Foundation provides greenway update

by Sarah Melton

MIW file photo Mount Holly’s greenway will be a part of the Carolina Thread Trail.

MOUNT HOLLY – On Monday, dozens of people crammed into the Mount Holly City Council chambers to show their support of bringing greenways to the city.

Mount Holly Community Development Foundation Chairman Lee Beatty said the greenway will stretch from Tuckaseege Park to Mountain Island Lake and be built in two construction phases.

Greenways connect parks and neighborhoods, encourage walking and other recreational activities and increase property value and the quality of neighborhoods, Beatty said. North Carolina has more than 100 communities with greenways.

“First, a greenway is a narrow corridor, a pre-planned path, usually wide enough to allow two-way pedestrian traffic,” Beatty said. “But it’s much more than a path. It gets you closer to nature, but it’s not just for nature’s sake – a good greenway connects people from one important place to another – parks, businesses, neighborhoods.”

The concept of building greenways in Mount Holly started in 2003 with the city council funding and launching a $35,000 community vision process. More than 150 people attended meetings over a six-week period. By the end of the process, the foundation knew the recreational needs of the community and adding greenways were a community priority.

The city passed a $2.3 million bond referendum to pay for recreational needs, including greenways. Only a couple of projects were completed, which led to the foundation being formed to help accomplish the other goals. Since then the foundation has raised more than $880,000, including $373,000 for greenways.

“We have over 300 members and friends, people who want to make a difference in Mount Holly,” Beatty said. “We also have a very active, and enduring, group of greenway volunteers.”

The foundation has a contract with Greenways Inc. for the design of a greenway and “greenprint” land-use plan. The foundation has paid Greenways $178,000 for design and consultation and will give them an additional $96,000 for “shovel ready” construction documents for the first two phases of the greenway.

“So the city has already allocated almost $3 million in taxpayer funds for greenway completion,” Beatty said. “And $2.7 million in competitive grant funds for greenway completion. That information will look really good on grant applications both from the private and public sector.”

Greenway concerns

Scott Griffin, chairman of the foundation’s Greenways Committee, addressed greenway concerns that the council had discussed in previous meetings.

The council wondered if now was the right time to build greenways, given the poor state of the economy. Griffin said that although the economy was suffering, there were people in the audience who had lost their jobs and were without income, but yet, still wanted to see greenways built.

“Yours is not an easy task as you wrestle with an outdated sewage treatment plant, how to upgrade our fire department, upgrades to our existing parks, the usual battle with streets and maintenance,” he said.  “In truth, this list goes on for so long, I could spend the rest of the night just trying to exuberate the tasks before these men and woman every meeting.

“On top of that, you wrestle with it in a down economy – one of the worst we’ve ever had and here we are stepping up to you and saying, ‘You know, we’d like you to put something in your budget. We want you to build greenways.’”

But the foundation will need help from the city to make greenways a reality. The foundation will be responsible for costs, but depend on the city to help with research, documentation and staff time to apply for grants and other tasks for the multi-million dollar project.

“As much as I’d like to stand up here and say, ‘We, the foundation, are so good and so great that it won’t cost you a dime,’ that would be an untruthful statement,” Griffin said. “We can say to you we will take the majority of the burden, but we cannot do it without your help.

“Decisions will need to be made that will also require time from this council. The greenway does not belong to the foundation. It belongs to all of us. It is essential that this council partner with us, offer guidance and point the way as we go forward.”

Maintenance of trails in surrounding cities, such as Charlotte and Greenville, cost $10,000-$14,000 per mile. The estimated cost for the Mount Holly greenway maintenance would run about $9,000 per mile. Griffin said that foundation members and residents would help maintain the greenways.

“Know this citizens….if you want greenways, it will not come free,” Griffin said. “There will be a cost we will all have to pay and this council is concerned about that. They need to know from you that you are willing to help bare that cost. You can’t just build a greenway and walk away from it.”

The council was concerned about security on greenways. Griffin said that illegal activities, such as robbery and vandalism, do occur on greenways, but not very often because greenways are known for being very safe. Also, Mount Holly Police Chief David Belk would be able to assist in keeping the greenways crime-free.

“It’s like having a citizens watch that stretches for miles,” Griffin said. “You know something about crooks is they don’t like to be around us. They don’t like to be seen and I suspect this greenway you are about to build is going to be a very busy place. I think it will help the crime situation, but you know, I am not an expert. You have an expert in your (police) chief.”

When asked why the city should partner with the foundation, Griffin said, “The foundation and the people need you. We need your wisdom and expertise and we need your advice and we need you to ask the tough questions.”

Council’s feedback

Councilman Jerry Bishop said that he and his fellow council members supported the concept of greenways in Mount Holly. But he was concerned about where the funding would come from to pay for such a big project, especially in today’s sour economy. He said that the city would likely have to increase taxes to pay for greenways.

“If there is a possibility it can be worked out that someone can come up with the great answers, look into a crystal ball and give this council up here definite answers to our really big problems, we’ll listen,” Bishop said. “That is the dilemma I’m in and I am sure the rest of the council is in also.

“That is just what we are facing. We’ve got a lot of iron in the fire. It’s a big headache. I didn’t have this many headaches when I was chief of police. That was a piece of cake compared to this stuff.”

Councilwoman Carolyn Breyare has talked to many residents that are struggling to pay all of the bills and she worried that increasing taxes to pay for greenways would only make it harder on them.

“I’ve talked with retired citizens that say, ‘You know, my social security isn’t going up. Please don’t let my taxes go up. I can hardly afford to live on my own,’” Breyare said. “I hear people losing their homes and barely hanging on just to take care of their kids.”

Councilman David Moore hoped that the city and foundation could “find some common ground” and make the greenway plans a reality.

“We have to find a way to do this and make sure it is going to work for both parties and the citizens,” he said. “We are big supporters. I think the council has always been. I am a big greenway fan, but this is a major decision we have to make so please bare with us.”

Some council members brought up “timing” with the greenway issue, but Mayor Bryan Hough said, sometimes, there is never a “right time” to do things.

“Can you put a timing on a vision?” Hough said of the greenway concept. “The vision started in 2003. The vision continues. It will continue as long as we have that vision and the leadership it takes to accomplish that vision.”

But Hough seemed to want the vision to become a reality for the residents packed in City Hall. Twenty-five supporters of the greenways had to stand outside in the lobby because there was not enough room in the council’s chambers.

“I don’t know if the timing is ever right, but I can tell you, that the timing is now for greenways,” the mayor said. “We need to continue to support greenways and move forward with greenways and take advantage of this tremendous asset the city has.

“When things come up, you know what we say? What’s Belmont doing? What’s Charlotte doing? What’s everybody else doing? I know what Mount Holly is doing. No other city in this county has a foundation like we do.”

Moving forward

The council discussed a proposed Memorandum of Understanding between the city and foundation that laid out the responsibilities of each party for greenway development. Some council members wanted the document reworded to clarify that city staff would not be writing grants for the greenways.

“If we go in with professional help, I think we will have a better chance to obtain the grants than if the city tried to do that,” Hope said. “The city is not equipped to do that. The city is equipped to give them the documentation they need.”

The council will vote on the Memorandum of Understanding at the Nov. 8 meeting.

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