MOORESVILLE – Emotions ran high during a public hearing at a Board of Commissioners meeting Monday, with Mayor Miles Atkins asking a police officer to remove one unruly resident and Ward 2 Commissioner Thurman Houston chastising the crowd for disrespectful behavior.
At issue was The Langtree Group’s request for a rezoning of 25.4 acres near Interstate 77 between exits 31 and 33.
In the end, the board voted unanimously to continue the public hearing – and a decision on the rezoning – until its Dec. 15 meeting, in order to complete a small-area plan currently underway for Alcove Road and to clarify development issues with The Langtree Group, Langtree Charter Academy and the state Department of Transportation.
The Langtree tract straddles Foundation Court running west off Alcove Road and extends in an L-shape to the west and north to Templeton Road.
Templeton Road, however, is the only way into a single-family, clover-shaped neighborhood surrounded by Lake Norman and its inlets where about 350 people live. Many of them had received anonymous flyers in their mailboxes, urging them to attend the meeting and oppose the development.
Those residents constituted the bulk of the more than 100 people who attended the hearing.
Their concerns include increased traffic on Templeton and Alcove roads, particularly were there to be an accident at the Duke Energy McGuire Nuclear Station about 8 miles to the southwest, as well as the development not being consistent with the residential character of the area.
They also cited the town Planning Board’s unanimous vote in September to recommend that the commissioners deny the rezoning request. The planning staff, however, has said the project meets the town’s requirements for the types of development that could occur there.
The Langtree Group is seeking a zoning of “Village Center” with conditions for its project, named Alcove Commons. The application includes plans for 58,519 square feet of small retail space, 33,788 square feet of office space, 61 town homes and a 108-room hotel built over four phases in three to five years. However, said Langtree’s Brad Howard at the meeting, “There is currently no plan to develop a hotel and we are willing to remove it from the site plan.”
One of the Planning Board’s objections was that the Village Center designation is meant to stretch across major thoroughfares; Alcove Road is a two-lane access road running next to I-77 from exit 31 to 33.
Langtree has already begun developing some of the land on parcels where the zoning – corridor mixed use – was compatible with the projects. Langtree Charter Academy opened in August 2013 at the western end of Foundation Court. At the other end on the north side of Foundation Court, Schumacher Homes’ model home and design studio fronts Alcove Road and Langtree expects to finish an office building, Cornerstone Building One, in February. The company then plans to begin construction of Cornerstone Building Two, a three-story office building on the south side of Foundation Court, if the site plan is approved, said Howard.
It’s the property in the middle, on which Langtree wants to build 61 town homes and a road connecting Foundation Court to Templeton Road, that needs to be rezoned and has stirred neighborhood opposition.
The land is currently zoned for single-family homes.
One of the concerns raised was that, during drop-off and pick-up times at the charter school, drivers will choose to take the connecting road to Templeton and tie up traffic there. Residents also voiced concerns about limited driver visibility at the Templeton-Alcove intersection.
The town has been working on a small-area plan for transportation and development around Alcove, Langtree and Fairview roads, where the state DOT is planning to build a flyover across I-77. Because there are four configurations for how roads will connect to Fairview, planners don’t know yet how it will impact development. The town expects by December, however, to have completed a small-area corridor plan along Alcove and have recommendations for the commissioners on zoning and other planning matters.
The thing that most bothered the commissioners Monday, however, was that Langtree Charter Academy has not yet completed road improvements that were part of the conditions allowing it to build the charter school.
Town staff members said there was some disagreement between the charter school and the state DOT concerning traffic counts and impact analyses on Langtree Road. The required improvements primarily include turning lanes on roads in and near the development.
The Langtree Group representatives said that should their project be approved, they would make those improvements in addition to whatever may be required for their project. Rick and Brad Howard promised the company would accept as a development condition the requirement that it finish the improvements before a certificate of occupancy could be issued for new buildings.
But commissioners Houston, Lisa Qualls and David H. Coble expressed concerns about whether the improvements not yet made by the school would be finished should the current proposal be rejected. Seeking a way to ensure that the work is done is one reason they cited in continuing the hearing.
“It should have been done two years ago,” said Houston.
After Langtree representatives spoke but before public comments were made, Coble proposed continuing the hearing, drawing outbursts from the residents in attendance. As Mayor Atkins attempted to restore order, one yelled, “Throw me out!”
But the audience’s reaction spurred the commission to reconsider and agree that residents’ comments could raise additional points that needed to be looked into before the hearing was reconvened.
About a dozen spoke, most citing traffic congestion, quality of life and safety issues as their reasons for opposing the project.
After they spoke, Rick Howard stood and addressed both the crowd and the board, saying that his family has owned nearby property since the early 1960s, before the Catawba River was damned to create Lake Norman.
“The last thing we would want to do is something that’s harmful,” he said. “We’re willing to make concessions, we’re willing to make changes, we’re willing to sell it and let somebody else do it…I want to work with you to have something there that is good for everyone.”
Before the meeting was adjourned, however, Houston had something to say to the audience.
“We’re supposed to be adults,” he said, likening some behavior to that in elementary school, including calling out during the meeting and applauding speakers many times after Mayor Atkins had asked that the crowd refrain from applauding.
“You came here to ask something of us, and then you disrespected” Atkins said. “I’m disappointed in the behavior.”