Town commissioners might not get the advice they planned on, but the Swansboro Planning Board and Swansboro Historic Preservation Commission were happy to share their thoughts on establishing an appearance commission.
Several points were made as a result of the joint meeting of the planning board and historic commission. One of the key points is that the town might not need an advisory board to further the goal of appearance. Also, there is a feeling among the existing advisory panels that the town lacks the will to enforce existing rules and regulations and that the commissioners – the body that ultimately controls the town’s rules and regulations – are unwilling to stand behind citizen-approved mandates.
Scott Chadwick, chairman of the planning board, and Patrick Larkin, chairman of the historic commission, brought their members together in July at the request of the town commissioners.
Chadwick opened the session.
“The appearance committee – some may call it the ‘pretty committee’ – if you looked at the packet it’s pretty straight-forward what they’re doing,” he said.
Included in the information available to the panels – the “packet” to which Chadwick referred – is the bylaws for the appearance commission Wendell. It was one of several commissions from across the state that Commissioner Larry Philpott researched in coming up with the idea for introducing such a program in Swansboro. (See related article.)
He has said the appearance commission should not be about creating regulations, but instead offer and coordinate a residential and non-residential “beautification awards program.” Also, the panel should create activities to promote community awareness, and be part of a review process should a grant program be implemented.
Simply put, it should be a way to entice – not force – people to spruce up.
Chadwick said the first thought that came to him – with an eye toward the grant program evidently – is, “Where’s the money coming from?”
In a phone call to Main Street NC Chadwick said he found out that the program has not been funded since 2014.
The Swansboro Tourism Development Authority might have funds for “streetscape” improvement, Chadwick explained, but the TDA cannot provide funds for private businesses. He also mentioned that while Onslow County Tourism funds might be available, those funds could only go toward public projects, like sidewalk repair.
Noting that he liked the Wendell plan, Chadwick said, “My thoughts immediately went to fundraising.”
He cited the Mayor’s Ball from some years ago as an example of how funds could be raised. In one year, Chadwick said, the ball raised $14,000.
“I’m certainly in favor of having an appearance committee,” he said, before opening the floor for comments from members.
On a question from Sherri Hancock, a planning board member, Chadwick said Swansboro could choose to fund a grant program from the general fund. But he expressed caution.
“The town could decide to take money out of the general fund but I think there might some people who would take exception to that,” he said, “But you could do other things beside grants. You could do loans.”
Hancock was supportive.
“I do think it would be a good idea,” she said.
Ed Binanay, a member of both the planning board and the historic commission, had reservations.
”I’m going to challenge the two boards,” Binanay said. First, he asked, “Is it really necessary?” He believed the planning board and the historic commission – though they cover different aspects of appearance – both have an interest in appearance.
Second, he noted, “We have really struggled with enforcing the rules and regulations we have.”
If new rues are added, “Who’s going to enforce that?”
Binanay suggested looking at the rules, regulations and bylaws of the planning board and historic commission and maybe forming a subcommittee from between the two.
“We have rules and procedures and policies that need to be enforced and we just don’t have the resources,” Binanay said
Chadwick pointed out that in Wendell, the committee works on appearance improvement proposals and then hands off to the commissioners
Of the appearance committee proposal, Laurent Meilleur, a planning board member, said, “This is the current shiny object.”
Like Binanay, he said the town has appearance policies.
“We already have things in place that are supposed to be guiding our commissioners,” Meilleur said. He mentioned previous plans that were citizen-sourced and that speak to appearance, such as for The Gateway and the land-use plan.
“We have to have a board with the internal fortitude to follow through with it,” Meilleur said. “That’s my concern.”
This board of commissioners has not been a strong advocate for plans and improvements developed through citizen panels, according to Meilleur.
“The concern I have with this, number one, is funding,” he said in summary. “Number two, … is once a business or a landowner expresses an ounce of resistance things don’t happen.
“If the board of commissioners wants us to put in the effort … we need to have a commitment that they will follow through. Thus far don’t see it. Every time a special use comes up, there’s a debate (and) there are certain commissioners that will always side with the developer or the landowner and often times it gets waited out. They need to express … a commitment to following through.
“I’m sorry to rain on peoples’ parade, but …”
Christina Ramsey, a member of both the planning board and historic commission, said she believes the two boards in place could accomplish the same goals. But, she added, without funding, it would not succeed.
“The economic picture is disturbing to me,” Ramsey said.
Jonathan McDaniel, a member of the historic commission, called the proposal a challenge.
In his comments, Larkin said he feared that appearance requirements could be financially hurtful to some.
“Putting something together like this would be detrimental to those that are less fortunate than others,” he said.
And, Larkin added, without adequate infrastructure to support the commission, “It’s not a great idea.”
Binanay said the two boards should come together to identify a source of funds for a grant process. With funding and a decision on how to use the funds, he said, “Maybe the two boards can then decide which way to go.”
Chadwick agreed with that.
The message to the commissioners, Chadwick said, could be, “While we like the idea … we don’t need a separate board to do it. We have boards in place that can do this.”
Binanay suggested the two boards meet jointly on a regular basis, twice or four times a year.
Chadwick asked Ansell if she could take the idea to Philpott and the commissioners for an opinion. But he was optimistic they would be supportive.
“I think they would be tickled to death if we met as often as we liked to come up with ideas to improve the town’s appearance,” Chadwick said. “I don’t think that’s an issue.”
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