Housing

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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$2 Billion in construction and payrolls and 14,000 jobs projected for Montcross by 2035

Bill Monroe of WGM Design of Charlotte addressed a crowded Belmont Chamber of Commerce function at The Haid on the campus of Belmont Abbey College tonight.

Monroe shared the vision and master plan of the Montcross project that is expected to cost over a billion dollars to construct and provide jobs for 14,000 people, with an additional economic impact of almost $1 billion by 2035. Steelwood Solutions assisted with the impact study of the overall project.

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The meeting was attended by local politicians, real estate agents, small business owners, homeowners, and “other interested parties” – namely four members of the BFP editorial staff.

The Abbey, represented by Dr. Thierfelder, Abbott Placid, Monte Monteleone, and  the college development staff welcomed the visitors and updated everyone on the recent successes of the College. Dr. Thierfelder reported that the Abbey enrollment had exceeded 1,300 students this school year. Applications for the coming year will push enrollment up to 1,600 for the fall of 2008. The goal of the college is to reach a maximum enrollment of 2,500 students in the next twenty years.

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Monroe reviewed the 17-year history of WGM Design’s relationship with the Abbey, by noting that the master plan has continually changed and evolved over the years. The partnership with the Stowe-Pharr-Parkdale was reviewed and how the Montcross Development came to be known.

He described each parcel of the plan in pretty good detail.

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Yes, Cracker Barrel is interested. Recent changes in Cracker Barrel management have caused the operation to seek the property behind the Bi-Lo instead of next to the Hampton Inn. A medical office complex is planned for that parcel, explained Monroe. But there have been managerial changes so the Abbey is just waiting to see what they will decide to pursue.

Many “national chain restaurants” have inquired about the strip of land next to Nyoshi back toward the Wal-Mart. From the drawings, it appears that 5, maybe 6 parcels for restaurants are available in this strip. One restaurant chain was insisting on a parcel along Wilkinson Boulevard, next to the Handy Lube. However, that would involve rezoning the property from Business Campus to Highway Business. One of the main battlefronts during the Wal-Mart “debate” was the zoning ordinances and ultimate process of rezoning that was predicted.

Looks like this prediction will be coming to fruition in the coming months. Monroe commented that they would be talking to city officials in the near future about this rezoning application.

Monroe gave a polite tip of the hat to former council member, Becky Burch (who wasn’t present) by confirming that a cafeteria chain had inquired about the old Harris-Teeter section of the Abbey Plaza. That confirmation allowed a fist-in-the-air celebration by none other than Dot Martin, wife of council member Charlie Martin. Seems that someone’s agendas are going to be completed. Monroe pointed out that nothing has been finalized.

Rose’s was discussed briefly. Apparently Rose’s renewed their lease and business has actually increased since Wal-Mart’s opening. Monroe described that Rose’s prices are lower than Wal-Mart’s and that has led to a resurging sales tally for the retail anchor in Abbey Plaza.

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Dunkin’ Donuts will be opening a section in the Exxon structure on the corner of Wilkinson and Park. Not a stand alone building.

He discussed the north section of the plan – the Parkdale section – the old Acme Mill village and Woodlawn Avenue area will become home to two and three story office complexes. The first is scheduled to have plans presented to city council in the first quarter of the New Year. Guess that means no park in North Belmont after all.

The far western section, the Pharr-owned area (just east of “The Slide”) will become a site for multi-family (apartments) and another nearby section needs to be re-designed after it was revealed that some of the land was once used for a landfill. Gee, anyone who has lived here for more than a few years could’ve told you what was in that area before you made pretty drawings of houses.

The section of Stowe land just west of The Oaks will house 4 and 5 story office buildings similar to the Ballantyne project and will be visible from I-85. So long green forested interstate buffers.

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Land to the Northeast of the expanded campus will become a medical park, a senior retirement community of apartments and assisted living centers. The final jewel in the plan is a section at exit #27 of 4 story office buildings. This section alone will draw $400,000,000 of investment and develop about 7,000 jobs. Monroe explained that developers and the Abbey will build a road that would traverse the area from Hwy 273 to Belmont-Mt. Holly Road. He hinted that the Gaston County Economic Development Commission could also find funding for this road.

Monroe entertained several questions from the audience. Deposed council member, Irl Dixon was concerned over the A&W property and the Nyoshi/Burger King building. Yum! Brands, Inc. holds a long-term lease of the former Long John Silver/A&W building and is still paying rent to the Benedictines.

Sindy Maxwell of the Belmont Planning & Zoning Board asked about the land area within the Belmont City limits. All but the western section in McAdenville and a small 40-acre section in Mt. Holly below the Mt. Holly water tower, Monroe responded.

He noted that one additional small strip of land east of the Arby’s in Belmont toward the river would be used for small “incubator” types of office structures. There is space for about ten small buildings in this section.

A homeowner living near the now-closed Stowe Spinning Mill was concerned about what would be replacing the Spinning Mill. Monroe said that section was not part of the project and he didn’t know what was planned.

Overall, it was a good presentation, factual and to the point. Reporters for the Gazette, Observer and Banner were represented so we should be reading their take of the meeting in a day or so…These folks were seen sidling up to the principals after the meeting concluded, so we met in the parking lot to share notes. Thought about meeting at the Holy Grounds coffee shop, “serving Starbucks products”, as Mr. Monroe described, but decided that our identities were more important than hob-knobing.

Congratulations to Ted Hall and the Belmont Chamber of Commerce for exceeding their goal of making it to 300 memberships for 2008. They will have 304, and as Chamber Board Chair Paul Lowrance noted, “the fastest growing Chamber in the Southeast”.

Can Walk Score Improve the Value of Your Home?

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We previously reported that Belmont has the best “Walk Score” in Gaston County, (10/29/07), here is another take on the impact of sidewalks and walkable community values from Realty Times:

Just imagine, your real estate agent is showing you a print out from the Multiple Listing Service of a home you might want to buy. On the sheet is something you’ve never seen before.

“Our hope would be that eventually it’s something that is in the MLS, where it says ‘Two bedroom, two bathroom, 1,000 square feet, Walk Score of: 80,'” says Matt Lerner, co-developer of a website called Walk Score.

While the MLS doesn’t yet offer this feature, creating a Walk Score for a particular property is a concept that Lerner and a couple of other technology colleagues (Jesse Kocher and Mike Mathieu) developed after realizing that how walkable an area is, rates high for consumers.

“We got interested in the benefits of walkable neighborhoods partially due to a nonprofit in Seattle called the Sightline Institute which had done so much writing on all the benefits of walking,” says Lerner.

Lerner says some of the benefits were obvious, such as walking is good exercise and helps to reduce environmental pollution.

“But then there were some non-obvious benefits, such as walking is really good for communities because you’re out in your neighborhood, you’re talking to people, you’re meeting people. Walkable neighborhoods are also good for local businesses because, rather than driving to one place, you can stop and walk around and look at all the little stores. So it’s a good way to support local businesses and local culture too,” says Lerner.

So the developers set out to create a website that measures the walking score for home locations. Walk Score.com launched in the summer and in just four weeks got one million visitors wanting to know a property’s Walk Score. Using Google Maps and business listings, the site computes a Walk Score for any address in the United States and Canada. It bases the points assigned on the distance to local amenities and then averages the score. Then for the fun of it, visitors can compare their scores to that of famous locations and people such as Bill Gate’s house, Fenway Park or Jennifer Anniston and Brad Pitt’s (pre-divorce) home.

Lerner says that since the site launched they have received lots of emails from users saying that walkability is the number one priority they focus on when buying a house.

“I know in Seattle, for example, a lot of people work at Microsoft, which is in Redmond, so they commute to work but, for where they live, especially if they have kids or a family, having things they can walk to is really important and then for younger folks being able to walk to a bar or a coffee shop is important. Walk Score is a really simple way to see what’s in the neighborhood near the property you’re looking at,” says Lerner.

However, Walk Score doesn’t take into account things such as lakes or other roadblocks that might force someone to take a different route to get to the destination.

“What Walk Score does is fairly simple. We measure whether you can get to the types of businesses that consumers want and then we base a score on that,” says Lerner.

Lerner says creative real estate agents and homeowners are using it to help sell homes.

“One of the really fun things on the Internet has been that people are comparing their scores and bragging about them. A big, new condo in Seattle put up a huge Walk Score banner on the front that said Walk Score 100 and they used that banner as a marketing tool because they think that, for urban condos, walkability is one of the selling points,” says Lerner.

Buyers are using Walk Score to help determine which house better suits their needs.

“We’re seeing people actually comparing different properties and if a place gets a low Walk Score, someone can say, ‘Oh, wow I didn’t realize I couldn’t actually walk to the grocery store if I bought this house but if I buy this other one, I can walk to all these amenities,'” says Lerner.

Lerner says real estate agents see Walk Score as another way to help sell a property and, “in a down-real-estate market you need all the selling points you can get.”