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Cornelius News

W. Catawba apartments: Point-counterpoint

July 12. A last-minute reduction in the size and scope of a mixed-use complex proposal was enough to get it passed at the June 21 Cornelius Town Board meeting, but not without controversy, and disagreement on the Town Board.  The Town Board approved the rezoning after developer Jake Palillo said he would reduce the project from 252 to 195 apartments,  eliminate commercial, and move one of the buildings farther away from West Catawba Avenue. The “on the fly” negotiations at the meeting cut the Planning Board and citizens out of the process. Mayor Pro Tem Denis Bilodeau was the lone dissenting vote. We asked him and Commissioner Tricia Sisson, who voted with the majority, to explain their votes.

Commissioners denigrated process

By Denis Bilodeau


As a Board member, quite often I have heard my fellow commissioners state that due to the limited remaining area for development in our 13 square mile Town, we must carefully select new development and only approve  very “special” projects. It is with this thought in mind that I must confess I was very surprised by the “on the fly” at-the-dias approval of a modified 195 apartment project on West Catawba Avenue.

This last-minute compromise was sloppily crafted and does not align with the very clear feedback the Town Board received from the developer, the Planning Board and the vast majority of citizen comments.

The project applicant has a solid history of quality development in our town and I have supported his projects in the past.

It is for that very reason that I paid close attention when he described the importance of five-story structures to create a luxury feel to his project. In the end, Mr Pallilo was left with three- and four-story buildings hastily moved around the property.

After many months of careful deliberation and with guidance from our town’s Deputy Manager, our citizen-led Planning Board voted unanimously (one abstaining) against the apartment project. It was simply not a good fit for many reasons.

In fact, the Planning Board will be reviewing the Village Center/West Catawba corridor to better define what citizens are looking for in a revised land use plan.

In an effort to speed through an approval, four members of the Town Board denigrated the process.

Lastly, in my 3.5 years on the Town Board, citizen feedback has never been more passionate, widespread and clear in opposition to a proposed project. Commissioner Duke recently admonished the Board creatively through “Wilson” the soccer ball to listen to the public. That did not happen.

Remarkably, some Town Board members are now trying to sow fear about what unknown “by right” future development may look like. In other words, let’s settle for less.

I believe Mr Palillo will do his very best to produce a quality product. It will not match his initial vision nor satisfy the concerns of our citizens.

In short, it will not be that “special” project my fellow Commissioners agreed to pursue—and the reason I voted no.

—Denis Bilodeau, commissioner

Cornelius Town Board

Better than the alternatives

By Tricia Sisson


It’s important to point out that I was not supportive of the proposed project of five-story buildings and 252 apartment units with 10,000 square feet of commercial that the Planning Board denied, and I stated I could not support the project when the motion to approve it was made.

While the Town Board cannot, by state law, deny a project based on infrastructure, I travel this corridor daily and sympathize with everyone who objected to the impact to an already somewhat congested area prior to any road improvements.

When the developer made concessions to reduce the height of the buildings by 2 stories fronting Catawba and one story in the back buildings, reducing the density by 20 percent to 195 units, and removing the commercial portion, all of which would reduce the trips per day by 60 percent, while not substantial enough to warrant it going back to the planning board, was significant enough to address the most major concern we heard from residents.

I then had to weigh the merits of approving this project, high-end luxury apartments that would lease in excess of $2,000 per mont and bring a stable, affluent, largely retired residency downsizing from other large homes, against what another developer could place in this land “By Right” without public input or approval by either Planning Board or Town Board, it became clear this was likely the best possible scenario.

This development, I am confident, would be much preferred by the neighbors to, for example, a convenience store, a drive-through restaurant, a hotel, a four-story commercial building, or some combination.

These were very real possibilities, and would add three times or more the number of trips per day vs. the approved apartment complex. I would not want that for the neighboring residents.

—Tricia Sisson, commissioner

Cornelius Town Board