Gaston Parks and Recreation Department

Pittenger property plans shown

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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.  

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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.

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.  

Bond Referendums

The Belmont Chamber of Commerce is endorsing both Bond Referendums on the November 6 ballot.

We are agreeing to this endorsement as well.

Vote yes for the $12 million Parks and Recreation Bonds.

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Vote yes for the $175 million School Bonds.

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County approves $200,000 for college driving track

Ok, so the county doesn’t have money to spend on a Senior Citizen’s Center, and has to charge for parking at the Courthouse, but can unamimously approve a driving track for county police?

The commissioners make the Parks and Recreation Department run through all kinds of hoops to get funding for a project that would affect thousands of people, and yet, has little comment on projects that affect a few.

Gaston County may eventually try to recoup some of its investment by approaching other area police departments that will benefit from the track.” — a quote from the Gazette article.

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We believe that’s wishful thinking on the part of the county commissioners. Their track record on “investments in the community” is not so good. It seems that it would have been more prudent to secure the collaborations and commitments to use the facility BEFORE approaching the taxpayers for money.

But again, people like Tom Keigher and Mickey Price like to spend OPM (“Other People’s Money”).

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