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Cornelius News

Town leaders looking for consensus-building in Smithville revitalization plan

The many faces of Smithville

March 18. By Dave Vieser. The Smithville neighborhood is facing the same challenges other historically black communities are facing nationwide: Gentrification taking advantage of what is now blight and lower home values. Complicating this is the fact that the town owns more than a dozen lots in the area.

“We are in trouble folks,” said Lisa Mayhew, a member of the Smithville Community Coalition. “We need a plan to address the situation. If not this plan, then another but we need something.”

Two years in the making

The plan she referred to is a neighborhood revitalization plan which has been in the works for almost two years. Coordinated by the Smithville Community Coalition (SCC) ,the basic thrust of the plan is to address gentrification in the Smithville neighborhood, an aging population and low land values.

The plan has been developed with Neighboring Concepts, a local planning firm led by Darrell Williams, who has worked with similar programs in Charlotte.

The Smithville neighborhood is just east of I-77 and on both sides of Catawba Avenue. It consists of approximately 150 total lots, some of them vacant. The target area includes such streets as South Hill Street, and South Ferry Street, where older homes still exist. There are also well-kept homes, including Smithville Lane, where the late Mayor Nannie Potts lived.

“This plan will address several important issues, including protection for the current residents to make sure that can stay in Smithville while also figuring out how to attract new people into old Smithville,” said Willie Jones, an SCC member and Antiquity resident.

Jones agreed with Mayhew that action is needed now. “I see 2024 as the tipping point for Smithvilles’ survival,” Jones said.

Four basic objectives:

—Eliminate the displacement of current low-income residents of Smithville.

—Eliminate blight and create improved home values for the residents.

—Connect Smithville to the Town of Cornelius.

—Reposition Smithville as an emerging mixed-income, multi-ethnic neighborhood primarily occupied by families earning less than 80 percent of the area’s median income.

A new street

To accomplish these objectives, the plan, while short on some specifics, proposed certain steps including the addition of a new street between South Hill and South Ferry Streets as well as a three-story, multi family complex between South Hill and Highway 21.

The plan received a generally positive response from several of the Town Board members, with some reservations.

Consensus needed


“Building a consensus among Smithville’s residents for this plan is vital,” said Commissioner Thurman Ross, a Smithville resident. He said there is a wide variety of ownership and property sizes.

Some are owned outright, others are owned by multiple heirs. The town owns eight additional properties as well.

Work remains

“While additional work remains regarding community consensus, I am very impressed by the hard work and progress that has been made on the Smithville Plan”said Commissioner Denis Bilodeau. “I am also grateful for the financial support provided by the County to date and will be pursuing support for the plan during our upcoming Town budget discussions.”

Commissioner Mike Miltich warned that “without significant level of buy-in by the majority of the Smithville property owners, this project will not reach its full potential.”

Jones said that the SCC has not yet held any open public meetings on the plan, due in part to the pandemic.

The plans call for about 100 homes in the $200,000s and 64 rental units that would run about half of the adjusted median income. The SCC is asking Mecklenburg County for $3.5 million to fund the housing efforts, and $750,000 from the town. Given tight budgets, this is where the tough decisions are.

Mayor Woody Washam envisions the plan as a possible vehicle for much-needed funding. “With the support of our Town Board, I believe it will lead us into a town-wide plan, of which Smithville will be a part. This will give us access to all sorts of funding that we don’t currently have,” he said.