Saturday, May 28, 2016

The "little free libraries" of #Davidson

Have you noticed those birdhouse-looking things on posts filled with books around town?

They are the local outposts of the "little free library" movement - a philanthropic idea started in 2009 by a couple of guys in Wisconsin.  Accordong to the organization's website, what began as an effort to build 2,500 free book exchanges in the spirit of Andrew Carnegie - an early supporter of libraries in the U.S. - has exploded to over 36,000 mostly in the last 3 years.

The idea is you bring books and exchange them with ones you find in the library you would like to read.  There are usually a good number of childrens books, and it's a great way to encourage kids to read.  They love going to see what's in these little houses.

Here are the ones we've seen around town.  Know of any others?

Greenway at Bottom of Kimberly

North Faulkner in McConnell

South Street

Pine St/Virginia St

Appollinaire in Bradford neighborhood

Catawba Ave

Friday, May 27, 2016

What's your agenda Mr Short?

First, say that headline to yourself but do it with your best villainous cartoon character accent.

Now, picture yourself as me sitting in Davidson Town Hall and being asked that question a few weeks ago by town staff – minus the Mr Short part, of course.  We’re on a first name basis around here.

Once you’ve stopped laughing or shaking your head, here is the answer to that question.

Over the years, yours truly has been pretty rough on the Town of Davidson – both in my blog and in the columns the Herald Weekly so graciously lets me write.  If you were to go back and read through it all, you would see the recurring themes of improving transparency, exposing conflicts of interest, opposing bad ideas before they become costly mistakes, and generally holding local government accountable.

If anyone wants to call those things an “agenda”, then I am more than happy to have them do so.

Here are a few examples of that “agenda” in action.

In recent years, Davidson tried twice to resurrect the bad idea of implementing 4 year staggered terms – a system that makes it nearly impossible to vote out a majority of elected officials in a single election.  Both times, the idea never really got off the ground.  That topic was a big one in the early days of my blog, and playing a part in stopping that is something I’ll always be proud of helping make happen.

Over the years, there have also been several storylines involving conflicts of interest – many more than I cared to write.  It’s a topic I’d like to never cover again, but unfortunately that’s very likely not going to be the case.

Some of those columns were down in the weeds on the state law governing exactly what is a conflict.  Others covered specific examples – more than one involving the long time Davidson town attorney, Rick Kline.  Those columns in particular seemed to strike a nerve.  Kline announced his retirement a few months ago, and his replacement was announced at the May 10th Board meeting.  The town’s Affordable Housing  Coordinator, Cindy Reid, will be stepping into the Town Attorney role.  At the meeting, as Kline was complementing the town’s selection of Reid as his replacement, it was interesting to hear him add “unlike me, she doesn’t have any potential conflicts out there.”

Let’s certainly hope that turns out to be true.

Then you have the category of the “big idea”.

Big ideas are often accompanied by positive sounding adjectives such as “transformative”, or “progressive”, or even “necessary”.  However,  big ideas tend to also be costly, have long term impacts, and be rife with unintended consequences.  Aggressively poking holes in those big ideas are the bread and butter of the “agenda”.  When thinking of big ideas, think things like the Red Line, the I77 HOT Lanes, and the Catalyst Project.

Davidson more than most local towns has seen the negative impacts a big idea gone wrong through its adventures in the cable business with MI-Connection.  It’s not being melodramatic to say avoiding the next debacle of that magnitude is akin to a life or death situation for Davidson’s small town character. Plus, quite frankly if a big idea can’t withstand a little criticism, then it is probably also not a good idea.

It has not all been criticism however.  When they happen, it has been nice to call out positive things.

Implementing tools for greater transparency is one area where Davidson has done a good job.  The recent widespread use of streaming technology to broadcast all types of town meetings is one example where the town has made real strides.  The town has also regularly been responsive to my public information requests.

To be fair, when asked about my “agenda” for these columns it  wasn’t taken as an ominous question, and it certainly wasn’t delivered with a cartoon villain accent.  On the contrary, I took it as a compliment.  It means these columns have the town’s attention, and that most definitely is a good thing.

This column first appeared in this week's Herald Weekly at

Thursday, May 26, 2016

#Davidson to launch full court press pedestrian safety initiative

At Tuesday's Davidson Town Board meeting elected officials heard a presentation on a high profile information and enforcement initiative with the hopes of improving pedestrian and bicycle safety.  Lieutenant Steve Ingram of the DPD and the Town Public Information Officer, Christina Shaul, outlined several aspects of the campaign.

As aShortChronicle has reported on extensively, there is the ongoing effort to lower the speed limit on Davidson-Concord Road which was mentioned as Ingram began his remarks.  This presentation was about other initiatives on top of that.

Lieutenant Ingram outlines multiple outreach efforts by the DPD.

They include handing out fliers at the Farmers Market and tracking numbers of police contacts where pedestrian safety is discussed.  Lieutenant Ingram also extended the offer of inviting DPD to your neighborhood event to have the police speak directly with residents.

There will also be increased enforcement efforts.

The town will be getting 2 more of the portable automated speed limit signs allowing DPD to rotate them more often around town.  A $340 fine for not yielding to pedestrian in crosswalk was also mentioned.  Finally, while there wasn't immediate enforcement planned for jaywalking  (a particularly bad problem on Main Street) that was not ruled out in the future if warranted.

The Town also plans to use its full arsenal of communication tools to spread the word including the town website, social media accounts, the eCrier email blast, the quarterly Town Message newsletter, and the regular meetings with neighborhood groups.  It will also engage with other institutions such as Davidson College, local hotels and churches.  They'll even have access to slides at Our Town Cinemas as well as access to Mi-Connection.

It sounds like you won't be able to go anywhere in town without hearing about pedestrian safety.  That's definitely a good thing!!!

All of these actions should make a fair amount of improvement for residents.  Now, if a way can be figured out for more non-residents who come through town to get the message, everything will be covered.  That's one gap that's harder to fill.

Maybe investing in signage for roadways entering town would be a good idea as well.

How about this sign from Australia.

Or maybe get a bunch of signs like this one seen on Davidson's very own South St...

Or maybe make something up that's more unique...

Regardless something to bluntly inform non-residents that there are lots of non cars on the roads here would be helpful.

It was mentioned multiple times during the presentation that pedestrian safety is a pedestrian responsibility as well.

Commissioner Beth Cashion drove home that point saying...

"It is your responsibility to take care of yourself.  You are responsible for crossing the street.  You are responsible for driving a car, but more importantly as a pedestrian whether you are in the crosswalk, or not, or jaywalking, or on the sidewalk, you are responsible for your own well being. "

Cashion went on to say....

"We can put as many safety stops, and tickets, and cones out there as you all would like, but at the end of the day, you are responsible."

As a strong proponent of personal responsibility, there is a lot of truth in Cashion's statement - for adults.  However, it's also true that "kids will be kids".  If the town is to live up to its pedestrian friendly moniker, it needs to make it safe for people - particularly kids - sometimes in spite of themselves.

When the town bills itself as "pedestrian friendly", when there are crosswalks across a busy road like Davidson-Concord connecting to town greenways, and when the town approves development which makes all of that much more dangerous, the town does take on an element of responsibility for making it safer.

For those reasons this new program is welcome.  That being said, there is a lot more to do, and some of those things will be a lot more expensive than sending out more information.

Watch the whole presentation here.  It's about 25 minutes.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

And the survey says....No dogs at Davidson Farmers Market!

Click to Enlarge
After a posting of the pictured story from the Herald Weekly on Facebook, Nils Lucander of Davidson posted a poll question on the subject of banning dogs from the Davidson Farmers Market to the "Exit 28 Ridiculousness" Facebook group.  While certainly not a scientific poll, one day later the results were somewhat startling.

Apparently, the high level of concern at Davidson Town Hall over how the ban was implemented would appear to be overblown.  By a margin of 6-1 responses favor the ban with a smaller number saying it should be on a case by case basis.

Davidson Commissioners have a lot on their plate right now.  It's hard to believe they wanted to add micromanaging events to it.

aShortChronicle wondered if the ordinance change passed on May 10th was retroactive and would override the DFM Board's decision.  Per the town, the answer to that question is "no".

So for now it looks like dog owners should keep their pets at home when heading to the market on Saturday mornings.

Here is another story on the no dogs policy from the Lake Norman Citizen.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

More questions about the West Branch TIA

aShortChronicle has learned that the town has questions about the Transportation Impact Analysis completed back in March for the massive West Branch project designed by Commissioner Brian Jenest's firm.

Those questions go above and beyond what we raised in this piece, and the Town has questions out to Ramey Kemp, the firm that did the TIA, for more data before it can be accepted.

One of the main concerns we raised was that the baseline data for peak traffic did not completely cover the hours associated with pickup and dropoff times for local schools.

aShortChronicle has since learned that the hours  used in the study do not appear to meet the town's clearly specified planning standard. The planning ordinance says...

"The trip generation counts shall be taken between 6 to to 9 AM and 4 to 7 PM to verify a local, more accurate trip rate."

The detailed trip counts in the submitted Ramey Kemp document only cover 7-9 AM and 400-630 PM.

The "staff" here at aShortChronicle pulled together the below analysis to show how this could miss a portion if the traffic related to the main CMS schools in the area.

This raises a couple of issues.

1.  The town parameters in the afternoon miss a portion of traffic related to the bell schedules.  Considering the number of trips generated as well as the potential for additional pedestrian activity, this is significant.

2.  The Ramey Kemp time frame missed a significant portion of the AM traffic for Hough High than if it followed the town ordinance.

As examples of why this is important, two of the most significant accidents in recent years at the Robert Walker/Davidson Concord intersection occurred during these "missed" time frames. One was the Mason Stewart pedestrian accident which occurred at 630am.  The other involved multiple Hough High School students in a rollover accident at this intersection which occurred just before 3pm.

Additional questions are out to the town on who chose Ramey Kemp to do this analysis.  The town ordinance says...

"All required traffic studies shall be conducted at the expense of the developer by an engineer retained by the town."

One would think the parameters for such a study would be clear.

Add to that these facts...

- the TIA only shows data capture for one and a half days to get a baseline 
- and those days started the day after a holiday (Presidents Day)
and that day happened to be the day after one of only a couple winter weather events this past season (Feb 15th storm).

Pull all that together and one may get the idea the baseline data might not be all that representative of your typical day.

Stay tuned.  More certain to come on this one.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Bait and Switch coming on town affordable housing project?

Tuesday's Davidson Town Board meeting has an agenda chock-full of potentially controversial topics.  In addition to talking about the Catalyst Project, the Board will get an update on the use of the town Affordable Housing  Payment in Lieu (PIL) fund.

After a study which will be completed this month, the number one priority for this fund appears to be rental housing.

From the PIL prioritization memo...

"Rental housing will be prioritized over homeownership projects, with the goal 
toward a minimum of 50% of the annual appropriations (averaged over 2 years) to rental 
projects through a grant or loan to a low income housing tax credit developer, or other 
developer of low income multifamily rental properties, or town purchase of land to be 
used for multifamily low income rental housing."

This is bound to cause problems down the road as most neighborhood HOAs don't typically like the idea of building rental apartments among single family homes.

It will be reeeeeeaaaalllly interesting to see how this plays out with the town's current Affordable Housing project in Bailey Springs.

Just last month Affordable Housing Director Cindy Reid said the Bailey Springs project was to be for sale units, but she did leave the door open for rental proposals.

Reid was recently promoted to town attorney by Davidson Commissioners.   She replaces long time town attorney Rick Kline.

The RFP responses are due soon, so we won't have to wait long for that answer.

#CatalystProject: Price tags for revised "options" on Tuesday Board agenda

Readers will remember discussions at the marathon Town Board meeting in April on the proposed revised "options" for the Town's controversial "Catalyst Project".

After hearing from residents in a series of roundtables earlier this year, the idea of a hotel as part of the project appears to have been jettisoned.  However, Commissioners asked the consultants from DFI to look at multiple other scaled back options and put price tags on them.  As was mentioned in April by Town Economic Development Director, Kim Flemming, the project under these revised options would take on a decidedly more publicly financed flavor.

As part of Tuesday's Town Board agenda, Commissioners will hear a presentation about that public "price tag" depending on which DFI option (if any) are ultimately chosen.

Here are the new option comparisons.

Here is the highlight slide on costs.

Here is the highlight slide on revenue.

Those revenues however won't come close to covering the costs.  Below are the possible tax increases that may come along with each option.

As the town heads into the final turn for negotiations on the FY2017 budget, taxpayer need to keep an eye on this one.   The Board has discussed placing a bond referendum on the ballot this November for Park/Greenways and Roads/Sidewalks.  Add tax increases from those bonds (if they were to pass) to these numbers and it could add a good chunk to local tax bills.