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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of January 4, 2011

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 1/18/2010 meeting. There were a couple of important items that were discussed at this meeting and the details are listed further below:

Please remember that pressing Ctrl and + will magnify the text and page and pressing Ctrl and - will make the text and page smaller. This will help the readability for those with smaller screens and/or eye difficulties.

Invocation by Robert Ford, Chaplain for Frye Regional Medical Center

Consent Agenda:
A. Call for Public Hearing to Approve Hickory By Choice 2030 Comprehensive Plan, Land Development Code and Official Zoning Map - On December 1, 2010, the Hickory Regional Planning Commission voted to recommend that City Council approve the Hickory By Choice 2030 Comprehensive Plan, Land Development Code and Official Zoning Map. Staff requests authorization to hold a public hearing on January 18, 2011 for City Council’s consideration.

B. Approval of Tax Refund as Recommended by Catawba County Tax Office to Graystone Ophthalmology Associates, PA in the Amount of $4,327.00 - Graystone Ophthalmology listed and paid for leased equipment located at their Hickory office and First Citizens leased equipment listed and paid for the same equipment. Graystone Ophthalmology is requesting a refund of taxes paid in 2009. The records have been checked and verified by the Tax Collector’s office. Staff recommends approval.

C. Approve Priority Use Agreement With Catawba Valley Youth Soccer Association For Use of City-Owned Soccer Fields Located at the Henry River Regional Recreation Park - The Catawba Valley Youth Soccer Association (CVYSA) wishes to enter into a new agreement for the use of five (5) soccer fields located at the Henry River Regional Recreation Park for a period of eleven (11) years commencing July 1, 2010. Their current agreement expired on June 30, 2010. The CVYSA will pay $5,000.00 per year for the priority use of five (5) soccer fields for practices and games. The first year payment will be waived due to their initial contribution of $163,000.00 towards the parks development. The City agrees to convert Field #1 into a premier field while CYVSA agrees to reimburse the City 50% of the cost to install a fence not to exceed $12,000.00. The agreement also contains terms regarding sponsorship signs, maintenance, light usage fees, concessions and replacement of field equipment. On December 14, 2010 the Parks and Recreation Commission endorsed entering into said agreement and staff recommends approval.

D. Award Bid to Bakers Waste Equipment for the Replacement of Two (2) Compactor Units Located at the City of Hickory Transfer Station in the Amount of $284,128.00 - The purchase of two (2) compactors is needed to replace the current units that are dated back to 1985. These will be a permanent upgrade for the facility and supports long-term usage of the facility. Bids were received and opened on December 21, 2010 and were turn key bids meeting the City’s specifications. Two bids were received with Bakers Waste Equipment having the low bid in the amount of $284,128.00. Once approved and notice given to the vendor, the project will be completed within sixty days with minimal interference to normal operations. The project will be coordinated and overseen by City staff. The upgrade was planned and funds budgeted in the 2010-11 budget.

E. Request From Hickory Downtown Development Association for Use of Union Square for 2011 Hickory Hops Event on April 16, 2011 from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

F. Budget Ordinance Amendments -
1. To budget a $1,348 insurance claim check from Trident Insurance Company in the Police Departments Maintenance and Repair line item. This payment is for damage sustained to a police vehicle on 12-05-10.

2. To transfer $25,900 of General Fund Balance Appropriated to the Police Department Capital Buildings account code. This amendment is to pay for the purchase of a vacant house situated on .41 acres of property adjacent to City owned property located at 347 2nd Avenue, SW. This property is next to the Hickory Police Department and purchase of the property could allow for potential expansion of the Hickory Police Department.

3. To transfer $47,000 of Water and Sewer Contingency to the Collection System Maintenance and Repair line item. This transfer is to pay for repairs to the Moose Club Pump Station including a Bar Screen, Variable Frequency Drive and the Front Head of the Pump.

4. To re-appropriate $18,240 of General Fund Balance Appropriated and to appropriate an additional $17,365 of General Fund Balance Appropriated-Designated Rural Fire District Capital Reserve Funds and budget in the Fire Department's Specialized Equipment account. This amendment is necessary to complete the mobile generator project for stations 2, 3, 5, 6 and the Maintenance Facility. Funds were budgeted in FY09-10 and a portion of the project was completed however due to time constraints the purchasing process for the acquisition of the mobile generator was not completed. At year end $18,240 rolled into General Fund Balance and therefore an appropriation is necessary in addition to a $17,365 appropriation of Rural Fire District Funds to complete the project.

New Business - Departmental Reports:

1. Approval of 2011 State Legislative Agenda - City staff has prepared a State Legislative Agenda for 2011 which lists key issues and talking points to discuss with our legislative delegation, which contains the City’s views on potential legislation or initiatives to change current laws along with projects that the City is seeking additional funding for with the help of members of our delegation. The Legislative Agenda is an important communication tool that guides staff and city leaders to successfully deliver the message on key issues. City Council will use this agenda with our State delegation in Raleigh during the 2011 Long Session.

Presentation by Assistant City Manager Andrea Surratt -

The above image is the sequence of PowerPoint's that Ms. Surratt presented to the Council on the subject of the State legislative agenda set forth by the City of Hickory administration. In relation to economic development, Ms. Surratt stated that the city feels that the tiering structure formula is out of step with what the goals of the tier status would allow. Counties that have high unemployment aren't necessarily the ones that would get a favorable tier status such as tier 1. Some of the neighboring counties have that status, but our county does not. There are factors that are included in in the formula that aren't applicable to our situation and the city would like to explore recommending some changes in the formula to the Department of Commerce.

She also added to the subject by stating that it the city feels that it is not good practice for counties, cities, or jurisdictions to compete with other counties in jurisdictions in North Carolina for economic development projects; where one area is going to be giving a state grant or state funding. That gives them a leg up. There have been recent projects that have been given state grants, where Hickory competed, but was not given access to these grants.

Ald. Lail stated that we need consistency between our legislative agenda and our economic development incentive policy. Ms. Surratt stated, what is not consistent is that the grants provided by the Department of Commerce for some counties were not provided to our county. Ald. Lail stated that if there is an opportunity to recruit a business to Hickory and they are relocating from say New Hanover county, our economic development policy needs to allow that and we shouldn't be inconsistent. Ms. Surratt stated that she doesn't believe that we are being inconsistent there. She believes that if the State is going give funding to a project coming from out of state, and we are competing with our neighbor, it should be a level playing field. Alder Fox asked, what are the chances of that. Level of the playing field?

Ms. Surratt next glossed over the collective bargaining issue and the state budget shortfall. The city wants the message carried forth that they do not want funding cut and funding taken away from local government. Some of the city's departments are greatly affected by state funding.

Ms. Surratt next went over the agenda involving the Inner Basin Transfer (IBT) and water issues in general. There were several bills pending in the Legislature affecting this issue. They are listed above. The city would like to restore the funding that shares revenue between this municipality and the Catawba County government. This money we get E911 money paid to Catawba County back into the local Hickory dispatch.

Next, she went over planning and information technology issues. These included the opposition of Sweepstakes gambling Establishments. Next, the support of reasonable annexation law changes to allow cities to involuntarily annex properties and an opposition to limitations on municipal broadband, which would allow municipal authorities to implement data transmission services (cable, telephone, internet) in their own communities.

It is the city's hope that the state will not cut any funding. That is to be directed towards the city's infrastructure. The city needs sources of funding for water sewer and streets. If the city has a large, capital project, then they have a place to go for that funding. Such as a revolving loan fund or state bond package.

The City wants to use natural resources wisely and there are a lot of legislative issues wrapped up in this. The City wants to make sure that regulatory efforts by the State create efficiencies involving water, wastewater and storm water permitting. The City wants this process to be streamlined and more efficient.

Ald. Lail stated that one issue that he is concerned about is transportation and he does not believe that our area gets its fair share of monies from the state involving transportation. There are some new funding proposals that are out there that the DOT is considering and it would behoove us to support those as opposed to the way that the highway trust fund is implemented now. Ms. Surratt stated that they will include that.

City Manager Berry added that the North Carolina League of Municipalities is going through a new process to adopt their legislative goals. He sat on the committee that did quite a bit of work to put together a segment of goals related to finance and administrative issues. They are inviting all of the city councils and elected officials from around the State to come together on January 20 to finalize the meeting process and adopt a legislative agenda. There will be a voting process, and the city needs to designate a person to vote on this agenda.

Ald. Seaver stated that he thinks that a trip to Raleigh other than the town hall meeting day might be up way for us to be heard better. Manager Berry said that was a great point and one of the things that they did last year was to work with a group of citizens that went to Raleigh and had a series of meetings with the representatives. The General Assembly has a lot of special interests knocking on their doors and it is effective when citizens can come and say that this is an issue for me as a resident in the city of Hickory. The city plans to do that again this year.

Alder Fox introduced the subject of the lack of competition with computer data systems (I presume CenturyTel broadband/modem) and her frustrations involving her son and the lack of service that he experienced recently involving the services. This was related to the issue that the city discussed involving IT issues involving the limitations on broadband development by communities. She stated that this has a negative effect on small business.

The Hound agrees with much of this agenda, but what I would really like to see is the City put the thumbscrews to our representation in Raleigh about the issues of unfair trade policies and the Race to the Bottom culture that has been promoted in our State and in the nation in general.

Our State is doing everything it can to support business owners, but it is doing this at the expense of the average everyday working man who has been forgotten in these processes. What is this State going to do to invest in its middle class?

The State tells us that children need to be educated and the cost of education continues to escalate to the point where middle class parents are put into a bind. The State wants children to be certified towards minimum prescribed goals, instead of teaching them the process of obtaining knowledge. Our State has lost hundreds of thousands of jobs over the last several years, but it surely seems that legislative efforts have been geared towards temporary fixes to make numbers look less negative, instead of addressing the long term issues we face.

On the local front, I don't see how it correlates to ask the State to keep funding City of Hickory objectives, while demanding that the State get its fiscal house in order. The State should take care of its obligations and Hickory should take care of its own. This tangled funding shell game web will never get us anywhere and in the end will lead to the State confiscating Hickory dollars and if the State pays for City of Hickory projects, then they can point to that very fact in doing so.

This City can't make its books look better by not spending on its own objectives and having the State of North Carolina do so. I believe there are ways to get some things done around here through public-private partnerships. I remember the talks two years ago of a public-private partnership to fund the Cloninger Mill Park. I also think that this could be done to get monies for the library system and to get the ball rolling towards building an aquatics facility.

As far as the Broadband issue. We are into the New Year and at points this year I am going to express my opinion about the Google effort, once they make their decision. I know that the Broadband issue must be addressed and I don't believe the current telecom stakeholders in the community are going to solve the problems. First, they are salesmen and salesmen don't understand the technical issues of Broadband. Second, the problems with current Broadband capacity are starting to show, but the average layman can't feel it or understand it and they won't complain until the issue becomes overwhelming. Broadband is telecommunications (TV, Phone, and Data Communications). This is Infrastructure and it is an Infrastructure issue. A Traffic flow bottleneck is coming and it will be here in the next couple of years. This needs to be a priority!!!

2. Update Regarding Proposed Hickory By Choice 2030/Land Development Code Revisions
- Following numerous public workshops, committee meetings, Council workshops and a Planning Commission public hearing there remain a few items requiring clarification. These items include certain signage limitations, zoning of Nell Propst Thomas property and concerns regarding R-1 and R-2 zoning districts.

Presentation by Brian Frazier Head of the Planning Department:

High limitations on freestanding signs -- right now, the signs range in height from 4 feet to 25 depending on the zoning district that they are located in. The city is looking to reduce the height requirements and size requirements of signs and their complexity. What is being recommended is that the signs be reduced to 10 feet. The maximum square footage is currently 150 square feet for some properties. There has been discussion of reducing the square footage of sign area to 100 sq feet or 125 sq feet. Ald. Seaver asked if that would be the square footage for all signs together, or per sign. Mr. Frasier answered that that would be the maximum per sign -- a pylon sign for a building will be a maximum of 150 sq feet. Some development entries would be allowed multiple signs.

Ald. Lail wanted clarification on multi-tenant properties. Multi-tenant signs have to go in that one 150 sq foot sign? Mr. Fraser stated that for an industrial park, a monument sign, each building within the industrial park can have their own 150 sq foot sign. Ald. Lail asked about a property such as the Office Depot? Mr. Fraser stated that in that case, the tenants would have to share the one sign and then they would have their own wall sign. There are certain signs in the city that are grandfathered in. Prior to 2001 and implementation of rules about signs related to the land development code of that time.

One concern that was brought forth at the last HBC 2030 meeting held at the airport was that duplexes should not be allowed in all the residential zones within the city. Under proposed guidelines, duplexes will not be allowed in R1 and R2 zones. They will be allowed in all of the other residential zones. Ald. Meisner asked what this would do to the new phase of Moore's Ferry that will have duplexes? Mr. Fraser answered that what ever is approved already will continue to be approved and grandfathered in. The planning commission recommended unanimously ten to zero in favor of recommending the maps and the plan and the land development code to Council with several modifications and recommendations and this is one of the bigger issues.

Mr. Frazier next went to the proposed zoning at 3220 Kool Park Rd., which had been zoned residential prior to the land development code. In the late 90s, a proposed Wal-Mart brought a rezoning of the property. The planning commission had voted for the rezoning and council approved by a four to three margin. This property was rezoned as a plan development in the summer of 1998, and it stayed that way. The statute of limitations had run out on the zoning in 2005. The applicants never came back to Council. Wal-Mart dropped the proposal and moved on, and nothing else has been applied for since that date. The planning commission, staff, the applicant, and the applicant attorney should have made the map amendment and moved the property back to residential and that did not happen. Staff and the advisory committee all recommended to have the property rezoned back to a lowered density residential. This would've allowed low density residential only.

Mr. Frazier and staff spoke to the broker, representatives of the property, and the heirs of the property and they were quite upset with staff in terms of saying they can't have this. They want the property to remain a planned development, to try and attract a big box store development. They met a couple of times and reached a compromise, and everyone seems satisfied to where the neighborhood core will become residential three (R3) and also allow for neighborhood commercial (NC), which will allow retail and commercial office of a high quality design standards.

Alder Fox asked if this neighborhood core will be about the size of all of the other neighborhood cores or if they were going to make an exception? Mr. Frasier stated that this neighborhood core will only be a radius of 750 feet and there are two or three other smaller ones like this, such as the one on Sandy Ridge Road across from Sandy Ridge Baptist Church.

Most of the other centers that we have are 1000 foot radius. These will be very high architectural standards. Alder Fox asked if this particular core will allow a big box? Mr. Frasier stated that this core could allow a big box, but the architectural standards would be such that it would be the best looking Wal-Mart in the State. There will not be an alignment of Section House and Kool Park Rd. for another 20 years. Hickory by Choice 2030 shows that there will not be enough sewer or sewer capacity in that area to sustain that kind of development. With the standards required and our current economy, they would have to go through staff and commission and Council in order to make this happen. Is it possible, yes. Is it likely, highly unlikely.

The Hound believes that Planning Director Brian Frasier's presentation speaks for itself. I just wish that Alder Fox didn't have this fixation against Big Box developments. Bring up the idea of a large scale commercial development and she goes into a tizzy. This type of stringent adherence to a closed minded ideal is not good for commerce in our area and I don't think that trying to stamp out future development is wise. I understand the desire for high architectural standards and I agree. I believe the best way to do this is to set rules and guidelines for architects and builders. To me, we get lost in the facade and we don't pay enough attention to the quality of the structure itself.

Another issue that I don't agree with is the strict, stifling sign code. We might not want to see the Las Vegas Strip, but the ban on LED signs is ridiculous. I look at the one across the Hwy 321 bridge in Caldwell County and I would like to see more of those and yet they are being banned, Why? What is wrong with this sign? Please someone explain what is wrong with this? Not allowing businesses to market their businesses in order to satisfy some need to control every facet of commerce is VERY business UNfriendly.

Personally, I would like to see more densification of apartments and true core development, but we have to encourage this sooner rather than later and I would like to see a specific strategy to take us in that direction. I pray that HBC 2030 will move us a step closer to such a direction and public transportation definitely needs to be addressed in this venture.

A Special Note

*** Condolences to Alder Jill Patton at the passing of her father on Tuesday January 4, 2011

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