Friday, April 29, 2016

Exit 28 Bridge Protest in Pictures

Almost exactly 1 year ago, anti-toll activists  first gathered for a protest at the Exit 28 bridge over I77.  Friday evening they gave a repeat performance as roughly 200 people gathered and showed the movement is still going as strong as ever.

The protest comes as multiple bills have been filed in the legislature this week to cancel the contract with Cintra - the Spanish firm hired by Governor Pat McCrory's NCDOT to build the road.



Should the LNTC stay, or should it go now?!?!

This indecision's buggin' me
If you don't want me, set me free
Exactly whom I'm supposed to be
Don't you know which clothes even fit me?
-The Clash

That was definitely the theme of the discussion Tuesday night at Davidson Town Hall around the fate/future of the Lake Norman Transportation Commission (LNTC).

Readers will remember that back in February, the LNTC was thrown into turmoil when Huntersville unilaterally decided to withdraw from the organization.  That prompted similar withdrawals by Cornelius and Davidson to avoid being on the hook for more money to fund it.

At Tuesday's meeting Mayor John Woods and Commissioner Brian Jenest put on the hard sell for keeping the LNTC with  Woods claiming it provides "expert" advise.

The great bulk of the funding for the body goes to pay the Executive Director's salary.  Bill Thunberg currently fills that role.  Thunberg is the former Mayor of Mooresville and a jeweler by trade.  He is NOT a career transportation "expert".

In a long soliloquy which he certainly thought would support continuing the body, Commissioner Jenest instead described a body designed to fail when it comes to controversial projects like I77 HOT lanes - the most important transportation decision in the region since the creation of I77 itself.  That's because the LNTC won't take a position on an issue unless it is unanimous.

According to Jenest, the LNTC was never intended to manage smaller issues for the individual towns.

That combination of ineffectiveness on large issues and non-inolvement on small issues should make commissioners seriously question any future funding for the body.

If the LNTC reconfigured as an actual planning body with paid professional staff, then splitting the cost among the towns would make sense.

Short of doing that, it's time for the indecision to stop and for the LNTC to go.

#Cornelius to the left of #Davidson on property rights?

Cornelius elected officials have a well earned reputation for being a fairly conservative bunch.

Among similarly sized communities, the town has long had one of the lowest municipal property tax rates in the state.  At the same time, it provides high quality services.  That’s an indication of strong fiscal discipline.  Town Commissioners, if not the Mayor, have also been some of the leading elected voices against potential regional boondoggles like the Red Line Commuter Rail and the I77 HOT lanes.

So, it’s peculiar to witness the town involved in a brouhaha with citizens and landowners over a rezoning request that has similarities to a recent example in Davidson – it’s more leftward leaning neighbor to the north.  Those two decisions would be Classica Homes development currently being discussed in Cornelius  and the Narrow Passage development approved last year by Davidson.

Development company Classica Homes wishes to build 40 age restricted townhomes on roughly 9 acres off of land off of West Catawba Ave.   In Davidson, developer Karl Plattner looked to build a similar number of homes on a large parcel in Davidson’s rural area.  In both cases, town Planning staff opposed the rezoning requests because they didn’t perfectly conform to previously approved plans.  In both cases public feedback was significant with citizens packing the public hearings and sending numerous emails.

There were significant differences though.

In Davidson’s case, opponents were trying to all but eliminate any real development in the rural area.  In Cornelius, it appears the Town is pushing to reserve land for more intense commercial development at some undetermined point down the road.  Also, in Davidson the citizen led Planning Board opposed the rezoning along with staff, and there was some element of the public who opposed the project as well.  In Cornelius, the citizen Planning Board actually supported Classica’s request and public feedback from the neighbors most impacted also appears unanimous in its support.

You'd think the Davidson decision would have been the hard one, or at least the closest vote, wouldn’t you?  Ultimately however, the Davidson Board recognized they should respect the landowners’ property rights and allow what was clearly a reasonable plan to go forward.  They unanimously approved the rezoning.

The Cornelius vote appears to be the closer one.  With Commissioners knotted at 2-2 during their last meeting with one Commissioner absent, they decided to kick the final vote until their next meeting on May 2nd.

Unlike what happened in Davidson, the utter reasonableness of the proposal by Classica and the land owners appears to have been lost in the discussion.  Even if the proposal does not meet exactly what the town says it wants which is more commercial development, it’s hard to deny it is reasonable.

As confirmed by Town Planning Director, Wayne Herron, under the existing zoning the landowners could build a total of 16 single family homes -  no questions asked.  However, these would likely be large lot homes.  They would likely have as many cars and generate as many or more car trips as the 40 units in the Classica proposal.  They would also bring more children likely to attend local schools.  (Age restricted communities tend to have less cars, generate less trips, and don’t have children.)

It’s reasonable compared to other residential possibilities or even the town’s desired option of commercial development.  It will put less strain on area roads as well as area schools.

It’s reasonable when looking at growing the tax base compared to what could be built there by right already.  Forty high end townhomes will provide more revenue than the 16 homes already allowed.

Finally, and most importantly it’s a reasonable option for the town that also treats the landowners fairly – landowners who have been trying to sell this property for decades.

In Davidson, it was the reasonableness of the proposal which ultimately won over that Board.

Hopefully, reasonableness and respect for property rights will do the same in Cornelius at that Board's next meeting

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

#Davidson seeking #NCDOT rep for feedback on "Davidson-Concord Speedway" at May 10th meeting


It's amazing the power a little video can have.

Late last Thursday we posted this piece with three disturbing videos showing incidents on Davidson-Concord Rd involving bad behaviour by inconsiderate drivers around school buses.

On Friday, after one reader saw the post, this event encouraging residents to attend the regular Davidson Board meeting on May 10th began circulating around cyberspace.  The invite encourages people to speak out before tragedy ensues (again) in this area.  Readers will remember the skateboarder who was involved in a serious accident at the intersection with Robert-Walker Drive a few years ago.

After several hundred page views and watching that invite circulate, aShortChronicle has learned that by Monday an official request was made to get this subject on the agenda for May 10th and a representative from NCDOT may be present.

Here's hoping that's true.  Otherwise it will likely be an extra long "public comment" period which traditionally occurs at the beginning of regular Board meeting.

At the April Board meeting when the town was discussing pedestrian safety in the wake of the tragedy on Main St a few weeks ago, Mayor John Woods indicated he had a good working relationship with the "Chair of the whole department" (referring to NCDOT) and could use that influence to get them involved on the Downtown crosswalk issue they were discussing at the time.

Assuming the Mayor meant NCDOT Secretary Tennyson, here's also hoping the Mayor can use that influence to ensure someone from NCDOT shows at the May meeting to hear citizen concerns.

#Davidson Bonds: June deadline to decide - many questions outstanding

Remember that feeling you had the first time you jumped off the high dive into the deep end of the pool?  The thought "maybe I didn't think this all the way through!?!?" probably flashed through your mind.

There was a moment during the discussion Tuesday night on Davidson possibly conducting its first ever "general obligation" bond referendum when you could sense that same feeling in the room.

Davidson's Board was in the middle of a tutorial on the GO bond process when Commissioner Rodney Graham asked the town's bond counsel from high-powered law firm Parker Poe for advise on how Davidson should structure the bonds to help ensure passage.  The response was that town officials typically have their finger on the pulse of public opinion and know when things will pass or when they are in trouble.

One got the distinct feeling in the room that may not be the case in Davidson.

Maybe it's the lingering bad feelings over the Mi-Connection decision which has put the town in the position of needing to look at bonds in the first place.  Or maybe, it is the more recent swirl around the Catalyst Project and the surprising amount of pushback from residents.  That seemed to catch Town Hall off guard and could certainly feed into uncertainty on the idea of bonds.

What was clear is this...

The Town has a lot of decisions to make in a big hurry if they want to put a good proposal before voters this November.  The man from Parker Poe outlined a series of steps that need to occur and those need to start in June. 

To do that, the Town needs to...
  • understand how exactly it wants to divide up the bond questions;
  • get a better idea of exactly what projects would be in each proposal;
  • identify the real dollar amount needed for the projects;
  • identify what the tax rate impacts are for each proposal;
The bond counsel mentioned in other towns he'd seen efforts to have public input on forming the list of projects.  It doesn't seem like there is time to complete something like that now.  So, Davidson will likely depend on previous documents such as the "Walks and Rolls" plan or the ever present Comprehensive Plan.

However, when you get down to talking about spending real money on real projects - not just hypothetical plans - and you want to raise taxes to do it, that certainly may not be enough.

Bonus Observation: According to NCTreasurer.com, municipal bond referendums have a solid record of passing in November elections across the state in recent years.  One example where one failed recently was in Bald Head Island where a bond for a "broadband system" failed.  One has to wonder what would have happened if Davidson had put Mi-Connection to a vote back in 2007.  If they had, we might not be talking about bonds and higher taxes now.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Davidson sends RFP for newest Affordable Housing project

On March 31st, Davidson sent out an RFP for the latest effort out of the Town Affordable Housing department - selling off 2.3 acres of prime real estate in the Bailey Springs neighborhood.

aShortChronicle has obtained a copy of the RFP and the list of RFP recipients.  It's an eye opening read.

From the RFP (emphasis added)...

"The Bailey Springs affordable housing project is the first of its kind undertaken by the Town.  The project area, as shown on Exhibit A, encompasses approximately 2.3 acres and is located in the middle of the Bailey Springs neighborhood facing Bradford Park Drive. It is less than a mile from Hough High School and within two miles of Bailey Middle School.

The foremost objective of this project is to provide high quality and attractive homes targeting households with incomes that range from 50% to 120% of the area median income.
...

The original vision for this property was eight bungalows, with three apartments each, for a total of 24 units.  ... The project was not eligible for low income tax credits due to its contiguity to overhead power lines, lack of public transportation, and limited access to service centers. Although the property has infrastructure to support eight bungalows, or 24 apartments, this RFP is not limited to a particular number of homes."

Two things stand out in this description.  First is the size.  The project could be rather large with the area having been previously approved for up to 24 units.  This will be additional volume to the 306 home West Branch neighborhood in the same area.  Second, the conditions which killed the previous projects still exist - particularly the lack of mass transit or service centers in the area.

The project is apparently intended to be for sale units rather than rental.  In response to a question about that point  Affordable Housing Director Cindy Reid said "the Town prefers an ownership  model because it  will be more suitable to the neighborhood."  What's interesting about this response is that the town was just recently pushing for rental affordable housing in the Bradford neighborhood just across Davidson-Concord Road.  The plan moved to for purchase units only after strong pushback from the neighborhood.

While the town is saying it prefers owner occupied units, at the same time it has told developers who received the RFP that proposals containing rentals would not be considered a "non response".

That point is definitely something to keep an eye on going forward.

But maybe the most interesting thing about this project was the list of recipients.

This wasn't broadcast far and wide which might ensure the town gets the best offer.  Instead the list of RFP recipients includes several local names.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but interesting nonetheless.

Two names stood out.

Jay Johnstone with Artisan Homes was on the list.  That’s interesting considering Johnstone was involved in the 2014 lawsuit challenging the town's affordable housing ordinance.

In this piece from the Lake Norman Citizen it said Johnstone's firm would “challenge the legality of the Town of Davidson’s Affordable Housing Ordinance” unless the town waives affordable housing requirements.  Other documentation related to that lawsuit would also appear to indicate the belief the ordinance lacked "enabling legislation to support it."

Ultimately, the lawsuit was settled before trial so there was no legal judgment one way or the other.

When asked about the somewhat ironic situation of being on the short list for this RFP after the lawsuit Johnstone replied with the following.


"The lawsuit with the town was never about legalities of affordable housing. It had more to do with expediting a fair agreement for both parties involved. Ultimately the Town of Davidson and Artisan/Knox LLC agreed amicably and have discussed future projects.

We have a good relationship with the town and actually gave suggestions during negotiations as to how the affordable housing component could be implemented better."

Johnson went on to say that his firm is still assessing the Bailey Springs situation, and if the numbers work they may submit a proposal.

The other interesting name was that of Davidson  Commissioner Rodney Graham.  Yes, a sitting Commissioner received a request to seek possible business developing town owned property.

When asked how he would handle the obvious conflict of interest questions that would come up in such a situation, Graham responded with...

"I don't plan to submit a proposal, so that's an easy one.  There were a number of builders who received the RFP who I think would be much more competitive than us for this type of housing.

I'm anxious to review the proposals based on my expertise in this area, but that is the extent of our involvement."

Responses to the RFP are due back by the end of May.  They will head to the town's Affordable Housing Committee and then to the Town Board.

Affordable Housing is always a hot topic when it comes down to the brass tacks of putting it in an existing neighborhood, and this instance likely won't be any different.

Stay tuned.

Monday, April 25, 2016

MI-Connection Subsidy to be $3.5 million in FY2017

Based on numbers just confirmed from Town of Davidson Finance Director Pieter Swart, Davidson's total obligation to MI-Connection in the upcoming fiscal year starting July 1st will be $1.06 million dollars.

Under the current inter-local agreement with Mooresville, Davidson is responsible for 30% of the deficit.  That brings the total amount of subsidy required to $3.53 million.  That's down about $603,000 from the current fiscal year subsidy of $4.14 million.

Davidson's annual cash payment is capped at $1 million with Mooresville covering the rest.  Any amount not covered by Davidson accrues and the current amount owed Mooresville is $1.77 million.  Davidon currently has $1 million set asside towards this debt.

Improvement is always good, but there is still a long way to go.  At this rate of improvement, Davidson will owe the $1m per year for at least the next 3 (including FY2017) to cover current year debt each cycle and cover the unfunded $700k owed to Mooresville.  After that, the annual amount could drop significantly below $1m per year.

As reported earlier, Davidson will be discussing its upcoming budget on Tuesday.  Will be interesting to see how this plays into the discussion.

Update: The second to last paragraph has been updated to be more clear about the number of years Davidson is likely to have the $1m per year payment.