subhead: Stoplights and other measures not on horizon
CORNELIUS – Residents describe living on Nantz Road as paradise as they watch the sun set over Lake Norman. Getting in their cars to leave turns it into a nightmare.
“We are prisoners of our home during rush hour,” said Ann Miltich of the inability to turn either direction onto West Catawba Avenue because of traffic and the lack of a stoplight.
And it may only get worse. In addition to development off West Catawba Avenue, the town recently approved a new age-restricted neighborhood to be built on Nantz Road, plus Mecklenburg County plans on reinstating its first Lake Norman swimming area to the road’s Ramsey Creek Park by 2016. Already at the facility are boat launches, walking trails and a dog park, which share the street with hundreds of residents living nearby.
“At the end of the day, we are not against anything that happens in that park,” Nantz Road resident Patricia Morris said of the growth. “We just want a stoplight and better signage.”
Farmland to mansions
All of the residents have a different reason for coming to the area: job transfers, proximity to the lake, wanting change. But it boils down to the quality of life Nantz Road offers.
Partly to thank for that is Roger Morris, whose family owned the majority of the land not only on Nantz Road, but also down through to N.C. 73 and even the Birkdale Village property.
After the lake was established, Roger remembers summer visits to stay with relatives, fish and play at the park, which at the time was a graveled two-slip Duke Power boat launch. The street was a paved one-lane road.
As Interstate 77 drew people north, one lane became two, the boat launch transformed to a full county park with multiple slips and other amenities, and houses were either kept or torn down for the lakefront homes there today.
“It’s just always been quiet with good people down here,” he said.
That hasn’t completely changed, residents attest.
Miltich started coming to the lake in the late 1980s before moving to Nantz Road fulltime in 2005. The sunsets, friendly neighbors and lack of homeowner’s association appealed to Miltich and her family.
“It was all serenity and traffic was not an issue,” she said of buying the house prior to the establishment of Exit 25 and Birkdale.
Dorothy Neri moved into the area for her husband’s job a few years ago, having heard great things about the area and its proximity to Charlotte. On one hand, development and new commercial businesses have been an advantage.
“I moved here and thought I’d be driving to Charlotte every day,” Neri said. “Now I love it because I don’t have to leave three exits to find anything you need.”
The downside, Miltich reminds her, is the traffic.
“It’s so congested you can’t get from point A to B to C unless you want to spend half of your afternoon driving,” she said. “I think everyone else was drawn to it too.”
Hazards of life
When residents want to drive somewhere, Patricia said, they have to plan their trips accordingly. Without a stoplight, 40 cars could pass before they are able to turn left onto Nantz Road from Catawba Avenue, blocking traffic or waiting for someone to let them through.
Getting out of Nantz Road is even more difficult with residents noting a several minute wait before being able to turn in either direction if they step on the gas. Some drivers opt to turn right and take a longer route in lieu of turning left.
Roger said stopped traffic is almost better because people are more willing to stop and let them out, but if it’s moving, he said, they are out of luck.
Nantz Road properties are affected by the area’s popularity too. With what residents call inadequate signage, it’s common that drivers pass by the park without noticing they’ve missed it.
Neri has replaced her mailbox seven times since she’s lived there because of people wrecking it trying to turn around with their boats. She’s moved the mailbox so it’s not as convenient for her, but hasn’t had to fix it as often.
Roger said people use his sloping gravel driveway as a turnaround. More than once, people with boats and trailers have found they can’t back up and have gotten stuck with wheels spinning. Morris said after awhile they come to the house and ask for help getting out. He obliges, then offers them a rake to fix his driveway.
For festivals and other area events like the dragon boat races held at Ramsey Creek, people parking alongside the road destroy residents’ yards. Some have opted to install fences, plant shrubs and place “decorative boulders” to deter people.
They worry if people are this hard-pressed to get park access now, what will happen when the beach is officially opened?
A study in traffic
Several obstacles stand in their way of getting a stoplight. For one, West Catawba Avenue is a state road while Nantz Road belongs to the town. It’s up to the N.C. Department of Transportation to install a stoplight regardless of how much town staff and officials agree they should have one.
“We can go to town hall and whine and complain that we can’t get out of our neighborhood, but our town council can’t put a stoplight there even if someone gave them a million dollars because it’s a state road,” Miltich said.
But it was at the town’s discretion to allow Courtyards at Nantz to be built in the coming years on some of the remaining vacant land. Developer EPCON Communities agreed to make several road improvements at the intersection to improve the angle and make other repairs to get the development approved.
The company also completed a traffic impact study of the area, which showed the new development wouldn’t add enough traffic to warrant the stoplight and neither does current Nantz Road traffic.
“The hourly volumes on Catawba Avenue are very high, while several of the Nantz Road hourly volumes are just below the threshold for warranting a traffic signal,” the study states. “Based on discussions with NCDOT, traffic signals on state roads are generally not permitted or recommended when only the peak hour warrant is met, except in extenuating circumstances. It is recommended that a signal be installed when some combination of peak hour warrant and either four or eight hour warrants are met.”
Residents contend the study was done on off hours in winter and didn’t give an accurate depiction of the traffic, especially during boating season. Plus, it didn’t take into account the additional traffic from the future beach access – and neither did the county.
Karen Weston-Chier, leading the Ramsey Creek Beach Project for Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation, said they had not, and didn’t plan to, hold a traffic study for the swimming area.
“We are adding to an already existing facility,” she said of why it’s not required. “It was never a part of the project as we are inserting it to an existing park with parking already there. So we are not anticipating a traffic study.”
The planned future widening of West Catawba Avenue could bring hope for a stoplight if traffic studies warrant it – or could make things worse if planners install a median in front of Nantz Road. The project is still in its planning stages.
For now, residents are stuck with what they have. Town commissioners and officials understand the plight, but also see the need for economic development that can be opened through the new residences and beach access.
Commissioner Woody Washam said he agreed to let EPCON build there is because of its willingness to fund road improvements at the intersection and said the reason the developer and county is looking to develop there is because of the limited available land in town.
“The town and the chamber encourages swim access, but at the same time, the county made the decision and had few choices,” he said. “At Ramsey, they had room to put it.”