CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Up to 380 upscale homes are planned for the shoreline of Mountain Island Lake, the pollution-sensitive water supply for Charlotte and Gastonia, on land owned by arts patron Andreas Bechtler.
Little Italy, named for a boot-shaped peninsula on the Gaston County side, would be among the largest developments on the narrow, twisting lake. Much of the lakeshore is protected by watershed rules that limit development or is publicly owned.
Bechtler’s is the namesake family of Charlotte’s Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. He’s owned the wooded, 300-acre property, which includes a home and rustic artist studios, for 15 years.
“He loves this property. He wants to be a good steward of it,” development consultant Tom Waters told the Mountain Island Lake Marine Commission on Wednesday night.
Waters described an environmentally-benign community of trails, waterfront parks and innovative design.
Its three miles of shoreline will be protected by 100-foot buffer zones, twice the state minimum, to soak up pollutants flowing toward the lake, Waters said. Double rows of silt fences will capture mud washing off construction sites.
Streets and houses will cover up to 24 percent of the ground, he said, the maximum density allowed without installing stormwater ponds. Waters said the development will engineer devices to slow and disperse rushing rainwater.
Water quality begins to suffer when 12 percent of the ground – the maximum density in most Mecklenburg County watersheds – is covered, experts say.
Stormwater control is key because it carries sediment and pollutants that bind to silt particles – oil from driveways, weed-killer and fertilizer from lawns.
An inch of rain that falls on one acre of forest soaks into the ground. An inch that falls on a parking lot of the same size produces 27,000 gallons of stormwater flowing toward the nearest stream or lake.
Little Italy will lie upstream of water intakes for Charlotte, Gastonia and Mount Holly. Because of its importance, more than 5,900 acres around Mountain Island Lake are publicly owned or controlled, including 74 percent of its shoreline.
“I think for sure we’d prefer it not be developed, from a water-quality perspective,” said Rusty Rozzelle, Mecklenburg County’s water quality chief. “Some of the things they’re doing will help protect water quality, and the biggest thing I liked was that 100-foot buffer. That’s probably the best thing they can do.”
Waters, president of Charlotte’s Provident Development Group, has experience building on Mountain Island Lake. In 1999, Waters agreed to cancel a 400-home development on the lake and sell Gastonia 2-1/2 miles of shoreline upstream of its water intake.
“There’s a right way to do residential development in a watershed and a wrong way,” he said.
Provident also developed Preservation Pointe on the lakefront. He did good a job of controlling erosion, said Alice Battle, Mountain Island Lakekeeper for the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation.
Battle said she doesn’t see much wrong with plans for Little Italy.
“I would like to see the property not be developed, if I had my druthers, because there’s so much shoreline and it’s steep in places,” she said. “But I have to hand it to them: They’ve put in buffers and stormwater controls and they’re going around and doing their due diligence in talking to people.”
Little Italy will require rezoning, a process that includes a public hearing in Mount Holly, and annexation into the fast-growing city. No applications have yet been filed.
“We would be looking at diffuse flow to lessen the (stormwater) concentration,” said Greg Beal, Mount Holly’s planning and development director. “We would be looking for ways to slow the water coming out of the pipe” such as with rip-rap or grassy swales.
Some lake residents are concerned that docks from the estimated 65 waterfront lots will jut too far into the narrow lake channel. Lake manager Duke Energy allows docks up to 120 feet long, but can order shorter ones when needed.
Under Duke’s guidelines, 46 percent of the lake’s shoreline is off-limits to docks. Duke said it can’t calculate how many docks would be allowed at Little Italy until each waterfront lot is assessed.
Brian Weyeneth, a marine commission member from Mount Holly and commercial real estate appraiser, called Little Italy a “good thing for the lake” that will benefit from Waters’ experience.
“The other guiding point is that Bechtler is as conservancy- oriented as anybody is going to get, and that’s a positive for the lake,” he said. “If it were anyone else who was not conservancy-oriented, I might have problems with it.”
Waters expects the community to be developed in phases over about a decade, with construction possibly starting in late 2014.