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Cornelius News

Is Exit 27 the answer to our problems?


By Dave Yochum. A study from an organization called the Urban Land Institute is suggesting a thorough redo of Westmoreland and the area along either side of I-77 where the Augustalee site is on the east and the Cooke farm site is on the west.

The goal is to open up the properties to a smarter brand of development, one that emphasizes all kinds of mobility and commercial uses like Class A office space and a hotel, not residential.

It would just about make for a new center of town, starting from scratch in a community that grew by leaps and bounds, with more energy than foresight.

Mike Griffin, a member of the Lake Norman Economic Development board, will discuss the Exit 27 proposal at the Newsmakers Breakfast Wednesday, Nov. 18 at The Peninsula Club. To RSVP, call 704-895-1335.

“The panel believes the new interchange could afford a significant branding opportunity for Cornelius. The plan provides the best chance to do something really exciting and visually compelling and to create significant development spaces. This is the best chance for Cornelius to get it right,” the 25-page report says.

The ULI panel consists of leading lights in the local real estate business, including Kathleen Rose, a development expert from Davidson, and Ed McKinney, interim planning director for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department.

The key to opening the Cooke and Augustalee properties is not just a new exit, but a design that places on and off ramps south of Westmoreland Road and north of a proposed Bailey Road extension flyover bridge. Importantly, it would also connect to an extension of Northcross Drive from Huntersville into the Cooke family property.

It’s all pie in the sky at this point, but town officials plan to travel to Raleigh to seek funding for an ambitious plan that would help improve traffic in town as well as improve the balance of taxable properties.

Officials want to see greater commercial growth to lighten the residential tax load, as well as provide opportunities for jobs.

Right now about 80 percent of the town’s budget is borne by residential taxpayers.

“Because of the small amount of developable land available, doing development right on both the former Augustalee and the Cooke sites is critical,” the ULI report says.

Veteran Town Commissioner Dave Gilroy said the proposal is a good one. “A new Exit 27 will offload traffic from Catawba and Exit 28. High-quality, non-residential, employment center development in that area will add significantly to our community,” he said.

Commercial real estate brokers—the people who sell and lease properties along Catawba and up and down Main Street—had differing opinions.

Gordon Allebach, founder of G Brokerage on West Catawba Avenue, said he “welcomes increasing the accessibility by adding Exit 27.

“This new exit appears to be focused on increasing office and hotel, with an element of retail also.  We need more Class A office and especially large footprints for company headquarters.  Lake Norman also would strongly benefit by securing a full-service hotel and a hotel on the lake.  This looks to check one of these boxes,” said Allebach, a Cornelius resident himself.

But he said the impact on existing business is unknown. “The stronger day and after-work population, with the new office space, would likely help the retail and restaurant businesses,”

Restaurants and nightspots that have closed this year include Harvey’s and The Wine Cellar.

An Exit 27 would ease congestion on Catawba, Allebach said, which is a good thing.

“A full-service hotel will not compete with our limited service hotels but would instead pull from Charlotte’s hotels and compete with the new full-service hotel coming to Langtree at Exit 31,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Woody Washam the next step would be for officials in the town to start checking in with the NCDOT and the Federal Highway Administration. “There are so many plusses to it,” he said, including bringing “jobs closer to home, which would keep more people off the interstate.”

Another commercial real estate broker, Tom McMahon, the owner of the Sperry Van Ness office on West Catawba Avenue, said he was opposed to the idea for a new exit near Westmoreland.

“It’s a ludicrous idea, a terrible idea. We are so negatively impacted by I-77, it would continue to worsen what is a bad situation,” McMahon said.

He explained that every time there is another off and on ramp, they cause a “failure” of the entire concept and purpose of an interstate highway, and that’s to move traffic.

McMahon said he is considering moving Sperry Van Ness out of Cornelius because of issues ranging from congestion on I-77 to what sometimes looks like a propensity for the town to dabble at economic development.

He pointed to the new Life Fellowship Church going in on the I-77 service road just south of Exit 28, as well as the Elevation Church in formerly commercial space in Kenton Place. “From many perspectives we are failing to properly rezone,” he said.

As churches, Life and Elevation are exempt from property taxes.