ST. PAULS — The St. Pauls Board of Commissioners gave the thumbs up Thursday night to an ambitious plan developed by town residents to lure new residents and visitors.
Members of the town’s Small Towns Economic Prosperity Committee made a presentation to the board outlining how they hoped to attract people with marketing, beautification projects and new recreational opportunities. About 25 STEP members crowded Town Hall for the 20-minute presentation.
The group needed the town’s approval before seeking a $100,000 grant from the N.C. Rural Center. If approved by the state, implementation of the project can begin in January. The group would have 16 months to spend the money.
The STEP team’s goals include recreational options such as a fitness trail and the renovation of existing town parks to attract sports tournaments. The group also wants to build a dog park to pull travelers off Interstate 95.
According to the committee, the recreational component is expected to cost about $33,000, with about $16,000 of that for the dog park.
Commissioner Buck Terry, the sole board member to vote against the plan, said he does not think a dog park would be a good use of the money.
“I want everything else, but the dog park,” Terry said. “Everything else is great.”
STEP member Sue Hudson, calling the dog park “a cutting-edge idea,” told the board that it would have to approve or reject the plan as a whole and could not alter parts of it.
“The dog park is a perfect way to attract people to St. Pauls and to stay longer,” Hudson said. “We can have people drive through town to reach the dog park and see everything else on their way.”
The proposal also includes facade improvements, creating green spaces and the formation of a community garden and food forest.
The STEP team also wants to establish a workforce and skills development educational center at St. Pauls Middle School in partnership with Robeson Community College. The proposed educational hub would cost $7,000.
Business seminars and job fairs are included in the project.
Other efforts include improving the website presence of the town and its businesses and promotional brochures at welcome centers.
“We want people to know that we’re here,” said Anne LaRue, a STEP committee member. “One way to do that is creating a stronger web presence for businesses, but also for clubs, churches and civic organizations.”
Those marketing efforts would cost an estimated $10,000.
Mayor Gordon Westbrook commended the committee for its 17 months of work.
“Thank you for all that you did,” Westbrook said. “It was a great job and I know a lot of work went into it.”
Also on Thursday, the board voted to amend a town ordinance on parking to allow Auto Zone to build a new store. The town had required retailers the size of the proposed store — 6,815 square feet — to have more than 60 parking spaces. The auto parts store only needs 29 spaces.
“This a general fix for the issue of commercial parking and not just for the Auto Zone,” Town Administrator J.R. Steigerwald said.
The store, which is expected to open in the spring, would create at least eight jobs.
In other business, the board voted to buy a commercial stove for the R.E. Hooks Community Building. The commissioners said they also plan to look into making the building more accessible to the disabled.
The board also approved two recommendations from the St. Pauls Planning Board.
The first was a permit request to allow Spirit of Power and Praise Worship Center church to locate in an existing building at 114 W. Blue St. The board also approved a request for a conditional-use permit needed to place a manufactured home on Mayflower Road.
At the end of the meeting, the board presented two plaques to outgoing District 1 Commissioner David Ayers.
“We’re going to miss you,” Westbrook said. “You’ve done a great job.”
Ayers lost his to for a third term to challenger Elbert Gibson.
“This is my last meeting and I want you all to know that I think this is a first-class organization,” Ayers said.
Gibson will be sworn in at the December meeting.
Scott Witten works for Civitas Media as editor of the St. Pauls Review and the Red Springs Citizen.