by  Jackson Sveen

CORNELIUS – After the denial by the Town Board to rezone lot 2 of Kenton Place, property owners will go back to the drawing board to stop the bleeding from this suffering development.

At the public hearing on Oct. 5, the board voted 3-2 to deny the rezoning proposal of the lot closest to West Catawaba Avenue, submitted by Gary Cangelosi, owner and developer of the property. Rezoning the lot would eliminate retail space from the bottom floor of the single lot and add 26 apartments in its place.

Cangelosi gave a thorough presentation in which he outlined the reasons why Kenton Place does not need the extra 32,000 square feet of retail space and how the proposed apartments could be a shot in the arm to the struggling businesses there.

Kenton Place has 50 percent retail vacancy of and 40 percent office vacancy.

After the loss of the Palace Theater and Lowes Foods, Kenton Place has been lacking a much-needed anchor business to draw in traffic to the existing businesses.

“We’ve got to think about the long-term success of Kenton Place and our community. We’ve got to be finding anchors for Kenton Place,” said Mayor Jeff Tarte. “It’s not going to survive as a retail environment, and not as just an apartment complex. If that’s all it ends up being for 20 years, then we have failed the community.”

Commissioners Dave Gilroy, Lynette Rinker and Jeff Hare voted to deny the change, citing traffic issues and loss of business space.

“The central issues that stand out to me are the inconsistencies with this fundamentally with our comprehensive master plan,” Gilroy said. “I root my perspective in working with the growth management committee, where this would have been the epitome of what we spent so much time thinking through, working hard and planning how we could avoid this form of high density residential in this extremely sensitive location.”

Commissioner Rinker agreed with residents that came to voice concerns over traffic issues along West Catawba Avenue.

“Our infrastructure is overwhelmed right now and it’s not an easy fix,” Rinker said. “I just don’t feel as though I can burden an entire town with the impact that this is going to bring. And it will burden the entire town.”

Studies presented by AECOM, the town’s traffic consultant, showed that congestion would be reduced by building apartments when compared to retail developments.

“The traffic studies sound great, but all you have to do is go out on a Friday afternoon and try to navigate West Catawba,” said Ron Kelly, Cornelius resident. “Try to make a left out of some of those developments. It has simply reached capacity, and it’s not safe.”

One of those business owners that came to the public hearing in support of the rezoning was John Bisson, owner of Galway Hooker Irish Pub at Kenton Place.

“People are tired of a development that simply hasn’t been developed,” said Bisson. “They are tired of it being empty for 10 years. It’s an eyesore for the city.”

Commissioner John Bradford was the first on to support the apartments at Kenton Place. He argued that traffic isn’t the main reason others oppose the apartment proposal.

“When you really drill down to the root cause, even by denying this request, someone can still build 266 units without approval,” Bradford said. “We don’t have the choice here about stopping multi-family. We are talking about 26 net new units. I understand the infrastructure may not support it, but who are we to stop capitalism and the growth of our town because the road isn’t wide enough? I think it’s the impetus to go fix (Catawba Avenue) as a result of this.”

Commissioner Travis also voiced his support, as long as the proposal was revised to exclude the 26 additional apartments.

“We have an approved plan we could build out tomorrow, but the plan has flaws, it has 32,000 square feet in retail that mostly will sit vacant,” Travis said. “It looks like a failed development.”

Cangelosi said that he will continue to develop the approved residential spaces at lots 1, 3 and 16, but without Lot 2, it will be like Kenton Place is “missing a front tooth.”

“The town is trying to micromanage how many people buy versus rent,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that we don’t have the flexibility to respond to the dynamic market. It’s a highly constrained, regulated and restricted market up here. We have some fine and bright people on the board, but they don’t understand the economic benefit and are too worried about traffic.”

In other board news

• Police Chief Bence Hoyle gave a presentation about revamping town ordinances. The ordinances included public consumption of alcohol, disorderly conduct and obstructing traffic.

Hoyle said implementing those ordinances would save travel time and time in court for police officers.

• Three-year-old Kilah Davenport received 90 percent brain damage when her stepfather allegedly beat her.

Michael Alvarez, Mayor of Indian Trail, presented the resolution to support Kilah’s Law. Kilah’s Law aims to impose harsher penalties for the criminals who commit violent crimes against children.

The Cornelius board voted to support the resolution.

• The board passed a resolution to close a section of John Conner Road, contingent on the approval of the Pender Pointe Subdivision.

The town will hold a public hearing on the subdivision at its regularly scheduled meeting on Dec. 17.