By DAVID BORAKS
Davidson commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved annexing 22 acres off NC 73 where Carolinas HealthCare System is building a new behavioral health hospital. The board also held a public hearing on the system’s rezoning request to allow a sign that doesn’t meet town rules because of its size and type. Also Tuesday, outside auditors gave a positive review of the town’s 2012-2013 financials, Mecklenburg County Assessor Ken Joyner reported on progress in re-doing the 2011 property revaluation, and the board recognized the McIntosh family for donating a large flag to the fire department.
Carolinas HealthCare System is asking the town of Davidson for permission to use a ground-mounted “monument” sign at its $36 million behavioral health hospital off NC 73 east of Davidson. Town rules don’t allow that type of sign. And the size – 24 square feet plus a larger stone mount – also exceeds what’s permitted.
Planning director Ben McCrary said the allowed size – 16 square feet on a one-foot post – is “very limiting in terms of visibility” for vehicles traveling at the 55mph speed limit along NC 73. “Our ordinance standards around signs were really designed for a pedestrian environment,” McCrary told the board.
The hospital says the free-standing sign is necessary “to effectively and safely advise motorists” of the hospital’s location. In its analysis of the request, the planning staff said the NC 73 area is “distinctly non-pedestrian.”
McCrary showed commissioners and residents at Tuesday’s meeting a photograph of a full-size mock-up of the sign, erected in the planned location about 50 feet off the highway. The distance is designed to accommodate the NC DOT’s planned future widening of NC 73.
There were few comments for or against the sign request. Phillip Hazel, a Troop 58 Boy Scout attending the meeting with fellow scouts, wondered why there would be any controversy over the sign. “Why would it be so bad if the sign was 24 square feet?” he asked.
Martha Jenkins, who lives next door to the new hospital and formerly served on the Planning Board, expressed concern about the project. She said has “a hard time believing we should violate” the ordinance and urged commissioners to “recognize the hard work that all the people have put into developing these ordinances.”
In their analysis, town officials also noted that similar exceptions had been approved for signs in the Exit 30 area, at MSC Industrial Supply, Homewood Suites, Harbour Place, and Davidson Commons shopping center.
Some residents had expressed concern before Tuesday’s hearing that a rezoning might allow CHS to make other changes in its plans. So Commissioner Jim Fuller asked McCrary if that were true. “If ultimately approved, we’re only talking about the sign? Everything else remains subject to the current zoning?” Fuller asked.
“Yes,” McCrary said.
Tuesday’s public hearing was the first step in an approval process that includes a review by the planning board on Jan. 27 and a Town Board vote on Feb. 11.
See more information and related documents on the town website.
Later in the meeting, commissioners voted 5-0 to annex the 22-acre site, at the request of CHS. The property was outside the town limits, but within the town’s planning jurisdiction. Davidson officials said the town typically annexes new developments where it will provide town services and eventually take over street maintenance.
Town Manager Leamon Brice recommended approving the annexation, in keeping with a longstanding town policy. He said the town already provides police and fire coverage to the area, though it doesn’t expect to take over streets for several years as the area is built out. (A 250-home residential subdivision is also expected to be built nearby, on adjacent property that also was once part of the failed Davidson East project.)
Since CHS is a nonprofit organization, it won’t be paying property taxes, which often is an incentive for annexation, Brice said. But he cited the town’s practice of annexing properties that tap into water and sewer service from Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities.
“We do feel strongly about our policy to require annexation to receive water and sewer,” Brice said.
Jenkins also spoke during a public hearing before the annexation vote, urging the board to delay the annexation until later. She suggested that the board could save money printing maps and for other expenses by voting on both the hospital and the future housing development annexation at the same time. Town manager Brice said later that any costs for the annexation were minimal.
After the vote, Jenkins also complained to commissioners about erosion from runoff on the construction site, and asked town officials to require a permanent fence between her property and hospital. Mayor John Woods asked Brice to look into those issues.
Before the board voted, Commissioner Brian Jenest asked to be recused from voting, saying that CHS has been a client of his architecture and planning firm for 25 years. He turned to town attorney Rick Kline and asked, “Is there a conflict for me voting?”
Kline replied: “Not if you don’t have a direct finical interested in the outcome of the vote.”
Jenest said no and joined fellow board members in a unanimous vote for the annexation.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Davidson commissioners:
- Recognized Marlene and Reuben McIntosh, who donated about $525 to buy Davidson Fire Department a large 20-foot by 30-foot American flag to fly from its ladder during special events. They are the parents of fire chief Darin McIntosh.
- Heard from accountant Clare Meyer of the town’s outside auditor Tinsley & Terry, that the town received an “unmodified opinion,” the highest rating, for its financial statements for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013. A major factor in the rating was the 2012 agreement with Mooresville that limits Davidson’s annual payments to cover losses at MI-Connection Communications System. Meyer also noted that the town’s fund balance, or reserves, grew to 41 percent of expenses, from 34.5 percent a year earlier. That puts the town in the state’s recommended target of 39 to 45 percent for towns of Davidson’s size, she said.
- Got a report from Mecklenburg County Assessor Ken Joyner on the county’s progress in re-doing the 2011 property revaluation. The state legislature passed a law requiring the do-over after an outside consultant found flaws, including inequities in appraisals. Joyner said the county last week sent out the first 177 refund checks since the review began. On Tuesday, the county commission approved reviews of another 18,859 parcels, he said, and county and outside consultant Pearson’s Appraisal Service hope eventually to bring 25,000 parcels a month to the commission. He said it could take through 2016 to complete reviews on all 360,000 properties in the county. Appraisers should begin field reviews of Davidson properties in the next two to four months, he said. Meanwhile, Joyner also told Davidson commissioners that his office is already preparing for the next scheduled revaluation, which could begin in 2017.
- Approved Resolution 2014-01, which exempts Summit Coffee on Main Street from town rules prohibiting alcohol consumption on town property. It’s the third year the town has allowed the exemption for Summit’s Twilight Racing Series road races, which include a post race party in the town-owned parking lot next to the coffee shop.
- Approved of three budget amendments. One accepting money donated for benches, crosswalk flags, Vial of Life supplies and a memorial dedication at McEver Field for a former employee. Another, for $24,866, adjusts the budget for reimbursement of town public safety personnel costs at last summer’s Chiquita Classic golf tournament. And a third amendment adjusts the budget to account for several paving projects: $40,000 from the fund balance to pay for resurfacing on Pine Road, Eastway Road, and the Davidson Family Medicine parking lot off Jackson Street; and $75,438 for street resurfacing in the Walnut Grove area, off Spring Street. That money came from a combination of construction bond money and a settlement with a previous developer.
- Approved an $11.16 property tax refund.
- Adopted a 2014 meeting schedule, available on the town website.
- Extended for 1 year an agreement with developer Edens & Avant allowing a small temporary park along Jetton Street, behind Aquesta Bank. The town initially approved the park in 2009 when the developers decided not to build on the parcel.
See the full agenda on the town website.