After facing criticism for allowing rapid residential development in recent years, the Town of Mooresville is now accused of implementing a de facto moratorium on residential development.

Developers and property owners who unsuccessfully sought rezoning for two projects in the town’s extraterritorial jurisdiction in recent months have filed lawsuits in Iredell County Superior Court seeking to nullify the Town Board’s decisions to deny those rezoning requests. Both lawsuits claim that town commissioners attempted to exact unlawful concessions from the developers.

As a matter of policy, town officials and the town attorney do not comment on pending litigation.

In a recent interview, however, Mayor Miles Atkins defended the town board’s track record as it pertains to residential development.

“The board looks at these requests on their own and also in the totality of everything going on in that area and in the community,” he explained. “They are really focused on community benefit. Why is this good for Mooresville? What does it add, other than traffic? What need is it addressing?”

The town’s tax base has grown significantly over the past decade, enabling the Town Board to invest in new parks, a new police department and open a new library branch without raising taxes.

Commissioners have stated in open meetings that they prefer that rezoning requests for multi-family developments being submitted as conditional rezoning requests. That approach gives the Town Board the ability to require certain concessions, such as investments in traffic mitigation, as part of the final approval.

In the recent lawsuits, developers contend the town board has usurped state law in this area.
MT Land LLC and Moore Residential Real Estate Trust filed a lawsuit against the Town of Mooresville on February 24, seeking a court order nullifying the town board’s decision to deny a rezoning request for a 41.04-acre tract off Arabian Drive near Mooresville on January 3.

The lawsuit contends that the board denied the rezoning request after the property owner and developer failed to agree to conditions that the plaintiffs now contend were unlawful. The conditions included road and infrastructure improvements.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, L. Charles Grimes, asserts in the complaint that “the Town’s actions in seeking to force developers, including as to the property issues in this case, to either construct or contribute to infrastructure improvements (more specifically, road improvements) that extend far beyond the bounds of their development, are unlawful actions that are not reasonably, rationally, or proportionally related to the impacts of the development up for rezoning before the Town.

“This cannot stand under the law,” Grimes argue in the court filing.

The lawsuit contends that the town “has effectively instituted what is now an unlawful development moratorium, without following the proper legal statutory procedures of ordinance amendments or setting forth steps to actually remedy the alleged issues with traffic or other concerns.”

The claims in that lawsuit mirror those in another complaint filed by Grimes three weeks earlier.

PDC Land Acquisition LLC, Michael and Mabel Culbreth, the Katherine M. Keiger Trust, and Boyd Lake Properties RLLP filed a lawsuit against the Town of Mooresville on February 3 seeking a court order nullifying the Town Board’s rejection of a rezoning request on December 5, 2022.

In that application, the landowners and developers sought to rezone seven parcels totaling 17.9 acres on Culbreth Lane near Mooresville.

As in the other lawsuit, Grimes contends the Town Board’s denial of the rezoning request was based on the developer and property owner’s inability “to suddenly accept and acquiesce to the Defendant’s very large exaction requests.”

The complaint also contends the Town Board “has effectively instituted what is now an unlawful development moratorium” in the Langtree Road area.

Grimes argues “the Town has not followed the proper procedures required of it by the laws of North Carolina in instituting a lawful moratorium and ban.” As a result, the Town Board’s decision in the Culbreth Lane rezoning request should be overturned, according to the complaint.

In almost every rezoning request brought before commissioners in the past year, residents have asked the Town Board to tap the brakes on development, raising concerns about traffic congestion and the impact on property values. In some cases, environmental concerns have also been raised.

Some residents have called for an outright moratorium on large residential developments. In North Carolina, state law allows for only a short-term ban on new development.

The mayor said commissioners and staff have heard these complaints.

“We’re all very sensitive to the infrastructure and roads and traffic,” Atkins said.

The Town Board, according to the mayor, is more receptive at this point in time to mixed-use development projects that have a variety housing options and retail space. Large multi-family developments have been viewed with less enthusiasm over the past few months.

While respecting the rights of property owners to sell and develop their property, commissioners have also repeatedly expressed concerns about the rising cost of housing and the ability of middle-class families to rent or buy a home in the town.

When a developer comes to the Town Board with a project, “our question is starting to become is this a product that our teachers, our police officers, our public works folks — can they afford to live there,” Atkins said.

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