Matthews: Seeking independence from Independence

Boulevard creates bumps for developers

By: Tony Brown, Staff Writer//September 10, 2012//

Matthews: Seeking independence from Independence

Boulevard creates bumps for developers

By: Tony Brown, Staff Writer//September 10, 2012//

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This is the fourth installment in the Talk of the Towns series, which is providing snapshots of Mecklenburg County’s towns. The six-part series launches a new Mecklenburg Times beat focused on development in the towns.


MATTHEWS — This southeast Mecklenburg County town is learning to be more independent of Independence Boulevard, one of four thoroughfares that help define it and present its biggest challenges and opportunities.

After a housing boom in the 1980s and ’90s, Matthews, at 14.2 square miles, doesn’t have a whole lot of room to grow beyond its population of 27,000.

“We’re maxed out for the most part” in terms of available land for residential development, said Matthews Planning Director Kathi Ingrish.

The town of Matthews has imposed street-construction rules on developers to make sure commercial projects are accessible. Photo by Tony Brown

Plus, Union County, Charlotte and Mint Hill surround the town, so it won’t be expanding, either.

“It’s a matter of a lack of supply” of land, said Tamara Lynch, vice president of sales and marketing for M/I Homes Charlotte. “If you find any, please let us know.”

Home to one Fortune 500 company, Family Dollar Stores, and the Harris Teeter grocery store chain, Matthews incorporated in 1879, taking its name in honor of Edward Watson Matthews, a director in the Central Carolina Railroad, which first stopped in Matthews five years earlier and led to the town’s first building boom.

The common thread between the 19th century build-up and the 21st century slowdown is transportation.

Matthews doesn’t really have a “main street” in the picturesque Norman Rockwell sense of the phrase. Instead, it has four throughways, each posing opportunities and challenges to development.

Think of an askew tic-tac-toe board, with two traffic arteries running parallel in a roughly east-west fashion and two more parallel thoroughfares going approximately north-south.

Independence Boulevard and John Street, which becomes Monroe Road when it crosses into Charlotte, run roughly vertically through town, while N.C. Highway 51 and Interstate 485 cut a horizontal path.

But Independence Boulevard, a commercial jumble and traffic-jam nightmare, poses the biggest problems, Ingrish said. Although North Carolina Department of Transportation officials say there aren’t any plans to widen Independence and make it a limited-access highway to ease the snares, Ingrish said she is convinced it is inevitable and that she is planning accordingly.

“I’ve been hearing about since I got here 20 years ago,” she said. “And it will probably be another 20 years in coming. That’s just the way it is with roads.”

Despite the uncertainty of when and if Independence will change, the town has imposed rules on development that assumes it will happen.

Most important, any new development anywhere near Independence must be designed under the assumption that, in the future, it won’t be accessible via the boulevard. That means developers must build new streets that connect new development with existing roadways other than Independence.

For an example of what can happen when alternate-access streets are not provided to commercial areas, look at the shuttered businesses and abandoned buildings along Independence where it is now a limited-access route through Charlotte.

Matthews is determined to not let that happen again, Ingrish said.

Some of the same restrictions on development apply to John Street, which Ingrish thinks is bound to expand from two lanes to four as it increasingly becomes more of a commuter artery linking Charlotte and Union County, named the seventh fastest-growing county in the country by a 2008 U.S. Census Bureau report.

While no concrete plans to widen John Street are on the books, Ingrish says any development — whether it is commercial or in small pockets of residential building — will have to include plans to construct shared access routes to John Street rather than gumming up traffic and heightening the possibility of automobile accidents with individual driveways.

Matthews’ dependence on cars could ease if early plans for a light-rail system in Mecklenburg County come to fruition. Planners envision four stops in Matthews, and one more on the border with Charlotte, all of which might provide more opportunity to expand Matthews’ limited ability to host new development.

One of those possible future rail stations would be in an area that is the site of the biggest development project in Matthews, on land that was once restricted because it belongs to Mecklenburg County. The county’s Park and Recreation Department is developing the $7 million, 160-acre Mecklenburg County Regional Sports Complex on Tank Town Road in the vicinity of Independence Boulevard and Interstate 485.

Now under construction, the first phase of the complex is scheduled to open in late summer 2013, with five tournament-quality soccer-size fields, two with artificial turf, and all with lights, restrooms and a playground, according to Parks and Recreation Department Director Jim Barges.

Although the second phase of the project, which would be a public-private cooperative, is still in the incubation phase, Ingrish sees it as “a unique opportunity for Matthews” to build a “24/7 family-destination complete with a movie theater, climbing walls, restaurants and a fitness facility.”

Matthews also is gearing up for the development of several possible continuing-care retirement communities, or CCRCs.

One such project, the Village at Plantation Estates, just won approval by the Town Council.

Near N.C. 51, the new project will be across Fullwood Lane from Plantation Estates CCRC, which comprises several high-rise buildings. The new facility will feature duplexes and low-rise buildings.


BROWN can be reached at [email protected] or (704) 247-2912. Follow him on Twitter at @tonymecktimes.


Next story in Talk of the Towns series: Pineville


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