Holly Springs leaders want to accommodate a growing population by expanding their wastewater treatment capacity and improving communications with residents.
The Holly Springs Town Council identified those goals Friday as their top priorities for the coming year during the first half of a two-day retreat at the Mid Pines Inn in Southern Pines.
Council members also took a step toward loosening development requirements in downtown Holly Springs, blessed a plan to use the police station as a co-working space after police relocate later this year and debated whether they have an image problem.
In addition to identifying long-term ambitions, the council set its immediate goals for town staff.
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Acquiring federal and state funding for town projects, encouraging economic development and lobbying the legislature to preserve municipal rights and revenue streams were the third, fourth and fifth highest priorities.
Here’s a look at some of the town’s goals.
Treating more wastewater at the town’s Utley Creek Water Reclamation Facility topped the list because the town needs to accommodate ongoing growth.
The facility, which has the capacity to treat up to 6 million gallons of wastewater per day, is currently permitted to treat 2.4 million gallons per day. Town leaders hope to gain permission from state regulators to treat more wastewater as soon as possible.
Communicating with residents
Council members and staff need to do a better job of explaining town business to the public, councilman Hank Dickson said.
Dickson referenced recent confusion over a mixed-use project at the intersection of Holly Springs and Bass Lake roads known as Rhamkatte Village. The project was approved years ago, but some residents expressed anger toward council members when they recently approved an amendment to the plans that reduced the residential density and improved surrounding buffers.
“A lot of times folks are fighting something and learning about it at the same time,” Dickson said.
He asked staff to use social media more often to answer questions from residents and asked council members to consider adding another public relations staff member sometime in the future.
Downtown Holly Springs
Holly Springs instructed town staff to identify which town rules could be loosened to encourage more developer interest in downtown Holly Springs.
Town rules require developers to make road and sidewalk improvements before they build in downtown Holly Springs. The town’s appearance requirements are also stricter downtown than they are anywhere else in town, Town Manager Chuck Simmons said.
“We lost a nano-brewery because of it,” he said, referring to the town rules.
“For the smaller businesses, (building in downtown) just doesn’t work,” said Councilwoman Linda Hunt Williams.
The developer of a project, known as Mosaic on Main, that would bring two retail and office buildings to the corner of Earp and North Main streets, is optimistic construction will begin in the next year, said Gina Clapp, the town’s planning director.
Once changes are made, Williams said, “Maybe we need some sort of campaign to push the information out, to say ‘Holly Springs is open for business.’ ”
In a unanimous vote, the council permitted town staff to seek a deal with an Asheville businessman to use the police station on Ballentine Street in downtown Holly Springs as a co-working space.
Co-working spaces generally offer desk, conference and lounge space to anyone who’s willing to pay a membership fee.
The Holly Springs police department is expected to move to a new law enforcement center on Bass Lake Road later this year.
Council members said the police station would work well as a co-working space and that it would bring a new creative business community to downtown Holly Springs.
“It’s an incubator, and people are the egg,” Dickson said.
There’s interest for a co-working space in the community, said Jenny Mizelle, the town’s economic development director.
Work space for individuals is at such a demand that a local restaurant recently started limiting the amount of time customers can sit at their tables, Mizelle said. About 90 percent of U.S. businesses are micro-businesses, meaning they have five or fewer employees, she said.
“This is a unique opportunity for us,” she said.
Compensating the mayor
Council members asked town staff to come up with a clearer way of compensating the mayor for his or her time and activities outside of running town meetings.
The Holly Springs mayor earns about $15,000 a year – a wage that council members have voted to increase over the years because Mayor Dick Sears is retired and works at least 20 hours a week for the town, Simmons said. He also serves on several municipal boards.
“We’ve had a very active person in that position,” Simmons said. “He treats it like a full-time job.”
But future town mayors may not be able to work as much as Sears, so the council wants to make sure that the mayor’s pay accurately reflects the position’s responsibilities.
Simmons outlined his interpretation of council’s instructions.
“We need to take the personality out of it ... so it doesn’t become politicized,” he said. “To a certain point, it’s always gonna be subjective.”
Many of Holly Springs’ council members have served for a long time, which they noted results in a sometimes informal atmosphere at meetings. They sometimes joke with each other and refer to presenters by their first name.
But some think the tone of council meetings might be too casual. Dickson said the atmosphere is perceived by some as unprofessional.
“Two completely unrelated people brought this to my attention at two different times,” he said.
Councilwoman Cheri Lee told the group that a resident once complained to her that council members poke fun at Sears too much.
Sears said he doesn’t mind it. He likes keeping the mood light because he wants residents to feel welcome.
But Dickson said he thought the council members might benefit from hiring someone for a one-time lesson on appropriate meeting behavior and dealing with the media. Others disagreed, and the council moved on.
“I think, just sitting here talking about it ... we get it,” Councilman Tim Sack said.