Monday, January 2, 2017

Don't worry, we'll be back...

To my regular readers...

aShortChronicle will be taking a hiatus from blogging and the columns at the Herald Weekly for at least the month of January.

As many readers know, this is not my job.  It's just a hobby, and I don't get paid a dime.  With the new year kicking off, I have a number of other important priorities that need to move to the front of the line.

Dont worry though.  We will be back!

There are too many important things coming in 2017 to let the silliness and shennanigans of local government go unreported.

Massive rezoning by Davidson Town Hall to make devopment easier

Many homeowners on Davidson's east side received what was likely an unwelcome surprise on Christmas Eve with the arrival of a letter from Town Hall.  Landing at an inopportune time considering the holidays and with many people traveling, the letters were to notify property owners that nearby land was up for rezoning.

And we're not talking about something minor.

No, this will be a massive rezoning in follow up to the recently completed Rural Area Plan.  According to the town:

  • 2,379 letters went out.
  • 114 properties will be rezoned
  • 2,048.73 total acres impacted

Here's the letter.


What may be surprising to many is that these rezonings being done under the auspices of the Rural Area Plan will actually make it much much easier to develop land that is currently rural.

To give you an idea of how large an impact this could be, look at the below map for some perspective.  The areas are approximate due to the use of the drawing tool on the county's Polaris site.


The Barger Farm is a massive property and the 280 acres shown here is just a portion of it.  This portion will be rezoned as Neighborhood General with portions around the roundabout at Davidson-Concord/Rocky River being rezoned as Neighborhood Services.

These designation changes will make dramatic new development "by right" without needing to go through rezoning at the time development is actually proposed.  Making these changes now cedes significant control from the the Town to the development community.  While it is certainly reasonable and correct for land owners to expect to do something of value with their land, the Town taking this step proactively without any proposed actual development plans makes it much easier to ram through unacceptable projects when they do come up.

As a prime example from very recent history, that is exactly what happened with the Westmoreland Farm property depicted on the map as West Branch.  One week after it was similarly rezoned when the 2015 Davidson Planning Ordinance rewrite passed, land planning efforts began in earnest for what would become West Branch. (Click link for story)

Commissioner Brian Jenest voted for the rewrite, and his firm did the land planning for the West Branch project.

If the West Branch example doesn't bother you, how about the other two areas highlighted above?  Do you think it is a good idea to have pre-approved zoning for a high density development the the size of a combined McConnell/St Albans neighborhood?  What about something the size of the entire Circles@30 area?

Now consider that this portion of the Barger Farm is just one area that will be rezoned by this Town proposal.  More than 1000 additional acres will be approved for more intense development as part of this effort as well.  Those acres will mostly be in the less dense Neighborhood Edge category, but they will still provide by right approval for an untold number of rooftops.  Neighborhood Edge requires 40% open space and does not have multifamily, but also has no density cap.

In light of all this, these rezonings should not occur until there are official projects for an area.  This would not prevent the projects from occurring, and the Rural Area Plan should be used as the guide for approving them.  However, holding off on the rezoning changes would allow the Town more control in the event a developer down the road proposes something that may be inappropriate for the area but may be "by right" under the new zoning.

Residents should plan on attending the open house this week on January 5th from 430-630pm and the official Public Hearing at the January 10th Town Board meeting at 6pm.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Burst your bubble in 2017

So, it’s time for the annual New Years column, that time for throwing out an idea or two on what to do differently in the coming 365 days called 2017.

Last year’s idea was to cut back on being “connected” by going offline one day a week.  It did not go well.  Just like with the ubiquitous annual intention of getting into better shape, I lasted just a few weeks before starting to slip.  So, this year I thought maybe something a little more  focused on taking advantage of opportunities when they arise rather than trying to force something that’s likely not to succeed.

A few weeks ago I came across something in my Facebook feed that reminded me of a topic that had been on the “idea board” for a column for quite a while now.  It seems to fit the bill – especially considering how divided our society seems to be after the rough and tumble of 2016.  Hat tip to Davidson Commissioner Rodney Graham for the reminder.

Living in Davidson is often compared living in a “bubble”.  I personally prefer to liken it to living in a Norman Rockwell painting, but the bubble comparison can a also fit.  Back in 2015, Davidson received the dubious honor from the website RoadSnacks.net of being the “snobbiest” town in North Carolina.  While I certainly wouldn’t agree with that literal designation, the criteria used to make it do shed light on why the bubble here might be a little thicker than normal.  Here’s what they had to say.

“Davidson is home to just about the smartest, wealthiest people in the entire state. The live in the 3rd biggest homes. And, since it’s home to Davidson College, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear that almost 70% of the people who live there have a college degree.”

Add into that list access to theaters and art galleries and Davidson ranks highest on the list of criteria used by the RoadSnacks.net site.  Calling those things snobby by definition is certainly open to debate.  However, it’s not far fetched to say living in that environment could skew one’s perception of what is important when compared to those who don’t.

To be clear, those things and that bubble doesn’t just apply to Davidson.  Not by a long shot.  They are things that apply to large swaths of the larger Lake Norman and Charlotte areas.  They are things, while all being positive, can lead to a pretty thick bubble.

All that brings us to how to measure that bubble and what to do about it.

Google “Do you live in a bubble?” to find a quiz posted by NPR gauging how removed your upbringing and lifestyle may be from average America.  Take the quiz.  Then, compare your results to see how thick your bubble is when compared to “mainstream” America.

Now here’s the suggestion, if you are so inclined, for how to pierce that bubble.

For each level removed from mainstream American culture try to do two things this coming year that consciously works at removing a bubble layer.  That would just be 8 things a year.

Make them intentional efforts if possible.  Volunteer at a soup kitchen or maybe Room I  the Inn this winter.  Maybe spend an afternoon helping with a Habitat for Humanity home building project.  If you are feeling more adventurous, check out what mission opportunities might be available through your local churches.  Those may only be open to church members, but many offer trips within the state to do service projects or to help out when the next natural disaster strikes.

Opportunities to help others are plentiful, and nothing pierces the bubble that can be created by of having access to plenty than by helping out those who don’t.  With 2017 shaping up to be another volatile one in our state, nation, and world, reaching out to help others and learn a little about their lives could be one small way to smooth things out.

Have a safe and happy New Years!

This post was first published in this week’s Herald Weekly at HuntersvilleHerald.com

Friday, December 23, 2016

How the NCGA Grinch stole Roy Cooper's Christmas

“Then he got an idea. An awful idea. The Grinch had a wonderful, awful idea.”

That quote from the classic children’s book, “How the Grinch stole Christmas”, comes to mind when thinking about the recent actions of Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly. How could they prevent “Christmas” from coming for the Democrats whose victories in the races for Governor and the State Supreme Court threatened to derail the Republican agenda?  One can almost hear the Republican leadership at the NCGA channeling the Dr Seuss villain as they hatched their plans, and last week like the Grinch flying into Whooville on a ramshackle sleigh the plans swung into motion.

Leading up to last week, many in the media had gone into what ultimately amounted to a “fake news” frenzy over the possibility of the NCGA packing the State Supreme Court.  Under this scenario legislators would add two new justices that Governor Pat McCrory could appoint before leaving office.  That would effectively nullify the defeat of incumbent Supreme Court Justice, Bob Edmunds, by keeping the State Supreme Court in Republican hands.

Fortunately, there apparently is a line somewhere for what legislators won’t do, and they didn’t do that.

However in just about 48 hours from last Wednesday afternoon until Friday, NCGA Republicans unilaterally moved two bills through the General Assembly impacting both the Judiciary and the Executive branches of state government.

In Senate Bill 4, Legislators reinstalled partisan races for the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court like they used to be prior to being made non-partisan in 2002.  They also made changes to how appeals go through the court system, allowing those losing appeals to a 3 member appellate panel to request review by the entire 15 member Court of Appeals. While not having an immediate impact on the makeup of the courts, these changes in the long run will likely benefit Republican judicial candidates and help sustain Republican legislation.

In House Bill 17, Legislators set their sights on the Executive Branch, making several changes.  They reduced the number of political patronage jobs Roy Cooper will be able to appoint from 1500 to 425.  They made extensive changes to how public education is managed giving more control to the new Superintendent of Public Instruction, a fellow Republican.  Finally, they required Senate confirmation of several appointed department heads.

As of this writing, Governor McCrory has signed SB4.  HB17 is awaiting his signature.  UPDATE - McCrory signed HB17 as well on Monday.

As one can imagine, the response has been swift and severe from Democrats.  They are decrying these bills as attacks on democracy.  Some calling them a “power grab” and as usual lawsuits are being threatened.  What is probably more surprising is the backlash from some on the political right with several well known conservative voices across the state chiming in as well.  Bob Leubke at  NC Civitas cautioned that “majorities don’t last forever” and added that the changes implemented here may “come back to haunt” Republicans.  Pete Kaliner, a former WBT radio host who now has a show in Asheville, called the bills “revenge governing.”  Finally, Sister Toldjah a well known conservative blogger in the state who writes at the American Lens, said Republicans needed to choose their battles more wisely and learn how to “fight smarter”.

In response to that criticism, Republican leaders made what was effectively a two wrongs make a right argument saying everything done was legal and nothing worse than what Democrats had done to Republicans in the past.  That may all be true, but it’s not much of a defense.

Even the Grinch had his heart grow two sizes by the end of story.  He turned it around and ended the story on a high note.  He didn’t continue the divisiveness. Here in North Carolina, it looks like we’ll have to wait for that.

This post first appeared in this week’s Herald Weekly at HuntersvilleHerald.com

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Help Needed: Monday Hit and run on Jetton

On Monday, a reader let aShortChronicle know of a hit and run outside the PostNet at Circles@30.  Today, we received the police report and the following press release from the Town Public Information Officer, Christina Shaul.

On Monday, December 19 at approximately 1:45 p.m., the Davidson Police and Fire Departments received a call for service related to a hit-and-run accident where a vehicle struck a pedestrian in the road in front of PostNet at 610 Jetton Street.

Due to the multiple fractures sustained in the accident, the victim was hospitalized. She was released from the hospital today, but faces six to eight weeks of recovery.

The Davidson Police Department seeks information on the suspect who failed to stop at the scene. Attached please find photos and videos of the gold Toyota Highlander in question.

Video #1: https://vimeo.com/196639607

Video #2: https://vimeo.com/196639273


If you have any information regarding the vehicle or suspected driver, please contact Detective Jay Stokes at jstokes@townofdavidson.org

According to the police report the victim is a 29 year old woman.  While thankfully, this accident was not as bad as other recent pedestrian involved accidents in Davidson, this one could have been much worse.  Fortunately, a nearby employee was able to call the police quickly to get emergency help.

Hit and run resulting in injury is either a Class 1 misdemeanor or a Class H felony depending on the level of injury.  Misdemeanor charges can be up to a year in jail while felony charges start at 8 months for a first offence.  Sentences can go up substantially from there if there driver has previous convictions.

As Davidson's streets get more crowded due to continued development unfortunately they also get more dangerous.  Please be careful!

Monday, December 19, 2016

The flaws of the Bailey Springs affordable housing plan

Back in April, the Town of Davidson floated an RFP for an affordable housing project on Town owned land in the Bailey Springs neighborhood on Davidson's East Side.

According to an email at the time from Cindy Reid, the Affordable Housing Coordinator, the list of RFP recipients included "any builder that had expressed an interest in affordable housing".  Ultimately though, only two responses were received, one from JCB Urban and another from True Homes.  Jim Burbank with JCB Urban is on the town's Affordable Housing Steering Committee.  True Homes is building out the revised affordable housing plan in the Bradford neighborhood across Davidson Concord Road from Bailey Springs.

JCB Urban got the nod.

On November 30th, the Bailey Springs neighborhood got to see the plan in a meeting coordinated by Town Hall.

  • 15 single family homes packed onto just over 2 acres in the neighborhood.
  • The houses will have no garages, and 15 year deed restrictions have been proposed.
  • Five will be built in conjunction with Habitat for the lowest tier Area Median Income (AMI), and the other 10 will be built for tiers up to 120% of the AMI.

"Qualifying incomes are between 50% and 120% of the area median income (based on family of 4): $33,500- $80,400"  Price points will be "$155k to $175k".

Most importantly for Davidson tax payers, in spite of the Town asking developers for offers for the land in its RFP, the land will be given away for free as part of the deal.



Taken all together, this plan raises several questions - especially when compared to the recently negotiated agreement with the Bradford neighborhood.  Here are a few:

  1. Why no garages?  In the Bradford neighborhood just across Davidson-Concord Road, residents fought hard to have their affordable housing plan updated to require garages for similar affordable single family homes.
  2. Why push for 15 year deed restrictions? In the recently completed agreement for Bradford only 10 years was required.  Deed restrictions are much more about the Town maintaining control than they are about helping people, and the Town pushing for this just looks bad when the Bradford model has worked well.
  3. Why cluster AH in one spot?  Yes, this landed was deeded years ago for affordable housing but clustering this many AH units together effectively creates a neighborhood within a neighborhood.  The Bradford plan mixed AH and market rate homes.
  4. Why give the land away for free?  This is unnecessary to achieve to goal of building affordable homes.  The AH homes in Bradford were built on land paid for by the developer (True Homes).  This giveaway costs the town hundreds of thousands of dollars, money that could be used to support the program elsewhere in town.
Hopefully, the Bailey Springs neighborhood will push for a plan with the town that doesn't put the neighborhood at a disadvantage as this program seeks to expand.

If you want to comment on the program in general, the Town is seeking input.  Click here for the survey.  You do have to register, but comments can be anonymous.

Friday, December 16, 2016

A reason for the Electoral College...

Delegates to the Electoral College meet next Monday, December 19th, to cast their ballots for the 45th President of the United States, and barring any unforeseen and highly unlikely machinations to change the expected outcome, Donald Trump will be that person.

This will happen in spite of multiple recount efforts.  No recount has ever overturned an initial result as large a difference as those in Wisconsin, Michigan, or Pennsylvania, and the odds of Clinton winning all three by recount were infinitesimally small anyway.  This will happen in spite of Hillary Clinton handily winning the national popular vote.  At this writing on Monday she was up by over 2.8 million votes million votes.  This will happen because the Electoral College, not the national popular vote, is how we elect the President in this country.

While it may be unpopular to say and while it certainly seems unfair in a purely small-d democracy sense, for a country as large and diverse as the United States the Electoral College provides a very practical system for selecting the nation’s highest office holder.  The system requires candidates to appeal to as many of the regions of the country as possible – regions that in many ways have distinct cultures and values.  With its weighted voting that slightly favors small states over large states, the Electoral College forces Presidential campaigns to focus on states all across the country, not just the most populous.

Imagine, if election after election all candidates in both parties focused solely on the handful of large population states and a few select cities.  Over time, that could be corrosive to the level of national cohesion necessary to hold together a country such as this.

Here are some numbers from the Cook Political Report that may illustrate the point.  These are as of December 7th.

National Popular Vote: Clinton 65,746,544; Trump  62,904,682

13 Swing States: Clinton  21,429,661 ; Trump 22,247,375

States Won: Clinton 20; Trump 30

California: Clinton 8,753,788; Trump 4,483,810

As you can see Clinton won the national popular vote while Trump won the popular vote in the collection of swing states.  Cook defines “swing state” as any state that switched parties from the last election or was closer than 5% in the state popular vote.  Trump also won the popular vote in 30 states to just 20 for Clinton.  Finally, you can see that Clinton’s sizeable national margin was more than covered by just one state, California.  In fact, Clinton’s margin in California increased significantly over what President Obama received in 2012 both in raw numbers and percentage of the state electorate.  It was by far her best state on both counts when compared to the last election cycle.

All of those extra votes in California were “wasted” in an electoral sense because they don’t impact the Electoral College.  Another way to look at it is if just over half of those wasted votes were spread out to the Plains States and even fellow electoral giant Texas, Clinton would have won all of them and easily won the Electoral College.  She didn’t do that however.  Instead, her campaign focused on a message and issues that pumped up her vote totals primarily in one state, and it was a state she was going to win anyway.

By contrast Trump was only able to win by coming up with a message and campaign that played well in most of the country including the Upper Midwest, a region that had been a Democratic bastion in recent decades.  He also had millions of “wasted” votes above and beyond what was needed to win the states he won – just not nearly as many as Clinton.

The question becomes should a national election rest on a candidate doing exceedingly well in one state like Clinton did in California while losing a solid majority of the others?  The Founders didn’t think so, and this election provides of good example why the Founders implemented the Electoral College system instead of relying solely on the national popular vote.

This post first appeared in this week's Herald Weekly at HuntersvilleHerald.com.