Wednesday, December 4, 2019

#GriffithSreetHotel saga quietly comes to an end...New Davidson Cottages begins

Tuesday night, at around 7pm, the long-running Griffith Street Hotel saga quietly came to an end at Davidson Town Hall.

As part of the "consent agenda" of uncontested items needing Board approval, the Davidson Board approved a settlement with plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Griffith Street Hotel thus ending the citizen effort to prevent this unwanted hotel project sandwiched between CSD's K-7 building and residential neighborhoods.

See this link for posts on the entire 4 year history of this hotel proposal.

This settlement will pay the plaintiffs $17,300 to cover their outstanding attorney's fees.  The original motion filed by plaintiffs sought over $43,000.  To that effect, a memo from Town Manager Jamie Justice to Commissioners included the following:

"The Town of Davidson has reached a settlement agreement in the case of Charde et. al. versus Town of Davidson. The settlement is in the amount of $17,300. The town has made the determination that it is in the best interest to settle the claims for attorney’s fees as applicable under state law. The town makes this business decision in the best interest of the taxpayers by evaluating the risks, analyzing the cost-benefit, and seeking final resolution to the case. This would be the last action that concludes all matters related to Charde et. al. versus the Town of Davidson."

Readers may remember that both the Town and developer were defendants in this lawsuit.  This settlement is being paid by the Town, but aShortChronicle has verified with lead plaintiff, Luke Charde, that this concludes all legal action involving the plaintiffs regarding this lawsuit.

In a related item, aShortChronicle has confirmed with the Town why the hotel project has been removed from the Town website.  Per Town Public Information Officer, Amanda Preston, "regarding the Davidson Commons East hotel project, our understanding is that the developer no longer intends to build a hotel on that site."

For those who have been fighting the ill conceived idea of a hotel at this location since early 2016, all of this is certainly welcome news.

Finally, as another sign development in this section of the Circles@30 area is moving on, the Board also heard an update on something called the Davidson Cottages o  Tuesday.  This project recently showed up on the Town website after first being mentioned back in March.  See this post on that original public conversation.  The Davidson Cottages project is on the other parcel in the overall development including Woodies and the parcels previously slated for the hotel.

The Davidson Cottages project by Saussey Burbank, proposes 30 single family homes and two duplexes on the parcel up Davidson Gateway on the other side of Woodies furthest from Griffith Street.  These will be narrow footprint, 3-story homes.  When this project was discussed back in March, the developer was inquiring about the possible need to use density averaging to build the project.  This was presumably because if the hotel project had gone forward, this tool would be needed to be allowed to build at this density due to the impervious surface limits on the overall Davidson Commons East site including all of these parcels.

At the time, the Board indicated this project should come up again when the Hotel issue was resolved.  It should not be lost on readers that this developer wasted no time doing so, bringing it up in the same meeting as the hotel lawsuit settlement.  While theoretically density averaging should no longer be needed since this project can utilize some of the built upon area previously designated for the hotel, as of Tuesday, it was the impression at the Planning Department that density averaging was still a possibility on this site.   Per Amanda Preston...

"Davidson Cottages is a conditional planning area map amendment. The developer has indicated that they will need to use Built-Upon Area (BUA) Averaging (density averaging). Per the ordinance, BUA Averaging can only occur after the board of commissioners has approved the conditional master plan."

This project if it goes forward will require multiple approvals, any if which could derail it.  It needs an approval for water and sewer.  It needs a conditional map amendment approval.  It also needs an approval from the Board of Adjustment if density averaging is ultimately used.

So, as one development project wraps up, another begins.  aShortChronicle will be following this one as well all...along...the...way.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Linden Mill (aka Metrolina Warehouses) has new project in the works...Public Meeting December 9th at Ada Jenkins

Thanks to an eagle eyed community member, aShortChronicle has learned of a possible new project on the Linden Mill site on Depot Street.  This is the same site as the now defunct Davidson Depot project on the long-standing Metrolina Warehouses parcels contaminated by the former Carolina Asbestos Corp.  However, rather than an unpopular, large-scale, multi-family development as proposed by Davidson Depot, this new project appears to be entirely commercial.

The below information hasn't been fully verified with the Town or developer due to the Thanksgiving holiday.  The project is also not listed on the Town Planning Department website, but since this important public meeting is only a week away we wanted to get this information out there.

According to documents on the NCDEQ website, a notice dated November 22nd went out to neighboring residents for a project by 301 Depot Holdings, LLC.  This LLC  is wholly owned by Lat Purser & Associates, Inc with offices in Charlotte.

The notice is for a public meeting on Monday, December 9th, at 630pm at the Ada Jenkins.

Based on the documents filed, the project appears to be more of a conversion/rehab of the existing buildings rather than a teardown of the existing site.  It also looks to be entirely commercial without any large scale residential.  Both should be welcome relief to neighbors as this type of plan should limit environmental concerns over a complete redevelopment of the site, and wouldn't bring hundreds of new residents.  Both were concerns with the previous Davidson Depot plan.

See the renderings below.  These were posted to the NCDEQ website on 11/26.  Plan on attending the Ada Jenkins meeting on 12/9 for confirmation of this information.


Monday, October 28, 2019

What if the Public Facilities Bond vote was to fail in Davidson?

As Davidson voters head to the polls this election, deciding two referendums impacting the Town will likely be the biggest choices voters make seeing that the Mayoral race is unopposed and the Board outcome is assured a solid majority of incumbents.

Those referendums include approving the sale of Continuum/Mi-Connection and $14 million in Public Facilities Bonds.

aShortChronicle thought it would be useful to look at the four possible outcomes between these two votes since both directly impact future finances of the Town, particularly the Town's options for addressing public facilities needs.  Here are the combinations.

A) Both referendums fail
B) Continuum fails / Bonds pass
C) Both referendums pass
D) Continuum passes / Bonds fail

For Options A and B, the outcome for the Town as it impacts the public facilities projects would effectively be the same.  In the unlikely scenario where voters don't choose to sell Continuum
  • the $1 million per year subsidies to the cable operation would continue indefinitely
  • the Town would not receive any money from the company's sale after paying off the remaining debts owed
  • the Town's hands would remain tied on Public facilities because of the hefty tax increases that would be required in either of these scenarios
These outcomes effectively eliminate freed up money for public facilities with the only way to fund these projects being an unpopular unilateral decision by the future Board to borrow money against voter wishes and pay for it with significant tax increases.

Without the passage of the Continuum sale referendum, any significant public facilities spending is unlikely - illustrating the importance of this sale going forward.

Option C provides the most money for obvious reasons.
  • The sale of Continuum provides an unspecified one-time infusion of cash to the Town after all related debts are paid.
  • The sale of Continuum frees up $1 million per year currently used to subsidize the cable system.
  • $14 million in additional approved Bond debt specifically for public facilities.
This option will bring the Town's total approved bonds to $29 million including the $15 million approved in 2017 for parks, roads, and greenways.  If all of it is issued residents would likely see significant tax increases over time, or commitment of the entire freed up $1 million annual money from the Continuum sale to prevent these tax increases.  Commitment of this $1 million per year in savings to servicing bond debt however, prevents that money from being used for something like lowering the Town's onerous solid waste fee - meaning taxpayers effectively receive no relief from selling Continuum after years of subsidizing it.

Option D is maybe the most interesting scenario.

What could happen if the sale of Continuum is approved, but the Public Facilities Bonds are not?

In this event, the Board could offset the portion of the public facilities projects for Police and Fire with whatever one-time funds come from the sale of Continuum.  The Town has conspicuously not talked about what it would do with any one-time funds received from a Continuum sale or even how large an amount might be cleared from a sale.  However, that number could be significant.  Based on the numbers that are publicly known ($80m sale price; $59m outstanding debt; roughly $1.8m owed to Mooresville under the interlocal agreement, plus the $1m set aside already for that Mooresville debt) Davidson could receive enough to make a big dent in the costs to renovate the existing Town Hall for Police and Fire.

$80m minus a 6% underwriting commission on the sale yields $75.2m.  Paying off the $59m outstanding debt leaves $16.2m.  Splitting
 that based on the 70%/30% ownership between Mooresville/Davidson leaves roughly $4.8m for Davidson minus another roughly $800k net owed to Mooresville beyond the $1m Davidson already has set aside.  That means Davidson could clear as much as $4m as a best case scenario.

Again, it would have been better for the Town to provide this calculation in more detail.  This calculation presented here is just for illustrative purposes.  If there are other expenses that come up as part of the sale the amount cleared to the Town could certainly be lower.  For example, maybe the commission is higher, or maybe there are some unexpected things that need to be addressed before closing.  However, the amount cleared can only go to zero as a worst case, and that still leaves the $1m per year that is freed up by eliminating the annual subsidy that could be directed towards public facilities in some portion.  Using this money this way would prevent lowering the solid waste fee, but likely for a shorter delay than if committed to a 20-year bond.

Regardless, if the Board after the election sees Police and Fire as a top priority (and they should) this part of the Public Facilities plan should be able to move forward in some fashion.  If the Public Facilities Bond fails to pass it is the belief here at aShortChronicle, it will be because of the overall cost, not because the public does not support the portion for Police and Fire.  Of course as part of moving public safety forward, the remaining staff would need to be accommodated somewhere until a new, less expensive plan can be devised for the 251 South Street facility.

That could be accomplished a number of ways such as: Phasing the public safety upgrades; Renting office space for staff; Making the most efficient use possible of all Town owned space;  Incrementally upgrading select space in 251 South Street.  It certainly might be difficult, but it could be done.  It being difficult also should not be used as an excuse for not moving forward with Police and Fire - again, if the Board sees that to be a priority.

The good news is that the sale of Continuum, if approved, gives the Board options no matter what happens with the Public Facilities Bond.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Main Street Halloween march TOMORROW! (Press Release)

DAVIDSON, N.C. – Put on your costume and join us at town hall on Friday, October 25 at 5:00 p.m. for the Halloween March down Main Street.  Davidson’s retailers, and other participants, will be handing out treats along Main Street, starting at town hall and going down to (and including) Depot Street.  Marchers may start lining up at 4:45 p.m.

“This is such a fun event for everyone – please come out to join us,” said Kim Fleming, Economic Development Manager.  

Want more information on what’s going on in Davidson? Be sure to visit our website often, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and sign up for our eCrier email distribution list.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

How much will new public facilities projects really cost Davidson?

There has been a lot of talk about the need for expanded public facilities in Davidson over the past several years.  Various proposals have looked at different ways to do this and each came with different costs.

One can go all the way back to the Catalyst Project which got its start in late 2014 which envisioned a complete makeover of the existing Town Hall site with a mix of uses including offices for the Town as well as residential, retail, and even a hotel right on Main Street.  That project was controversial.  It gave rise to the Paradise Lost Facebook group.  It made it sound like the Town could almost get new public facilities for free.  Well, not exactly "free".  The cost may very well have been the Town's soul plus a healthy commission - but it would have included some shiny new offices for staff.  Fortunately, by August 26, 2016 that project collapsed in the face of stiff citizen opposition led by now Mayor Rusty Knox.

In the aftermath of the Catalyst Project, the former Board pushed the idea forward of a new Town Hall paid for by the public.  That 2017 plan would have built a new facility on Main Street in front of the existing Town Hall while upgrading the existing building for the exclusive use of police and fire.  That proposal came in with an initial estimate of $17 million.  That number got people's attention - particularly because the former board was clear that they would not put this expenditure up for a vote.  After a minimal cost trimming exercise, estimated costs were lowered to $15.4 million.  This plan died with the 2017 election of a new Board (the current one) which (thankfully) indicated they would not spend that kind of public money without voter approval.

That brings us to the current plan.

In 2018, Davidson purchased the old IB Middle School property on South Street from CMS at a cost of $2.46 million with the intention of it becoming the eventual Town Hall and community center with an auditorium and space for non profits to use.  The existing Town Hall would be refurbished for police and fire like the other plans.  Costs for the remodel of 251 South Street however are not going to be cheap.  After starting at over $16 million, the Board settled on putting a $14 million bond on the Ballot this November.  This cost does not include renovating the old gym on site, so that will remain unusable.  However, that's not all.  According to Town Finance Director, Piet Swart, "on June 11, 2019, the Board reviewed the project options and moved forward with a total cost of $14,405,114.  The $400K over the proposed $14 million in GO Bonds would come from the capital projects fund."

All together, with the initial purchase of South Street, the proposed Bond, and the planned additional funds from the Town, the current Public Facilities proposal comes in at $16.9 million - making it the most expensive option given serious consideration to date.

The question for voters before heading to the polls and voting on the Public Facilities bond is this...

"Is this too much money to put on the taxpayer while still having $15 million in unspent 2017 bonds hanging out there AND with no plan to reduce the Town's solid waste fee which is the highest in the area AND coming on the heels of a property revaluation that resulted in significantly higher tax bills for many?"

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

New office building proposed for former Wells Fargo drive through site on South Main

When the Wells Fargo drive through kiosk closed, speculation began on what would become of the site.

With a new proposal on the Town Planning Department website, now we know.  A group called Davidson NoSo Commercial Development, LLC submitted an application dated September-19 for a 3-story commercial office building.

The plan proposes a 15,000 square foot building with 31 parking spaces (25 on site with 6 new on street spots.)  A Transportation Impact Analysis will be required as will Design Review Board approval.

Here at aShortChronicle, initial impressions are that it would be nice if this project had street level retail and a design that fits more with the surroundings.  Those are topics likely to come up during the DEB review process.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Griffith Street Hotel Plaintiffs file for attorney's fees

With the the primary legal decisions in the books regarding the Griffith Street Hotel lawsuit - including a unanimous decision by the NC Court of Appeals striking down the rezoning - the plaintiffs in the case are now seeking reimbursement of their attorney's fees.

To that end plaintiffs submitted an affidavit to the Court on Friday, September 27th, for the sum of $43,623.13.

That is quite a financial burden the Town put on residents impacted by this flawed decision - not to mention the emotional stress caused by the ordeal.  It is high time the Town relieve that burden.  The repeated mistakes by Town Staff and the callousness with which this flawed decision was pushed through by the outgoing group of former elected officials more than justifies plaintiffs taking this step.

According  to the NC General Statutes, attorney's fees can be awarded according to the following :

§ 6-21.7. Attorneys' fees; cities or counties acting outside the scope of their authority. In any action in which a city or county is a party, upon a finding by the court that the city or county acted outside the scope of its legal authority, the court may award reasonable attorneys' fees and costs to the party who successfully challenged the city's or county's action, provided that if the court also finds that the city's or county's action was an abuse of its discretion, the court shall award attorneys' fees and costs. (2011-299, s. 1.)

In addition to the obvious fact that the Town violated its own rules under the planning ordinance as verified by both the Superior Court decision and that decision being upheld on appeal, in the filed motion the plaintiff's Attorney points out that the Town admitted to the Court this violation was how they had always done things.  Meaning, other cases in the past have clearly been impacted by the Town's actions.  However, due to the brief statute of limitations in zoning decisions, these other cases can not be challenged.  In light of this admission, the Town is effectively saying it has gotten away with violations in the past.

A strong argument can certainly be made that this case falls both under the discretionary purview of the Court with the clear violation of the ordinance as well as the mandatory category of violations requiring the awarding of attorney's fees.

The Town through the actions of its Planning Department and it's Town Attorney, Cindy Reid, clearly misinterpreted the legal requirements of the Town's own ordinance.  The fact that the notice requirements in the ordinance are very clear but not following them is how the Town has always done it, shows a reasoned decision to do so.

A hearing on this motion has been set for November 21st.  Check back with aShortChronicle for more on this as it unfolds.