Low turnout for Spencer’s community forum

Published 12:05 am Friday, August 12, 2016

By Amanda Raymond

SPENCER — The Spencer Board of Alderman held a community forum with four audience members on Thursday night.

At the suggestion of alderman David Lamanno, the board held a community forum to talk with citizens about issues and needs around town.

“I just feel like it’s probably a good time to take stock and see if there’s anything else out there that we’re missing, hear from folks to see what kind of direction we need to take, let them voice any concerns that they have going forward,” he said while discussing the idea with the rest of the board at their meeting in July.

The board members agreed it was a good idea and scheduled the forum for last night at Town Hall.

Only four people attended: Patsy Duncan, who regularly attends Board of Aldermen meetings, Marla Gobbel, Mayor Jim Gobbel’s wife, Beverly McCraw, the town librarian and Jim Behmer, Salisbury-Rowan Utilities director.

The topics of the night were cleaning up the town and property maintenance.

McCraw said that after meeting and talking with people at the library, she kept hearing that many people purchased homes that they later realized they could not maintain and fix up.

“People would want to come and purchases houses and be more stable… (but) the owners are not willing to fix them up,” she said.

Mayor Gobbel explained that Spencer is in the process of creating a new housing code for the town “to establish new rules and regulations to repair and/or elimination of unfit or unsafe housing conditions in Spencer.”

He said they would use the same ordinance as Salisbury.

“We’re going to try to get that in effect in an attempt to raise the bar,” he said.

Gobbel also said owner-occupied properties and rental properties would be addressed the same way.

Gobbel discussed other improvements going on in the town, including the recent rezoning of an area off of Hunter Street for the Yadkin Historical Museum, as well as improvements he would like to see in the town, like possible bike lanes or mixed-use zoning in the business district.

When the conversation drifted to the maintenance of rental properties, Mayor Pro Tem Sylvia Chillcott said the new ordinance will address absentee landlords. She said it may be that landlords would have to present maintenance and repair plans for their properties so they could be held accountable.

Later in the meeting, alderman Kevin Jones said that part of the ordinance may turn potential landlords away in the short term, leading to vacant properties.

“I think it might get worse before it gets better,” he said.

Gobbel said if the landlords would not be willing to fix up and maintain the properties, they shouldn’t have properties in Spencer.

“The bar is going to be raised and this board’s going to have to do it or the public perception of this town will never, ever get back where it needs to be,” he said.

Alderman Mike Boone said there was a problem with Realtors directing possible homebuyers to other areas.

“I think it would be nice … if we had someone here in the town that you could direct those people to and they could give them some information maybe on the homes around town that are for sale…” Boone said, adding that the person might also show potential homebuyers the houses themselves.

Alderman David Smith said he has personally witnessed some situations where Realtors have not shown up to show houses in Spencer.

On the positive side, Jones mentioned that a couple moved to town recently and love the community’s amenities.

“I think keeping things like the ball park in good shape and Spencer Woods, I think those things will start to help bring people, especially younger people, into town,” he said.

The board and attendees also talked about the maintenance and clean up of sidewalks and yards.

After the forum, alderman Lamanno said he thought the town should hold another forum. He said just because this one had poor attendance, that doesn’t mean others will.

“It’s disappointing,” Mayor Gobbel said. He also wished more citizens would attend the town’s board of aldermen meetings.

Gobbel said he and the board members are there to serve the public and that is harder to do if the public does not voice their opinions and needs.

Contact reporter Amanda Raymond at 704-797-4222.