Friday, November 27, 2015

Davidson growth set to catalyst needed.

As staff and elected officials in the Town of Davidson continue to ponder the proposed Downtown Catalyst Project, there is a looming wave of explosive growth just on the horizon.  This is growth that will happen whether or not the town's own project "catalyzes" anything.  Frankly, knowing this is going to happen it is hard to believe the Town itself is looking to promote even more growth through its own efforts.  Maybe the town should change the Catalyst's name to something like Accelerant.

The first project if it materializes could have the most direct impact on the supposed need for something like the Catalyst project in the town center.  In the past we've told you about potential development at the old Davidson Clinic site on South Main.  That previous development plan fell through this past summer, but that property - as well as the adjacent two parcels - are now showing as "active contingent" on real-estate sites - meaning a sale and new development could be imminent.

At almost six acres this site is nearly double the size of the Town-owned land proposed for the Catalyst Project. Whatever this site on South Main eventually becomes, it will certainly be big (and controversial), but it will also achieve the town's goals of 'connecting' South Main in ways the Catalyst never would by creating a center of gravity at that end of Main Street.  Also, there will almost certainly be a significant retail/commercial component of any development that size which meets another stated town goal for the Catalyst.

As of last week, a proposed development plan had not been submitted according to Planning Director, Jason Burdett.  There is also nothing on the town website as of this writing.  However, this is definitely something to keep a close eye on.  Things appear to be in the works and could move fast.

The second major development is closer to coming to fruition.  That regards what is going on out at Westmoreland Farm.  We originally told you about surveying activity at the site almost three months ago.

A records request to the town turned up some additional information.

The below picture called a "bubble diagram" was put together by staff at Commissioner Brian Jenest's firm during the discussions leading up to passage of the planning ordinance rewrite earlier this year.  The purpose of the diagram was to provide a conceptual picture of what could be built under the new ordinance.  To be very clear it is not a proposal.  However, it does give a sense of the scale of any development that could be on the way.


A week after the Town Board passed the planning ordinance rewrite back in April, a planner from ColeJenest & Stone contacted Town staff saying "we are working towards a schematic site plan for the Westmoreland property along Davidson-Concord Road and have a few questions/requests".

That combined with the work seen recently and the counts on that bubble diagram would indicate another development with potentially hundreds of units is on the way.

While again, like the South Main project no site plan has been submitted, it is clear something is in the works.

Finally, this coming Monday, November 30th, the Davidson Planning Board will hear a request from the developers of Summerswalk regarding removal of the planned neighborhood retail at the front of the neighborhood along 73 to be replaced with more townhomes.

The proposal, also submitted by ColeJenest & Stone, appears to have the approval of the Town Planning Department.  The staff recommendation says "this master plan amendment is appropriate and in line with the town’s current development policies".

One of the stated reasons for the Catalyst Project is to increase the commercial tax base for the town.  Removing a planned commercial area - even if it may not be built out for some time would seem to run counter to that goal.

If the recent pushback from town residents was not enough to convince Town Hall that the Catalyst Project is not needed or should be drastically scaled down, maybe this looming wave of growth will do it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanks for a great 6-months!

With this being Thanksgiving week, I wanted to take a moment to thank the readers of aShortChronicle for a great last six month's.

In the nearly 4-year run for this blog, the last six months have been special.  To the site's long-time regular readers, thanks for your support over the years, and to the newer readers thanks for making the site's growth happen.  A special thanks goes to the members of the E28R Facebook page.  The large number of shares, likes, and comments has added significantly to the overall reader base.

Here are a few stats that show what has happened recently.  In the past 6-month period...

  • the average monthly page views is up more than 500% over the previous six month period.
  • 9 of the all time top 10 posts for the site have occurred since June 1st.
  • the site has had several days with over
    1000 page views - something that had never happened even a single time before.

For a site that started out with a target audience of local elected officials, town staffers, and a relatively small number of local politics news junkies, this kind of growth is validation the stories covered here interest a wider audience.

Certainly, there has been no shortage of stories to cover this past half year.  That can be seen as a good thing or a bad thing, I suppose.  Regardless, our local political scene has provided lots and lots of material.

I am thankful to be able to cover it, and thankful readers seem to think it is worthwhile.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Charlotte Streetcar's Costly (and Bogus) Success

Monday's Politico had a blurb about the Charlotte Strretcar that reiterated the old canard that it was actually a good idea.

From Politico...

In July of 2013 — after Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx had left his mayoral seat in Charlotte to be a Cabinet official for the Obama administration — the secretary returned to his home town to help christen a streetcar he’d fought hard to get going, arguing that the investment wasn’t “a project to nowhere.” Writing this month for POLITICO Magazine’s “What Works” series, Charlotte Magazine Executive Editor Michael Graff explains that no step before or since the streetcar’s approval “has been without controversy. Supporters, mostly Democrats, lovingly call it a 'streetcar,’ and they’ll tell you it’s a valuable instrument that now transports 47,000 riders a month — about double expectations. Opponents, mostly Republicans, condescendingly call it a ‘trolley,’ and they’ll tell you that it cost $37 million just for this phase with $100 million more to come for extensions in the next decade.”
The problem with that?

Charlotte already had a mass transit option which arguably was providing the bulk of this service before the streetcar was built.  It is called the Gold Rush Red Line.

Prior to the streetcar opening, the Gold Rush Red Line ran the full distance from Presbyterian Hospital to Johnson C Smith university.  According to this late 2012 document from Charlotte Center City Partners, it carried 65,000 riders per month.

When the streetcar opened in 2015, the Gold Rush cut its route roughly in half because the east end of the route was now serviced by the streetcar.  A few months later, the streetcar was trumpeted as a huge success carrying 47,000 passengers per month.

The problem is that since the new streetcar covered roughly 1/2 the same territory as the old full Gold Rush line, it stands to reason that a big chunk of the streetcar riders were actually former Gold Rush riders.

Using that same ratio of 1/2 and accounting for some growth since 2012, roughly 32k-35k of the streetcar's ridership was likely just canibalized from the old Gold Rush line.  That means the streetcar is really just prividing just 12k - 15k "new" rides per month.

When you factor in that people go both to and from a place that translates into just 6k - 7.5k new round trips per month.  Then if you figure most people using this for work ride daily that is roughly 25 trips per month - translating to just 240-300 new individuals riding the streetcar regularly per month who weren't already using the old Gold Rush.  (The number could be lower because some people may make more than on trip per day.)

The cost of the current streetcar was $37m.  That translates into $123k - $154k per new person using the streetcar who was not already using the Gold Rush.

The real kick in the teeth to all this is that the folks in the Charlotte government center think this is great, and they want to spend $150m more to extend the streetcar - all while forcing LKN residents to  pay for a toll road and massive infrastructure improvements that benefit the city as much or more than anyone else.

Charlotte is willing to fight for money to benefit just a few hundred while being willing to condemn 10s of thousands to the misery of tolls for 50 years on I77 through its control of the CRTPO.

That is not right and it needs to change.

Monday, November 23, 2015

I77 continues to stir the pot for local politicos

In the ongoing fallout of this month's election, Local politicos have continued to spin, react, position, and use the I77 HOT lanes issue to varying degrees of effectiveness.

In a press release last Monday where his pending toll road education trip to Texas along with Davidson Mayor John Woods was revealed, Cornelius Mayor Chuck Travis chose to take the "whistling past the graveyard" approach.  Considering what happened to his fellow pro-toller, Mayor Jill Swain in Huntersville, it seemed a bit tone deaf for Travis to say...

"First and foremost, I want to thank the residents of Cornelius for the vote of confidence to serve as the Mayor of our wonderful Town. On election day, even though I was unopposed, I received the highest number of votes of any candidate running for office in our Town. I appreciate the trust that you have placed in me to lead our Town for the next two years. I take the role of Mayor seriously and respect the responsibility to hold this office."

While the bubble was burst regarding the vote totals in the unopposed Davidson and Cornelius Mayoral races in this piece last week.  Cornelius Commissioner Dave Gilroy's said it more directly in his most recent newsletter in Sunday.

"Note to Davidson’s Mayor John Woods and Cornelius’s Mayor Chuck Travis who are both lovely gentlemen, but have been hand-in-hand for years with Swaine in supporting I-77 Tolls (which the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce recently stated would cause “irreparable damage to our region”). With no doubt whatsoever, both Woods and Travis would have similarly gone down in flames had they faced any viable opposition."

Then there is State Rep Charles Jeter.  Though, in Jeter's case, rather than his own statements, he was on the receiving end of multiple ads on the subject of the HOT lanes - ads that came from two completely different directions.

The first ad appearing in local papers said Jeter is the one with the power to stop the tolls...

The second appeared on a billboard along 77 saying Jeter is the one to blame for putting them in place...

In the aftermath of Monday's "summit" where the State once again kicked the can back to CRTPO and with candidate filing for the NCGA set to open December-1, we can likely expect the hard hitting comments on tolls to keep coming.

The topic was an effective one in our recent municipal elections and will likely be in the forefront for many elections to come.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Cornelius and Davidson had elections, too!

With all of the attention given to the election results in Huntersville, it might be tempting to forget that all of the local municipalities had elections two weeks ago.  Not much has been said about the elections in Cornelius and Davidson, but voters there also trekked to the polls earlier this month.

Last week, some more detailed numbers were available from the Mecklenburg Board of Elections that  are worth a look.

As one might expect Huntersville had the largest number of voters heading to the polls.  With competitive races and by far the largest population, that is not surprising.  However, when it comes to turnout rate, that top “honor” goes to Davidson.

14.61% of Davidsonians headed to the polls, followed by 13.93% of Huntersville’s registered voters, with only 13.25% of Cornelius’s voters making it out.  While saying the “honor” goes to Davidson for the highest turnout is true, that needs to be said with some serious air quotes around it.  It is a pretty sad state of affairs when all three towns had less than 15% turnout.

A closer looks at the numbers in the Mayoral races also revealed some interesting tidbits.

By now most people are aware if how lopsided the contested race in Huntersville turned out to be.  But what may surprise people are a couple of things that occurred in the uncontested races in Cornelius and Davidson.

At first glance both contests had margins of victory for the incumbents reminiscent of what you might see in Castro’s Cuba or the Kim Dynasty in North Korea.  Chuck Travis won in Cornelius with 93.9% and John Woods won in Davidson with 87.9%.

Write in candidates got a cumulative 6.1% and 12.1% respectively in the two towns which actually seems a bit high – particularly for Davidson.  However, after looking at the turnout data provided by the Board of Elections, it is clear there was a significant protest vote beyond even just the write-ins.

in North Carolina only votes where a candidate is actually selected actually end up being  counted – meaning if a ballot is left blank for a given race, that ballot is not counted in the total winning percentage.  These ballots are considered “spoiled” for this given race where they are left blank.  Not counting these ballots, makes the actual winning percentage look artificially high versus the overall total of voters who went to the polls.

So, what were the actual winning percentages when these “spoiled” ballots are included?

In Cornelius, Mayor Travis got 74.20% of actual ballots cast.  In Davidson, Mayor Woods got a little less, coming in at 72.66%.  In fact in PCT 127 on Davidson’s east side, Woods actually slipped below 70% with only 69.6% pulling the lever for him.

So, what does it mean when more that 25% of voters won’t cast a vote for the only name available on the ballot?

An inquiry with the UNC School of Government did not turn up any academic research on the subject of “protest votes”, but a quick comparison to Huntersville sheds some light on it.  In Huntersville where people had two choices and both candidates were reasonable options, the overall protest vote was just 0.4%.

It would seem that Davidson and Cornelius just need more candidates and more options. If they had them, those candidates would likely be starting from a pretty solid base to make a run at the top spots in these two towns.  In fact, if  those options had existed, we very well may be taking about replacing all three Mayors in North Mecklenburg rather than just one.

Clearly, the main issue driving the electoral shellacking in Huntersville was the I77 HOT lanes.  It stands to reason, that same issue was at work creating the high level of “protest” voting in Davidson and Cornelius where both mayors had similar stances as Huntersville Mayor Jill Swain.

This post originally appeared in this week's Herald Weekly at

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Tolling Trifecta at #NCGOP HQ

Has anyone else been wondering why Gov Pat McCrory has been so staunch in his rock solid support of the I77 HOT lanes project?

In the face of rising public opposition and mounting evidence more than a little something is rotten in Denmark with this deal, the Governor decides he is going to stand with his boys from Cintra rather than with the people he represents.  Who does that?

Here's who...

Back during the summer we told you the sordid tale of two recent NCGOP Executive Directors and their close ties to the Governor as well as Cintra.  See here and here for those details.

Then just a couple of weeks ago we told you about the obscene (and anonymous) $4.7m donation given to the Carolina Rising PAC which benefited Thom Tillis in his campaign for US Senate.  Carolina Rising was formerly operated by current and recently appointed NCGOP Executive Director, Dallas Woodhouse.

In that piece we wondered if Dallas Woodhouse could make it a "trifecta" of shady connections between the top spot at NCGOP HQ, the I77 HOT lanes project, and Cintra.

Well, the other shoe has now dropped on that one.

On Tuesday, the Raleigh News & Observer reported on tax documents put out by the people behind showing that one of the largest Super PACs in the country, Crossroads GPS, was behind the huge check to Carolina Rising.  Crossroads GPS is a PAC founded by none other than Karl Rove, advisor to former President George W Bush.

For more analysis on the Woodhouse connections in this plus other shenanigans, check out the stories here and here.

So where is the connection to Cintra?

When researching the pieces covering two of Woodhouse's predecessors as NCGOP Executive Director, Chris McClure and Russell Peck, one other politically connected name also popped up but the pieces did not seem to fit.  That was Patrick Rhode, Vice President of Corporate Affairs for Cintra, USA.

Now those pieces fit perfectly.

The first two jobs on Rhode's LinkedIn profile are Deputy Director of National Advance Operations for the Bush Cheney 2000 campaign and Special Assistant to the President of the United States, the White House.

These are positions where he would have worked closely with Karl Rove, President Bush's right hand man, and the man behind Crossroads GPS.

From the rest of Rhode's resume it seems pretty clear the most valuable skills he brings to a job are his political connections.

He has been at Cintra for going on 8 years now a time span that more than covers the entire history of the HOT lanes efforts here in NC.

Loop this all in with the storyline we told you about here covering the impact of ALEC (including Cintra's involvement) in the history of the I77 HOT lanes, and you get a pretty clear picture of what is going on.

Highly connected, very powerful people with more money to throw around than most people will see in a lifetime want this to happen.

Governor Pat is not going to stand up to them.  Let's hope we can find a judge who will.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

I77 Summit details released...results pre-ordained???

Below are the details released for the coming "summit" on I77.

It does not look like the goal is cancellation of the Cintra contract.  That is disappointing.

One can see the meeting going something like this...

Toll opponents make a valid point.  NCDOT/Cintra says "no that is not true."

Repeat ad nauseam.

To be clear, I hope that is not the case, but the info below does not give that impression.

Hopefully, when the final agenda comes out it has some concrete actionable items on it.

From Rep Charles Jeter to all invitees...

The CRTPO/Municipal Summit will be held at Cornelius Town Hall on Monday November 23rd at 9:00am. 

Please advise asap if you are planning on attending or know if you cannot attend.  We need to make sure we are properly set-up based on the number of invitees planning to attend. 

An official agenda will be forthcoming, but here are some answers to the FAQ’s I’ve received…
  • Will the meeting be public?  Yes
  • How long will the meeting last?  We hope to have a productive and organized meeting, however, we do not want to cut off any questions or discussion.  The meeting length will be up to the participants other than my promise of having a hard stop at noon.
  • What do we hope to accomplish?  The purpose of this meeting will not be a complaint-fest of arguing back and forth.  This is designed to separate fact from fiction regarding the project and to determine what options exist and the ramifications of any alternate solutions that will may be presented.  This summit will not be limited to the current project, but will include a discussion of managed lanes region-wide.  As a result, we believe it is imperative for all CRTPO represented government entities to attend. 
  • Who will facilitate the meeting?  I will lead the meeting and will be very strict in keeping decorum.  Regardless of anyone’s predisposition to this issue, we are all trying solve the transportation issues of our region and any attempts to turn this into a circus will be immediately stopped. 
  • Will there be any presentations?  Yes, both the NCDOT and the Lake Norman Chamber will make presentations, though I have asked each to be brief.