HUNTERSVILLE – Spurred by supportive parents, the Mecklenburg Area Catholic School System expects to open Christ the King Catholic High School in August in a vacant warehouse on U.S. 21 across from auto dealer row.
Realtor and former Cornelius Mayor Gary Knox, who represents the school, asked the Huntersville town board Monday night, Nov. 1, to reword its zoning rules to allow the school to operate temporarily in an area where schools aren’t currently allowed. The warehouse at 13728 Statesville Road, about a half-mile south of Gilead Road, sits in a corporate-business zone normally reserved for large commercial operations with large truck traffic.
During a public hearing, commissioners had plenty of questions, which Knox attempted to answer. But resident Eddie Bruce brought the enthusiasm of a cheerleader.
A small group of north Mecklenburg parents has been campaigning to establish a Catholic high school in the area for eight years, Bruce said. They began planning about the same time that St. Mark Catholic Church opened its school with “only a few classes of kindergarten through sixth grade,” he said.
Within a few years, St. Mark’s school added two more grades, reached full enrollment and set up a waiting list.
“A group of parents began to discuss what would happen once our children finished eighth grade,” Bruce told commissioners. “Over the next seven years that group of parents grew and continued to plan, plead, beg, survey and lobby in their effort to get a high school established that would serve as an alternative to Charlotte Catholic.”
Bruce preached the economic benefits of allowing the school to open temporarily on U.S. 21. The school is sure to draw students and their parents from Cornelius and Davidson but also Iredell, Cabarrus and Lincoln counties, Bruce said. They’ll stay for school activities and spend money at local restaurants and shops.
Commissioners peppered Knox with questions regarding:
• Time limitations. Senior Planner Brad Priest reminded commissioners that the board once changed the rules of corporate-business zoning so that Lake Norman Charter School could open in temporary quarters in the North Mecklenburg Business Park. But after the charter school finally moved into permanent facilities across Old Statesville Road, the board changed the wording again to prohibit future schools.
If the charter school had moved out sooner, Mayor Pro Tem Sarah McAulay said, the town might have been more successful in bringing businesses to the industrial park.
In the end, commissioners seemed to lean toward permitting a school to remain in the corporate-business district for three years with one option to renew for one or two years. A window of four to five years would give Catholic school officials enough time to find a site and build a permanent facility, Knox said. Bruce said the system wants 40 acres.
• Traffic. Planning board member Bruce Andersen warned that traffic on U.S. 21 already is a problem and “there never seems to be an answer after it’s done.” Andersen suggested limiting enrollment if traffic problems develop.
If the town board agrees to change the zoning rule, Priest and Knox said the school system will have to pay for a traffic impact analysis, which may prompt the town and state to demand road improvements.
The school plans to create a circular traffic pattern in which parents would drop off the children at the rear of the temporary school, Knox said, and because the site has limited parking, the school will prohibit students from bringing cars.
• Size. The school hopes to open next fall with 100 freshmen, Bruce said, adding grades in subsequent years. The staff had proposed limiting the temporary site to 300 students. On Oct. 15, the Roman Catholic Diocese said 51 students had enrolled, and officials extended the deadline to Feb. 28.
The zoning change goes to the Planning Board next and then returns to the town board for a final decision.