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No development deal for Kellswater Bridge in Kannapolis

By Hugh Fisher
hfisher@salisburypost.com
KANNAPOLIS ń The latest chapter in the story of Kellswater Bridge ended with a cliffhanger Monday.
After hours of debate over the course of two meetings, Kannapolis City Council members sat mute when asked for a motion to approve a new development ordinance for the troubled luxury community.
Without a motion by a council member to bring the matter to a vote, the matter died and business went on.
But City Manager Mike Legg told the Post after the meeting that the issue is bound to come before the Board of Adjustment and may have to be settled by the courts.
Kellswater Bridge was originally envisioned as a Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) with homes priced at up to $800,000.
But only a fraction of the over 900 homes originally planned were actually built before the economy slowed. The remainder of the unfinished community was purchased out of foreclosure this year by Mountain Real Estate Capital of Charlotte.
They and co-developer LStar Land of Raleigh moved forward with plans to sell remaining lots to builders.
Doing so would almost certainly result in changes to the original design.
Most significantly, a number of lots were designed for homes with rear-facing garages opening onto alleyways built behind those homes.
Those houses have no traditional driveways to the road.
Without a development agreement, new homes might not make use of those alleys.
Residents fear that new homes of vastly different styles, with traditional driveways leading to the road, would disrupt the character of the neighborhood.
Theyíre concerned that new homes wouldnít reflect the original character of the community they bought into.
Once again, almost every seat was filled at the Kannapolis City Council meeting.
Many once more brought signs reading ěSave Kellswater.î
Richard Flowe, a planner with NFocus and resident of the Kellswater Bridge development which he helped to design, once more spoke on behalf of a group of residents.
But neither he nor developers, represented by Adam Ashbaugh of LStar, were willing to budge.
Planning Director Ben Warren, speaking on behalf of city staff, said that the development agreement up for discussion contained some concessions on behalf of residents.
Instead of terminating Kelsey Plaza, a main thoroughfare, developers would continue it as originally planned.
They also agreed to continue using rear alley access on roads where those alleys were in place. And developers said they would work to make sure new homes built on lots near existing houses did not radically alter the makeup of those streets.
Warren said residents still werenít pleased.
ěThe latest version of the request that we had was that an additional 23 of those lots be changed (to rear access),î Warren said.
Ashbaugh said the planned changes would bring new life to Kellswater Bridge without compromising quality.
Flowe disagreed, going through a list of the 23 lots in question and explaining why residents feel they were vital to the neighborhoodís character.
ěWeíre trying to preserve consistency in streetscape,î Flowe said. ěWeíre not trying to be difficult. We welcome having a new investment in the community.î
ěBut we are worried about having too many driveways coming off streets that have alley service,î Flowe said.
Kannapolis City Attorney Wally Safrit asked Flowe if he had spoken to residents about the potential results of a vote against the agreement.
ěIf the council accepts your proposition and the developer will not, we have no development agreement,î Safrit said.
ěThen we may have litigation. Ö It could very well be that all of the concessions that the city has extracted will be lost,î Safrit said.
Flowe said he and homeowners understood that.
But, he said, the millions invested in their homes and the original Kellswater vision were important.
Council members and Mayor Bob Misenheimer asked many more questions of Flowe and Ashbaugh.
Finally, Councilman Roger Haas said he would not vote for the measure.
ěI hope that by doing that, I will have expressed, the only way I know how to express it, that our job is to preserve and protect communities moreso than improve the profitability of the developer,î Haas said.
Councilman Kenneth Geathers also said he would vote no.
ěWeíre not in the development business, and (Safrit) is right … it could cause the city to be open to litigation,î Geathers said.
Even so, Geathers said, ěAs a citizen, as an elected official, I have to vote with the people.î
Councilman Tom Kincaid also said he would vote no.
ěI am a neighbor of Kellswater. … If we are going to hold on, the economy will come back. Kannapolis is coming back.î
He said that a vote to back away from the standards already agreed on would hurt the city and residents.
Mayor Pro Tem Gene McCombs then said he felt there might be room for a compromise.
Misenheimer called a 10-minute recess to allow Flowe and Ashbaugh to talk.
Afterward, nothing had changed.
McCombs then asked George Kaiser if he would like to come forward and share his opinion.
Kaiser, original developer of Kellswater with Merrifield Partners, had been sitting in the audience.
Kiser, who lives in Kellswater Bridge, said Flowe did not speak for all the residents.
ěI think what the developer has presented is a good compromise solution and I urge you to pass it,î Kiser said.
But when Misenheimer called the question moments later, silence fell.
The council moved on to other business, and audience members remained hushed as they streamed out of the meeting room.
Ashbaugh left immediately and could not be reached for comment following the meeting.
Flowe said that, as far as he was concerned, the development agreement was dead.
But Legg said the matter could come before the City Council again if members choose.
Meanwhile, the city had denied zoning permits for Kellswater pending resolution of the matter.
Legg said that issue would certainly come up at the November Board of Adjustment meeting, if not before.
If the board rules in favor of the city, Legg said developers could challenge the city in Superior Court.
However, should the Board of Adjustment side with developers, Legg said the city might still go to court to defend its position.
That would mean hiring an outside attorney to represent the Board of Adjustment, at city expense.
Safrit would argue for Kannapolis.
Such a thing hasnít happened in the cityís history, Safrit said.
Legg warned that if the dispute goes to court, residents might stand to lose any or all the concessions developers had been willing to grant.
ěm there, itís out of our hands,î Legg said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editorís desk at 704-797-4244.

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