Ignite High Point talks get heated

Proposal to narrow Main Street divides council
Jan. 08, 2014 @ 06:00 PM

Heated disagreements were on display during a City Council discussion of revitalization priorities identified in a new master plan.
The council’s Comprehensive Planning Committee on Tuesday debated some of the recommendations in the Ignite High Point master plan by Duany Plater-Zyberk.
The top priority in the study is to “road diet” a portion of N. Main Street through Uptowne High Point into one lane of traffic in each direction. Miami-based urban architect Andres Duany argues that doing so will help spur redevelopment of this key part of the core city. The City Project has made this its top priority in the Duany plan for implementation.
The project obviously can’t be done without the city authorizing it and likely making considerable public investment.
City officials have identified a firm, Kimley-Horn & Associates Inc. of Raleigh, that can do a detailed study of the road diet proposal for about $115,000. Main Street is part of the state’s highway system, and the N.C. Department of Transportation would require a traffic analysis study before the city could proceed with the idea of reducing part of the street from four to two lanes at some point between Lexington and Montlieu avenues.
During the committee’s discussion, Mayor Bernita Sims made a motion to move the proposed hiring of a consultant to perform the study to the council’s agenda with a favorable recommendation.
The motion failed when only council members Jeff Golden and Jay Wagner supported it. Council members Jim Davis, Jason Ewing, Britt Moore and Becky Smothers opposed it. (Council members Foster Douglas and Judy Mendenhall were absent.)
Proponents say reducing the street to two lanes will help draw more pedestrian traffic, which should, in turn, help the development of restaurants, retail and other types of businesses, as well as residential development, in Uptowne.
City officials say this stretch of N. Main Street is heavily traveled, with 18,000 to 25,000 vehicles per day, and a road diet would have to take into account the impact of diverting traffic on to surrounding streets. Officials said dieting the street would create some traffic delays, but not sustained gridlock.
“I don’t think the citizens are buying into dieting Main Street. Some of the other things on this list, they have interest in,” Davis said. “Based on conversations with (city staff), I don’t think its practical, so I, for one, do not support spending $115,000 on another study.”
Wagner couldn’t hide his frustration with the negative vote, pointing out that hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of public and private money were spent on the Duany study and the Core City Plan that preceded it. Both recommended that the city implement the road diet.
“Now we’re going to sit here and tell the City Project and the citizens that raised that money that we’re not going to bother to study their top priority?” Wagner said.
When Smothers brought up the idea of targeting the area between Gatewood and Ray avenues for redevelopment, Wagner said this was beyond the scope of the studies.
He argued that the council needs to implement Duany’s ideas to help bring about a “Plan B” other than the furniture market that will sustain High Point through the future.
“That market is owned by one entity,” Wagner said. “And all it’s going to take is for them to sell it to another entity. And all (the new owner) knows is, those buildings (in High Point) are getting old, and the ones in (Las) Vegas are not. And all it’s going to take is a majority of those people sitting around a room who don’t know our history with furniture saying, ‘Why are we screwing around with High Point?’ And it’s going to be gone. Have fun with your tax rate then, folks.”
When Smothers responded, “If you think dieting North Main Street four blocks is going to save us ...,” Wagner interjected. “It’s not, but it’s a step.”
He added, “It’s not just about the dieting thing; it’s about the overall attitude of council to this whole effort.”
Council members discussed other priorities — landscaping part of the library parking lot, refurbishing “the pit” area across from the High Point Depot, installing a bus shelter on Washington Street, landscaping in the SoSi area along S. Main Street and proceeding with a previous plan to bury overhead utility lines on N. Main Street — and some said these might be more feasible and less costly than the road diet.
City Project Chairman Richard Wood said the council needs to take the lead on the road diet.
“The investors in this community want to see the city do something. There’s money on the sidelines ready to invest, but people want to see something positive that the city is committed to,” Wood said. “We feel like road dieting is transformational for this entire program.”