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Josh Bergeron: Growth potential seems closer than ever in south Rowan

Naturally, as we near the end of 2018, many of the Salisbury Post’s stories have reflected on the events of the previous 12 months, good and bad.

For moving into the unknown that is a “renewal district,” wrapping up construction of West Rowan Elementary and reintroducing the idea of closing and consolidating schools, the Rowan-Salisbury School System was named the Post’s newsmaker of the year.

Meanwhile, the number of homicides increased outside of the municipalities of Rowan County but decreased in the Salisbury city limits. Sandy and Casey Parsons were indicted on charges in the death of Erica. Commissioner Craig Pierce made an unprecedented and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to win a term on the county’s governing board after just winning a term two years earlier. And Fibrant transitioned to Hotwire Communications after a vote on the 2018 primary ballot.

But, while it’s nearly two months behind us, Rowan shouldn’t lose sight of the importance of an agreement signed in November between county government and the city of Kannapolis to install municipal water lines in a previously unincorporated area of south Rowan.

“There is no downside to this at all,”  says Pierce, who reinvigorated the debate about expanding municipal water lines into rural areas in 2014.

That might be a bit of hyperbole, but both sides clearly win in the agreement.

The county will be obligated to contribute $1 million to the water and sewer project along with forgiving debt owed on the existing Kannapolis Intimidators stadium, which will be replaced with a new one downtown. Meanwhile, Kannapolis will get to annex a large swath of land with ample potential for growth.

Pierce says he thinks “everything” will be done by the end of 2019. That means installation of water mains — smaller lines extending to each building will come later — and possibly the interstate exit. Previously, the best-case scenario for installation of water and sewer lines in south Rowan’s unincorporated areas was 2022, Pierce says.

Through the agreement, Kannapolis simultaneously found its primer for further economic growth — this time in Rowan County. Meanwhile, Rowan County has found the catalyst for the second part of its long-planned water and sewer project.

With relative ease, Rowan County commissioners built a system in the Dukeville area, primarily motivated by economic development goals but helped along by state government requiring Duke Energy to provide clean water to coal ash neighbors.

In the southern end of the county, building a water and sewer system has always been a much more difficult task because of the initial sticker shock, which was tens of millions of dollars in a 2015 feasibility study if county government decided to go it alone.

Now, at the site of a future interchange between Old Beatty Ford Road and Interstate 85, the potential is real for the long-awaited Charlotte growth that washes over Rowan County’s borders.

Rowan County has watched as Cabarrus County has grown exponentially in conjunction with Charlotte. Concord, a city that many Salisbury residents will remember as relatively small compared to its present size, is now one of the largest in the state. Kannapolis has benefited from the growth in Cabarrus County, too. Meanwhile, economic growth has only trickled into Rowan County in pieces.

Through Kannapolis, Rowan County found a municipality with the financial ability to extend water and sewer lines — Salisbury was the only other choice. Because, while they’re likely not shy about saying it, Rowan County commissioners aren’t concerned about which municipality gets to claim the land and the eventual tax revenue, as annexation was always a probable outcome. The county’s goal is simply to create an opportunity for private developers in the southern end of Rowan.

In Kannapolis, commissioners get a partner that’s able to make the water and sewer extension happen as well as a city that’s got economic momentum on its side.

The creation of an I-85 exit in recent years was seen as the catalyst to bring some growth into our community that our neighbors have already seen. Water and sewer lines make it possible to build much larger developments in rural areas that might otherwise require a well and septic tank.

Now, with I-85 construction moving ever closer to an end, and a plan in place to extend water and sewer lines, the possibility of major economic growth in southern Rowan seems closer than ever.

And, once the floodgates open, the challenge will eventually become how to prevent Rowan County’s many unique communities from simply becoming Charlottte suburbs.

For now, the collective attention of elected officials and local businesses will be on the question, “if you build it, will they come?”

Josh Bergeron is editor of the Salisbury Post. Email him at josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com.

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