I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked this question. When I first began writing about this I had gotten five pages in and realized there is so much involved that it would take a book to explain it all. So, in order to help you understand I have tried to break this all down as short and as sweet as possible.
Ridge Church was planning to expand to a 400 seat 45,000 feet facility with the hope of including the Savour catering property. Included in this expansion they wanted to purchase 0.3 acres of property where the water tower once stood at 1021 Matthews-Mint Hill Road. After the removal of the water tower the property was dubbed Matthews’ Stone Hedge. At one time there was talk of a pocket park but the property is too small to do anything with.
September 12, 2016 Board of Commissioners Meeting – Ridge Church had submitted a request to purchase the 0.3 acres located at 1021 Matthews-Mint Hill Road. The property was appraised for $41,600 and would have to go through the upset bid process. There had been talk by the NCDOT to widen and realign Independence Pointe Parkway (IPP) but according Stuart Basham of the NCDOT this had not been discussed since mid-to-late 2013. Town Manager Hazen Blodgett’s explained that if improvements are made by the church than the NCDOT will have to purchase the land at a higher price and the NCDOT is using taxpayer dollars. With the property just sitting there some commissioners did not see the need to hold onto the property. Commissioner Miller noted “the property is doing nothing right now so the Town may as well invest the $41,600 and let the chips fall as they may.” Commissioner Ross wanted to proceed forward due to the unknown issues of the future development while Commissioner Urban noted they needed to be cautious of the unknown issues. Commissioner Whitley said the church is moving my faith. Commissioner Higdon noted the higher price would be paid by all taxpayers of North Carolina not just the citizens of Matthews. The pastor of Ridge Church spoke stating “they understand the risks and the need to take into consideration what the DOT is proposing and they are willing to work with the DOT in the design of that corner – they have always been willing to do that.” It was motioned by Commissioner Miller to authorize the sale through the upset bid process which was seconded by Commissioner Urban and was unanimously approved. Even though Commissioner Melton supported the vote he was apprehensive because he could see problems in 8-10 years. Mayor Taylor was not present during this meeting.
September 26, 2016 Board of Commissioners Meeting – During this meeting a resolution had to be approved authorizing the upset bid process for the sale of the property. Mayor Taylor stated “he thinks the sale of the property is a bad move by the Town. He believed that the Board is looking at the short term view of selling the property and staff had advised strongly against the sale.” He reviewed the need of the property for the expansion of Independence Pointe Parkway (IPP). His main worry was that maybe taxpayers would have to pay a higher price in the future if the town sold the property to the NCDOT. He also felt the resolution was flawed and should be worded better and asked the Board to reconsider the sale of the property or defer approval of the resolution until October 10, 2016. Discussion continued and it was motioned by Commissioner Whitley to correct the resolution and move forward with the upset bid process. Commissioner Miller seconded the motion passing 5-2 with Mayor Taylor and Commissioner Melton opposing.
October 10, 2016 Board of Commissioners Meeting – Discussion of the widening/alignment of IPP began once again. C.J. O’Neill explained that the widening and alignment of IPP was years away from a final design and that the staff has worked with NCDOT and there is no timeline of the project. Commissioner Higdon was “perplexed” that this was once again on the agenda and felt the Town should not stop the sell of the property since the process has already begun. Commissioner Melton raised the concern “that the Board may be making a decision very quickly.” Once again Mayor Taylor noted that this was a bad idea and that it was a wrong decision to sell the property that has been identified as “needed property” which will cause NCDOT to buy back at a higher price. Discussion continued and it was decided not to take any action, and the upset bid would continue until October 17, 2016 ending at 5:00pm.
October 24, 2016 Board of Commissioners Meeting – Once again on the agenda (yes, you guessed it) the purchase of property by Ridge Church. The pastor spoke once again about the church’s desire to purchase the property and they understood there was a lot to consider, but they were fully committed to working with the Town and NCDOT. Now that the bidding process has ended the only offer made was by Ridge Church. They offered exactly what the property was appraised for $41,600. Commissioner Higdon motioned to accept the bid which was seconded by Commissioner Miller. Unfortunately, Commissioner Urban made a substitute motion to defer the decision to November 14, 2016. During this meeting Mayor Taylor noted that two emails had been received from interested parties that were against the sale of the property and that “he will support the motion to defer and will support a future motion to not sell the property as it is not in the best interest of the town to sell the property.” Commissioner Ross questioned why the deferral and Commissioner Urban stated he was “extremely supportive of the church,” but he still had questions about the technical merits. Commissioner Higdon stated that no one knew exactly where the alignment for IPP would exactly be. Commissioner Miller, who made an excellent point, stated “someone is bringing in Wyatt Dixon, the Brigman family, Mr. Brawley and others and feeding information to Mr. Urban to campaign against this.” It was then motioned to defer to November 14, 2016 passing 5-2 Mayor Taylor and Commissioners Higdon, Ross, Urban and Melton in favor Commissioner Miller and Whitley opposed.
November 14, 2016 Board of Commissioners Meeting – During this meeting Mayor Taylor noted that work had been done to protect the interest of the Town and Ridge Church. Commissioner Urban even noted there was a lot of miscommunication and no one on the Board was a villain. In order for the Town to move forward and agree to approve the bid a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was required by the Town. Commissioner Higdon was not in favor of the MOU and stated “the verbiage change doesn’t alter the legalities of the MOU but that the uncertainly issue relating to the future road alignment was why he voted for the sale in the first place.” In the MOU it noted the property as “being in the path” he wanted to change the word to say “possibly” since it was not clear where the alignment was going. The motion to accept the bid and authorize Mayor Taylor to sign the MOU with no revisions passed 6-1 with Commissioner Higdon in opposition.
December 12, 2016 Board of Commissioners Meeting – Now that the bid has been accepted and Ridge Church owned the land they were requesting a zoning change from B-H(CD) & B-1 to B-1(CD) for the former water tower property. According to Mayor Taylor due to the newspaper not properly publicizing the zoning application for the February 13, 2017 Board of Commissioners meeting the zoning vote had to be rescheduled to March 13, 2017.
March 13, 2017 Board of Commissioners Meeting – Zoning application 2016-654 Ridge Church Ministries was up again for discussion. This meeting has now become a discussion of parking spaces, ingress, egress, storm water, retention ponds, saving trees, sidewalks, utility lines, building materials, decorative blocks and the list goes on. Oh and yes, once again the issue of the possible widening/alignment of Independence Pointe Parkway. According to the NCDOT the design of the IPP project will be a design-build which means there will be no design until the right-of-way acquisition. All this information would then to be presented to the Planning Board and back again to the Board of Commissioners for a final decision on April 10, 2017.
April 10, 2017 Board of Commissioners Meeting – Ms. Dement of the Planning Board began to explain that four members were in favor for approval and three were against. She also stated “One significant issue was in relation to taxes – the loss of tax value with the decrease of taxable property for the catering business and the applicants’ disinterest in surrendering their tax exempt status. A motion was made to recommend denial, but that motion failed and no substitute motions were made.” Mayor Taylor questioned why this happened and disapproved of the Planning Boards actions. Commissioner Miller motioned to approve the rezoning which was seconded by Commissioner Higdon. Commissioner Urban felt the architectural standards were incomplete so Commissioner Miller amended his motion to include the latest revised renderings which Commissioner Higdon seconded. Commissioner Melton was not ready to support the application due to the Planning Boards’s default of the recommendation. In the end the motion passed 5-2 with Commissioners Higdon, Miller, Ross, Whitley and Urban in favor. Mayor Taylor and Commissioner Melton opposed.
MY OPINION – As I said, I have been asked many times what was going on but just like everyone else I was just as confused. To sell or not to sell, that was the question. The one thing I have learned when dealing with Matthews there is always more going on than is being disclosed. The more the public is kept in the dark the better. The only thought I had was, who owns the property across the street? So with my trusty computer I quickly learned there is approximately 124 acres that connects to the Sportsplex. You see, there is hope of including this with the future Entertainment District so by approving the sale of the property this could affect the property owners plans for development. If IPP is to continue as one complete straight road than it will have to shift in order to avoid the power lines owned by Duke Power. I have been informed that if the church makes the improvements this could (maybe) affect the alignment or even delay the road itself. Furthermore, the property was publicly for sale so anyone had the right to offer a bid by October 17, 2016 and for Mayor Taylor to express the concern of the property owners disapproving the sale during the October 24th BOC meeting is now irrelevant. I have no problem of someone wanting to develop or sell their property, but just because someone has an established name here in Matthews does not give them top priority over anyone else in my book.
It was also argued by the Mayor and Town Manager that when and if needed the NCDOT would use taxpayer dollars to purchase the property back at a higher price. Give me a break. Mayor Taylor currently receives an annual salary of $15,750.00 plus $3,900.00 annually. That’s a total of $19,650.00 making him one of the highest paid mayors for a part-time position. He also receives a technology allowance of $3,600.00. It was $3,500.00 but last year the Mayor and Commissioners approved an increase. Town Manager Hazen Blodgett currently receives a annual salary of $135,000.00. He also receives a $350.00 monthly car and $85.00 monthly cell phone allowance. Not to mention insurance and retirement plan. Excluding one or two years he has received an increase every year since 2003. When he first came to Matthews in 2003 he even received a temporary mortgage expense of $843.00 for twelve months. I believe in paying someone for what they are worth but how much more does one need? So, it is pretty hard to believe there is a genuine concern for the citizens of Matthews when they have no problem lining their pockets.
Due to the delay after delay, not to mention all the drama, apparently members of the church began to wonder what the heck was going on. Why was the church being put through all this? So, the pastor sent a special message to the members of the church explaining what they had been through. Now, from what I can see our Town Clerk forwarded the letter to Commissioner Melton, who then forwarded to Mayor Taylor and the conversation went like this.
November 7th @2:47pm Commissioner Melton “it is my understanding that this document was distributed to the congregation of Ridge Church last Friday, November 4.” Which did not sit well with Mayor Taylor @3:10pm he responded with “Thanks, You should share this with Urban as well. This shows me that Mr. Brown is intentionally distributing incorrect information to his church in an effort to gain support and pressure an emotional vote by council. The more I see from this guy the less I trust him. To me, he has sealed his own fate in my mind. JPT” Commissioner Melton did forward to Commissioner Urban and responded to Mayor Taylor. “Done.” Commissioner Urban then responded @ 4:23pm with “Well that wasn’t very nice.” Which ended with Commissioner Melton @ 4:57pm staying “nope”. Commissioner Urban then forwarded to Kress Query who’s not even a commissioner. Wait a minute, What? What does Kress Query have to do with this? After Mayor Taylor and Commissioners Melton and Urban had finished their dirty little circle of gossip the letter was eventually shared with all the Commissioners, note how he included Mayor Taylor and Commissioner Urban. It was then learned by the church that Commissioner Melton had received a copy of the email and a meeting was offered to address any concerns. Mayor Taylor’s response was “I’d love to walk in on that meeting and see him say those things to my face. I doubt he has the nerve to do that.” Commissioner Melton responded with “I’m your huckleberry”. Unbelievable, this is our leadership? Again, only Commissioner Urban was included with this email exchange which has granted them the naming of the Three CORRUPT-kateers.
Do you not find it appalling that here in Matthews we have leaders who behave in such a manner? Remember Commissioner Urban stating he was “extremely supportive of the church”? Well in a email to Mayor Taylor he had a different opinion. As for his “villain” statement, sorry, I beg to differ. In the end the church made an apology for the letter but so far I have seen no apology made to the church for the statements made by Mayor Taylor and Commissioners Melton and Urban.
Lastly, once again Mayor Taylor has included a private email account. After the Town of Matthews v. Wright deception you would think he would have learned his lesson. No, not Mayor Taylor during email exchanges he forwarded emails to his Wells Fargo account. Now what would be the purpose of this? I do not know, but a public records request has been made. It’s time to drain the dirty little pond here in Matthews.
I’m sorry this posting is so long, but hey you just can’t make this stuff up. Thanks for reading
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