Northern disclosures: Land-use actions pile up in Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson

By: Tony Brown, Staff Writer//December 2, 2013//

Northern disclosures: Land-use actions pile up in Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson

By: Tony Brown, Staff Writer//December 2, 2013//

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HUNTERSVILLE – The Huntersville Planning Board last week granted Epcon Communities a continuation until Dec. 17 on a rezoning request to allow the developer more time to answer officials’ concerns about a proposed single-family subdivision restricted to adults 55 and up.

Epcon Communities wants to develop an age-restricted subdivision of condominium-style detached homes similar to these – built close together with courtyards between each house – in Huntersville. Rendering courtesy of Epcon Communities
Epcon Communities wants to develop an age-restricted subdivision of condominium-style detached homes similar to these – built close together with courtyards between each house – in Huntersville. Rendering courtesy of Epcon Communities

In developments on other contentious land-use issues in Mecklenburg County’s three northern municipalities:

  •  The Huntersville planning staff is preparing to defend a thoroughfare-alignment plan – which came under attack from citizens last month – at a Board of Commissioners meeting scheduled for Jan. 6.
  •  The Cornelius Planning Department has been tweaking its new land-use plan draft, which drew criticism at a public hearing in November. The tweaked plan was scheduled to be presented again to the Board of Commissioners on Monday night for review. A decision is expected on Dec. 16.
  • And in Davidson, the environmentally conscious Davidson Green School, plans for which survived a heated challenge from neighbors in October, has received a final certificate of occupancy and is now operating in its new home, a renovated home.

Back to the Planning Board

After noting the high quality of the detached, condominium-style patio homes being proposed by the Columbus, Ohio-based Epcon, and saying that Huntersville needs residential development for older adults, a staff report noted that the blocks lengths, the narrow streets, the non-recessed front-loading garages and the absence of street stubs connecting to nearby future development were all not in keeping with Huntersville 1996 zoning ordinance.

At a Board of Commissioners meeting on Nov. 4, Epcon Vice President Craig Thomas responded by saying his company’s research shows that its growing customer base wants many of the features the planning report objects to. Because Epcon is asking for a conditional zoning, the Board of Commissioners can grant exceptions to the zoning ordinance, though the staff report advises against it.

In addition to those issues, town board members and a few citizens attending the meeting expressed concerns about the impact of increased traffic on N.C. 73 at Terry Lane. Planner Whitney Hodges told the board that because age 55-plus communities do not generate as many daily and rush-hour car trips as a regular residential development, no traffic-impact analysis is necessary.

The proposal went before the town’s appointed Planning Board last week, but Epcon asked for and received a deferment.

“We asked for a delayed decision because we need to assemble a little bit more information to respond to the questions. It’s a great site and we are anxious to get through this phase.”

The plan – for 52 units on 17 acres on N.C. 73 in northwest Huntersville – is now scheduled to go back to the Planning Board on Dec. 17, Hodges said.

Also in Huntersville, the town has been studying the long-term future alignment of three roads likely to be extended and become thoroughfares that will connect with Eastfield and Prosperity Church roads: Verhoeff Drive and Everette Keith and Hambright roads.

The town wants to make them thoroughfares to ease traffic from the development explosion expected in north Charlotte and south Huntersville when the last leg of Interstate 485 opens, probably in 2015 or ’16.

The town’s planning staff has also developed a related Eastfield Road Small Area Plan to address some of the same issues. It was also put on hold until the thoroughfare study is OK’d because they are interrelated.

Planning Director Jack Simoneau emphasized that the thoroughfare study is not a detailed, set-in-stone document calling for immediate action, but “looks 20 years out.”

At the Nov. 4 Board of Commissioners meeting, the thoroughfare study received negative and often venomous opposition from a half-dozen owners of property on or near the roads. Some accused the town commissioners of trying to approve the study before elections Nov. 5, calling it a “land grab” and accusing the town of misfeasance in its study.

The board put off a decision on both plans to allow the Planning Department to gather more details.

“We will be addressing some of questions about how we arrived at some of our figures,” said Zac Gordon, a Huntersville principal planner.

“Most of it will be about why we’ve aligned them the way we have, to avoid putting in so many bridges (over creeks and swales). Moving dirt is always cheaper than the concrete and steel it takes to build bridges. We want to value-engineer this.”

Both plans go back before the Board of Commissioners on Jan. 6.

Cornelius plans land use

 Farther north, in Cornelius, Planning Director Wayne Herron said a new draft of the land-use plan was set to be reviewed by the Board of Commissioners on Monday, but will not be up for approval until Dec. 16.

At a public hearing on Nov. 18, some property owners said the land-use plan’s call for increasing housing density from one house per 5 acres to one per 2 acres in the Bailey Road area was too dense to maintain its “rural character,” while others said it was not dense enough for them to market their land to developers.

“We’ve been talking with citizens and making the rounds of commissioners, and we’re hearing comments but no consensus,” Herron said. “We’re going to publish a revised (land-use) map on our website, and we’re asking the commissioners to just receive the new draft at the Dec. 2 meeting, give them time to digest it and then listen to what they have to say on Dec. 16. It is possible after that second meeting that they will be able to make a decision” on whether to adopt the new plan.

Finally, even farther north, in Davidson, resolution has finally come for the Davidson Green School.

Davidson Planning Manager Ben McCrary over the summer approved the school’s plan to renovate and open in a house at 511 S. Main St. because, he said, the plan complied with the town’s zoning ordinance restrictions for the village infill zone where the house is located.

After McCrary made his decision, a neighbor of the school, architect John Burgess, filed an appeal of the decision, requiring a quasi-judicial hearing before the rarely called Board of Adjustment.

Burgess complained the building did not meet the ordinance’s standards for a civic building and argued that McCrary overstepped his authority in granting the project a variance without a public hearing before the town’s appointed Planning Board and/or elected Board of Commissioners.

On Dec. 14, a packed house at Davidson Town Hall watched and listened as five lawyers spent more than four hours making often-emotional and sometimes meandering cases for the three sides: Burgess (along with some like-minded neighbors), the town, and the school. It took the board less than an hour to discuss the testimony and to vote 3-2 in favor of the town’s administrative decision-making and the school’s $750,000 project.

Burgess had 30 days to appeal the board’s decision to the N.C. Superior Court, but chose not to.

After surmounting several minor state and county hurdles, the school – which started the school year in September in a temporary space at a local church – recently completed its minimal renovations to the house and moved its operations there.

Still more land-use issues in north Mecklenburg include an initial public hearing that was scheduled for Monday in Huntersville on an “enterprise center” proposed by a church-based nonprofit organization in the ramshackle Huntington Green mobile-home neighborhood.

And in Cornelius, outspoken local developer Jake Palillo is expected to appear once again on a to-be-announced date in January at Town Hall to hear a decision by the Board of Commissioners on his long-debated plans for a residential subdivision on Bailey Road.

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