CORNELIUS – Representatives for a proposed charter school on the Huntersville-Cornelius line had to redo their traffic pattern to ease concerns about potential congestion.
Representatives of Oak City Capital Group, leading the Thunderbird Preparatory Academy project, returned to the Cornelius Planning Board on Feb. 11 to present a plan that suggests new turning patterns at the intersection of Will Knox and Old Statesville roads. It also includes the addition of a parking lot to route the carpool traffic. The application was recommended unanimously.
The charter school, slated to open this fall, would share the 37,000-square-foot building onsite with an existing church. The school proposed 488 students the first year with 40 faculty and 596 students in the second year.
The board had previously approved Oak City Capital Group’s rezoning application in December to turn the four-acre site from “neighborhood residential” site to “conditional zoning for civic use.” But the plan was met with traffic concerns by the N.C. Department of Transportation.
Cornelius Planning Director Wayne Herron said among the new plans is to build a driveway and parking lot in the back of the property that would also accommodate the brunt of the carpool lines. Parking spaces increase to 114 during carpool time and 154 during non-congested times. The new plan moves the entrance of the school to the back of the building instead of the side.
Herron said they would have to take off an 8-foot portion of the building to have the parking lot and a sidewalk. But it would have the same siding and aesthetics as before. New buffers and fences were also added for safety and privacy.
To alleviate other traffic pressure, Herron said the school will stagger start times, plus drivers won’t be able to turn left from Will Knox Road at N.C. 115 during designated school arrival and departure times. If approved by NCDOT, the speed will also drop from 45 miles per hour to 35 mph.
“These improvements meet and exceed NCDOT standards for charter schools,” Herron said. “We feel those improvements will have less of an impact on the surrounding.”
It may also appease Huntersville Director of Engineering and Public Works Max Buchanan, who expressed concern at the December meeting that any additional traffic on Will Knox Road would affect commuters going in and out of Huntersville.
Citing issues Huntersville has faced at Lake Norman Charter School, Buchanan said traffic would be a major concern as the morning hours coincide with peak traffic times. He warned people would have trouble turning out of the school and cause congestion.
Planning board members questioned Buchanan as to whether he was representing the town or himself before asking if it was customary for neighboring towns to “complain” about something going on in another location, the minutes state.
In the minutes, Chairman Brian Simmons is quoted as saying, “I don’t care where we put it. It’s a school. There’s 500 students there, plus employees – there’s going to be a traffic impact. We know that from our dealings with Bailey Road, our high schools and our elementary schools. If we put this in the middle of the Augustalee property, there is still going to be an impact there.”
At the time, school representatives agreed to several stipulations – which still stand – including all improvements required by NCDOT and noted in the traffic impact analysis have to be implemented before Mecklenburg County issues a certificate of occupancy and a sidewalk should be constructed at some point along Old Statesville Road.
The Cornelius Board of Commissioners has final approval.