County schools, overcrowding main focus for new developments

WAXHAW – Recent changes in Union County Public Schools took the forefront recently as Waxhaw commissioners held a public hearing for the proposed additions to the Millbridge development.

Four Waxhaw residents spoke at the hearing, which was held during the Dec. 10 meeting with new board members, raising concerns about the impact on local schools after the district recently announced that once a school reaches 120 percent capacity it will no longer enroll new students. All students over the cap will be bused to other county schools until there is room for additional students at local schools. Currently the only school to exceed 120 percent capacity is Kensington Elementary School, according to the UCPS website.

“I ask that you please all strongly consider denying this developer’s request for additional homes until the county puts a concrete plan in place to build additional schools,” Waxhaw resident Dan Gingrich wrote in an email to commissioners that was read during the public hearing. “Our community can simply not take on the additional strain this will put on the schools until more classroom space becomes available. I am certainly not singling out Landeavor (the developer) and their request. I would ask the board to look at all similar requests in the same fashion, again until new classroom space becomes available.”

The move comes at a time when Union County is playing catch up for unprecedented population growth, which saw the area become one of the quickest growing counties in the nation, according to the recent U.S. Census. Western Union County especially has become a haven for Charlotte-area employees eager to live near work but avoid the higher taxes of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.

The developers for the Millbridge subdivision, Landeavor, are requesting the rezoning for an additional 161.2 acres, along with the more than 700 acres already approved, to allow for the construction of an additional 305 to 315 single family homes. The subdivision is currently approved for about 1,700 homes.

“My concern as a Waxhaw resident is our schools,” former Commissioner Erin Kirkpatrick said at the meeting. “… We are in a precarious situation, to say the least. We have a situation where people wanted to move here and now they don’t. My personal recommendation would be to wait until we have an answer on our schools.”

No decisions on whether to approve the rezoning petition were made during the meeting, as commissioners wanted more time for review and discussion.

After hearing recent criticism from Anthony Burman, a former council member in Marvin, that Waxhaw approves developments with too-high densities without considering the impact on local schools, Waxhaw Mayor Daune Gardner said something needs to be done to determine the impact of new developments not only on the schools, but the economy and quality of life for the community, as well.

“For several years now, I have been interested in attempting to get some traction on developing some kind of cost-benefit analysis type of tool that our board can use to understand the impact that new development has on our community,” she said. “… That’s one of the reasons I initially ran for mayor in 2007 because (the town was) approving development without looking at the consequences.”

Western Union County schools that are at, near or over capacity include: Kensington Elementary, 124 percent; New Town Elementary, 113 percent; Sandy Ridge Elementary, 113 percent; Unionville Elementary, 111 percent; Cuthbertson Middle, 112 percent; Marvin Ridge Middle, 120 percent; Porter Ridge Middle, 120 percent; Weddington Middle, 115 percent; Porter Ridge High, 111 percent; and South Providence, 114 percent.

Discussions on the rezoning petition for the Millbridge development will continue during the next board meeting in January. The UCPS school board is expected to start discussions with Union County officials in the next few weeks on the 2014-15 school budget, though the two sides are still engaged in a struggle over this summer’s school funding lawsuit. The lawsuit resulted in a $91 million award from a Union County jury for the school system, but UCPS officials say much of that money would go toward repairing current schools and wouldn’t address school capacity issues.

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