Friday, April 29, 2016

#Cornelius to the left of #Davidson on property rights?

Cornelius elected officials have a well earned reputation for being a fairly conservative bunch.

Among similarly sized communities, the town has long had one of the lowest municipal property tax rates in the state.  At the same time, it provides high quality services.  That’s an indication of strong fiscal discipline.  Town Commissioners, if not the Mayor, have also been some of the leading elected voices against potential regional boondoggles like the Red Line Commuter Rail and the I77 HOT lanes.

So, it’s peculiar to witness the town involved in a brouhaha with citizens and landowners over a rezoning request that has similarities to a recent example in Davidson – it’s more leftward leaning neighbor to the north.  Those two decisions would be Classica Homes development currently being discussed in Cornelius  and the Narrow Passage development approved last year by Davidson.

Development company Classica Homes wishes to build 40 age restricted townhomes on roughly 9 acres off of land off of West Catawba Ave.   In Davidson, developer Karl Plattner looked to build a similar number of homes on a large parcel in Davidson’s rural area.  In both cases, town Planning staff opposed the rezoning requests because they didn’t perfectly conform to previously approved plans.  In both cases public feedback was significant with citizens packing the public hearings and sending numerous emails.

There were significant differences though.

In Davidson’s case, opponents were trying to all but eliminate any real development in the rural area.  In Cornelius, it appears the Town is pushing to reserve land for more intense commercial development at some undetermined point down the road.  Also, in Davidson the citizen led Planning Board opposed the rezoning along with staff, and there was some element of the public who opposed the project as well.  In Cornelius, the citizen Planning Board actually supported Classica’s request and public feedback from the neighbors most impacted also appears unanimous in its support.

You'd think the Davidson decision would have been the hard one, or at least the closest vote, wouldn’t you?  Ultimately however, the Davidson Board recognized they should respect the landowners’ property rights and allow what was clearly a reasonable plan to go forward.  They unanimously approved the rezoning.

The Cornelius vote appears to be the closer one.  With Commissioners knotted at 2-2 during their last meeting with one Commissioner absent, they decided to kick the final vote until their next meeting on May 2nd.

Unlike what happened in Davidson, the utter reasonableness of the proposal by Classica and the land owners appears to have been lost in the discussion.  Even if the proposal does not meet exactly what the town says it wants which is more commercial development, it’s hard to deny it is reasonable.

As confirmed by Town Planning Director, Wayne Herron, under the existing zoning the landowners could build a total of 16 single family homes -  no questions asked.  However, these would likely be large lot homes.  They would likely have as many cars and generate as many or more car trips as the 40 units in the Classica proposal.  They would also bring more children likely to attend local schools.  (Age restricted communities tend to have less cars, generate less trips, and don’t have children.)

It’s reasonable compared to other residential possibilities or even the town’s desired option of commercial development.  It will put less strain on area roads as well as area schools.

It’s reasonable when looking at growing the tax base compared to what could be built there by right already.  Forty high end townhomes will provide more revenue than the 16 homes already allowed.

Finally, and most importantly it’s a reasonable option for the town that also treats the landowners fairly – landowners who have been trying to sell this property for decades.

In Davidson, it was the reasonableness of the proposal which ultimately won over that Board.

Hopefully, reasonableness and respect for property rights will do the same in Cornelius at that Board's next meeting

This post first appeared in this week's Herald Weekly at

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