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Zoning request for potential distribution center approved
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Morganton City Council

Zoning request for potential distribution center approved

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Some actions taken by the Morganton City Council this week suggested a distribution center might be on the horizon for the city.

Council members voted unanimously to approve a rezoning request for just less than 27 acres of land on Hogan Street to allow a distribution center on the property.

Specific plans for the distribution center were not shared at the meeting, but Alan Wood, president and CEO of Burke Development Inc., told the council it would be a good benefit to the city and county.

While officials didn’t name the business looking to open a distribution center there, county land records show the lot is owned by Maylenia LLC, a company that shares registered agents and an address with Kellex, according to state business records.

It’s not clear whether the company plans to retain the building or sell it to another business.

Wood said he thought the distribution center would bring “very desirable” jobs to the area.

“I know it can’t be a definite but there is significant investment in this project, and it would be a company that would use this just for distribution,” Wood said.

Basis for rezoning

The property had to be rezoned for two main reasons.

One was that the property’s previous zoning of high intensity district did not allow for distribution centers, but the exclusive industrial district did.

Another, though, was that the city’s 2030 Future Land Use Plan had designated the lot for use as planned destination commercial, which would have meant shopping, services, recreation, employment and institutional facilities were planned for it.

However, that plan was developed before Morganton Heights Shopping Center existed, the city said.

The rezoning request originally went before the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, which tabled the topic with plans to develop an amendment to the city’s high intensity district to allow distribution centers, said Phillip Lookadoo, director of the city’s Department of Development and Design.

Since the commission technically didn’t take any action on the item, the petitioner was able to appeal the no-action to the council, forcing a public hearing at Monday’s meeting.

Council members voted unanimously to allow the rezoning request, and directed the planning and zoning commission to draft an amendment to the zoning ordinance that would allow distribution centers in the high intensity district.

In other economic development news, the city will hold a public hearing on economic development incentives for a company that is planning to expand its Burke County operations.

The capital investment from the project, which officials are calling “Project Glides,” would be about $10 million, and it is expected to create 80 new jobs.

In a previous Burke County commissioners meeting, the address given for the project was 115 Wamsutta Mill Road, the same address as that of furniture company Ekornes. In early November, Ekornes announced plans to expand.

The company is hoping to apply for a building reuse grant for $500,000, for which the county and city would have to provide a 5% match of the funds. That would leave each entity paying $12,500 for a total of $25,000 in local dollars contributed.

The county and city also are considering local economic development incentives to support the expansion of the company.

For the city's end of the incentives, it would grant 50% of the new taxable investment for the first five years of the project, starting in the 2022-23 fiscal year. Based on the expected $10,000,000 investment and Morganton’s current 57 cents tax rate, that would be about $142,500 total over the five years.

The council will consider the incentives at its March 1 meeting with a public hearing to be held ahead of any action taken.

CARES Act funding

Council members also took action to set up a revolving fund for utility or rent assistance using some of the CARES Act funding it received last year.

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The city received $193,863 in CDBG-CV COVID-19 CARES Act funding last year. The funds have been distributed to nonprofits around the city who have expenses directly related to COVID-19 or to help programs for past-due utility assistance or past-due rent assistance.

There still was $55,363 in unallocated dollars from the CARES Act funding. The CDBG Committee recommended setting up a revolving fund so that agencies in need can get access to the funds quickly.

Most agencies have used or are using the funds allocated to them from this funding, but on March 1, any of the allocated funds that have not been spent yet to revert back to the city’s CDBG committee. The committee will decide that day whether to reallocate the funds or put the funds back in the funding pool.

Beach Street mapping

The bizarre case of the incorrect mapping of Beach Street came to a close at the meeting when the council moved to close the already unopened stretch of the road.

Many years ago, some sort of mishap allowed a previous property owner to construct a building on the city’s right-of-way on Beach Street, near the Morganton Farmer’s Market.

It’s not known what happened to allow that, but the current property owner, Airlie Inc., requested officials close and abandon the unused right-of-way so it can try to sell some of the property.

Airlie Inc. will dedicated the section of land that already is being used as a street to the city.

A public hearing was held, and no one objected to the closure.

New substation

It may be true that nothing good can ever come easy, even when it’s something the city has been working toward for years.

City officials for years have been working to find a location for a new substation to replace the outdated one near Case Farms.

Turns out, though, the best place for that substation will be on the campus of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.

“In working with our engineers to design and look at this project, there’s equipment that goes in that substation that has almost a 40-week delivery time,” said City Manager Sally Sandy at the meeting. “We need to get this station built, and NCSSM needs for us to get this station built, and they would like for it to be built before they bring full-time students to the campus.”

Council members approved a memorandum of understanding between the city and NCSSM for a utility easement for the substation.

In addition, council members also approved contacting with multiple providers to purchase the equipment for the substation for a total of $1,493,069, Sandy said. Twenty different contractors submitted bids for the equipment, and Sandy said she felt like the city was getting a good bang for its buck.

“There was a lot of competition and we obviously had a lot of interest in this project, which is exactly where you want to be,” Sandy said.

The amount awarded already had been included in this year’s budget for the substation, Sandy said, with the funding for it coming from a credit the city received on its wholesale electric bill. The project is not being financed.

The project’s total cost will end up being somewhere between $3-3.5 million, Sandy said.

City charter changes

Council members also passed a resolution requesting state representatives get changes made to the city’s charter, including:

  • Allowing the city manager to appoint a city clerk, where the charter currently says that the roles are to be shared by the same person.
  • Requiring that the city council fill any vacancy to the mayor’s seat within 90 days, which would make it match current requirements for council member vacancies.
  • Repealing a section of the charter that establishes a city board of elections, something the city hasn’t needed or used in years.
  • Amending the section on the city manager’s role to be gender neutral.
  • Updating the language around appointments to advisory boards to say that the mayor always has a vote on those matters, not just in the case of ties.

These changes will not go into effect unless and until the North Carolina General Assembly passes a local bill to amend the city’s charter.

In other actions, the council approved:

  • Minutes from its Jan. 4 regular meeting.
  • Advertising unpaid real estate tax accounts March 17.
  • A budget amendment to the water fund for $47,864 to recognize receipt of payment from a contractor for a water meter upgrade.
  • A $355,741.26 budget amendment to recognize COVID-19 CARES Act funding reimbursement.
  • A firearms trade with Smokefoot Trade and Pawn for $8,000 in store credit.

Chrissy Murphy is a staff writer and can be reached at cmurphy@morganton.com or at 828-432-8941. Follow @cmurphyMNH on Twitter.

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