What’s next for booming Steele Creek? More growth, traffic worries

Charlotte’s southwest corner used to be where the city melted away into the countryside, but Steele Creek is changing fast as a new wave of growth reshapes the area.

Over the past few weeks, developers have filed plans for more than 1,000 new apartments, townhouses and single-family houses, on top of construction already underway along busy corridors such as Steele Creek Road, South Tryon Street and Shopton Road West.

Developments such as Berewick Town Center and Whitehall are adding more shops, restaurants, hotels and entertainment options. The city’s first Topgolf entertainment complex will open in Steele Creek next year. Charlotte Premium Outlets, a 100-store mall at Steele Creek Road and I-485, opened in 2014.

It’s a big change for a part of Charlotte where you can still smell cows from a farm on Brown-Grier Road and find acres and acres of woodlands just off main thoroughfares. Now, “Land available,” “Homes coming soon” and “For sale” signs dot the landscape while construction equipment is busily clearing and reshaping large sites.

“It’s the last big chunk of Charlotte that hasn’t been developed,” said Karl Froelich, president of the Steele Creek Residents Association. “It’s kind of been a hidden gem.”

The growth brings positives: No more driving to Pineville or central Charlotte for simple shopping, and more local restaurants and entertainment options. But the downside, as in many rapidly growing parts of the city: More traffic on roads that were once two-lane paths in the country. Froelich said the subject dominated Steele Creek’s annual residents meeting earlier this year.

“We were all talking about roads because it’s just getting congested,” said Froelich. “Where we used to say it’ll take five or 10 minutes, we now have to say, what time of day is it? It’ll take 30 minutes in rush hour.”

When Froelich moved to the area off Shopton Road West in the late 1980s, there were about 5,000 residents in the Steele Creek area. Local retail consisted of a few gas stations, a Food Lion and a Bi-Lo.

“Right now, we’re sitting at about 60,000 to 65,000 residents,” said Froelich. In five years, that number will likely rise to 80,000.

Recently announced developments will add hundreds or even thousands more cars to the roads. Pulte Home Corp. filed a plan earlier this month to build 842 apartments and townhouses along Brown-Grier Road at Steele Creek Road, on 127 acres that’s currently occupied by a dairy farm.

Bob Diamond, who has lived in a neighborhood off Brown-Grier Road for 21 years, said congestion on main routes has already become untenable at peak times.

“We can’t use Steele Creek Road anymore at rush hour,” said Diamond, who said some of his neighbors are considering moving farther out again now that the city has caught up to them. “We’ve found ways around it.”

It’s not just the influx to Steele Creek itself that’s driving congestion. Just over the state line, Fort Mill, Tega Cay and Rock Hill are growing rapidly, and some people who live there commute to work in the factories and industrial buildings on Westinghouse Boulevard or the offices in Whitehall Executive Center on Arrowood Road. And with Lincoln Harris and Crescent Communities planning a Ballantyne-sized development called the River District just north of Steele Creek, the pressure isn’t likely to ease up anytime soon.

Developers say Steele Creek’s proximity to Charlotte Douglas International Airport, available land, new retail such as the outlet mall and completion of the I-485 loop all make the area an attractive place to build. And they say people are eager to move to the area.

“The Adare community is almost sold out completely and I haven’t finished my first building yet,” said Mark Blythe of BNA Homes. The homebuilder just filed a plan to build up to 127 additional townhouses across from the 50-unit Adare community under construction on South Tryon Street.

“The market is very strong in that area,” said Blythe.

Brian Roth, vice president of residential marketing for Berewick developer Pappas Properties, remembers taking brokers to the 1,000-acre site a decade ago.

“They just didn’t know it was out here,” he said. Now, there are 1,700 occupied houses in Berewick, with five national builders constructing more. Roth said they expect to close on the sale of 200 new townhouses and single-family homes this year, and commercial development such as a Harris Teeter and hotel at the long-planned town center is finally underway.

“Between this and the River District, it’s started getting a lot more attention,” Roth said of the area.

“It’s become much more competitive” to buy land in Steele Creek over the last two to three years, said Bob Bennett, Charlotte division president for homebuilder CalAtlantic Homes. “People are learning about it.”

His company is developing in Steele Creek communities that include Chapel Cove and the Palisades. “It’s been a great success for us.”

The influx of growth means Charlotte City Council and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department will have to consider whether the area’s infrastructure can handle the next wave of development. Roads such as Brown-Grier and Sandy Porter are likely to bear much of the new traffic. Froelich is hopeful a state plan to widen much of N.C. 160 will relieve much of the pressure, but it’s not just roads that need upgrading.

The area is behind on bike lanes and greenways as well, Froelich said. Once-quiet streets such as Shopton Road West that used to be safe for bicycling are now too risky.

But, Froelich said, on balance the growth has been positive for the area.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo