Residents worry NCDOT project will cut historically black neighborhood in half

CORNELIUS, N.C. — Residents of the Smithville community in Cornelius met with North Carolina transportation leaders Tuesday to discuss a proposed development.

The goal of the North Carolina Department of Transportation project is to alleviate traffic issues at the intersection of U.S. 21 and Catawba Avenue, but the residents of the historic neighborhood feel it could push them out of Cornelius.

Ronald Potts walked Channel 9 reporter Elsa Gillis through the neighborhood in which he was born and raised, a neighborhood his ancestors helped build up since the Civil War.

“This is the newest area. It was added in the earlier '70s,” Potts said. “This is an African-American community that was settled by recently released slaves.”

In recent years, residents of Smithville have worked to revitalize the community.

"You can see all this prosperity and growth all around Smithville, but at the same time, Smithville has kind of deteriorated,” Potts said.

In recent months, neighborhood residents learned of the NCDOT’s plans to alleviate traffic nearby.

Two of the traffic proposals cut the affordable and historic neighborhood into pieces, near Sammie Knox’s home.

"This is the only house I've ever known,” Knox said. “A road coming off (U.S.) 21, anywhere in the vicinity of my house, is gonna take my house."

“There is a major traffic situation here, but it was created not by us,” Potts said. “We're bearing the brunt of the growth, the prosperity the rest of the town is getting."

NCDOT officials presented four updated proposals which they said are preliminary proposals.

"What we’re trying to do is trying to minimize those impacts and still meeting the needs of the transportation,” an NCDOT official said.

One proposal showed a smaller impact to Smithville, which residents said they feel better about.

But residents still have serious concerns about how the development could affect them and isolate their community.

"If we were displaced, where would we go?” Potts asked. “Where could we afford to go? We do feel that, with this, it's gonna be a gradual intrusion into the community."

It’s unclear how many homes would be affected in each proposal.

Construction would begin in summer 2020.