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Subdivisions are sprouting, taxing fire departments

By Jessie Burchette

Salisbury Post

A veteran volunteer fire department chief hopes a requirement for water sources will be the start of something bigger.

“The days of Jim Walter homes and mobile home parks are gone,” said John Morrison, who has been chief of the West Rowan Volunteer Fire Department for 20 years.

He’s seeing the fields that once produced grain or hay sprout subdivisions with million dollar homes. And more are coming.

For the fire department, that increases the demands for manpower, training, equipment — and money.

West Rowan recently bought a used ladder truck with a 65-foot ladder. “We had to buy the truck because some of the houses are three stories high,” Morrison said.

He has 42 volunteers on the roster, 12 pieces of equipment and four stations.

“Everybody was looking south,” said Morrison. “While everybody was looking that way, the development came from the west.”

The area served by the Fire Department is the largest in the county in square miles. Still not densely populated, there may be more cows and horses than people.

Much of the fire district has a Mooresville mailing address, which isn’t hurting real estate sales.

Three gated developments are now in the works, all featuring luxury homes in the rural setting.

The developments include Teeter Farms and Steeple Gate, both on N.C. 150, and an equestrian development on N.C. 152 at the former Ernie Irvan property.

Two of the gated developments have ties to NASCAR.

Jimmy Johnson, a retired vice president of Hendrick Motorsports, is developing Teeter Farms.

Matt Kenseth, a championship driver, bought the largest lot in Teeter Farms, a 5-acre tract, but hasn’t yet started his house.

Joe Nemechek, another NASCAR driver, is involved in the development of the former Irvan property.

In addition to the three gated developments, a new subdivision, Berkshire, is going in beside Mount Ulla Elementary School.

The changes that are coming to the western end of the county have firefighters focused on ways to meet the needs.

And the Fire Department is working to lower its insurance rating — or ISO — from 9 to 6, which would provide the maximum savings for homeowners.

Water is an essential ingredient to the department’s rating.

The Fire Department has six water points now and is working on a seventh.

“We don’t have near enough,” Morrison added.

While the county is drafting an ordinance requiring developers to provide a water source and access point, Morrison and members of the Fire Department have done their own sales campaign.

Developers of Steeple Gate as well as the Irvan project have agreed to put in water points.

Michael Melicia and his wife, Susan, developers of Steeple Gate, immediately agreed to provide a water source.

Splitting the cost with the fire department, they put in a well to replenish a three-quarter-acre pond, which has a dry hydrant connecting by a pipe to the deepest part of the pond.

The Melicias added an extra wide turnaround next to the pond to accommodate fire trucks.

“It’s a huge benefit for the homeowners,” Susan Melicia said. “We want to be supportive of the fire department. ”

Melicia’s company, United Visions Construction, based in Davidson, is building the homes in Steeple Gate.

The California natives bought the old McLaughlin farm and plans a development of Old World or European-style homes.

While watching the Fire Department practice and test filling at the hydrant, Michael Melicia praised the work of the firefighters. “This will benefit the entire community. It will protect all of us.”

The Melicias have also offered the Fire Department the opportunity to practice in the development and become familiar with the Old World homes.

That’s an offer Morrison may make use of.

He cited the challenges firefighters face with many of the larger homes that feature roofs cut up in a dozen or more angles.

“There’s so many places for a fire to go,” he said. “In a straight A-roof, you know where to look. Going into the roofs of these mansions, you have to train different.”

Johnson, the Teeter Farms developer, said recently that his project is too far along to provide a water source and point of access. He cited potential problems with the roads and said the pond is shallow and dries up in summer.

Johnson said he hopes to do additional developments in the county and will do whatever the county requires on future projects.

He noted he will be moving into his new house in Teeter Farms in the next month and is looking forward to living in Rowan County.

He previously lived in a lakefront home on Lake Norman but opted to seek a quieter place– away from the traffic and noise around the lake.

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Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254 or jburchette@salisburypost.com.

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