Kannapolis hears comments on Center City plan
By Hugh Fisher
KANNAPOLIS – After several weeks of feedback from citizens and business owners, the first public comments on the Kannapolis Center City Master Plan are in.
At Monday’s Kannapolis City Council meeting, those comments boiled down to two key points:
Preserve competitive zoning and attract more businesses to downtown.
Planning Director Ben Warren said that the public’s input has led to several suggested changes to the master plan.
If and when it is approved by the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council, the plan will become a policy that shapes future decisions.
One of the suggestions that got many comments is a proposed pedestrian tunnel underneath the city’s busy railroad line.
Norfolk Southern’s tracks divide Kannapolis, offering a potential hazard to pedestrians.
Warren and City Manager Mike Legg discussed the potential to find funding for such a tunnel.
Warren showed photos and discussed a similar tunnel at Elon University, built as part of a joint partnership between the school and the N.C. Railroad Company.
Legg said there was potential for a similar partnership which would reduce the city’s cost, should such a tunnel be built.
Not everyone loves the idea.
Business and Community Affairs Director Irene Sacks said that residents commenting on the proposal online were concerned that such a tunnel might be used by graffiti artists.
Sacks said 193 people filled out an online survey about the proposed plan.
Some parts of the plan got more attention than others.
Many said they felt the city should focus on repurposing empty buildings in Cannon Village.
But there are challenges to any plan to change the face of the city’s center.
Many of the buildings that make up downtown Kannapolis are owned or managed by Castle & Cooke and Atlantic American Properties.
Those companies, in turn, are owned by David Murdock, developer of the N.C. Research Campus.
While Warren said the city couldn’t control the actions of its property owners, there is room for public/private partnerships to help market and grow downtown as a family destination and business center.
Such an association – like Downtown Salisbury, Inc. in that city – might serve as ombudsman for businesses and the community.
Sacks said some survey respondents were concerned about proposed zoning changes and how they might affect what they can do with their properties.
Proposed changes in zoning, especially along the southern end of downtown between Dale Earnhardt Boulevard and Main Street, drew fire from property owners.
Warren said that changing the zoning to residential might wipe out the investments of those who bought former houses along Dale Earnhardt Boulevard when the N.C. Research Campus was announced.
“The new recommendation is that those properties be zoned from Center City back to Office and Institutional,” he said.
That would allow the houses currently used as residences to remain so, while also allowing small offices and businesses along that stretch of road.
Warren said there should be more efforts to get those people to come to downtown to eat and shop when they come to the city for events.
Another proposal includes trying to attract a museum or other attraction, such as a branch museum of Discovery Place.
For example, Discovery Place Kids opened in Huntersville last year, attracting many families and school groups downtown.
Warren said that a scientific museum, or perhaps an attraction building on the Research Campus’ science focus, would be a boon to downtown.
But Sacks said that the idea got low ratings from citizens, who instead suggested that the city should attract more commercial businesses.
Sacks also said the city had gotten more than 40 responses from citizens who would be interested in serving on the committee that will eventually discuss how to implement these changes.
“They would have the job also of providing … updates and feedback to city council and also to update the plan, be sure it stays relevant and make updates and revisions to the plan as time goes forward,” Warren said.
Council member Roger Haas said that the question of who to attract downtown first — businesses or people who would visit and support them — must be settled before any strategy is chosen.
“It’s going to be very different based on what we choose to do,” Haas said.
Warren said that was a good thing about an attraction such as Discovery Place Kids: Children and families would come to Kannapolis to eat and shop, not just to visit the museum.
There’s still time for locals to weigh in on the proposed document, which is available for viewing online at cityofkannapolis.com.
A formal public hearing on the Center City Master Plan will be held at the April 25 City Council meeting.
In other business before the Kannapolis City Council:
• Council members opened a public hearing on the proposed voluntary annexation of 96.9 acres of land on NC 73.
They then voted unanimously to continue that hearing until the April 25 meeting.
Doing so without closing the hearing or tabling the request means the petitioner does not have to re-advertise the public hearing.
The land, which adjoins the Shiloh Village Shopping Center on Shiloh Church Road, is being considered as site of a proposed private Catholic high school to be run by the Diocese of Charlotte.
Planning Director Ben Warren said the request to continue the meeting was to allow the public a chance to comment while also permitting the petitioner to finish due diligence on the property.
Councilman Randy Cauthen asked what the cost to the city would be of annexing the land, since it would not generate tax revenues as a private religious institution.
City Manager Mike Legg said those figures would be available at the next meeting.
But, Legg said, having a private school in Kannapolis would add to the city’s image, while it would also generate revenues from property taxes.
Water and sewer fees would also provide revenue to the city, Legg said following the meeting.
Gary Knox, real estate broker working on the deal with the Diocese of Charlotte, said the school would house grades 9-12 and would have about 120 students when it opened.
• After a unanimous vote, the council went into closed session to discuss personnel matters.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.