Troutman Council mulls best approach for implementing new Strategic Master Plan
BY DEBBIE PAGE
Troutman Town Council had its second special meeting of the year on Friday afternoon to preview a draft of an action plan to start implementing the steps recommended in the recently adopted Strategic Master Plan.
The town hired Stantec to lead the plan process last year, which included numerous community meetings, focus group sessions, and a four-day charrette to create a plan to move Troutman forward in development of business, commercial and residential heading toward the town while also preserving the charm and sense of community that people enjoy.
As he began presenting the plan, Town Manager Justin Longino noted, quoting Winston Churchill, “It is one thing to see the forward path and another to be able to take it. But it is better to have an ambitious plan than none at all.”
Council members created an advisory group composed of Longino, former Planning and Zoning Board Chairman Layton Getsinger and Jim Freeman, a retired town manager for several localities with over 33 years experience, to create a process to make the plan a reality.
Longino said that the plan is “indeed ambitious, but through careful planning and a detailed set of action steps and timelines, the Town Council and staff can work toward the common goal of making this plan a reality.”
The advisory group met several times to “decipher, organize, rank, and prioritize the objectives in the SMP,” looking first at the recommendation areas and actions. They found a large number of these fell into an administrative function that could be handled by staff during the normal budget year.
Other sets of items focused on the plans to make Lytton Street the new commercial corridor for the town, dubbed by the advisory group as “future Main Street.” They categorized the other items under the headings of “Quality of Life” and “Public Health and Safety,” some of which overlapped with Lytton Street in areas such as improving sidewalks and streetscaping.
Longino presented the draft to council for feedback and tweaking before the advisory group begins to “drill down on the costs for each task that will help us to more accurately define the source of funding.”
“We would then use all of the previous research to create a timeline and usable tracking chart that will serve to keep projects on schedule and on budget while showing ownership of each task so that all parties are on the same page when it comes to project status and completion,” said Longino.
The group hopes the council finds the draft “to be informative, useful, and a leap forward toward a thoroughly well-planned implementation strategy for the Strategic Master Plan.”
When the advisory group finalizes the plan, Longino will place it in spreadsheet form on the town’s website, noting steps in process or completed, so that citizens can monitor the town’s progress in implementing the SMP steps. The spreadsheet would include steps, timelines and funding strategies for each step.
The “future Main Street” plans suggested by the SMP include extending and realigning Lytton and Wagner Streets (with needed land acquisition), on-street parking on the east side of the street, closing the sidewalk gap from Pelligrino’s to Mill Street, a sidewalk to turn the corner from Mills to Lytton, adding landscape islands to the parking lot at the corner of Mills and Lytton, and adding a bike lane to the street.
General health and public safety plans outlined in the SMP include more on-street parking on suitable streets and creating and improving street and median crossings at three locations on Highway 21.
Other recommendations were making various transportation improvements (bypass, straightening Murdock Road, improving wayfinding signage, connector streets), building local street connections for local traffic (Lytton to Orchard Road, Flower House Loop realignment, Houston to Highway 21/115 next to Lowes Plan-o-gram), restriping Wagner Street, and partnering with NCDOT to help shape the Highway 21 corridor.
The SMP also suggested creating or improving street and median crossings at Highway 21/115, the fire station, and Troutman Elementary School.
QUALITY OF LIFE
The SMP suggested several areas to improve citizens’ quality of life, including adding trees and brick sidewalks as well as consistent lighting and streetscaping, and taking a “block approach” to the area from Church Street to Mills Street to Talley Road.
Instead of brick sidewalks, some council members favored stamped concrete in brick style as more economical and maintenance free.
The SMP also also recommended creating the 1.6-mile greenway connection from Lake Norman State Park via Wagner Street to Main Street. Council member Paul Bryant suggested partnering with the county and share the cost of this project since much of the area covered is in the county, not in the city limits, and would benefit these residents as well.
Other proposals include detailing the design and shaping of the Highway 21 corridor in conjunction with the N.C. Department of Transportation, which controls the road, the creation of a pedestrian plaza at Highway 21 and Wagner, and the use of on-street parking for events.
The advisory group categorized many of the suggested SMP steps as being part of administrative functions that staff could incorporate into their various departmental functions. These include converting parking at ESC park, creating a design guide for residential (and possibly commercial) developments, and creating a pocket park.
Other improvements are designing and installing gateway installations designating the Lake District, Business District, Green Heart (rural preservation areas), and Barium North.
Suggested public/town partnership projects include art installations, hosting an annual mountain bike event, and working with schools to create outdoor gardens, to take farm tours, and to host walk-to-school days.
Other suggestions include establishing a 50/50 housing assistance program and a 50/50 commercial facade grant program, starting a coffee club, and conducting another two-day charrette with Barium Springs area stakeholders.
The SMP also recommended staff use the SMP recommendations to launch conversations with and generate interest from commercial and residential developers and to continue Unified Development Ordinance revisions as needed.
Another consideration is contracting with an economic development specialist to target specific action areas. Planning staff should also ensure that every private and public proposal includes an assessment of conformity with the SMP and UDO.
Council members reacted positively to the draft but were hesitant to move forward with budgeting toward some specific items since many were affected by NCDOT decisions on the Highway 21 corridor project scheduled to begin in 2021.
Longino announced that NCDOT had just scheduled a Thursday, May 2, meeting (4 to 7 p.m.) to display its plans for the corridor and to get public and town feedback on its proposals. Council member Paul Henkel felt that the council should wait until after seeing the NCDOT plan before acting on the draft’s recommendations since many steps were affected by the Highway 21 corridor plan or could be even eliminated by it.
For the Lytton Street plans, Longino suggested council consider creating a “pot” of money, to which funds could be added each year, to pay for acquisition of property or right-of-way. Council member Paul Bryant wanted to expedite the corridor development plans, suggesting borrowing the money with low-interest loans and paying it back with this budgeted money if desired properties become available.
Longino also suggested reapplying for a Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization grant for the planned Lytton Street extension. The town received a grant several years ago that it decided not to accept, but Longino said the project scored well and would likely be awarded again.
“When we submitted in 2017, the total cost was $912,878. The more the town matches, the higher the point value we receive. It was recommended that we match 31 percent or $282,992,” Longino said in a later interview.
Longino also wants to make sure that Lytton Street improvements are done strategically and economically so that nothing interferes with a later step. Sidewalks would be an early improvement, with parking and bike lanes added in the final stages.
Bryant also proposed a future special meeting, prior to the new budget year, just to discuss the extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) areas and their continuity with the town’s growth and appearance goals and the effects on the town’s future development. Council members agreed to set this meeting by June.
Mayor Teross Young also wants to create a lighting map of the town to get a grasp on what areas are lit and where the town needs to focus its efforts. Longino said the town is beginning discussions about contracting for GIS mapping of the town, which would also include lighting location information.
Discussions are also planned with NCDOT about putting utilities underground when they are moved on Highway 21 and Wagner Street during Highway 21 corridor construction, with the town picking up any extra costs for this part of the project.