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Cornelius News

Alexander Farm project faces traffic issues

Aug. 6. By Dave Vieser. The would-be developers of the Alexander Farm property in Cornelius have been working hard to try and convince local officials and residents that their plans for the 55-acre farm are appropriate and responsible. However, in the final analysis, it may be the NC Dept. of Transportation which has the final say.

Based on the NCDOT’s recent review of another local project, that may not be good news for the developer of the $110 million mixed-use project planned for the intersection of Westmoreland and West Catawba.

In its review of a project’s Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA), the NCDOT always takes into consideration the status of previously planned road improvements.

There are several major projects in the vicinity of Alexander Farm which have already been delayed: The widening of West Catawba Avenue, which includes improvements to the West Catawba/Westmoreland Road intersection construction of a traffic circle where the proposed Northcross Road extension meets Westmoreland Road, and certain improvements to Hwy. 21 from Westmoreland Road to the Huntersville town line.

In a similar review back in May for a new office building near Chick-fil-A on West Catawba Avenue, the NCDOT said that “if the planned road improvements are not in place by buildout of the site, the developer should be responsible for them.”

However, NCDOT does not have a one size fits all approach to projects.

Although some of the planned projects may be delayed, NCDOT will require Alexander Farms to properly address any traffic congestion it creates.

This mixed-use neighborhood took design inspiration from the property’s rural history, promoting community activity with a village green, a food truck pavilion, a walkable Main Street and pedestrian walkways throughout a large parkland area. The applicant has preserved large trees at the corner of Westmoreland and West Catawba and created a corner tree plaza there for more community meeting space. A principal part of the project is independent senior living, which is a low traffic generator, and the residential component of the project, which was originally 160 townhomes, has been replaced with 76 single-family homes on larger lots.

Richard Bartlett, founder Bartlett, Hartley & Mulkey Architects Charlotte

That means the developer could be on the hook for millions of dollars in road improvements if they want the project to proceed on the original timetable. Their only other option would be to submit a revised TIA which does not assume that the traffic projects are completed when the development is done.

The timetable for the road projects has slipped due primarily to funding problems at the DOT. “We should hear back in the next few weeks from the DOT and will see what they come back with” said Town Planning Director Aaaron Tucker.”

WIN Development officials pledge to work with the NCDOT.

“Any traffic the community generates will need to be addressed,” said WIN principal Jesse McInerney. “The developer will work with the Town and NCDOT to do that. Creating a mixed-use, walkable community that significantly increases the amount of available parkland and includes senior housing will be an amenity to the area.”

Legally, infrastructure deficiencies by themselves cannot be used by local officials as the sole reason to deny requested zoning changes. However, the delayed completion of the road projects could play havoc with development timetables.

The Alexander project itself has already undergone a number of changes, including eliminating the age restrictions for 76 new private homes, which will most likely result in larger lots and higher–priced homes.

Once the NCDOT submits its review, the Town Planning staff will digest their comments and then make recommendations to the Planning Board and eventually the full Town Board.

Currently, the development is on the agenda for the Planning Board’s Aug. 10 meeting. Meanwhile, town officials will keep a close eye on the road work timetable. “We are aware that as the DOT works through its funding issues, any dates could change in the future,” said Deputy Town Manager Wayne Herron.