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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of October 5, 2010

This newsletter is about the Hickory City Council meeting that I attended this past week. City council meetings are held on the first and third Tuesdays of each Month in the Council Chambers of the Julian Whitener building.

At right of this page under Main Information links is an Hickory's City Website link. If you click on that link, it takes you to our city’s website, at the left of the page you will see the Agenda's and Minutes link you need to click. This will give you a choice of PDF files to upcoming and previous meetings.

You will find historic Agenda and Minutes links. Agendas show what is on the docket for the meeting of that date. The Minutes is an actual summary of the proceedings of the meeting of that date.

Here is a summary of the agenda of the 10/5/2010 meeting. There were a couple of important items that were discussed at this meeting and the details are listed further below

Invocation by Rev. Ken McEahern

Consent Agenda:
A. Proclamation Declaring the Week of October 18 – 22, 2010 as “National Business Women’s Week” in the City of Hickory

B. Adopt Resolution Honoring the Memory of Patricia Ann McNair for Her Many Years of Community Contributions to the City of Hickory

C. Approval to Apply for 2010 United States Environmental Protection Agency Brownfield Assessment Grant Program - The Planning and Development Department requests approval to file an application with
the 2010 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfield Assessment Grant Program by October 15, 2010. The department’s intention is to apply for a $200,000.00 Hazardous Materials Grant and a $200,000.00 Petroleum Grant. The grants are 100% federally funded and require no local match. The US EPA Region IV Atlanta has encouraged the City to apply for the 2010 funding grant due to the success of the 2007 Brownfield Assessment Grant. There is no cost to apply.

D. Approval to Sole Source Neptune Radio Meters for the Public Utilities Department to Neptune Technology Group, Inc. - The Public Utilities Department requests sole sourcing radio read water meters to allow standardization of parts inventory, training and service. The hand held equipment currently used is Equinox, which is Neptune supported and will not allow other meters to work with them. HD Waterworks, Inc. is the only North Carolina representative for Neptune Technology Group, Inc. Permission is requested to sole source due to the fact that no other company can provide bids for this equipment..

E. Award Bid to Amick Equipment for the Purchase of Two (2) Replacement Automated Side Loaders in the Amount of $484,932.00 - The City of Hickory received five (5) bids with Amick Equipment meeting bid
specifications and being the low bidder at $242,466.00 for each unit for a total of $484,932.00. These new automated side loaders (refuse trucks) will replace units 3719 and 3750 and funds are budgeted for FY 2010-11.

F. Approve Contract Extension for Federal Government Grant Services with Marlowe and Company in the Amount of $56,250.00 The City’s current contract with Marlowe and Company expires September 30, 2010 which included assistance in preparing grants, lobbying members of Congress on federal issues affecting local governments and taking the City step by step through the federal appropriations request process. Monthly updates have been furnished to the City and have met to discuss the steps needed to begin the federal appropriation request process. Staff recommends extension of the contract with Marlowe and Company for fifteen months through December, 2011 in the amount of $3,750 per month for a total of $56,250.

G. Adopt Resolution and Approve Agreement with The Prudential Insurance Company of America Allowing City Employees to Contribute to the NC Deferred Compensation Plan (457) - The City of Hickory employees may currently participate in the NC 401K Plan as well as two (2) 457 plans. By adding the NC 457 plan, employees will have an additional option to save more tax deferred funds for retirement. Staff recommends Resolution adoption and approval of third-party agreement.

H. Budget Ordinance Amendments
1. To budget a $15 memorial donation in the Library Books line item for a children’s book.

2. To budget a total of $13,343 in the Recycling Division Non-Asset Inventory line item. The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance awarded Hickory an $11,119 grant to upgrade one of the existing Recycling drop off centers. To transfer $2,224 from the Recycling Fuel and Motor Oil line item to the Recycling Division Non-Asset Inventory line item for the required local match. This upgrade will allow Hickory to collect and transport 3 different types of materials to the recycling facility with one trip.
3. To transfer $299 from the Police Department Maintenance and Repair of Buildings to the Firing Range Grant Project Specialized Equipment line item for additional concrete needed for the project.

4. To re-appropriate $580,159 of Water and Sewer Fund Balance and budget in the Water and Sewer Line account codes. This amendment is necessary for water and sewer utility relocation to meet the Department of Transportation (DOT) contract for the extensions on Lenoir Rhyne Boulevard from 7th Ave. NE to 8th Ave. NE. Funds were budgeted last fiscal year however they rolled into Fund Balance at year end. Therefore a re-appropriation of funds is necessary.

Informational Items:
A. Report of Mayor Wright’s Travel to Linville, NC to Attend the Future Forward Economic Alliance Meeting at the Grandfather Mountain Museum on September 21, 2010; mileage - $81.00

B. Report of Alderman Lail’s Travel to Chapel Hill, NC to Attend the Strategic Leadership – Setting Priorities, Getting Results Workshop at the School of Government from September 23 – 24, 2010; registration - $295.00

C. Report of Mayor Wright’s Travel to Asheville, NC to Attend the 2010 Metropolitan Mayors Fall Meeting from September 23 - 24, 2010; hotel/parking - $222.86; meals - $60.00; mileage - $75; registration - $100

D. Report of City Manager Berry’s Travel to Asheville, NC to Attend the 2010 Metropolitan Mayors Fall Meeting from September 23 – 24, 2010; hotel - $170.33; registration - $100

New Business - Departmental Reports:
1. Update on Revisions to Hickory By Choice 2030/Land Development Code - Since February 2009 the Advisory Committee and a variety of stakeholders have met numerous times and held five (5) public workshops, with one being scheduled for Monday, October 4. The current Hickory By Choice document is the City’s vision for the future and is over eleven (11) years old while the Land Development Code is a legally binding tool which implements the plan and has undergone numerous amendments since its conception in 2001 and has shown to be a cumbersome document and with the new revisions is planned to become a much more succinct and easy document to use. The Planning and Development Department with Studio Cascades and the Advisory Council have made significant changes to both documents and will advise City Council as to what steps still need to be accomplished for approval and adoption.

Brian Frazier made a brief introduction in which he introduced Bill Grimes of Studio Cascade. We have addressed this process many times over the past year two years, so some of this I will not go over because that would be redundant. Since February of 2009 a variety of stakeholders have participated in this process. The planning and development staff, a Council approved 16 member advisory committee, hundreds of citizens, the land-use development board, and the Chamber of Commerce have all participated.

The goal has been to revise the 1999 Hickory By Choice future land-use plan and the 2001 Council adopted Land Development Code. The advisory committee has met over a dozen times over the last 20 months. And there have been six public workshops. Hickory By Choice, has not been significantly altered or updated over the past 11 years. The new Hickory By Choice 2030 plan will be comprehensive and will have a number of elements including transportation, land use, public facilities, housing, economic development, the environment, and Parks and Recreation, which envisions community design and implementation. It is much more far-reaching than the plan, from 11 years ago.

The Land Development Code implemented in 2001 has seen many amendments over the course of the past several years. It has been a cumbersome document for city staff and planners and developers. The new code is much more user-friendly. Brian stated Hickory By Choice 2030 will serve as the vision for Hickory's future and act as a blueprint for growth. The Land Development Code will be the legally binding tool and law that well help to implement the vision (plan).

Bill Grimes took the podium and quickly described the trajectory of the planning process that got us to this point. He talked about amending the 1999 Hickory By Choice plan to reflect some rather significant changes in circumstances that have happened up until now. They're also trying to update code so that it becomes a consistent package.

He went over the six workshops. The first workshop was a vision workshop. The 1999 plan was somewhat abstract, because it was calling for the creation of pedestrianized centers. All of the daily needs of citizens would be provided by a 5 to 10 minute walk from where they lived. That wasn't necessarily an easy process to implement over the period up until now. So we needed to come back and take a look at that. The universal application of that process needed to be scaled back, but some important elements remained. The workshop in March of 2009 allowed us to reset our vision towards goals that can be accomplished over the next 20 years.

In April of 2009. We had a character workshop in which we tested how the community could have a walkable environment, as well as an economically prosperous one across the city. Some cases were studied, including Viewmont and Downtown. These were brought to the workshop. What they wanted to see is how those areas could work better for people who are pedestrians or riding a bicycle or shopkeepers. They were also looking at people who were wanting to invest or develop properties in these areas.

The third workshop looked at how policy could be transformed from 1999, which was focused on land use and transportation alone, into a policy that is appropriate for 2010, and ultimately 2030. The 1999 scope was being expanded as part of this process to look at housing and economic development in a wide range of other things. The second part of this workshop looked to the zoning and land-use regulation. They looked at different strategies and techniques for zoning and regulation of this development over the next 20 years.

There were several complex issues that were discovered from that previous workshop and so they had a charrette with the advisory committee to go through some different alternatives, which pointed us in the direction of the commercial corridors and centers that existed in Hickory.

There was a commercial centers and corridors workshop that was held in October 2009. This workshop asked citizens to characterize the commercial centers and corridors that exist in Hickory. Understanding that some centers and corridors are gonna be urban, and some will be suburban in character. How will standards be put in place that take both of these characteristics into account and place them in their proper context. Hickory By Choice 1999 did not look at this. This created a conflict that the planning department has had to deal with for the last 11 years. The LDC had both suburban and urban standards, but Hickory By Choice only dealt with urban issues. This was used as a jumping off point so that we could rectify this suburban urban issue.

In February 2010 a workshop was held to discuss the city's residential areas. The idea was to figure out a way to accommodate another 12,000 residents in the City of Hickory. New housing types were added to the equation. It is not always financially or fiscally feasible to grow by expansion, alone. One of the things they were hearing from the community is that there needs to be more diverse land-use within the city. This will help to accommodate additional population without expanding planning areas within the city limits.

Brian Frazier took back the podium and stated that this plan would better take into account the current economy and demographic trends and conditions. He stated that the planners always looked at development from an optimistic point of view and that is what they have been moving on. Has this plan taken longer to develop than they initially envisioned? Yes, but he stated that that was on him. Much of that is attributable to the fact that no changes have occurred in 11 years and they wanted to be more thoughtful and thorough in the process. He stated that this is the best time to plan -- during a down economy.

He reiterated that this is going to be a much more comprehensive plan. He stated, there are going to be about 10 different elements in this plan. He stated that this will include a smaller planning area in size. 11 years ago Hickory By Choice, looked at areas outside of Hickory's ETJ. It went beyond annexation agreements that Hickory had with Conover and Newton. Hickory got some negative blowback on that. This made Hickory look like the proverbial 800 pound gorilla.

This is shrunken, the planning area now where it is legal. This plan looks to develop fewer mixed-use centers. The previous plan at 15 or 16 of these centers, which diluted development in the area and ended up subconsciously encouraging strip development in the area. Brian calls this dumbbell development. This took the sense of place away from the proposed centers and placed it along the corridors between the centers. They are trying to bring development back to those centers and enable that walkability, which was the focus of the original Hickory By Choice.

Downtown will become a Central Business District and that will help downtown with its own set of design standards. They are looking at rehabilitation areas along some of the one-way pairs. This will coincide with "Operation No Vacancy" and the Brownfields to try and give a lift up for people who are willing to locate businesses within these areas.

They are also looking to change residential densities. This will be done through the Land Development Code. The goal of HBC 2030 is to be an economic development strategy. He stated that we do not have a plan that is tailored towards economic development. Updating the LDC was a priority. With the previous Hickory By Choice plan not being developed simultaneously with the LDC it meant that there was a disconnect between the two. With this HBC 2030 plan being done in association with the LDC, it means that they will be compatible from the starting line.

They are looking at various corridor studies and plans which will include Hwy 127 and old 70 which needs some work. He stated that he is working with the State on a Hwy 321 plan that will go from I-40 in the Hwy 70 corridor all the way up into Lenoir. They're looking to work with business owners along the Lenoir-Rhyne X. . The Brownfield sites in this area are prime for re-use for retail and office space that will be tailored towards the students and the faculty at Lenoir-Rhyne University.

He stated that he promised that the Land Development Code book would be smaller. The book has been reduced from over 400 pages to around 240 pages. City staff is working diligently to whittle this down and make it easier and more business friendly. He is trying to eliminate subjective interpretations and bring consistency. They are also trying to simplify land-use categories. He stated as an example that the categories should just be retail or manufacturing.

They are looking at a set of commercial corridor aesthetics so that there will be more of a sense of place. They're looking at beefing up design standards in looking at conditional zoning, which has recently been approved by the State of North Carolina legislature. They're looking at less onerous redevelopment standards. They're not looking to continue to perpetuate strip development. They are looking at simplifying design standards. They are trying to strike the proper balance between being pro-business and pro-neighborhood.

They are looking at expansion of preservation overlays to include Highland, Ridgeview Westmont, and Claremont, because these neighborhood protections were not afforded to them since the 2001 Land Development Code was instituted. They are looking to improve manufactured home standards and multi-family apartment standards. They're looking to improve transition zoning standards. They are looking to reduce permitted by right O&I uses to reduce the neighborhood creep.

He stated that this would reduce the turn around for businesses in the decision-making process involving the Planning Department. He stated that there will be more items that will be permitted by right under the new code. The number of days before an item is approved, should be reduced to between one and 10 days. Currently, many of these items have to go through the planning commission, which can take up to 30 days and then there can be another 30 days before you get your approval, which is up to 60 days.

They're working with the Business Development Committee and the Chamber of Commerce to get them on board. They're looking at flexible commercial and industrial redevelopment to try and make it easier through projects like the Brownfields and Operation No Vacancy to tailor the old buildings. This will not only help the business community, but it will help the residents, who will no longer have to drive by these empty buildings. This will improve the overall appearance and do a lot to solve the problems by being pro-neighborhood and pro-business.

Tonight's appearance before the Council was a courtesy to let the Council know what is going on here and to reintroduce Bill Grimes to the Council again. The first public hearing will be at the planning commission meeting on October 27. He hopes that this will be on the agenda for the Council in either December or January, and this will be ready for adoption by January of this upcoming year.

Alder Fox stated that this was an exciting courtesy (appearance). She stated that this needed to be done, and she believes that they have approached this in a very comprehensive way. The economy may the bad, but all of the plans that have been laid out a very exciting. Alder Patton added that the city has laid the infrastructure for future growth and this is the same thing from the planning side. They have laid the groundwork so that when the economy does come back, we'll not need to do anything because it will have been done. Alderman Lail asked if this would lead to a reconfiguration of the planning commission. Mr. Frazier stated that they have looked at that, but Hickory is one of the first cities that developed a regional planning commission in 1966 and this was an act of the Gen. assembly in Raleigh. The planning jurisdictional purview is within the ETJ -- that means the entire area surrounding Hickory. The ETJ will still be the same, it is just the playing area that will become smaller. Alderman Lail stated that he would like to get a walk-through prior to this coming before the city Council. He stated that he would like this to be a workshop.

Hickory By Choice 2030 Workshop: 6th Meeting - (Unable to attend this meeting)
Hickory By Choice 2030 Workshop: 5th Meeting
Hickory By Choice 2030 Workshop: 4th Meeting
Hickory By Choice 2030 Workshop: 3rd Meeting - (Unable to attend this meeting)
Hickory By Choice 2030 Workshop: 2nd Meeting

Why the original Hickory By Choice doesn't work
Hickory By Choice 2030 Workshop: 1st Meeting
Studio Cascade awarded contract at November 4, 2008 City Council meeting

The Hound wandered on August 17, what was going on with this rewrite of Hickory by Choice. I know that patience is a virtue, but with me sometimes that is a hard commodity to come by, especially in these difficult economic times. I pontificated at that time that the former document was such a myriad of mazes that that might be the reason that this was taking so long. Brian Frazier essentially inferred that was the problem.

I am excited about the prospects of a new era that this document could bring forth. In my opening remarks related to this project, I stated that the goal should be economic development -- that business didn't seem to be part of the equation of this process. Mr. Frazier has certainly turned that around, and I think that he has made that the key component that this document is designed around. Tough economic times, such as those that we are in, bring economics to the forefront. Such as what I was taught in business school, the three keys to the success of an enterprise are location, location, location...

We have to create the locations for businesses to thrive in the Hickory. One quarter of the city is completely full of businesses. One small segment of Highway 70, located near I-40 thrives. The rest of this town for the most part is in the dumps. I like the idea of these revitalization zones. My family's business interests have been negatively impacted by the abandonment of the South side of the tracks. That certainly brings this issue to a the forefront for me. But, I do not want this issue dealt with for my own personal interests. I want this issue dealt with, because it is what is best for the citizens of Hickory.

The members of the City Council and certain city staff know the position of where I come from. We need balance in Hickory. We do not have balance in Hickory. Let's put a map of Hickory on a table and place businesses on that map. If you did that, the table would most certainly fall over. There is no balance.

I think that Mr. Frazier has shown that he understands this. It is my hope that the key interests as far as business and development in our city begin to realize that this is a most certain problem. What has served their personal interests in the past just might not serve their best interests in the future. We need to develop this whole city and not just part of it. Where do the people that live on the south side of the tracks go to buy their groceries? Where do they go to the eat? Where do they go to shop? Where do they go to the doctor? Where do they go for any services? Why is all this stuff on the north side of the tracks? Most of us that have lived here know that it didn't used to be and it certainly doesn't have to be.

2. Update on Citizen Engagement - Assistant City Manager Andrea Surratt will update Council on the extensive activities of the City which engage residents.

Andrea Surratt made the presentation, but before she came to the podium. City Manager Berry had a few comments. He stated that at staff level they were looking at all the things that the city does to engage citizens. He stated that they were impressed with all of the things that the city is doing to engage the citizens. He has spoken with some of the City Council members about the possibilities of a neighborhood summit in the fall.

Ms. Surratt came to the podium (much of this was displayed in a PowerPoint presentation that I pieced together into a storyboard in the photograph below -- please click on the photo link to expand the photo so that you can read the bullet points to see the discussion). Ms. Surratt stated that they had not (ever) looked at the number of times that they engage the public, including across all departments, all times of the year, one-time events, events that happen once a month...

She went over the nine neighborhood organizations, the average attendance at these monthly meetings, business organizations that the city works with, the boards and commission's, never a college, citizens police Academy, the community emergency response teams as part of the fire department, the speakers bureau, special events, and communications and social media.

Ms. Surratt then went over the monthly estimate of hours related to citizen engagement, which is over 1100 hrs. and discussed the over 13,500 hours per year, which would equal six staff positions within the city.

***If you ever want to read larger (or smaller) text on any of these documents all you have to do is hold down the control button and press the plus (or minus) button on your computer to zoom in on the text (minus to zoom out). This can also be done with the photos, Then you can use the sliders at the bottom and right side of the browser page to ride up and down the page to read it (or look at the photo). Just thought I would throw that out there in case you think the text is too small (or big). I only do that so these documents don't take up so much space and as a way to differentiate between the subject matter.

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