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Gastonia council denies zoning for shopping center

GASTONIA Opponents of a proposed upscale shopping center anchored by Harris Teeter have won a hard-fought battle that’s divided neighborhoods for months.

After a lengthy public hearing Tuesday evening, the Gastonia City Council shot down a rezoning request from a Charlotte developer.

The vote was 3-3, but the motion to approve the project failed because a protest petition against it had been submitted. The rezoning couldn’t pass with a simple majority. Approval would have required a vote of 6-0 or 5-1.

Gastonia Mayor John Bridgeman, a real estate broker, represented the owner of the south Gastonia property where the shopping center would go and recused himself from the discussion and vote.

On May 9, when the proposed shopping center came before the Gastonia Planning Commission, an overflow crowd turned out. A motion to deny the rezoning request failed 5-3, meaning that a majority of the planning commission favored the center.

On Tuesday, some 165 people filled the main meeting room of the Gaston County Courthouse for a public hearing on the rezoning request from MPV Real Estate. About 18 people watched over closed-circuit TV in another room.

The developer had 22 acres under contract at Robinwood and Kendrick roads for a 104,000-square-foot shopping center anchored by Harris Teeter. The Matthews-based grocer left Gastonia in 2012 when it sold six of its stores to Lowes Food.

The developer agreed to concessions including an 80-foot buffer on the back side and road improvements.

Residents’ opinions divided

For more than four hours Tuesday, debate focused on an issue that one speaker said had “pitted friend against friend.”

Residents of neighborhoods near the proposed shopping center voiced concerns about such issues as traffic, noise and safety.

Many wore “vote no” signs around their necks.

Speaking for the opponents, David Kenny said the shopping center would transform the neighborhoods and that the project “lacks widespread community support.”

The shopping center would bring “plenty of extra trucks in this area,” and approval of a large commercial development in a residential area wouldn’t be fair to homeowners, he said.

Others echoed those sentiments, saying the proposed shopping center was not in their best interests. They questioned the 300 to 400 jobs the project was expected to generate and whether Harris Teeter, which is being purchased by Kroger, was committed. Also, they said the commercial center in a residential area didn’t fit with the city’s comprehensive plan.

Others saw the project as a great opportunity.

Don Harrison, president/CEO of Alliance Bank & Trust in Gastonia, said a “no” vote would mean “we’re moving backward” and warned that it may be necessary to put a “ ‘closed for business’ sign on the front door of Gastonia.”

David Jenkins called the project “classy and high-scale.”

“We now have a wonderful opportunity to work with a reputable developer,” he said. “We’ll have jobs, increased tax revenue … which is what this city needs. He (the developer) wants to help this town grow.”

Developer won’t change site

In discussion before the vote, Ward 2 council member David Kirlin said the proposed shopping center was “an excellent plan” in the “wrong location.”

“It’s not where it needs to be,” he said. “Roads don’t support it. I appreciate their (the developers’) effort. I think they’ll do well in another location.”

Ward 3 council member Jim Gallagher favored the proposal, saying Gastonia needed the jobs and increased tax base.

Voting for the rezoning request were Gallagher, Ward 4 council member Todd Pierceall and Mayor Pro Tem Brenda Craig.

Kirlin, along with Ward 1 council member Walter Kimble and Ward 5 council member Porter McAteer, voted against the rezoning.

Afterward, Steve Vermillion, managing partner of MPV Real Estate, said he was disappointed.

Asked whether he would consider another location for a shopping center in Gastonia, he replied, “No. That’s it.”

DePriest: 704-868-7745
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