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Kannapolis homeowners mixed on proposed I-85 off-ramp

KANNAPOLIS — At twilight, Tracy Sapp’s home on Winding Brook Lane is warm and inviting, with supper cooking in the kitchen and a fire burning on the patio.
In a matter of months, however, that house might be gone.
A proposal presented this week by the N.C. Department of Transportation would demolish eight homes off Winding Brook Lane and place a new off-ramp from southbound Interstate 85 along what is currently a gravel alley behind those houses.
The new southbound off-ramp would lead to a planned intersection with Dale Earnhardt Boulevard next to the Kannapolis branch of F&M Bank.
The current off-ramp would be replaced by an entrance to the Lowe’s Home Improvement shopping center, which borders the gravel lane officially named Jaycee Road.
Local resident Grant Rader, who once lived in the Forest Ridge neighborhood near the Sapps’ home, is leading an effort to oppose the change — one of several major alterations to the three interchanges that serve Kannapolis.
But Sapp said he and four other families whose homes might fall to the plan believe that selling their property to the state might be the best possible outcome.
Sapp and other residents like Sharlene Sharpe will have another chance to voice their concerns tonight.
Transportation officials are holding a drop-in open house tonight at Carson High School, 290 Kress Venture Road, China Grove, from 4 to 6:30 p.m., followed by a formal presentation at 7 p.m.
Lewis Mitchell, the division engineer for N.C. Dept. of Transportation’s Division 10 — which includes Cabarrus County — could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Rader, reached by phone, said he represents a group of residents opposed to the planned changes near Forest Brook.
He called the off-ramp plan “the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Rader said he learned about the project from friends who live in the neighborhood and was asked to join them in speaking against the plan at a public forum in Kannapolis on Tuesday.
“I told them, ‘You’re destroying the tranquility, the value and the integrity of the entire neighborhood,’ ” Rader said.
Eight properties along Winding Brook Lane would fall under the right-of-way for the proposed interchange, which NCDOT says is needed to handle the amount of traffic expected to come into the area over the next 20 years.
Sharpe, who lives in another part of the neighborhood, also opposes the plan.
The home where she and husband Gary have lived since 1990 is something Sharpe said they hoped to leave to their children.
Instead, she said, since the Lowe’s shopping center was built about seven years ago, there have been more break-ins and more noise.
“It’s quiet, except in winter when all the leaves are gone,” Sharpe said.
And at this time of year, the roar of traffic from Interstate 85 fills the air, though she’s about two-tenths of a mile from it.
Sharpe said she heard about the plan from neighbors and hopes it doesn’t go through.
But for others, the proposal seems like the lesser of two evils.
In their living room Wednesday evening, Tracy and Suzanne Sapp showed a packet of paperwork that homeowners along their street received about two weeks ago.
At least one neighbor, Sapp said, threw the packet away because it looked like junk mail.
And only those whose homes might have to be razed got packets.
The rest of the neighborhood, Rader said, found out by word of mouth.
But Sapp said there are different opinions, even among the homeowners whose properties are going to be directly affected.
“I’d say 90 percent of the residents were there to oppose the road. We were there to support the road,” Sapp said.
He said he’s tried to “step back and listen” to the plan as a whole, understanding that traffic is going to increase as Kannapolis grows.
“When we moved in, we had residential property,” Sapp said.
But now, he said, it’s clear that some sort of development will come to the land beyond his and his neighbors’ back fence — if not an off-ramp, then perhaps the entrance to a business.
“Either a hotel, a race shop, something,” Sapp said.
Although he didn’t name names, Sapp said his opinion was shared by four other homeowners whose properties would fall under the proposed plan.
“We would rather proactively deal with the state in good faith than wait for the uncertainty of the interstate to be cleared up and deal with whatever commercial development comes behind the homes at that time.”
“I appreciate the fact that the neighborhood’s first comment is, ‘You have eight beautiful homes that will be destroyed,’ ” Sapp said.
And, he said, he understands the neighbors’ fears that their home values will fall.
Sapp said he’d like to see the state offer to buy the four homes that face immediately out onto the proposed ramp, if that plan does come about.
Then, he said, the state would have enough land to build “a significant noise barrier” instead of the chain-link fence currently being discussed.
“Everybody’s doing to lose a little bit, but let’s do the best thing for the entire neighborhood,” Sapp said.
City officials say there’s not much they can do.
“It’s not a city project,” said City Manager Mike Legg, reached by phone late Wednesday.
City officials only received a full briefing on the proposals Tuesday. “We’ve been chewing on it and trying to understand it better,” Legg said.
He said the city hasn’t been shown any alternatives, but there’s still time.
“It’s the first meeting, and that’s the good thing,” Legg said. “This is the preliminary design phase. We’ve got a ways to go still.”
It’s too early to tell, Legg said, whether lawmakers will take a formal position on the plan.
Councilman Ryan Dayvault, also reached by phone Wednesday, said likewise.
He said he couldn’t attend Tuesday’s public meeting, but plans to be at tonight’s session in China Grove.
Dayvault said he had heard several opinions about the project from residents of Forest Brook, including those who are generally in favor of it.
He said it’s important to remember that the city has little control over the widening of Interstate 85.
“All we can do as elected officials is convey the concerns that the residents express,” Dayvault said.
“I feel the people of that neighborhood know what they think is best for that area … but whether or not that’s effective in the end, I don’t know,” Dayvault said.

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.

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