Troutman Council, staff hold mini-retreat to create goals, focus areas

Posted at 11:41 PM on Feb 2, 2019

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BY DEBBIE PAGE
drpage.svlfreenews@mail.com

Troutman Town Council members and town staff gathered at the Lake Norman State Park Visitors Center on Friday morning for a half-day retreat to track progress on ongoing projects and to set priorities for the next budget year.

Council members voted on two issues, including unanimous approval to begin construction on the long-awaited splash pad at ESC Park and to repair two large potholes on Streamwood Road.

Council members already have about $100,000 set aside in this year’s budget for ESC Park improvements, originally meant to match a PARTF grant request that the town did not receive. The $12,000 splash pad engineering plan was paid for in a previous budget, leaving members to find the remaining $25,000 to complete the estimated $125,000 project.

Council member Paul Henkel was adamant that this project, which the council has talked about for the past two years, begin to move forward. The council discussed ways to fund the remaining cost, including asking Iredell County commissioners for help since many county residents, who do not pay Troutman taxes, use the park’s amenities.

Other ideas included a fundraising campaign or selling naming rights to the splash pad.

Council members also approved spendiing $19,000 for repairing two large potholes on Streamwood Road. Public Works Director Adam Lippard said his department has patched the holes numerous times and spent about $4,000 to $5,000 in materials on the unsuccessful repairs.

Lippard said fixing the problem properly will save the town money in the long run since repairs continue to crumble and break with the extensive alligator cracking throughout the area’s pavement.

Repair and repaving of this area will begin after weather and rising temperatures allow for better construction conditions.

IMPLEMENTING STRATEGIC MASTER PLAN

Town Manager Justin Longino invited Layton Getsinger, who was instrumental in starting and developing the town’s Strategic Master Plan, to speak to the council about kickstarting its implementation. He suggested identifying priorities and specifying start and end dates for each action item to foster accountability and focus.

Getsinger also reminded council members that some items suggested by Stantec in the plan have financial implications that must be considered. He said that cash flow, legal issues and obstacles, project viability, and the the town’s tax structure and revenue must be considered as they set these priorities.

Lytton Street

One priority Getsinger suggested was setting aside money each year for land acquisition along Lytton Street, which town officials have designated for over a decade as a new “main street” business corridor for the town. He suggested partnering with economic development entities and commercial developers to craft a vision for building out a walkable area with on-street parking where residents could live and work.

The proposed Lytton corridor would build connectors from Orchard Lane and to Wagner Street, expanding the town’s business district. The town would have to buy several properties and obtain right-of-ways in other areas to create this new traffic and commercial alternative.

Getsinger asserted that activating Lytton Street plans was essential to the town’s vision of a revitalized and growing downtown district. The beginning of creating the “ambiance” sought in the Strategic Master Plan could be started in some ways right away.

As council members looked at the “ten actions in four years” section of the SMP, they realized that one action was accomplished and four were more administrative in nature. They also lamented that the town’s Lytton Street aspirations were not included, so council members decided to add this priority to the list.

New council member Jan Huffman, informally sworn in just after her resignation as chairperson at the end of the January Board of Adjustment meeting, suggested breaking the plan down to specific parts, attacking each segment, and developing funding options for each step.

Council member Paul Bryant concurred, saying that setting a specific goal for the area, developing a strategy to achieve the goal, and then implementing the tactics to achieve the goal were essential to bring the town’s vision to reality.

Bryant also noted that as the Highway 21/115 corridor slated for massive construction delays in five years as an approved four-lane construction project is realized by NCDOT, residents will desperately need an alternative to this traffic congestion.

Bryant noted that the town needs right of way from only two properties at the north end of the proposed corridor. “We own considerable right of way, but until we punch through at one end or both ends, nothing is going to happen differently on Lytton Street.”

“Our number one priority has to be right-of-way on the north side, the south side, or simultaneously through the eleven affected properties. We can actually make a difference in traffic.”

Bryant added that the north end landlocked properties would actually be much more valuable with the street running through them so owners could sell them in smaller pieces along the new road frontage.

“Seventy-five percent of Lytton Street right-of-way, the town already owns,” said Bryant. If the town adds money toward the project each year, Bryant believes the town could have the new traffic option open before Highway 21/115 construction begins in five years.

“We can partner together and put this to fruition,” concluded Bryant.

Henkel was concerned about the costs, but Bryant pointed out the town needs to get costs nailed down now to see if it can afford it. He also noted that construction costs will not get cheaper.

Bryant believes council members have to decide “what’s going to make the town a better place to live in the next five to ten years.”

With half of the Stantec action list now designated as best accomplished at the staff level, the council members agreed that they need to reconsider their 10 action items and have time to discuss and rank them to set council goals, strategies, and financial priorities for next budget year and in the short-range future.

Mayor Teross Young suggested council members decide what they have a real passion for and then set priorities for those things that the town they can afford to do. He pointed out that the current Main Street is under NCDOT planning and control, so their long-term focus should be to activate conversations the council has had about the Lytton corridor.

“The Lytton part of it is not one that we have really activated,” said Young. “From a performance perspective, we have not tracked how we’re going to get to our Troutman town “main street.” Long-term, the future of the town, at least since I’ve been on this board, was that the town’s main street would be Lytton Street.”

Speaking of the town’s plans for the Lytton area, the mayor said, “How do we get there? We have not yet put a stake in the ground, that’s where we’re going, and this is how we are getting there. That’s the kind of item we need to be tracking.”

Downtown Improvements

The Strategic Master Plan focus groups recommended more focus on beautification standards and rejuvenating downtown.

To fund this desire of town stakeholders, council members discussed the possibility of creating a downtown tax district, much like that in Statesville in Mooresville, to fund improvements, including the repaving of the Wagner Street parking lot, speeding signs and landscape deterrents, parking light lighting, landscaping and murals, sidewalk repairs, curb painting, depot area landscaping, paving the gravel lot behind Rockin’ Robins, the addition of rocking chairs and benches, and updated trash cans.

The N.C. legislature granted towns the authority to establish such tax specified districts and restricts use of the money to only that district.

Henkel said getting buy-in from downtown property and business owners for this nominal tax was essential to assure them that the money would be spent wisely and efficiently to improve downtown and benefit their businesses, if council chooses to pursue this idea.

The Troutman Business Council would also need to an integral part of this process, added Henkel, giving input about how this money should best be used.

Council members instructed Longino to research the idea, develop a proposed downtown tax district map, and research possible tax rates and revenue projections.

Council will also consider adding additional funds into the budget for downtown enhancements. The current budget allocates $10,000 for this purpose.

Mayor Young also suggested pursuing grant funds to get some of these projects underway in a more timely manner.

COMMITTED PROJECTS UPDATE

Mill Village

The Mill Village sewer system improvement project, at a cost of $1,100,427, should be complete by February of 2021, according to Town Engineer Benjie Thomas. Bids for the project will be sought later this year and awarded in early 2020, with construction beginning soon after.

The council voted last year to apply for a N.C. Department of Environment Quality loan to fund the project, which was awarded by the state. The council will not accept a DEQ loan offer of nearly $650,000 to eliminate the Mill Village Pump Station because of lack of cooperation to obtain right-of-ways from several property owners in the area.

Instead, council members are considering a $250,000 upgrade of the station. The current pump station is operational but struggles to handle the flow. Council members have the option to apply for another DEQ loan to fund this project, which will delay completion until six to 12 months after the Mill Village improvements are finished or to dip into funds to complete the project more quickly.

Street Improvements

The council has already committed $850,000 to street improvements in this year’s budget. The street project includes East Thomas Street, Elliot Drive, Massey Drive, Georgie Street, the south end of Julian Place, and the Winter Flack Drive entrance area.

The council is also considering funding the addition of one block of sidewalk down Thomas Street for this project in next year’s budget.

The Garden Street repairs and an extension of Brandale Drive are dependent on bid prices coming within the $850,000 budget. Longino said the bidding process should begin in late February, with estimated completion of street improvements in December of this year.

Bryant also stressed the importance of making sure a crosswalk is added at the intersection of Thomas and Wagner Street because of the significant number of children who cross Wagner there. Engineer Todd Poteet said that N.C. Department of Transportation permission would be required for this safety improvement.

A section of Rumple Street still in need of pothole repair will also be added to the bids for street improvements.

ABC Store Sidewalk

The ABC store sidewalk from Main Street down Goodman Road to Lytton Street, at a cost of $15,275, is now green-lighted. The donated right-of-way deed from the property behind the store is nearly complete, and Custom Concrete will perform the work, estimated to take about a week, in the next few months.

Downtown Building

The Town Council recently purchased the building at 153 Wagner Street as part of its downtown development aspirations. The $125,000 building brings in about $1,000 in income for the town after property management fees are deducted.

Council members discussed plans to upgrade the facade and create another mural on the building’s southern facing side. Most council members were not in favor of pursuing interior renovation, instead leaving these decisions to any potential buyer’s preferences.

Longino said that several developers and perspective business owners have expressed interest in purchasing property.

Young sees the town’s ownership as a short-term venture, with the purpose of making the facade improvements that would serve as a catalyst to the downtown improvements outlined in the town’s recently adopted Strategic Master Plan.

“This can be a way for other business owners to see that this is how the town looks at facades and hopefully catch on to that vision,” said Young.

The Small Town Main Street Program, along with design students from UNC-Greensboro, are currently working on a request from town staff to come up with some facade redesign ideas for the property.

Greenway South/Sidewalks

The $1 million, one-mile extension of the Richardson Greenway from just south of the Troutman Depot to Jacobs Woods is waiting for DOT approval to begin engineering, along with the finalization of several right-of-way permissions.

The project received $800,000 in a Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization (CRPTO) grant, with the remaining $200,000 coming from town funds, which Longino recommends spreading out over several budget years rather than taking out a loan.

According to grant rules, the project must be completed within 10 years, but staff expects the project to be completed much sooner.

A $1.3 million sidewalk package ($500,000 in town funds and $800,000 in CRPTO grant money) is also waiting NCDOT approval. Longino again recommended budgeting the town’s obligation over several budget years for the additional sidewalks, which must be completed in the next ten years.

Engineering costs were budgeted this year, so specific plans will be drawn as soon NCDOT gives its approval.

Sidewalks are planned for Tally Street to West Avenue, a small portion of Rumple Street (from the school to Leon Street), and the small portion of Wagner Street near the post office that lacks pedestrian walkways.

OTHER PROJECTS UNDER CONSIDERATION

* The council will consider a $25,000 budget amendment at its February meeting to fund an extension of a water line from the Statesville water line tie-in to Calvary Chapel, which is being purchased by church members from Children’s Hope Alliance. Council members suggested going with a larger line rather than the proposed 2-inch line to plan ahead for expected growth in the area.

* Town Hall expansion is on the back burner until the council’s required 500 new rooftops are on the town’s books. Currently, 198 permits and certificates of occupancy for new houses have been issued since the council’s December 2017 growth decree.

* Consideration of adding a water leak insurance program presented in November was delayed until more research is completed by town staff.

*Consideration of creating a web show or radio show about the Troutman community and government was delayed until the next budget retreat, expected to be held in late spring. The council and staff are looking for ways to promote Troutman and inform residents about the local events and changes.

* Engineer Benjie Thomas recommended that town officials pay for upsizing sewer trunk lines than the required 8-inch trunk lines in the the Falls of Lake Norman development. With phases 5, 6, and 7 well underway, the developers have created a sewer master plan running along the stream and the edges of the development.

The upsizing will cost the town $22,000 to $30,000 in materials for 1,900 feet of 15-inch line and 2,300 feet of 12-inch line, but all labor costs would come from the developer. The town has done this in several subdivisions and in a line to Lake Norman Charter Academy to anticipate future growth at a minimal cost.

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