Just when it appeared that a controversial project to rehabilitate a downtown Mount Airy street was getting the green light and never again would be discussed by municipal officials, more detours have emerged.
This included a disclosure during a Thursday afternoon meeting of the city board of commissioners that the work on Market Street will not occur this fall as earlier announced, but delayed to next spring.
On July 20, the board approved spending nearly $300,000 on a streetscape project to improve the appearance of the historic Mount Airy venue that has fallen into disrepair in recent years, while also enjoying an influx of new businesses including a craft brewery.
In addition to adding features such as decorative lighting, granite curbing and scored sidewalks, it will include storm-drainage improvements to address recent flooding problems and new asphalt pavement for a rough street surface.
After awarding a contract for the project to PCS Construction Services Inc. of Mount Airy in July, city public works officials involved with the streetscape effort announced in August that the work was expected to begin in early September. That timetable included the project possibly being concluded by the end of October.
However, Public Works Director Jeff Boyles reported during Thursday afternoon’s meeting that the work will not happen this fall after all.
Boyles said he and City Engineer Mitch Williams had met with the contractor earlier in the week and it was mutually decided that waiting until spring to do the work would be best. This will avoid disruptions to affected retailers during the holiday shopping season and weather-related issues that winter can present, Boyles explained.
The disclosure by the public works director did not go over well with Commissioner Steve Yokeley, a staunch supporter of the streetscape plan since its origins, who said he was bothered by the delay.
“I thought we were going to have it done this year,” Yokeley said of a project that has weathered a long list of crooks and turns to reach this point.
“We talked about it for months and months and months,” he said in reference to a tedious process that has produced much debate among the commissioners — usually producing split votes as various stages have unfolded. This included a 4-1 decision in July to award the contract.
Concerns have been raised by some commissioners about the cost of the project for a street that is only a few hundred feet long, and the precedent being set which might prompt business owners elsewhere to demand similar enhancements.
But Yokeley and other steady supporters have pointed to Market Street’s growing potential as a tourist destination and its close proximity to the heart of downtown as well as the former Spencer’s industrial property where redevelopment efforts are under way.
Meanwhile, Market Street business owners have attended numerous council meetings this year to express concerns about slowness by city officials in addressing not only the street’s appearance but ongoing drainage problems they claim resulted from an earlier water-sewer rehabilitation project.
Yokeley suggested Thursday that the delaying of the project is just the latest in a series of snags — and a further slap in the face to those businesses, which have not been kept informed about its progress.
“I have talked to several of the business owners, and they have no idea what is going on,” he reported.
Yokeley said he wanted city staff members to contact each of the business owners on Market Street to make sure they are not in the dark.
He indicated that there could be one positive aspect of waiting until spring: ensuring that the work will be “done correctly” and not rushed through haphazardly.
More money appropriated
Another issue related to the Market Street work arose Thursday, involving the city government’s earlier purchase of property there containing eight diagonal parking spaces to ensure their continued public use.
During design work for the streetscape, it was discovered that the existing public parking space in question was actually privately owned, by an entity known as Main Street Granite, LLC, led by Rick and Charlie Vaughn.
In addition to setting aside nearly $300,000 for the street improvements, the city commissioners voted to spend another $22,750 this summer to buy the land and pay for a related property appraisal.
During Thursday’s meeting, the commissioners voted 3-2 to allocate another $2,042 to cover attorney fees accumulated by Main Street Granite during the property-negotiation process and reimburse it for surveying services at the site.
“These things that have been included were left out of the original ask,” City Attorney Hugh Campbell explained in reference to early price negotiations between the two sides. He said the extra expenses emerged after the vote to buy the property, a transaction that has not been closed on by the city as yet.
“I would classify this as an addition to the purchase price,” Campbell said.
“We did not leave it out — they left it out,” Mayor David Rowe said of the added costs not being included in the purchase price earlier approved.
The emergence of the tack-on items Thursday prompted debate among the commissioners about which side should pay what under such circumstances.
Each party typically supplies their own attorney fees, based on the discussion.
Commissioner Jon Cawley said the municipality, the buyer, is paying its legal costs, rendered by City Attorney Campbell. “And I think it’s OK to ask the seller to pay theirs.”
Cawley voted against allocating the extra $2,042, as did Commissioner Shirley Brinkley, but they were opposed by Yokeley and the board’s Dean Brown and Jim Armbrister.
Brown seemed to do so reluctantly.
“We are trying to avoid these last-minute payments,” he said of similar issues that have arisen with the board.
“So I understand why everybody’s disgusted.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.