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Cornelius News

Property owner speaks out after being silenced at hearing


April 25. In keeping with the town’s three-minute rule for public comments, a long-time property owner at the center of the Classica Homes rezoning battle on West Catawba Avenue was shut down in the middle of his plea to the Town Board.

Daniel Houser, his wife and his parents, Mary and Joe Houser, want to sell their property to Classica Homes for an age-restricted development. Town planners want them to hold out for a commercial project.

Daniel Houser said he never got to finish his statement, having been “stopped by board chairman saying my allotted time of three minutes was over. Why not 12 minutes, I was representing four people?”

The issue is whether the Houser’s should continue to “land bank” the property and sell out for a commercial project, as per the town’s long-term vision, or sell now to Classica, the developer of Robbins Park. Ironically, the Houser land is in the middle of a residential area.

The property is zoned waterfront mixed use. Houser did not get to say this: “Your 2014 Land Use plan currently designates our property as Waterfront Mixed Use and clearly this designation has not been thought through in its entirety. Our property is not on the waterfront and is not close enough for retail that would support waterfront activities.”

The Town Board seemed to be splitting 2-2 on the decision; a telephone connection with Commissioner Dave Gilroy came and went, so the vote has been postponed to the May 2 meeting.

Dan Houser told Cornelius Today that the property owned by him and his wife and his mother and father, a 92-year-old World War II veteran, has been held “hostage by the Town of Cornelius for 20 years and they recommend holding it another 30 years.”

Here is the full text of his prepared statement:

Good evening Board Members:
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you.

My name is Dan Houser. My wife Ruth & I own the property at 17319 West Catawba Ave. I am also speaking for my parents, Joe and Mary Houser who own 17311 West Catawba Ave.

My ancestors settled in the North end of Mecklenburg County prior to 1800 and we are one of the few remaining original Cornelius land owners

We request that you approve this zoning request. The Houser family needs this zoning request to move forward a positive outcome. My parents are in their 90s, are in failing health, and we will soon need funds from proceeds of this land sale for their long term medical care and living expenses. My wife and I are retired, living on a fixed income and need the sale proceeds for living expenses as well.

Mr. Herron, Cornelius Planning Director, has formally stated he wants more stores and less residential in our area and we might have to wait as much as 30 years to sell this property as commercial. This sounds like tyrannical and unjust taking of our property by the Town of Cornelius to me. We simply cannot wait another 30, 5, even 2 years for the perceived need for retail space to catch up with the long term plan. We cannot continue to pay property taxes while to board holds our property hostage. If the board thinks this is such a great idea and does not approve our current proposal, then the town needs to buy the property at our current contract price and land bank it yourselves for the next 30 years!

The Houser’s have always been contributors to the well‐ being of the community. It is now time for the Town to give back by approving this zoning request for the many years of public service the Houser’s and particularly my dad Joe Houser has contributed to this community and our nation.

My Dad was a volunteer firefighter providing service to Cornelius and Huntersville area for more than 40 years. In fact, in the 1960s when money was very hard to come by and my parents struggled to buy groceries and provide for my sister and me. At the time there was NO FIRE PROTECTION in the unincorporated sections of what is now Cornelius and Huntersville. He and 2 other men took out a 2nd mortgages on their family homes in order to help secure funds to build Gilead (Now Huntersville 2) Fire station. My dad actually bought the first fire truck for this community! How many of you are willing to make that kind of sacrifice for our town?

He is also a WW2 veteran with 40+ years of military service where he was awarded a purple heart, 2 bronze stars and a chest full of other medals for his participation in D‐Day invasion in 1945.

All four property owners have been and continue to be public servants. Ed Smith is a police officer and puts his life on the line every day for you. Mark Francis served in the Navy. I am a retired volunteer Fire and Rescue Technician with 39 years of service to Gilead (now Huntersville) Volunteer Fire Department.

Classica Homes has submitted their proposed plan for development of townhomes on our property which we currently have under contract with them and have previously had for sale for about 20 years.

Houser was stopped here by the mayor. Here is the rest of his story:

In reviewing Classica’s plan for our property and seeing their previous work, we believe this company is the right company to develop our property. Furthermore, we believe their proposal to be in keeping with the character and nature of surrounding properties and will be an asset to the community.

Properties adjacent to our proposed project are either single family or townhomes and I believe high end townhomes are more appropriate for our land as well. Adjoining and nearby land owners are generally very supportive of our proposed project.

Your 2014 Land Use plan currently designates our property as Waterfront Mixed Use and clearly this designation has not been thought through in its entirety. Our property is not on the waterfront and is not close enough for retail that would support waterfront activities. Furthermore there is no existing connecting infrastructure or a practical way to build connecting infrastructure to the lake from our property.

Retail simply does not work in our area. Directly across the road from our property is Kenton place which is a ghost town of empty store fronts and large tracts of undeveloped land which is already zoned for commercial. Development of this property as commercial was such a disaster that the previous developer bailed out without fully developing it as he had originally planned.

Even the developers know this area is not the appropriate location for commercial and consequently they are unwilling to invest in our property for this type of development because after 20 or more years of diligent searching we have been unable to find a willing commercial developer.

The Planning board chairman wants retail on our side of the road. This is an irrational conclusion that is not supported by the facts. Retail across the road from Kenton will be a public safety hazard as there are no plans for a light or safe pedestrian walkway and cars crossing over will only contribute to additional traffic congestion and cause vehicle accidents. Does the town want another retail disaster on our side of the road as well and endanger public safety of its citizens? I certainly hope not.

In years past, we have met various times with Town representatives, and have entertained other development plans for this property that have presented a mixed use plan with restaurants or other commercial uses. At that time, the adjoining residents turned out in droves to ensure the Town disapproved any development plans of this nature due to it being immediately adjacent to existing single family.

I have no doubt our neighbors will continue to strongly object to any mixed use development on our property which makes the sale of it virtually impossible for that purpose.

I’m not sure the Planning Board has a good idea what they want there as they have changed their minds multiple times during the 20 year period the property has been on the market.

I understand that traffic volume on West Catawba is a concern with a traffic volume of approximately 28,000 cars per day. Yes, ANY development will contribute to traffic volume. But, our proposal will contribute only a negligible amount, certainly less than any other use, and will not occur at peak traffic times. This development is, in fact, so small that it does not ever require a traffic study by NCDOT guidelines. I beg you not to hold our project hostage until the road is widened or later.

I understand it is the Board’s desire to have a waterfront resort hotel somewhere in the one of the areas currently designated as Waterfront Mixed use. There are other plenty of other properties where this makes more sense than our land.

It is in the town’s best interest in terms of tax base revenues to approve the requested zoning change. Our property is currently built as single family residential with a total tax revenue base of about $1.2 million total for all 4 properties. It is my understanding that Classica Homes proposed build out will increase in tax base to about $19 million which is a 15+ X increase for the town over current values.

While this property has been on the market (since before 2000) and we have unsuccessfully attempted to find a willing buyer that can produce a plan the zoning office would accept, the town has already lost an estimated $285 million in tax base revenues ($285 million =15 YR x $19 million) due, in part, to the Zoning board waffling on various proposals on the property we have presented.

I trust that the Board, after due consideration, will rationally conclude that our proposal is consistent with mixed use and the plan presented by Classica Homes is the correct plan and makes the most sense for the Town, our neighbors, and the Houser family.

Does the board have any questions for me? Thank you for your consideration.

Says Houser: “How can the town’s elected officials get away with ignoring the desires of the town residents? How long can the town continue to hold our property hostage while my Dad and I continue to be bled dry paying exorbitant property taxes?”