Sidewalks fuel debate in China Grove
by Jessie Burchette
CHINA GROVE ó An information session Monday evening on miles of planned sidewalks turned into a shouting match between an alderman and the town manager.
And few of the residents had anything good to say about having a new sidewalk. Some said it’s a way to hike taxes while others suggested the money would be better spent fixing potholes or repairing existing sidewalks.
The town has received a $632,000 federal air quality grant to add new sidewalks, with construction to start in October.
Alderman Allen Welter charged that Town Manager Bill Pless had withheld detailed drawings of the sidewalk placements.
“All aldermen should have had it. Instead, two people got it,” Welter said, referring to Aldermen Ron Overcash and Lee Withers.
Pless said he hadn’t withheld anything.
Welter said he had asked for the material and never gotten it, saying the town needs more transparency.
“What is this transparency?” Pless shot back.
Mayor Don Bringle stepped in, saying he had appointed a committee of Withers and Overcash to prepare for letting town residents know about the sidewalks and potential impact. Bringle said he anticipated it would be very volatile.
Few of the nearly 50 people attending the information session at the Community Building had anything good to say about getting a new sidewalk next to their home.
Some blamed former Town Manager Eric Davis for getting the grant to construct new sidewalks in seven different areas of town. At one point, Pless stood up to defend Davis, saying the project was approved by the town board, and Davis shouldn’t be vilified for it.
“It was Eric Davis’ idea ó I’ll vilify him for it,” Welter said.
Terry Conner asked why residents didn’t get to vote on the project.
Pless said the town board routinely handles many items of town business and suggested more people should attend the meetings, instead of the 10 or 12 regulars.
Some were more concerned about specific impact on property. Jamie Morgan, chief executive officer of the Rowan County YMCA, said a proposed sidewalks would come within 3 feet of his mother’s window.
“We’re not going to do something like that,” Rob Bernard, an engineer with Pease and Associates, said. He added that the plans have room for flexibility.
Bernard and town officials repeatedly emphasized that changing the entire project is not an option.
While many of those who are targeted for new sidewalks don’t want them, others called for sidewalks on the south and north ends of town.
Pless said if the town drops any sections of the project, the money will have to be reverted to the state.
Wayne Starnes called for residents to sacrifice a little, saying the overall project is in the best interest of the town.
Starnes worried that if the town rejects the project and sends the money back to Raleigh, it will affect the potential for future grants.