Cornelius Year in Review: Mass development approval leads to sweeping board change

The new-look Cornelius town includes commissioners, from left, Michael Osborne, Todd Stansbury, Dave Gilroy, Colin Furcht and Denis Bilodeau. Their first big decision was passing a resolution not allowing a majority of residential rezoning for at least the next nine months. /Doug Coats

CORNELIUS – The biggest news in Cornelius in the final few months of the year was the result of actions in the previous ones.

In the November municipal elections, four of the five town commissioners were voted out, as only Denis Bilodeau remained. The new faces – including former commissioner Dave Gilory – ran on a united front of slowing down development and the land-use changes that were among the biggest citizen draws at town board meetings. 

Upcoming developments

The marquee developments approved by the former board were the intertwined Greenway Gartens and Caroline, anchored by Olde Mecklenburg Brewery.

Between them, 650 residential units and 34,000 square feet of commercial space will come to the northeast part of town, just beyond Antiquity. The developments unite a dream team of sorts that includes Charlotte firms Northwood Ravin, Cole Jenest & Stone and OMB owner Jon Marino, as well as Proffitt-Dixon for Caroline.

Marino believes the greenway provides a better setting than his ever-bustling south Charlotte location.

Many nearby business owners expressed their excitement over the project, but Antiquity and Davidson neighbors provided a mixed bag of feedback.

In a year of rezonings for future development, the ones surrounding the long-planned Olde Mecklenburg Brewery are the highest profile. The projects will include a mix of housing, including apartments, townhomes and age-restricted homes. /Town of Cornelius

The OMB-related projects became part of Cornelius’ Town Center land use and Transit District Overlay, which promotes developments within walking distance of the downtown area.

As a second downtown catalyst project in addition to the Cain Center for the Arts, more residences and businesses are expected to come to the Catawba Avenue corridor. Mayor Woody Washam has hinted at high-end restaurants and another brewery showing interest.

The Downtown Block Plan got its first future structure approved with a five-story building along South Main Street. The plan envisions a series of multi-story mixed-use buildings that taper down in height to the surrounding neighborhoods.

“Somebody had to be first,” Deputy Town Manager Wayne Herron said of the plan in August.

– The HM Junker property on West Catawba created the biggest controversy. The development will add 195 apartments to West Catawba just north of Nantz Road.

At the vote in the fiscal year’s final meeting in June, all signs pointed to the board rejecting the project, initially proposed for 252 units with a restaurant or pub on the ground floor. But after a late plea, the top two stories – with their commercial aspects – were shaved off each of the road-facing buildings.

In some foreshadowing, Bilodeau, the lone dissenter, said he was not comfortable moving forward with a vote without taking the updated project back to the planning board.

“I’m disappointed in this process,” he said.

– Bringing a 160-home subdivision to Mayes Road took another land-use amendment. Formerly under Rural Preservation, the town board voted to change it to Low Density Single Family, like throughout the peninsulas. Prior to the April 5 vote, the targeted density was one home per three acres, but the corridor now allows two per acre.

– Just weeks into the new board’s tenure, they placed a blockade on the majority of residential rezonings until a new land-use plan is implemented. It’s planned for between nine and 12 months.

Under a plan from the Smithville Community Coalition, Smithville’s many blighted properties would be replaced by affordable and workforce housing. In March, there were 10 structures slated for demolition. /Doug Coats

– Major steps were taken to revitalize the historic Smithville community. Situated on land that could otherwise become gentrified, the Smithville Community Coalition wants to give current residents the opportunity to remain on their land, while also creating more housing for workers like teachers and first responders. It’s part of a town-wide effort to push for more affordable housing.

– The Atrium Health hospital planned for U.S. 21 received state approval. Town officials hope the 160,000-square-foot Atrium Health Lake Norman at the southwest corner of the intersection of Westmoreland Road accelerates nearby road projects. The hospital is projected to open in early 2024.

Parks progress

The town’s parks and recreation department is back to using its original name.

The change from PARC (Park, Arts, Recreation and Culture) in August came in conjunction with intentions to assign Cornelius Arts Center activities and all arts programming to the Cain Center. 

Like many other entertainment sources, the parks department brought back many of its marquee events in 2021. The fireworks show returned to a full crowd at Bailey Road Park in June. Further, the 2nd Friday and ‘Tawba Walk events brought life back to the streets of “Old Town.”

A new master plan was approved for Robbins Park in October reflecting the evolving needs of the region. Updated from 2008, the new plan adds six tennis courts, six pickleball courts, a 5K cross country course and a realigned disc golf course. 

On Dec. 11, phase II of the McDowell Creek Greenway opened, connecting Westmoreland Road with the Magnolia Estates shopping center. ​​The segment is part of Cornelius’ 13-mile Emerald Necklace and will provide a connection for pedestrians and cyclists to Birkdale Village.

Food trucks, bands and vendors again flocked to downtown Cornelius for the return of ‘Tawba Walk in September. /Evan Moore

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