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home : news : e-news September 17, 2019

9/10/2019 10:54:00 AM
Public To Commissioners: Emphatic "No" On School
Eastern Lincoln County residents: leave our roads alone

Thomas Lark
Staff Writer

LINCOLNTON, N.C.––A proposed scheme to build a new charter school in Denver appears dead in the water.

Members of the public, most of them hailing from eastern Lincoln County, voiced passionate and nearly unanimous opposition to the scheme during a public hearing at Monday night’s 2.5-hour meeting of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners. And the commissioners themselves expressed extreme skepticism and impatience with representatives from developer and applicant Ryan Companies US, Inc., who favored the scheme.

They want the board to approve rezoning for some 26 acres along NC-73 and Club Drive in order to accommodate the proposed construction of a new and permanent home for Westlake Academy, a kindergarten-through-eighth grade charter school, run by the for-profit Charter Schools USA of Fort Lauderdale. Westlake’s teachers and students now meet in rented space at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Denver, where parishioners complain that the school is disrupting the schedule for daily Mass.

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If passed (which now seems very unlikely), the rezoning would mean amending the master plan for the Villas at Cowan’s Ford––a recently opened townhouse community in Catawba Springs, not far from the ever-growing Denver and hard by Lake Norman. Residents in the vicinity noted that that they’re not opposed to the school, just its proposed location. Many areas west of there would be entirely more suitable, they said, citing how property values would decrease in the NC-73/Club Drive area because of heavy school-related traffic. Such traffic would be projected to increase by nearly eight percent––and this in an area already growing at an unsustainable, unrealistic and out-of-control rate.

Commissioner Anita McCall, herself a veteran of three decades of engineering work, took issue with the developers’ traffic study for NC-73, which wasn’t based on the road’s current situation, which includes some 20,000 commuters going to and from Mecklenburg County (roughly the same as the combined populations of Mount Holly and Cramerton).

“We’re concerned about the traffic,” said McCall, adding, “Our eastern side is already inundated.”

Cobbling together traffic data based upon mere projections some six years out is a dicey thing to say the least, as McCall drily noted. Her remarks met with much applause.

And that traffic study features more inaccurate data, including incomplete numbers for students. More than 200 students out of a projected 760 were missing––not a small number for such calculus.

“Seventy-three is already inundated,” McCall reiterated, and this also was met with a smattering of applause.

Addressing the Ryan reps, Commission Chairman Carrol Mitchem expressed irritation with their imprecision and evasiveness.

“It aggravates me to no end that I can’t get a straight answer from you,” said Mitchem. “Y’all got a real problem.”

McCall feared compounding already impossible growth.

“Mooresville––and Huntersville,” she said, “is the one thing we don’t want to happen here.”

Also speaking was Scott Woodrey, president of Red Apple Development. Also based out of Fort Lauderdale and created 12 years ago, Red Apple was formed to focus on the acquisition, design and development of private, public and charter school facilities. Woodrey said he’d never heard of significant traffic accidents involved in the schools his company has developed. He cited carpooling and siblings travelling in the same vehicles lowering the numbers of vehicular traffic to such schools.

“I know of no incident in which a child was hurt,” said Woodrey. 

Vox populi, vox Dei

But the Denver-area residents were not impressed. They chanted a litany of concerns, among them traffic at all levels and such environmental issues as stormwater runoff, water-and-sewer matters and protecting nearby creeks and ponds.

Denver resident Paul Quinn revealed that the city is growing at an appalling and unsustainable rate of 15 to 20 percent a year.

“God help us if this school is built,” said Quinn.

Mark Keener, a certified public accountant, expressed doubts about parent company Charter Schools USA, and he cited recent digging he’d made into its background. Charter Schools USA would make Westlake a for-profit institution, just as it, the parent company, is, as Keener revealed. Large percentages of required school fees funnel down to Charter Schools USA and Red Apple in an evident pyramid scheme.

Buddy Foster, a municipal planning veteran, said that if built, the school would crush commercial development and also affect surrounding residential areas.

“And in a negative way,” Foster said.

Marsha Jordan, a local real estate agent, said approving this rezoning would set a dangerous precedent.

“The people don’t want it,” Jordan said. “It’s not a good business move.”

But Jeremy White, a teacher at Westlake, spoke in favor of the school’s construction. White cited the fear of change that often accompanies such things.

“Let’s grow together,” he said, garnering applause from a group of students and parents.

But local resident Mike Rink was unmoved.

“I’ve seen the County make a lot of decisions that came back to haunt them,” said Rink, adding of NC-73 and its dangerous––sometimes fatal––traffic, “It can’t handle it.”

Rink said he and his fellow residents were not against schools.

“But this is not the best place to put one,” he said.

Fellow eastern Lincoln County resident John Griffith agreed.

“It can be many places,” he said of the school. “It doesn’t have to be here.”

If built, it would only increase problems in the mushrooming Denver area, Griffith added, citing closing lanes, creating traffic snarls and other headaches.

“Nobody is going want to live here,” Griffith said. “Property values are going to be stabbed to death.”

Wrapping up the meeting, Mitchem assured the audience that when a decision about the proposed school and concomitant rezoning is eventually reached by the board, the matter will be taken very seriously.


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