On Tuesday, the City Council had their Regular Session for the month of July. It was a packed agenda, but there was a lot of unanimous agreement on issues that came to a vote, some important discussion about how building owners should be held accountable and business owners should be treated (and accommodated) when it comes to downtown development decisions, and an awkward encounter involving the Mayor once again stepping out of his lane.
So, just as we plan to do after every Council meeting, let’s dive in…
It’s no secret that we have an issue with some Downtown building owners in our town. While there are plenty of building owners who are actively working on their buildings or seeking tenants, part of the 70% vacancy rate in Downtown is due to building owners who refuse to do anything with their properties. Left sitting vacant, going without much-needed repairs, and with zero sense of urgency to contribute to Downtown development, these building owners must be held accountable where necessary. And this week, one specific issue like this came before the Council – with one added complication: a building that is set to be condemned, yet has a small business operating in it that is in fact contributing greatly to our Downtown scene.
The building at 124 W Mountain Street has been an issue for years. The state of disrepair that it is in not only presents a hazard in some ways, but is also impacting adjoining buildings where active investments are occurring. Instead of making any efforts to rectify the situation, the building owner has sat on his hands. Because of that, the City Council passed an ordinance ordering the owner to make repairs, with an understanding that the Chief Building Inspector will condemn the building in 30 days.
Unfortunately, a great downtown business is operating in the part of the building that is not the problem, and they are now forced to vacate with little time to make plans. Uncommon Artisans has been a welcome and fresh addition to our downtown business scene, providing a selection of locally-crafted items, food, and fresh coffee. This business also represents several other local craftsmen and businesses. The owner of that business now has her hands tied – with a requirement that she vacate within 30 days and find a new location either in Kings Mountain or outside of it.
While we applaud the Council for finally beginning to take action against these problematic building owners after many years of also sitting on their hands, it is not an ideal situation when we are displacing a business that is actively contributing to our downtown scene.
Fortunately, a recently-formed non-profit group called KM Forward is in a position to provide some assistance. KM Forward was formed – and in part funded by the City – to allow local business and community leaders to make improvements, offer assistance, and contribute to local business growth in ways that the City has historically failed.
On Tuesday, KM Forward’s contract with the City was modified to offer assistance to business owners who might be impacted by condemnation. The idea is that the City would match a grant provided by KM Forward to assist these businesses with relocation expenses. This is a great thing! And exactly the role that a group like KM Forward should be playing in our town. In the past, business owners have not received the level of communication, cooperation, and assistance from the City that a private-public partnership like KM Forward is capable of providing.
Unsurprisingly, the Mayor saw this obviously great thing and decided that it was a great opportunity for him to sidestep the City Manager and step out of his lane. The Mayor, who by the way is not a Constitutional lawyer, said that he had an issue with the idea that the City would match a grant to assist with relocation expenses in this situation. So, he reached out to an attorney with an outside organization and whom, we’re sure, did not have all the facts to receive an “opinion.” Mayor Neisler said that it was because he “didn’t want to do anything illegal,” but judging from the contempt and frustration he has displayed for the new City Manager and Administration, we wonder if other wants and desires are in play…
Fortunately, the City Attorney – who does have all of the facts and context – issued his own opinion. He stated that he believes the specific situation is in fact Constitutional and provided his own reasoning.
The grant passed unanimously. As a reminder, the Mayor does not have a vote. As a further reminder, the Mayor has very little role to play in matters such as these.
Apart from this specific issue, there were a few other items of note:
- A public hearing was scheduled for August 29th to consider further text amendments to the City Unified Developed Ordinance regarding such things as district establishment, lot and building standards, and planned development districts.
- Clarification of members to the Kings Mountain Housing Committee
- The adoption of a Water and Wastewater System Development Fee Study.
- The adoption of a resolution approving the major subdivision play for the Pinnacle Park Subdivision.
All of these passed unanimously.