Siler City board evaluates 5-year economy improvement plan

Posted 4/21/21

SILER CITY — The town’s board of commissioners entertained a presentation on Monday from representatives of the N.C. Main Street & Rural Planning Center — a subset of the N.C. Dept. of …

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Siler City board evaluates 5-year economy improvement plan

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SILER CITY — The town’s board of commissioners entertained a presentation on Monday from representatives of the N.C. Main Street & Rural Planning Center — a subset of the N.C. Dept. of Commerce — who have worked for more than a year in partnership with an 11-person steering committee of town leaders to develop a community economic recovery and resilience initiative.

The task force, dubbed the Siler City Economic Development Strategic Five-Year Plan Steering Committee, was commissioned shortly before the pandemic’s start. Its members include such local leaders as Siler City Commissioner Lewis Fadely, Chatham Advanced Manufacturing (CAM) megasite owner Tim Booras, Pastor Cecil Wilson and Siler City Realtor Cindy Dameron. After several months in hiatus following 2020’s pandemic lockdown, the group adjusted its plans and resumed activity last summer via Zoom.

After more than 10 official meetings, and several subcommittee conferences, the committee finalized its 67-page report at the end of last month. On Monday, MS&RP economic development planners Bruce Naegelen and Ann Bass presented the team’s findings and recommendations. “The town of Siler City is in a position to see economic growth,” Naegelen said, “and it’s going to come. So in order to help you plan and prepare for that growth, we have completed the Siler City economic development strategic five-year plan.”

The plan, which includes four strategies, “is really the most important (segment) of the whole presentation,” Naegelen added. “... It takes strategies, which are really broad visions, and then narrows each to a specific goal.”

Goals are further subdivided into “objectives” and “actions.”

The proposed strategies for Siler City are to foster a lively and multi-cultural downtown; establish safe, connected neighborhoods; cultivate creative business and innovative industry; and promote an inclusive, healthy community.

Naegelen did not step through the entire comprehensive action plan, which is 13 pages long. But the entire report will be available on the Town of Siler City website pending board approval. A draft was available in the agenda packet for Monday’s meeting.

“What I’m showing you, what you’re reading,” Naegelen said, “will take a lot of work for the town and the committee.”

Besides the implementation plan covering Siler City’s general economic health, MS&RP and the steering committee compiled a downtown Siler City economic assessment and a community economic recovery and resiliency initiative.

The first two reports “were all part of what we talked about doing,” Naegelen said, “but the third document came about as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, ... envisioned to be sort of a standalone effort to assist towns and their businesses with coming out of the pandemic, and becoming more resilient to future downturns.”

Each document drew from extensive demographic and market analyses of Siler City, much of which the News + Record has previously reported, but Naegelen shared only some highlights in his presentation. Among the most alarming metrics was Siler City’s “retail leakage,” which MS&RP defines as “gaps in the retail market where demand for retail goods and services in a specific category is not being satisfied by the existing retail businesses in that geography.”

In other words, it is the amount of money forfeited by Siler City’s economy to other markets that offer unique or superior products and services. In Siler City’s “primary trade area,” Naegelen said, “a five-mile radius from the center of town, there’s approximately $23 million (leaked). That means that much money is being spent outside of downtown or the town of Siler City that could be spent in town.”

Leakage from the “secondary trade area,” a 10-mile radius from the heart of downtown, is nearly $80 million.

“So there’s some money to be captured there,” Naegelen said.

The primary industries in which Siler City lacks proportionate supply to meet local demand include car and car parts dealers, electronics and appliance stores, sporting goods/hobby/musical instrument stores, clothing stores and general merchandise stores, among others.

From a survey of 77 Siler City stakeholders, conducted by MS&RP, Naegelen reported that most Siler City residents would like to see a bolstered hospitality industry. In response to the prompt, “When visiting downtown in the future, what would you like to see?” 93% of respondents included restaurants and eating establishments in their answers. About 75% included retail shopping; 71% said night life and entertainment; and 55% included community festivals.

Incentivizing new businesses in such categories to establish their operations in Siler City would enhance community satisfaction, Naegelen said, and swell the town’s economy — hopefully to catch up to Pittsboro’s.

According to the Environmental Systems Research Institute (Esri), a data and analytics supplier, Chatham has a staggering wealth disparity between its western and eastern neighborhoods. The Esri wealth index establishes 100 as the baseline metric to represent average wealth across the entire United States. The database considers both income and net wealth.

“Siler City, unfortunately, has an index of 68,” Bass said. “... Just for comparison, North Carolina’s index is 84. But look at Chatham County — 140.”

The discrepancy quantifies what Chathamites have long known: that affluence in Chatham’s eastern parts skews the county’s average wealth and veils Siler City’s struggling local economy to its detriment.

But Naegelen and Bass are confident the town can reverse its economic trajectory with implementation of the steering committee’s five-year plan.

“This strategic plan is not an ordinance,” Naegelen said, “but it’s a flexible living plan to help with the growth that is sure to come, sooner rather than later, in Siler City.”

The commissioners did not motion for a vote to adopt the proposed implementation plan, although they had the option. Instead they reached consensus to “digest” the formidable report over the next 30 days and discuss it again at a future board meeting.

Other news

The commissioners voted to approve two sets of ordinance amendments and a rezoning request at their regular meeting on Monday.

• The town’s unified development ordinance will now permit residential buildings under R-6 zoning, and buildings in B-1 — general business district — zoning, to be 45 feet high. Previously, such buildings were limited to 35 feet.

The definition of vertical height was also amended. Height will be “measured from the mean elevation of the finished grade at the front of the building to the highest point of the building.” The UDO previously stipulated a variety of height definitions according to a building’s roof style.

• In a separate motion, the board approved extensive revision to Chapter 8, Article VI of the town’s UDO to clarify and enhance Siler City’s minimum nonresidential code. The complete revised ordinance can be found on the Town of Siler City’s website, silercity.org.

• The commissioners approved a request from Weaver-Kirkland Housing LLC to rezone four and a half acres of land at the corner of Village Lake Road and Siler Business Drive. The property will host 60 multi-family residential apartments “for the elderly,” defined as aged 55 and older.

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @dldolder.

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