Davidson board wants more feedback on catalyst study

Kim Fleming and Leamon Brice talked with town commissioners Tuesday about possible redevelopment of the Town Hall site. (David Boraks photo)
Kim Fleming and Leamon Brice talked with town commissioners Tuesday about possible redevelopment of the Town Hall site. (David Boraks photo)

Davidson commissioners said Tuesday they’ve heard “loud and clear” citizens’ concerns about the “catalyst study” for redeveloping the Town Hall site. At their work session Tuesday, board members said they have no plans to take action soon, and will continue to discuss the study into early 2016. Town officials said they’ll continue publicizing the study and seeking citizen comments, through town newsletters and additional meetings.

  • Listen to audio of the discussion below

About 25 town staff and citizens attended the Town Board work session at Town Hall, where town officials offered these takeaways:

  • The catalyst study is still just a study and not a plan. No development has been agreed on and no work will begin anytime soon (despite misleading information in news reports).
  • Several town board members were clear that they don’t see the big project happening – at least not in the form presented at an Oct. 20 information meeting.
  • The town will continue to get the word out through all its channels about where the project came from, and about future info sessions. They may try to do a citizen feedback group as well, according to Kim Fleming, Davidson’s economic development manager. She said that could include smaller group meetings or open houses, where people could learn about the ideas and talk to town leaders. She said many residents may not understand how the town and its consultant arrived at the plan, as evidenced by “the gasp in the room when the picture was put up of all the development on this site.”

The proposed project would add offices, shops, apartments, a parking deck and possibly a hotel. A new “market street” and green space would be built, and one version of the plan suggests tearing down Town Hall.

Consultants from the University of North Carolina School of Government have been working on the plan over the past year. Town officials began the study to help solve a need for more Town Hall space as well as to add parking, find a permanent home for Davidson Farmers Market and bring more private investment to Main Street.

Fleming said feedback from the Oct. 20 meeting was important. “Loud and clear, we heard we need to address the transportation issue,” she said. “I think there were a lot of questions about fire coverage. and we know there are a lot of moving pieces to this project. if we can address those issues as we have more information, I think that will be helpful as well.”

She also said citizens made it clear they want to hear from town officials, not the consultants from the UNC School of Government Development Finance Initiative.

“We appreciate all the feedback we have received and we think it will definitely make the project better,” Fleming said. “That’s what we’re working toward, is how do we get to something that makes sense for everyone.”

“It may not be what you saw on the screen the other night,” she added.

Commissioners discussed the study and expressed a variety of concerns that made it clear that no vote on going forward is imminent.

Commissioner Beth Cashion said she thought the images shown at the Oct. 20 meeting were “a whole lot of bricks.” She has said previously that citizen should think of the catalyst study as as a plan “on steroids” – something that’s the highest use, but not necessarily what eventually will get built.

Commissioner Rodney Graham said he’d like to see a discussion of previous area plans for downtown, including a Station Area Plan. That way commissioners and residents would have a better understanding of how the town has looked at downtown growth in recent years.

Said Commissioner Brian Jenest: “I think it also would be helpful if we could talk about this in the context of our other town priorities. One of the things I heard at the (Oct. 20) meeting was we need a fire station, we need this, we need that … If we’re going to have these small group or these sessions .. it would be helpful for us to decide, is this a priority. I think we do need to do something. The question is how much.”

Model by the UNC School of Government's Development Finance Initiative shows what a redeveloped Town Hall site might look like. The model is on display at Town Hall. (David Boraks photo)
Model by the UNC School of Government’s Development Finance Initiative shows what a redeveloped Town Hall site might look like. The model is on display at Town Hall. (David Boraks photo)

Commissioner Jim Fuller said he thinks there have been “mixed messages.”

“I, too, heard the audible gasp when the rendering went up showing the project. It seems to me that projects an inconsistency with what I have heard us say from the start, which is that it is a feasibility study and we could much, little or none.”

He said he was surprised to read in the Sunday paper that the town’s consultant said “we could be starting in a few months. … I have no plan to start in a few months, period.

“So I don’t want to sound like we’re going to manage what’s being said, but I think we need to be careful what is being said is accurate. And if I hadn’t been to all five meetings (over the past year) it would be pretty easy for me to say this train has left the station,” Fuller said. “I think the train is still sitting in the station, waiting for a thoughtful, thorough discussion about not only where it’s going, but whether it’s going and more importantly, how it’s going.”

He said the town should continue to seek public comment about the ideas in the proposal.

Graham said he thinks any final project on the Town Hall site will be somewhere between doing nothing (which would keep the town-owned land covered in “surface parking”) and the plan presented on Oct. 20.

See below for an audio recording of the discussion.  The town also has posted video on its Ustream channel. Find background at http://www.townofdavidson.org/1020/Downtown-Catalyst-Study

Also at the meeting, commissioners:

  • Approved the contract for Jamie Justice, who has been hired as the new Town Manager, replacing 25 year-manager Leamon Brice, who retires at year’s end. Justice starts work Nov. 16. Justice has been assistant town manager in Matthews since 2008 and before that was town manager in Mooresville. Justice will get an annual base salary of $125,000, plus a $500 monthly automobile allowance and retirement benefits. There’s also a $5,000 relocation bonus if he moves to Davidson, according to the contract.  In an Oct. 19 press release, Justice said: “I am excited for the opportunity to become the Davidson Town Manager and I look forward to working with the mayor and commissioners, town staff, and citizens in this role. I am ready to join the team and work toward keeping Davidson the special place that it is.” Commissioners also discussed the transition for the new manage, noting that be will have two days of introductory meetings with department heads on Nov. 17-18. See the manager’s contract on the town website. 
  • Agreed by consensus that the town should endorse the National League of Cities Next National League of Cities Next Century Cities Connecting Communities Initiative. That came after an introduction by Pat Millen of Davidson-based nonprofit E2D (Eliminate the Digital Divide), which delivers computers and training to families in need in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.
  • Heard a report from consultant Susan Manning on her most recent study of town staffing. Manning noted that the town staff has seen higher turnover in recent years and that some job classifications are below average for similar sized towns in North Carolina. She also recommended splitting the Human Resources Manager and Town Clerk functions into two positions. “The town’s large enough now to justify having a full-time HR manager and a full-time clerk,” she said. Among other things, the high turnover and the town’s 2014 shift to part-time paid firefighters have put more pressure on clerk/HR manager Heather Birch.  Manning also suggested hiring more administrative support for Town Hall and one more police officer. She also recommended the town do away with a “hiring rate” for police and all town staff – an introductory pay rate 5 percent below the salary range for each job. Especially in the police department, eliminating that lower rate may boot the town’s police recruiting rate. See Manning’s presentation on the town website. 

See the full agenda on the town agenda website.

RELATED STORY

Oct. 18, 2015, The Charlotte Observer, “Davidson debate: paradise lost, or opportunity?”

Oct. 25, 2015, The Charlotte Observer, “Details don’t sway foes of downtown plan.” (Note: town officials said comments in the article about the project breaking ground as early as next summer are not accurate.)

CATALYST STUDY – AUDIO REPLAY

Listen to an audio replay of Tuesday’s Town Board work session. The discussion begins with town economic development chief Kim Fleming, and includes four of the five town board members in the room and Stacey Anderson on the telephone (she was on a business trip Tuesday). Also in on the chat are town manager Leamon Brice and Mayor John Woods. The board also sought comments from citizens near the end.  (29:00 minutes)

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