Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Eastside Charlotte mayoral forum

More than 75 people showed up for a Charlotte mayoral candidates' forum Tuesday night at Windsor Park Elementary School to hear John Lassiter and Anthony Foxx discuss issues near and dear to the east side of Charlotte.

The forum was sponsored by Charlotte East Political Action Committee and was set up as a moderated Q&A with the candidates, with time for questions from the audience.
Foxx, a Democrat, and Lassiter, a Republican, are both at-large city council members and the leading candidates for Charlotte mayor. The winner will replace Mayor Pat McCrory, a Republican, who is the longest-serving mayor in Charlotte history, according to Wikipedia.

Fred Clasen-Kelly did a fine job of reporting the event at The Charlotte Observer, (temporary link) focusing on low-income housing questions.

The following are raw notes from the meeting. My background is as an editor and designer, so I can't do as fine of a job as Fred, but I offer these notes up to flesh out areas that Fred couldn't address because of time or space constraints. If there's anything I left out or portrayed wrongly, let me know in comments.

In addition, CLTBlog plans a streaming video online town hall with Foxx at 7 p.m. on Sunday, May 17. Anyone can submit and vote on questions for that event by going to Google Moderator here.

The key topics (often overlapping) from Tuesday night:

Fixing Eastland Mall
Both candidates noted that zoning and overbuilding hurt the Eastland Mall and Albemarle Road areas. Both noted that the tough economy is making a fix difficult.
Lassiter: Plans for the mall land will succeed if zoning is mixed use. When the economy rebounds, the area will see folks coming in and buying up these properties. The city planning department will be key in making the rebound a success.
Foxx: Fixing Eastland will involve a number of efforts, including police, infrastructure and rebuilding trust between the neighborhoods and the city. "We cannot leave East Charlotte out."
One questioner pushed for housing on the property at a specific price point: $200,000 or so, not $110,000 to $150,000. Neither candidate promised such a price point in future zoning for the property. Lassiter noted that the east side faces a challenge because existing housing stock falls into a narrow price area, with no ability for residents to move up but stay within the area. Lassiter also said redevelopment of the 90-acre Eastland Mall site would not include subsidized housing.
Another questioner expressed concerns that existing city investment in a bus transit station at the mall site could impede future plans.
Foxx: "There have been alot of false starts." "I'm sorry that folks have felt the city hasn't been paying attention." "We need to rebuild that connection between the city of Charlotte and the east side."

Working for better public transit on the east side of Charlotte
Both candidates noted that the Independence Boulevard widening was a state project that failed to take local residents and business needs into consideration.
Foxx: "As mayor, I'd commit to taking a long hard look at rapid transit on Independence Boulevard." He also noted that he's pushing for a way that the city can move ahead with the trolley line from Beatties Ford Road all the way to Eastland Mall.
Lassiter: "The challenge of getting light rail money is meeting federal rules." He's also working for the trolley, trying to find a way to use mostly local money to fund the project.

Fixing Independence Boulevard

Foxx: Wants new money to pay for the finishing of I-485, preserving existing state money to finish Independence Boulevard. "The N.C. DOT has not historically been a good partner with us" for helping to support the businesses that depended on Independence Boulevard.
Lassiter: Independence Boulevard needs to be the back door for the neighborhoods, not the front door. "I think we can all agree that the state has made a mess of Independence Boulevard."

Maintaining safety and fighting crime
Both candidates acknowledge the strong work of the Charlotte police department (which had at least five representatives at the meeting) and that crime had gone down in the Eastway division. Both noted that the city would find responsible ways to pay for more police officers that would not raise taxes. Both pointed to fiscal responsibility from the city, contrasting it with financial difficulties the county faces.
Foxx: Went to Washington, D.C., on his own dime to talk with U.S. Senator Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., about federal support for fighting crime. He has also talked with the state Administrative Office of the Courts, and is working in the community at West Charlotte High School, his alma mater, to help show young people different, positive paths.
Lassiter: "We have to get chronic offenders off the streets." Lassiter noted he served on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board for many years, working to support young people and schools.

Low-income housing

Foxx: Noted a story by Fred Clasen-Kelly in The Charlotte Observer in 2006 that said roughly four of every five Section 8 residents are clustered in 10 ZIP codes in the Charlotte area. "I want to see this city deal with affordable housing in a real way," he said. He mentioned an "incentivized inclusi0onary zoning" fix. If he were mayor, he would establish a task force to handle low-income housing questions.
Lassiter: "I believe the east side of Charlotte has given enough." However, he emphasized a market-based approach to handling housing price points.

Code enforcement
Eastside residents have wrestled with the problem of code enforcement people working day hours Monday through Friday, with no one to verify and follow up code violations such as parking cars and trucks on lawns on weekends and evenings. Lassiter addressed the issue, saying the city was looking at innovative solutions such as split shifts for code enforcement workers. Foxx agreed: "We've got to have weekend code enforcement," he said, and he noted that the city workers must deal with three computer systems to input and track data about violations, with no easy computer interaction with police computers. He said the city needed to increase our investment in technology to address the challenge.

Small-area plans

Susan Lindsay, a long-time neighborhood activist for the east side of Charlotte, questioned why the city had not gone forward with small-area plans for the Milton Road-Plaza area and the Eastway-Plaza areas. Both candidates said they would look into that, with Lassiter noting that the planning staff should have some excess capacity at the moment because of a lack of rezoning cases.


Justin Ritchie said...

great coverage, looking forward to university area debate

Justin Ruckman said...


thx for collecting this.

ChrisB said...

Thanks for the thorough coverage of this meeting. This post adds a another perspective to the reports I've already read and heard. Your investment in the situation as an Eastsider gives added value!