CORNELIUS – The plan to revitalize the Smithville community has received thumbs-up from several town government entities following a call to action in January.
Cornelius’ Planning Board, Parks and Recreation Board and the relatively new Mayor’s Housing Study Committee all would like to see the blighted historically African-African neighborhood west of downtown get the facelift and support to preserve its future. Their statements have come amid identifying funding sources and discussion surrounding the use of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, with calls for the majority of the town’s $9.6 million haul to fund the project.
For an initiative years in the making and as housing prices skyrocket, the planning board supports the request for an expedited conditional zoning process. The master plan involves the creation of 115 new single-family houses, 90 apartments, four commercial buildings and upgrades to 55 existing residences.
At the May 16 town board meeting, Deputy Town Manager Wayne Herron said he expected more than one rezoning to take place, though the entire project would fall under a single, already approved site plan.
“We will work quickly to get the site plan designed, because it’s an existing situation,” he said.
The planning board also requested emphasis and amendments to the final presentation made by Smithville Community Coalition representative Willie Jones in mid-January. The housing south of Nannie Potts Lane should face an open area instead of a parking lot, and include a buffer along the border of Willow Pond. The board also requested the project be proactive in traffic calming mitigation efforts.
“Whatever we decide to do, it’s in agreement and a larger partnership with everybody involved,” Herron said.
In addition to a proposed expansion of Smithville Park, which serves as the community’s eastern border, there are other areas of greenspace in the works. The town’s greenway system won’t be extended beyond U.S. 21, but there is an option for a linear park, as well as a mini-park on the plan’s north side and garden area on the south side of Nannie Potts.
The Mayor’s Housing Study Committee was formed in 2020 to identify affordable opportunities and believes the revitalization plan aligns with existing town plans, goals and policies. These include an emphasis on diverse housing types, expanding workforce housing, supporting existing Smithville residents and access to “uniquely available” sources of funding, a statement read.
Like in January, Commissioner Denis Bilodeau emphasized Mecklenburg County as a funding partner. The county is getting $215 million in ARPA funds.
“I do not believe there is a more deserving issue in the county than the Smithville community revitalization,” he said in an email Friday. “The Coalition believes the town should contribute more than the county … However, due to the amount of resources available and the fact that our citizens pay two-thirds of their property tax to the county, I believe it is critical that the county step up in a big way.”
Prior to the presentation, Jones spoke about a glaring omission from the proposed budget related to Smithville.
“It does not include public health,” he said. “We know there’s a lead problem, you can’t ignore it.”
The Coalition plan aims to partner with Habitat for Humanity to fund repairs for up to $30,000, but lead pipes typically aren’t handled by the organization.
“This is an area that could use some support,” Commissioner Dave Gilroy said. “Revitalization is exactly the right word, it’s exciting.”
What’s Next for Smithville?
There will be an opportunity for town public input at a drop-in meeting from 5-7 p.m. June 7, with a formal presentation at 5:30 p.m. A final town board presentation and public comment is slated for the June 20 town board meeting. The board may choose to adopt that night or at any subsequent meeting.
Cable in the Peninsula
Yards and sidewalks throughout the Jetton peninsula have been a little more difficult to navigate due to recent cable installation.
Assistant Town Manager Tyler Beardsley says Spectrum is planning to lay down 140 miles of cable in town, and the Peninsula area is just the third of many neighborhoods that will see the work. The Magnolia Estates and Westmoreland neighborhoods have already received new lines.
Commissioners say it’s been a nuisance, blocking sidewalks and damaging yards.
“This vendor is just absolutely horrible,” Bilodeau said. “They’re leaving what is typically a nice looking lane into our community a mess. So far they’ve been unimpressive.”
Beardsley, who’s been fielding resident complaints, said he and Town Manager Andrew Grant met with Spectrum representatives prior to the work along Westmoreland.
“They have been responsive,” Beardsley said. “They’ve done a good job of getting things repaired.”
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