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Opinion: Dave Gilroy comments on growth, traffic

Dave Gilroy, a Town Commissioner from 2005 to 2019, is running for his old seat on the Town Board, having lost his bid for re-election two years ago. He sent this letter to Cornelius Today as well as constituents.

By Dave Gilroy. We have recently seen yet another new, large-scale apartment complex approved in a challenging location (200 units) between Junker and Harborside on W. Catawba. Everyone I talk to has serious concerns about overcrowding in Cornelius and rightly so.

I’m running for Town Board again this year because I’m profoundly concerned that this Board needs a voice (and a vote) for moderation, balance, sustainability, and (above all) our quality of life in the future.

Here’s a summary of important background facts:

Current lack of balance. Cornelius is currently just over 82 percent residential and less than 18 percent all other (commercial office, retail, hospitality, industrial, storage, recreational, etc.) based on tax base. For many years, we had a strong pro-economic development consensus on our Town Board, and we really wanted to move this mix over time toward non-residential. We thought that over the long term, encouraging local job creation with high-end office, medical, hospitality and distinctive entertainment and recreational land use was an important strategic direction. Rather than just becoming another overcrowded “bedroom” community in the suburbs, we believed in balanced “live, work, and play” locally.

Density makes residential imbalance even worse. Today, we have 9,840 single-family residences (many of which are town homes or close-together patio homes) and 5,255 multifamily units (all apartments or condos).

We have 8.5 percent residential growth already approved but not yet built. We have 1,271 new residential units already approved by our Town Board in the last few years which are in the construction process. Another 574 new single-family homes have been approved of which 509 are yet to be built.

Similarly, 810 new multifamily units have been approved of which 762 are yet to be built. These new housing units will not all be built in the next year, of course, but they’re coming out of the ground no matter what.

So, should we worry about overcrowding?

I strongly believe that overcrowding diminishes quality of life. I witnessed this first hand living in both the Washington DC suburbs in the ’80s and the Atlanta suburbs in the ’90s. Overcrowding drives 4 chronic, unsolvable problems:

Traffic congestion and road failures. Overcrowding can happen in a matter of years, but building and expanding roads in a meaningful way takes decades and tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars.

Degrading or failure of public schools. We are already way overcapacity at Hough, Bailey Middle, and our two elementary schools. We have no idea when the next new school will be built in Cornelius, but it’s not in our foreseeable future

Inevitable, multiple tax increases. Residential development of even modest density drives demand for public services (police, fire, etc.) that far outstrips the incremental tax revenue, as studies have confirmed repeatedly.

Disappearance of open green space, tree canopy, and preserved natural habitat. The highest bidder for any acreage newly put up for sale will ALWAYS be a high-density residential developer. Without Town Board vision and discipline, sustainability and environmental sensitivity go out the window.

Here are some examples of recent Town Board approvals of new residential projects:

—Alexander Farm: 55 acres at Westmoreland and West Catawba approved for 77 single family and 130 independent living units in addition to some commercial space – site construction to start any day

—Retreat at West Catawba: 10 acres on West Catawba approved for 57 town homes – site construction underway

—Washam Potts Townhomes:  7 acres on Washam Potts approved for 27 tightly packed single family homes – site clearing underway

—Mayes Meadow: Formerly rural preservation land on Mayes road approved for 160 single family units

—Cambridge Square: West Catawba land approved for 20 single family units and 2 small commercial buildings – site construction underway

—Bailey’s Glen multiple projects: Various expansions including 132 multifamily units and two other major new residential subdivisions with over 200 single family units

—Junker & Harborside: 12 acres on West Catawba site approved for 195 apartments – approved

—The Venue: Main Street site approved for 75 apartments and ground floor retail – approved.

A full list of Board-approved projects can be found here.

Here’s what’s in the residential pipeline for Town Board approval:

—Sefton Park: 344 apartment units, some commercial, and hotel/conference center on 10 acres near Planet Fitness (approved)

—Caroline: Potentially several hundred apartment units on 16 acres off South Street just north of Antiquity (approved)

—Greenway Gartens: 360-450 apartments, 50 town homes, and craft brewery on 25 acres off Zion Avenue (approved)

—Reserve at Smith Circle – 12 single family homes on 4 acres on Smith Circle

—Towns at Feriba Place – 9 town homes on less than 0.5 acre on east side between Meridian and Main.

So, we’re looking at yet another ~20% or more expansion in our already out-of-whack residential development picture. Even worse, the vast majority of this is the most challenging kind of high density multifamily. Enough is enough. Quality of development, not quantity, is key.

—Dave Gilroy

Mayor Washam responded to Gilroy’s letter. To read his comments, click here.