‘Safety has to come first': N.C. officials reject development annexation due to FD response time
Mooresville commissioners turned down plans to annex a 96-acre community based on being outside of the FD’s response time
By Joe Marusak
The Charlotte Observer
MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Saying the development is too far from the nearest fire station, Mooresville commissioners Tuesday night unanimously rejected a plan to annex and extend utilities to an Alabama developer’s massive proposed community on Lake Davidson.
Birmingham-based LIV Development is planning 353 multifamily units, 136 townhomes, 90 duplexes, a waterfront restaurant and a public multi-use shoreline greenway along Transco Road in southern Iredell County.
The greenway in the 96.8-acre community would have offered rare public waterfront access, Estes McLemore of LIV Development stated in a rezoning application for the project.
In April, commissioners approved the rezoning by a split vote. But by Tuesday commissioners had reversed course.
Commissioner Bobby Compton questioned previously whether the fire department could get to fires in the proposed development as quickly as it does elsewhere in Mooresville.
“My concern is, it’s outside the fire department response time,” Compton said, according to a recording of a Sept. 1 meeting held before Tuesday’s vote.
Compton, a retired firefighter, fire marshal and mayoral candidate, urged Fire Chief Curt Deaton to call into the Sept. 1 meeting to address the fire response issue.
“It’s outside the response time,” Deaton told the board, referring to the LIV Development community. “We’re looking at 9 minutes. I think the far edge of this property is beyond 5 miles ... We strive to make it to the area of the call in 4 minutes.”
And it’s unclear when the town will build its newest fire station that would be near the development, after Mooresville-based Lowe’s Cos. Inc. pulled out of the project, commissioners said.
No formal timeline has been developed, town spokeswoman Megan Suber told The Charlotte Observer.
Mooresville officials are evaluating a parcel off Transco Road and several other sites for the fire station, Suber said in an email. The town has nearly $6.5 million in reserves to cover construction costs, she said.
“Safety has to come first,” commissioner Tommy DeWeese said at Tuesday night’s meeting. “Not having fire projection is unconscionable, putting people’s lives at risk.”
At 341 acres, Lake Davidson straddles the Mecklenburg-Iredell county line along Interstate 77 and is part of the larger Lake Norman, according to Duke Energy. Under federal license, the company manages the chain of lakes it formed along the Catawba River in the Carolinas in the mid-1900s.
Tunnel-like culverts beneath I-77 connect Lake Davidson and neighboring 125-acre Lake Cornelius with Lake Norman.
“It is scary”
Commissioner Lisa Qualls said Transco Road “is a right-in, right-out road that makes it a cul-de-sac, and it’s without a fire station. There’s a major gas transmission line down there, and without a fire department, it is scary.”
“That is a major issue to not have a fire station right there,” she said.
In a memorandum to commissioners Tuesday, town planning staff recommended approval of the annexation and utilities extension but cited “some concerns” about fire response.
“Fire Station 7 is planned for this area, which would resolve the distance and response time to reach this site,” Danny Wilson, Mooresville’s director of planning and community development, said in the memorandum. “But it is not in place at this time.”
Funding shortfall for needed road
The town also is roughly $10 million to $12 million short on funds to build a long-planned East-West Connector road that the development would have tied into, easing traffic concerns, commissioners revealed Tuesday.
“The project you guys have, and the willingness to work with us, is truly appreciated, it really is,” Commissioner Gary West told developer representatives. “But I can’t sit up here and approve something without knowing how we’ll close that gap and when.”
“I’ve said two times sitting here that the East-West Connector would never get built,” Commissioner Compton said.
“And the Lowe’s Cos. Inc. promise (for a fire station contribution) got pulled away from us,” he said. “The whole deal for me is a fire station would be under construction by now, but that hasn’t happened.”
“It needs the East-West Connector to make it safe,” Commissioner Tommy DeWeese said about the development. “But more dangerous than that is, the fire station cannot be built today.”
Said commissioner Thurman Houston: “It’s a beautiful project, just at the wrong time.”
Developer “shocked,” “discouraged” by vote
Representatives for the developer said the board’s vote disappointed them, especially because of all the time, money and effort the developer put into addressing town concerns over the years.
In 2015, land owner Langtree Development Co. LLC donated 4.03 acres for a fire station near the site, Cindy Reid of Cornelius-based Urban Law Group told the board Tuesday night.
In 2018, Langtree gave $1 million-plus for a sewer pump station and sewer-line extension to technology firm Corvid Technologies off Transco Road. Langtree paid over 50% of the cost of the pump station, she said.
And in 2022, Langtree agreed to donate $800,000 toward the connector and give 2.4 acres for road and utility right of way, Reid said.
“Langtree has been a partner in the development of this quadrant for many, many years and has contributed significantly to development of this site,” Reid said.
LIV Development planned to build a $3.5 million public greenway and donate 14 acres valued at $2.17 million for a future park and trail, said Tim McEachern, the company’s managing director of development for the Southeast.
The developer also intended to extend Langtree Campus Drive by 3,000 feet, from Corvid Technologies across town-owned land to the East-West Connector, he said.
Chapel Hill lawyer T.C. Morphis Jr., who represents Langtree Development Co. LLC, said rejecting the annexation and extension of utilities for an already approved project was unprecedented.
“I am surprised at how much the tide has turned against us,” said Andrew Murray, LIV Development senior managing director of development. “We have a long reputation of being a group that works well with municipalities ... to see that the entire board has turned against this project is surprising and, honestly, shocking.
“We’ll continue to work to be a good partner with the town and figure out ways to come up with better solutions,” he said, adding that he was “really discouraged” by the town board’s vote.
The developer can resubmit its plans after addressing the concerns, town staff said. It was unclear Tuesday night if and when the developer might do that.