Residents: Charter school location unsafe for school traffic

Council members delay annexation vote

by Tori Hamby and Alan Hodge

Mountain Island Charter School plans to build this campus on Horseshoe Bend Beach Road in Mount Holly. (MIM file photo)

Residents in a Mountain Island neighborhood say they have some concerns about the proposed new location of a local charter school.

Mountain Island Charter, currently housed in temporary facilities at New Covenant United Methodist Church, plans to build a permanent campus on 40 acres of land on Horseshoe Bend Beach, off of N.C. 16. The school is asking Mount Holly to annex the property and provide utility services. But residents of Mount Holly’s Riverbend and Stonewater neighborhoods, located down the road from the site, say the plan could cause major safety concerns for students and neighbors.

“There is only one way in and one way out to get to the school and to our neighborhood,” said Riverbend resident Kerry Hutton, who spoke on behalf of her neighborhood. “If emergency vehicles needed to get through and the one entrance was blocked, something disastrous could happen.”

Hutton said she doesn’t see how the narrow two-lane, shoulderless road could accommodate school traffic. Back-ups caused by parents trying to turn left onto Horseshoe Bend Beach Road from N.C. 16, she said, would likely cause major traffic slowdowns for drivers commuting from the Denver area to Charlotte.

Members of the Stonewater Bay development, located across from the proposed location, spoke during a public comment session of a Feb. 13 Mount Holly City Council to voice their concerns about the safety issues. Stonewater resident and airline pilot Sheila Baldwin compared the concerns to those found on an airplane.

“I have 142 passengers with eight exits on the plane,” Baldwin said at the meeting. “But the school could have 1,100 students with just one way out. I’m not opposed to the school, but there needs to be a plan for two roads in and out.”

Residents aren’t the only ones who say the increased traffic could cause safety problems. Emails from Mount Holly Fire Chief Dale Oplinger and Police Chief David Belk to city officials showed worry about the high level of emergency services they expected to be needed, and Oplinger said he wouldn’t recommend annexing the school to the city.

“Understandably, there will be high expectation of services and service levels,” Oplinger said in the email. “We can’t provide adequate emergency services at this time. Even if we had adequate emergency services at this time, I still wouldn’t recommend annexation due to the lack of information and reports.”

At the meeting, city officials agreed to put off a vote on annexation and utilities connection until more information could be gathered, including the results of an outside traffic study that was sent to the N.C. Department of Transportation. The school plans to release the full results of the traffic study to the city in about two weeks, after the results are officially confirmed by the DOT, said Mountain Island Charter School Board chairwoman Kelly Pledger.

She said she doesn’t expect that the department to say that the road is unfit for the increased traffic expected with the school’s construction.

“The school has other options, but we do not expect N.C. DOT to deem the road unsafe for school traffic,” Pledger said.

She did not elaborate on what those other options are.

The school’s timeline calls for the site to house students by August, either in the new building, mobile units or both. Before students can move in to the school, the city would have to decide on whether to connect the school to the city’s utilities services.

“The school is a great idea,” said Mayor Bryan Hough. “But we can’t make their timeline our timeline. At the end of the day, we have to have more information.”

Some residents, including Hutton, whose grandchildren attend the charter school, have said they are worried that the city’s near-capacity water treatment plant will be put over-capacity if the city extends utility services to the school. Others feel that because all public schools are exempt from taxes, Mount Holly won’t receive much of a financial or educational return from a school where only about 25 percent of students reside in Gaston County. Due to its charter status, students from anywhere in the state may put their name into a random lottery drawing to be selected for a spot at the school.

Hutton also said she and her neighborhoods were not made aware of the sale of property, which once belonged to Andreas Bechtler, founder of Charlotte’s Bechtler Museum of Art, until the transaction appeared in the local media. While communication efforts are not necessarily the school’s responsibility, she said, she hopes talks between the school and two neighborhoods will improve.

“Our neighborhood is just afraid that if these issues aren’t addressed now, the school will be built and it will be too late,” Hutton said. “We want to address any potentially unsafe situations, for both the school and our neighborhoods, before it becomes too late.”

Did you like this? Share it:

Leave a Reply