Jul 21, 2023 - Development

Huntersville developer shakes up plans for hotly contested “beachside” development

Lagoona Bay Courtesy of Bi-Part Development, LLC/Town of Huntersville

Lagoona Bay Courtesy of Bi-Part Development, LLC/Town of Huntersville

A local developer has changed up his plans for a controversial lagoon-anchored, mixed-use community in Huntersville.

  • A revised proposal for Lagoona Bay scraps 212 condos as well as a six-story, 200-room, tropical-themed hotel and a 35,000-square-foot convention center, developer Jake Palillo tells Axios. He also proposes 90 detached cottages, instead of 180 townhomes.

The latest: The Huntersville Board of Commissioners made a swift decision Monday to restart the rezoning process, citing substantial changes to the plans. That means the planning board will weigh the proposal again. The town will also hold another public hearing — an event that previously drew a large turnout.

  • Local leaders are asking the town manager and Lake Norman Economic Development to study the potential economic impact and report back to the board.

Why it matters: The Lagoona Bay project — envisioned as a country club where members can live, work and play — has faced fierce opposition. Palillo suggests it’s only about 50 loud voices who are attacking him personally, though.

  • “I think no one pays attention to it anymore because they’ve shown that they’re unreasonable. They’re nuts,” he says. “And I don’t care if you quote me as calling them nuts.”

The other side: Residents have repeatedly voiced concerns over traffic impacts, deforestation and turning a rural area into a tourist attraction. Critics call the lagoon a “cement pond.”

  • “Over 5,500 petition signatures prove that we’re not just ‘an unhappy little group of people who hate everything,’ as this developer alleges,” 20-year resident Bob Baer said at Monday’s town meeting. “We’re long-time citizens who do not want this circus next to our homes.”

Go deeper: Huntersville traffic will get worse before it (maybe) gets better

Driving the news: Palillo says he reduced the project’s density based on feedback from commissioners, who have final say on the rezoning. The planning board and town staff recommended denial of the original submission, partly because it called for a greater density than what is mapped out in the town’s recently adopted growth management plan.

  • “I think everybody’s position is simply that something will be built there and let’s work together and find out what is the best use,” Palillo says.
  • Right now the 260-plus acres are largely vacant, and farmland with a few homes.

Details: The latest plans also reduce the size of the manmade lagoon from 10 to eight acres. It’s $2 million per acre to build, and Palillo says he has to trim the project’s $800-million cost to make up for the lower density.

  • He says he momentarily planned to remove retail and restaurants but put the square footage back in after hearing objections from community members. Palillo says there are not enough amenities for Huntersville residents beyond Birkdale.
  • “You can’t only have five restaurants,” he says, “and you go there and they tell you they don’t have any reservations today or you can’t get in until after 9 o’clock.”

Zoom out: There are other lagoon projects like this in the U.S. The patented technology, made by a company called Crystal Lagoons, maintains the lagoon and its turquoise color. It gained traction in Florida and has expanded internationally. Disney is opening a California residential community with a 24-acre lagoon incorporating the technology.

  • More than 200 Crystal Lagoons projects in different stages of development, according to the company.
  • “Once we get one open, let people see it, then the floodgates will open and everyone will say, ‘Man, I wish I had one near me,'” Palillo says.

What’s next: Pending the necessary approvals, Palillo is still targeting a spring 2025 opening for Lagoona Bay.

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