Residents packed the town municipal building Tuesday to discuss the proposal for the downtown expansion master plan during the Town of Elon Board of Aldermen's meeting. Lucien Roughton, a representative of Kaufmann Associates, based in Lancaster, Pa., presented the plan to town residents, who responded with many questions.
Lucien Roughton stated that the plan would encompass an eight-block range, the size of nearly seven football fields, and would include a town commons, an anchor building, local shops, expanded sidewalks, bike lanes, metered street parking and a residential area for "non-student housing." The plan would take 20 to 30 years to complete, according to estimates from Kaufmann Associates and the town board.
Mike Brown, owner of the Acorn Inn, which sits in the area that would be occupied by the town commons, asked why he was not told about the plan until he opened the weekend edition of the Burlington Times-News in mid-February.
"I don't know why you didn't hire a PR firm to soften the blow to viable taxpaying businesses," Brown told the Kaufmann Associates architect. "You've set the stage for opposition right out of the gate."
Residents brought up concerns about tax increases - especially with the university purchasing properties on which it does not pay taxes -, fire insurance and safety with the new zoning codes for four-story buildings and sewage and water management for both existing and new buildings. Business owners and residents were also worried about the possibility of being ousted from their homes and businesses.
Libby Halacheff, a long-time Elon resident who lives next door to her 91-year-old aunt, recognized that she was one of few non-business owners in attendance at the meeting but said she feels the impact all the same.
"We're only taxpayers; we don't make money on other people's dollar," Halacheff said. "...but it's our home. We've been living here over 50 years and to read it in the paper and be told that we got 'something in the mail,' which we never did, that's disrespectful."
Alderman John Peterson said he thinks that the town must implement a vision for the downtown area before it's too late, especially as the university and surrounding towns continue to grow.
"I do believe that we need to come up with some type of plan," Peterson said. "The trends for what's happening with our downtown area, our opportunities for development, [which] could be impaired by being gridlocked in, are getting thinner and thinner. And so if we just sit back and wait and don't do anything, I think history's going to tell us what's going to happen."
The board plans to take residents' comments into consideration when looking at the plan because as Mayor Jerry Tolley says, the plan isn't set in stone. The board apologized to all residents whose feelings were hurt by the abruptness of learning their businesses and homes might not be part of Elon's future vision. Some residents also voiced concerns about the success of the developers' plan to look for businesses oriented towards non-students. Like many other residents, Brown said he hopes Elon will not try to be something it's not.
"I only know of one other place like this, and it's in Myrtle Beach," Brown said. "It's fantastic... but that's Myrtle Beach. That's not Elon."
K McKay and Mary Kate Brogan contributed to this article.