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Concerns voiced about Denver development at public meeting

Sonny Crater, an official in charge of land acquisition with the Simonini Group, listens during a community involvement meeting held at Unity Presbyterian Church on Wednesday.

Sonny Crater, an official in charge of land acquisition with the Simonini Group, listens during a community involvement meeting held at Unity Presbyterian Church on Wednesday.

ELIZABETH HEFFNER
Staff Writer

Several East Lincoln residents shared their concerns regarding plans for a new residential and retail development at a community meeting on Wednesday.
Simonini Group’s land acquisitions representative, Sonny Crater, led the community involvement meeting at Unity Presbyterian Church in Denver.
Crater began the evening with a brief presentation regarding the company’s history and plans for the Rivercross Development. In April, Southeastern Land Development, LLC submitted an application to the county, requesting the rezoning of 118 acres of land in order to develop 221 single-family detached lots and up to 200 multi-family units as well as 100,000 square feet of general retail space.
The Simonini Group, serving as one of the development’s partners, is known for providing in-house expertise in acquisitions, project financing, implementation, construction and marketing.
According to the company’s website, its “groundbreaking work introducing traditional, urban lifestyle communities and authentic Old World architecture to Charlotte has exerted a significant lasting influence on the practice of residential architecture and direction of urban planning in the Carolinas today.”
During his presentation, Crater explained that most homes in Rivercross would range between 1,700 to 2,000 square feet. With lots costing approximately $50,000 each, the company anticipates the cost of the homes, including the lot, to be around $250,000.
Over the course of the evening, it became apparent that the majority of the audience shared concerns regarding the development’s impact on traffic and neighboring schools. The proposed main entrance is on North Carolina Highway 16 Business, across from Cherry Point Drive, with a secondary entrance to the north, on Triangle Circle South.
“The vast majority of our neighborhood has young children,” Harbor Master resident Jessie Furner said. “We’re taking our kids to school every day, we’re picking our kids up from school and taking them to dance, taking them to this and that. I can’t wait for 15 minutes to get out of my neighborhood. It’s not okay. Every day when I bring my kids home from school, I nearly get into an accident, just getting over two lanes.”
Crater responded by explaining that Denver traffic has been an issue for years.
“It’s been like that along Highway 16 for a pretty good period of time, and one of the reasons is that you’ve got so many disconnected businesses and entry points,” he said. “There are none that are a cohesive plan, like the one that we have,” he said.
“So, a situation where it’s already dangerous is going to become more dangerous than it already is when you put dump trucks on our roads,” Denver resident Raye Watson-Smyth added.
“There’s no doubt that there will be some traffic impact with our construction,” Crater said. “It happens every time…I know that we’re going to impact you in some ways while we’re building that you probably are not going to like. But, you have a group that’s going to do as much as they can to avoid that. One thing I will say is that we’re very enthusiastic and very qualified. We’ll do a better job than anyone else would do putting this development together. Sooner or later, somebody is going to want to be there, and it’s on us now.”
Crater also noted that a study conducted by SRS Engineering found that even if the Rivercross development was not constructed, the area’s traffic will become progressively worse.
“Once we have the final proposal, we’ll do a school analysis to determine whether there is adequate capacity within the schools,” Lincoln County zoning administrator Randy Hawkins said.
During the meeting, Denver resident Bob Pearson found the project to be lacking proper business sense, stating that another development would cause traffic congestion similar to that of southeast Charlotte.
“Coming out of where we were six or seven years ago, I’m surprised someone is essentially going to roll the dice on a gut feeling for a project with no safety net,” Pearson said. “All I’m saying is, from this side of the table, it doesn’t feel like this is a well-thought out project in the sense of whether it is right for the community. I would think you would need a lot more information than you have before you could see the community embrace the project. The traffic is going to be a problem regardless of whether a study is done or not. How much is Shea Homes going to throw into the mix when they start building? You’re throwing more population into the area, and the infrastructure can’t handle what it has today. We’re going to end up looking like Independence Boulevard, with more growth and no infrastructure to support it.”
The Times-News previously reported on the development national homebuilding company Shea Homes is currently working on in Denver, recently named Trilogy Lake Norman. The property, located on the south side of Highway 73 and the west side of Little Egypt Road, is anticipated to offer 1,650 homes, with up to 300 non-age restricted homes and the remaining designated for residents 55 years old or older. Unlike Trilogy Lake Norman, Rivercross does not have any age-restrictions, aiming to offer more inclusive housing for those of all ages.
County Commissioner James Klein also shared his traffic concerns.
“I would like to be the first person to welcome you to Denver because I think you do a good job on what you do,” he said. “We’d like to see that kind of quality — there’s no question about that. But, the traffic is an issue for us, and it would be great if we get past the (possibility phase) and put it all on paper.”
“I have absolutely no problem holding a follow-up meeting of a similar type as this,” Crater said. “Your opinions are very important to us. There’s no question about that. We do want to do the development, but again, there’s always things we can learn from you.”
“With that lot in particular, its history goes back quite a ways, even though it’s been vacant for much longer than I’ve been here,” Klein continued. “It’s been — at least by some people — considered as an ideal location for a town center. Denver lacks a singular, focal place to go. We have all of these different little things, but there’s no central place. In Denver, if you want to see somebody, you go to a convenience site, wait a while and you’ll see them. That’s not what we have in mind, but that’s the way it works.”
“With our commercial area, that’s the vision we have,” Crater said. “But that vision will be a process for us. We’ll have the elements that need to be there, and I don’t think there’s any question that it will be a place with a lot of synergy. That’s just our model and our roots…we grasp the new urban concept, but at the same time, we don’t agree with all of what it tells us we should do. We think we’ve figured out how to integrate two types of developments into one, just by the way we’re proposing the park. That would be a new urban situation.”
Pearson echoed Klein’s statement.
“In all fairness to you, and I don’t want to sound harsh, but here’s my problem deep down inside,” Pearson said. “Because of the fact that there’s not a master plan by the county in terms of how it will develop and grow systematically, that’s scary. I can appreciate that fact that your company sees this as a business opportunity, and I agree that the products you put out are great — you’ve got a great history. It’s not so much a reflection on you; it’s a reflection on the lack of understanding what the cohesive thought is in terms of how we’re going to develop (Highway) 16 at this point in time, particularly when the commissioners talk about the ‘boom opportunity.’ I get scared when I hear the phrase ‘boom opportunity’ and then you say, ‘Okay, where’s the playbook?’ and there is no playbook for this. So, I guess my real concern is that there’s not an infrastructure in the area that you’re talking about today that can support this. Despite your studies, you don’t live here, and you don’t deal with it every day. And adding more to it and a couple of traffic lights isn’t going to change the volume of traffic, and it’s really not going to impact it favorably. You don’t have to be a traffic engineer to understand that.
“I’m a little concerned as a taxpayer and a resident of Denver as to where this is going, particularly with Shea Homes coming in,” he continued. “To me, it seems chaotic and it seems like there’s just no structured thinking about what we’re doing. I don’t want living in a community that says ‘We should have stopped building five years ago.’”
“Denver basically had no zoning for forever,” Crater said. “That’s why you’ve got what you’ve got out there now. And instead of all these parking lots, driveways and buildings…if there had been some cohesiveness to it, you would have the traffic problems you have now because you’ve got so many entry points. At least we’re proposing to establish something that sort of starts to set a tone. Every time we do something, we set a tone. “
If approved by county commissioners, Crater anticipates the engineering design to be completed by March 2015. Site work would begin in April 2015, followed by home construction starting in September 2015. The company predicts approximately 20 homes to be completed by 2016 and another 40 by the end of 2017. Presently, the projected completion date is 2020.

Republican Board of Commissioners candidate Martin Oakes asks questions during a community involvement meeting held at Unity Presbyterian Church in Denver on Wednesday.

Republican Board of Commissioners candidate Martin Oakes asks questions during a community involvement meeting held at Unity Presbyterian Church in Denver on Wednesday.

Images courtesy of Jaclyn Anthony / Lincoln Times-News

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