Mount Holly moves forward on greenway

by Sarah Melton

The Mount Holly City Council took a step toward the future development of greenways in the city Monday night, Nov. 8, despite mixed reviews from residents.

On a 5-1 vote, the council approved a memorandum of understanding between the city and the Mount Holly Community Development Foundation, the nonprofit organization that has been campaigning for greenways in the city since 2003. The agreement specifies the responsibilities of each party for greenways.

Mount Holly residents got a chance to voice their opinions during a public comment session, before the council adopted the memorandum. Fourteen people spoke about the greenways, and they split almost evenly between supporters and detractors.

Greenway supporters

Pat Hubbard said that the community expressed its support for greenways in 2003, when the council spent $35,000 on a community vision process. More than 150 people attended meetings over six weeks, and residents identified greenways as one of the city’s top four recreational needs.

“The majority of people who voted for this back in 2003 wanted greenways, and we’ve heard it time and time again,” Hubbard said. “The greenways will provide economic importance for more growth (and) improve the quality of life that is already here, and by accepting the foundation’s offer, you will be good stewards of taxpayers’ money.”

The council has received numerous documents and heard speakers discuss the positive impacts of greenways, Suzanne Griffin added.

“I am asking you tonight to please take your responsibility seriously and take the first step in making this town a healthier place to live and provide the economic engine that is needed for our community,” she said.

Barbara Lawrence recently purchased a home in Mount Holly but has been living in the area for quite some time. The community’s positive attitude toward greenways and recent improvements at Tuckaseegee Park played a role in her decision to purchase a home in the city, she said. She believes the greenway would improve her property’s value.

“I’ve spent over 30 years in real estate research, specifically resort areas and economic development,” Lawrence said. “Greenways attract jobs. They attract good, high quality jobs and are good sources of clean water, so those are things to consider.

“I encourage you to embrace these opportunities now. It sets high expectations for Mount Holly. There is not going to be a better time to move forward than right now.”

Robert Linster and his wife moved to North Carolina from Pennsylvania seven years ago. They were supposed to live in Shelby, closer to Linster’s new job. Instead, the Linsters chose Mount Holly after hearing the Carolina Thread Trail, a regional network of trails, would cut through Mount Holly.

“We love it here, and when people ask me if I want to go back to Pennsylvania, I say, ‘No way,’ ” Linster said. “Some say they were born and raised in Mount Holly. I’m not, but I got here as quick as I could and I’m not going anywhere.”

Greenway opposition

Chris and Bridget Nudi are frequent users of greenways and often hike at the U.S. National Whitewater Center nearby. However, those greenways require maintenance, such as replacing pavement and installing signs.

“The life cycle of pavement is 15 years and that happens to be around the same time the wastewater treatment plant will need to be repaired, further causing a tax problem for the citizens of Mount Holly,” Chris Nudi said.

Mount Holly residents have recreational options with Tuckaseege Park, Mountain Island Lake and the whitewater center, Nudi said.

“People are not in need of parks,” he said. “They are in need of keeping their tax dollars. I encourage you not to increase those taxes that are already shown to be going up when you already know there will be other expenses down the road.”

A lot of money already has been invested in the greenway, Bridget Nudi said, even though nothing has been designed, built or approved yet.

“We came to Mount Holly to escape the traffic,” she said. “We came to Mount Holly to escape the big city taxes. We do favor the greenway, but we don’t want to pay extra taxes, and we don’t want a greenway going through our front yard.”

David and Tori Iannarelli lived near a greenway in Charlotte before moving to Mount Holly. Criminals used the greenway entrances to break into their home and other homes in their Charlotte neighborhood and then flee, the Iannarellis said. They are worried those problems would arise again with the Mount Holly greenway.

“You are proposing this greenway to come through my neighborhood,” David Iannarelli said. “I didn’t move to Mount Holly 2 1/2 years ago to have everybody in the county coming by my home. So please consider this in your decision.”

Charlotte tried to police the greenway, but the area was too large, Tori Iannarelli said.

“I think it’s really important that whatever you chose to do, that you really empower your police department so they can do whatever they need to do and keep people safe every day,” she said.

Greenway project details

Two weeks ago, the foundation made a presentation to the council, detailing its desire to build the greenway from Tuckaseege Park to Mountain Island Lake dam. More than 250 supporters attended the council’s work session to support the proposal.

Foundation Chairman Dr. Lee Beatty said that the greenway would create healthier communities, increase property values and drive demand for high-quality new development. The foundation envisions building the entire greenway over 10 to 15 years, in manageable phases of 1 to 2 miles.

The foundation has raised more than $880,000, including $373,000 for greenways, but would also seek grants from corporations, sponsors, foundations and private citizens. Foundation members and the community would maintain the greenway, which could cost $9,000 per mile.

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

The council’s decision

Last month, council members raised several questions surrounding the greenways. They questioned the timing of the greenway project, the safety of residents and the city’s financial obligation and whether the project might lead to a tax increase.

On Monday night, the council reviewed the memorandum of understanding, including revisions by city attorney Michael Kemp. The memo requires the city to obtain easements and rights-of-way for greenway construction, but the city has no obligation to commit taxpayer funds for construction.

“On a realistic point of view, there are two outstanding easements and other areas that need to be addressed before you could get funding and do construction on the greenway,” Mount Holly Mayor Bryan Hough said. “It may be two years before those are obtained.”

Councilman Jim Hope said he is not sure why some of the concerns regarding the greenway had not been addressed in the past.

“I don’t think it’s a question of the memorandum of understanding,” he said. “It is a question of involvement of the greenway for the city. The memorandum of understanding clearly states the foundation’s commitment and the commitment of the city.”

All council members, except Carolyn Breyare, voted to adopt the memorandum. Breyare said the council had discussed greenways numerous times but never made a plan for emergencies.

“Since I have been on the council the last three years, we have talked about this greenway from time to time, and I asked about our police and emergency workers – how the city plans to do this. Because that is what we should do for our citizens on our greenway because we will be responsible for it,” she said.

“Never do I remember getting an answer for it. We never discussed how to get our police on the greenway, our emergency vehicles on this greenway. To accept this tonight without a plan in place is premature.”

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