Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Red Line, Mi-Connection, CHS Mental Health Facility Hot Topics at Commissioner Chat

Davidson's Commissioner Chat Tuesday evening started off with a request for an update on the Red Line, but quickly turned a bit tense when comparisons were brought up to the decision to join Mi-Connection.  This snowballed into more discussion on the proposed CHS Mental Health facility at the failed Davidson East site, and after two solid hours of discussion it's safe to say none of these major issues are anywhere near gaining a broad level of community concensus.

In a lengthy response on the Red Line status, Mayor Woods did state that nobody should worry about tying themselves to the tracks and getting run-over by a train anytime soon.  That was in reference to the delays resulting form Norfolk Southern's objections to the proposed plan.  A meeting has been set with the railroad next month, but not much more information was available on its agenda or discussion points.  When asked if more detail was available on the railroad's specific objections, the Mayor declined to elaborate.  Instead, he referenced a larger set of talks occurring at the State level and that the Red Line issue was just a "small" part of that larger discussion.  Norfolk Southern has some long term leases with the State that are nearing the end of their original agreements.   It has been postulated that they are using the Red Line as a pawn in that negotiation. However, there is no real evidence that may be true.   Regardless, delays appear to be unavoidable.  When asked if these delays have prompted requests to the legislature to extend the sunset provisions on the special assessment legislation that underpins the financing plan, Mayor Woods stated that discussions have been had and the legislature appears to be open to it.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out after the coming election season.

Then a resident made a comparison of the Red Line to the enormity of the Mi-Connection decision and the disastrous results there.

Commissioner Venzon made it clear that no voting Board member from the Mi-Connection decision will be involved in the Red Line decision.  "Voting member" is a necessary distinction because Mayor Woods was a voting member of the Board during the Mi-Connection debate.  He voted for it.  As Mayor, he will not have a vote on the Red Line unless it somehow is a tie vote - a situation that could only occur if one Board member was absent or had to recuse himself due to a conflict of interest.  As conversation continued to circle back to comparing these two projects it became clear that even with the newly renegotiated inter local agreement that gives Davidson an interest free loan from Mooresville covering a portion of Davidson's commitment until the company does not require subsidies, there is still a lack of confidence in the decision making process when it comes to these large decisions.

In my opinion, the explanation of the herculean efforts needed to get Mi-Connection to the point it is currently provides the perfect example of why the Red Line is so potentially dangerous if the project turns out badly.  Remember, Mi-Connection was supposed to be a profit center for the towns.  Now the discussion focuses on what needs to happen to get it to a point where it is even salable.  It's the perfect example of what can happen when people with no experience in an industry make a decision to go head to head with the professionals.  The Red Line is the same type of decision with none of the voting board members being professionals in mass transit.

If we go down the Red Line path, there won't be an opportunity to sell it. It will be ours forever - good or bad.

Eventually, conversation turned to CHS and its proposed new mental health facility at Davidson East on 73.  It's safe to say, this one will go on for a while with the Mayor mentioning repeatedly that a future public forum will be set to discuss solely this topic.  That public forum will be coordinated by CHS.  When asked if the Board would table all town work on the project until after such a forum.  The Mayor answered 'no'.  At the center of this discussion is the question of whether this is a "by right" development under the current zoning.  The Town Planning Department says 'yes' along with the Town attorney.  Multiple members of the Town Planning Board disagreed while others agreed.

Ultimately though, I'm not sure it matters. 

Even if the zoning was not "by right", it was obvious that CHS would not have the same problem in Davidson that it had in Huntersville.  I would bet a paycheck that Davidson's Board would make any zoning change requested by CHS if it comes to that.  None of the Commissioners spoke against the project tonight.  Most strongly supported it.  They all fell back on the economic development arguement and talked about the presumed ancillary development that will surely occur.  References were made to the development around the hospital in Huntersville etc.

There's one difference that wasn't mentioned though.  This is not a planned project. 

This mental health facility has just fallen out of the sky and landed in Davidson East solely because Huntersville rejected it.  It's not right on the interestate like the Huntersville hospital.  There are no other known planned medical offices proposed for the site.  The site is small - 155 total jobs, so talk of it generating restaurants and gas stations to serve the workers seems far fetched - especially when some of those services are right down 73 in Cabarrus County.  Costs and overall revenue generated by the project are being done on the back of napkins and the project is being promoted based on them.

With planning being done like this, it's easy to see why many in the room had less than full confidence in how this and other decisions will turn out.

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