Friday, January 8, 2016

Historic designation update first step for major new development in Davidson

The drumbeat of development keeps pounding in Davidson, and as has come to be expected, nothing is ever straight forward.

Long-swirling development rumors for the 169+ acre Westmoreland Farm property off Davidson Concord Road are finally coming true with the planned development of roughly 300 home sites in a neighborhood to be called ”West Branch”.  (An exact development plan is not available as of deadline, but reportedly should be submitted in coming days.)

Prior to implementing any plan the current owners of the property are pursuing a change to the current “historic” designation for a significant portion of the land.   That's where things get interesting.

Readers who follow developments in Davidson may remember that during the long debate over the rewrite of the town's planning ordinance, the Westmoreland Farm property was one of the most contentious pieces.  In fact, from previous discussions with Davidson Commissioner Rodney Graham, the change in the designation of this property from “Rural” to “Neighborhood General” was a primary reason he ultimately voted against the entire rewrite – feeling it did not do enough to protect this large amount of open space.

The old “rural” designation required 40% open space for new development while the new “neighborhood general” designation only requires 20%.  However, the specific geography with this property implies the actual open space would be significantly greater than the 20% minimum due to the presence of a large amount of flood plain on the property as well as  something called a “viewshed” for the historic Beaver Dam House across Davidson Concord Road.

It's this viewshed which will take center stage as this project kicks off.

According to Wikipedia, in urban planning  viewsheds “tend to be areas of particular scenic or historic value that are deemed worthy of preservation against development or other change.” That definition definitely applies to the eastern end of the Westmoreland property.  There's just one problem.  When the planning work began, it was discovered that the actual officially protected viewshed area is in the center of the property – and not really in the main view of the Beaver Dam House at all.

To that end, Davidson resident Susan Irvin who is representing the Westmoreland family has been working with the Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission to get the viewshed changed from its current 39 acres to a significantly expanded 59 acres covering the eastern end of the property.  That's the good news.

What could possibly be considered less than good news by some is that this “viewshed” designation does not really protect the land from development.  The Landmarks Commission included a portion of the Westmoreland property in the historic designation for the Beaver Dam House back in 1979 upon request, but the development protections likely apply only to the house itself.  The Commission is not in the business of protecting raw land as an organization like the Davidson Lands Conservancy would do, so technically, any land not within flood plane could likely be developed even if it was in this “historic” designation.

In the end though, all of this may not matter much for those most concerned about preserving meaningful open space in town while still allowing development.  Per information provided by Irvin, the upcoming plan will likely have approximately 50% open space across the entire 169+ acre site – open space that includes both this new viewshed area as well as open areas within the planned development.

At 50%, this amount should more than satisfy all but those who want to see zero new development in town.

If you are interested in learning more, there will be a public hearing at the next Historic Landmarks Commission meeting this coming Monday, January 11th.  The meeting starts at 6pm and will be a the HLC offices at 2100 Randolph Road in Charlotte.

Assuming the HLC approves the change Davidson’s Town Board will also have to approve at a later date.  In the event this occurs, Davidson Commissioner Brian Jenest has already confirmed he will ask to be recused from voting.  Jenest’s firm, ColeJenest&Stone, who  is doing the design work for the development.

As said earlier, things are always interesting when it comes to development in Davidson.

UPDATE:  The town planning department says the application for West Branch has been received and will be up on the site here by late Friday or most likely Monday.

This story first appeared in this week’s Herald Weekly at

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