Aqua N.C. president talks with local customers

Private water service customers gathered in the Mint Hill Town Hall last Friday to hear from Aqua North Carolina president Tom Roberts regarding water quality.  Residents of Ashe Plantation have recently become vocal about a problem they say is decades old.

Meeting organizers invited Jeff Tarte, recently elected to the N.C. State Senate, N.C. Representative Bill Brawley from Mecklenburg County and member of the Public Utilities Committee in the House, and N.C. Public Utilities staff member David Furr, and Roberts had with him two Aqua North Carolina representatives with knowledge of the problems.

Tarte mediated the conversation and explained the focus of the conversation was on water quality, although he acknowledged that local customers were also upset about customer service and rates.  He allowed Aqua to explain what they are doing with Ashe Plantation’s wells, and followed that with some questions from residents.

“We already know what the problems are, so what we’re hoping to hear is what Aqua North Carolina is doing to remedy the situation,” said Tarte.

“One of the primary things that I do is meet with customers.  If I’m invited I will come.  Mrs. Decker and I have had a number of conversations, and I’m happy to be here tonight to have you hear from us,” said Roberts.  “We realize we’ll have to talk about some history, but what we’d like to do is look forward and talk about the future and where we think we’re going from our point of view.”

The Aqua representatives explained that an Ashe Plantation well experienced a malfunction earlier this summer, which caused a disruption in filter performance.  After the well was back in service, problems continued due to accumulated mineral deposits.  Aqua cleaned, flushed, and tested the water storage tank and flushed the distribution system.

To avoid future water quality problems, the company is monitoring water color leaving the filters by having installed sensors that will send an alarm and shut down the well.

The water company also ensured its customers that water is routinely tested and meets state and federal drinking water standards.

Aqua representative Michael Melton offered specific numbers regarding water quality and contaminates, though the customers said the numbers had no context or meaning to them.

A reoccurring topic during the conversation was the affect of bad press on the neighborhood.  Homeowners said realtors are avoiding the neighborhood, which is an “economic opportunity cost.”  Roberts responded saying he doesn’t “have that power over the press,” and recommended real estate agents call Aqua.  He also said he would like to talk with them.

“What is it going to take to get our water system up to a Charlotte quality water system so that it will attract new homeowners into the community and displace everything that we’ve seen in the news already about the water quality?  They’ve gone on the news already and said how poor the water quality was.  I think that the water needs to be fixed correctly today and then go back on the news and say how it was fixed and put together these bottles with clean water.  But if you can’t produce bottles with clean water then everything you say tonight is not going to mean anything,” said a customer.

“We love to do success stories, too,” said Roberts.  He suggested having the media cover the solution to the problem.

“We need a success story,” the customer responded.

Another customer said he has lived in Ashe Plantation for 24 years and has never had clean water.

“You’re not going to fix that well.  You either need to drill another well or let us have city water.  I know that’s your call,” he said.

“The technology exists for us to fix that well,” said Roberts.

Ashe Plantation homeowners’ association president Sharon Decker said she would like to have another meeting with Aqua to address other issues like rates.  She knows Aqua is willing to meet with them again.

“We appreciate everything the town of Mint Hill has done for us,” said Decker.  She was happy to hear about the resolution the town passed to ensure good water quality and service, and she appreciated being able to meet at the town hall.

“This is an inconvenience; it’s a health issue,” said Ashe Plantation homeowner Janis Barnett.  “They’ve done a good job of giving us more information than they had before, they told us what they’re doing to get that well back.”  She said she’s feeling hopeful about the situation.

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Christmas tree will not move to new town hall

As the construction of the new town hall building comes to an end, the Board of Commissioners and Mint Hill residents want to know what will happen to the Christmas tree at the current town hall.  The tree has been part of Mint Hill tradition for over 25 years.

Town Planners Dana Clukey and John Hoard investigated the option of transplanting the tree and hired The Maplewood Company for an expert opinion.  Paul Yandle of The Maplewood Company said the evergreen was “a transplantable candidate” and offered a variety of ways to move it.  His equipment has moved trees up to 10 inches in diameter.  The town’s tree is 14 inches in diameter.  To move a tree of that size, Yandle estimates his equipment would give a 20 percent chance of survival with no guarantees, and the work would cost about $3,000.  To excavate the tree and root system by hand would offer the best chances of survival, 70-80 percent, and would cost $10,000-12,000.

Yandle also suggested the town leave the tree and purchase a new one for the new town hall.  He offered to find a tree between six and eight inches in diameter and between 16 to 20 feet tall.  It would cost $3,000-4,000 and would be guaranteed for two years.

“My unsolicited opinion, coming from more than 30 years of transplanting experience, would be that you choose to leave the tree where it is now and to consider having our company, or some other, furnish, properly plant, and warrant a completely new tree for the new Town Hall.  That would be the safest choice on many levels, probably the most cost effective, and the one option that would include a guarantee of survival with the investment made,” said Yandle in a letter to Hoard.

“While I would love to move the tree that we have to the new site, I’m not much of a gambler, especially with taxpayer money.  If that costs around $12,000 and it gets up there and dies, I’m going to be really disappointed.  My recommendation is to leave the tree in place where it is,” said Mayor Ted Biggers.  “I would take the recommendation to get a new tree.”

The Board of Commissioners decided not to transplant the tree.

The fate of the current tree is unclear.  As it stands, the tree will be fenced in what will become the police department’s secured parking area, which will not be open to the public.  The size of the tree may be a security issue for the police department, and may be cut down.

Clukey wrote in a memo to the Board of Commissioners, “We believe that the community will feel a loss if the tree were to be completely removed.  Residents and visitors alike have commented on the beauty of our great tree.  While there is a large cost associated with transplanting the tree, there will be advantages to linking the future town hall with the past, symbolizing a commitment to saving not only a large tree, but a community icon.”

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Commissioners to discuss saving Bain building

Commissioners raised concerns over the fate of Bain Elementary School’s auditorium at last Thursday’s meeting.  The three present commissioners made a quorum in the absence of Mayor Ted Biggers and Commissioner Mickey Ellington.

An environmental and structural study was done on Bain’s auditorium and found asbestos and lead based paints, as well as significant structural problems.  The Board is interested in saving the building as a piece of Mint Hill’s history, and may find help through the Mint Hill Historical Society and the Department of Cultural Resources.  This issue may generate public interest, and with the absence of the mayor and a commissioner, it was deferred until the next meeting scheduled for August 16. Continue reading

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Fire department proposes new station

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Mint Hill residents had a lot to say last Thursday about the fire department’s proposition to build a second fire station.  They packed the John M. McEwen Assembly Room for the Board of Commissioners meeting to learn about the new fire station proposal and to voice their opinions.

It was standing room only as Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Department board of directors member, Roger Martin, and fire chief, John Phillips, presented the plan for the new station to be built at the corner of Arlington Church Road and Cabarrus Road.  The plan was presented to the board as a zoning petition.

The new station is expected to be at 14900 Cabarrus Road.  The five acres of land is currently owned by Edith Williams.  The building will be between 5-7,000 square feet, allowing for a possible expansion to 10,000 square feet.  That would make it one-third to half the size of the current building.  It will be able to hold up to four trucks.  The lot is wedge-shaped, with 920 frontage feet along Cabarrus Road and 620 feet along Arlington Church Road and driveways on both roads.

The rezoning process required a neighborhood meeting due to the building being non-residential in a residential area.  Residents within 200 feet of the proposed area were notified by mail.  Of the 12 people who received letters, three real estate agents, a Williams family member, and one resident were present, and they expressed support for the station.

The second step in the rezoning process required a sketch plan, which was submitted in March.  The town staff and Mecklenburg County reviewed the plan.

Mecklenburg County approved the septic system and the storm water design.  The utilities department may find issue with the design and suggest alternatives, as it has water and sewer extensions in mind for that area.  The Department of Transportation has no issues with the plan.

The public hearing at the Board of Commissioners meeting was the next step.

Twelve people spoke during the public hearing:

Toni Byers of Cabarrus Road said, “I have spent 40 years of my life in this one area.  This is my neighborhood…I do not want the noise of sirens coming in and out of my neighborhood twenty four seven.  I want to continue to enjoy the quiet country living that I’ve been used to for 40 years of my life…Please do not do this to our country neighborhood.”

Donald Hager of Arlington Church Road said, “I dearly love the Town of Mint Hill; dearly love the fire department.  They saved my life three times.”

Robert Miller of Arlington Church Road said, “I’m 100 percent for the fire department.  It’s badly been needed for a long time…I welcome it with open arms…It’s for my own benefit.”

Steve Gandy, pastor at Arlington Baptist Church and resident of Cabarrus Road said, “I have a long-standing relationship with volunteer firemen…I realize this is an inconvenience for some people, in fact I’m very familiar with inconveniences too.  I have to make decisions all the time that don’t please everyone.  But a lot of times we have to look at it for the greater good.”

Lisa Adams of Arlington Church Road said, “I live 300 feet from the proposed intersection and I have lived there long enough to know that is an extremely dangerous intersection the way it is currently set up…I believe that if you want to save time for response, Mint Hill can look into a dedicated 911 response system.”

Sharon Heath of Lemmond Acres Drive said, “Overall I think we have a very fine group of emergency responders, and I think they do a very good job.  My family has used them several times…I’d be really interested in seeing what portion of your call base is in our area.”

John Walton of Arlington Church Road said, “I live about a quarter of a mile north of the proposed site, and I certainly would welcome a fire station close to my house.  The big issue here is can you find a site that is not across the street from several homes?  Can you find a site where you don’t require rezoning in a residential area?”

Mark Jamison of Albemarle Road said, “I don’t hardly know of any fire station that has gone in somewhere and did not have opposition, but also when they did get in there they became part of the community.”

Gene Steele of Arlington Church Road said, “I was fortunate enough open up quite a few stations in the Charlotte area, and probably three of them were in already developed neighborhoods, and they loved it…I would welcome it in front of my house…We need to take care of our own and I think this would be a great idea.”

Michele Taylor said, “This isn’t about noise, it isn’t about statistics, it’s not about commercial property.  It’s about saving someone who could be dying.  And unless you have been there, like I have, those seconds that are precious feel like hours…Think about what’s really important.”

Ted Huntley said, “This is something that really hits home with me.  Twenty-two years ago I lost my first wife.  Seconds would go by, it seemed like hours…This is about saving lives…Lets build this thing.”

John McRorie of Arlington Church Road said, “I told them that if they couldn’t find a place they could put it in my pasture.  I took a ride in that big read buggy about two years ago…I think this is a good thing.”

Two days after the meeting a home about one mile from the proposed site was struck by lightning and destroyed by fire.  Mint Hill, Midland, Fairview, Robinson, and Idlewild Fire Departments responded to the call shortly before 9 pm and cleared the scene after 1:30 am.  Jerry Mullis and Martin said if the new station was in place, it would have made a difference in this particular fire.

The Planning Board met Monday to vote on a recommendation to the Board of Commissioners.  Board members gave comments and asked questions to Martin and town planner John Hoard.

The five-year vesting period was in question.  Ordinarily plans have two years after plan approval, but the fire department is asking for five.  Martin responded that the department may not have the funds to begin construction within the first two years, but they need to act soon to close on the property.

The Planning Board sent a positive recommendation to the Board of Commissioners, denying the waiver to remove sidewalks from the original plan.

Public comments were not allowed at the Planning Board meeting, nor will they be part of the Board of Commissioners discussion when the board votes on the matter August 16.

Some residents feel their voice was not heard.  Byers and her neighbor are gathering signatures for a petition against the station.  She did not receive a letter of notice from the fire department, even though she lives within 200 feet.

“The biggest thing that bothers me is we live in a country setting, and the fact that they can come in and rezone it and put a station across the street from a residential area,” she said.  “We love Mint Hill Fire Department.  We love Mint Hill.  It has nothing to do with not supporting the fire department at all…but I do not want this in my front yard.”

Richard Lodge of Lammond Acres left the South Park area for the tranquility of Mint Hill.

“My complaint is about the process.  The fire department did not handle the communication on this properly, said Lodge, “I heard that they had some kind of a meeting in January…The first I knew about it and my neighbors knew about it was when the zoning sign when up [at the site]…A lot of the Commissioners did not ask penetrating questions, and the chief’s presentation was abysmal.”

Photos by Amanda Waters.

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Town Hall construction nears completion

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Construction on the new Town Hall is nearing completion.  The two-story building is currently awaiting carpeting, stucco finishing, and sidewalk brickwork.  Major construction is practically finished, and the installment of smaller details is underway.

Upon entering the building through the front doors, visitors will be facing the entrance to the assembly room.  The new assembly room is larger than its present counterpart.  The Board of Commissioners’ long desk is set, made of a dark wood that matches the doors.  The ceiling stretches through the second floor, taking over the entire center of the building.  Still to come are the fabric wall coverings.

The hallways wrapping around the assembly room on both the first and second floors are open to the public.  The hallways on the back of the building are for artwork, and gallery lights have been installed.

Offices are accessed through key cards and are located off of the public areas on the left and right of the building.  To see a town staff member, visitors can go to the receptionist windows located on both floors.

Since the building was designed to last 50-100 years, some of the offices will not be immediately occupied.  A space is provided for a possible administrative assistant to the town manager, and open offices can be used as conference or training rooms.

The monumental granite stairs, the more utilitarian back stairway, or the elevator give access to the second floor.

Finishing up the outside construction involves adding stucco and laying the brick walkways in the front of the building.  The outside materials were chosen in part due to their durability and low maintenance.

Energy-saving motion sensor lights were installed in the offices.

“They were smart when they spent their money,” said Edifice project executive, Scott Fandel.  “I think they did a good job of planning for the future.”

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QCBB on Town Hall lawn

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The Queen City Brass Band delivered another crowd-pleasing performance this year at the Town Hall.  Numerous residents in red, white, and blue listened to Americana classics.  Jack and Dottye Brimhall (pictured) enjoyed the evening in their patriotic attire.  Photos by Amanda Waters.

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