in the evening. The very real cost of this increasingly soul-crushing commute – lost family time, lost productivity, and lost sanity – often isn’t fully appreciated by those signing off on the development of massive new apartment complexes.

While Council could do more to avoid making this problem worse (such as by adhering to existing zoning regulations), how do you think we can make this situation better? Something I have noticed trudging up and down Wilkinson Blvd every day is the relatively quick cycle times of the traffic lights (as in traffic barely starts moving before the light flips back to red again) and a lack of real synchronization between the traffic lights strung throughout the corridor. I have heard some people talk about installing traffic circles at some intersections – There’s obviously a cost to build them as well as a learning curve for drivers learning how to use them (since they aren’t very common in our area). Mass transit is another option – The light rail is allegedly on its way, but there is only one bus that runs between Belmont and Charlotte (and on a very limited schedule at that).

What are the chokepoints in your commute? What are some solutions you’d like to see? Would you ride a bus? Are you excited for (or maybe dreading) the arrival of the light rail? Let me know in the comments below!