City Council

Palenick and Council Cronies to use strong arm tactics

Over in the county seat, Gastonia citizens are experiencing yet another turn from the litigious-minded city manager, Jim “Big Plan” Palenick.

 

Why not force a business to GIVE their land to the city through the eminent domain process granted to public entities? The issue is the bank building and land within “Big Plan” Palenick’s downtown renovation. The city wants the land for the “public good”, the bank wants fair market value for the property. The city says the fair market is only UP TO $600,000, the bank disagrees. Three members of city council have sided with the government – well, that’s all it takes – now it appears the citizens of Gastonia will be headed for court.

What a great use of taxpayer money! Something continues to stink in Gas-town.

 

 

Belmont to get green this spring – Gaston towns tired of being brown

Bowing to the pressure of local small businesses dependent on public water for their livelihoods, the Belmont City Council water committee has put forth a motion to ease water restrictions in the area.

Residents would be able to hand water, drip irrigate trees, shrubs, and personal gardens.  If approved, the watering could be done during the entire day on those three days. “I don’t mind the hand held watering,” said Councilman Charlie Flowers”.

This action is occurring while other Gaston county towns are also loosening restrictions.

 drought-map-3-4-08.gif

It seems that the “squeaky” (re: “leaky”) wheel gets the grease.  If City Council passes the recommendation, residents still will not be able to water their lawns.

Other communities throughout the state are still working on further restrictions and closely tracking water use, Belmont gets a bit a rain and Poof! – no more drought — in some eyes.

We admit there has been some improvement in the drought, but the area is still in what is considered exceptional drought conditions. Typically late February and the month of March are “catch up” months in regards to rain. Not this spring – so far.

A special meeting next Monday evening (6:30 PM) will have this discussion and vote. Interested people should attend this meeting and see how council members who have landscapers maintain their personal yards vote on this issue.

More information links: System Status for Belmont

Belmont Water Use Tables

Facility   

Basin    Pop    2008-03-10    2008-03-03    2008-02-25    2008-02-18   
Belmont Catawba River 8,974   1,676,143 1,605,571 1,668,286

Older table dates

Facility   

Basin    Pop    08-02-04    08-01-28    08-01-21    08-01-14    08-01-07   
Belmont Catawba River 8,974 1,545,286 1,672,429 1,685,857 1,568,714 1,744,143

Sure doesn’t look like water restrictions have affected Belmont’s use of water. Going back to an earlier article where the Belmont Front Porch reported on the growing practice of new wells being dug throughout the county, the County Health Department repudiated the charge that new wells were an issue with groundwater.

With this information, it seems that local “businesses” would not be affected — according to the County health department — just dig a well.

Good for business, keeps the businesses off the backs of elected “leaders”, and keeps the progeny of local councilmembers with their jobs.

It’s all good.

something-smells-here.jpg

Pittenger property plans shown

city-of-belmont-nc-logo.jpg

The Observer is reporting today that the plans for the 1,100 acres below South Point HS have been shared with city planners.

Almost 3,000 new homes are planned, along with a 36-acre “regional” park, and an additonal 30-acres for an elementary school site.

It is great to see their plans, but some of the land reserved for the park and the school site are basically very difficult and expensive terrain to develop.

It is both a good news and bad news type of story. The good news is that they plan a long term build out of the project — 15 to 20 years; The bad news is that the road plan is also a bit questionable. It is relying heavily on the use of South Point Road and an unfunded “spine” road closer to the South Fork River, connecting with Armstrong Ford Road(Main Street) near Timberlake and connecting to the Garden Parkway.

We hope that this particular road is built BEFORE the proposed houses and towncenters are approved. If you think South Point Road is busy now, wait for this development to take off.

Unfortunately — well maybe fortunately — the state builds roads, Senator Pittenger has a very cozy relationship with the development firms around the state. We would not be too surprised if this “spine road” gets fastracked. As former city councilmember Irl Dixon once stated, the TIP ( transportation Improvement Program) had already designated that a road needed to be built and overlayed a road path. The Comprehensive Land Use Plan by the City of Belmont accepted this overlay, so all things considered, the road could be a go…

Hopefully, the funding will be forthcoming from the state legislature. We know that Representative Wil Neumann of Belmont is supportive, if not for re-election purposes at the very least.  

wil-neumann.jpg (Neumann)    pittenger.jpg (Pittenger)

Other good news on this project is the developer. Haden Stanziale is a recognized leader in large tract development. The project will certainly be first class. The bad news about this developer is that it contributes to the notion of economic cleansing concerns that many in-town and long-time residents have expressed.

When the property taxes on revaluation of property goes sky high two things happen. Pleople sell their property, or they can’t afford the tax bill. In this “bubble-burst” period of housing slowdown, both the resale of existing homes and new homes may help keep the tax values from rising too quickly.

We have a county commission that is very averse to raising pennies on property, but willing to hit the sales tax side for “good causes”  — this is a whole ‘nuther story completely so we won’t talk about it right now.

SBA Loans to businesses affected by drought

At the last city council meeting, two local business owners pleaded with the council members for relief from water use restrictions.

Hoagland Landscaping and Southern Roots (the former Low Meadows) expressed concern that the cities and towns of the region had a mish-mash of rules governing what could and could not be done during each particular Water Restriction level.

They reported that trade organizations were working with area governments to consider standardizing the rules across community lines.

sba-logo.jpg

We agree with the suggestion and work to bring communities together for comprehensive guidelines regarding water use. The restrictions have created particular economic hardships to the hundreds of landscaping “companies” and nurseries that supply the community. In this instance, the drought is causing a shakeout of the landscapers in particular. The US Small Business Administration (SBA) began offering low-interest loans to businesses affected by the drought sometime last year. The shakeout of businesses that is occuring is a natural process of the market place in two levels. The first level are those businesses started as “sidelines” or supplemental jobs by folks such as firefighters, school teachers, and job-in-betweeners. Mainly folks who cut lawns and provide basic landscaping services. The second level are the true professionals who have made careers out of learning the trade and became proficient to have sustained the ups and downs of the industry.

We feel for both levels of providers. But again, there is temporary relief to help the rough spots. This document/flyer by the SBA could help those professionals over this weather-related hump.

As the rain last night and today remind us, God will provide. His timeframe and ours are not always the same. Balancing a precious resource such as freshwater with community sustainability versus a profit-making venture requires much discussion, debate, and cooperation.

small-business-loans.jpg

Crowded house in Gastown watches council commit millions

“Big Plan” Palenick had his vision and confirmation of at least 3 more years of job security voted in by the Gastonia City Council last night, 5-1. Even tenacious city-cheerleader/mayor Jennie raised her hand in the vote. We wondered about that, was she worried about a tie?

cheerleader-mayor-stultz.jpg big-plan-palenick.jpg (Palenick considering the mind-meld technique)

In the so-called Downtown Revitalization plan, the former First Union building will be torn down to build a parking deck. That surely must be a good first step. Can’t find parking for the Thursday night summer events at the Rotary Pavilion and on the 4th of July, so it must be able to alleviate that mess. It is certainly very close to the other “Gastonia” destination hot-spots of the DS Botanical Gardens (11.51 miles), the Schiele (2 miles, ok 1.98 miles), and the always jumping Franklin Square 1 (4.51 miles).

It is really doubtful that the other voting members of the Gastonia City Council get it. Business markets develop over time. Government interventions to jump-start private investment have very mixed results. One key is the local community support through pride of the the financial committment, and “boots on the ground”. Many of the downtown property owners know that, have waited for the “free” money (i.e. your taxpayer $$) to flow their way and ultimately allow them to cash out.

We have no problem with property owners wanting to get the best deal for themselves, or for a community to “profit” by investment in the downtown areas. But when a plan “elbows” its way into the process, with little discussion and the spectre of class warfare below the surface, it becomes a fairness discussion.

salvation-army-logo.jpg

Moving the Salvation Army Shelter and administrative functions out of downtown, to “…hide your brothers and sisters…”, as Captain Stan Colbert has commented, is one way to rid the appearance of blight and depression. Ok, so 5 million privately contributed dollars later, the shelter is moved across the tracks and the homeless cross the Marietta Street bridge and hang out in front of the new downtown Microtel Inn and Convention Center?

microtel.jpg

It is just a shame that this proposal also chooses to ignore the already committed investments that the city has made to renovate the Webb Theater and the private investment plans that are slowly turning.

A downtown investment is not a quick fix. Mr. Kirlin knows that. The city of Belmont knows that as well. Our downtown “beautification” is certainly taking on a life of its own, but remember, it was a decade ago and commitments by PRIVATE property owners to work together to make it all happen. The city just dealt with the streetscape and made an investment into the park area. The Belmont downtown development group (underwritten by Stowe Mills), and the revitalized downtown merchants association (re-formed when the chamber was struggling with membership), worked very hard to work on a mix of business types to hopefully balance a purpose to visit the downtown area.

That result is an apparently vibrant downtown at 9:00 AM, 3:00 PM, and 8:00 PM. Of course, that commitment also cost a visionary mayor his elected seat, and brought several more years of obstructionist cronyism before we could seriously address the need for nurturing our community soul.

Gastonia has to suffer the throes of similar tribulation – it will all work out in the end, that of which, we are hopeful.

To comment on the event last night itself:  

The Belmont Front Porch’s intrepid editors, taking pages from the political science playbooks, stationed people at the council meeting and watched the drivel unfold on television last night. The exit polls by the “watchers” definitely indicate an uprising brewing among the Gastonia electorate. As far as television is concerned, it would seem that both city council members and staff should learn to dress for the low-tech cameras that are trained on their every  utterance of  “uh”, “yeah”, “okay”, and our collective favorite,  “um”.

toastmasters-logo.gif

Gaston College offers public speaking classes, Toastmasters International has at least two area chapters, and there are a host of community consultants that for a fee could help these elected public officials and hired staff stand before a mic and camera. Please invest your training dollars wisely if you hire or elect mumble-mouths.

Consultant not sold on Gastonia’s plans for downtown convention center, hotel

Aren’t we surprised?

Gastonia’s super-secret-deal $16,000 contract consultant backs off his own report. Could it be that Atlantic Hospitality Advisors are worried about the possible business connection back to “Big Plan” Palenick?

We have to give a lot of credit to councilman Kirlin for wanting to explore this issue in more detail.

david-kirlin.jpg (Gastonia City Councilman, Dave Kirlin)

Tonight’s Gastonia City Council meeting will be televised (Gaston County Access Channel 16 on the TW cable). We hope Mr. Palenick wears some makeup.

The consultant’s fees for this market study don’t appear to be too well-earned. Most of the data looks to be lifted from several earlier studies of the Gaston County area and accessible data from both the Economic Development Commission and the Census Bureau. So, taxpayers footed the bill to tell the Gastonia City Council what they already knew?

You can read some of the fiction yourselves right here:

gastonia-market-analysis.pdf  

The report is a 2mb file and might take a bit to download. Pretty hefty you must admit for $16,000.

Mr. Palenick’s “revised” plan that will be discussed at tonight’s meeting:

strategic-development-plan-revised-02-11-2008.pdf

City Council Action – February 4

city-of-belmont-nc-logo.jpg 

The Belmont city council, fresh off of a planning retreat, began addressing some of the goals and directions right off the bat at last night’s February meeting.

City manager, Barry Webb, reviewed the city’s financial statements and audit report for the council. The council listened to a presentation by two students from the Mayor’s Youth Council of Gastonia about starting a similar program here in Belmont. The council seemed receptive and accepted an invitation to attend one of their meetings.

During the council work session which immediately precedes the council meeting, the city manager reviewed items from the consent agenda and what needed to be discussed during the meeting. The city council members receive a bound book with all the business items for the meeting. That book is open for review by the public usually a day or two prior to the council meetings – a recent development.

Public comments last night came from residents along Lower Armstrong Ford Road concerned over th annexation of development which had received zoning and construction approval by the county. One man, who lives in Misty Waters and had moved here from California, was concerned over the Town Center concept and the impact on the overall infrastructure. He listed concerns of worries over multi-family housing, road widening, and traffic flow.

Two business owners, spoke about the impact of water restrictions on their businesses and asked that council members seek some sort of consistent agreement across communities. Council appeared to agree with the assertion that landscaping businesses face huge odds with differing interpretations of what cities are doing to respond to the drought conditions.

Fire Chief Altice presented a self-described “brag-book” to members of council with pictures and charts of all the things the fire department had done through the year. Maybe the book could be displayed at the City Hall desk, chief? You may present to council, but the voters do put them in that position. Altice noted some commentary he had with an elderly citizen about where the grant monies come from on a recent grant that the department had received. His comment to the voter, “if we don’t get it here, someone else will”. While true, was this not a bit flip in the process?

Federal grants and earmarks are the people’s money coming home, so to speak, and in this case it is money that has been well-used and beneficial to the department. We hope council gives very good oversight to the submitted grants. There have been instances in other communities where equipment garnered through grants (matching or otherwise) actually just sit unused. Please don’t let that happen here.

The annexing of the wraparound property near the intersection of South Point Road and Lower Armstrong was continued by council. The developers had withdrawn the request last month as well.

The former Leeper property at the waterfront of the South Fork and Lower Armstrong Road bridge was voluntarily annexed into the city. There will be roughly 30-35, 1-acre lots with million dollar plus homes built in this development, under a low density zoning.

Council authorized up to $50,000 to repair Amanda Lane over in Pinsto Forest as a result of a contractor busting through an 8″ water main. Maybe that is why our water use was so high that week.

Council discussed and approved a $27,000 emergency water interconnect construction with Mount Holly to be located in North Belmont. This would be used in times of emergency.

The members of the city council discussed the manager’s summary of the planning retreat held at the US National Whitewater Center a couple of weekends ago. New members, Ron Foulk and Martha Stowe, both had agendas that appear to be high on the goal list. Foulk would like to see a 3-5 year listing of Capital Improvement Projects and how they would impact the future budgets, Stowe would like to see more accountability in the USNWC relationship. They discussed the committee structure, touching on a Watershed/stormwater panel, tree ordinances, and training.

What council meeting would be complete without personal interests across the board, under the ol’ “other business” portion of the meeting? Really, in year’s past, this would be where items would be pushed through when the public and media had long left the room. Under this mayor, at least it is tempered by “concerns” and reports/announcements rather than motions and action.

Last night it was the on-going and close to resolution saga of lights in the mature upscale community of Glenmere. They may just be close to getting streetlights, getting the right color, and right style.

lights.jpg

The mayor commented that the speed of retreat did not allow for a lot of goals to be more specific and that there would be a lot of work necessary to be completed. Some items mentioned were: the on-going need to update zoning ordinances to meet the Comprehensive Land Use Plan goals; open space requirements; proper alignment of tree ordinance language and application; and, an adequate public facilities ordinance.

He also discussed the need for an Occupancy Tax now that Belmont has legitimate hotels being built in the community. The manager stated that a committee, or board needed to be established to provide oversight of the process.

Looks like a busy agenda for the council this year. It is always good to see a crowded chamber.