PILOT MOUNTAIN — The Pilot town board met Monday with planners from Benchmark Design, the company that has been retained to provide an updated streetscape plan and guidelines for the Downtown Design Overlay (DDO) district.
A decision was made at the Board of Commissioners’ December 4 meeting to retain the Charlotte firm to produce a streetscape design for downtown at a cost of $25,500. The last time the town went through the process was in 2007.
Following a recent preliminary meeting with the Main Street committee, Benchmark representatives Vagn Hansen II and Jason Epley had their first planning session with the board. Before settling down to business, the Benchmark representatives, town staff and elected officials (except Kim Quinn, who was not present) tucked into some sandwiches and cookies.
The meeting began with Hansen seeking input from the board — “We don’t want to have a plan that is misaligned with your expectations” — then asking how transformative a plan was desired.
Town manager Michael Boaz answered, “Transformative.”
Epley then asked the board, “What is your greater vision?” He then reminded them that this is the very beginning, and there is no bad idea.
Mayor Dwight Atkins started off by saying, “What I see now is a town that is very automobile-oriented. It’s probably been that way since the street was paved. More of a pedestrian thing is a portion of my vision. That, and branding with the park (Pilot Mountain State Park).”
Commissioner Evan Cockerham stressed his interest in attracting the younger generation, saying studies have shown they prefer a renovated downtown to shopping malls.
“Make it walkable,” said Commissioner Gary Bell. “We can’t make it look like Disney World in two or three years. We’re not a tourist town. We’re not a business town. We’re a small town with a mountain sitting in our backyard.”
Bell added that he had talked to people from all over the country — New York, Texas, Seattle — and they had all heard of Pilot Mountain. “They know where it is,” he said. “But they don’t stop. We’ve got to give them a reason to stop. It’s all about restoring instead of tearing down.”
Commissioner Linda Needham spoke of the friendliness of downtown, stressing the importance of being able to walk, and ended with, “I think the town could use some freshening up.”
Hansen said he had been investigating some different traffic and parking configurations, including diagonal parking, noting that some people don’t like to parallel park.
Mayor Atkins said he had recently counted 11 vacant or unused buildings on Main Street.
“It’s a good thing those businesses are vacant,” said Epley. The board will get less resistance.
Bell countered with “If you put an orange construction cone in one of those parking spaces, someone is going to complain.”
“I’ve done a lot of road trips and I stop at specific places,” added Bell. “There was a reason I stopped in those places.”
“Yes,” said Hansen. “All of those places had a plan.”
The second, and longer portion of the meeting was an intensive review of the Downtown Design Overlay District, which does not correspond exactly to any one zoning designation, but overlays requirements and rules specific to downtown.
Hansen said his goal in rewriting these rules was to remove the need for the Board of Adjustment to deal with issues relating to DDO. He said if the rules were specific enough, requests could be handled with administrative approval. If a property owner disagreed with the initial ruling, they could appeal the matter to the Board of Adjustment.
The newly written rules would no longer require a permit application, only a design review application which would not require the use of an architect or design professional.
Hansen said this would make the process more user-friendly to property owners, stating the current rules say, “If you want to paint something, you have to get an architect. That is not the most efficient use of anybody’s time.”
“We need to make the zoning ordinance so a zoning administrator can look at an application and know if it’s going to fly,” said Hansen.
“If we say brick, we mean brick, not horizontal wood siding.”
Hansen, Epley, and the town officials spent the next hour and a half poring over the minutiae of when they meant brick and when they meant horizontal wood siding, along with dozens of other specific requirements for new construction within the overlay district.
As the meeting wore on, Hansen kept bearing down on making every decision with the purpose of creating a downtown that is retail- and hospitality-oriented, pushing for instance, a large percentage of glass required for first floor facades, saying they’re more conducive to those desired businesses.
“But glass is so hard to clean,” said Bell.
“Window washers,” said Cockerham. “We’re creating jobs.”
“We’ve got some notes. We need to change some things,” said Hansen, as the designers go back to Charlotte to continue with the plan.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.