Tuesday, August 30, 2016

#Davidson enters the public transportation game w/ Saturday Shuttle

P&R Bus
The Town of Davidson will become the newest public transit service in the area with the trial launch of a shuttle service on Saturday mornings coinciding predominately with the hours of the Farmers Market.

From the town press release on Tuesday...

The Town of Davidson is pleased to announce the start of our “Saturday Shuttle” program to help transport citizens to downtown Davidson. The shuttle will run on Saturdays in September and October from 9:00 a.m. until noon. The purpose of the shuttle is to provide Davidson citizens with convenient transportation to downtown Davidson to visit the Davidson Farmer’s Market and our many shops and restaurants.

The route will be a continuous loop from the River Run athletic field parking lot to Main Street, with stops at the intersection of Concord Road and Kimberly Road and the intersection of Concord Road and St. Alban’s Lane. Pick-up times at the River Run parking lot will be:

9:00 a.m.
9:30 a.m.
10:00 a.m.
10:30 a.m.
11:00 a.m., and
11:30 a.m.

Pick-up times at the Davidson Farmer’s Market parking lot on Main Street will be

9:15 a.m.
9:45 a.m.
10:15 a.m.
10:45 a.m.
11:15 a.m., and
11:45 a.m.

There is no mention of a charge for the service in the town's press release, so it is presumably free to riders. The town will use its Parks and Recreation bus for this shuttle.  A question into the Economic Development department as to the cost/funding for the program was not immediately returned.

"Parking" has long been a hot topic in Downtown Davidson, but truly the one time where parking is a consistent challenge is Saturday mornings during the Farmers Market when the market takes up the largest parking lot in downtown while at the same time attracting large crowds.

It will be interesting to see if this shuttle serving Davidson's east side impacts that dynamic.

Shuttle Route Map

Monday, August 29, 2016

Early peak at Williams Place retirement residence in Davidson

If you have been watching the construction project at the end of Peninsula Drive in Davidson, Sunday offered a sneak peek into what will be the town's newest retirement residence.

Williams Place held an open of sorts.  The building is still a full-blown construction site, but it let prospetive renters in to take a look.

The 128 unit building is being well received in the market.  Based on some numbers thrown put by one of the staff who was on hand, more than 200 attended the open house and 160+ had expressed serious interest to date.  A few weeks ago neighbors in the area also received a flyer saying only 18 units were left.

While it looks like there is significant work left to be done, the building is supposed to open November 1st.

Here's the info and some pictures.

Records requests made simple...

This guest post by Eric Rowell first appeared in the Herald Weekly at HuntersvilleHerald.com

Have you ever been unable to find an answer to a question you had about your local government? Have you ever wondered what official town business your elected officials were discussing via email? Have you ever wondered how much in travel, lodging and meal expenses your elected officials were charging when attending out of state conferences? I used to have similar questions that kept me up at night until I discovered Chapter 132 of the North Carolina General Statutes on Public Records. Now I can send off a records request in no time at all! By the end of this piece hopefully you too will be able to quickly and easily request the answers to these and many more questions from your local government.

A public record in NC is defined in NCGS §132-1(a) as all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, films, sound recordings, magnetic or other tapes, electronic data-processing records, artifacts, or other documentary material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance in connection with the transaction of public business by any agency of NC government or its subdivisions. §132-1(b) goes on to outline the position that public records are property of the people so the people should be able to obtain copies of their public records and public information free or at minimal cost unless otherwise provided by law.

The default position outlined in §132-1(b) means that if any public agency denies your request for records they have to specify an applicable exemption – simply denying or ignoring a request is insufficient. For example, if your local police department declines your request for incident reports related to crime statistics cited by them in a report to the local town board ostensibly because they are protecting victims of crime, you can respond by citing to the exemptions outlined in §132-1.4(c) which specifies information that must be provided.

Drafting a records request in NC does not require you to hire a lawyer or have any special expertise. The law is designed to provide everyone easy access to government records in a timely manner. A request can be made orally or in writing and there is no specific format a written request has to take, i.e., it can be a simple email or even a handwritten note. You do not have to disclose the purpose or motive for your request pursuant to §132-6(b). And you do not have to appear in person to obtain records if those records exist in an electronic medium pursuant to §132-6.2(a). Most records can easily be scanned and emailed these days, although some historical documents may necessitate an in-person inspection. §132-9 even provides legal remedies for anyone denied access to public records.

Chapter 132 is worth reading in full and can easily be found with a quick internet search or at the NC General Assembly website. Two other great online resources for anyone wanting more information on records requests or government transparency are the UNC School of Government and the Sunshine Center of the NC Open Government Coalition. The Coates’ Canons blog at the UNC School of Government is a great place to start any local government related research and their staff are always willing to answer questions via email or phone.

Open record laws help to keep all levels of government accountable. But it takes an engaged citizenry to take advantage of these laws. If you have ever wanted to submit a records request but didn’t know how, I will gladly provide any interested reader a records request template upon request. Most of my requests are directed towards Huntersville (and have all been timely responded to thanks in part to Town Clerk Janet Pierson), but the same laws apply in Davidson and Cornelius as well. Sometimes you will be surprised what information a simple records request can uncover, but you’ll never know until you ask.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Shining some light on the Davidson Depot project

“On February 3, 1984 the Mecklenburg County Department of Environmental Health received a complaint from a Davidson resident concerning a whitish material covering her children upon return from play. An investigation of the complaint and subsequent sampling of your property on Depot Street, Davidson, North Carolina (tax map reference 003-253-01) revealed that a portion of the property was an abandoned asbestos disposal site. The site had apparently been covered at one time, but now through the forces of nature, it was becoming uncovered exposing friable asbestos.

The above came from a letter on March 28, 1984 to the owner at the time describing the situation on the property in Davidson where the Metrolina Warehouses sit just across the tracks from downtown.  According to official documents, “the site was used by an asbestos fabric and tile manufacturer for waste disposal between 1930 and 1960.  Prior to 1930, the area was a low depression.  The disposal of waste asbestos tailings at this site filled the depression to its current level.”

By July of 1984, the situation had been sufficiently remedied with covering materials and agreement for ongoing maintenance to satisfy authorities.

Now, more than 30 years later that asbestos and the issues with its presence on that site are about to see the light of day.

On April 13, 2015 the Town of Davidson approved the individual building schematic design for a redevelopment project at the site.  The project, called “Davidson Depot”, is a 4 story, 180 unit apartment complex.  Since then the developer, Miller Valentine Residential Development out of Cincinnati, OH, has been conducting preliminary work for remediation for the asbestos.

As one can imagine, remediation of a large amount of asbestos is expensive. Proposals for the site have come and gone over the years, but none have made the numbers work. However, this one appears to have possibly solved that riddle.

The reason for using the word “possible” is because the project has been somewhat shrouded in secrecy up to this point.  However, a recent public records request revealed quite a bit.

Back in March of this year, Town Manager Jamie Justice asked the developer if a copy of the environmental report for the project was available.  As of last Thursday, according to Justice the town still didn’t have a copy – nearly 5 months later.

The records request also revealed a series of meetings coordinated by the developer with town staff.  Some were to be public, others not.

The first public meeting on the list was an architectural presentation to the town’s Design Review Board.  That meeting occurred on August 17th.  At that meeting it was announced there would be a public meeting on September 29th to discuss the brownfield issues and the asbestos problem.

However, that won’t be the first meeting on the brownfield cleanup.

A meeting was planned in early August between the Town Public Information Office and the developer’s PR firm to discuss “brownfield messaging”.  For obvious reasons, there is something troubling about the town working with a developer’s PR operation.  The documents referenced at the top of this piece were emailed to that PR firm on August 15th.

At least one closed Board meetings has occurred.  A closed meeting was planned with the NCDENR in attendance to discuss the site this past Tuesday, August 23rd.  Also, someone familiar with earlier discussions verified the project has had at least one other closed meeting.  The official reason for the closed session this week was “economic development”.

Whether or not a Board goes into a closed session is largely up to the Board’s discression as long as it falls into one of a few broad categories allowed by law – economic development being one..  However, the saying “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” comes to mind in this situation.  Citizen requests on Monday to open the meeting were met with a form response from the town manager saying the meeting was closed but inviting citizens to attend in September.  The meeting was suddenly cancelled on Tuesday morning.

With this many things not passing the smell test, folks are bound to believe something rotten other than asbestos lies below the surface.

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

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Catalyst Project's consultants officially exit stage left

Davidson's Catalyst Project has been quite the show.

For two years Town Hall has spent untold hours working with the UNCSOG Development Finance Initiative consultants to spin a tale of how a Public Private Partnership could transform downtown by generating enough private sector investment to spin off extra capacity for the public sector.

The only problem?  Few in town liked that storyline.  It was too big, too gaudy, and just too much for most to stomach.

So, quietly late on Thursday afternoon that story exited stage left.  Economic Development Manager, Kim Flemming sent out this notice:
Many of you have been involved in the process of studying the four acres of town-owned land in downtown Davidson, the Downtown Feasibility Study, over the past two years. During this process, the Davidson Board of Commissioners recognized a need to transition the focus to improving public facilities to position us to effectively serve our citizens as our community grows. They have provided direction to town staff to evaluate town facility space needs, as well as a public parking solution and public space improvements. At this time, they no longer wish to pursue opportunities for private investment on town-owned land. The UNC School of Government’s Development Finance Initiative will not be involved in the process moving forward since there is no private investment.

Staff will now begin developing plans for public facility needs to ensure we are able to serve our citizens as our population grows. A new process and timeline are being established as we close out the Downtown Feasibility Study and transition to a public facility assessment.

We appreciate the time and input you gave throughout this process. There will be opportunities for public input as we move forward with a public facilities plan. We value your opinion and hope that you will stay engaged during this process."
A little known factoid originally exposed by aShortChronicle was that DFI was being paid on commission based on how much private sector development ultimately was included in the project.  The town had always played up how inexpensive DFI was directly to the town. The town only paid about $50,000 for their services. However, DFI's real payday was going to be on the commercial development. That clearly was a motivation to increase and prioritize that as much as possible. Now that the possibility of that has gone away, so does DFI.

With the consultants out of the way, efforts can now get back to this being a local project, driven by local priorities - as it always should have been.

Davidson announces Mi-Connection CEO leaving

On Wednesday, the Town of Davidson announced Mi-Connection CEO, David Auger, will be stepping down sometime before June 2017.

The town public information office called it a "retirement", but "moving on" may be a better description since he will be focusing on another business he owns - National Food Equipment Services with offices in Mooresville, Winston-Salem, and Raleigh.

Auger was brought in by former Mi-Connection Chairman John Venzon to help right what was then a fast sinking ship that was about to take the Town of Davidson with it.

In FY 2011 which ended 6-months before Auger's arrival, Davidson's subsidy to the cable company was over $2 million per year and approaching a quarter of its general fund budget.

Venzon and Auger formed something of a dynamic duo to help pull the town back from the abyss the town had been brought to by its elected officials who decided getting into the cable business was angood idea.

Political, financial, and operational moves all helped achieve this.

Six months after Auger arrived, Venzon helped orchestrate a restructuring of the agreement between Mooresville and Davidson that capped Davidson's annual payment at $1 million. That single-handedly cut the subsidy in half from its 2011 peak. It also bought Auger the time needed to implement operational reforms at the company to make it run better.

In 2015 Mooresville was also able to refinance a portion of the MI-Connection, debt saving the towns hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest payments that contributed to the reducing subsidies.

There is no doubt filling Auger's shoes will be a big task.

What may be the most interesting question is why get out now?

For years, citizens have been told that 2017 was the year the towns could first really start talking about selling Mi-Connection due to the structure of most of the debt.  That's just next year.

After such hard work, it might seem curious why Auger wouldn't stick it out until the company is sold and off the backs of taxpayers.  The answer likely lies in the fact that even with all the improvement over the past few years, the company is still deep in debt and requires millions in subsidies.

Auger's planned departure may be a sign that 2017 will come and go with Mi-Connection still on town books for the foreseeable future.

Whatever the reason though, the citizens of Davidson and Mooresville owe a big thank you to Auger for his efforts.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

#Davidson Town Hall pulls plug on Davidson Depot closed session

Channeling the spirit of a famous quote often misattributed to Thomas Jefferson, events at Davidson Town Hall Tuesday night proved:

The price of transparency is eternal vigilence.

In the last post, aShortChronicle told you about a closed session planned with the Davidson Depot developer for Tuesday evening.  The meeting was to include a representative from the NCDENR - one Carolyn Minnich - to discuss brownfield issues.

That post went out Sunday night.  By Monday, residents had started sending mails to Town Hall asking "What's up?"

Why would the town be meeting in closed session to talk with a developer - particularly one using a town commissioner's design firm on the project?

aShortChronicle also heard back from Ms Minnich on Monday about the NCDENR's involvement.  She had this to say.

"I was not privy to how the meetings were set up and I do not know the full agenda of the upcoming meeting. I was asked to attend the Aug. 23 and Sept. 29 meetings by the prospective developer of the Davidson Depot property at 301 Depot Road. I am attending tomorrow’s meeting as a representative of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s Brownfields Program. I will not be discussing financial incentives or support during the meeting.  I did not play a role in determining whether Tuesday’s meeting is open to the public."

Readers should note, on Monday Davidson Town Hall sent out the agenda in an email blast and this meeting was still listed as "closed".

Based on this and other emails that have come our way, Town Hall was standing by its decision to keep this meeting closed.

Then Tuesday morning, something changed.

Town manager Jamie Justice told multiple residents the meeting would no longer take place.

Rusty Knox posted the following to the Paradise Lost Facebook page from Justice.

"Based on recent discussions with the developer, we have determined there is no need for a closed session so I will ask to remove this from the agenda for tonight’s meeting.  State law allows for towns to conduct closed sessions under particular circumstances.  Those circumstances have changed."

Recent discussions....hmmm.

Monday, the meeting is on for behind closed door discussions.  A little light gets shown on the situation, and a little citizen outrage is expressed.  By Tuesday, the meeting is off.

It would seem the only "circumstances" that changed were that citizens knew about it.

While it's a good thing a closed door meeting didn't occur Tuesday night at Town Hall, citizens are left wondering, what changed, why it changed, and why Town Hall thought they had a justifiable reason for closing the meeting in the first place?  Most importantly, when will the actual discussion really occur?

It's doubtful too many believe the developer's issues just went away.

Town Hall can be sure the citizens watching won't either.