Saturday, February 7, 2015

Major Changes on the way for Davidson's Main Street

In 2013, the Town of Davidson won the “Great Main Streets” award from the NC Chapter of the American Planning Association.  Here’s what the NC-APA had to say about the area that people primarily think of when they think of the small college town:

“Davidson’s Main Street embodies quintessential Americana, bursting at the seams with both local character and historic charm. Much more than an assemblage of quaint brick sidewalks and historic architecture, Main Street is the nexus that binds the community together...Norman Rockwell could not have imagined a more charming small town street.

Main Street also operates as Davidson’s front door, literally welcoming visitors to peruse the town’s local shops, sample locally-grown goodies from the farmers’ market, stroll along the town green, or enjoy a nice dinner in one Davidson’s many independent restaurants.
Above all, Davidson’s Main Street has proved resilient over the course of time…Main Street’s role has morphed as the town grew to become both the literal and figurative backbone of the community. “

Now, two short years later significant change will likely be coming to Main Street as private sector development picks back up after the Great Recession and the Town itself contemplates getting into the development game.

The recent demolition of the old Davidson Clinic on South Main made apparent that some activity was in the works for that location.  According to Interim Town Planning Manager, Jason Burdette, a substantial project should be expected.  “While I have not seen any drawings of the project as the applicant has yet to submit, my understanding is that they are planning to develop a four-story storefront building with residential above,” Burdette said.

The site is  nearly two and a half acres, so it could handle quite a sizable building.

If the project goes forward it will, likely be the first in an area under the Town’s new zoning designation of Village Edge. However, that designation appears to not be what is driving this particular proposal.  According to documents provided by the Town, discussions have been underway with development firm, Island Holdings Group LLC, since Spring of 2014.  Additionally, Burdette says “this type/height of building is already permitted at this location under the current Village Center Planning Area”.

However, that does not mean the potential for a large project on the Southern end of Main Street is not already having an impact.  Documents provided by the Town show additional property owners interested in having their property re-zoned as Village Edge under the proposed new planning ordinance due to the possibility of a large new multi-family complex in the neighborhood.

While additional re-zonings may make sense they will also contribute to changing the character of this entrance to Davidson's Main Street area by allowing for additional large scale development.  “Large” being  a subjective word at this point.  Multiple emails for this story to Island Holdings Group regarding the number of expected residential units for the Davidson Clinic site went unanswered.  However, a building with three to four stories of apartments could easily mean several dozen residences if not more.

And while the possibility of major change at the south end of town may seem significant, they pale in comparison to what the Town itself is pursuing in the heart of Main Street.

Since the middle of last year, the Town has been working with consultants from the UNC School of Government to assess what could be done with several Town-owned parcels including and around Town Hall.  The effort called the Catalyst Project could very much change what Davidson’s town center becomes in the years ahead.

The idea behind the Catalyst Project is to enter into some form of Public Private Partnership with one or more developers to build a combination of parking, retail, office space, and possibly additional residential units.  The thought being that the development would support additional Town needs such as expanded parking and more office space for fire, police, and Town staff while requiring relatively low direct investment of additional Town funding beyond providing the land itself.

At a December 4th presentation, three main scenarios were presented to the Town Board.  All three could raise eyebrows as residents become more familiar with them.

All of the preliminary scenarios envision a 400 space parking deck on the lot where the Davidson Farmers Market now takes place.  Only one of the three scenarios maintains the parking lot next to Town Hall which could be used as a possible new location for this weekly event.  Two of the scenarios envision residential units in buildings sitting adjacent to the current  town hall.  One has to wonder at the viability of residential so close to an active fire station which would still be housed at the same location.  Each scenario also raises long-term questions about how the town would fund any improvements if that is necessary and what level of risk would the Town be exposing itself to in the event the project did not go as planned financially.

With Davidson's history of getting involved in private sector enterprise via Mi-connection, residents should be particularly wary about how this project could impact the town beyond just what it could do to Main Street.  With that in mind, residents need to ensure they take full advantage of upcoming opportunities to give feedback.

The first opportunity to do that for the Catalyst Project is today, Thursday 2/5 at 7pm at Davidson Town Hall.  Davidson residents should stop by.  The future of your Main Street may depend on your involvement.

An earlier version of this piece appeared in the latest edition of the Harold Weekly.

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