September 2014

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    Meredith Jones -
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    Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce president Ken Kindley.
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    Randy Williams (left) and Andrew Bryant with the Lincoln County Planning Department.
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    Chillfire Bar and Grill in Denver, which opened in May, is one of many new businesses to open recently in Lincoln County.

A Waking Giant

By Ames Alexander | Photography by Mert Jones

Posted: Monday, Jan. 06, 2014

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Not so long ago, when Lincoln County was still gripped by the Great Recession, county planners could go months without hearing from a developer.

Those days are over.

Now county planners are typically meeting with three or four developers each month to discuss project proposals, says Andrew Bryant, the county’s director of planning and operations. It’s one of the many signs that the “quiet side of the lake” is poised for significant growth.

“What we’ve seen in the last month or two is a resurgence of interest from developers wanting to build again,” says Randy Williams, the county’s principal planner. “There is activity once again.”

In the first three quarters of 2013, the county issued 250 residential permits—more than twice the number issued in all of 2012.

“Right now, we’re really seeing people bring the (residential) rooftops in,” Bryant says.

Among the new projects planned is Carolina Ridge, which could become the county’s largest residential subdivision. Aiming mostly for home-buyers 55 and older, Arizona-based Shea Homes is hoping to build 1,650 homes in eastern Lincoln County. The project—slated for a 589-acre tract on the south side of N.C. 73 near N.C. 16—could become one of the Charlotte area’s largest older adult communities.

Cottonwood Village, a mixed-use multi-family project planned near N.C. 16, has also come back to life. Construction on the 250-unit apartment complex is likely to begin early this year.

Other developers, retailers, and restaurateurs have also showed that they believe in the county’s potential.

In May, Larry Sponaugle and Jim Morasso brought the Chillfire Bar and Grill to Denver.

“We knew this was an under-served area,” Sponaugle says. “And we knew if we put something in here with quality and value, we could pull some people in here.”

Their predictions were spot-on. Sponaugle says Chillfire is drawing up to 500 people a day, from places as far away as Statesville and Hickory.

Sponaugle likens eastern Lincoln County to the Huntersville area in the late 1990s, when he helped open the Mickey and Mooch steakhouse: It’s a desirable spot with plenty of available land.

“People are wanting to move to the lake, but they’re not wanting all the hustle and bustle,” he says.

‘Looking up’

Several years ago, the picture in Lincoln County was dramatically different.

Growth slowed in 2007, when the county’s old sewage treatment plant reached capacity. When the recession hit the following year, the county found itself suffering a “double whammy,” says Ken Kindley, president of the Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce. Development virtually ground to a halt.

But state and county officials paved the way for growth by building new infrastructure. In late 2010, the new Killian Creek sewage treatment plant—with capacity to treat up to 1.7 million gallons a day—opened in southeastern Lincoln.

The following year, a new leg of the N.C. 16 bypass was completed, creating a four-lane corridor through the county from Charlotte to Catawba County. This helped spark development in the area, including a new Wal-Mart Supercenter and the 40-acre Catawba Springs Promenade, which has a Lowe’s Home Improvement, retail and office space, along with plans for significant residential development.

Today, thanks to those improvements and a stronger economy, “things are looking up again,” Kindley says.

Kindley and others say the county has plenty going for it: good schools, a low tax rate, proximity to Charlotte and Lake Norman. Residents and business owners want to be in surrounding counties that don’t share the traffic problems and other headaches suffered by those who live in big cities like Charlotte, he says.

‘Hidden gem’

Many don’t expect the growth to end anytime soon. Lincoln County’s population is expected to swell from about 78,000 people in 2010 to 138,000 in 2050.

New industries and houses will bring more residents, experts say. And more residents will spawn demand for new commercial development. That, in turn, will create more jobs.

“We’ve really been an exporter of employment,” Bryant says. “Our goal is to bring some of that back to Lincoln County.”

In years past, Bryant says, Lincoln County was the “hidden gem of the Charlotte region.”

Now, many predict, that gem is about to be revealed.

Lincoln County is experiencing substantial development and growth, with several new projects in the works and more lined up to start this year.

What’s new

Airlie Business Park: In July 2013, the county welcomed a new manufacturing plant at the business park, located off N.C. 16 bypass at Optimist Club Road. The 54,000-square foot-facility is owned by Hydac Technology Corp., a German company that makes hydraulic valves, filters, and cooling systems. The second phase of the business park is now under construction.

Chillfire: Housed in an old Blockbuster Video building, this popular upscale restaurant opened in May at the Shoppes at Waterside Crossing, at the intersection of N.C. 73 and old N.C. 16.

What’s in store

Woodcock Farms: The county commissioners have approved a small-area plan for this area, located along both sides of the N.C. 16 bypass, near Sifford Road and the Gaston County line. The long-range plans call for the development of more than 400 acres into a business park, an industrial park, and more than 150 acres of open space.

Carolina Ridge: Arizona-based Shea Homes plans to build 1,650 homes in eastern Lincoln County, on the south side of N.C. 73, near N.C. 16. Most of the homes will be restricted to people 55 and older.

Cottonwood Village: This mixed-use, multi-family project is planned for the north side of S. Little Egypt Road, near N.C. 16. Construction on the 250-unit apartment complex is scheduled to start early this year.

Covington of Lake Norman: After developers of a previously planned residential project, called Burton Creek, went bankrupt, a new owner stepped in. VJK Development Group plans initially to develop 70 lots off Webbs Road.

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