City Council

Downtown stakeholders get the skinny on Gastonia’s big plan

At this morning’s First Friday Focus, a Gaston Regional Chamber, regular event, “Big Plan” Palenick, Gastonia’s city manager/chief litigator, presented HIS big plan for Gastonia.

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Speaking before a good sized crowd of chamber members and interested others, “BP” noted that many downtown business owners supported the plan “enthusiastically”.

We already know that the city council has swallowed the kool-aid in its desperate attempt to revive a city that lost its relevance when I-85 was completed, and then again when Wal-Mart took over at both ends of town.

It now appears that the libertarian mouthpiece, the Gaston Gazette, is certainly looking more favorably on these plans as well. Their tone and style of writing is disappointing considering their distain for the TIF laws as passed in 2004.

Good luck Gastonia.

Really, we mean it…

  

Gastonia’s city manager suing former employer in New Mexico

Does THIS surprise anybody?  

He did it in Bay City, He is doing it in Rio Rancho, He will probably do it in Gastonia.

Not IF it happens, but when…

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Belmont becomes Berkeley

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Belmont Middle School students, evoking memories of a past era of protests by young people, held their own rally at Stowe Park on January 15. A peaceful protest rally seeking to be heard in the town-wide discussion of behavior in the park and downtown area.

Spurred on by a growing animosity between hundreds of adolescents in the downtown area immediately after school and downtown merchants, Belmont police addressed all the parents via a letter.

The word got out that the city wanted the park emptied of young teens and that the kids were ‘banned from the park”.

As the BannerNews reported, albeit delayed by its posting on this site, the students were not “banned”, but were definitely given the message to “go elsewhere”.

Parks and Recreation opinion — set up surveillance systems to track troublemakers — not a good option.

Downtown Merchants opinion — get them out, or get them supervised — not particularly good, but better.

Belmont Police — we need more officers, we need more money — SOP response, also not productive.

Gaston County Schools’ — once the students leave our campus, they are no longer our responsibility — oooh-kaay, how productive is that?  

The kids took matters into their own hands, and, voila’, a meeting occurs on January 16.

Way to go Teens! 

We still stand by our original opinion, that all the groups need to dialogue/plan better afterschool options so that “bad apples” don’t spoil the adolescent need to “hang out” in public areas — and feel safe while growing up.

It does require the entire community to monitor. It does require individual families with children in this age group and school group to have open communication and supervision of the kids. It does require cooperation.  

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Belmont Police try to rid Stowe Park of children

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Just wrote an inflammatory headline to see if ya’ll were paying attention.

But, there is an issue brewing with the popularity of the downtown area with young and old alike.

Stowe Park has long been a gathering place for students from the junior high/now, middle school, immediately after school each day from about 3:05 to almost 6:00 PM.

After the Central Avenue bridge was renovated in 1992-1993, the Belmont Public Library saw a huge increase in the after school “attendance”. The library created a policy for behavior and time limits for this new attendance pattern.

Successive Belmont Middle School principals have had varying levels of success with afterschool clubs and activities, all pretty much completing by 4:00 PM each day.

With the opening of the Belmont General Store and Caravan Coffee Shop, students began flocking to these venues as well as the library and park area.

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Parents began “allowing” the children to go to these places afterschool. Many of the children getting “freedom” after years of afterschool child-care type programs aged them out of their licensing focus. Parents saw this freedom as also freedom from the financial burden of child-care.

So, the community must now bear the added cost of more police officers patrolling downtown Belmont and Stowe Park. As Chief James claimed in a letter to Middle School families, patrolling the park is taking away an officer from [more important] other duties during their shifts.

Caravan Coffee and the Belmont General Store, for all the goodwill that is done by these businesses, have had to call in the police to deal with the behavior of more than just a few kids at times.

The opening of the pavilion at the top of the hill in Stowe Park has contributed to a growing crowd of kids, particularly on nice days.

So, what can be done? The BannerNews did an article about the issue in last Thursday’s paper:

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We are suggesting that the school take a more proactive approach toward afterschool “latchkey” children. “Latchkey” is a terminolgy for children who carry their housekey to let themselves in at home while the parents or guardians are away. It was also used by some political elements to stigmatize children of families who have both parents in the away-from-home workforce.

Community groups such as the the YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, and others have offered programs for years, specifically designed and geared to the ‘tweens and early adolescents of a community. Many times these programs meet until 5:30 or 6, but not every day. The school itself offers many clubs that meet from 3:15 to 4:00 PM, only closing down when the teacher-advisors vacate the buildings around 4’ish. Team sports generally take place from 3:15 to 5:00 PM and when games are held, large student crowds are present.

Grants are available to offer teachers incentives to stay longer to develop interesting programs and activities.

We agree, this is a particularly difficult age of student to engage. Chief James singles out the skateboarders for example, as a negative impact.

The negativeness of skateboarding and inline skating (called “boarding, or “skaters” respectively) is because the community doesn’t generally take kindly to young (mostly) boys who like individual challenges as opposed to the traditional ‘team sports” approach of engagement.

Girls like to gather in small groups to socialize, and where would that be? Close to where boys hang out – be it on the ball field or in a park area.

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The Belmont Parks and Recreation director’s comments about setting up surveillance cameras in all the parks is short-sighted and not going to accomplish a P & R goal of engagement. It will just send the students “somewhere else”.

One of the Belmont P& R department’s long term goals was to develop and operate a skate park. Now that the bond referendum has passed, it is time to move this project forward rapidly. Of course, if the placement of such a park is farther away from the prospective user group — middle school aged children– the less impactful it will be in the long run. We have long recommended that the lower (unused) tennis courts at Davis Park be the site.

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(Davis Park photo)

It is time for the elements to match up and get a comprehensive series of goals and action steps into place. We suggest that the four main groups — the school, downtown merchants, parks and recreation, and students (along with their parents) — develop this plan. It would be wise to include the police department after there is consensus on the “self-policing” process before the law enforcement brings its heavy hand to bear on the result.  

  

Gastonia will not pursue sale of public golf course

gazette-photo-muni.jpg             GOOD !

  We guess that there are a few more people who like to golf than Mr. Palenick thought…

TIF Turns Gaston Into River City

Tax Increment Financing has turned Gaston County cities and towns into the real life example of the movie version, “The Music Man”:

A con artist, “Professor” Harold Hill, comes to a small Iowa town in the early 1900s. He convinces the town that it needs a marching band, taking orders for the necessary instruments and uniforms. He also sells music lessons in advance, concealing the fact that he cannot read or play a note of music. In the process Professor Hill galvanizes the town out of its torpor and falls in love with the local librarian/music teacher. The movie is the original setting for “Seventy-Six Trombones” and “Till There Was You.”

We’ve got Trouble… Right here in River City…

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An article in the Charlotte Oberserver reports that County manager, Jan Winters has bought into “Big Plan” Jim Palenick’s endorsement of the Big League Dreams program. Where did $23,000 to “study” the project come from? Another tap into the Tourism funds from the hotel/motel tax?  

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Another trip down the route of issuing municipal bonds without voter approval.

Isn’t “Big Plan” the same guy who questioned the Whitewater Park investment by Gaston area communities? Didn’t Mr. Winters have a dickens of a time dealing with the fallout of the failed Equestrian Center and county finances.

So, what are the differences?

Big League Dreams is a for-profit development firm that primarily builds baseball fields with the target area’s local money, and takes 50% of the profits (if there are any). The project is being sold throughout the United States as a way for cash-strapped communities to have “world class” athletic facilities.  

The “target communities” are generally areas that have small parks and recreation budgets — if any at all –, are in areas of unrealized potential — along major highways/transportation corridors, and have attention starved local politicos. Several communities that bought into this project have already had to raise entrance fees — yes, parking/viewing — to meet the for-profit operating budget. Captured events, such as Legion Baseball, the Grizzlies, and any planned event, will have to charge an arm-and-a-leg to meet breakeven points. What guarantees are made by Big League Dreams if the community couldn’t attract major regional or national events?

NONE —

This particular group is asking — demanding, actually (by the business model) — that the target community do the local site research, commit to the fund the construction, and guarantee the construction loan. Then they operate the facilities, and “split” the profits of the facility. The big kicker is that they MUST be able to sell alcohol in their parks. So in essence, the City (and County) in this scheme, want to get a piece of the alcohol sales and profit off of youth sports.

The passage of the Tax Increment Finance law in 2004, has allowed the traveling saleman to flood North Carolina communities with big visions and bigger ideas.  Jim “Big Plan” Palenick and Big League Dreams blew in with this passage.

The US National Whitewater Center is a one-of-a-kind, locally volunteer-driven, non-profit organization. It is a planned out, unique destination place that has not yet been duplicated. Significant private investment was pledged and committed PRIOR to public investment.

The community investment in the USNWC is guaranteed by the public investment of tax dollars, which will be tapped this fiscal year, and probably for the next two consecutive years. Is it a lot of money?

In our opinion, sure, but at the same time it is less than the $18 million proposed for the Baseball fields. It is less than the proposed $12.5 million for downtown Gastonia’s “renovation”.  For the USNWC, a total of $2.5 million was invested by the Gaston communities (Gastonia, Belmont, Mt. Holly) in the $35 million project.

Was there, or is there, a payback from the Whitewater Center? This past summer, the first year of operation, over 50% of the staff were from Gaston County. Primarly college students and young adults. Several events attracted a world-wide audience and visitors, many of whom stayed in the Holiday Inn Express at exit #27. The center attracted over 400,000 visitors — yes, free, mostly curiousity visitors, many more than the 300,000 anticipated.  

So far, the “Big Plan” Jim Palenick  public endorsement tally is over $30 million. We have to ask, what is next ?

This traveling salesman scores bigtime in Gaston County. “Big Plan” also scored in Bay City, Michigan and Rio Rancho, New Mexico prior to blowing into Gastonia.  

City Council Action

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Last night’s city council meeting (January 7, 2008) was adequately attended by citizens and public workers.

The council approved the consent agenda which had a section dealing with the sewer upgrades in the “south outfall” area (near Amity Acres/Pinsto). An 18″ pipe would be installed that should be able to service a population of 35,000 in the peninsula area below the High School. Looks like the engineers are thinking way ahead.

Retired Firefighter, Robert Steve Hubbard, was recognized by the NC League of Municipalities for 36 years of service to Belmont. Richard Boyce made the presentation to a standing ovation by the crowd. Chief Altice took pictures.

During the public comment section, a gentleman who lives on Oak Street requested the city look into the cut-through traffic that people are using to bypass the crowded Central Avenue at busy times. People are turning down Harris Street (next to Charlie Martin’s house) and turning back up the hill onto Oak to bypass the stoplights at Myrtle/Central and Central/Main. He commented that, “…people are traveling in excess of 60 miles per hour up the hill…”. Council referred the man to Chief James for further discussion.

A representative from the Belmont Housing Authority updated the council on the Housing Authority activity. Council member, Martha Stowe was a member of that board, but had to resign upon election to City Council. There are two vacancies on the housing Authority Board. The mayor appoints the board. Mayor Boyce indicated that applications from interested participants could be directed to the Housing Authority. (P.O. Box 984, Belmont).

There was a text amendment to the Business Campus Development District. this would allow a business to have a drive-through window in this zoning designation as a conditional use. The purpose of the amednment was to accomodate Belmont Federal’s planned move to the corner of Planetree and Park Street (the old laundry/Backyard BBQ and adjacent lots) that were rezoned at the last council meeting.

There was a lengthy presentation and discussion to rezone a GR-4 piece of property at the river’s edge above the rail trestle to Business Campus Development/Conditional District to accomodate the Dickson and Whaley family requests to build a 42-slip marina and convenience store.

Piedmont Road property owners presented a petition to make sure that the road which is already fenced off at the old Spectrum plant, remain fenced off. Several residents of Edgemont were also in attendance and expressed concerns about traffic on the narrow roads of Edgemont, Linestowe, and River Road. Property rights advocate, Charlie Flowers, added language to the conditional use that no liquor be allowed or amplified music, except for special events. Once the property lines were established and the developer answered all the questions of council members, an affirmative vote was taken.

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The photo above shows the property that was requesting a rezone. The longest discussion revolved around the section of the photo from the left of the flat area to the little “beach area”. Apparently city and county maps do not show this as existing land, or that the land is withing County jurisdiction. The store, boat landing would built closer to the River Road in the cove area. The aluminum-covered boat slips (42 of them) would be built in the foreground of the photo.

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City council members also added language to allow for the development of a greenway along this property. It is unknown how that will work – property rights and all, you know. the drawing above shows the “added” land area under jurisdictional questioning. Longtime Belmontians know that the “added” land was ash and landfill over a long period of time. Many a great party was held in the picnic shelter and along the riverbank over the years.  

The anticipated big discussion of the evening, non-contiguous voluntary annexation of 55 acres with proposed access to Lower Armstrong Ford Road and South Point Road was withdrawn by the property owners. The council voted to continue the public hearing of the project until the February meeting.

Todd Neely and the architect for the Riverfront Park presented the final master plan for the new park down along East Catawba. The Belmont Front Porch had previously reported that work is progressing with the demolition of the two houses just behind Dale’s. The final plan shows a boardwalk with a small landing to launch paddle boats. A lot of green space and trails. The island, being referred to as “Irl’s Island” or Gilligan’s Island, — in reference to former council member, Irl Dixon, who has championed the acquistion of the island for a long time — was now included in the plan with “nature trails” weaving through the space. Council was asked to approve the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) grant application for a 50% match of a $1,000,000 project. Belmont would provide $500,000 and the State’s park trust fund grant would match this amount. A detailed budget was provided to the council members. Council approved the grant application.

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In other business, defeated council candidate, Richard Turner, was appointed to the Parks and Recreation Advisory committee to replace Jenny Granson who had resigned. Only two people has applied for the slot, with one person being disqualified because they lived outside the Belmont ETJ ( go figure).

Council also rearranged their committees and heard from the various council members of their special interest concerns. City Manager Barry Webb reported that city staff are encouraging the development of a Tree Committee and participation in the Tree City, USA program.  

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