Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Coventry Woods vs. Zoning Board

Zoning update in their own words from the Coventry Woods Neighborhood Association. This is a fairly close-in eastside neighborhood that works together to try to preserve their established neighborhood. The post is long, and edited somewhat, but it's a complicated issue that's important to a small group of people. It's also about trying to save trees.

"After an all morning session Tuesday, Jan. 29, the Zoning Board of Adjustments voted late that afternoon on one of two appeals placed before it by the Coventry Woods Neighborhood Association, and voted to examine the second appeal in the near future.

The ZBA voted 4-to-1 against the CWNA's contention that notification should have been given property owners adjacent to the Independence Woods subdevelopment project.

Independence Woods received preliminary subdivision approval in December 2006; notice of project approval was posted to the City-County's Charmeck web site page close to a month later, long after the 10-day window for appeal had expired.

ZBA member Chet Rabon, an attorney, said the CWNA is in a "classic 'Catch-22' situation" and that the Planning staff's lack of formal notification to the Coventry Woods and Cedars East neighborhoods created a due-process issue -- "a situation fundamentally unfair to Coventry Woods."

The remaining ZBA members said that Zoning Ordinances specify notification of adjacent property owners only in code-specified instances, an argument put forward by the City Attorney's office; or that, simply, the stated 10-day deadline passed.

The remaining appeal before the ZBA concerns the applicability of the tree-save ordinance, which gives a "density bonus" to developers who set aside a percentage of land for saving existing tree canopy.

The East Charlotte tract in question, between Independence Boulevard and Amity Place, adjoining the Coventry Woods and Cedars East neighborhoods, is zoned R-4: It calls for four lots per acre.

Because of the tree-save proviso and other bonuses, the Planning department's subdivision staff gave developer Jerry Rigsby the go-ahead to develop the 15.8 acres with lots that are the equivalent of 10 per acre; plus the OK to build houses with only 6 feet between them. The increase in density from standard R-4 exceeds 20 percent.

Most of the tract has been clear-cut and graded; the long-established tree canopy there has been bulldozed; the net result of the tree-save and other bonuses has been to allow a de facto rezoning bereft of a formal rezoning and the public input a formal rezoning would require.

Through its attorney, Kenneth Davies of Davies & Grist, the CWNA will pursue the appropriateness of the tree-save bonuses given Independence Woods at an upcoming ZBA session.

In the meantime, the CWNA will pursue various appellate options.

....The Mayor and City Council have pledged to focus attention on maintaining and improving life in East Charlotte. Meanwhile, the bottom has fallen out of the sub-prime housing market, and the government, media and public is decrying the proliferation of poor-quality subdivisions.

But the city Planning staff nonetheless is defending its approval of Independence Woods, a low-quality, in-fill project... ."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Vyne: An update in photos

The Vyne, a complex of 99 flats at the corner of Central Avenue and Briar Creek Road, is becoming reality.
The photos with trees were taken on Jan. 12, from Central Avenue. Photos without so many trees (the top five in this post) were taken on Jan. 20. The top two are from Central Avenue; the following three are from Briar Creek Road.
Elevation map from
Aerial photo from Google Earth, with the old Plummer house highlighted by a red square.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

New pipe organ for Elizabeth

The Elizabeth neighborhood is getting a new pipe organ, made in Quebec.
The parts arrive at St. Johns Baptist Church on Sunday, Jan. 27, and church members will help unload the pieces from a truck and bring them into the sanctuary after the 10:30 a.m. service.

The church, at the corner of Hawthorne Lane and Fifth Street, is providing lunch for helpers. See more pictures of the organ being built here.

Through February and March, the organ, called Opus 113, will be assembled in the renovated sanctuary, and the organ pipes will get their new "voices" with testing. Organ builders will work six days a week, giving a "voice" to each of the more-than 2,500 pipes. It makes its debut in Easter services on March 23.

The organ is from the Sainte-Hyacinthe, Quebec, factory of highly respected Letourneau Organs. (Hint: You really want to click on the company link to see and listen to other organs the company has built.)

Letourneau Organs has built organs for Christ Church in Vienna, Austria, and the chapel at Selwyn College at Cambridge, England. Its new magnum opus is at the Episcopal Church of St. John the Divine in Houston.

Questions? Contact Minister of Music Warren Howell through the church office at (704) 333-5428.
Photo courtesy of Warren and Maureen Howell, taken in summer 2007, showing some of the wooden pipes of the church's organ being crafted at the Sainte-Hyacinthe factory.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Commonwealth Park vs. hotels

Members of the Commonwealth Park Neighborhood Association plan to attend a City Council public hearing on Monday, Jan. 14, to make their case for tighter laws that govern hotels.
The neighborhood is across Central Avenue from Merry Oaks, adjacent to Independence Boulevard. Residents have long been concerned about crime spillover from nearby hotels on Independence.
Monday, Jan. 14 update: Victoria Cherrie of The Charlotte Observer writes about the issue here. (Link will die in two weeks.)
Tuesday, Jan. 15, update: The change in law passed, and about 60 Commonwealth Park residents showed up at the meeting to support the change.

A letter written by the neighborhood association to be sent to the council's safety committee says, in part, "As you are aware, the safety and quality of life in our neighborhood has been adversely impacted by the nuisance hotels on Independence Boulevard for many years."
Proposed ordinance changes would allow city agencies (code enforcement) to regulate lodging establishments that are not currently being regulated by the state, through the county's health department. In a letter to the neighborhood association, Maj. Diego Anselmo of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said the changes in the ordinance "will help local law enforcement address criminal activity that is taking place on lodging establishment property by holding the owner/operator accountable for this activity."
The CPNA is seeking a good turnout for the 7:30 p.m. meeting Monday, at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center. Go here for a Google map or directions.
The neighborhood used their Google group to organize much of their efforts against the hotels. For more details, check it out.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Making low-income housing safer

Merry Oaks residents greeted the new year with news of a shooting on Arnold Drive that left one man dead and another charged with murder.
Neither party was a resident of the neighborhood, or of the nearby Hillcrest Apartments where the shooting occurred.

Still, the neighborhood cares: about perception of the neighborhood, about safety and about the family of the victim and about the law-abiding residents of the apartments.
Neighborhood online forum participants are more than tired of the crime in nearby low-income apartments. The regional property manager for Westminster Properties, owners of the Hillcrest Apartments, has responded on the neighborhood Google group, saying recent legislative changes have made it more difficult for providers of low-income housing to control crime by non-residents.

Many questions surface, from a variety of perspectives:
How much money are the owners making from the federal Section 8 housing program? Does that program work when it fills entire complexes with low-income residents and counts on local police to manage the problems? Are there better alternatives to housing low-income people? How can those property owners control non-residential access? How can cities filled with growth and new condos provide low-income housing without concentrating crime and school resegregation? Would increasing incentives for police officers, firefighters and EMT works to live in such complexes help? How can neighbors help?

Charlotte has a history of strong, nonprofit, efficient organizations that make change happen. Perhaps the community can find ways to improve policies and programs to increase safety for low-income housing residents and nearby neighborhoods.

Some resources:
The N.C. Housing Coalition The organization, based in Raleigh, states its mission is to lead a campaign for housing to ensure that working families, people in crisis, seniors, and persons with disabilities may live with dignity and opportunity. Safety is a key part of their efforts.
Housing Charlotte: An initiative to find new solutions to address Charlotte's growing affordable housing problem.

Other references:
Westminster Properties, the owners of Hillcrest. You can get a list of their other Charlotte properties.
Grier Heights Neighborhood Initiative: a pdf document listing community efforts to improve the Grier Heights neighborhood several years back, including the owners of Grier Park Apartments giving the keys to their rental office to the police. I'm unclear whether Westminster owned those apartments at the time. The company owns those apartments now, according to its website.

Text of the note from Bert Wray, regional property manager of Westminster Properties, posted on the Merry Oaks neighborhood Google group:

"Dear Merry Oaks neighbors,

Our new year has unfortunately stepped off with the tragic event that unfolded in the early hours of Tuesday morning. As a representative of the 48 families that reside at Hillcrest Apartments, I, as well as my staff on-site, am just as concerned about the criminal activity that has literally been brought to the front pages over the past months.

As an introduction, as the Regional Property Manager for Westminster Company, I represent the owners of Hillcrest Apartments as part of a nationally accredited property management organization. I oversee the management of seven properties in the Charlotte area. Westminster Company specializes in the management of affordable or subsidized housing. Due to the nature of our mission, security is a major priority for me and my staff. Every resident that enters into a lease with our property has passed a criminal and credit screening, as well as landlord references. We are serious about our stance against drugs and crime and use our contracts that we sign with our residents as our only form of enforcement. Let me emphasize that these steps apply to our lease-signing residents. The violent crimes that have occurred at Hillcrest Apartments in the past months have been at the hands of individuals who do not live in our community. They do, however, visit within the community and have ties to Hillcrest Apartments. It is these “visitors” that are the source of our pain and I have little to no means of screening these individuals or even identifying them.

Our most important ally in our war against crime is the police department. We have an excellent relationship with CMPD and its officers. We have always made proactive strides to improve our security to prevent crime instead of reacting to crime. We have openly expressed our need to ban any non-residents who commit crimes in or around our property. Recent legislation changes have made this process impractical and almost impossible. As the landlord, we must be present with CMPD and the individual to be banned, in order to legally ban them from the property. As we all know, the activity that would lead to these bans almost always occurs outside of business hours when the manager is not on site. In the past, we could enter an agreement with CMPD authorizing any officer to execute a trespass order without our presence. As far as our residents at Hillcrest, everyone who has been arrested for criminal activity, or had direct involvement in such activity has been given a lease termination. However, enforcement of that termination ultimately is in the hands of our magistrates.

Making a long story short, many of our limitations in limiting crime within our community stem from decisions and legislation that are made by municipalities and organizations that like to look at the big picture without zooming in on reality. That reality is that our police force needs the freedom to identify and remove individuals who are known cancers to our community. I have asked representatives of Eastway Division CMPD for a list of apartment managers in the area so we can share information to prevent recycling any poor residents and their guests.

As law abiding citizens and residents, I enlist your help to pressure the powers that be to authorize the necessary power to enable CMPD and landlords to eliminate problems, and potential problems, from our community. Also, understand that we at Hillcrest Apartments have an important yet challenging role to provide affordable housing to families in need as an opportunity to better their lives and positively impact society.

Bert Wray
Regional Property Manager
Westminster Company"