Steele Creek residents aren’t lacking for traffic concerns near Olympic High School. They do lack confidence anything will be done to improve them.
More than 100 people came out Thursday night to hear plans for the Grier property, more than 127 acres at Brown-Grier and Steele Creek roads slated for up to 550 townhomes, 292 apartments and 80,000 square feet of commercial space. Developers brought experts on every part of the plan to the public meeting, required as part of a rezoning needed for the project.
Residents overwhelmingly wanted to talk traffic.
“That’s the main concern, traffic,” said resident Gary Lee.
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Lee moved to the area more than 20 years ago. He lives near Highways 49 and 160 and sees the large residential and commercial project as an issue beyond just neighboring properties.
“(N.C.) 160 has a major impact for us with its connection to the airport and into Charlotte,” Lee said. “It’s an alternative to the 49.”
Carol Wilson, a 16-year resident who lives in a townhome development on N.C. 49, said a project this size will warrant more public transit options in the area. Options that may be needed already, she said.
“They’re going to have to do something about transportation,” Wilson said. “This is going to affect Lake Wylie as well as the South Carolina area.”
Matt Levesque with ESP Associates reminded residents all major projects require a traffic impact analysis and, pending those results, road improvements to maintain roads’ level of service.
“There are going to be improvements that are required,” Levesque said.
Developers say plans will change in coming weeks with the traffic analysis, public input and county planning recommendations. A second public meeting is required. The earliest final approval could come in mid-November, they said, and full project buildout wouldn’t be immediate.
“It’s not all done at one time,” Levesque said. “It’s going to be a project that’ll take years and develop over time.”
Randall Reyes, who lives on Brown-Grier neighboring the property, doesn’t believe developers will improve roads to mitigate traffic problems.
“No,” Reyes said, “that’s not going to be done.”
If developers improved roads as they say they must after a traffic study, Reyes said, existing problems wouldn’t be what they are. He points to existing apartment projects off Steele Creek Road that he said bring more traffic to several nearby roads.
“If they did a study, it must have been done by a blind person,” Reyes said.
Roads in his area of Steele Creek weren’t designed to handle the large projects they have now, he said.
“My biggest issue is traffic,” Reyes said. “Both roads that I usually access are one lane coming and one lane going. And it’s already backed up for miles.”
Fela Babb lives near the proposed development, off Sandy Porter Road. Traffic and the addition of so many students into nearby schools have her concerned. Roads and schools are struggling to serve the number of people here already, she said.
“It seems like it’s a little bit too much, too fast,” Babb said.
Developers saying improvements will be made to keep traffic issues from growing worse isn’t reassuring to Babb.
“It’s going to be a backup after backup after backup,” she said. “It’s already a backup.”
Chris Thomas with developer Childress Klein Properties is a Steele Creek native. Along with the Grier property, his company has interest in undeveloped land north of the project. Thomas said his group is interested in connectivity and bringing solid development projects fitting the area.
“One of the weaknesses we’ve experienced in Steele Creek over the years is a lack of cohesiveness,” he said.
Residents see more fundamental problems not only with the latest proposal but with how development occurs overall.
“Planning needs to be far in advance of these projects,” Lee said. “We’re doing things after the fact. We need to think beyond this proposal here.”
Lee sees other regions or areas of the country, where road infrastructure comes in and development forms around it. Similar to interstates or major bypasses spurring nearby economic growth. Building large projects along traditionally farm-to-town roads, then coming in to build roads, seems backward to him. Lee would rather see a transportation corridor form first.
He said there are still many properties left to be developed in coming years.
“Charlotte needs to have that vision, that forward-thinking,” Lee said. “You can’t rely on something like (Highway) 160.”
If the project is approved, residents at a minimum would like to see some improvements made.
“The developers need to be held accountable for doing what they say they’re going to do,” Wilson said.
John Marks: 803-831-8166