In heated meeting, Bailey Forest fails to win over Cornelius planning board

By: Tony Brown, Staff Writer//December 12, 2012//

In heated meeting, Bailey Forest fails to win over Cornelius planning board

By: Tony Brown, Staff Writer//December 12, 2012//

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This elevation shows what a home in the proposed Bailey Forest project could look like.

CORNELIUS — Developer and Cornelius resident Jake Palillo remained adamant and even combative Tuesday, less than 12 hours after the town’s planning board unanimously refused to approve his plans for an unusual multifamily housing development.

Palillo said he expected Monday night’s rejection but that he isn’t giving up on his project, Bailey Forest. He said he will seek approval from the town’s Board of Commissioners in January for a modified plan — without the planning board’s recommendation.

In recent weeks, the town’s commissioners have voted against, or developers have withdrawn plans for, five other high-density housing developments in the face of public outcry or Cornelius ordinances.

Palillo, meanwhile, isn’t going to try to win his battle by currying favor with the elected commissioners, choosing instead to criticize the town’s recent stance on residential development.

“They ought to change the law that says common sense is not allowed in the town of Cornelius,” Palillo said Tuesday.

If that sounds like Palillo is being mean-spirited, it’s in keeping with the tenor of Monday night’s planning board meeting, which was highlighted by neighbors’ complaints, accusations by Palillo of betrayal by the town and implications by the town’s attorney, Bill Brown, and planning director, Karen Floyd, that Palillo was lying.

The question in front of the board Monday night concerned a plan by Palillo, managing principal with Bluestream Partners, to develop 22 relatively large 2- to 3.3-acre lots on 62 vacant acres owned by Bluestream on Bailey Road near its intersection with Barnhardt Road.

Bluestream’s plan is unusual in that it would allow a lot owner to build a single-family home or a multifamily structure with up to four rental units. It’s a project the likes of which the Charlotte market has never seen, local builders say.

In yet another twist, the tract is just outside the town’s limits in unincorporated Mecklenburg County but is under the town’s jurisdiction for planning purposes.

Bluestream had asked to change the rezoning of the land from “rural preservation,” which allows only single-family homes to be built on lots measuring five acres or more, to a conditional zoning tailored for the Bailey Forest project.

At first glance, the disagreement over the land looks pretty simple. But as the evening wore on, things got complicated — and heated.

Here’s the simple part.

Palillo said he wants to meet market demand from baby boomers looking for income to retire on and from younger adults looking to rent. He questioned whether anyone would want to build an upscale “estate home” on a 5-acre lot within sight of the recently built, “industrial looking” Hough High School. And he promised to keep as many trees on the site as possible if his plan were approved.

Four neighbors who attended the meeting, and who live on or near Barnhardt Road, said they want to see it remain largely forested and/or converted to farmland that residents riding bikes and carrying picnic baskets can also enjoy.

“We had to play by the (zoning) rules,” neighbor Joan Boon said. “I didn’t know zoning was so flimsy.”

The six members of the planning board thanked Palillo for the previous developments he has brought to Cornelius but said they were inclined to protect a “gem,” one of the few rural sections left under the town’s jurisdiction.

Then came the complications — and the heat.

In response to neighbors and the board, Palillo said Boon told him that she not only liked the plans for Bailey Forest but also wanted to sell her property to him so it could be part of the project. Palillo said he turned her down because she wanted too much money, at which point, he said, she began to oppose the project.

Boon would not comment after the meeting.

Palillo told planning board members they were being “ridiculous” to continue classifying the area as rural when it is near a “transit corridor” — Old Statesville Road and train tracks that could one day become a commuter-rail line if plans are approved and funded. A business park, a recreational park and not one but two relatively new schools — Bailey Middle and Hough — are nearby, Palillo argued, and a major public sewage line serves the area.

“Rural areas do not have public utilities,” Palillo told the board. “This has utilities running through it. Schools mean density. Rail means density.”

Then the conversation turned to the recent history of the location.

When Palillo won the town’s approval to build Bailey’s Glen, a housing development geared toward senior citizens, he agreed to extend Bailey Road, which dead-ended nearby, so that it connected with Barnhardt Road.

The town, where schools are overburdened, needed that to happen so the North Carolina Department of Transportation would approve the construction of the two new schools. The DOT said Bailey Road needed to be connected to other roads on both ends to handle the increase in traffic, or the schools could not be built.

In order to extend Bailey Road, Palillo had to buy the land he now wants to develop into Bailey Forest. Together, the land and road cost him $5.5 million, he said.

In exchange, Palillo said, he was promised by town representatives that if he bought the land and built the road, the town would look favorably on a rezoning request in the future.

At that point, an already tense meeting turned ugly.

Palillo said Brown, the town’s attorney, and Floyd, the planning director, attended meetings where the rezoning promises were made. During Monday’s meeting, Palillo asked Brown and Floyd to tell the planning board that they overheard the promises.

Floyd said she did not make any promises. Brown gave Palillo a lecture on the illegality of quid pro quo rezoning.

When asked after the meeting if Palillo lied about the promises, Floyd did not respond. In an email, Brown said: “I didn’t know or hear of those things with respect to the extension of Bailey Road when Bailey’s Glen was being decided.”

Trying to defend himself, Palillo asked, “Why would I spend $5.5 million” on the road and property if there was nothing in it for Bluestream.

Brian Simmons, chairman of the planning board, praised Palillo for building the road.

“You did it in good faith,” Simmons said.

But as for the rezoning promises, Simmons responded with a question: “Wouldn’t you have gotten something in writing?”

On Tuesday, Palillo said he will seek approval for Bailey Forest from commissioners Jan. 7.

He said he will modify his plans to restrict the 11 lots nearest Barnhardt Road to single-family homes, even though he expressed doubts that they would sell. The other 11 lots, nearest Hough High, will be available for multifamily structures, if that’s what owners want to build on them.

“No, I’m not going to give up,” Palillo said. “What do I have to lose? I’m already getting slaughtered on this land. I’ll do whatever they want me to do with it.”

Tony Brown can be reached at [email protected], (704) 247-2912 or on Twitter at @tonymecktimes.

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