MATTHEWS – Town commissioners heard from more than 30 residents Feb. 13 – some in support and some in opposition – regarding Santé Matthews, a large community proposed for nearly 83 acres at 14704 Idlewild Road.
Pappas Properties LLC wants to rezone the mostly undeveloped property, which is currency zoned for single-family residential, into a master planned community with 570 residential units that include houses, townhomes, cottages, apartments and a wellness center. The project will include office, retail and a grocery store toward the I-485 interchange.
CEO Peter Pappas said Santé Matthews is based on the pillars of open space, community-building, architecture and design, and placemaking.
“The focus of our community is wellness,” Pappas said. “This would be one of the first, if not first, wellness communities in the Carolinas.”
He described the age-targeted community as a “wellness-based program with activities and engagement to help those live a healthier lifestyle.”
Most of the neighbors opposed to the project were worried about how the project’s density would make for miserable commutes. Some expressed concern about how the rental properties could potentially attract less engaged residents and more crime to the area.
Matthews Mayor John Higdon and Commissioner John Urban pushed back on the criticism by cautioning residents to be careful what they wish for. They reasoned that if this project is denied, a developer could build something much worse by-right without having to go through the rezoning process.
“This means someone can come in and develop the property without any input whatsoever from the town or this elected board,” Higdon said. “ They can come in, as Commissioner Urban said, develop this property, put vinyl-siding homes up and have very small setbacks.
“I’m not here cheerleading for Mr. Pappas. I just want to make you aware of what could happen by-right. Seriously, be careful of the unintended consequences. You might get what you wish for. We can turn this down. They can cut almost all the trees down and just cram a bunch of houses in there.”
Project matches small area plan
Steven Sanders owns one of the parcels that make up the Santé Matthews site. He has been approached by many people over the past 20 years wanting to build single-family homes there.
“I rejected their proposals or their offers because they were going to clearcut the site and put in a bunch of vinyl-siding homes,” Sanders said. “Unfortunately, whenever a site is located next to an interchange like this, that’s the kind of housing that is put into this kind of location unless you have a master plan like Santé”
Santé Matthews stands out because it nearly mirrors the recommended map included in the town’s Eastern Gateway Plan, according to Matthews Senior Planner Nadine Bennett.
Single-family detached lots are located nearest the existing neighborhoods to the west and the housing gets denser toward I-485. Non-residential uses are up against Idlewild Road. Parks and gathering spaces are sprinkled throughout to help maintain green space.
The plan includes a roundabout at Davis Trace. A realigned Stallings Road will curve west to connect to the roundabout. This would eliminate the current intersection at Idlewild and Stallings Road, which land development consultant Jim Schumacher said will provide improved access and safety to an area with a high number of accidents.
Pappas said the project offers fewer dwelling units per acre than other nearby multi-family developments. The targeted 55-and-older demographic also doesn’t impact school enrollment as much as a traditional development.
The project may add up to 136 students to the Bain Elementary, Mint Hill Middle and Butler High School cluster. Without mobile units, Mint Hill Middle and Butler are already over-capacity. They’ll gain 30 and 46 students, respectively.
Pappas Properties is offering an attainable housing program that includes 13 for-lease and nine for-sale units.
Apartment renters have to meet 80% of the area median income to qualify. Apartment rates are designed so that the buyers spend no more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities.
Based on current market conditions, Pappas Properties Managing Director Tom Walsh said attainable rents would range from $1,380 for one-bedroom and $1,904 for three-bedroom. That’s a discount of $170 per month on one-bedroom and $600 per month on three-bedroom, he added.
The attainable for-sale housing consists of three-bedroom, two-bath townhomes for people earning between 60% and 100% of area median income. Priority would go to first-responders and teachers who work in Matthews and active duty and military.
Pappas said the project achieves the comprehensive plan because all four property owners are working together toward a compatible design and transportation network. He said the commitments his team has made in terms of for-sale housing, attainable pricing, traffic improvements, public park space, limits to school enrollment and architectural control by the town would not be available with existing or by-right zoning.
Citizens worry about traffic
Bob Fesler has lived in the area for more than 35 years. He urged commissioners not to let his neighborhood become a highway off-ramp and service center for I-485. He believes the project will attract more transient people to the area which will further overburden lagging infrastructure.
“Some of the ideas and things that were talked about today sound better than they did originally but there is still a lot of work I think to be done here,” Fesler told commissioners during the public hearing. “I don’t totally support a scare tactic of saying to the people, ‘take this now or we might get something worse.’”
Traffic was the most frequent concern raised by citizens. Some noted the town already has several grocery stores nearby or that the non-residential components would attract commuters through their neighborhood. Others cited a preference for more for-sale housing, not rentals.
Pappas said out of the 570 units, 125 are for-sale homes. A couple of commissioners were willing to steer the conversation toward the mix of for-sale housing and rentals but Town Attorney Charles Buckley advised the board that it could not be a factor in their decision.
Matthews Planning Board member Howie Labiner challenged the effectiveness of attainable housing. He’d like to see people with lower incomes qualify for such homes as well as a few more units offered.
“While I fully recognize that there are some differences in our vision and that of the neighbors, I would point out that our effort has been in earnest to provide the best possible plan for this area,” Pappas said. “ This is a very unique opportunity.”
Schumacher said community feedback led to the development team reducing the number of units from 662 to 570. The team increased the number of for-sale single-family detached homes from 14 to 45. Schumacher said these homes will be similar to those in the neighboring subdivision. They also added 2.79 acres of greenspace for a total of 14.27 acres; a 15-foot screening buffer along Idlewild Road; and an extension of the pedestrian/bike trail on Stallings Road to Light Brigade Drive.
After the public hearing, Pappas told commissioners his team would be willing to place a cap on the square footage of the proposed grocery store.
“I really appreciate the amount of public engagement we got on this whole project,” Higdon said. “Whether you’re for it or against it, it’s refreshing to see so many people be so passionate and come forward and state their opinion. We really relish that.”
The Matthews Planning Board will vet the plan at its Feb. 28 meeting. Commissioners may decide on the rezoning as early as March 13.
Bennett told commissioners at the hearing that staff needed more time to review the plan.
“They did get the updated site plan in on time, but you can see it’s a huge project,” Bennett said. “It’s going to take a lot of review time. We did an initial review and we don’t see any big problems with it.”
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