The recently displaced Waxhaw Board of Commissioners met July 30 to discuss both short-term and long-term options for a new town hall, which they suddenly desperately need.
The board has been working out of the new Waxhaw Police Department since finding mold contamination in the old town hall in mid-June. Members are now trying to conciliate the need for an immediate home with a more long-term plan that will have to take the town staff’s projected growth into consideration.
For some members, the answer to both problems lies only about a football field away, right across the parking lot.
The Novant Medical Park is a 26,000-square-foot building that shares a parking lot with the Waxhaw Police Department and is currently available for lease or sale. There is about 4,500 square feet currently available within the building, with 6,000 more square feet being used for shelf space by the medical group that currently owns it. The town, through purchasing the building, could acquire that extra space as a whole or gradually move into offices as needed while renting out what’s not being used.
To most commissioners at the meeting, this presents a perfect opportunity to station themselves near other public service personnel and begin a new history for central government in Waxhaw. For Mayor Daune Gardner, however, this option represents a detachment from the history Waxhaw already cherishes but instead concedes to the suburban sprawl developing in the northern part of the town.
Gardner hopes a new town hall could be placed within a mile radius of Waxhaw’s historic downtown, the “bull’s eye” of which she places at the intersection of N.C. 16 and N.C. 75. The Novant Medical Center sits about a half-mile north of that radius, closer to the fast-growing developments popping up in the northern part of town and Charlotte, where many Waxhaw residents work.
More importantly, Gardner said, the decision is being rushed without public input because of the urgent nature of the matter.
“The location of town hall is going to be pivotal to the growth of this community,” she said. “This question is certainly something we need to get the public to weigh in on. It needs to be a more-involved conversation than just to say, ‘Hey, this is something we’ve been thinking about.’”
Commissioners John Hunt and Paul Fitzgerald argued that the emergency situation regarding office space has presented them with what could become a golden opportunity to acquire a new building near other relevant public services. It also would have the potential to create revenue through renting unneeded space within the medical center, they said.
Hunt agreed with Gardner that public input should be considered, but feared that the time to act could pass them by. Commissioners were elected and therefore hold the trust of the citizens to make the right decision when they need to, he said.
“If we have an opportunity in front of us and we don’t take it, we may never get another one like it,” Hunt said. “Especially not one that’s sitting right across from us like it is now.”
While commissioners agreed that feedback from citizens is important in a decision like this, not all were as concerned as Gardner about bringing town hall further north on Providence Road South. Some believe that development was simply going to continue growing in the northern part of the town despite any attempts to direct it south. They cited the weak infrastructure south of N.C. 75 and the growing population of people who commute to Charlotte every day to work.
Gardner repeatedly brought her point back to the Downtown Vision Plan, an award-winning project that town staff developed to help spur development and investment in the downtown area. She pointed to research from the project that stated that a library, a post office and a town hall are all anchors to a thriving community and should all be within a certain distance to the center of town.
“We’re going to have a hard time maintaining the culture of Waxhaw if we don’t bolster downtown against the suburban sprawl of Charlotte pushing in on us,” Gardner said.
Mayor Pro Tem Michael Stewart was not buying the anchor theory, however, and after a full day of meetings was ready to make a decision one way or the other.
“Show me quantifiable data about a town that has failed for that reason and I will believe it,” Stewart said. “At some point someone needs to draw a line. We have to move forward and call it.”
What followed was a compromise that does not yet answer any questions but takes steps toward finding the board a home and then finding out what people have to say about it later.
A motion filed by Hunt stated that Interim Town Manager Greg Mahar would immediately begin inquiring about the details of either leasing or buying the Novant Medical Center. A second motion filed by Gardner set 2015 as the beginning of public discourse regarding the location of a long-term town hall.
Both motions unanimously passed but public feedback could prove irrelevant if staff decides to buy the Novant Medical Center before the year ends.
Following the meeting, Gardner said juggling the two motions could be “tricky” and vowed to continue lobbying for what she believes the residents want, or at least letting them have their say.
“I don’t know if they passed my motion just to shut me up or if they took it serious,” she said. “We’re already at a disadvantage as far as keeping the character of our town. I fight every chance I get to direct our attention to increasing that fighting chance.”