Open letter from the LKN Chamber CEO

[Opinion] Aug. 4. By Bill Russell. This month marks my 30-year anniversary as a chamber of commerce executive. It seems like only yesterday when in 1996, elected, community, and business leaders of our area met in the lobby of the Visitors Center to welcome me to Lake Norman. I still recall my earlier interview when they drove me through the area, passing by the many farms which still operated in North Mecklenburg back then.

Having been raised in rural Rock Hill with a family farm of our own, I instantly felt at home.

Bill Russell, LKN Chamber CEO

At that time, many of the residents of Lake Norman commuted to Charlotte daily for their jobs, and if you wanted fine dining or were looking for that perfect gift, you typically turned to the “Queen City” and traveled down to SouthPark.

Our sleepy little towns were just that – bedroom communities of Charlotte. However, our citizens wanted more!

Parents wanted neighborhood schools. Workers wanted jobs where they lived. Our residents wanted nice restaurants, high end retail, and all the other amenities a great community should have to call home.

An openness back then

In the years that followed, our city leaders and citizens embraced exciting new developments like Birkdale, Antiquity, and Bailey’s Glen which created density and brought much-needed retail and fine dining to our towns. People from all over the country were welcomed to Lake Norman by families who had farmed the countryside for generations.

Over the course of the next three decades, our little region became one of the most desired destinations in the country to live, work, and visit. The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce and the economic development corporation, working in concert with our towns, recruited businesses and international corporations to Lake Norman, creating employment with significant salaries.

Then, almost like the dark storm that sweeps across the lake bringing waves and fury, things seemed to change. People signed on to social media accounts and began berating each other over the smallest issues. What they would never say face to face became common place posts on Twitter and Facebook. The internet became the source of information, even though much of what was posted was often inaccurate and personal opinions, rather than facts.

Malicious social media

Over the last year, I have witnessed concerning comments made at Town Board Meetings and read malicious posts on social media—things that I never would have believed could be said just three years ago.

Many of these statements were made from the very people we welcomed to the Lake Norman area as new neighbors, just a few years ago. And most of them were related to revitalization in our area, including improving and rezoning Birkdale Village and the new Cornelius Business Park, a commercial development that Greenberg Gibbons Properties planned to bring to Cornelius.

One of the concerning aspects about the Cornelius Business Park project for me personally is that generations of property owners have farmed that land. Their hope was to sell their farm which would provide money for their retirement.

But now, if the owners are unable to sell the land at a fair price for the very purpose the Town’s long-range plans specified for the property, this action by the Town not only prohibits future business growth—it hurts the very residents who helped build Cornelius in the first place.

Cornelius Commerce Center

Land Use Plan approved in May

The Cornelius Town Land Use Plan, approved unanimously in May by both the Planning Board and Town Board, defines the proposed site of the Cornelius Business Park as “business campus.” This project met that criterion perfectly. It would have provided our region with additional high-quality space for smaller, local businesses in the 2,500 to 10,000 square feet range—commercial space that is much-needed in Cornelius.

We need quality businesses, not only to create jobs in the area, but to diversify the tax base. Right now, residential taxes do not cover the breadth and cost of services required to support our towns. Rezoning the land from rural preservation to commercial for the proposed Cornelius Business Park will increase the ad valorem taxes received by the town from approximately $10,445 per year to $210,549 per year.

Development is inevitable, and no matter what is proposed for any property, it’s a sure bet someone will not like it. It’s important for our Town Leaders to make decisions in the best interests of every one of our neighbors and businesses, not just the vocal few, many of whom are new to the Lake Norman region.

Birkdale Village

Opportunities lost

I am not sure whether the owners of Birkdale Village will make another pitch next year. I don’t know what Greenberg Gibbons’ plans are now that they have withdrawn their application on a small business park in Cornelius. But I do know that we have lost, for the moment, an opportunity to bring two very good projects to our community—projects that would have achieved exactly what our community envisioned in its approved land use plans. What I fear most as president of the Chamber is we’ve lost sight of something even more important—how we treat each other.

There’s a generation that is coming behind us watching everything we do and everything we say. We need to find our hearts that somewhere we lost along the way. Our region needs leaders who stand up to the critics and bullies and who do what is right for our community. Leaders who will choose the more difficult right than the much easier wrong. Leaders who give their absolute best… because they will never settle for anything less.

—Bill Russell, president and CEO

Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce




23 Responses to “Open letter from the LKN Chamber CEO”

  1. Good article, Bill. Spot on for some people’s lack of vision.
    Thank you, your many years of service, to the LKNCC. You are certainly an important part of our success.

    Posted by John G Alexander | August 4, 2023, 10:16 am
  2. You described the current situation perfectly. It is mostly the new comers who are now condemning our progress. They are not the majority. But, they get the attention because they are the most vocal.

    Posted by Rod Besrd | August 4, 2023, 11:05 am
    • I have been saying this since I ran for Mayor of Cornelius in 2007. We needed to promote growth and we failed because the commissioners bowed to the few in opposition back then as it is now. We also had commissioners that would not keep taxes high enough to help build the infrastructure in anticipation of growth. Commissioners who focused more on state issues like toll lanes. Now we are years behind and the cost are exponentially higher. I am with Bill Russell on his point about leadership.

      Posted by Richard Stilwell | August 4, 2023, 3:16 pm
  3. Perfect ! The loudest complainers, mostly about traffic, who were welcomed here not too long ago, are not the majority. Thank you for speaking for the other 30,000 of us !

    Posted by Trish | August 4, 2023, 11:55 am
    • It doesn’t matter how long someone has lived here – the traffic still impacts each and every driver the same. Right? Nobody- whether a newby in town, a founding family descendant or someone just passing through wants to waste their time and resources sitting in gridlock.

      Posted by Stevie | August 4, 2023, 2:11 pm
    • Trish: You make it sound like living here, owning property here, somehow qualifies as “welcoming.” I believe you mean that the landowners “didn’t object” when development was occurring on this East side of Bailey Road. I do not think that (not objecting) also qualifies as “welcoming” those “newcomers” like the park, schools, and neighborhoods users here. We now own property here and do not welcome the idea of plopping industrial flex space buildings and related asphalt on every acre of rural land remaining on this East side of Bailey Road. There are other, far better, uses for the land. In deference to Bill (whom I greatly respect), there is also plenty of this type of “growth” elsewhere. We do object to large unsafe facilities like this on the East side of Bailey Road. This was not all about traffic congestion. It was about FIT with the area (large park, 2 schools, 5 neighborhoods and other residences). It was about the safety of children and park users competing with over 1040 vehicles per day (including 88 truck trips per day) at a poorly sighted intersection. It was about disregard for planned greenways because of their septic field plans. It was about opening the door for more “business campus” projects like this one making things worse, not better for the quality of life here. That majority you mention did not speak up for the project and its merits. HUNDREDS did speak up and now understand that “business campus” will bring “perfect” projects, like this one. That is why there is a petition at to change the Land Use Code that is at the root of this. This is a far cry from the “research campus” idea that actually would bring high paying jobs. Legitimate, factual, public debate is not just complaining. We need to respect the value of this property and the landowners right to sell it while balancing the genuine needs of those who live, work and play who will be affected by that potential sale. The land is zoned rural and commercial rezoning is out-of-character for the area. The current Land Use Plan does not account for the transportation infrastructure (and cost) to support this nor does it take into account the park users, students/parents and thousands of residents who use it.

      Posted by Paul Herbert | August 5, 2023, 10:41 am
  4. Well said!

    Posted by David Judge | August 4, 2023, 12:05 pm
  5. Social media has given voice to those who feel strongly about issues, particularly those in opposition to certain developments or changes within their community. It is often these passionate voices that rise above the noise, capturing attention and sparking conversations that may not have been possible just a few decades ago. In recent times, we have observed a shift in the tone of discourse, with online platforms becoming arenas for heated debates, sometimes even veering into the realm of hostility. What might have remained unspoken or confined to private conversations now finds its way into the public sphere, facilitated by the perceived anonymity and distance that digital communication provides. You have to take the bad with the good I suppose.

    [I let AI take the wheel on this one]

    Posted by Chris Gaglioti | August 4, 2023, 2:45 pm
  6. The Lake Norman business community is fortunate to have Bill Russell as our Chamber Executive…. I hold him in the highest regard. His passion for business success is second to none. In his latest open letter , I believe he may have overlooked a few important points. Greenberg Gibbons appears to be a solid company with a talented VP and represented by one of the best real estate attorneys in the region. They have won the hearts of many. However…Is locating a warehouse facility across from Bailey Rd Park , near two schools on a two lane road with sight issues a perfect fit?
    Business development is on the way in Cornelius as you are beginning to see infill projects come out of the ground. Approved projects such as OMB , a hotel and conference center, Alexander Farms and the 100+ acre medical business development near Atrium will help balance our commercial /personal tax split. Will warehouse jobs associated with the business center address our need to bring jobs that allow employees to live here? Would some mix of open space and recruiting a research campus with higher paying jobs and little to no delivery/customer traffic be a better fit? I absolutely want landowners to cash in on their family investment like those that made way for the projects noted above.
    When hundreds (not just a few) of citizens raise their hand and ask for consideration… I believe we should listen and revisit our LUP for the safety of our children, seniors and all those that use the Bailey Rd corridor.

    Posted by Denis Bilodeau | August 4, 2023, 3:24 pm
  7. Bill, you perfectly captured the disintegration of civil discourse. As a resident of Huntersville for 24 years I look forward to getting to know the 17 people who are running for Town Board! I hope there are several leaders among them.

    Posted by Mike Russell | August 4, 2023, 4:03 pm
  8. I think it’s funny that people talk about the next generation. You’re kidding right? We’ve been here for over 20 years, and raised 2 sons here. They both think we’re crazy for staying in this free-for-all, no-holds-barred, slash and burn development area for as long as we have. The beautiful, peaceful area they grew up in is rapidly disappearing. They can’t wait to get out of here. Of course the Chamber, and everyone affiliated with it want more growth until every square inch is covered with concrete. But hey, can’t pass up that almighty tax revenue.

    Posted by Bob Baer | August 4, 2023, 6:39 pm
  9. Bill’s experience and understanding of necessary growth and balance help us all and we have benefited from his experience and endorsements. How sad that a very small vocal minority can abuse social media and spread false statements to advance their personal agenda. Losing the Commercial Park is a loss to Cornelius. We need honest debate and discussion. Example: there is a major difference between 8 trucks a day and 188 trucks a day! You want a park. Go fund it with your own money! John Ekdahl, Baileys Glen.

    Posted by John Ekdahl | August 4, 2023, 8:22 pm
    • John: As your up-the-road neighbor in The Forest at Bailey’s Glen, I am one of the HUNDREDS of Bailey’s Glen residents who participated in public meetings, cordial meetings with the developer and among the 680+ who signed a petition to say NO to this industrial flex space project across the street from Bailey Road Park. There are plenty of these buildings and a new one is being built right now on West Bailey Road. East Bailey Road, as you know, is rural, residential, educational and recreational in nature. I and your neighbors urged you to consider that something BETTER could be there, not something worse, like this proposed development. Your “silent majority” pitch in favor of the project has now morphed into a “vocal minority” against it. That “majority’s” silence was was very apparent at the public meetings where almost no one spoke up for it. I was there at the Bailey’s Glen “ice cream social” where the developer asked us to watch a grainy time-lapse security video of, I think, 8 trucks entering one of their mostly empty buildings at their similar development out near the airport. That “conclusive proof” was supposed to convince us that the Traffic Impact Study (conducted by the Town) was wrong and that the projected 88 truck TRIPS per day (please get that right) was nothing to worry about. You are certainly entitled to your opinion when you state that social media has been abusive and that those of your neighbors have been somehow dishonest and spreading “false statements.” I think most of your neighbors who commented and vigorously opposed the development would take offense. I do believe that our neighbors want a park or preservation of the open space there. They want something that complements, not congests the area. The comprehensive Parks Plan calls for a park in the area so let’s get one (or more) with our tax dollars, sponsorships, alliances with other agencies, and grants as we have for every other park in Town. The landowner deserves his property value and we deserve a park!

      Posted by Paul Herbert | August 5, 2023, 9:49 am
      • Well said Mr. Herbert – new comers have a stake in this area and the traffic build up and traffic jams will not be getting better with the new proposed and already approved build-up plans. Catawba Ave from East to West and vice-versa is a nightmare at peak times.
        You are correct in thinking, a warehouse will not be a great employment opportunity, nor is it likely that they will be able to live in our neighborhoods and pay taxes. The revenue from individual homes certainly will generate more that what Mr. Russell projects from a ugly warehouse complex.

        Posted by Nancy | August 5, 2023, 3:26 pm
  10. Thank you for your comments. They needed to be said and I hope people will read with an open mind.

    Posted by Joanne Brown Miller | August 4, 2023, 8:32 pm
  11. What a joke. Are you kidding me? Let me know when you are ready to hang it up… I will gladly take your place. IMO-This is so poorly written and one-sided and extremely laughable. But Hey-Thanks for the laugh though. It made for some fun commentary on my fb group page. Huntersville Unmasked.

    Posted by Noelle Burton | August 4, 2023, 11:29 pm
  12. We have all lived here for thousands of years on un”developed” land (whatever that means). Your vision of “development” is not inevitable at all. And funneling more dollars to an already bloated tyrannical government is certainly not a solution to freedom.

    Posted by Barry Carter | August 5, 2023, 3:18 am
  13. I’m not “new to the Lake Norman” area, been around about 27 years, but you’re right. The generation behind us is watching. They’re watching us hope for smart and sustainable development that strikes a balance. They are watching us hold municipalities and for-profit partners accountable for infrastructure and utility improvements to accommodate growth. Our kids are themselves experiencing overcrowded schools and long commute times fueled by unmanaged growth. Looking forward to hearing solutions to these issues.

    Posted by Nicole Doty | August 5, 2023, 9:25 am
  14. Why don’t you post some of the emails written to our commissioners and mayors from one and only one developer. Then let’s discuss the horrible treatment of our representatives and show how we have gotten to this place. I can send you about 50 such emails and let you choose which one to show your readers.

    Posted by Mary Ann Turetsky | August 5, 2023, 12:03 pm
  15. This guy is like any other politician …. has stayed around too long and never understands when enough is enough!!!! And he makes a grand assumption in his closing paragraph that the generation coming behind us is watching what we do …. he’s right and they are sick of what “we” have created and yearn for less!

    Posted by Jay Lewis | August 5, 2023, 2:21 pm
  16. ## Comment SPAM Protection: Shield Security marked this comment as “SPAM”. Reason: Human SPAM filter found “iphone1” in “user_agent” ##
    The capacity of Bailey road even without this development is problematic. That’s what the hundreds of citizens are trying to make us understand. Without a better solution on Bailey Road (that will never improve unless we do something) the situation will not improve.
    During my many years of leadership as mayor, listening to people has been and will continue to be a major driver of my actions. The town is now conducting a serious and comprehensive study of this road. This study will be instrumental as we move forward. The Mayor’s Task force on Transportation will move quickly and take action once results of this and other studies are known.
    In the meantime, listening to a majority of citizens in any areas should be our directive. With that said, I believe in bringing quality business investment and good jobs to our town in the right places and at the right time.
    Mayor Woody Washam

    Posted by Mayor Woody Washam | August 5, 2023, 2:57 pm
  17. Development and Business Tax Dollars: Building a Standalone Community at Lake Norman

    Dear Editor,
    As a long-time resident and active member of the Lake Norman business community, I want to voice my support for the positive development initiatives that Bill Russell wrote about & have transformed our region over the past three decades. It is truly remarkable to reflect on the journey from being mere bedroom communities to becoming a thriving standalone community with vibrant businesses and amenities that attract people from all over the country, with a strong visit lake Norman & Chamber of Commerce our region has flourished beyond our expectations before ether one of these organizations where first formed.
    The strategic investment of development and business tax dollars has been the foundation of this transformation. The foresight of our city leaders, community members, and business representatives has been instrumental in shaping the Lake Norman area into an attractive destination for residents and visitors alike. At the for front carrying the flag has been Bill Russell and Sally Ashcroft, we owe them our gratitude and admiration. By bringing exciting new developments like Birkdale, Antiquity, and Bailey’s Glen, we have created density and welcomed essential retail and fine dining establishments to our towns. This evolution has not only reduced our reliance on daily commutes to Charlotte but has also fulfilled the desires of our citizens for neighborhood schools, local job opportunities, and quality amenities close to home.
    One of the key drivers of our community’s prosperity has been the efforts to attract businesses and international corporations to the Lake Norman area. The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce and the economic development corporation have played a crucial role in this endeavor, resulting in significant employment opportunities with competitive salaries. The influx of quality businesses not only generates jobs but also diversifies the tax base, reducing the burden on residential taxes and providing the necessary resources to support the growth of our towns.
    However, recent events have shown a concerning shift in public discourse, with social media becoming a platform for negativity and misinformation. As we navigate revitalization plans and rezoning decisions, it is essential for our town leaders to remain steadfast in their commitment to the long-term vision of the community. While it is natural for differing opinions to arise during development processes, Decisions must always prioritize the greater good of all residents and businesses.
    While residents play a crucial role in shaping their community, it is essential to acknowledge the value of experience and community expertise in guiding these decisions. Asking pertinent questions, such as when and how much development is appropriate, ensures a thoughtful and well-informed approach to meet the needs of everyone involved.
    A case in point is the Cornelius Business Park project. This commercial development aligns perfectly with the town’s long-range plans and would have provided much-needed space for smaller, local businesses, contributing significantly to the town’s tax revenue. Sadly, resistance from a vocal minority has caused its withdrawal, potentially depriving us of an opportunity for growth and progress.
    As we look to the future, we must remember that our decisions today impact the generations to come. Let us be role models for the younger generation by treating each other with respect and open-mindedness. Our region needs leaders who are unafraid to stand up against criticism and do what is right for the collective well-being of the community.
    Development is an inevitable aspect of progress, and it is crucial for our town leaders to take a balanced approach that considers the long-term benefits for all stakeholders. Let us remember our roots, where we came from, and the values that made us a close-knit community. By working together and fostering an environment of constructive dialogue, we can continue to build Lake Norman that we can all be proud to call home.

    Posted by Joe a vagnone | August 8, 2023, 1:57 pm
  18. Thanks Bill. A couple complex topics that are definitely worth diving into.

    The Land Use Plan (LUP) was created by Cornelius residents and approved by both the Planning Board and the Town Board. It was created with the entirety of the town in mind, not a single project. It was built in part to reverse the trend of a piecemeal approach to land use that resulted in over 1,400 residential units approved in 2021.

    Amongst other key inputs into the LUP, the town’s constraints, like roads and money, were considered. The new Business Campus replaced a designation that previously allowed for 144 new homes and reduced estimated traffic by 25%. It doesn’t have the semi-vehicle traffic of distribution centers and industrial. It has zero impact on our schools. It has one of the lowest impacts on our public safety departments and water/sewer capacity.

    Many, including myself, viewed the proposal as a victory for our Cornelius small business owners, the residents who would benefit from its employment opportunities and use of their products and services, the students in already overcrowded schools (with trailer classrooms), and the cash-strapped residents striving to maintain minimal taxes.

    However, neighboring residents had a different perspective. They were skeptical of the developer proposed traffic studies. They saw it as a truck-load distribution center that was taking the place of a hypothesized park and it would exasperate existing traffic problems.

    While the concept of a park is appealing, it does not have the support of the county. Without them, the town does not have the money to support the purchase and maintenance of the additional 36 acres. Therefore, designating this area as a park is unlikely. Doing otherwise would likely have the net impact of stripping the owner of a chance to sell their property and putting us back in the same position of looking for the lowest impact land use.

    The Town Board expedited two focused road studies with the goal of identifying practical solutions that can efficiently address the safety and traffic concerns for the area. The outcome of these studies will serve as additional data points into a decision on what can be supported.

    Posted by Michael Osborne | August 18, 2023, 5:30 pm

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