HUNTERSVILLE – In November, voters will finally get to decide if the town should spend almost $16 million to build a new police department building on the 32-acre Anchor Mill site on North Church Street.
At the Huntersville town board’s annual retreat Thursday, Feb. 24, commissioners voted unofficially 4 to 1 to place a $15,786,250 police-department bond before the voters to alleviate overcrowding at the current police department. Only Mayor Pro Tem Sarah McAulay, a longtime opponent of building on the Anchor Mill site, dissented.
As designed, the new building includes space for the town to operate its own dispatch center. Though Huntersville commissioners have not committed to buying the equipment and adding staff to operate a 911 system, they are not happy with the 911 arrangement Huntersville has with Cornelius. See related article, page 18.
When the board finally takes a formal vote on the bond, however, Commissioner Ron Julian said he will recuse himself. He owns property around the Anchor Mill site, and the town’s development of the property could result in the value of Julian’s property increasing.
Even without Julian’s vote, commissioners Ken Lucas, Charles Jeter and Danae Caulfield said Thursday they support construction at that site.
McAulay and Mayor Jill Swain oppose the Anchor Mill site because they think the land will become valuable for private development when the proposed Red Line commuter train finally arrives, attracting daily commuters. While supporting the Anchor Mill site, Julian asked that the town not add the cost of the bond to local tax bills immediately after the bond passes.
After a back-and-forth discussion, Lucas vented his frustration: “Three stinking years we’ve talked about it … This is insane! Either we are going to do it or we’re going to shut up. I’m done with this.”
Even after a straw poll showed the minimum three votes for the bond – with Julian recusing himself – McAulay said she will not offer any support the police bond referendum in any way.
Concord architect Michael Chreitzberg, of Yates-Chreitzberg-Hughes, told commissioners the proposed two-story, 50,000-square-foot police building will take up about half of the Anchor Mill site, which sits across Church Street from Norfolk Southern’s rail line between Third and Fourth streets. He and Chief Philip Potter said they’ve already reduced the original building plan by more than 10,000 square feet, eliminating an indoor shooting range and any storage area for vehicles.
The land was the site of the original Magla Mill, which was torn down years ago. Town officials bought the site in 1998 and hoped for years to sell the property as an “anchor development” for the town center. The site had chemical contamination, but the town obtained grant money to clean up the site. Town Manager Greg Ferguson said state environment officials have designated the land as a “brownfield” site, permitting development of the land by the town or a private company.
The site does not have easy access to east-west streets, and Chreitzberg is proposing constructing a new road across the railroad track and connecting with Main Street and, via Fourth Street, Old Statesville Road. The town will have to acquire right-of way along Main and Fourth streets, leaving the final project tab uncertain.
Chreitzberg presented the town board members with five bond options:
• Three options were tied to the Anchor Mills site, ranging from the high of $15,786,250 to the lowest at $13,349,250. Most of the difference in the three versions – $2.2 million – comes in “additional infrastructure and off-site development,” which includes building a new road connecting to Fourth Street.
• A $14,018,500 plan to build on 4.25 acres on Gilead Road next to Huntersville’s Town Center. This project doesn’t require the road work, but the town would have to spend a projected $1.7 million to acquire land around town hall and demolish an existing structure. McAulay said she favored this option.
• A $12,218,000 plan to build the 50,0000-square-foot department on 5.33 acres in the business park at Ramah Church Road and Seigel Street. The architect projects the town could acquire this site for $250,000, but none of the commissioners expressed any interest in this option.
None of the commissioners disputed the need for a new police facility. Chief Potter said a study of the current building found that it provides only 15 percent of the space needed for a department the size of Huntersville. The building has one interview room, and no secure area to hold criminal suspects, including those suspected of felonies. Instead, a patrol officer has to return to the building to guard a prisoner, Potter said.
Potter showed a picture of a handcuffed suspect sitting in a hallway. He said officers sometimes have to conduct adversarial “interrogations” in the building’s only classroom or even in open cubicles.
Despite McAulay and Swain’s predictions for a future “transit-oriented development” of the site, Jeter said he doesn’t believe the land is “marketable” as it is. With the town building near its historic center, the project gives “a lot of synergy” to more development in that area. Plus, the town doesn’t have to buy the property, and the other road improvements will improve traffic flow in the downtown area.