you're reading...

Cornelius News

Town faces tough choices for West Catawba corridor


By Dave VieserA proposal to build a 14-story waterfront hotel and another proposal for 40 age-restricted homes on West Catawba Avenue, coupled with the acknowledged need for a higher commercial tax base in Cornelius, are leading to some difficult choices for town leaders. Along with the old 54-acre Alexander farm at Westmoreland and West Catawba and a couple of smaller parcels, the properties are among the last vestiges of a simpler Cornelius, one before traffic pulled out in front of planning.

Between the widening of West Catawba, and the future use of these few remaining parcels, this is going to be very interesting,” said the town board’s newest member Mike Miltich. “We need to do it right.”

Part of doing the whole thing right involves deciding whether to bury the utilities when West Catawba west of Jetton is widened to four lanes, first to Westmoreland and then on to Sam Furr Road. The cost of burying utilities is $6 million or $7 million for each of the two segments.

Cornelius Commissioner Dave Gilroy


“Is it worth that kind of money to bury the utilities…$6 million or $7 million just to Westmoreland? The pricetag for all of this is unreal,” said long-time Town Commissioner Dave Gilroy.  It’s a pocketbook issue, for sure: “Plain vanilla” NCDOT roads are one thing. Burying utilities is a cost over and above what the NCDOT plans, Gilroy said. It could mean a temporary tax increase. Gilroy explained that aesthetic improvements like burying utilities in the first phase of widening West Catawba—from Torrence Chapel to Jetton—required a temporary increase in the tax rate of 2.75 cents for two years.

One of the big issues in the road ahead has to do with Classica Homes, the developer of the highly successful Robbins Park neighborhood. Classica applied for conditional zoning which would permit them to build the 40 attached, age-restricted homes on West Catawba across from Elevation Church. Their application generated an unusual split between the town’s planning staff and its own planning board. The town staff had recommended rejection since the proposal was not consistent with the creation of a waterfront commercial zone included in the town’s land use plan.

Meanwhile nearby residents sided with Classica. Bill Carter, the secretary and treasurer of the adjacent Vineyard Point Yacht & Tennis Club, said a residential development would be better than anything commercial. “We frequently have bumper-to-bumper cars in front of the 9-acre tract that Classica wants to develop. A 40-unit residential project will be much more tolerable than any commercial development with cars constantly pulling in and out.”

Carter also noted that there is ample room left at Kenton Place on the opposite side of Catawba for commercial development. “We don’t need more pizza parlors, dry cleaners, or fast food restaurants on our side,” he said.

Carter attended and spoke at the planning board’s public hearing on the proposal March 14. He apparently made an impact, as several planning board members who originally were going to back the town staff decided instead to approve the application. The 5-2 approval sends the application to the town board, which is currently scheduled to hold its’ public hearing on Monday April 18.



“The West Catawba corridor is Main Street for the Lake Norman Region,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Woody Washam.  “Development along any Main Street such as this needs to be thoughtful and impactful in the right way. While our land use plan might need a little tweaking, it is a good road map for the future development throughout our town. With that said, there must be a great sensitivity toward the many residents that live in the vicinity.”

The proposed Classica project is on the same side of West Catawba where a developer wants to put a 14-story hotel on a 5.3 acre parcel at West Catawba and Waterview Drive. The property is currently zoned residential. The developer would include a conference center, which has been a long-standing goal of the local hospitality industry, not to mention business as a whole.

After an hour-long presentation on March 8 by the architect, members of the town’s Pre Development Review Committee’s (PDRC) expressed continued interest in the hotel, though perhaps not in the currently planned configuration.

“This would be a game changing facility for this town” said Planning Board Chairman Brian Simmons “though 14 stories would be a tough sell.” Earlier in the meeting, the architect said a six-story alternative could be an option.

Reaction from neighbors was predictably negative. “We’re building a new home right next door on Waterview Drive,” said Scott Boardman. “My wife Kiley will be having a baby later this year and we had built our new home expecting that the residential zoning which currently is in place would continue. Imagine how we felt when we heard about a 14 story hotel next door,” he said.

One aspect of the hotel development process which everyone agrees with: there will be plenty of opportunity for public input. “This is in the very early stages and there will be much more to come,” Washam said.