South Charlotte

6,300-acre project still on in Chester

Can you picture yourself working or living in Chester County, S.C., near Interstate 77, about 38 miles south of Charlotte?

Developer Mel Graham thinks some day you will.

He says Montrose, his planned live-work-play community that would be three times the size of Ballantyne, will be a hot draw in the Carolinas.

Graham – nephew of evangelist Billy Graham – said last week that the 6,300-acre business, retail, recreation and residential community announced two years ago is on track despite the sluggish economy.

It's the largest privately owned tract of land in the Charlotte market, he says.

Montrose is designed to provide what is in increasingly short supply in southern Mecklenburg, Union and Lancaster counties: significant space for relocating corporations, and a new source for employment and economic development.

It also will offer a new walkable community. Think stone monuments at the entrance, and lush landscaping with lakes, parks and walking trails – in a sprawling country setting reminiscent of horse farms of Kentucky. And it will include a major retirement community, Graham said. That's inspired by the success of Sun City Carolina Lakes, the Lancaster County community for people 55 and older.

With 9,000 homes, plus offices and businesses planned, Montrose could exceed $3 billion in value.

The project also reflects a future trend in our built-out region: construction moving southward as areas run out of room or infrastructure. Union County and several of its towns, short on water and sewer capacity, have passed building moratoriums to slow growth.

“Charlotte has always grown south. Mecklenburg County is pretty much out of property,” said Graham, who co-developed the high-end The Club at Longview residential and golf community in Weddington. “Union County, Lancaster, all the surrounding counties around Charlotte are struggling due to overgrowth,” he said.

Here's more about issues surrounding the planned Montrose mega development:

Timing. The sluggish economy and housing market slump would seemingly make this bad timing to roll out the 20-year Montrose project. But Graham said that – while the main approvals for zoning, wetlands and utilities are already in place – he's still 18 months away from everything being finalized before groundbreaking. That gives enough time for the economy to shake out, he said.

“That's the time you'll want to bring a project like this on line.”

Attracting businesses. While Charlotte's border war with South Carolina for relocating companies gets all the attention, Graham said there are examples of both areas missing out because of limited land availability. Overall plans for Montrose include building large regional distribution centers, which businesses would find appealing because of the site's location off I-77 between exits 55 and 62. Proximity to other major interstates, including I-20, I-26 and I-95, provides access to the entire eastern seaboard, Graham said.

Convincing commuters. The community is roughly the same distance from uptown Charlotte as the Lake Norman community. Graham acknowledges that Montrose may not appeal to road-weary Charlotteans used to being close to the city. But people relocating from larger cities are the target audience, Graham said. So are new residents working at businesses he expects Montrose to draw. That's why home prices will range from affordable, entry-level homes to $400,000, to start.