An Iredell County judge has revived plans for a Costco at Interstate 77 exit 35 in Mooresville.
Superior Court Judge Mark Klass recently nullified the town board’s rejection of a rezoning last year that would have allowed for a Costco-anchored retail center off the Brawley School Road exit near Lake Norman.
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Mooresville commissioners “misconstrued the meaning of the term ‘Large Box’ in such a way as to make it appear to be disallowed at Exit 35 when it was not,” Klass ruled, referring to large chain retail stores.
The judge ordered commissioners to reconsider the rezoning at their next available meeting.
Klass also ruled that commissioner Lisa Qualls should not have voted, because of a “direct and material” financial conflict of interest: She owns property and lives about a half-mile from the Costco site. The judge cited Qualls’ statement at the March 2016 rezoning hearing that ‘this, again, is a unique piece of property that’s right at the interstate, and I agree with the landowners, my taxes have gone up double also since I bought my house.”
Klass said Qualls also violated the town’s Code of Ethics by texting opponents in the audience at the hearing. The judge equated the texts to “secret communications” that are unlawful because they should have been made “on the record.”
According to the judge, Qualls also violated the town’s Code of Ethics by daily erasing all of her text messages and personal emails daily, which she acknowledged in a sworn deposition.
“Creating and erasing digital communications, whether such occurred during the rezoning hearing or not, create an appearance of impropriety and foster the loss of goodwill and public trust between the citizens of the Town of Mooresville and (their) elected officials,” Klass ruled.
The judge barred Qualls from “participating in any further matters” regarding the proposed Costco site, including the rehearing of the rezoning application.
Qualls told the Observer she couldn’t comment about the case, because town attorney Steve Gambill advised board members not to while the ruling remains under legal review by the town. Gambill told the Observer the board is still considering whether to appeal the ruling.
After a 3 1/2-hour public hearing in March 2016, commissioners voted 5-1 against rezoning the 41 acres, saying the proposed development didn’t fit primarily residential Talbert Road off I-77 Exit 35.
The exit was meant to help move traffic east-west across Mooresville, Qualls said in making the motion to reject the development. “That was not meant to be the next Exit 36,” Qualls said of the traffic-clogged interchange a mile north at N.C. 150. “To do the same would be insanity.”
The Brawley Crossing center on Talbert Road also would have included an Academy Sports + Outdoors and outparcels facing Talbert for smaller retailers.
The project’s developer, Hammerford Development Co. of Toronto, Canada, had promised $2.5 million to $3 million in improvements to Talbert and Brawley School roads. The development would have meant an immediate combined 400 jobs from Costco and Academy Sports, a Hammerford representative told the commissioners during the public hearing.
Those assurances didn’t appease most of the crowd of about 160 people packed into Mooresville Town Hall. Numerous speakers cited traffic and safety concerns and said the project would disrupt the residential character of their area.