Friday, March 24, 2017

RAP Armageddon on Tuesday...Commissioners set to vote

§ 160A-75.  Voting.  No member shall be excused from voting except upon matters involving the consideration of the member's own financial interest or official conduct or on matters on which the member is prohibited from voting under G.S. 14-234, 160A-381(d), or 160A-388(e)(2). In all other cases except votes taken under G.S. 160A-385, a failure to vote by a member who is physically present in the council chamber, or who has withdrawn without being excused by a majority vote of the remaining members present, shall be recorded as an affirmative vote.

The above section of Chapter 160A of the NC General Statutes covers voting procedures when it comes to NC municipalities.  In legalese it outlines the state's arcane rules about when a local elected official must and must not vote when there may be a conflict of interest.  We've covered this topic extensively over the years here at aShortChronicle, so we won't rehash it again other than to say it is generally absurdly hard for Commissioners to not vote.


The one exception is for  votes taken under G.S. 160A-385 - votes involving rezoning.


When it comes to rezoning, it is so fundamentally important that the public feel everything is done above board in land use decisions that conscience and good faith is allowed to rule rather than just dollars and cents.  The mere appearance of a conflict is enough for a Commissioner to unilaterally decide to not vote and not have that vote automatically count as a yes.


And that brings us to this coming Tuesday...


At the Davidson Board March 28th meeting, Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the controversial mass rezoning of the town's Rural Area.


Citizens do not want this action to pass.  Over 700 signatures have been captured in an online petition with dozens more captured at the Davidson Farmers Market.  Signs opposing this rezoning have dotted yards across town for weeks.  It has become one of the hottest topics around town in what will certainly be an interesting election year.

When Commissioners vote on Tuesday it will be very important to remember the following.

There needs to be no question this vote has not been structured in a way allowing the letter of the law to be skirted while trampling on the spirit of the law when it comes to conflicts.  aShortChronicle has confirmed with the town attorney that these votes will be taken under G.S. 160A-385 as outlined above.  If a Commissioner chooses to not vote it will not count as a yes.

Secondly, the public will know soon enough if this vote was taken as a "lame duck" by any Commissioner deciding not to run for reelection.   Campaign filing is just a few short months away.  Any problems that arise down the road as a result of passing this rezoning this way will forever be linked to Commissioners who vote for this.  A lame duck vote in support of such a controversial topic will only be seen as tainting that vote even more.

On Tuesday, Commissioners should not vote on the Map Amendments aka rezonings on their agenda, or they should vote them down.  That is what the public wants.  Most importantly, anyone with the slightest chance of a conflict should not vote at all.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

More development on the way for South Main? Rumor mill says maybe.

Another potential large development project may be in the works for South Main.  aShortChronicle has gotten word that the land pictured in this ad may be in play again.


This is the old Davidson Clinic site and the two residential parcels next two it.  They total just under 6 acres.

A couple of years ago these were in play, but nothing ever came of it.  However, a project of this size could be massive.  As a frame of reference, the Town owned land around Town Hall is only 3.5 acres.

While we are still in the information gathering stage on this story, here is what we do know at this point.

When the Town was asked directly if there was a project in the works there,  this was the answer.

"Our planning department has meetings with developers related to potential projects on parcels regularly.  We do not have an application on this site at this time."

This is the standard non-answer received from Town when a plan may be in the works but an official application has not been submitted.  The Town won't say yes or no to that kind of question even though many meetings may occur prior to an official application submission.  A public records request has also been submitted to see if more can be determined.

aShortChronicle also asked the real estate agent listed in the ad the same question.  That answer?

"Let me check with my clients and the developer and I will get back to you..."

That was 5 days ago, and that certainly sounds like something is happening.  A developer would not be involved otherwise.

With so much going on in the development arena - particularly the town-owned Beaty Street property - it may be a good idea for the Town to hit pause on its own public sector development plans until it knows what's happening here in the private sector.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Voter input on public facilities "not recommended"

Davidson is in the midst of collecting public feedback on a proposed set of public facilities including expanded town hall and more parking.

In a press release sent out Friday the town started to make its case.

As Davidson’s population has grown from 4,000 in 1990 to almost 13,000 today, we have outgrown our existing town hall. Ensuring adequate space for our police and fire departments is particularly critical. We need to invest in our public facilities in order to keep pace with our service needs. We will study the approximately 4 acres of town-owned land on which our current town hall sits.

This is not the catalyst project where we were considering private-public partnerships to solve some of our space and parking needs on this land. However, as part of the catalyst process, we heard from hundreds of citizens that recognize our lack of parking downtown and a need for space at town hall.

At their July 12, 2016 meeting, the Davidson Board of Commissioners asked town staff to move forward with planning for our public facilities and to look at parking options.

Town staff have been working with a steering committee comprised of citizen experts in the fields of planning, architecture, construction, etc. to help guide the process and select an architect. Architect Creech & Associates have many years of experience in designing effective town halls, have conducted a space needs assessment of Davidson Town Hall, and will facilitate the public workshops. This spring they will create a preliminary design based on citizen feedback and then provide us with a budget estimate. In early summer, plan options and a budget will be presented to the board of commissioners for a decision on whether to move forward with the project

There is even a survey to gather input (none of the above is not an option).

However, the Town of Davidson likely does not want your feedback on one aspect of this project - how the town will pay for it.

At Thursday's Civics 101 class Town Manager Jamie Justice was asked if the town might use General Obligation Bonds, sometimes called GO Bonds.  GO Bonds require voter approval.

aShortChronicle was interested in the response as we've been trying to get an answer to that question.  In fact, just on March 9th Public Information Officer, Christina Shaul answered that question by saying...

"If the Davidson Board of Commissioners decide to go forward with a public facilities project, once they have a better sense of the cost estimate, they will examine a variety of options to finance it. This will be a topic at multiple board meetings this spring and summer, so we encourage citizens to listen to the discussions and share their thoughts."

So, what did Town Manager, Jamie Justice, say to the Citizen at Civics 101 just a week later when asked if public facilities spending might be put up for a vote?

"Not recommended," was the answer.  While trying to explain that answer Justice asked what he seemed to think was rhetorical question.  "What if the voters say no?"

Painting what will likely be the picture for how the town will strong arm this one through, Justice tried to justify avoiding the voters by playing the public safety card.  Davidson's Police and Fire Departments do in fact need more space.  What would they do if voters turned this down???

That argument however ignores another important fact.  This public facilities study is also looking at parking and significantly expanded space for the rest of Town staff.  Those things could end up being quite expensive and are also less necessary.

Justice did at least close his answer by saying ultimately the decision to seek voter input was up to the Board.  Regardless, citizens and voters should be very wary of any plan not strong enough to face them without reservation.

You can watch this exchange starting at the 15:30 mark of this video.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Rezonings make critical water extensions more likely

This past week aShortChronicle told readers about the massive amount of money in the land involved in the mass rezoning Town of Davidson staff and elected officials are pushing as part of implementing the Rural Area Plan (RAP) -$70,000,000, give or take a few million.

One of the reasons the large amount of money involved is important became a little more clear at the February 27th Commissioner work session during a discussion led by Town Manager Jamie Justice.  That discussion centered on how water and sewer extensions to support development could move forward.

First a little background...

Water and sewer via CMUD is critical to development.  For many years Davidson effectively prevented any significant development in the Rural Area by withholding approval for these extensions.  That is until last year when Commissioners voted to allow extensions to be put on CMUDs 5 year Capital Improvement Plan or CIP.  This was a critical step in implementing the RAP that went relativy unnoticed by the public at the December 13th, 2016 Board Meeting.

The importance of this action when it comes to the on-going discussion about the controversial mass rezoning can not be overstated.  In fact, in a lengthy back and forth on Facebook regarding the rezoning, Davidson Commissioner Rodney Graham said people who oppose major development in the Rural Area should focus on water and sewer, not the rezoning.  It's kind of hard to do that however when the Board has already taken what may be the most important step by allowing these extensions onto the CMUD CIP.

Effectively, without water and sewer extensions, major development can not and would not happen.  See here. for the CMUD CIP

(To his credit Commissioner Graham voted against the CMUD action.  However, he has since become a strong proponent of the proposed rezonings.)

Now, back to that February 27th meeting...

At this meeting Town Manager Justice explained how these water and sewer extensions would be paid for to support development.  In what would seem to be an important point, Justice said the extensions the Board approved in December were in year 5 of the 5 year CMUD CIP, but that does not guarantee they would be built in that time frame.  These extensions would only be built as "reimbursable" projects Justice explained.  This means they would only happen if a developer comes forward and requests them and signs a reimbursement agreement with CMUD to actually pay for them.  Basically, development itself pays for the extensions.

aShortChronicle asked the town what exactly this means.  Could this actually speed up development by speeding up water and sewer?

Here is he answer from Public Information Officer Christna Shaul, copying Justice.

"A reimbursable project could come forward at any time, including before year 5 of the 5-year CIP. If a proposed development were to come forward, a timeline would be determined at that time however, working out the details and then the actual construction would take some time – it could be years to come to fruition."

At the February 27th meeting, another point was made - repeatedly - by Justice and Commissioners.  Any extensions would still have to be approved by Commissioners.  Again, giving the appearance the town would maintain control.

aShortChronicle also asked the Town a question on this.  What would be a reason the town might not grant such approval.  The answer was surprising.  Again, from the town PIO...

"Some possible reasons to not approve a sewer extension would be that the property has not been annexed into the town limits or the zoning has not been approved." (Emphasis added.)

Think about that for a minute.

If a developer comes forward with a project requiring water and sewer extension one reason the town might not approve the extension is that the zoning for the project has not been approved.  Yet, giving pre-approval to more intense zoning is exactly what the Town of Davidson staff and Commissioners are pushing to accomplish.

Alternatively, if the town grants this pre-approved more intense zoning it is effectively making it more difficult to say "no" to future requests to extend water and sewer.  They will have already asked to put it on the CMUD CIP.  They will have also approved the required zoning.  A developer or landowner with a by right project under the new zoning would have a very good case to say the town would be treating them unfairly if it did not approve the water and sewer extension when all of its previous actions show it intended for more intense development to occur.

Finally, we go back to the money.  With the land involved in this rezoning worth tens of millions of dollars, there will be more than enough money available to help fund these extensions.  One can easily see a scenario where a developer offers to buy land for a significant sum, but asks the land owner to chip in on the water and sewer extension.  If the land is worth significantly more with these extensions, there will be incentive to take deal.

Between the money involved with the land and the town's previous actions on water and sewer it is certainly possible these critical infrastructure extensions happen sooner rather than later - particularly if the Town moves forward with the RAP rezoninng.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Huntersville leading the charge against CATS new train dreams

In a follow up to Thursday morning's post, aShortChronicle got a quick email from Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla.

Mayor Aneralla pointed out some interesting notes from Monday's H'ville town board meeting as it relates to the CATS plan to spend $6 billion on three simultaneous light rail projects.

Check out the last item under section "IX Other Business".  The notes are in bold.

Discussion on Charlotte Area Transit System request to study a fixed rail alternative to the current Red Line plan.(Mayor Aneralla)

General consensus of Board to have Mayor prepare resolution for the Board's consideration rejecting the current CATS budget proposal for a Red Line alternative and instead endorse a plan to use the study money for improved bus and related transportation needs.

This shows a great deal of common sense, and it would be great to see the other North Mecklenburg towns join in this effort through the newly formed North Meck Alliance.  While among the three towns, Cornelius often takes the lead in opposing bad ideas, it's nice to see Huntersville jump in on this one.

Getting Davidson to do the right thing will likely be the heavy lift however - as it always is when it comes to regional boondoggles.

Davidson Mayor Woods has been the staunchest of defenders of the failed Red Line.  Back in 2011 he won the "Citizen of the Year" award from the Lake Norman Citizen for his Don Quixotesque efforts to push that project forward.  When listening to the Parsons Brinkerhoff consultants running that show back then, one got the distinct impression Davidson staff spent a lot of time and energy on that failed effort.

Here's hoping Davidson's Board doesn't allow that kind of thing to happen again.

Will North Mecklenburg be fooled again by the CATS rail transit pushers?

Everyone has heard the saying “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”  But what is the saying when someone tries to fool you three times?  Something along the lines of “Do you think I’m stupid?!?!” comes to mind.

Yet, that’s exactly what the transit planners at CATS appear to be thinking when it comes to their rail transit plans.

CATS recently launched a new attempt to breathe life into its stalled long range rail transit plan with a proposal to simultaneously build three light rail corridors out Independence Blvd, to Charlotte Douglas, and yes, to North Mecklenburg.

The catch?  No money is left in the original half cent transit tax to pay for any more lines, and using “back of a napkin” math, this new plan comes in at a whopping $6 billion, or roughly $2 billion per line.

If there is anything good about this idea, it is that the long planned Commuter Rail idea for North Mecklenburg (aka The Red Lline) which would have used Norfolk Southern’s tracks appears to be officially on the back burner and likely off the stove all together. (Commuter Rail and light rail while both being trains use different technology and track gauges.)

Transit planners and elected officials who have supported the Red Line never understood something very fundamental about dealing with the railroad.  Railroads are probably the only companies that aren’t afraid of the government.  A longtime friend told me that years ago when he was the head engineer on a major construction project in Washington, DC impacted by a railroad.  It is nearly impossible to use eminent domain against railroads due to rights granted when the railroads were originally built.  Also, just about any change to a railroad can be construed as impacting interstate commerce.  That makes forcing them to do something they don’t want to do nearly impossible.  The Red Line never really had a chance because of this.

However, just because Commuter Rail to North Mecklenburg may be dead that doesn’t mean Light Rail is the next logical idea.  Here are a few reasons why.

The most obvious reason is the cost.  For CATS to raise just its portion of a $6 billion effort it will require significantly increasing the existing ½ cent transit tax, gutting the future property tax base through some form of massive tax increment financing or special assessment districts, or some combination of all three.

Other reasons to be skeptical of this plan can be seen in a series of articles run in The Charlotte Observer since the plan’s February 17th announcement.  These articles weren’t written as a series, but the sum total of their message really throws cold water on the idea of spending $6 billion on more trains.

On the 18th, there was an opinion piece by the leader of Sustain Charlotte advocating making parking in Charlotte more difficult by eliminating minimum parking standards for development. Scarce parking equals mass transit riders goes the thinking.  On the 22nd, there was an article about long term falling mass transit ridership.  Compared to 2012 when ridership and average annual gas prices hit all time peaks, CATS 2017 ridership is down 13% year to date when compared to that peak. Then on the 24th, there was an article outlining the looming competition from self-driving cars.  Again in 2012, when Randall O’Toole of the CATO Institute came to North Meck to caution against the Red Line he mentioned self-driving cars and local officials snickered.  Now, a few short years later these vehicles are seen as a real possibility and real competition.

After being mislead about the real prospects for the Red Line in the transit tax and tax repeal votes of 1998 and 2007, North Mecklenburg voters should take a clear message from these data points.

In light of the costs and the all but certain tax increases, considering the decreasing ridership of local mass transit options and increasing competition from more convenient technology driven choices, is investing $6 billion in more rail transit the right thing to do?  The answer to that should be obvious.

Bonus Observation: Self driving buses are on the way.  If a few years they could likely form a core for a new, more flexible, and les expensive form of mass transit.

Self-driving bus with no back-up driver nears California street

Self driving bus that talks and listens to passengers coming to US cities within months

This post first appeared in this week’s Herald Weekly at HuntersvilleHerald.com

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Davidson rural land for rezoning possibly worth $70 million?!?!

That's a HUGE number for all the land that has been under discussion as part of the Town of Davidson efforts towards implementing its Rural Area Plan (RAP).  However, the number can be reasonably implied from the tax stamp shown here.  It's the tax stamp on the deed for the old Westmoreland Farm property which is now under construction by Lennar for its West Branch neighborhood off of Davidson-Concord Road.

According to the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds, Lennar Carolinas, LLC bought the 165 acre Westmoreland Farm on January 20th, 2017.  While the county's Polaris system does not list a sale price, the excise tax stamp of $21,000 would indicate a sale price of $10,500,000 - coming out to $63,646 per acre of raw land.  Excise tax is $1 per $500 of value.

$10,500,000 / $500 = $21,000

That's a whopper of a sum to be sure, but now let's take that $63,636 per acre and apply it to the land Davidson Commissioners and Staff want to rezone for more intense development as part of implementing the Rural Area Plan.  Under the latest plan unveiled at the February 27th work session, roughly 1100 acres will be rezoned from Rural to Neighborhood General, Neighborhood Edge, or Neighborhood Services.  That's about 150 acres less than earlier versions of the proposal.

The Westmoreland Farm property was rezoned to Neighborhood General in 2015 as part of the rewrite of the Davidson Planning Ordinance. While not all acres are created equal when it comes to development, this provides a good comparison.  Much of the land Lennar bought will remain open space as part of the West Branch project - roughly 50%.  Much of that open space is due to existing floodplain and reserved viewshed which make the land economically undevelopable.  That 50% open space is more than required for the proposed rezonings in the RAP.  Neighborhood Edge for example requires 45% open space under the proposed plan.

Take all of that together, and the 1100 acres of raw land the town wants to rezone could eventually be worth $70,000,000 (give or take a few million).

1100 x $63,636 = $70,000,000

Eventually being the operative word in that calculation.

There is one thing the Westmoreland property had that much of the proposed rezoned land does not have at the moment - access to water and sewer.  That is critical to any large scale development. However, the town has already approved CMUD putting these extensions on their 5 year Capital Improvement Plan.

How long it might be before these are actually built is the subject for another post.  Just being on a 5 year plan doesn't ensure it takes that amount of time.  It could be longer - or shorter.

Check back later this week for more on that.

Lennar West Branch  Construction

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Affordable housing done right...and not

Affordable Housing is always a hot topic in Davidson.

The Town recently put  Affordable Housing up as a topic on its Open Town Hall site which it uses to collect information on various subjects.  Somewhat surprisingly for a topic that sucks up so much oxygen, it received only a paltry 61 responses.  While those responses from an unscientific sample did skew towards favoring the idea of promoting affordable housing, the small nimber of responses should tell Town Hall how truly important (or not) the subject is to the population at large.

Much better answers on this subject will come out when the town gets the results of the National Citizen Survey which included many of these same questions.  It was mailed to 1500 households.  The town seems to be seriously gauging whether or not to raise taxes to subsidize the program, and that question was included in the NCS.

The town is constantly tinkering with its AH ordinance, and this would be just one more change - albeit one taxpayers might see as an unwelcome change.

To date each neighborhood plan in the AH program is different.  The implementations over time have become a patchwork following different rules, making it very difficult to compare them on an apples to apples basis.

However, two of the most recent do allow this comparrison and voters should be warry of the town asking for more $$$ if it's going to not do what it is proven to work well for both the AH program and the neighborhoods where it's implemented.

Check out these pictures of all the "Sold" signs in from the Bradford neighborhood.


These affordable row house style homes are mixed in with market rate homes - some of the row houses are affordable, some market rate.  They ALL have garages.  Also, True Homes is the builder and according to Polaris they paid $35,000 per lot.

This is Affordable Housing done right with it mixed in well with surrounding houses while also being high quality homes.  The houses sold very quickly with many, as you can tell from the pictures, selling prior to completion.

Compare this to the Town managed project across the way.

On February 14th the Board unanimously moved forward on the upset bid process on a proposal from JCB Urban to build an AH project in the Bailey Springs neighborhood.  According to the resolution, the developer is offering a whopping $1000 for land to build more than a dozen homes.  These homes will be similar to the ones in Bradford except they wont even have garages and they won't intermingle with market rate homes.

$1000 for land to build a lot of homes with no garages vs. $35,000 per lot for a single home with garage.  Does that sound like the town was looking oit for taxpayers?

Think about that for a bit if/when the Town comes asking for more tax dollars to subsidize this program.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Davidson Citizen Survey...if you got one, send it in!

As we reported earlier, the latest National Citizen Survey is underway in Davidson.  If you received one of the ones randomly sent in the mail, send it in!

Davidson is rapidly changing.  The town typically does very well on this survey when compared to its peers.  It will be interesting to see if the changes the town is undergoing due to growth impact these scores.

Below is a copy received from Town Hall.  A fully legible copy can be found on the Paradise Lost Facebook page here.


It takes a village (an online village)...Social media enhances safety in Davidson

Social media is everywhere.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram are the biggest and most popular platforms - providing ubiquitous ability to be "connected".  There are also countless smaller platforms springing up.  One of those smaller players that has gotten more and more traction in Davidson over the past year is Nextdoor.

Nextdoor is a bit different in that it focuses on connecting via your neighborhood.  Rather than joining the platform generically and having to grow your own network of connections, you join directly into your neighborhood via your home address.  When you send and receive messages you do it via your neighborhood and the neighboring neighborhoods.

People commonly use it to sell things, ask for recommendations on all sorts of local items, and post neighborhood news items.  The Town of Davidson also uses it as part of the town communications strategy.  According to Public Information Officer Christna Shaul:

"The Town of Davidson uses Nextdoor.com to post general, crime and safety, and lost and found information to the whole jurisdiction of Davidson or to specific neighborhoods, depending on the message. For example, we recently posted information about the Davidson Police Department offering home security checks to the entire jurisdiction. When the Town of Davidson street cleaning truck was going to be working along South Street and North Main Street in the early morning hours, we selected those specific geographies to post a courtesy message, so people would not be alarmed by the noise.

The Town of Davidson cannot see internal neighborhood conversations. If employees live in Davidson and have joined Nextdoor.com, they might see posts from their personal accounts as members of their neighborhoods.

Last Sunday night the platform was used to address a serious local safety issue - aggressive teen driving.  But not in the way you might think...

One local user from Davidson's River Run neighborhood posted a picture of a car saying he had witnessed a local teen driving recklessly.  Three other users quickly chimed in saying they had similar run ins with a similar looking vehicle. Eventually, another user joined the conversation, and this person appeared to be either the teen driver himself or possibly a relative.

To  say the least, the typical "spirited" back and forth of social media ensued.  The incidents had been reported to police.  The accused had supposedly spoken to the police and been vindicated.  Claims of impersonation and false police reports flew.

Then, Davidson Police Chief Jeanne Miller joined the conversation.  (Remember that point in  the PIO's comments about employees being citizens too?)

Chief Miller asked to speak offline to the person defending the teen's action.  It's Town policy to not resolve issues in on line discussions, so this was the appropriate course of action.  According to responses this week from the town something happened.   It also appears there was some level of mediation.

One thing we do know.  The entire thread was deleted from Nextdoor on Wednesday.

According to Shaul in a follow-up conversation Thursday afternoon, the Town has no idea why the thread was deleted.  However, one can surmise it had something to do with the attention this received, and hopefully the driver in question got the message "people are watching, so drive safely."