Metrolina dorm project approved; new town leaders take office


Huntersville’s newly installed governing body – with Commissioner Rob Kidwell beamed in from COVID quarantine and oath-of-office administrator Superior Court Judge George Bell (in robe) – includes, from left, Commissioner Amber Kovacs, Mayor Pro Tem Stacy Phillips, Mayor Melinda Bales, Commissioner Derek Partee, Commissioner Lance Munger and Commissioner Dan Boone. /Lee Sullivan

HUNTERSVILLE – The installation of a new slate of town decision makers was the main event, but Huntersville’s departing town board also had matters to address at the first meeting in December.

Items deferred from previous meetings were the first order of business at the Dec. 6 session, followed by farewell remarks from outgoing officials and the oaths of office to install a new mayor and three new commissioners.

New and familiar faces

Melinda Bales, a town commissioner for 10 years, was sworn in as mayor in the evening’s first installation ceremony. Others beginning new two-year terms include: one-term incumbent commissioner and new Mayor Pro Tem Stacy Phillips, the leading vote-getter in November’s election; incumbent board members Dan Boone (fourth term) and Lance Munger (second term); board returnee Rob Kidwell (a commissioner from 2013-17); and newly elected board members Amber Kovacs and Derek Partee.

Mayor John Aneralla, with announced plans to run for a Congressional seat, did not pursue a fourth term as mayor, two-term Commissioner Brian Hines did not seek re-election and fellow two-term town board member Nick Walsh finished seventh in November’s race for six board seats.

Dorms and annexation

On an issue carried over from previous board discussions and handled prior to the new board’s installation, commissioners approved plans for residential dormitories for temporary employees at Metrolina Greenhouses.

Plans by Metrolina Greenhouse to provide on-site residential accommodations for temporary workers have been part of town board conversations for months. In August, the town amended its zoning ordinance creating specific guidelines – including bona fide farm use on a minimum 100-acre site as qualifying criteria – for the type of dormitory project Metrolina, which occupies 1,000 acres off Huntersville-Concord Road, proposed.

Metrolina, as part of its participation in the federal H-2A migrant worker program, plans to build four buildings, each capable of housing up to 104 temporary workers.

During a quasi-judicial hearing, nearby property owners Jeff and Kim Burton expressed opposition to the project, emphasizing the potential negative impact the dormitory project could have on surrounding property values in the mostly rural area. Other town residents – although rules in the quasi-judicial process didn’t allow them to be formally involved in the discussion – aired similar concerns.

After Planning Director Jack Simoneau confirmed for commissioners that Metrolina’s plans would be required to comply with nine specific conditions established for similar projects through a Special Use Permit process – and with town staff and planning board (by a 9-0 vote) recommendations for approval – commissioners voted unanimously to approve the Special Use Permit request.

The outgoing board, on another item deferred from previous sessions, also approved annexation of 6.9 acres targeted for residential use along Holbrooks Road.

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