Bids are in, and the East-West Connector will cost millions more than the town anticipated.
The news came as little surprise to commissioners who voted last week against a high-density residential development: the first project approved for the area along the future East-West Connector that will connect Langtree Road to NC 115. A bare majority of the board went on to approve the development on the south side of town. Interestingly, exactly one week later, the board voted unanimously to establish a committee to explore a development moratorium.
As it turns out, this phase of the East-West Connector will cost $5.1 million more than town staff anticipated, commissioners learned this week. Blythe Development submitted the lowest bid at $32.9 million.
The bids “were significantly higher than what we expected,” said Commissioner Gary West.
Commissioner Eddie Dingler in last Monday’s meeting predicted a significant price hike for the connector road. Citing a lack of infrastructure and bids not being in for the East-West Connector at the time, he voted against the 579-unit mixed-use development on Transco Road. Commissioners Lisa Qualls and Gary West joined him.
But Mayor Miles Atkins cast the tie-breaking vote to approve the project, also changing the area’s zoning from Employment Center to Neighborhood Residential. Also casting votes of support: Commissioners Bobby Compton, Thurman Houston and Tommy Deweese.
The East-West Connector will be funded by a $13.7 million federal grant the town received in 2019, along with $2.4 million in private funding from area landowners, $5 million in state funds and $6.7 million from taxpayers. As for the additional $5.1 million needed? “Staff will have to bring us some options on how to close that gap,” West said.
The original projected cost for the connector was $21.7 million.
Plans to completely green-light the Transco residential project hit a slight snag in last Monday’s meeting, when commissioners — after narrowly but ultimately okaying the development — also couldn’t agree on voluntarily annexing and extending utilities to the property where the project is to be located.
Atkins broke another tie in favor, but according to the town board’s “rules of procedure,” without a two-thirds majority vote on the matter, his vote only triggered a second public hearing.
All board members agreed to hold that second public hearing on May 15, when the mayor’s tie-breaking vote — unlike during the first hearing — would count.
But it turns out that sometime after setting the public hearing date, Commissioner Tommy Deweese — a supporter of the project — realized he couldn’t make the May 15 meeting. Without his support, the vote to annex and extend utilities to the Transco development — critical for the development to proceed — would fail.
To accommodate Deweese’s schedule and assure the project’s approval, the board decided earlier this week to change the date of the public hearing. It will now be held on May 1.
Changing the date of the public hearing to facilitate the project’s approval — a proposed change of schedule that had been quietly slipped onto the board’s agenda for a special-called meeting about a development moratorium — appears to be unprecedented in at least recent Iredell County politics.
The Scoop contacted several current and former elected officials from Mooresville and Iredell County, and each one said they could not recall a board changing a public hearing date due to the inability of a voting member to be present.
“It’s been told, and there have been multiple articles, that this was on May 15,” Dingler said during the meeting Monday, noting the “debate” and “tension” around the Transco development, which would be situated in his Ward 1.
Commissioner Houston said he recalled “asking to change meeting dates before … because of scheduling.”
While acknowledging the board has changed dates for practical purposes like aligning text amendments, “since 2011,” Dingler said, “I’ve never seen or heard of us asked to move something because a commissioner wasn’t going to be present. If we have, I’d like for someone to speak up about that because I don’t remember that.”
No one spoke up.
Dingler added: “As I sit here, as a commissioner since 2011, I’ve never missed a board meeting. I set my schedule, I set my life, around these meetings … with a lot of frustration from home.”
Addressing Deweese — the newest member of the board — directly, Dingler said: “We know what day these board meetings are on.”
To move the Transco public hearing to May 1, a previously scheduled public hearing for a different project had to be bumped to May 15. “So we’re asking this business to delay their request to accommodate the Transco Road request?” Commissioner Qualls asked. “I hate that we’re penalizing one business … to accommodate somebody not being here to vote.”
Planning Director Danny Wilson said town staff — which recommended approval of the large residential Transco Road development — had already contacted the other business and confirmed it had no issue with the two-week delay.
Commissioners deadlocked once again, along familiar lines, on the public-hearing date change: Houston, Compton and Deweese voted in favor, and Dingler, Qualls and West opposed.
Atkins once again broke the tie in favor of changing the Transco public-hearing date to May 1, ensuring Deweese can vote on the annexation and utilities extension.
While tinkering with the hearing schedule to help guarantee the large project’s approval, the board is studying whether it’s time to call a halt to development, at least temporarily.
Commissioners voted — unanimously this time — to form a committee to explore a development moratorium “and to take other measures to address transportation infrastructure and growth management.”