Friday, August 5, 2016

Catalyst Project dead? Not quite.

The “Catalyst Project” in Davidson has been nothing if not contentious.

In fact, it’s been so controversial that as the town limps forward with planning for uses on the 3.5 acres of town owned land surrounding Davidson Town Hall, there seems to be some desire to not use the  name “Catalyst” for what the town looks to do next.

After more than nine months of citizen pushback aimed at protecting the small town character of Davidson, it appears Town Hall has finally backed off from the most controversial aspects presented last October by consultants from the UNC School of Government’s Development Finance Initiative (DFI).  That proposal would have converted the downtown area into something more resembling Birkdale in Huntersville than what’s there in Davidson today.

First, the idea of a downtown hotel was jettisoned.  Then, DFI presented multiple options most of which still had large amounts of commercial and residential uses.  Now, the town appears to have dropped those as well, instead focusing on only public uses such as more space for public safety, additional parking, and a new multi-story, multi-use building in front of the existing Town Hall on Main Street.

When asked about this revised Catalyst proposal, Commissioner Beth Cashion responded with the following.

“First, your wording "revised Catalyst Project" is incorrect.  "Catalyst" would indicate some type of retail and commercial integration to the downtown.  The discussion currently is as you state in # 1 public safety, municipal building, parking and community use facility.  This is not a catalyst project.  I consider this a public facility study.  I will reiterate the word ‘study.’”

Some of the “discussion” Cashion refers to surely includes the lively and almost heated debate between Commissioners at the July 12th Board meeting following what was dubbed a “mini-retreat” the night before.  “Heated” may be too strong a word, but the discussion at that meeting was about as direct as one will see between electeds in normally genteel Davidson.

After a painful-to-watch back and forth on whether or not Commissioners should take an official vote on studying this public-only option, Commissioners split 3-2 to study DFIs option #2 without the commercial.  If that’s ever built it would come later.

Commissioners Jim Fuller and Stacey Anderson dissented.  It’s rare in Davidson to see public discord on controversial topics. But Commissioners Fuller and Anderson should be commended for their persistence in getting this decision on the record with an official vote.

The “#1” in the quote from Commissioner Cashion refers to a list of questions sent to the three Commissioners who supported the proposal.  Commissioners Cashion, Jenest and Graham were asked three questions. #1 In the event this option went forward, would they commit to putting the various pieces before voters in the form of separate bond referendum questions? #2  Would they commit to standing for reelection in 2017 if the public projects went forward? #3 Would they ensure transparency in the process for planning these projects?

Not surprisingly, none of the Commissioners would commit to standing before the voters in 2017 at this early date, but all assured the process would be transparent.  Very disappointingly however, none of them would commit to putting these projects before the voters in the form of General Obligation bonds.  That’s in spite of the fact that combined these projects would constitute by far the largest town expenditure since Mi-Connection.

Rusty Knox who started the Paradise Lost Facebook group has been leading the citizen charge against the Catalyst effort.  Knox had this to say about the new proposal.

"I think we need to address the things we NEED and do them first. Public safety, traffic and pedestrian safety HAVE to be addressed. A pretty new admin building like they are talking about does nothing for the tax payer needs. It only allows the town to grow its staff. " (Emphasis in the original.)

Regardless of how this project goes forward and regardless of what it’s called, development in downtown Davidson looks to remain a controversial topic for some time to come.

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

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