Parkway plan protested in Belmont

About 50 homeowners of the Belmont peninsula staged a boat protest Saturday against the proposed southern route for the Garden Parkway, an expressway planned for south Gaston County.

The homeowners of communities such as Misty Waters and Woodland Bay – on the peninsula between the Catawba River's main stream and its South Fork – used their boats to show where the highway would cross the South Fork.

They say the southern route would destroy their homes, or come so close to their land it would drive down their property values. They prefer the proposed northern parkway route.

The parkway – also known as the Gaston East/West Connector – would act as a bypass for Interstate 85. It would begin near Charlotte/Douglas International Airport at I-485, then cross the Catawba River and cut through south Gaston County. West of Gastonia, it would turn to the north and merge with I-85 south of Bessemer City.

The parkway has been discussed in Gaston County for nearly 20 years. It received its first significant funding this summer from the General Assembly and will likely be built by the N.C. Turnpike Authority and partially funded with tolls.

The authority is studying which route is best. It's looking at traffic estimates, construction costs and environmental impacts. It plans to pick a route in January.

The first part of the parkway, from Charlotte to U.S. 321, could open in 2015. It will cost more than $1.2 billion.

Some homeowners are concerned about the role two N.C. politicians could play in choosing the highway's route.

The northern route would cut through undeveloped land owned by Republican former N.C. senator and lieutenant governor candidate Robert Pittenger. That route also could bisect 325 acres owned by state Sen. David Hoyle, a Gaston Democrat running for re-election.

Hoyle bought the land two years ago, around the time the parkway was gaining momentum in the legislature. He then lobbied colleagues in the General Assembly to fund the parkway this summer.

Hoyle plans to build high-end homes and retail on the land, at Union New Hope Road.

The southern route for the parkway – opposed by some of the protestors – would place parkway exits near Pittenger and Hoyle's land.

Both have said they won't lobby for either route.