An update from our workshop on Monday:

-We had a very lengthy discussion about density, setbacks, and growth in general with the Planning Board and a panel of representatives from the building and real estate industries. Council ultimately directed the Planning Board to come up with an amendment to the Land Development Code that incorporates a more strategic use of setbacks to ensure that we are managing growth in a responsible and forward-thinking way. Some of the ideas that we kicked around included tying setback requirements to particular geographic areas or zoning districts versus more of the one-size-fits-all approach that we currently use. I noted that that are some areas of the city (particularly down the peninsula and South Point Road) that are already stretched very thin and that we need to be mindful of our approach to those areas so that we don’t make a difficult situation worse.

We agreed to a year-end deadline for a Council vote on the amendment that the Planning Board will work up. In the meantime, Council will take a series of tours of recently completed development projects around town (in our brand new bus!) to get some ideas about what we like and what we don’t like about some of the newer projects that have come through. This is shaping up to be a great focus for the rest of the year, and I think this will help address the concerns that I have heard from many of you.

-We also agreed to make a change to our Water and Sewer Extension Policy that will allow non-annexed properties that have an existing city water line running through the property to connect to the city water system. Sewer system connections will still require annexation, as will any development that requires any sort of infrastructure to be built (such as roads) or any development that results in 8 or more homes connecting to the water system. Non-annexed properties will continue to pay double water rates. This change should greatly simplify the policy, which has changed multiple times over the last five years.

Our next City Council workshop will be Monday, Sept. 21, at 4pm at Techworks. You can find the agenda here: http://ow.ly/lu0m50Bv5W9

-We will be taking a look at residential setbacks (which help determine the spacing between adjacent houses) with the Planning and Zoning Board to determine if we need to make any changes to the Land Development Code in this area. This will be an important conversation as whatever changes we decide to proceed with will impact the kind of development that comes into Belmont in the future.

-We will also be discussing our strategy for approaching requests for water and service for non-annexed areas outside the city limits. In general, current policy requires annexation for sewer connections, while a property may be able to connect to our water system based on its inclusion in the HB-630 area (which addressed issues surrounding Duke’s coal ash ponds) or its inclusion in a subdivision. You can find a more complete history and current status of the policy here: http://ow.ly/nXEU50Bv6Ju

If you have any questions, let me know!

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
Belmont Water Sprinkler

Are water bills in Belmont higher than in other municipalities? That’s a question I’ve been getting a lot lately, so I decided to do some research and find out!

Our friends at the UNC School of Government have a pretty robust water and sewer rate dashboard that lets you compare rates in Belmont with every other municipality in the state. You can even select different comparison groups to compare Belmont to various different collections of cities: cities within the same watershed, cities of the same size, cities within different distances, etc. If you really want to see how we compare to other cities, this is a great tool.

So, I set Belmont as my main city and then set the comparison group to all cities/towns within 25 miles of Belmont. Here is the resulting dashboard:

Belmont Water Rates
Source: UNC SOG Environmental Finance Center

With 5000 gallons of usage, the combined (monthly) water/sewer bill for a Belmont resident is $81.24 (note that this is based on the “In City” rate – the “Out of City” rate is roughly double this). This is above the average rate of $74.92 for municipalities within 25 miles of ours (including Charlotte, Mount Holly, Gastonia, etc.). The darkest shade of green on the Bill Comparison dial represents the range of rates for the middle 50% of municipalities – and you can see that we fall just outside the high end of that range. So, our rates aren’t the highest in the area, but they are higher than more than half of the surrounding towns/cities.

Changes Coming to Sewer Service

Something else to keep an eye on is the pending interlocal agreement between Belmont and the City of Charlotte that would have Belmont pump its wastewater under the Catawba to be treated by Charlotte Water at a new wastewater treatment plant in Charlotte. It will be interesting to see what impact that has on rates, as Belmont will need to buy additional sewage treatment capacity from Charlotte as we continue to grow.

As part of the agreement, Belmont will pay $9.3 million (and up to $9.6 million) to access the new treatment plant in Charlotte in order to avoid paying approximately $14.3 million to upgrade Belmont’s existing plant (the cost of a brand new plant would be considerably higher). Of course, once the plant comes online, the agreement gives Charlotte the ability to set rates for sewer treatment (which presumably would be passed on to Belmont sewer customers).

Right now, Charlotte sewer rates are pretty close to Belmont’s – but it would be valuable to see a little more information provided around rate projections for Belmont residents to allow some comparisons on the impact to household bills both with and without this project. Will we see any significant change in rates as a result of this project (versus what they otherwise would have been)?

A regional partnership like this isn’t necessarily a bad thing (as there some economies of scale to be gained), but we should be considering the impacts on residents (i.e. ratepayers) before engaging in projects like this (especially since this particular agreement doesn’t sunset for 99 years). The city is supposed to be preparing some estimates in advance of a discussion of this at next week’s council meeting, which unfortunately means there likely won’t be much time to review them before there’s a formal vote. It will be interesting to see what they come up with.