Friday, October 21, 2016

Ground Breaking on Davidson Fire Station #2 (Photos)

"If you are having the worst day of your life, by the time you hang up the phone we want you to hear sirens coming."
       -Bo Fitzgerald, Davidson Fire Chief

 Chief Fitzgerald spoke those words Friday morning at the ceremonial ground breaking for the long awaited Davidson Fire Station #2 on Davidson-Concord Road.

With construction starting early November the new single company station is scheduled to be operational by Summer of 2017.

According to the Chief, currently some Davidson residents are as much as 15 minutes from the Downtown station, and this new station will cut that response time by an actual Davidson fire company by more than half.  To accommodate for the current long response time, for several years Davidson has been contracting with the Odell station in Cabarrus County to cover the eastern end of town.  Completion of Davidson Fire Station #2 will allow that relationship to change to one of mutual support, rather than the town having to contract out the primary protection responsibility.

During his comments opening the ceremony, Mayor John Woods commented how this project has been a long time coming.   Waxing nostalgic, he recounted one story of how the siren at the Downtown station used to be tested every day at 5:30pm, telling kids it was time do head home for dinner.  He also took the opportunity to introduce some special guests including County Commissioner Pat Cotham and NC98 candidate Jane Campbell both of whom are running for office this election cycle.

Town Manager Jamie Justice also said a few words, thanking staff for all their hard work bringing this day to fruition.  While the project started before his tenure, getting this done as Justice nears his 1 year anniversary as Town Manager is certainly a nice accomplishment.

The roughly $2.126 million project will be financed partly via a 15 year installment loan up to $2 million to cover construction.  The town will cover equipment and furnishings separately.  It's the largest municipal facility built since Town Hall was constructed 20 years ago and actually takes the top spot in terms of cost.

More pictures from today's ceremony.

Getting ready for the toss!

Davidson Comm Anderson wins the "Enthusiasm" awar
with the highest toss.
Experienced pols Mayor Woods and County Comm Cotham win for "Best Camera Pose Mid Shovel"

Cotham inspecting the equipment.

Most thanks of all goes to those who do
the hard work of protecting the town.

Monday, October 17, 2016

#Catalyst2: Davidson Hotel...Traffic Impact Analysis to be completed. Parking to be a major question.

When the proposal for the new 6 story Hyatt Place hotel and restaurant along Davidson's Griffith Street was submitted back in August, maybe the most glaring omission for the project was the lack of a Transportation Impact Analysis, or TIA.  The application submitted by local zoning attorney, Susan Irvin, said one was not completed because the property was going to be less than 75,000 square feet and per the town ordinance one was not required.

Then, just before the public information session   held October 3rd, the Town released its preliminary analysis of the project.  The hotel will be a tad smaller than originally expected based on the number of rooms coming in at 107 rather than 115.  However, the document also contained reference that a TIA would be completed because the hotel would total 85,000 square feet.  aShortChronicle reached out to Ms Irvin to see what had changed and why the increase in size after the application was submitted.  Below is Irvin's response.

"My understanding is that the upper floor plans have not been completely designed even now, but the hotel architect started out with a template for the ground floor.  Once they had comments from staff and flagship, they drilled down on the details – coffee shop space on the first floor, room layouts for 107 +/-rooms, flagship requirements, rooftop restaurant, etc. - that produced a more specific number and the local architect was able to start working on the design of  the exterior based on that information.  The original square footage was an estimate from the hotel architect based on the original first floor hotel template."

aShortChronicle is told by town staff there won't be more scheduled public meetings on the project, such as the required combined Planning Board/Town Board meeting or the public hearing, until this study is done.  That could take several weeks.

However, there is one immediate impact to the discussion.  Parking.

We'd previously told readers about the potential parking issues with the site.  In the project proposal the developer plans to only provide 70 off street spaces on its own site.  The plan also includes 19 on-street spaces and 29 "shared" spaces with Woodies next door.  Both of these pieces of the parking plan are allowed by town ordinance.

The problem?

The town ordinance requires 2 parking spaces per 1000 square feet of commercial space.  That small amount was called out in the earlier article when the estimate for the hotel was smaller.  Now that the hotel is bigger, the parking plan is well below town requirements.

At 85,000 sq feet the hotel should have 170 spaces, not 118.  That's 52 spaces short of minimum requirements.  According to the staff analysis, the developer says that may be no big deal.

"Usage patterns vary depending on the nature of each commercial space.  Based on their experience developing and operating the nearby Homewood Suites Hotel, the developer believes that parking area to be over-built after observing actual usage patterns. The developer noted that many visitors do not arrive at that hotel in their own private car but instead utilize taxis, corporate transportation, or ride-sharing services that do not require their use of parking facilities. Their experience in this local context informed the current proposal."

The problem with that logic?

These two hotels will be fundamentally different in one particular way.  The proposed Hyatt Place plans to have a roughly 5000 sq foot rooftop restaurant!

According to town staff, the restaurant will be calculated as a separate use beyond the hotel in the TIA.  It should also be noted, the hotel will have less than 1200 sq feet of meeting space, and  per the town, according to the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) this is considered an "ancillary use" for the hotel.  Basically, that means it's small enough to not attract large additional meetings or gatherings such as weddings.  Meeting space will not be calculated as a separate use.

The inclusion of a restaurant and the volume of cars it will attract is not the only problem with parking.  The plan also includes 29 "shared" spots with Woodies Auto next door.

The problem with that?

Woodies only has 29 off street parking spots!  That's not sharing.  That's more like taking.

The 29 spots at Woodies includes 3 handicapped spots and 2 spots right at the front door.  These can't realistically be included.  That leaves 24 spaces.  Sharing would imply no more than half of these should be included.

Common decency would say the Hyatt place should be able to claim no more than 12 spaces on the Woodies site, not 29.

Adding further to the parking problem is the fact that that the site is currently used entirely for parking.  On any given day you can see 20+ vehicles parked there.  While that may not be the developer's problem, it is a problem for the town.  One can reasonably expect that most or all of the 19 on-street parking spaces to be regularly consumed by the vehicles currently using that lot if a hotel is built.

As a practical matter, both of these situations are primarily weekday problems rather than nights or weekends which will alleviate the situation somewhat because those are the peak times for a hotel and not for CSD and Woodies.  However during the weekday that would mean the hotel proposal is effectively an additional 17 spaces short for Woodies and probably the full 19 short for its on-street parking - providing only 82 usable spaces, not 118.

Any TIA that is completed needs to directly take all of this into account and not just look at the peak use for the hotel and potential restaurant.

Regardless, this project is now looking at 3 significant approvals from the town.  1) Change of use for a hotel.  2) An increase in height to allow 6 stories.  3) At least a 30% reduction in parking provided versus what's required by ordinance.

That's a lot for Commissioners to approve and still claim to be acting in the best interests of the town.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

#Catalyst2: Hotel info session didn't have all that much info available.

Two weeks ago, the developers behind the proposed Hyatt Place hotel next to CSD on Griffith street held an information session for locals to see what the project was all about.

The event was well attended, but it's unclear how much real "information" was conveyed.  There was no fact sheet handed out, only a few resolving slides on the projector.  Numerous drawings were haphazardly laid out on tables for people to review.  Sometimes it was difficult to know what each picture was trying to convey.

Some of the slides seemed to be subtly be saying "be careful what you wish for" when it comes to the alternatives if a hotel is not built.  Take  look at the below pictures.

Artistic Rendering of Hotel


The first picture is an artistic rendering of the proposed 68 foot, 6 story hotel.  The second is the currently allowed pair of 3 story mixed use buildings.

Notice anything odd about these two pictures?

The three story buildings are the same height as the six story building.  Both buildings can't  possibly be the same height.  This is true even when acknowledging that from the angle in these pictures one might not be able to see the 6th story rooftop restaurant because it is set back a bit from the fifth story.  There didnt appear to be any pictures from any angle where you could actually see the 6th story.

This of course is misleading in multiple ways.  It is either not accurately depicting how tall the hotel will look from the road, OR it makes the alternative look worse than what it actually would, OR both.

Another omission on the hotel rendering side which was explained at the meeting (if you asked) is that the sidewalk along Griffith Street will be pushed back to make way for on street parking.  Additionally, the existing entrance onto the site closest to town will be closed forcing all drivers to use Gateway Drive.

Finally, the exterior design of the hotel doesn't seem to offer much.  It's reminiscent of the Linden Apartments around the corner which doesn't receive high marks as far as aesthetics goes.  Frankly, the proposed hotel design doesn't look any more intriguing than these other lower budget hotel lines.

It will be interesting what the town Design Review Board has to say if the project progresses that far.  Dave Malushizky with the local office of The Lawrence Group is the architect.

There was one interesting bit of info that came out during the meeting.  The project is now being required to complete a Traffic Impact Analysis.  With traffic and parking being major issues for this site, that will be revealing.

More on the TIA in the next post.  Stay tuned.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Davidson acting as developer on multiple projects?

Davidson Mayor John Woods is fond of recounting population numbers whenever there’s a discussion regarding regional growth at Davidson Town Hall.  Over the years, regulars at town events have heard multiple times the comparison of Davidson’s population growth to its neighbors.  Davidson has long had a reputation for controlling growth, sometimes being accused of being heavy-handed in comparison to other Lake Norman towns.

To be fair though, the statistics are pretty startling.

According Google, in 1990 local towns had relatively tiny populations.  Davidson sported 4182 residents.  Cornelius came in at 5067, and Huntersville had just 6653. Mooresville was a relative metropolis at 11,257.  Compare those to 2013.  Davidson had 11,750 – up 281%.  Cornelius was at 26,898 – over 450%.  Huntersville was at 50,458 – a mind boggling 758%.  Mooresville leapt to 34,887 –  a relatively Davidson-tame  - 300%.

As everywhere, this frantic pace came to a screeching halt with the Great Recession.  Over the past two years however the pace has started to pick back up and growth, like it or not (with “not” being the most common sentiment), has ramped back up.  What seems very noticeable with this wave of development, particularly in Davidson, is the level of involvement where the local government is playing the role of “developer”.

Davidson has no less than five different projects in various stages of planning where the town is driving the discussion.

In August, the Town officially pulled the plug on the controversial Catalyst Project that would have potentially brought a massive mixed use commercial/residential/public sector project to the current Town Hall site on Main Street.  In its place however, last month Davidson put out a Request for Quote (RFQ) for design firms to propose just public uses for parking, a remodel of the exiting Town Hall, and a new municipal building on Main Street next to the JJWade building.  The town planned a second RFQ for Public Works as well, but that was decided against because design work already completed is sufficient to proceed without one.  How these projects would be paid for is still unclear but they could result in Davidson pursuing its firs ever general obligation bond requiring voter approval.

(Correction: The original version of this post said the Town had a 2nd RFQ "in the works".  Notice that this one had been canceled came after publication deadline.)

The town also has two Requests for Proposal (RFPs) out for other projects on other town owned land.

The first is an affordable housing project in the Bailey Springs neighborhood.  The town received just two responses from builders interested in the property.  In both cases the builders wanted the land for free, and while no official announcement has been made at this time, all indications are that something will move forward here.

The other RFP could be a much bigger deal.  The town is seeking proposals for a large mixed use development on its 18 acre property along Beaty Street ending at the intersection with NC115 just north of downtown. Responses are due back in early December.  The RFP states the Town plans to make a decision by February 2017 on whether or not to move forward.  It should be noted however that the a developer approached the Town prior to the RFP going out and that had at least something to do with getting this effort underway.  That could be read as at least one acceptable proposal may already be on the table.

Finally at this past Tuesday’s Board meeting, the town was slated to put the finishing touches on financing  before breaking ground on the long awaited Fire Station #2 on Davidson’s East Side.  Of all the projects on this list, this is the one, maybe the one that’s most truly needed.  This project off Davidson-Concord Road by the Beaver Dam House will close a long term gap in fire service that has been covered via a contract with the Odell fire station in Cabarrus County.

With so much private sector development coming, it’s not surprising to see the town looking at more municipal infrastructure projects to support it.  It is surprising however to see the appetite at Davidson Hall for looking at projects to bring more residents as well (the now defeated Catalyst, more affordable housing units, and what could be a major residential component at Beaty street.)

My how times have changed.

This post first appeared in the Herald Weekly at

Friday, October 7, 2016

Untangling the Bonus Allocation Riddle

Riddle me this dear readers…

Some call it a sweetener.  Others call it an incentive.  It has also been called a bribe.  When necessary, it has been used as a hammer.  What is “it”?

Why, ‘it” is the I77 HOT Lanes Bonus Allocation funding of course!

As the I77 HOT Lanes project was being “sold” or “marketed” or “rammed through” the process, one of the biggest selling points by those supporting the tolls both locally and in Raleigh has been the idea that the area would be getting extra money (aka Bonus Allocation) to fund a grab bag of projects long sought after by local Town Halls.

Like any promise that sounds too good to be true, this one has turned out to be just that.

One would think something intended to induce a positive response would not come with strings attached, but nothing could be further from the truth in this case.   Instead, Bonus dollars could only be spent on certain categories of projects – many of which were priorities of NCDOT.  To make matters worse, when the list of Bonus Allocation projects was first approved by CRTPO it included projects that by all rights should have been included in the HOT lanes project itself.  Two Bonus projects were actually direct access ramps to funnel more customers onto the HOT Lanes.  Those projects alone totaled $77 million and accounted for half of the Bonus allocation money.

In fact, if it wasn’t for work that should have been part of the toll project itself being spun off as a “bonus”, it’s easy to see how the controversial project might not have happened at all.  When the HOT lanes debt was rated, it received bond ratings one level above “junk bond” status.  If $77 million in access ramps had been added to that debt load, it’s easy to see how “junk” status would have been the result.

Junk status for the debt very well may have killed the project financially.  The State throwing in $77 million more in equity certainly could have killed it politically.  The solution?  Put the money in the bonus allocation and tell the public it’s what they want.

“Bonus” dollars used to support a project the locals don’t want doesn’t sound like much of a bonus now does it?

Unfortunately, the tangled web doesn’t stop there.  No, those were just the big ticket items involved in the twisted path down the bonus allocation road.  Even some small things have required, shall we say, “flexible” thinking to get them done.  Take what’s happening in Davidson for example.

Davidson is slated for two of these bonus projects.

One involves new roundabouts bookending the new Exit 30 bridge built as part of the HOT Lanes project.   Arguably, these too should have been part of the HOT Lanes project itself just like the direct access ramps mentioned above.

The other project planned to receive funds is one long desired by Davidson Town Hall.  It’s called the Potts-Sloan-Beaty Connector.  The bonus money is relatively small amount at about $2.2 million to be used as matching funds to connect Potts Street and Sloan street in Davidson’s West Side neighborhood.  This will provide a bypass of Main Street for through traffic on NC115.  The problem with this second project?  As a town owned road it was not eligible for the matching funds.

Never fear however.  The Town and NCDOT solved that little problem by temporarily transferring control of the street to the State making it eligible.  Once the project is done, the State will transfer it back to the Town.  This plan unanimously flew through Davidson’s Town Board back in July.

By way of comparison, try moving ownership of some of your real estate holdings with the unwritten promise to transfer it back once funding is secured for a future project and see how that works out for you.  That’s effectively what was done here – all to get access to some money that was supposed to be a bonus.

Maybe untangling a “riddle” was the wrong metaphor for this column.  A game of Three Card Monte might have been better.

This post first appeared in the Herald Weekly at

Thursday, October 6, 2016

#NCGA: Outside money targeting Caulfield in NC House 92 race

aShortChronicle previously told readers about the wave of outside money flowing into local races for the NC General Assembly.

Specifically, we've covered the dark money operation called NC Families First which has been hitting NC 98 Rep John Bradford on the I77 tolls issue.  While aShortChronicle HQ appears to have somehow gotten off the mailing list for this outfit (we wonder why?!?!), our readers tell us the mailers are still coming.  They have shifted gears somewhat and moved on to other topics however.  Maybe that has something to do with the fact Bradford recently received multiple endorsements from anti-toll advocates exposing the misleading nature of those earlier flyers.

Attacking Bradford hasn't been the only mischief NC Families First has been up to though.  Republican candidate Danae Caulfield has also been targeted in the neighboring NC92 race.

Caulfield, a former Huntersville Commissioner, entered the race late after Rep Charles Jeter resigned suddenly back during the summer.

As a candidate, she has also been targeted by NC Families First.

Since Caulfield has not been an elected official since 2011, it's hard to see how she "voted" for I77 tolls.  So, where could that attack have originated?

Well, Caulfield did vote for the award winning 2030 Community Plan in Huntersville as a Huntersville Commissioner.  That plan did have a section on transportation.  The thing is, that transportation section wasn't about tolls, and it was barely about I77.  Instead the biggest project, the one where Public Private Partnership was mentioned as part of the plan, had to do with the Red Line Regional Rail project.  See below.

So, Caulfied is being skewered over tolls on I77 by dark money from an outside group because she voted for something that didn't have to do with I77.

It gets worse...

One of the anti-Caulfield mailers featured a picture of local anti-toll activist Ron Vanderbilt of Huntersville saying "we can't support politicians who backed this raw deal."

aShortChronicle caught up with Vanderbilt on Wednesday and learned he was unaware his comments and photo would be used against Caulfield.  He thought it would be for a flyer against Governor Pat McCrory.  When asked if he would have condoned using his comment and photo against Caulfield, he said "no".

As further evidence of the honesty deficit in
these flyers, the I77 Business Plan endorsed both Caulfield and her Democrat opponent Chaz Beasley in the race for NC92.  The I77 Business Plan recently endorsed a bi-partisan list of candidates in the upcoming elections, but this race was the only head-to-head race where both candidates were endorsed.

These flyers from NC Families First are prime examples of what turns people off to politics.

As such, Democrat Chaz Beasley should disavow these misleading efforts clearly intended to benefit his campaign.  Not doing so does a disservice to voters and tarnishes the endorsement from the I77 Business Plan.

However, this is politics, so holding one's breath on that one is not recommended.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

#Davidson Reverse Angle Parking...When are the training sessions?

aShortChronicle told readers a couple weeks ago about a new parking scheme coming to Davidson called "reverse angle parking".    It's an approach intended to make things safer for pedestrians by having people back into spaces instead of pulling in head first like normal.

The town put out this release on the approach on Tuesday.

Below are a few examples of how there might need to be some public training on the subject.  These are the new reverse angle spots on Jetton by the new Linden Apartments.  As you can see, it doesn't matter what time of day, only about half of drivers get it right.

Other readers in the Circles@30 area indicate the spots are too narrow and that the street itself is too narrow for lots of reverse driving parkers.  Also, the spots are right after the roundabout at Griffith street, so you will have people coming off that roundabout being met by people backing up into these spots.  Finally, many and possibly most people leaving these spots will be wanting to go back towards Griffith and I77, so they will be forced to make a more than 90 degree turn out of them or go through the Harris Teeter parking lot.

Whether this new scheme at this location makes things safer or more dangerous remains to be seen.