Plans for an extension of Mount Airy’s greenway system, which seemed to be moving right along, have taken an unexpected turn — including a call by one city official to cancel a contract for the project.
That development transpired during a meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners Thursday afternoon as officials were considering a resolution to allow a Winston-Salem-based organization to act as the city’s financial agent for a northern greenway connector.
Not only did the board opt for no action on that measure involving The Resource Institute — which has successfully obtained grants on Mount Airy’s behalf for previous greenway projects, but Commissioner Jim Armbrister sought to terminate an agreement between city officials and that entity which had been forged in February, after various concerns were aired about the proposed extension, including by local citizens.
“I think the smart thing to do right now is cancel this contract,” Armbrister said of the document for the building of a greenway connector north from Riverside Park to Jones Intermediate School and possibly all the way to White Sulphur Springs. In addition to the recreational benefits, the plans include restoration of eroded banks along the Ararat River, the route for the greenway expansion.
Among other concerns is the $400,000 the city government plans to spend on the project, for which Armbrister says there are more pressing needs.
However, City Attorney Hugh Campbell quickly intervened before any vote could be taken on a motion introduced by Armbrister to void the contract. Campbell suggested that he be given a chance to review the seven-page contract to pinpoint the terms of such a withdrawal.
“I think we need to be careful,” he said regarding potential legal ramifications of the move.
Armbrister then amended his motion to direct the city attorney to report those findings at the next board meeting on April 20. It passed 3-2, with commissioners Shirley Brinkley and Dean Brown voting in favor and board members Jon Cawley and Steve Yokeley against.
This vote came after Cawley successfully had introduced a motion to table action on the resolution authorizing The Resource Institute to be the city’s financial agent in seeking state grants for the greenway. It was approved 3-2, with Brown and Yokeley dissenting.
That resolution specifically mentions a $500,000 grant requested from the N.C. Division of Water Resources.
The total cost of the northern connector and river restoration is estimated at $5.7 million, of which Mount Airy has committed the $400,000 over a four-year period. The Resource Institute hopes to secure the bulk of the funding needed from grant sources, with city Public Works Director Jeff Boyles describing the resolution on the table Thursday as a “first step” in that acquisition process.
“You have the agreement in place right now,” City Manager Barbara Jones said of the document inked in February by Mayor David Rowe and a Resource Institute official. “This (the resolution) is just a part of that agreement.”
Commissioner Brinkley was skeptical, however, recalling what a congressional leader from California said to her colleagues when urging them to approve Obamacare to find out what was in the health-care bill.
“This is a Nancy Pelosi deal,” Brinkley commented Thursday afternoon regarding the greenway extension plan.
“Approve it and then find out what it’s all about.”
The critical comments by Brinkley and Armbrister, and the split votes among the commissioners, mirrored their lack of consensus regarding the greenway extension.
Depending on the route chosen, it would add about three miles to Mount Airy’s greenway network now totaling just under seven miles. That included a 2.2-mile link which opened last summer to connect the existing Emily B. Taylor and Ararat River greenways.
The route was one of the areas of disagreement Thursday afternoon.
The contract forged on Feb. 27 states that the new section would extend from the Ararat River Greenway at Riverside Park north to Jones Intermediate School and then to White Sulphur Springs, a private resort owned by local businessman Burke Robertson. The city manager says language in the contract allows that path to be altered.
An additional section planned would utilize a railway corridor from just north of Riverside Park to South Street, making a connection to the Emily B. Taylor Greenway.
While no exact route has been pinpointed for the northern greenway extension, with officials saying it likely would be built on the west side of the Ararat River, a potentially affected homeowner expressed his concerns to city officials Thursday.
Jason Pflug, a Riverside Drive resident who first commented about the greenway’s impact on his home during a commissioners meeting in November, said he had received no contact from any city officials or anyone else since.
“I wonder if I’m going to wake up one morning and see bulldozers in my yard,” Pflug said during a public forum portion of Thursday’s meeting.
He also questioned the need for more greenway mileage and the river restoration, and how many people actually would use that part of the trail system for biking and other purposes.
“I’d like to know the real reason for this greenway (extension),” Pflug said.
Two other citizens offered similar remarks Thursday.
“I do not think this is a good use of my (tax) money,” Paul Eich said of the expansion.
“I, too, think we’ve got enough greenways,” said John Pritchard, another citizen who spoke during the public forum.
One reason for Pflug not being contacted, according to the meeting discussion, was that since the route has not been picked, it is not known if his property will be affected.
Boyles, the public works director, said 24 different property easements would be needed just for an extension to Jones Intermediate, along with another 16, including Pflug’s site, if the route proceeds farther north.
“I’d like to see it just to Jones School,” Commissioner Brown said.
Boyles pointed out that this would allow the entire greenway network to be in the city limits, while essentially connecting it to all the schools in Mount Airy.
But Cawley had problems with that. “If we spend $400,000 and just go to Jones, I’m not sure that’s a good deal,” he said.
Armbrister said he didn’t want to devote that sum to a greenway extension, when the city is facing other major expenditures. Those include the redevelopment of former Spencer’s Inc. property now owned by the city government.
In addition, Armbrister thinks money should be set aside to pay for repairs to stream banks previously restored in the greenway system, which he says are deteriorating “rapidly.”
All this led up to his attempt to cancel the contract, with Armbrister pointing out that city officials can’t even decide among themselves where they want to go with the project.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.