HUNTERSVILLE – After two years of discussions, amended plans and multiple hearings filled with public comment – including nearly two more hours of input from residents at the Feb. 4 meeting – town commissioners approved, in a divided vote, a rezoning to clear the way for the mixed-used Northbrook development along N.C. 73.
The project proposed by Lennar Carolinas LLC will create a 122-home residential neighborhood on the majority of an 81-acre parcel between N.C. 73 and McCord Road. The plan is to designate property along N.C. 73 in the development for future commercial and retail use.
The board’s approval, by a 4-2 vote with commissioners Nick Walsh and Melinda Bales opposed, changes zoning on the property from Commercial Business (CB) to Transitional Residential-Conditional District. The decision was the culmination of months of debate about the best use for the property and the impact the project would have on surrounding neighborhoods, schools, traffic and the town’s supply of sites suitable for large-scale commercial development.
The proposed plan has triggered significant public engagement at meetings during the extended town consideration process, which included multiple adjustments in the number of proposed houses by Lennar. That engagement continued Feb. 4.
At the start of the meeting’s public comment section, Mayor John Aneralla reported that 50 people signed up to speak. Many ceded their time to designated spokespeople, but 25 speakers still took the opportunity to express their views about the project.
Pros and cons
Many of those supporting the rezoning, while acknowledging they would prefer to see the property remain pastureland, said since development on the site was inevitable, the current version of Lennar’s plan was acceptable.
Speakers referenced the possibility that other types of development on the CB-zoned property could include uses generating a higher level of disruption to surrounding neighborhoods. Rita Mashburn was one of those who summarized that view.
“We know and love the pasture, but know it will not stay. The property will be developed,” she said, adding that knowing what is planned is better than wondering what might be coming. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
But opponents of the rezoning highlighted the assorted impacts the project could have on what they described as already congested roads and overcrowded schools. And citing that the town’s planning staff and town planning board both recommended the rezoning be denied, they emphasized the town’s long-range plans urge preservation of CB-zoned property for business and industrial use.
Ed Cecil told commissioners the “impacts can’t be ignored” and the CB zoning “is necessary and important” as a way to lure corporate investment. And Peter Jacobson urged the board to follow the advice of the staff and planning board.
“The experts have weighed in,” he said.
When the issue came up for a vote, Walsh made an immediate motion to deny the rezoning.
“It is not consistent ... (and) not in keeping with our 2030 plan,” Walsh said.
He added that the town is “busting at the seams” and much of the development occurring is “by right,” providing commissioners little opportunity to control it.
“But we can do something when a rezoning is involved,” he said.
Bales added that she couldn’t “in good conscious” support the rezoning, preferring to preserve the site for potential job-providing commercial use.
Commissioners Mark Gibbons and Brian Hines countered. Gibbons said many road projects to address congestion are on the horizon and a recent study indicates the town faces a housing shortage. And he also said other development possibilities for the property were a point of concern.
“It could be big stuff, little stuff, noisy stuff or dirty stuff ... done there by right,” he said.
And Hines, referencing the 2030 plan vision many rezoning opponents said was a reason to deny the request, said the plan was a “guide” for future growth, didn’t target specific areas and was intended to be flexible.
“This is the plan for this area,” he concluded.
Walsh’s initial motion failed, by the same 4-2 margin, before Hines’ motion to approve the rezoning passed.