LUMBERTON — City Council members on Wednesday gave initial approval for the pursuit of up to $500,000 in federal grant money to tear down the Ramada Inn on Kahn Drive to make way for new commerce.
The city leaders, meeting as the Council Policy Committee, also voted to save the city $13,000 by not having early voting days for the special election to fill the Precinct 3 seat that will be left vacant when Burnis Wilkins assumes his duties as county sheriff and the Precinct 7 seat left empty by the death on July 2 of Leon Maynor.
All actions taken on Wednesday will go before the City Council for final consideration during the meeting at 6 p.m. Monday in City Hall, located at 500 N. Cedar St. in Lumberton.
The City Council gave unanimous voice approval to the Planning Department’s request to begin the application process for a Community Development Block Grant of up to $500,000. The money would be used to demolish the Ramada Inn at 3608 Kahn Drive and redevelop the property that has been unused Hurricane Matthew roared through the county in 2016.
The property is owned by Harry Jhala, said Bob Moore, director of the Small Business Center at Robeson Community College. Jhala’s initial plans are to build a motel and a restaurant. Jhala plans to expand to two motels, three restaurants and, eventually, a convention center.
“They’re going to have to haul a lot of dirt in there,” Councilman Chris Howard said.
“A lot of dirt,” Moore said.
The council’s approval also cleared the way for public hearings on the grant application during City Council meetings in September and October.
“We’re trying to get the application before the state board in its October meeting,” said Brian Nolley, city Community Development administrator.
The board, part of the N.C. Department of Commerce’s Rural Development Office, is scheduled to meet Oct. 25, Nolley said. Assuming there are no problems with the application packet, the city could learn in mid-December if the grant has been awarded.
“I say let’s get it done in one day,” Councilman John Cantey said.
Cantey’s statement, which later became a motion approved by council members, was in response to City Attorney Holt Moore asking if the council members would accept his proposed schedule for the special election to fill the precincts 3 and 7 seats.
Moore’s proposed schedule called for a special election on Jan. 29, with candidate filing to start Nov. 23 and end Dec. 14.
“However, technically, as Nov. 22 is Thanksgiving and Nov. 23 is a county holiday, filing could physically not begin until Monday, Nov. 26,” Moore said. “We would make every effort to inform potential candidates of this slight twist.”
The county Board of Elections has determined that early voting is possible with this schedule, Moore said. The Elections Board director determined that an election with 14 days of early voting would cost the city $15,000. Allowing voters to cast ballots only on Jan. 29 would cost the city $2,000.
City staff must now write up a resolution approving the special election and a second resolution eliminating the early voting days. Both resolutions will be brought before the City Council for approval.
Also brought before the council members on Wednesday for their consideration was the insertion of new language into the city’s ordinance regarding occupied dwellings that don’t have utilities, such as water and sewer, and electricity. The council members approved the language clarifying that the city can take action to see that utilities are connected and operational or begin the process of evicting the occupants and declaring the dwelling unsafe.
The new language was crafted as the result of conversations between city staff and Councilwoman Karen Higley, according to Moore.
Higley spoke Wednesday of how rental agencies were allowing people to occupy residences before utilities were connected, creating potentially unsafe conditions. Homeless people are occupying empty homes and other buildings that are not connected to utility services, and city staff needs clarification on what actions they can take.
Wilkins told his fellow council members of one home in his precinct that does not have utilities and is occupied by a woman whose neighbors say she is engaged in prostitution. She and other people have been seen going into the back yard to use the bathroom, Wilkins said.
“This is why we need to clarify this,” Higley said.
The council members were told Wednesday that the city will be working with Thread Capital, a subsidiary of the N.C. Rural Center, to launch the Lumberton Entrepreneurial Assistance Program. The program involves the use of a $150,000 loan fund to be used to encourage the creation of new businesses and the growth of existing businesses in downtown Lumberton.
Start-ups can get low-interest loans of up to $20,000, and existing businesses can get loans up to $50,000.
“It’s another tool in the toolbox for people wanting to start a business,” said Brandon Love, city Planning and Inspections director.
Love said the program is not intended to take the place of primary lending agencies. The city’s involvement is limited to getting information and surveys to local businesses and people who may be interested in starting a business.
Interested residents and business owner can get applications and more information by contacting Connie Russ-Wallwork at 910-671-3876 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Council members gave initial approval Wednesday to accepting a $69,899 bid from Axel McPherson Construction Inc. to install about 350 linear feet of 6-inch water pipe, to include going underneath the Lumber River at Fifth Street. Axel McPherson submitted the lower of two bids submitted. The other bid was $81,132 from Columbus Utilities, Inc.
The project dates back to Hurricane Matthew, said Rob Armstrong, Public Works director. City money spent on the project is to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“This is how slow the FEMA funding process is,” Armstrong said.
In other business, the council members approved:
— Allowing the Lumberton Police Department to apply for the $35,003 2018 Edward Byrne JAG Grant, which will fund equipment, overtime, and training.
— Giving the city Building Inspector permission to demolish and remove structures deemed unsafe at 118 Warwick Mill Road, 525 E. 16th St., 211 E Ave., 102 E Ave., 715 E. 11th St. and 717 E. 11th St.
— An $84,958 change in the Lambeth Street Sewer Rehabilitation contract with Prism Contractors to pay for cleaning and repairing pipes not known to be damaged when the contract was first awarded.
— Allowing the Public Works Department to award the Wooten Company an $18,000 contract to study the First Street Drainage Basin, with the goal finding long-term solutions to the drainage problems.
— Allowing Public Works to give Gregory Poole a $29,425.68 contract to service city generators.
— Spending $30,358 to buy eight flow meters for water treatment plant well sites.
— Giving the Wooten Company the engineering services and administrative services contracts related to a $2 million CDBG grant to make sewer improvements in the Rosewood Mobile Home Park.
— Changes to the ordinance pertaining to political campaign signs to simplify the ordinance.
— Sending to the Planning Board a request from Roger Hunt to rezone properties on Kenny Biggs Road from Heavy Manufacturing to Agriculture to allow for use as single-family property.
— Sending to the Planning Board a conditional-use permit request for Quality Oil at 1510 W. Fifth St. to allow for the installation of outside propane tanks.
— Sending to the Planning Board a request to have property at Pine Log Road and N.C. 72 rezoned from Residential Agriculture to Business Community.
— Sending to the Planning Board a request from Commercial Site Design PLLC for a conditional-use permit for property located at 5000 Fayetteville Road to allow for the operation of a restaurant.
— Sending to the Planning Board a request from Russell and Edna Mayes to have property located at 2485 E. Fifth St. rezoned from Business General Commercial and Agriculture to Light Manufacturing.
— Sending to the Planning Board a request from Elhuni Ali to have property located at 2485 E. Fifth St. annexed into the city.