A bomb threat didn’t keep the Morganton City Council meeting down for long.

The threat, which was called in at 5:34 p.m., said Maj. Tony Lowdermilk with Morganton Department of Public Safety, saw meeting attendees leave City Hall when the meeting’s public comment period was supposed to start until officers and department heads could clear the building.

The threatening phone call didn’t give a specific building, but just said it was a city-owned building, said MDPS Chief Ronnie Rector. City Hall was the only building hosting a public meeting, leading officials to search it as a safety precaution.

No threat was found in the building, so citizens were allowed to go back in and the council decided to continue with the meeting. Rector made it clear that anyone who did not feel comfortable staying at the meeting could leave.

After the scare, the council moved on to swear-in two new council members and have its mayor take the oath of office for his second term.

Chris Jernigan, who defeated Larry Whisnant and James Bagley, took the oath for the seat previously occupied by Forrest Fleming, who decided to retire at the end of the last term.

“I’d just like to say thank you to all the citizens of Morganton who have entrusted me with their faith and who have supported me in my campaign to be a City Council member,” Jernigan said. “It is an honor, a great honor, for me, and I look forward to working with you all to make Morganton the very best city in the world.”

Butch McSwain also took his oath of office after defeating incumbent Sidney Simmons and Isaac Crouch.

“I’d like to also thank, well particularly the one member [of my family] that wasn’t able to join us down front, my wife, Linda Wall McSwain, is in the back,” McSwain said. “I’m delighted to be a part of this team. Teams have been a big part of my life and I am excited to be working with the staff and leadership here for the next four years. I thank all of you for your support.”

Returning Mayor Ronnie Thompson affirmed his oath to the city for another four years after defeating challenger Adam Pruitt.

“As I start my second term, I do want to thank the support I’ve had to the citizens of Morganton,” Thompson said. “We’ve made progress over the last four years and we’ve got lots of progress coming, lots of events coming up, lots of projects coming up, and it will take all five of us and the staff to get it all done.”

With Fleming’s retirement, the council was given the chance to select a new mayor pro tem, with Chris Hawkins nominating Wendy Cato.

Cato was chosen unanimously.

The council proceeded with its normal business, including approving loans for a restaurant hoping to open in downtown.

Uptown Ramen, owned by Daraphone Phrakousonh, is looking to open up shop on North Green Street near Fonta Flora Brewery, where it would offer southeast Asian food, like egg rolls, Pad Thai, fried rice, curry, Ramen bowls and rice bowls.

Phrakousonh, who previously owned Asian Fusion, applied for two loans through the city: a $10,000 community development block grant loan to purchase equipment and have start-up working capital, and a $10,000 Main Street revolving loan to help open the restaurant.

City staff recommended approving both loans, and the council’s unanimous vote followed.

Two public hearings were held for changes to the city’s zoning ordinance.

One hearing was to make some changes to the city’s landscaping and screening standards, including:

» Moving the city’s approved plant list from the zoning ordinance to the city’s landscape manual.

» Remove the requirement that 75 percent of plant material be selected from the list in the zoning ordinance and replace it with language that requires plants to be selected from the landscape manual.

» An amendment to require a tree for every 5,000 square feet of paved area additional to what is necessary for parking and drive aisles like circulation and loading docks.

» An amendment to allow smaller plants to be planted in some cases.

The other public hearing saw discussion of some changes to the city’s sidewalk requirements.

Previously, developers were required to install sidewalks along all street frontage with projects within the river district overlay and the corridor district overlay.

The change council members approved unanimously made it so developers could instead pay the city to install sidewalks, with the cost of the sidewalks to be calculated by the city’s department of development and design services.

Council members weren’t done there with sidewalks. Other amendments were made to the city’s zoning ordinance concerning the construction of sidewalks.

The way the ordinance previously was written, developers of commercial or multifamily residential properties were required to install sidewalks along the length of any frontage of any publicly maintained streets in the downtown area, whether it be a new structure or an addition to an existing structure.

The city also was required to split the cost of the sidewalk equally with the developer, and said the city manager could make an adjustment to the requirement if it would cause unnecessary hardship, but didn’t allow a payment in lieu option.

The approved changes eliminated the requirement that the city pay for half of the sidewalks, and allowed a payment in lieu option.

Payments in lieu would allow the city to use the funds for sidewalks in other places where they might give better access to pedestrians instead of having sidewalks that might lead to nowhere, or be placed in areas with low pedestrian travel.

The changes also specified that sidewalks only were needed for additions that increased the floor area or fair market value of the property by 20 percent or more.

Sidewalks along one downtown street will be getting a makeover after council members approved a contract for Gannett Fleming to redesign College Street to connect downtown to the Catawba River Greenway, Broughton Hospital, N.C. School for the Deaf, N.C. School of Science and Mathematics, Western Piedmont Community College and some county-owned properties with automobile, bicycle and pedestrian access.

The project total is $3,312,000, with the city only having to pay $662,400 out of pocket because of Federal Highway Administration grant for $2,649,600.

Gannett Fleming was contracted to design 25 percent of the plans, which will be submitted to N.C. Department of Transportation for approval before the rest of the plans are created. The initial cost of the contract would be $186,050.63, with another $186,050.63 expected for the rest of the plans if approved by N.C. DOT.

Council members also approved:

» Minutes from the council’s regular meeting on Nov. 4.

» Budget amendments for the Green Street Revitalization Project.

» A budget amendment for Morganton Department of Public Safety for receipt of an $18,000 grant to buy a rapid deployment surveillance system.

» A budget amendment for the City of Morganton Municipal Auditorium for insurance reimbursement for damage to the auditorium’s sign.

» Award of a contract for a sewer line capacity evaluation for the terrace sewer basin.

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Chrissy Murphy can be reached at cmurphy @morganton.com or at 828-432-8941. Follow @cmurphyMNH on Twitter.

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