Local Government

Losing Canopy, Gaining Density: Trees in Matthews

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There’s no doubt about it, the number of mature trees is a source of pride for Matthews. Mature trees increase property value, clean the air, and even increase feelings of well-being. With it’s dense canopy, Matthews has been part of the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA for 19 years.

As available land decreases, high-density housing is the urban planning fix. With that comes tree loss.

How does Matthews protect its tree canopy?

The Appearance and Tree Advisory Committee provides the opportunity for residents to work together and make recommendations to the town concerning trees. The group meets the third Monday of every month at 7:00 p.m. at the Matthews Community Center, and regularly presents their discussions and findings to the Board of Commissioners at Council meetings.

The Town has documents and mechanisms in place for environmentally-friendly growth as well. Tree Protection and Landscaping Regulations is a 23-page section of the Unified Development Ordinance sets standards and regulations to protect the tree canopy during development.

Depending on the zoning code, developers are required to save 5% or more of the tree canopy. According to the Unified Development Ordinance, R-12 and R-20 have the highest tree save at 20%, and HUC, C-MF, TS  have the lowest at 5%. In comparison, Charlotte has a 15% tree save for all commercial development. In residential areas, if the lot has 10% tree coverage then at least 10% must be saved. If the coverage is less than 10% but greater than 5%, then 5% must be saved.

In November 2017, after approval by the Matthews Board of Commissioners, the Town added a Payment-In-Lieu of Fee for tree save. If the property cannot be developed and maintain minimum tree save requirements, the developer must provide proof of hardship to the Town. Once approved, the In-Lieu of Fee is calculated using the tax value and acreage and set aside in a Tree Canopy Fund. The Fund is primarily used for the installation and maintenance of trees on public property. In the event any of the commercial tree save area cannot be protected, trees must be re-planted at 150 percent of the area removed.

Charlotte also has an In-Lieu-Of fee, though their program is slightly different and only available to commercial development. The Pay-In-Lieu monies are pooled and the City purchases wooded areas that will be permanently protected. As of 2016, 65 acres have been purchased, including 15 acres near the McAlpine Creek Greenway. According to one report (2016) the City averages $160,000 a month payment in lieu of.

Current Development and Trees in Matthews

Per town records and approved rezoning projects (found here), eleven residential projects have been approved between February 2017 and April 2019. The largest of those include:

  • Proffitt Dixon (Old 51/Matthews Mint Hill Road): Zoned ENT, 35.50 acres, +/- 7.06-acre tree save;

  • Bainbridge (Old 51/Matthews Mint Hill Road): Zoned R-12MF (CD), 30.752  acres, 4.79 acres tree save;

  • Four Corners Subdivision (Sam Newell and Keziah Road):  Zoned R-VS and SRN and R-15 (CD), 26.73 acres and 3.2-acre tree save;

  • Taft Development (Monroe Road): Zoned R-12 MF (CD) 21.450 AC and a committed 3.22 acres of tree save, though that did not actually happen.

Those four projects total 114.432 acres with a 18.27-acre tree save. Including the other projects, over 177 acres were rezoned.  According to plans, the approximate tree save for these projects is just under 27 acres.

How Do We Prevent or Correct Mistakes?

After Taft Development cleared the tree save area on Monroe Road for the future Residences Galleria, tree preservation has been a hot topic in town. How does Matthews enforce rezoning and tree save agreements?

According to the Town of Matthews’ Unified Development Ordinance (pages 2-12 and 2-13) violations of the tree protection or landscaping provisions approved by the Town is subject to any one or combination of penalties. Penalties are in addition to, and not in lieu of, compliance to all requirements and payment of any financial penalties. One such penalty calculates damages at two dollars ($2.00) per square foot for area damaged or destroyed, not to exceed fifty thousand dollars ($50,000).

Destruction or removal of a tree greater than twelve inches (12”) DBH without prior Town approval may be subject to a civil penalty. The amount is determined using the value of the tree as listed in the most current edition of The Guide for Plant Appraisal, published by the International Society of Arboriculture in conjunction with information provided by the ISA’s Southern Chapter.

Another penalty for not following the UDO by posting a Landscape Guarantee bond, having it approved, then failing to plant the required trees and shrubs as agreed upon with the town can incur a “fine of five hundred dollars ($500.00) per tree or shrub not installed, per day of ongoing violation. The fine is due within ten (10) days of the citation, and is not to exceed twenty thousand dollars ($20,000) per day of violation.” (UDO 155.214. E..4., page 2 - 14)

How do Matthews’ penalties compare to Charlotte? Charlotte's Tree Ordinance includes an additional criminal penalty for Tree Ordinance violations: “Any person who knowingly or willfully violates any section of this chapter shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor and may, upon conviction thereof, be subject to punishment as provided in section 2-21. This remedy is in addition to any civil penalties that may be assessed.” An additional planting requirement may also be assessed as a nonmonetary penalty.

It’s difficult to determine the percentage of tree cover pre-development from the site plans available on the Town website.

What is apparent? At the current rate of development in Matthews, maintaining the dense, mature tree coverage looks to be a difficult task.

Dulce Bravo: One of Matthews' Newest Firefighters

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Monroe resident Dulce Bravo plays an essential role in Matthews; she’s a firefighter for the Matthews Fire & EMS Department. 

Of the firefighters in the US, only 7% are women. There are eleven women in the 84-person Matthews Fire & EMT Department, including one paid full-time firefighter, three firefighter/EMTs, and seven EMTs. Of the twelve Fire Corps members, a whopping 25% are women.

Bravo, as her coworkers call her, is that one full-timer. 

Thanks to a budget increase for the Matthews Fire & EMS Department in 2018, Bravo was one of eleven new hires. Her strong sense of community and her eagerness to serve brought her to Matthews.  She loves the small town friendliness and being able to support the community in an integral way. 

It was a chilling experience that led Bravo to emergency services: a friend died in front of her. That friend, she believes, could’ve been saved with CPR. It’s an experience that led her to train to save lives and etched in her a firm belief that more people should be trained to perform CPR. 

She first trained as an EMT and started responding to calls, but as she watched firefighters going into burning buildings she realized she wanted to be the one to do that--the first to go in to help, the first to administer first aid. Waiting was not for her. Bravo studied, trained, and became a certified firefighter. Her first job was as a volunteer in the Monroe Fire Department. 

In a field where technology continually improves and levels the physical playing field, more and more women are joining fire departments. Gone are the days when it was thought a firefighter had to be able to throw a someone over their shoulder to carry out of a burning building. Newer techniques and lighter gear make it possible for someone who can’t bench press their own body weight to pursue a firefighting career. 

Still, fighting fires and saving lives is not a job for the faint of heart. It takes sharp thinking, quick problem solving, and the ability to communicate and work as a team. While working, firefighters must maintain composure under tremendous pressure, and, of course, be strong. The protective gear alone can weigh 45 pounds, add a fire hose or ladder to that and the added weight can be 100 pounds or more. Bravo may not bench press an elephant, but we still wouldn't challenge her to any feats of strength.

Even after realizing there may be challenges as a female in a male-dominated field, Bravo knew a career with Matthews is for her. Before joining, she wondered if being a woman would matter. Having  been in Matthews for several months now, she says of the department, “They’re supportive, patient, and they don’t make you ‘feel like a girl.’”  What Bravo has found here is camaraderie, respect, and a group of people who are first and foremost dedicated to helping others.

Photo courtesy the Matthews Fire & EMS Department

Photo courtesy the Matthews Fire & EMS Department

Rezoning: Bainbridge Matthews (Matthews-Mint Hill Road)

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Land clearing has begun for Bainbridge Matthews, a future development located on Matthews-Mint Hill Road near Butler High School. This land was formerly the Oakhaven Mobile Home Park, Overcash homestead, and Query Homestead.

On December 11, 2017, the Board of Commissioners approved Rezoning Request 2017-663 with Higdon, Miller, Ross, Whitley and Urban in favor and Taylor and Melton opposed. The property, totaling 30.752 acres, was rezoned from R-12, O(CD), R-MH, RU, and BH to R-12MF(CD).

(What do those zoning codes mean? There’s a chart for that.)

Now demolished, the Overcash home, built in 1921, had significant remodeling and was therefore not a good candidate for historic preservation or relocation. The barn was in fair condition, but the Town had little need for it after repurposing the Idlewild Road barn. A log cabin on the site is likely over 100 years old was offered to the town for historic preservation. The cabin will need some reconditioning.

The multifamily Bainbridge Matthews complex consists of 350 rental units, including both apartments and townhomes. Two pocket parks will flank the entrance at Northeast Parkway and will be available for public use daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The developer will construct the portion on Northeast Parkway that will run through their property, as well as a multi-use path on one side and a sidewalk on the other. The developer has accounted for 18 bike parking spots throughout the complex.

Though not noted on the original staff report, in October 2017 the Planning Department added the following information:

  • CMS indicates this project will generate 128 new students for Crown Point Elementary, Mint Hill Middle, and Butler High School. by this project.

  • The trip generation report indicates a total of 2,245 cars per day.

Bainbridge will preserve at least 15% of the existing tree canopy (a minimum tree save of 4.79 acres) as directed by R12-MF zoning. The majority of tree save is along property boundaries.

In the process of approving any new development the board discusses the affect on town services, the tax base, and projected tax revenue from the project. Prior to development the tax revenue was $16,700 (total for both parcels), the anticipated tax revenue (after construction) is an estimated $128,000.

If you’re looking for the Cliff Notes version, here’s a handy dandy summary:

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Lynn Stelley: A Behind-the-Scenes Hero

It’s like a big family, and it has to be that way.
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You may not know the name Lynn Stelley, but if you live in Matthews you've benefited from her work. Lynn is one of the many behind-the-scenes heroes of the Matthews Police Department. Though she doesn’t drive a patrol car, in her role as Records & Communications Manager she reports directly to the Chief to ensure the administrative side of the department is running smoothly. Her role is vital for both general operations and the safety of every officer serving Matthews.   

Originally from Louisiana, Lynn was in the U.S. Air Force (4.5 years) and was a flight attendant for American Trans Air (13 years). Her husband’s job brought them to Mint Hill where she worked at Mint Hill Middle School until the School Resource Officer encouraged her to apply at the Matthews Police Department. Her varied experience taught her to manage many tasks at once, and she credits her military family for instilling the self-discipline to work in law enforcement. Now in her eighth year with the Matthews Police, she first worked with Chief Rob Hunter and now with Chief Clark Pennington. “They have different styles,” she notes, while giving “high praise for both [men].”

As Records & Communications Manager, Lynn oversees a staff of two Record Keepers, the dispatchers, and has something of a role in the department's finance. Things now are in a much more manageable system than when she started. Back then officers’ reports were handwritten, sometimes with diagrams of scenes hand drawn on the back of an incident report. The clerks would then enter the reports into the records. Now, with software and automated systems, the officers can do it themselves.

Lynn is clearly happy in her office, giving instructions with the cheerful, unfaltering disposition essential for proper management. There’s a palpable warmth to her approach as she moves through the daily routine. When asked about the telecommunications position, Lynn openly admits it’s a tough role to fill. A demanding job with long hours that can be emotionally draining, which is why there’s a nationwide shortage of dispatchers. She oversees two supervisors and has capacity for 12 dispatchers (currently nine positions are filled). She’s proud of the staff for going beyond the minimum Department of Justice Telecommunications Standards and fulfilling the Sheriff’s Training Standards. Lynn has also made some changes in the dispatch room: upgraded work areas and “a little bit of paint” have dramatically improved morale.

Lynn gives a quick tour of the department on the way to check in with the dispatchers. She appreciates the tight-knit cooperation of the department, "It's like a big family, and it has to be that way." The team atmosphere makes stressful situations much less so. She knows a job where emergencies happen every day can take a mental toll on her employees, expressing concern and demonstrating she has the knowledge to be genuinely supportive of them.

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She worries about the officers as they leave on patrol, pausing before reflecting. She was in the call center when the Butler shooting happened. “It was amazing how everyone fell into their roles. There wasn’t time for anything, just to do our jobs. I don’t think we thought about it until after it was all over.”

With the pressure of a job in law enforcement, Lynn leaves work at work. It’s a necessary skill she learned from her military father. She appreciates he did the same for her as she grew up. Lynn talks as excitedly about her kids, her four grandchildren (including eighteen-month-old twins), and Bruno, her German shepherd mutt.

Bruno, it turns out, is the key for Lynn’s calm. A long walk with a happy dog is exactly what she needs to unwind from a full day's work keeping Matthews safe.

Rezoning: 10252 Monroe Road

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Land clearing began last week for Residences Galleria (formerly called Proximity Matthews), the apartment complex going up across from Family Dollar on Monroe Road. The project is a 250-unit rental community consisting of both multifamily buildings and townhomes.

The developer, Taft Development / Income Investments, LLC, applied for rezoning in September of 2016. The 21.668-acre property at 10252 Monroe Road was zoned R-VS (residential, varied style with a higher density). The 2016 application requested rezoning to R-12 MF (CD) (residential, multi-family, conditional use).

On February 13, 2017 five members of the Board of Commissioners (Taylor, Melton, Higdon, Miller, and Whitley) voted in favor of approving rezoning application 2016-652. Commissioner Ross opposed. Commissioner Urban, also the architect on the project, was excused from voting.

In 2015 a rezoning application for a 350-unit development on the same property was unanimously denied (Taylor, Pata, Higdon, Melton, Miller, Query, and Ross).

Residences Galleria will contain garden apartments ranging in size from 750 square feet for a one-bedroom to 1350 square feet for a three-bedroom. The townhomes will be two- and three-bedroom.

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In addition to the building construction, Taft will place a concrete pad Charlotte Area Transit System stop on Monroe Road. They have also committed to constructing a portion of Sardis Greenway along the rear of the property, between the new development and Sardis Forest neighborhood. Plans include moving the current street-adjacent sidewalk along Monroe Road will be moved further back onto the property. While the agreement for rezoning included saving the mature trees near Monroe Rd. many of those trees were cut down. Taft will pay a fine to the Town of Matthews in the amount of $150,000 for a violation of the rezoning agreement.

The project includes means for protecting the historic Rosedale Cemetery such as removing dead plant debris by hand, a perimeter fence, and an easement for public parking for access to the cemetery.

Though requested, Town Staff had not received a response from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in time to be included in the Staff Report presented to Town Council. According to CMS, this project will add 80 new students: 51 at Greenway Park Elementary, 12 at McClintock, and 17 at East Mecklenburg High. According to 2017 data (when the project was approved), this project will put the schools at 133%, 82%, and 112% capacity respectively.

Read also:

Navigating the Town Website: Rezoning Requests

When researching rezoning and development in Matthews, the first place to go is the Planning Department section on the town website. If you’re unfamiliar with the website, it can feel buried. This is a quick tutorial to find Rezoning and Development Cases currently under consideration.

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Go to the Town of Matthews website: matthewsnc.gov

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Click on “Departments” in the top, horizontal menu bar. A drop down menu will give you further options. Click “Pending Zoning & Development Cases.”

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On the Pending & Zoning Developent page, notice the first two columns: “Application” and “Location.” The most recently submitted application is on the top row of the table. In the application column you’ll find the number the Town has given the case as well as the project name. Under the location column you’ll find the physical address to be rezoned/developed.

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The next two columns show “Current Zoning” code and “Proposed Zoning” code. The codes specify the type of use (residential, commercial, etc.) and the allowable density. There are a lot of codes to remember, so we have an infographic here, created from the county’s Polaris chart.

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Next there’s the “Status” column. This answers where the application is in the three-part process:

  • Public Hearing

  • Planning Board Recommendation

  • Town Board Approval

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Links in the far right column are important documents to better understand the pending case. You may find a few other documents, but most commonly you’ll find:

  • The application originally submitted.

  • Site plans that give further details about how the land will be developed. This will sometimes have “superceded” beside them, which means there’s a more current version. Find the version labeled “current.”

  • Elevations are a close approximate of how the finished building will look.

  • The developer must notify adjacent land owners and host a meeting open to the public in order to explain the project. The Public Input document is documentation from that meeting.

  • Town Staff examines the proposal and analyzes the information to create a Staff Report. This report compiles the site plan, elevations, comments the staff has given the developer, as well as the impact on traffic, and comments from other town departments (usually Public Works, Police, and Fire). Sometimes school impact is provided as well. The Staff Report is presented to Town Council during regularly scheduled council meetings.

If you’re interested in keeping up with Board of Commissioner meetings, we’ve created a tutorial for finding those as well.

Navigating the Town Website: Looking for Council Agendas

In a fair amount of research for the Beacon we often cross-reference our own notes with Board of Commissioner meeting agendas and minutes. If you’re unfamiliar with the website, here’s a quick tutorial to find the agendas for Board of Commissioners (also called Town Council) meetings.

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Go to the Town of Matthews website: matthewsnc.gov

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You can either:

  • Click on “Government” in the top, horizontal menu bar. A drop down menu will give you further options. Click “Agendas and Minutes.”

  • Or click on the dark green circle at the bottom for “Agendas and Minutes.”

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Select “Board of Commissioners.”

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The most recent agenda will be on the landing page. If you’re looking for archives of past meetings, click “Show More” at the bottom of the right hand column.

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Here you will find Agendas (the to-do list for the Board during the meeting), Minutes (annotated notes from the meeting), Packet (information given to the Commissioners prior to the meeting with back up material for line items on the agenda), Audio (mp3 files of the meeting), and Video (a visual and audio recording of the meeting). Video is also available on the Town’s YouTube page.

Chief Clark Pennington: Year One Leading the Matthews Police

Clark A. Pennington began his job on January 2, 2018 as the new Chief of the Matthews Police Department, replacing retired Chief Rob Hunter. Born in Delaware and raised in Las Vegas, Chief Pennington was taught the “Do unto others” doctrine early in his childhood. That philosophy continues guide his decision-making and doctrine of leadership.

During his previous 25 years of law enforcement service - 20 years of which included rising through the ranks at the Frederick, MD police department -  Pennington graduated from Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, MD, with a degree in Criminal Justice (2010) and went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Management from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD (2012). Pennington was also an adjunct Criminal Justice Professor at Hood College, Frederick Community College, and Mount Saint Mary’s University.

He recently reflected back on his first year of service in Matthews:

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You have such an outstanding and lengthy history both with the military and with public service?  Has this always been a love and a passion?

I have always been drawn to public service and a profession in law enforcement.  I am the fourth generation in my family who has served in some form of the profession.  My great grandfather, grandfather, and father all served as constables in Pennsylvania.

From very early on, I recognized I liked being the one that people turned to for help.  Probably because I enjoyed providing some service to those that were struggling or felt victimized.  I do not like to see others being taken advantage of and want to do my part to help where I can.

When I graduated from high school, I did not feel college was right for me at that time.  I also knew that staying in Vegas and working until I was 21 years old and eligible for a career in law enforcement, was not productive or the best choice.  I joined the US Army to gain additional life experience and show a commitment to something bigger than me. I knew early on through examples set for me by family and friends in the profession that sacrifice and commitment was something that is expected in my chosen career path.  

In 1998, I was hired by the Frederick Police Department in Frederick, MD.  Over the next 20 years, I was extremely blessed to have competent and qualified leaders above me.  Many of those leaders pushed me further than I ever expected to go.

You state that your promotion and employment as Police Chief of Matthews is the culmination of your career. Can you say more about this?

I have always wanted to serve and learn from those in leadership positions.  In my 26+ years in the law enforcement profession, I have been fortunate enough to serve under some very capable and confident men and women.  I learned early on that we are able to take something away from each person we are afforded the opportunity to work with.

Being appointed as the Chief is a culmination of a career where I have learned from successful encounters and some not so successful.  The opportunity to serve as Chief came at a point…that I felt I could apply those important lessons learned to help develop other leaders and enrich the lives of individuals to help build a better organization and create a caring environment.

What hopes did you have for the job?

My hopes for the job are that I can be productive as the Chief and help to maintain, and even grow (to) incorporate technology to enhance the services provided to our residents, visitors, and business owners.  I hope to continue building an organization of leaders who have a service heart, ensuring our agency is serving and working with businesses, residents, and nonprofit organizations to enhance our community both financially and in areas of improving our quality of life.  

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Matthews is a very progressive community and places high demands on its police department. Learning the expectations of the residents and businesses is important to ensure we are meeting those and enhancing the quality of life

What are some of the challenges you have faced?

I don’t think the challenges in Matthews are unique to Matthews.  Crime reduction and reducing the fear of crime is always at the forefront of a chief’s desires…Any time a new leader steps into an agency he/she is challenged with learning the culture of the agency and community you are entering.  Matthews is a very progressive community and places high demands on its police department. Learning the expectations of the residents and businesses is important to ensure we are meeting those and enhancing the quality of life. Any changes made in the agency must enhance the services provided without the reducing services expected or letting the community down on their expectations is important.

What are some of your accomplishments so far?

Met one on one with each and every employee of the agency; undertook a reorganization and distribution of workload among division commanders; began a comprehensive review of all policies and assigning each policy to a division commander for review and updating.  (We reviewed and/or made changes to our Use of Force Policy, Internal Affairs Policy, and Sexual Harassment and Hostile Work Environment Policy.) Conducted a 100% inventory and accountability review of evidence and seized property accounting for all items seized or taken into custody by the agency. Opened lines of communication between divisions and incorporated crime analysis into our deployment strategies, allowing us to target areas of the town that are experiencing the highest impact of crime or quality of life issues. Entered into a partnership with Carmel Christian School to hire and train a School Resource Officer; promoted two new sergeants. Began a more transparent use of social media to communicate with our public on crime issues, and arrests.

What are some of your shorter and longer goals?

One short-term goal is to train each member of the agency on Problem Oriented Policing and Intelligence led policing strategies.  The ultimate goal is to use each and every employee as a mini crime-analyst and use problem-solving strategies to provide long term solutions to identified community issues.  

What else would you like people to know about you?

In my off time I enjoy spending time with my three sons (Ethan, who is 16, and twins, Brady and Collin, who are 13).  We like to hunt, fish, boat and travel. I enjoy riding my motorcycle and clearing my head on a long ride.

Matthews has undergone some rapid changes in recent years and there will be many more in the years to come.  In light of this, how do you see your role?

I think instituting community and problem-solving policing and intelligence-led policing philosophies into the department will enhance the services we already provide and elevate our abilities to reduce crime and improve the quality of life in our community.

What’s in a New Street Name?

This year, the Town of Matthews (in partnership with Mecklenburg County) built one new street – Sports Parkway between Tank Town and Matthews-Mint Hill Roads.

The number of new streets created in previous years are:  2017 – 3; 2016 – 2; 2015 – 2; 2014 – 0. These include Lake Harmony Drive off of Mount Harmony Church Road, Downton Court in the Eden Hall development on Fullwood Lane, and Margaret Ridge Drive in the Stevens Grove subdivision off of Highway 51. The most recently created streets are Talbot Court, Hamlet Court, and Kings Manor Court.

Photo by Renee Garner

Photo by Renee Garner

To create a street and name, developers must propose the names; the Town has code requirements to ensure that new street names are appropriate and not duplicated. Mecklenburg County ultimately approves the name and assigns the individual street addresses.

The Planning Department reviews street names when new subdivisions/developments are in plan review. The Zoning Administrator, Mary Jo Gollnitz, considers the proposed street names for the Town, as do Matthews Planning Department, Public Works, Police Department, and Fire & EMS Department before the name is submitted to Mecklenburg County for final approval. 

According to code, proper street names must consist of one to three words, plus a street type suffix. The name must not duplicate or too closely approximate phonetically the name of any other street within the Town or county. Street names cannot include a business name, punctuation, possibly offensive words, or directional suffixes. 

The first word of a street name can only be used in two other locations within the county. The only exception to this is the use of a generic label naming a topographic feature or a color.

According to the National League of Cities, the five top street names in the country are Second, Third, First, Fourth, and Park.

According to the US Census Bureau’s US Tiger/Shapefiles, 2014, the most common street name in North Carolina is Dogwood. The top 10 street names in this state are: Dogwood (328), Park (304), Oak (261), Pine (245), Ridge (234), Cedar (225), Maple (225), Sunset (220), Church (204), and 2nd/Second (193).

The naming of streets reflects the era in which it was created – 18th- and 19th-century streets often reflected English (UK) roots or defined the purpose of that road. Later 19th-century developers named streets after trees and flowers; 20th- and 21st-century streets often mirror developers’ family names. Most recently, following the rise in technology and modernization, roads are again reflecting the generic definition of the business located on that street.

Take Me To Your Leaders: Meet the Assistant Town Manager

This post is Part III of a series explaining the roles of our leadership within municipal government. Part I: Meet your commissioners, Part II: Meet your mayor , Part III: Meet the Town Manager

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As explained in previous Take Me To Your Leaders posts, Matthews operates as a municipal government with council-manager leadership. Assistant Town Manager Becky Hawke supports and assists Town Manager Hazen Blodgett on a variety of town administrative tasks such as town-wide planning, special projects, and initiatives. Also serving as a back-up for the Town Manager, Ms. Hawke acts to fill Mr. Blodgett's seat in his absence.

What is the Assistant Town Manager's role? The Assistant Town Manager is part of the senior management team for the Town of Matthews. Ms. Hawke provides oversight and establishes standards with department heads of Finance, Information Technology, Human Resources, Safety/Risk Management, Communications, Fire/EMS, Police, Public Works, Parks and Rec, and Planning. Ms. Hawke also serves as staff liaison to the Town of Matthews Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC).

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Who is the Town of Matthews Assistant Town Manager? Becky Hawke has served in local government for more than a decade and has been the assistant town manager for the Town of Matthews since 2016. Ms. Hawke pursued extensive education to prepare her for a role in municipal management. She earned an undergraduate B.A. in Communication Studies (minor in Sociology) from Hollins University, an M.S. in Corporate and Public Communication from Radford University, and a graduate certificate in Human Resources Management from Cornell University. She is also a graduate of the Public Executive Leadership Academy (PELA) of UNC-Chapel Hill. She retains active membership in several professional organizations including the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and the North Carolina City County Managers Association (NCCCMA).

In 2018 Ms. Hawke was recognized as one of the 50 Most Influential Women in the greater Mecklenburg County region by the Mecklenburg Times and one of the 25 Most Powerful Women by the Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly.

Ms. Hawke further serves the community as the Vice-President (2019 President-elect) of the Matthews Chamber of Commerce. She also sits on the boards of the Matthews HELP Center and Red Brick Partnership, is a member of the Matthews Rotary Club, and is a volunteer with dog rescue groups.

At home Ms. Hawke has a menagerie of pets, all of which are rescues. Among them are Titan (the blind 200-pond mastiff), Tank (a ridiculously-rotten English Bulldog), and four cats (Jenna, Ninja Cat, Geronimo, and Houdini).

According to Ms. Hawke, “Geronimo earned his name and gained local notoriety in Southwest Virginia in 2008 when, as a tiny stray kitten, he survived jumping off an eight-story tall bridge and landing in the parking lot below. I was working for the city where it happened and was able to adopt him prior to the ensuing media coverage. He isn't, perhaps, the sharpest cat but is otherwise perfectly healthy.”

Bloodhounds, the Real Life Paw Patrol

Last week law enforcement officers from all over the country convened in Matthews to train and certify their bloodhounds with the National Police Bloodhound Association. More than 45 law enforcement officers traveled across the country, some by plane, to Matthews to attend this five-day seminar. Instructors created scent trails for the dogs to follow, provided feedback to fine-tune the dogs’ tracking abilities, and advised handlers on best practices.
If you didn’t see these incredibly hard-working dogs while they were training in town, Matthews Police Officer Kevin Osuch will have his dogs (one of which is a tracking bloodhound) at Pawsitively Matthews this Saturday, November 3, in Stumptown Park.

Since 1962, the National Police Bloodhound Association has been a trusted source for information relative to the use of the purebred bloodhound in the field of law enforcement.  The National Police Bloodhound Association (NPBA) teaches basic standards that have been tried and proven from many years of trails by law enforcement officers from all over the country that were found to be sound in the utilization of the man-trailing bloodhound.

Never has any officer member of the National Police Bloodhound Association been proven wrong when challenged in his or her use of the bloodhound in law enforcement by the courts by following the standards that have been set by the National Police Bloodhound Association.
— NPBA Website

Red Brick Partnership Under Scrutiny by Matthews Residents

Updated 10/9/2018 with corrections

Red Brick Partnership (RBP), a coalition of downtown Matthews businesses, was formed in 2015 by the Town of Matthews and its Economic Development Advisory Committee, and is currently co-chaired by John Urban* (Matthews Commissioner, owner of Urban Architectural Group) and Rob Jacik (owner, Carolina Beer Temple, Temple Mojo, and Seaboard). RBP’s stated mission has been to “promote the awareness of Downtown Matthews, the businesses and citizens that comprise the downtown area as a destination for residents and tourists.” There is presently no public list of Red Brick Partnership members.

Photo by Norah Burke

Photo by Norah Burke

The initial funding for Red Brick Partnership included donations from private businesses and a grant of $20,000 from the Town of Matthews, which was approved by the Town Commission, headed by then mayor Jim Taylor, and including current commissioners Chris Melton, John Higdon, Kress Query, and Jeff Miller. Town Staff provided information regarding actual town expenditures during this period.

In its first year of existence (2014/15), RBP received $10,600 in external donations and/or revenue, submitted directly to the Town of Matthews. With $12,515 in expenditures, the Town used $1,915 of the $20,000 approved by council to cover the difference. In its second year RBP received $7,925 in donations/revenue, and with $17,732 in expenditures the Town covered $9,807 of that amount. The RBP was administered as a town entity from its creation in fiscal year 2014/2015 until it incorporated during fiscal year 2016/2017. During this period Town staff managed and approved all funds going into and out of RBP.

Red Brick Partnership filed as a separate entity in 2016, prior to the separation they received $250 in donations. That year there were $20,040 in expenditures, including $18,393.10 provided directly to Red Brick post incorporation. The Town covered $19,790 in expenditures for fiscal year 2016/17. In RBP’s first full year as an independent organization (2017/18) the town provided $20,000. Total investment of town tax dollars has been $50,115 thus far, with RBP managing $38,393.10 without oversight from Town staff.In July 2018, the Board of Commissioners approved an additional contribution to RBP of $20,000 to be disbursed later this year.

The Town does not have a process to determine whether donations to RBP have resulted in a positive return on investment – through higher spending at local establishments or an increase in visitors to downtown businesses. The town has relied instead on the Town Council representative on the RBP board – currently Mr. Urban – and the representative from town staff – currently Assistant Town Manager Becky Hawke – to ensure town funds are being used appropriately.

Matthews’ continued investment of money and personnel has been provided with the assumption that RBP is a nonprofit organization. RBP’s domain extension (.org), further contributed to the presumption of nonprofit status. However, research performed by Matthews resident Gordon Clemmons uncovered that Red Brick Partnership filed for incorporation with the NC Secretary of State but never applied for nonprofit status with the IRS. As such, RBP has yet to file a 990, if annual donations and in-kind contributions exceeded $50,000 or a 990-N for nonprofits with less income. It is unclear if RBP has filed annual taxes as a business with income.

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At the Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night, Mr. Urban addressed concerns. He maintains that the missed IRS filing was a simple error and was brought to his attention a few months ago. The organization is working to complete their nonprofit filing now. Mayor Paul Bailey expressed support of Mr. Urban and stated the funds approved in 2018 would be disbursed to the organization as soon as they have their paperwork in order.

Mr. Clemmons spoke during the public comment period. He brought up concerns about mismanagement of taxpayer money, potential conflicts of interest, and whether the organization is necessary given the existence of the Matthews Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Advisory Committee. He called for the return of funds given to RBP by the town, for an independent investigation of RBP’s finances, and for Mr. Urban’s resignation.

Mr. Urban did not respond to Mr. Clemmons public comment directly.

*Urban’s own documents and Facebook page denote himself as co-founder of RBP.

Conversations with: Mark Tofano

One of our goals at the Beacon is to highlight our many talented and interesting neighbors. We do this through The People of Matthews series, spotlights on town leaders, and the Conversations With series. Previous spotlights include Chris Sottile of The Loyalist and David Johnson of Silent Images. Future pieces include former Matthews Police Chief Rob Hunter and beekeeper Martha Krauss.


Mark Tofano is a Matthews resident who purchased his 259 South Trade Street home in 2012 and began renovations on it in early 2013. In 2011, Brookchase Properties (owner Garry Smith) purchased 2.36 acres next door (269 Trade Street) intending to construct a high-density residential neighborhood. He offered the previous homeowner money to purchase her property and add it to the intended complex.  It is Mark’s contention that the property is a “cornerstone” which not only defines the entrance to the Four-Mile Creek Greenway, but is one of the first things that visitors see when entering the town (and is not in keeping with the remaining six nearby homes.)

Around August 10, 2018, a sign appeared on the BrookeChase property announcing a request to rezone the property from R20 to RVS on August 13, 2018. With an R20 zoning 3 homes may be built on the property. RVS zoning would allow five homes to be built facing South Trade St. and eight more homes to be constructed at the rear of that property. That plan also calls for the demolition of 60% of the nearby Green Wall, a tall, plant-lined path that lines the greenway entrance at Trade Street. In later August, Mark took out a two-page ad in a local newspaper, intending to draw more attention to this issue. Although Mark and Garry Smith had originally been engaged in dialogue to find a compromise, and Mark has talked with other town officials, the rezoning is moving forward. The project will be up for a vote during the October 8, 2018 Town Commissioner’s meeting.

Mark Tofano lives in a Matthews Heritage house, built in 1942 for the Burton family.

Mark Tofano lives in a Matthews Heritage house, built in 1942 for the Burton family.

Mark’s “other life” has brought enormous success. After leaving the Air Force (after five years of service), Mark became an electronic engineer in the Cape Canaveral area assigned to the manned space program, missile defense systems and manned bombers.  He also lived in Europe and spent nearly four years working on satellite communication systems. After his mother’s passing, he returned to south Florida working in sales for various companies including Olivetti and National Cash Register. He subsequently founded and funded software and electronic hardware companies, which were later (in part) sold to Apple Computer and other national/regional companies.  Of late, he has been a contract consultant providing business analysis and project development expertise for TIAA, Coca-Cola, Duke Energy, and Wells Fargo.

Tofano subsequently founded and funded software and electronic hardware companies, which were later (in part) sold to Apple Computer and other national/regional companies.

For the past 20 years, he has volunteered with Men of Acts, an outreach program sponsored by the Central Church of God which assists the elderly, disabled, single mothers and widows by providing minor home repair services; he is a member of the Opera Carolina chorus and also provides free piano lessons to underprivileged children as well as procuring pianos for those that cannot afford them.

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When I drove into Matthews to view the home, I simply fell in love with the town, especially the historic district, which I call “The Village.”

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Why did you choose to move here? I was looking for a home to purchase and my daughter found 259 South Trade Street online.  When I drove into Matthews to view the home, I simply fell in love with the town, especially the historic district, which I call “The Village.”


When I began to walk up the driveway to meet the previous owner Ms. (Suzie) Burton, a peace came over me.  At that moment I knew that this is where I wanted to spend the rest of my life. Ms. Burton was so afraid that I was going to purchase the home and then tear it down to build a newer home.   I wrote Suzie a letter promising not to tear it down, but instead, to keep the exterior of the home as she always remembered it. I have kept that promise and will continue to do so, even though Suzie has passed away.

What were your hopes for living here? Simply to beautify the home and the property, making it an asset to the Town of Matthews.  My home was one of only seven homes left on Trade Street from the Greenway entrance to Sam Newell Road.  Now it is only one of six homes. (Last year, one of the houses was demolished on the neighboring property).

It appears as if people now know you through some media coverage and by your presence at town meetings regarding the land-use questions.  Why does this issue touch you? The entrance to the Historic District of the Town of Matthews begins at the Greenway entrance.  When pedestrians and motorists pass this point, they know that they are entering someplace special. And when they leave through this demarcation point, they feel the loss of leaving something precious behind.

What intentions do you have for this movement?  During the process of opposing the rezoning of 269 South Trade Street, it became apparent that there are many practices of the town government that could be improved and others that could be added or removed.  The most glaring deficiency (in my opinion…) is that there is a lack of real transparency in our town governance. In the age of electronic communication, there should be live broadcasts of every council meeting, live feeds of meetings via YouTube, Facebook or the like as well as a robust means of communicating to the public what is happening in government, and where and when it is happening other than through the town website or emails.  


Have you ever been involved in town-related issues, before? This is my first foray into the matters of local government.  Like so many people that I have spoken with that are involved in local government, they made their entry because of issues that occurred within Matthews that they found to be unsatisfactory or unsettling.  In fact, in speaking individually with each of the commissioners, I have found that some of them entered politics for this very reason. I have never considered myself an activist as the word may be interpreted today.  Perhaps, years ago, in my youth, I would have managed myself more in this manner, but as the years have passed and maturity, wisdom, and experience have taken hold, I have found that a more effective means is through dialogue, understanding and appreciating an opposing opinion and then attempting to find a middle ground, a compromise.  

Do you feel that this issue is now your cause or passion, or does it fit into a greater philosophical life plan?  At the moment, waging an opposition to the current site plan for the rezoning of 269 South Trade Street is my cause and it is my consuming passion, as it is the passion of many other fine people that have joined with me in opposing the plan.  Even when this issue is resolved, this passion will be redirected to the many other issues that, in my opinion, plague the Matthews Township government and how it serves the citizens of the town.

I hear you are building a backyard bocce board and constructing a two-car garage nearby with a roof which will be used as a viewing stand for this sport. This is quite a remarkable undertaking! Why have you decided to build this? I am one of the last 100% Italians in the Tofano family line.  I lived in Europe for a number of years and have made frequent trips to (see my relatives in) Italy.  The visual image of families in a community playing Bocce Ball in the village has burned into my memory.  When I purchased my property, I saw the possibilities of actually having a Bocce Ball court on my own land which I have named “Cielo in Terra” - heaven on earth.  This landscaped open court will be much more than a playing field. It will (also) be a place for friends and family to meet, to play, to enjoy life and to enjoy each other.

Tofano has a leveled and compacted area in his backyard prepared for a full-sized bocce ball court.

Tofano has a leveled and compacted area in his backyard prepared for a full-sized bocce ball court.

What do you want people to know about you?  I came from humble beginnings; my parents were children of Italian immigrants and did not graduate from high school.  At the age of five, my parents thought that I might have talent with piano and found an accomplished pianist acquaintance who agreed to teach me for free. This act of kindness gave me a lifetime of enjoyment playing classical piano. (As noted, he now teaches piano to others.)  For those families that have insisted on compensating me in some small way, I would agree to have dinner with them before the lessons.

My desires for the lovely town in which I have chosen to call home is that it maintains its charm throughout the inevitable growth that it will experience.

Has your approach regarding the town and its greenways changed since your first foray into this arena?  My focus since the inception of the campaign to oppose the rezoning plan is the preservation of the greenway entrance “Green Wall” and to save the look and feel of entering into the Historic District on South Trade Street.  That has not changed. From the beginning, there were only two conditions which I have stated that are fundamental to my request for reasonable development: 1) that there would be no more than three houses facing South Trade Street and that these houses will have the average footprint, style, height and setback of the six remaining houses on South Trade Street and, 2) that the dense natural growth buffer between the site and the greenway entrance and the elementary school grounds be preserved.

What are your intentions for the future?  Life will continue much as it has…working to beautify my property, volunteering in the community and maintaining a close relationship with all of the wonderful people that I have met in the course of the opposition campaign.  As for being an activist, my desire is that all citizens in the town of Matthews become “activists,” that is, to actively participate in their local and regional governments.

And finally, what are your hopes for the future of Matthews? My desires for the lovely town in which I have chosen to call home is that it maintains its charm throughout the inevitable growth that it will experience.  In addition, I hope, I pray that the citizens of Matthews will be given a voice, a strong voice, in how their town develops. I intend to be instrumental in helping them have that voice.


Take Me To Your Leaders: Meet the Town Manager

This post is Part III of a series explaining the roles of our leadership within municipal government. Part I: Meet your commissioners, Part II: Meet your mayor

The town manager is the CEO of the town staff.

The town manager is the CEO of the town staff.

Matthews operates as a municipal government with council-manager leadership. This means a body of town staff work alongside the Board of Commissioners to fulfill the policy decisions made by the Commissioners. The town manager is the designated head of town staff.

As an example, when it’s time to the renew solid waste service contract the town manager familiarizes himself with the proposals for presentation to the board. The board may have questions and the town manager (or public works) would best answer those questions. The board then votes for the best fit for the town and the manager then begins the process of renewing or signing the contract with that applicant.


What is the manager's role in Matthews? The Town Manager is the Chief Executive Officer for the Town of Matthews and works at the pleasure of the Board of Commissioners. (In plain-speak, our Town Council is in charge of hiring and firing the town manager.)  He is responsible for the general administration and operation of the Town which includes the public services that make the town tick: police, fire and EMS, public works, parks and recreation, human resources, finance, and planning.

Who is the Matthews Town Manager? Our Town Manager, Hazen Blodgett, has been with the Town of Matthews for 15 years and worked in local government for over 34 years. Hazen has a B.A. from Louisiana State University and a Masters in Public Administration from the University of North Carolina. Upon receiving his Masters Degree he went to work as the Assistant County Manager in Halifax County, NC.

Hazen is married with four kids. He lives in Matthews and is on the Board of the Matthews Rotary Club.  In his spare time, he enjoys mountain bike riding, yoga, beekeeping, and trips to the Matthews Farmers Market.

September 24 Board of Commissioners Meeting

On the agenda for the September 24, 2018 Board of Commissioners Meeting promises to be shorter than most, with a few items of note on the agenda:

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  • Proceeds from a Budget Ordinance Amendment will be dedicated to the police force for bulletproof vests.

  • The Board of Commissioners will receive an update on the 2018 Planning Conference To-Do List. The Planning Conference is a three-day public meeting where the board discusses a broad array of items relevant to Matthews (see Meeting Packet pages 22-24). This conference will be in Matthews and the public is welcome to attend and listen.

  • The Board of Commissioners will consider methods for streamlining their meetings, especially during lengthier ones that include Planning and Rezoning. Notes for these considerations are in the Meeting Packet (pages 26-30) and vary from suggestions limiting the time for staff and applicant presentations to requesting speakers from the public limit their time to five minutes.

  • The Board will review the emergency services’ responses to Hurricane Florence for successes and opportunities for improvement.