Growth Brings Organized Opposition Around Lake Norman

Jul 10, 2017

Development is booming again in the Lake Norman area. The recession that began in 2008 killed or delayed many projects. But now, new projects are going up from Huntersville to Mooresville. Some residents don't like it - and they're using social media and protests to pressure local officials. Votes are planned this week on two such developments - Monday night in Mooresville and Tuesday night in Davidson. WFAE host Mark Rumsey talked with reporter David Boraks, who has been following the projects.

RUMSEY:  David, what are the two projects we're talking about?

BORAKS: They're actually not too far part - both off Highway 115 - the main road from Davidson to Mooresville.  In both cases, it's land that has been ripe for development for years.  

A site plan for the 137-acre development in Mooresville, proposed by developer Hinckley Gauvain. It got planning board approval in May, and has the backing of the planning staff.

In Mooresville, a developer wants to build a mix of attached and single-family housing, offices and shops. It would be on about 137 acres of farmland between the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks and a part of Lake Norman called Lake Davidson. It's currently zoned for single family homes - three per acre. Commissioners will vote tonight whether to allow a bigger mixed use development.

About a mile south in Davidson, the town owns about 19 acres around an old farm pond near the same tracks. Officials will vote on whether to sell the land for $1.6 million to a private developer for a mixed-use project. It would have park, housing, stores and offices and a 135-room hotel.

RUMSEY - Why are residents coming out against the projects?

BORAKS – Like anywhere, it's mainly concerns about the side effects of growth.  I talked to Arielle Emmett. She lives near the Mooresville site, in a lakefront neighborhood built only about 10 years ago.

EMMETT - It's not that we don't want any development at all, although I would love to see the beautiful farm lands remain. But that's not what this is about. What it is about is that there's such a lack of control in this plan, and it is just way too big.

BORAKS - She says traffic is already backed up on Highway 115, even before adding hundreds more cars from the new project.

RUMSEY - And what about the Davidson project?

A development group called Luminous wants to build a park, housing and a hotel on 19 acres owned by the Town of Davidson off Beaty Street.

BORAKS - Some residents in Davidson are unhappy about new development in general.  There's even a Facebook group called Save Davidson - which is fighting against multiple projects at once, including this one known as the Beaty Street Property.   

The town bought most of the land 30 years ago from the Clontz family, as it was looking for open space. That’s why one neighbor, David Sitton, never expected it to be developed.

SITTON - There was a commitment made by the town board in the early '80s to the Clontz family and to the residents of Davidson that this particular property would be a park. And in particular there were several references to this as potentially Davidson's Central Park.

BORAKS - Traffic and strains on public services are also a big concern for him. And neighbors want more input into what goes there - something they think should be a given since the town owns the land.

RUMSEY -  What do the towns say about the opposition?  

BORAKS -  In both Davidson and Mooresville, planners and elected officials are looking at the big picture. They say growth is inevitable - they just want to manage it.  They’ve drawn up plans – usually with lots of input from residents and the public – for how different parts of town should grow.

One of the problems is that much of the opposition is coming from people who weren’t part of that planning or didn’t even live here at the time.

In Mooresville, the planning board voted to recommend the project. The town's planning director talked about how it fits with the town's plans to expand development south of downtown.

And Davidson officials point out that the preliminary plan for Beaty Street does include an eight-acre park. They say there's no deed restriction or requirement that the land can only be a park. And they say it fits in with the town's goal of promoting more mixed use development near downtown. They want to emphasize walking, not cars.

The town also says it gets $1.6 million to pay for other improvements around town. Plus an extra $350,00 in tax revenue every year.

RUMSEY – So how large and organized are opponents? 

BORAKS -  Pretty well organized. They're using email, Facebook groups and other social media.  Some of these online groups have 1,200 followers – whether all of those are supporters we don’t know.  

And they're doing some pretty sophisticated research. It used to be a group of homeowners unfamiliar with zoning was no match for developers or town officials.  

But in both these cases, neighborhoods are using public records requests to find out as much as they can.  Both groups have published lengthy reports - one of these was 60 pages.

And all that research can uncover some embarrassing information - like an exchange of text messages in Mooresville between the mayor and a town commissioner.  Arielle Emmett described it to me.

EMMETT - I was referred to as the long-distance swimmer threatening to go to court. And all of the people in our area who were directly affected by these plans were called the loudmouth outsiders.  

BORAKS - The commissioner involved apologized at a public meeting. But it's left a bad taste among the neighbors.

RELATED LINKS

July 11, 2017, Davidson Town Board agenda, with a presentation about the Beaty Street Project.  

Town of Davidson web page for the Beaty Street project 

July 10, 2017, Mooresville Town Board agenda, with details on the Hinckley Gauvain development.