Constitution of the United States of America – Amendment I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Currently the hot topic here in Matthews is the Super Street/East John Street Widening by the NCDOT. Citizens have posted their feelings and opinions which were responded by Mayor Taylor and Commissioner Melton on a Facebook page when they disagreed. So I would like to take a moment and opine.
Within the Township of Matthews the North Carolina DOT is planning to widen East John Street all the way into Union County beyond Sun Valley High School running approximately 6.5 miles long. So as you read this posting keep in mind the statements made by Mayor Jim Taylor.
We have been told that the council was not aware of this “super street” until last fall and according to Mayor Taylor in a Facebook post he stated “we have opposed the Superstreet concept since it was first suggested by the NCDOT” and “Make no mistake, Matthews Town Council is opposed to the current design” and he continues to state we are “adamantly opposed”.
The decision to widen East John Street was not made over night. It takes years of planning by the NCDOT. The Town of Matthews has known of the widening proposal for more than fifteen years as Mayor Taylor stated again in a Facebook post “This has also been a long time project of DOT and documented for more than 15 years”. In 2013, a project team from the NCDOT held a three day event which was known as a design charrette. They were seeking input for the design and considering other alternatives for this project. From August 27, 2013 thru August 29, 2013 our elected officials, Town Manager and Department heads attended this three day event. In attendance was…..
August 27th – Commissioner Jeff Miller
August 28th – Public Works Director CJ O’Neill – Commissioner John Urban – Commissioner John Higdon
August 29th – Commissioner John Higdon – Town Manager Hazen Blodgett – Public Works Director CJ O’Neill,
In a article written in September 2013 within the Union County Weekly, Commissioner John Urban is quoted as saying “In all of our conversations, (the Matthews Board has) seen (the project) as a tree-lined street. The thing I would encourage is I would put a no vote if there was no median there. We don’t want that situation that looks like a highway.”
According to the NCDOT they also held quarterly meetings with our Town Officials, planning/engineering department and Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) to discuss the planning and design for this project. On January 21, 2014 the NCDOT held a special meeting at South Piedmont Community College and all local officials of all municipalities involved were invited. It was also cc’d to our Town Manager Hazen Blodgett, Planning Director Kathi Ingrish and former Public Works Director Ralph Messera who attended this meeting.
In 2014 two meetings were held concerning the super street. One was on June 9th the other on September 8th. Now I believe in giving credit were credit is due so, during the June meeting Mayor Taylor did ask the NCDOT representative if it was “possible” for the Town Board to declare the project as too impactful and be ended. He also questioned if the DOT could tunnel underneath Trade Street, but this is where it stopped. The only commissioner who made it clear from the start was Commissioner Higdon. He stated “that none of the depicted options were acceptable, saying that the Independence Boulevard look is not desired in the historic district.”
On April 25, 2016 another Special Board of Commissioners meeting was held and Mayor Taylor’s concerns were how much impact would the Town Board/Staff or future Town Board have in the decision making of East John Street and stated that the Town would maintain the aesthetics’s because it needed to be aesthetically pleasing. This is a state maintained road which our state taxes cover so why would our local taxes be used? Commissioner Miller asked if the Greenway access was in the way and if the the road could lean more to the left. He also stated “I like the concept a lot” and he preferred the multi-use plan. Commissioner Ross did not like the bulbouts and again Commissioner Higdon was the only one who stood his ground stating this would have a negative impact on the Town.
On September 26, 2016 the Board once again held a Special Board of Commissioners meeting concerning the project and the NCDOT noted that this was the sixth meeting talking with Town Officials. Again Commissioner Hidgon made it clear that this will destroy the character of the Town and was not in favor at all. He went further and stated that “I don’t think we need another Independence Boulevard running through Matthews.” Commissioner Miller questioned the cross sections of East John Street and Trade and spoke about left turns lanes in each direction. Again, he stated “I support two lanes going in each direction”. Mayor Taylor had no problem with the lane count, although he was concerned with a signalized intersection at the future Greylock Ridge Road. He even made it a point to say when intersection’s are signalized this makes property values go up. I found this interesting because property that is located along East John Street is owned by a well-connected individual of the Town. Commissioner Urban did not have a issue with moving traffic at a high speed, he could see four lanes if it created a scale of character for the Town. Commissioner Ross thought that once all of the “in flight” projects are done property values would be a lot higher than now. And, with the future entertainment district and Sportsplex in full swing and with the Greylock Ridge Road/485 project going, all of these things will come together and change the whole dynamic of this corridor. Again, excluding Commissioner Higdon no one spoke in opposition.
When the Monroe By-pass was first proposed my home was on the list to be taken. So I understand the heartbreak when the DOT tells you they will be taking your home. With this being said, to the citizens who have been informed they will be losing their home’s I must warn you of what I am about to share, this is going to sting. On May 24, 2013 in a letter written by Town Manager Hazen Blodgett to the NCDOT he has “complied a list of concerns” for the super street/widening. I found concern number seventeen on page two very disturbing. It states “study alternatives to right-of-way being evenly widened on each side of the roadway, specifically in Segment A where single family houses front both sides; an option would be to push the widening to the north side and eliminate the existing individual small homes which are already close to the street, allowing future redevelopment of the residual land as an assembled site, possibly coordinated with land to its rear.” In other words, let’s do a study to eliminate the homes along East John Street because we would like to possibly develop the land. This letter was also presented during the 2017 Planning Conference but you will not find it listed within the Planning Conference packet, I wonder why? It should have been posted after page fourteen, in fact none of the documents that were presented by Mr. O’Neill are even posted.
So I ask you, is this a leadership in opposition? I find it very hard to believe the Mayor and Commissioners have opposed the super street from the very beginning as we all have been told. Excluding Commissioner Higdon no one has made a verbal stand and even within the Town minutes it does not show the Mayor and Commissioner’s have been “opposed” to the super street from the start. They want us to believe they are looking out for our best interest so this very important piece of information would have been included wouldn’t you think? Yes, there have been questions of, is it possible or could we, but that was the end of it. For more than fifteen years our Town Officials have known of the DOT plans and in 2013 a design charrette was held. This was the perfect opportunity to educate and inform the citizens in order to stop the super street if they were truly opposed, not spending the last three years planning and designing. Then there is the Town Manager’s letter. Unbelievable, what can you even say to that? The odds are pretty good that the Mayor and Commissioners are fully aware of the Town’s study concern’s. Now that the decision has come down to the wire and citizens of Matthews have organized in order to stop the super street the Mayor and Commissioner’s are claiming they have “opposed” and always have. Funny how things turn out that way when its an election year.
This is a State owned road so the final decision will fall upon the NCDOT. To the citizens who will be affected, to condemn property there must be a public purpose. Unfortunately the NCDOT is currently holding all the cards and the odds of wining are slim. I would recommend all property owners affected to band together and hire a attorney. I know of two really good ones, you can just shoot me a email on that. When the right-of-way acquisitions begin the more you know the better prepared you will be. There has also been a concern of the houses being moved back. IF my memory serves me correct and IF there is enough land the houses can be moved and this cost could be absorbed by the NCDOT. This would have been something that could have been negotiated by the Town of Matthews when the super street was first presented. I know this has been done in Charlotte. You have the right to speak up and protect your family and home. Do not be bullied or intimidated, this is a tactic that is used. Do not drink the “kool aid” that is currently being served.
Preserving the character of the Town has always been discussed and the NCDOT has always agreed and was willing to work with the Town on that. This has always been a done deal. What should have been top priority was protecting the families and their homes along East John Street, not requesting a study to eliminate them. If the super street can be decreased in size from Charles Buckley Way into Matthews, then why couldn’t the road be decreased in size a little further down in order to save as many homes along East John Street? If their homes were on-the-line I bet the outcome would have been different, but that’s just my view.
Do not fall victim of being used for political gain. This Town has a history of dishonesty when it comes to condemnation so I encourage you to read postings for June 2, 2014, May 2, 2015 and April 1, 2014.
THANK YOU AND PLEASE REMEMBER TO SUPPORT MATTHEWS WATCH BY TELLING YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS.