Sunday, November 22, 2009

Memories of the Plaza Midwood entry into the Gingerbread House National Competition

A couple of years ago, neighbors from Plaza Midwood invited my daughter and a large group of friends to a mountain house weekend, with the goal of building gingerbread houses for the National Gingerbread House Competition, held in the Asheville area. The competition continues this year, with houses on display through Jan. 3, 2010, at the Grove Park Inn at 290 Macon Ave. in Asheville.

This team had an amazing support staff of moms, plus an architect dad with an old friend who was a chef in New York. I can’t remember where the group placed in the competition, but I will always remember the fun they had and the amazing creations they made.

Ingredients included Mike and Ike candy, Wheat Chex, pumpkin seeds, pretzels of various sizes, peanut brittle, chocolate mortar for chimney bricks and perhaps licorice. There was more, obviously, including a huge helping of creativity.

Check out their work. I hope it gives you some ideas for the holiday season to come. And like the architecture? Visit Don Duffy Architecture.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Caroling, lights and a possible neighborhood art crawl in Merry Oaks on Dec. 12

Mark your calendars for Dec. 12.
That’s a day of local holiday celebrations planned in Merry Oaks, with a possible neighborhood arts crawl, caroling and luminaries designed to light up the neighborhood.
Several years back, about 10 neighbors caroled along Arnold Drive, Flynnwood Drive and other streets in the neighborhood. Walking the whole 'hood on a cold night can be a bit much, but neighbors are invited to participate as much as feels fun.
Check the Merry Oaks Google group for details, and look for more specific information soon.

Chris Runoff photo via Flickr.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

How to get vines off trees

It’s tree banding season in Charlotte, part of an annual effort to combat cankerworms, which exploded in 2008, leaving weakened and dying trees in their path.

The city spent more than $1 million that year to fight the infestation.

Trees in the spring of 2009 showed little damage from the pests; still, people are banding trees now to prevent a repeat of spring 2008.

But in many Charlotte neighborhoods, there’s a first step: clearing invasive vines from the trees.

Yes, the vines, especially wisteria, can be pretty and offer refuge for birds. But particular invasive species crowd out native species, can swallow trees whole and can also provide a path for nasty creatures like the pervasive cankerworms to climb the trees. The vines can even sneak under tree bands, creating highways for cankerworms.

Here’s how to get invasive vines off trees. It works for vines such as English ivy, wisteria, poison ivy and honeysuckle.

Boots or solid shoes
Proper clothing: long sleeves and pants legs
Clippers and loppers

Step 1
Dress properly. If you will be walking in patches of ivy, boots or other protective shoes are important because of unknown creatures underfoot. You don’t just have to worry about snakes, but also smaller foes like fire ants, spiders and poison ivy. Gloves are essential even if you’re nowhere near poison ivy, because ants and spiders can hang out in the vines that climb trees.

Step 2
Cut vines at the base of the tree down low, and clear the vines as far away from the tree as you can to slow return growth. Sharp clippers work for small English ivy vines; larger loppers and sometimes even small saws are needed for thicker, stubborn older vines and wisteria.

Step 3
Cut the same vines up higher on the tree, about three feet off the ground, to prevent the vines from growing back together at the cut you made down low. If you’re strapped for time, cutting even a small inch or two out of a vine might stop or slow growth.

Special notes
You don’t have to pull all the vines out of the trees. In the case of established vines, they might wind through tree branches high up the tree, and it could take months of wind, rain and snow for the vines to fall off the tree. But as long as the base of the vines has been cut, they should die and eventually fall off.

Beware of vines with fuzzy hairs. Poison ivy often mingles with English ivy as it climbs trees, but the best time to combat is in the winter months. Dress accordingly when combating established poison ivy vines on trees and shower as soon as you can. One neighbor recommended dishwashing liquid to cut through the “grease” of poison ivy after a battle.

References, for inspiration and further research:
Nature Conservancy: Invasives
The No Ivy League, from Portland, Oregon
Mecklenburg County Invasive Species Task Force

The two biggest enemies in my Merry Oaks neighborhood are wisteria, which can sneak through cracks and eventually destroy fences as well as trees, and the ubiquitous English ivy (botttom):

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Of grease in drains and watching the creeks rise in Charlotte

Here’s why you shouldn’t pour grease down the drain.

In heavy rains, the large sewer lines can back up from road and yard runoff, and then water backs up into the smaller tributary lines. If those lines are clogged with grease, the sewers can back up through the manholes into streets and elsewhere. (Yeah. "Elsewhere" could be nasty.)

This manhole at 2920 Central Avenue at the intersection of Arnold Drive overflowed Wednesday morning as the remnants of Hurricane Ida moved through Charlotte.

Forecasters are predicting more rain today and possibly Thursday. Homes near Briar Creek along Masonic Drive and at the end of Harbinger Court have been bought out or raised because of past problems with flooding, and Briar Creek generally does not overflow on to Central Avenue.

The only time I’ve seen that happen is when the remnants of Hurricane Faye came through in August 2008. There’s a Flickr stream of photos from that flood.

The bottom photo shows Briar Creek at 2900 Central Avenue on Wednesday morning about 10 a.m. I’ve seen it go higher without problems.

You can keep an eye yourself on the rain gauge along Briar Creek provided by the U.S. Geological Survey in real time. (Note to self: Look up and find out whether it’s officially “gage” or “gauge” when used by USGS.)

And remember: Stay out of floodwaters.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Charlotte City Council passes targeted property rental ordinance in effort to fight crime

“The ultimate proactivity (against crime) is assuming everyone is guilty and making them prove their innocence.”
– City Council member Warren Cooksey, or some character from “The Matrix”

The Charlotte City Council passed a property rental ordinance Monday night designed to target property owners who fail to take responsibility for crime on their properties.

The final ordinance that was passed was a compromise among stakeholders, including landlords and residents of areas affected by crime in nearby properties. It requires landlords who rent property among the top 4% of rental property in criminal calls to police to register and pay fees to support record–keeping and two new non–sworn officers to help track down landlords who don’t want to be found or to help those landlords improve their properties. Background and details, and a few numbers, and a letter from the Eastside Political Action Committee.

The council’s public safety committee worked with police to craft the ordinance and presented in to the full council in October. Monday’s meeting included a public hearing in which 20 people spoke, most supporting the compromise ordinance but some calling for rules that would have required all people who rent property in the city to register and pay a fee to build and maintain a database of landlords.

After the hearing, almost every council member and Mayor Pat McCrory had questions or statements about the ordinance, expressing wide–ranging concerns about crime, poverty, fair housing and the criminal justice system.

The ordinance passed 7–3, with council members Anthony Foxx (the mayor–elect), Warren Turner and Michael Barnes opposed the measure. Both Foxx and Barnes during discussions had indicated a desire for more time to consider the ordinance. Barnes noted that council member James Mitchell Jr. was not at the meeting, yet many of the affected properties are in his district.

Why did U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell vote against the health care bill?

U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell, who represents Merry Oaks and other areas in the 8th District of North Carolina, was one of a few Democrats who voted against the House bill to change health care.

Because Kissell's vote broke with his party, and the issue is so important to so many, here are a few links to give background on his decision. Kissell has said that he could not support the bill’s $399 billion in proposed cuts in Medicare benefits. The American Association of Retired Persons, however, endorsed the bill.

According to a New York Times graphic, 20% of the nonelderly people in the 8th district are uninsured.

Links to information about Kissell's fundraising efforts give no indication that health–care interests exerted influence on his decision. Available numbers only reflect past giving.

A July 24 letter from Kissell to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Campaign donations to Kissell by industry.
Campaign donations to Kissell by geography.
Local news story from the Richmond County Daily Journal.
American Association of Retired Persons endorsement of the bill.
The bill itself, all 176,276 words.
Kissell's official website.

Google map via

Saturday, November 07, 2009

A closer look at Charlotte election result numbers

After the Charlotte mayor and council election frenzy has died down, here's a deeper look at the mayoral election results for a few precincts in the Merry Oaks area, including central and East Charlotte. Democratic candidate Anthony Foxx defeated Republican John Lassiter.

The precincts included here cover Merry Oaks, Commonwealth Park, most of Plaza Midwood and Country Club Heights, including areas around Shamrock Gardens Elementary School.

In two of the precincts, turnout was below the citywide turnout of 21.14%. In all four precincts examined here, those voters choosing a straight Republican ticket never reached 14%. And in all four precincts, the percentage of unaffiliated registered voters is higher than the percentage of Republican voters.

And in three of these four precincts, even if Republicans and unaffiliated voters all voted together and the same, they couldn't overcome the Democratic numbers.

So if these precincts are representative of most precincts outside of the historically Republican pie slice in south Charlotte, the numbers support an analysis by Glenn Burkins of QcityMetro, pointing out the changing demographics and surging Democratic Party in much of Charlotte.

Mary Newsom also lends perspective on the mayor election in her column in Saturday's Charlotte Observer, noting that Charlotte is still a majority-white Southern city and Foxx's win was the first for a Democratic candidate in 22 years. The last Democratic mayor was also African American.

"Yes, Charlotte is trending Democratic, as its African-American population has inched up to 35 percent. But the City Council's new 8-3 Democratic majority exists because council districts were carefully devised (by Democratic councils) to overstate the party's power. Democrats are helped, too, by the local Republican Party's ethnic-cleansing-like campaign to purge all who aren't anti-immigrant, anti-gay/lesbian and anti-legal abortion. Moderate Republicans these days have nowhere to turn."

Perhaps that point explains the high percentages of unaffiliated voters, an emerging trend that could play out in future elections. Or perhaps it reflects an increasing tendency for voters to choose straight-party tickets, a trend analyzed by Brian D. Francis.
Or perhaps it signals a generational shift toward colorblind politics, something that pundits have been watching for in the mayoral race in Atlanta. You can read more about that race in The Christian Science Monitor.

Now for those of you still reading, it's obvious you just can't get enough Charlotte politics. So here's a visual taste of Election Night from photographer James Willamor, with more to come next week likely at

Herewith, a tale of four precincts:

Precinct 29
Merry Oaks Elementary School
3508 Draper Ave.
40% of those who voted used straight party voting.
26.5% of those who voted chose a straight Democratic ticket.
13.5% of those who voted chose a straight Republican ticket.
.25% of those who voted chose a straight Libertarian ticket (one person).
Turnout: 18.67%
Registered voters:
Democrat, 53%
Republican, 18%
Unaffiliated, 28%

Precinct 15

Midwood Baptist Church,
2029 Mecklenburg Ave Charlotte, NC 28205
26% of those who voted for mayor used straight party voting.
17.5% of those who voted for mayor chose a straight Democratic ticket.
8.5% of those who voted for mayor chose a straight Republican ticket.
Turnout: 27.09%
Registered voters:
Democrat, 45%
Republican, 20%
Unaffiliated, 35%

Precinct 44

Shamrock Gardens Elementary School
3301 Country Club Dr. Charlotte, NC 28205
36% of those who voted for mayor used straight party voting.
22.8% of those who voted for mayor chose a straight Democratic ticket.
13.2% of those who voted for mayor chose a straight Republican ticket.
Turnout: 28.19%
Registered voters:
Democrat, 51%
Republican, 23%
Unaffiliated, 26%

Precinct 46
WTVI Television Station
3242 Commonwealth Ave Charlotte, NC 28205
41% of those who voted for mayor used straight party voting.
28% of those who voted for mayor chose a straight Democratic ticket.
13% of those who voted for mayor chose a straight Republican ticket.
Turnout: 16.72%
Registered voters:
Democrat, 57%
Republican, 15%
Unaffiliated, 27%

Mecklenburg Board of Elections sites here and here.
The Charlotte Observer.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Where to get live Charlotte mayor and city council election results for 2009

For live results of tonight’s mayor and city council election results in Charlotte, your best bet is the results page linked from the Mecklenburg Board of Elections.

The link takes you to a spot that has tabs for a summary, precinct–by–precinct results, turnout maps and live reports with precinct details in comma–separated–values and XML, for the truly geeky. The turnout maps are just plain intriguing. The board of elections used a similar link for the primaries, and it worked beautifully.
But the link is generally only available from the board of elections site on election nights, and I’m not sure it will be available Wednesday. So if you want to preserve information, perhaps make screenshots.

Precinct 29 at Merry Oaks Elementary School, 3508 Draper Ave., broke into the triple digits of voters by noon, which actually seems to be decent turnout for a small neighborhood in a year with no presidential election.

Of course, there will be plenty of coverage tonight elsewhere, including on television.

I plan to help tonight. Follow along if you like on the @CLTBlog Twitter account. (You don’t have to sign up for the service to read what others post.)

And of course, you can expect strong coverage from The Charlotte Observer.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Charlotte 2009 mayor and city council election candidates

Tuesday's Election Day and research ahead of time should be easy for voters in Merry Oaks and many parts of central and East Charlotte.

Essentially, voters in those areas have only two races to study: mayor and city council at large.

You're choosing one of two candidates for mayor and four out of nine candidates for at–large city council.

Most people in central to East Charlotte live in city council districts 1 or 5, and your races have been decided in the primary. See the map of city council districts above to confirm that.

Same goes for most of you for school board: District 4 representative Tom Tate is unopposed. His district covers most of central and East Charlotte. If you're not sure whether you're in Tate's school board district, you can check the links below to confirm.

Consider yourself lucky, and skip to The Hard Part below.

If you live southwest of Monroe Road, you possibly are in School Board District 5, which has a competitive race between two candidates, Eric Davis and Susan Walker. Their websites are listed below, when available from the Board of Elections website.

If you live in Noda or north and east of that area
, you could be in School Board District 3, which has nine candidates running for school board. Their websites are listed below, when available from the Board of Elections website.

If you're elsewhere in the city, go to the Candidate Handbook part of the Mecklenburg Board of Elections website and click on county commission/school board districts to determine your school district on a map, or go to "View my Sample Ballot" at the Board of Elections website. (If you're in Davidson, just check out the voter guide from

Just to be clear: Your districts for city council and school board are not the same. School board covers the whole county, and the city does not.

If you choose to view your sample ballot, be aware that it will show you information about races that are NOT necessarily on this election's ballot. Just focus on mayor, school board and city council, and you'll be covered.

The hard part

A ton of information is available online. But once you've done your research, voting will likely take less than five minutes.
Your choices:

  • Go directly to the candidates' websites, when available. A list is below for candidates in central and East Charlotte, with links when listed at the Board of Elections site.
  • Go to CharMeckVotes, a site put together by Kids Voting, Generation Engage and the League of Women Voters.
  • Go to The Charlotte Observer's politics page, which has links to online issues grids to evaluate each candidate through searches.
  • Check out video virtual town halls with the mayoral candidates through links at CLTBlog.

Candidates' sites:

(Pick one)
Anthony Foxx
John Lasssiter

City Council at large

(Pick four)
Susan Burgess
Patrick Cannon
David Howard
Darrin L. Rankin
C. Travis Wheat
Tariq Scott Bokhari
Edwin B. Peacock III
Jaye Rao
Matthew Ridenhour

School board District 5
(If you live southwest of Monroe Road)
(Pick one)
Eric C. Davis
Susan Walker

School board District 3

(If you live in Noda or points north and east)
(Pick one)
Nicole E. Hudson
Joel Levy
Vivian C. Mitchell
Hans Peter Plotseneder
Aaron J. Pomis
James Ross II
Teresa Tudor
Joyce Waddell
W.L. (Pop) Woodard

Charlotte: Band your trees to fight cankerworms

(Updated Nov. 6 with added resources in the list.)
Fall commitments come fast and furious: Halloween, elections, Thanksgiving and a busy holiday season.

Somewhere in there in Charlotte, you have to squeeze in consideration of the evil cankerworms, Alsophila pometaria, which can munch through millions of fresh, green leaves in the spring, leaving sad, defoliated weakened trees.

Timing is crucial. Between the leaf drop and the first hard, continuous freezes, it’s crucial to wrap the willow oaks and other precious trees with bands to keep the female adult moth from climbing up the trees and laying eggs that will hatch into tiny green tree–killing worms in the spring.

Charlotte and surrounding areas have been Ground Zero for the worms in 2008, creating swaths of defoliated, weakened tree cover in a city known for its trees. Central neighborhoods like those in ZIP codes 28202, 28203, 28204, 28205, 28207 and 28210 have been particularly hard hit in the past.

The City of Charlotte spent more than $1 million that year spraying Bacillus thuringiensis from the air to fight the worms. You can even take a virtual ride on the plane that sprayed the city on Youtube. The Charlotte Observer updated the battle in 2009, and the story is still available.

The residual effect: Spring 2009 had fewer worms and more green, healthy trees, but we can’t count on a stressed city budget to help in 2010. Individuals need to band their trees this fall to protect trees in spring.

Plenty of information has been produced about Charlotte’s lovely worms, including a worm poem by Emily Benton and a cankerworm appreciation society on Myspace. Humor is essential, but so is tree banding.
You can get help on how to band your own trees or hire someone to do it for you.

Here are links or contact information for those who can help:

  • Help from the Plaza Midwood Neighborhood Association.
  • Information and tree banding kinds from the Dilworth Community Development Association. Small kits, enough for one large tree or two medium trees, are $40. Large kits, enough for two large trees, are $70. Proceeds will be used to plant new trees next spring and band existing trees in public areas and parks.
  • City of Charlotte cankerworm information. (This link gives instructions for how to band trees, and it can also take you to a link for neighborhood matching grants to help fight cankerworms in your area. But note: The last deadline for grant applications was Sept. 15, and the next grant deadline is March 15, so the timing is off for this year unless you’ve already applied.)
  • How–to video from city arborist Don McSween:
    (Opens for me in Media Player, and I can’t find the same video on Youtube. It’s humorous but long; skip to a third of the way through if you want to get directly to how–to instructions.)
  • Good and bad banding visual examples, from McNeary Arborists.
  • Craig’s List local ad for tree banders.
  • Check out Silverduck Tree Banding Services, recommended by Heartwood Tree Services, if you want to outsource your tree banding.
  • Merry Oaks neighbor Paul Peters is banding trees again this year. His phone number is 704-575-6100.
  • Another option: Neighbors Chuck and Scott of Commonwealth Park will be banding trees again at affordable rates. Call 980-428-3696. (Information from the Commonwealth Park Google group.)

Do it. I’ve seen the dogwoods and the damage done.