Potential improvements to downtown Elkin and a piece of downtown property a group wants to donate to the town were the topics of discussion during the Aug. 8 meeting of the Elkin Board of Commissioners.
The town already has an agreement with the Yadkin Valley Railroad for the lease and use of the parking lot beside South Bridge Street between the railroad and the alley behind the businesses which front East Main Street. During last week’s meeting, an addendum was approved by the board to allow the town to make improvements to and lease the rest of that lot which has not yet been landscaped.
“The town paved and landscaped the area around 1999 or 2000,” explained Laura Gaylord, Main Street and community manager for the town, of the area under the original lease agreement, which costs the town $1 annually.
Improving the rest of the parking area is part of the Main Street Advisory Board’s project improvement area. “We would like to take and clean up the junk cars there and add further landscape and add paved parking spaces,” Gaylord said. “We’d like to continue paving down as far as we can, and add trees to hide the trash cans and backs of the buildings along the alley.”
The addendum to the original agreement would allow the project to move forward without the town having to go to the railroad at each step of the process. The addendum includes allowing the towing of cars there as well as the landscape and paving. “They even included if we want to add a split rail fence or something outside their 25-foot easement,” Gaylord said.
While the commissioners seemed to favor the project, Commissioner Dr. Skip Whitman questioned whether the additional lease would increase the cost of the insurance requirements for the town.
When the agreement came to a vote, with the absence of Commissioner Bob Norton, Commissioners Cicely McCulloch and J.L. Lowe voted in favor of the agreement, while Whitman and Commissioner Terry Kennedy voted against it due to not knowing the answer to whether insurance will increase in cost.
For the second time during her time as mayor, Lestine Hutchens broke the tie, voting in favor of the agreement, but also instructing Gaylord to return to the September meeting with an answer as to the insurance questions.
During discussion about another potential improvement project, Gaylord said the North Carolina Department of Transportation approached the town asking for intersections it would be interested in bringing up to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance with crosswalks.
“I talked it over with John [Holcomb, town manager], and we decided to submit crosswalks on South Bridge Street, especially with the new trail center work being done,” Gaylord told the board.
The two intersections requested by the town are the intersection of South Bridge and Standard streets and South Bridge and Commerce streets. In addition, the request includes the intersection of N.C. 268 Business/Market Street and Gwyn Avenue, due to a resident of the town who uses that intersection to access her job downtown and is having to drive their motorized wheelchair into the road.
“They pay 100 percent of the cost of improvements that access their highway, and then we pay 20 percent to access to our streets,” said Gaylord in explaining the project details.
The crosswalk project is simply an application for consideration, she explained. The board unanimously agreed to allow Gaylord to move forward with pursuing the crosswalk projects.
Another project which came up just in recent weeks is the availability of grants from Duke Energy for the installation of vehicle charging stations. “It brings clean air to the region and helps people when they are traveling in our area,” said Gaylord.
“This is an opportunity to apply, they assess the request and if they deem it OK, we can accept or reject the grant funding,” she said. “It is going to be the next big thing.”
She said Duke Energy, through the grant, pays for the charging station and installation, and then once it is operational, the town would be responsible for the electric bill.
Gaylord went ahead and applied for the grant since the town can turn it down if they decide not to participate.
Two locations were suggested in the downtown area — the new trails and heritage center, which will be where the former Smith-Phillips Lumber Building was located, and the town hall parking lot.
In discussion with the commissioners, it was suggested to inquire of Fairfield Inn would partner with the town as a potential location for a charging station as well to provide a location on the north side of town.
“I think we should do as many as we think we can do. I would like to know what they expect the cost would be,” Whitman said of the electricity bill costs.
Several months ago, the Tri-County group approached the town seeking to donate a parcel of land downtown which used to be the site of the Elkin Ice & Coal Company and later was the Carolina Ice & Fuel Company. Due to prior uses of the property, the town board felt it needed further environmental evaluation to be sure there would be no problems arise with the property later.
The Phase I environmental study came back recommending that soil and ground water sampling will be needed based on the historical use of the property, reported Leslie Schlender, economic development director for the town.
She said further testing would cost $5,300 for ground water testing only, and $7,100 for ground water, soil and lab testing.
“We have had private business owners ask about acquiring that land,” said Schlender.
If Tri-County is interested in considering private purchases of the land, Schlender asked if the board would want to further study the property or pursue private ownership.
The general consensus of the board was to table the donation discussion for the potential of private ownership.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.