Mooresville’s town board will discuss a development moratorium on Monday — exactly one week after going against its own land use plan to approve another high-density residential development in the southern part of town.
Mayor Miles Atkins was the tie-breaking vote in favor of the development.
Rarely are board members deadlocked, requiring the mayor to break a tie. But on Monday, Atkins had to break three, all related to the same development:
- He joined Commissioners Bobby Compton, Thurman Houston and Tommy DeWeese in voting against Commissioner Lisa Qualls’ motion to deny LIV Development’s 579-unit mixed-use development along Transco Road off I-77/Exit 31. Commissioners Eddie Dingler and Gary West voted with Qualls to deny the development.
- The mayor then broke a tie in favor of Compton’s motion to approve the development and amend the town’s Future Character and Land Use Map, changing the designation of the area from Employment Center to Neighborhood Residential.
- Finally, he sided with Compton, Houston and DeWeese again in voting for a voluntary annexation and utilities extension to the area, making the proposed development possible. This first decision on annexation and utilities requires a two-thirds majority vote, so Monday’s vote was not binding; instead, a second public hearing and vote — in which a tie reportedly can be broken — is scheduled for the May 15 town board meeting.
The project — which the board first discussed in January — is now the first approved for the area along the future East-West Connector that will connect Langtree Road to NC 115. The town expects bids on the connector road next week.
No traffic mitigation or fire station? No problem.
Approving a residential project before bids are even in for the East-West Connector is putting the cart before the horse, said Qualls.
A visibly frustrated Dingler agreed. “So what are we gonna tell the taxpayers — the citizens of Mooresville? That we’re gonna dump 579 more cars on our highways, on our roads without any infrastructure?” he asked.
A standard online trip generator that estimates the number of trips generated by a specific building or land use suggests that apartments generate 6.1 trips per unit on weekdays. For 579 apartments, that would be 3,531.9 additional trips on Mooresville roads per weekday.
The East-West Connector is funded in part by a $13.6 million federal grant the town received in 2019 from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation Discretionary Grants Program.
The town’s burden of the expense, Dingler said in Monday’s meeting, “has gone from $2.5 million worth of taxpayer funds to now $6.5 … $8.5 … million of taxpayer funds? And we’re sitting here talking about moving (the residential development) forward without a true bid? We’ve seen sidewalks go from $2 million to $6 million in just a couple years, and now you want to approve this? Good luck.”
Dingler — in whose ward the new development would be situated — noted that the board has denied other projects in that area (Costco and Cabela’s, for instance) based in part on not yet having Fire Station 7 built to serve that part of town. “You’re talking about putting a fire station in,” Dingler said. “Is the land there? We have no idea.”
West said he could not look past the lack of infrastructure. ”I just can’t look people in the eye and say, ‘Well, I’m sorry, but we’re going to let COs (certificates of occupancy) come in before we have the infrastructure first,” he said. “We are beholden to the safety of the people that would live in these apartments, and we don’t have a fire station that could adequately serve them.”
Schools are under pressure, too, Qualls said, noting that some of the planned apartments would house more than one person per unit. “And if you think there are going to be 570 apartments with no kids in them, you’re crazy,” she said. “This is in the Iredell-Statesville Schools District, and they’re already struggling with the fact that they have to build a new high school in southern Iredell County because of the growth down here. It’s gone from an $80-$100 million project to potentially $160-$200 million,” she said.
“We have a big F problem in Mooresville,” Qualls added. “We have funding issues with NCDOT (N.C. Department of Transportation). We have funding issues in our school systems to build new schools. We have functioning problems with our infrastructure. We have a focus problem with drivers that don’t focus. We have F problems.”
Zoning designation won’t work? Just change it.
The town’s stated goals for the East-West Connector include improving connectivity, alleviating traffic in the southern part of town and spurring economic development by attracting tech companies and high-paying employers to the area off I-77/Exit 31. The corporate headquarters for Lowe’s Home Improvement and Corvid Technologies — with clients ranging from the U.S. military to NASCAR — are already situated in the area.
These companies are in keeping with the OneMooresville Comprehensive Plan’s Future Character and Land Use Map, which — until Monday — identified the area as “Employment Center” (EC). While some residential projects are expected and allowed to complement businesses in the EC zoning, they are not the primary land use.
“This is Employment Center,” Qualls said Monday. “It has been designated as Employment Center, and we are losing our focus.”
Approving a residential project out of the gate for the area sends the message that board members are choosing apartments over jobs, she said, noting that the only “Employment Center” included in LIV Development’s project is a 3,000-square-foot, waterfront restaurant that does little to add permanent, full-time jobs to the area.
“We’ve worked for years to keep this as a job-focused area and to get the infrastructure in place before the development comes,” Qualls said. “We want jobs here. This does not create jobs.”
West agreed that the area should remain EC. “That’s one thing we need to stay focused on,” he said.
But Houston disagreed, citing Covid for changing perspectives. “I’m not disappointed or feel like we’re going the wrong way,” he said. “Things change. Time has changed.”
He lauded the public lake access the development proposes to offer and echoed what other board members have said about NCDOT repeatedly letting the town down. “We’re just now getting the road that was promised years ago,” he said. “What are we gonna do? Just sit here and every time somebody comes try to find a way to say, ‘We’re still working on it?’ That’s wasting time for me.”
Reading from a prepared script, Compton made a motion, instead, to approve the high-density residential development, saying “even though the proposal is partially inconsistent with the town’s OneMooresville Plan — specifically, the conditional project is predominantly residential, while the Future Character and Land Use Plan calls for an Employment Center land use designation (and) only a small portion of the site is requested to be zoned for a waterfront restaurant use — (the project) is reasonable and within the public interest because it provides less density than what it is permitted by right and provides for a public greenway and public lake access.”
Compton’s motion included amending the town’s Future Land Use map “to designate the entire site as Neighborhood Residential.”
DeWeese — the newest member of the board — voted in favor, along with Houston and then Atkins.
Referencing a concern of Dingler’s about increased traffic on NC 115, Compton said according to the developers’ Traffic Impact Analysis, traffic from the development will “probably” use I-77 instead of NC 115. “Even if this project failed,” he said, “the (connector) road is going to be built. Traffic will go the same way either way. There’s no difference there.
“It’s painful,” he said, “but it’s just the beginning of what we’ve got to do.”
Dingler expressed his disappointment in the board. “This board had a chance to get it right,” he said, adding that when making a decision for his business, he often asks himself if an idea or project that he loves … loves him back. “I make decisions and ask: ‘Do they love me back?’” he said. “At this time in the game, this project is not loving Mooresville.”
Atkins did not agree. In fact, he commended the developers on a “solid, great project with tremendous community benefit.”
Atkins scolded the dissenting board members: “Commissioners, the applicant has answered every, single question that you had and laid out a schedule, has done everything the board has asked … and then another roadblock about ‘Well, we don’t know … about the bids.’ I mean these are last-minute questions that I just don’t understand,” he said, going on to break the tie in favor of the development.
Monday’s special meeting will be held at 6 p.m. in Town Hall, 413 N. Main St. The purpose of the meeting: “to establish a working group to explore a moratorium and to take measures to address transportation, infrastructure and growth management in the town.”