Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Home / News / Construction / Officials told that conservation subdivisions could reshape the future of fast-changing Huntersville

Officials told that conservation subdivisions could reshape the future of fast-changing Huntersville

HUNTERSVILLE – The town’s Planning Board and Board of Commissioners spent an hour talking about the potential impact of the proposed adoption of a conservation subdivision-style zoning classification during a special joint session this week, ahead of separate meetings in the next two weeks.

Bonterra Builders’ Telfair development is a conservation-style subdivision with small,clustered lots preserving natural areas around the lots. Courtesy of Bonterra Builders

Bonterra Builders’ Telfair development is a conservation-style subdivision with small,
clustered lots preserving natural areas around the lots. Courtesy of Bonterra Builders

The requested change in the town’s planning ordinance, proposed by a landowner and a developer seeking to open up the transitional areas between high- and low-density sections of fast-growing Huntersville to more tightly clustered subdivisions, is a momentous decision for the board members, Jack Simoneau, town planning director, told the boards at the Jan. 21 meeting.

It will, he said, help shape the future of the town’s growth.

But after discussion, most of the appointed Planning Board members and elected commissioners said the town should also consider rewriting the residential sections of the town zoning ordinance for the wide swaths of Huntersville’s jurisdiction on both sides of the Interstate 77 corridor that are considered rural.

That could have an even broader impact on the town, Simoneau told the boards.

Nearly 50 percent of all Mecklenburg County building permits issued for projects outside Charlotte’s planning jurisdiction go to those in Huntersville or the large areas of unincorporated land in its jurisdiction. That’s almost as many permits as those going to the five other towns in the county.

Huntersville doubled in population between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and is expected to swell to around 80,000 by 2020, according to the Lake Norman Economic Development Commission, making it one of the fastest-growing places in the state.

And, Simoneau said, as the coming completion of Interstate 485 makes more areas of Huntersville accessible; as higher-density central Huntersville – inside the I-77 corridor, which splits the town in half – becomes more built out; and as developers in search of land push farther out from congested Charlotte, those developers will aim their proposals toward the transitional and rural sections of town.

At maximum, if all developers took every advantage of increased-density incentives to preserve more natural area in every subdivision in the transitional areas – an unlikely event given that most tracts of land in the Piedmont have geographic features like prohibitive slopes, swales and creeks that limit development – it could increase expected population growth in those areas at buildout to an estimated 13,395 people from the current estimates of 8,074 people, Simoneau said.

Despite the potential added burden on the town’s resources – residential development tends to cost the town more in infrastructure than taxes collected, with the reverse being true of most commercial development – Simoneau endorsed the change.

“It lessens the costs of development and maintenance, is consistent with long-range plans, and we see value in making these adjustments” in terms of better utilizing existing infrastructure, which helps keep water and sewer prices lower; of preserving more of the outlying parts of town’s rural character as it becomes built out; and of lowering the environmental impact of residential development by preserving more natural areas, Simoneau told those attending the meeting.

Those arguments are essentially the same ones made by developer Bart Hopper of Charlotte-based Hopper Communities and transitional-area landowner Alex Barnette, who with Hopper proposed the text amendment in December.

Conservation subdivisions have been around in many Charlotte-area municipalities, but they are just now getting some attention and traction in others as an alternative to more density-restrictive rural zonings. Huntersville had one in 2003-06, but when anti-development forces on the Board of Commissioners instituted a moratorium on residential development, the conservation subdivision part of the town’s zoning code was taken out because it encouraged so many developers to go after land in rural and transitional areas, town planner Whitney Hodges said in an interview.

The idea of conservation subdivisions is to keep the number of homes in a subdivision roughly the same, but to cluster those homes on lots as small as 10,000 to 12,000 square feet. But developers could build even more homes if they preserve more than the required open space. And building in tighter clusters is more cost-effective.

Many developers say that building under low-density regulations is prohibitively costly, in part because buyers are increasingly demanding smaller lots.

Owners of large tracts of woodlands and farmland say the taxes on their low-density properties have zoomed as development creeps closer, but they cannot sell their tracts for the property tax value if developers aren’t interested in trying to sell large lots. Barnette, for example, told the board in December that his mother’s will directs him as its executor to sell the land, and he wants to get the most money he can for himself and his family.

Planners and environmentalists steeped in new-urban methods  say clustered homes promote walkability and connectivity and actually conserve forests and pastures better than low-density techniques.

As the discussion drew to a close Jan. 21, it became clear that most of the officials wanted to take this opportunity to make broader changes to decrease the impact on infrastructure of all residential subdivisions.

One proposal made at the meeting would lower the threshold at which traffic-impact analyses would be required for subdivisions, and at which developers would have to make road improvements to help handle increased traffic.

Under the current ordinance, TIA’s are required only for regular subdivisions of about 50 single-family homes or more, which top 500 car trips per day or 50 car trips per peak hour.

“Sure, you can tweak the TIA standards if you want; everything is up for change,” Simoneau said. “It’s up to you.”

The Planning Board will consider the proposal Jan. 28, and the Board of Commissioners on Feb. 3, though there was talk at the Jan. 21 meeting of the commissioners deferring their decision to allow Hopper, Burnette and the planning staff more time to tweak it. Both meetings are at 6:30 p.m. in Town Hall, 101 Huntersville-Concord Road.

For more on the proposal, go to, click on Departments and follow the links to Planning and Proposed Text Amendments.









Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *