UPDATE: Meeting cancelled due to approaching hurricane.
Editor’s note: Changes to how City Hall posts its agenda with background information has made it difficult to translate it into a single webpage. Below is the basic agenda, with New Bern Post editor notes in bold. To see the entire packet, go here.
CITY OF NEW BERN BOARD OF ALDERMEN MEETING
SEPTEMBER 11, 2018- 6:00 P.M.
CITY HALL COURTROOM 300 POLLOCK STREET
Meeting opened by Mayor Dana E. Outlaw. Prayer Coordinated by Alderwoman Harris. Presenting and Retirement of Colors by New Bern Fire and Police Departments. Pledge of Allegiance.
Request and Petition of Citizens.
Consider Adopting a Proclamation Acknowledging Constitution Week.
Presentation by Friends of Kafer Park.
Note: Kafer Park has been used for professional and semi-professional sports in the past but has gone disused since a Negro League team disbanded in 1965. A group proposes the baseball field be brought back to life, including a stadium. Check out the PowerPoint presentation for these plans. – Ed
Presentation on Preliminary Plans for Use of Grant Funds Received for Martin Marietta Park.
No one disputes the success of the 30-year transformation of Downtown New Bern from a run-down blighted mess, to the vibrant tourist attraction it has become.
One thing that made the transformation so successful is that it restored 19th and early 20th century buildings to their original glory.
Now, armed with a new redevelopment agency and a roadmap called the Greater Five Points Transformation Plan, the City of New Bern turns its attention to a collection of historically black neighborhoods collectively called “Greater Duffyfield.”
(Note: I put “Greater Duffyfield” in quotes, because historically, they were different neighborhoods, not the least of which is Dryborough. “Greater Duffyfield” was coined by City Hall as a way to group these neighborhoods together for planning and management purposes, although some would say there were more nefarious reasons.)
If you gather any number of people in a room and ask them to envision what “Greater Duffyfield” should look like 30 years from now, the number of answers will probably be close to the number of people in the room.
UNC-TV has been holding a series of community sessions in New Bern this week, including one at Riverfront Convention Center about New Bern’s future. Three stellar panels of New Bern leaders spoke during the five-hour session. By the end, they said almost nothing about the future.
So I thought I’d throw out one idea.
Instead of bulldozing “Greater Duffyfield” and replacing it with condominiums and strip malls, please, please, please respect its distinctive cultural heritage the way New Bern’s Main Street program respected downtown’s distinctive history.
The neighborhoods have already been added to New Bern’s overarching historic district, and for good reason.
West Street, for example, is chock full of historic sites from the days of segregation including a hospital, a school, a library, and the former home of none other than Grover C. Fields.
Dryborough, one of New Bern’s earliest subdivisions, was eventually to become a significant place in New Bern’s African American culture.
African American neighborhoods south of Queen Street were supplanted by first neglect and segregation, and than gentrification. They migrated north of Queen Street, which became the racial dividing line in Old New Bern. (Riverside, which used the railroad as its dividing line, remained a white-only neighborhood and likes to refer to itself as New Bern’s first suburb.)
As neighborhoods north of Queen Street became populated by African Americans, city planners and public works did what they usually did in the segregated South. Streets were narrow and it was a long time before they became paved. There were no sidewalks, curbs, or gutters. Street lights were rare. Much of the area was subject to flooding and remains so to this very day.
But these neighborhoods were self-supporting. They included a hospital, a nursing home, shopping districts, lawyers and doctors offices, a hotel, and a library. It even had its own fire department.
When segregation became illegal in the 1960s, African Americans could shop at places like J.C. Penny and Belk, and dine at previously all-white restaurants, at the expense of mom-and-pop businesses in the Five Points area and along Main Street in Duffyfield. When they called the fire department, white firefighters would respond. When they went to the hospital, they could go to the same hospital as white people. And they went to school at the same schools as white children.
Those African-American-owned businesses and institutions became the victims of unintended consequences and many went out of business. But their empty shells remain scattered throughout the neighborhoods.
While most of the streets today are paved, there remains a distinctive flavor to the neighborhoods that can be preserved and elevated.
I propose that efforts be made to preserve those houses and buildings that are worth preserving. For those beyond repair, replacements be subject to design standards so that they retain the distinctive nature of the neighborhoods.
I propose that the city identify neighborhood commercial zones such as Main Street and at Five Points, with redevelopment funding targeting the revitalization of these areas to highlight New Bern’s rich, vibrant, and significant African American history.
Great cities like New York and San Francisco have sections that celebrate different ethnicities. Look at Chinatown, Little Italy, Harlem, and so on. “Greater Duffyfield” could be one such neighborhood, one that celebrates history and culture rather than replacing it with townhouses and strip malls.
Many people aren’t aware of the important role that New Bern played in African American history. Following its fall to Union forces during the Civil War, it became a center of freedom for emancipated and escaped slaves.
New Bern needs to tell the world about this, and preserving its African American neighborhoods is one way to do it.
Location map for a proposed dental office next to Chick-fil-A at New Bern Mall.
Times are tough for brick and mortar retail locations, particularly indoor malls. Just look at Vernon Mall in Kinston (hint: it’s vacant).
New Bern Mall (aka Twin Rivers Mall) has been soldiering on, trying to fill remaining vacant out parcels and upgrade its interior tenants over the past several years.
One such attempt was securing a Cracker Barrel. The mall’s owner, Hull Property Group, filled in a drainage pond and completely re-engineered its drainage system along with part of its parking lot in order to make space for a Cracker Barrel.
The Cracker Barrel was to be located in the southeast corner of the mall, next to Chick-fil-A, a restaurant that is so busy it creates its own traffic jams near the mall entrance.
The deal fell through.
Now Hull Property Group is developing a portion of that location as a dental office.
The site plan describes the facility as a shell building, which usually implies that a tenant will be sought after the building is complete. However, Hull Property Group, on its website, announced back in March that Aspen Dental would be opening a location. The announcement was brief and to the point: “Aspen Dental will be coming to the New Bern Mall and will occupy approximately 3,500 sf.”
Floorplan of the proposed dental office at New Bern Mall.
Now, plans for a dental office are coming before the city Departmental Review Committee on Sept. 14. That’s the stage where the site plan gets reviewed and critiqued by various city departments to make sure it passes muster.
A project plan at this stage is no guarantee that the project will actually happen.
The addition of a dental office to the New Bern Mall footprint is not exactly an exciting addition. It’s maybe even less exciting than the Mattress Firm store that opened there several years ago. Certainly it’s nowhere near as exciting as the Buffalo Wild Wings and Starbucks that opened there during the same timeframe, and the renovation of Belk about eight years ago.
Still, given the congested nature of that portion of the New Bern Mall parking lot, a dental office may be a good fit.
New Bern Mall has faced stiff competition for new tenants since the development of New Bern Marketplace farther west on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. That new shopping center landed an enlarged Harris Teeter, Ross, Hobby Lobby, Academy Sports, and, unofficially, several restaurants.
Before and after photos show impacts on Trent Road from the New Bern Marketplace shopping center construction. The photo on the left was taken several years ago. The photo on the right was taken on Wednesday.
City officials are revising design standards for the Trent Road Corridor “to accurately reflect the development pattern” that has emerged on that stretch of city street.
Changes were approved by the Planning and Zoning Board at its meeting on Tuesday and will come before the Board of Aldermen for final approval.
Removing a requirement that buildings maintain a front yard setback of 35-50 feet from the street right-of-way.
Removing a requirement that at least 60 percent of the front yard area of any development will consist of vegetation.
Removing a requirement that parking be on the side or behind buildings rather than between Trent Road and the main building.
The section of Trent Road the city is looking to revise development guidelines amid a surge in growth. City of New Bern map
The affected corridor stretches from Ninth Street to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Trent Road was once the main road serving New Bern, Jones County and Jacksonville, but a new road, once called Clarendon Boulevard but now called Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, shifted development away from Trent Road.
Trent Road became a commercial backwater over the years, but more recently, with the development of New Bern Marketplace and other smaller commercial and office facilities, Trent Road is becoming a popular location for developers.
Of course, the largest by far is New Bern Marketplace, a 34-acre, 325,000-square-foot shopping center located between Dr. M.L. King Jr. Boulevard, Trent Road and South Glenburnie Road.
New Bern Marketplace will be anchored by Harris Teeter’s first 100,000-square-foot grocery store, which will include a gas station and a pharmacy with a drive-though. Other retailers opening there include Academy Sports, Ross, ULTA, Five Below, Lee Nails Spa, Hobby Lobby, and Rack Room.
A worker installs lettering at the Ross Dress for Less store at New Bern Marketplace on Wednesday. Randy Foster/New Bern Post
Michael Stephens, a Riverside Neighborhood resident, plans to open an outdoor recreation facility on Beech Street off Oaks Road following approval by the city to rezone the property from residential and light industrial to commercial.
Location of a proposed privately owned and operated outdoor recreation facility off Oaks Road. Google Maps image
Stephens has combined two lots, 107 and 109 Beech St., which have access to Jack Smith Creek near its mouth with the Neuse River. The resulting 1.14 acres would be used for a venture he is calling Oaks Watersport Landing: The Owl.
“The property will be used for recreational outdoor activities and small indoor and outdoor events,” Stephens said in a written report to the city. “It will allow opportunities for civic organizations to hold small events. A perfect opportunity to allow residents and homeowners in the area to be part of various organizations and functions while helping build a strong sense of civic pride.”
He said most activities will be done during daylight hours.
Initial hours of operation would be 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., five to seven days per week, weather permitting. It may close one to two months out of the year due to seasonally declining activities.
He estimates the venue will have about 10-15 guests per day with a total capacity of 120 people.
A building described as a “lodge” is part of the plan.
Two vacant buildings, a business and a house, are located on the two properties. Google Maps image
The late Steve Jobs is often touted as one of the great innovators of the age, but his real genius was in taking ideas from others, tweaking them, and selling them.
Jobs didn’t invent the computer mouse, smart phone or the MP3 player, for example; others came up with those ideas, but his tweaks changed everything.
Taking cues from Steve Jobs, the City of New Bern has gone into he business of taking others ideas, as well.
For example, take the Farmer’s Market.
For $1 per year, the Farmers Market was leasing city-owned land at South Front and Hancock streets coveted by developers. Everyone was happy, the Farmers Market thrived, and neighboring businesses enjoyed the extra foot traffic Farmer’s Market attracted.
Meanwhile, the city was saddled with a blighted piece of property off First Street zoned for heavy commercial use that it will never be able to sell because of decades of accumulated pollutants from the power plant that once stood there.
On a tear to unload surplus property, here was one property the city could not unload, so it sought alternatives.
City officials thought they could kill two birds with one stone. They approached Farmers Market leaders about moving to the First Street power plant property, a concept called City Market. Moving Farmer’s Market would free up city-owned land it could sell, and put to use city-owned property the city could not sell.
Farmers Market board members didn’t like the idea. They are doing well where they are and the rent they paid to the city for the property was almost nothing. Also, the present location brings in casual visitors who are downtown for other reasons.
Downtown businesses didn’t like the idea, either. They see Farmers Market as an additional attraction that fills restaurants and shops with customers on mornings when the Farmers Market is open.
At the moment, almost nobody goes to the old power plant, and other than Lawson Creek Park across the road, there is nothing else for people to do in that section of town.
It started to get ugly, as things often do when one opposes City Hall. There were veiled threats of eviction countered by a petition that gathered 15,400 signatures from people opposed to the Farmer’s Market moving.
At some point city officials realized that the Farmer’s Market had an ace up its sleeve: Although its lease with the city was about to expire, it had the option to extend it for one more year. That would have put the city in the awkward position of evicting a beloved downtown institution right in time for the 2017 municipal elections.
The city backed off. Rather than let a squabble with Farmers Market and downtown merchants drive the 2017 municipal elections, the city was forced into another lease. This time, however, it increased the rent from $1 a year to $500 per month.
The idea seemed to wither away. There was no further public discussion about outdoor vendor sales at the old power plant property. But meanwhile, city officials worked out a deal for Craven Community College to use the First Street main building for vocational classes, calling it the Volt Center (a nod to the building’s past as an electric plant).
Then on Feb. 13, the City Market plan sprang forth once more. The city is now seeking grant funding to help pay for outdoor vending areas, a market, a commercial kitchen accelerator, and an inventor’s space.
As city director of Development Services Jeff Ruggieri said, the idea never went away. But now, rather than forcing the Farmer’s Market to move, the city now looks poised to go in head-to-head competition with the Farmer’s Market.
It’s an odd thing, the city trying to compete with an existing commercial operation. Alderman Jeffrey Odham has said he wanted to run the city more like a business, but this? Start a business? One that competes with existing businesses?
And it’s not the only one.
In January, a private artists group approached the city seeking approval to rent the old Firemen’s Museum on Hancock Street.
A little background on that: after he became mayor, Dana Outlaw began a push to unload as much surplus city property as possible. The Hancock Street museum property was on the list, and the city gave the bum’s rush to the Firemen’s Museum, forcing it to rush fundraising efforts to pay for renovations of the old Broad Street Fire House so the museum could move there.
Outlaw and city staff envisioned selling the old museum site on Hancock Street, but when bids came in, they didn’t meet minimum requirements. The building is a fairly large commercial space suitable for a restaurant or even a microbrewery, but there’s a problem: it has no parking.
True, there’s a city-owned parking lot right next to it, but the downtown parking plan calls for the city to reduce the number of leased spaces, not increase the number. And the city parking lot at New and Hancock streets is a pretty important component to the city’s master parking plan.
So, like the old power plant on First Street, the city found itself with a substantial piece of real estate that is virtually unsellable.
It makes one wonder whether city officials do any research into these things before jumping in.
Back to the artists’ group. It had lost its existing location and was basically homeless and in a bind. They thought that perhaps they could rent the Hancock Street property from the city for, say, $500 a month — the same thing Farmer’s Market was paying for its piece of prime real estate.
Good idea, Mayor Outlaw said. More research is needed. Could be the city would pay them, rather than the other way around.
But that’s not how it turned out.
Meetings were held and the city came back with a plan: The city Parks and Recreation Department would open up its own art gallery and artist space at the old Firemen’s Museum — and make money doing it.
That private artists group? Still homeless, although they are welcome to apply to use the city-owned, city-run artists gallery along with everyone else.
So, yeah, those are two examples of the city shouldering its way into areas previously the domain of private groups.
A little bit sneaky, a little big underhanded. But unlike Steve Jobs, who bought or stole proven, successful ideas and made them better, the city still has to prove whether it is any good at running an outdoor market and an artists gallery, both of which have existing and entrenched competition in the city.
But, paraphrasing a line from Steve Jobs when he would announce new products, in the sneaky, underhanded department, that’s not all.
City Market is a triangular piece of property, with the Ghent neighborhood on one side, a mixed residential-commercial street on one side, and Country Club Road/First Street on the remaining side.
City Hall is giving that section of the city a lot of love and attention recently. Lawson Creek Park is right there and has benefited from a lot of improvements: a reconfigured and beautified entrance, a ball field, and more.
The city moved its Parks and Recreation offices to a building off Country Club Road, and is seeking funding to improve boat access there.
And it has worked with the state to reconfigure Country Club Road/First Street from four ugly, unsafe, ugly lanes of traffic, to two beautiful, safe, beautiful lanes of traffic with a center turn lane, bike lanes on both sides, and broad sidewalks stretching from Broad Street/Neuse Boulevard all the way to Pembroke Avenue.
Because that stretch of street is actually part of N.C. Highway 55, the state is paying for the improvements with a couple of small conditions: the city has to take care of moving street side utilities, for example. Oh, and the city can’t put the entrance to City Market on First Street.
Seems like a pretty small thing for the state to worry about, but the reasoning is sound: the entrance would be close to a blind curve and too close to the onramps and offramps at U.S. 70.
That means the entrance to City Market will have to be behind it, on Rhem Street (not to be confused with nearby Rhem Avenue).
Shouldn’t be a problem. The city gas station is there, but it is going to move it.
But if state Department of Transportation engineers take a close look at what the city has in mind, they’ll find that it’s a much worse option than a City Market entrance on First Street.
Rhem Street and the entrance to Lawson Creek Park form a four-way intersection with Country Club Road. There’s that same blind curve that DOT was worried about in one direction, and it’s even closer to the U.S. 70 offramps and onramps than a First Street entrance to City Market.
With traffic throttled from four lanes to two lanes after the street is reconfigured, traffic at that intersection is going to get very cosy. Many motorists will opt to reach City Market from the other direction, turning on to Second Street from Trent Boulevard.
Oh, but wait. Second Street is where Ghent Neighborhood residents have been complaining about heavy traffic (an average of 1,500 cars per day on a four-block, two-lane residential street). Full disclosure: I live off Second Street.
Second Street is an example an exasperated City Manager Mark Stephans sidesteps by pointing to all the things the city — no, he himself — has done for the Ghent neighborhood to address speeders on Spencer Avenue. (Ignoring complaints about speeders on Park Avenue.)
Referring to Second Street, Stephans said the city has moved its warehouse and will be moving its filling station, so that should be enough to satisfy the Ghent neighborhood. He says it as if they have gone to so much trouble, but they were doing it anyway.
What he’s not saying, and this is where “sneaky and underhanded” comes in, is that Second Street at Trent Boulevard is going to become a major access point to City Market.
Now let’s put this in perspective. If a private company were to propose putting a high-use business where the city plans to put City Market, say a hotel, the city planning department would be all over the developer to deal with traffic issues.
But the city is not a private company. It is free to ignore any issues its projects cause on surrounding properties.
This is why we can’t have nice things.
I’ve been wondering for some time why City Hall is so resistant to solving the high traffic problem on Second Street. When Alderman Sabrina Bengel suggested that Second Street be blocked at Trent Boulevard, city staff dug in its heels.
Whatever reasons city officials give against closing Second Street or reconfiguring it to reduce traffic, the real reason has been lurking in the dark for well over a year.
City Hall doesn’t want to decrease traffic from 1,500 cars a day. City Hall wants to increase traffic even further.
Three developers persuaded New Bern planning and zoning board members to hold off endorsing a proposed revised street ordinance, saying a Fire Department push for wider residential streets and bigger cul de sacs will hurt the environment and push up costs for new houses that could make affordable housing a thing of the past.
The board voted unanimously (with one absent and one vacancy) to table the decision and send the proposed ordinance back to staff for further discussion and research.
It was one of three option the board had: Approve it and forward it to the Board of Aldermen for further consideration, reject it, or table the discussion for the time being.
Tuesday’s agenda item was innocuously stated, “Consideration of a request by the City of New Bern to amend the City Land Use Ordinance Article XIV: Section 15-210 “Street classification.”
The proposed ordinance does a lot of things, from cleaning up wording to classifying streets. It was proposed requirements increasing the minimum width of residential streets from 24 feet wide, to 27 feet wide, and to increase the diameter of cul de sacs to 96 feet, that got three developers going during Tuesday’s meeting.
A photo provided by the New Bern Fire Department shows the problem it encounters on narrow residential streets: Not enough space for the equipment, and not enough room for residents to evacuate.
The Fire Department has been pushing for the wider residential streets out of safety concerns. Fire officials, who were not present at Tuesday’s meeting, say that 27 feet is the minimum width necessary to provide access to its bigger ladder trucks and for them to deploy their stabilizers, while still leaving room for residential evacuation if it is necessary.
Wider cul de sacs would make it easier for larger fire trucks to turn around. (Fun fact: cul de sac is French for “bottom of the sack,” though some translate it to mean, “ass of the sack.”)
Kenneth Kirkman, an attorney and Carolina Colours developer, said changes to city building rules over the past years have steadily driven up costs to develop new subdivisions, and these new changes would have unintended, undesirable consequences.
For example, the city will happily take over maintenance of a new subdivision’s streets — as long as those streets have curbs and gutters, which make streets last longer but greatly add to the cost of development. The city also requires one side of the street have a sidewalk.
Under the proposed rules, the minimum width for a street right of way, including sidewalk, would be 57 feet, an increase of 3 feet. The minimum diameter for a cul de sac would be 96 feet — 3 1/2 times the size of the room where the Board of Aldermen meets, he said.
Not only would this affect the cost of dedicating the street right of way and construction, it would also increase the percentage of water-impervious ground surface, increasingly the likelihood that expensive rainwater runoff systems would be necessary, he said. He said the added requirements could increase the cost of a lot at Carolina Colours by $27,000, and result in “cookie cutter subdivisions that are full of asphalt.”
It would also make it prohibitively expensive to develop more affordable subdivisions, he said.
“With very little discussion, things have been adopted without looking at the totality of what will occur,” Kirkman said. “I think it’s now overriding common sense.”
John Thomas, of John Thomas Engineering, which is developing a 253-lot subdivision near Carolina Colours, urged the planning and zoning board to “pull back and have more discussion.”