Monday, February 22, 2010

Remember the goal when talking about rezoning and Ballantyne low-income housing

Ballantyne residents are fighting a rezoning request that could bring low-income housing to their Charlotte neighborhood. A meeting with the developer of the property at Providence Road West and Johnston Road got quite heated on Feb. 22. A hearing on the rezoning petition goes before the Charlotte City Council on March 18.

You can read or watch plenty more about issue elsewhere with links below. While the petition likely has quite a few opponents that fall into the not-in-my-back-yard camp, I suspect other issues are relevant as well. The chart above illustrates the tax-credit method that would help finance the Charlotte low-income housing project. Suspicion is high these days when it comes to complicated financing methods, and plenty of housing around the city remains vacant, for sale or for rent.

So consider this a jumping-off point to explore the issue of affordable housing more deeply if you wish. This Ballantyne housing project is not Section 8 housing, which has been an issue for the east side of Charlotte.

Remember January 2008, when a man was killed near low-income apartments not too far from Merry Oaks. That incident spurred talks and memos about safety at the complex. Since then, the apartments have been quiet, safe and well-maintained. Police, neighbors and complex management all deserve credit.

And that's the goal: providing safe, affordable housing for those who need it, and keeping surrounding neighborhoods safe as well.

Nimbyism isn't the answer. Affordable housing has to go somewhere. But it's wise to scrutinize how we spend tax money and how we support people in low-income housing.


Video stream from Ballantyne Scoop from the Feb. 22 meeting.
Charlotte Observer story about the Feb. 22 meeting.
Rezoning petition 2010-021.
The law and the rezoning from The Charlotte Business Journal.
Developers' backgrounds from The Charlotte Business Journal (might require subscription).
Other affordable housing developments from The Charlotte Business Journal.
Wikipedia on the tax credit.
State information about the tax credit.

Nursing home operator buys Renfrow property on Central Avenue at Briar Creek Road

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The former Renfrow property at 3223 Central Avenue has changed hands again.
A city representative at the Merry Oaks Neighborhood Association meeting on Feb. 18 said a nursing home company had bought the property. The company plans to relocate its facility from Hawthorne Lane to Central Avenue, the city representative said.
Charlotte property records from Polaris show the 8.89-acre property was sold on Dec. 17, 2009, to LLC Peak Resources Realty, with a mailing address of 320 N. Salem St., Suite 301, Apex, N.C. 27502.
Price was listed as $2,756,000.
A web site for Peak Resources Inc. shows the company with an existing nursing home at 333 Hawthorne Lane.
It’s unclear when development would happen.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Should people be able to search Mecklenburg County property records by name?

Mecklenburg County is conducting a survey on whether it should remove the ability to search by name for property owners in the county. And officials are also looking for feedback from "power users" of the online property records system for future development of the county's property records search tool.

For background, check a story in the The Charlotte Business Journal.

My personal opinion on the name search: Keeping government records open and accessible to all is important. Some people apparently are concerned about safety when anyone can search property records by name. I suspect that if this search method is taken away, someone else will just step in to provide the service for a fee to those who can afford it. These days, if someone wants to find out where you live, even without an online name search capability for your property records, they can find you. And the advantages to all of being able to track absentee landlords or other property owners enhance transparency, safety and community as a whole, outweighing some individuals' concerns.

Your two cents may vary, and I encourage you to take the survey.

If you're a "power user" of the POLARIS property records online tool, consider attending a focus group at 9:30 a.m. Monday.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Charlotte celebrates Chinese New Year

There be dragons. And tigers.

Dancers and drummers celebrated Chinese New Year at Dim Sum and nearby businesses Sunday along Central Avenue on Sunday.

The event is one of at least two celebrations in Charlotte, filled with traditions like firecrackers, giant dragon puppets and gifts to the dragons and gods for luck and prosperity in the new year. This new year is the Year of the Tiger.

The event always draws a crowd to the parking lot of Dim Sum at 2920 Central Avenue, with many families introducing their youngsters to the Chinese traditions.
For background, check Wikipedia.

Go back in time on Under Oak for Chinese New Year pictures from the 2008 celebration. More photos from 2010 are in the slideshow here:

Will Charlotte rezoning decision allow CATS bus facility to expand into greenway?

City council members will meet Monday to consider several rezoning requests, including one that could allow expansion of CATS bus facilities into land once set aside for park and greenway space near uptown Charlotte.

No hearings affecting land immediately near Merry Oaks are planned for this month.

The rezoning decision for the CATS expansion could allow an office building and garage to be built on open space in Alexander Park, near Seigle Point, which is part of the corridor for the Sugar Creek Greenway. The area is near what was once the Piedmont Courts public housing complex.

The park and sports facilities at the location were planned through a partnership of Trinity Episcopal School, the Charlotte Housing Authority, Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation and the City of Charlotte. Ground was broken on the plan last fall.

Plans for the park, with recreational facilities for Trinity and the community, included six tennis courts, followed by two half-court basketball courts, a high-school regulation soccer field, picnic pavilion, playground and walking trails.

The rezoning request, Case No. 2009-039, affects 3.65 acres owned by the city at 910 N. Alexander St. next to the existing bus garage. CATS wants to build offices, a parking deck and a new maintenance facility there.

The zoning meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. in the council’s meeting chamber and includes a public hearing on other zoning cases, including these two center-city petitions:
Roger and Perina Stewart seek a site plan amendment for .68 acres at the north intersection of Belmont Avenue and Allen Street (Petition No. 2010-013);
St. Paul Baptist Church seeks a zoning change for 6.92 acres within Harrill Street, East 16th Street, Pegram Street and East 19th Street from residential to mixed-use (Petition No. 2010-009).

Charlotte Business Journal in June on the CATS rezoning.
Trinity Episcopal School on the Alexander Park groundbreaking.
Charlotte Magazine on Trinity’s connections to the Sugar Creek Greenway.
The CATS rezoning request.
City rezoning website.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Charlotte streetcar shelter design workshop planned

A streetcar shelter design workshop is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 18 in Room 267 of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center at 600 East Fourth Street.

City officials are looking for design ideas for the stops on a planned 10-mile route for streetcars. Part of that route passes near the Merry Oaks neighborhood, with one planned stop near Arnold Drive and Central Avenue.

The workshop is the same night as the neighborhood’s general meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. at Merry Oaks Elementary School.

Here are excerpts from the neighborhood newsletter about the streetcars and their impact on Merry Oaks, based on a November meeting:

The City of Charlotte’s Engineering and Property Management Department and CATS hosted a public meeting in late November to discuss the Charlotte streetcar proposed in the 2025 Corridor System plan.
The engineers expect to be at the 30 percent mark of preliminary planning by fall of 2010. The project requires looking at utilities, stops, and a maintenance facility. Engineers are trying to position the project for federal funding and determine how to minimize the impact of construction. They said a discussed north corridor does not meet federal funding requirements.
Streetcars would be larger than buses but smaller than rail cars. A packed bus carries about 60 persons, and a streetcar could carry about 100.
The entire route for all lines would be about 10 miles long and have 34 stops. The cars would hook up with transportation centers, including a new Amtrak station planned just west of the Square in uptown Charlotte, and the route would have varied destinations, such as Central Piedmont Community College, a new uptown branch of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Presbyterian Hospital, retail shops, businesses and hotels.
The portion of the routes nearest to Merry Oaks (the Central/Hawthorne Corridor) would have stops at Hawthorne Lane, the Plaza area, Veterans Park, Morningside Drive, Arnold Drive, Briar Creek Road, Eastway Crossing, Sheridan Drive, Darby Acres, Rosehaven Drive, Winterfield Place and the Eastland Transit Center.
In the summer of 2010, trolley stops will be discussed at a charette design meeting for community input.
In a separate development, the city council voted Jan. 25 to apply for a recently announced federal grant for 1.5 miles of streetcar service. There is no guarantee that the grant would be awarded. If granted, construction would begin within 18 months.

The new Amtrak station.
A pdf of the Merry Oaks newsletter: Visit Neighborhood Link, and look under “Documents and Pages.”
Map of proposed streetcar route.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Is it safe to put your community garden in the floodplain of an urban Charlotte stream?

I visited a nearby neighborhood's beautiful garden on Saturday and marveled at the luscious winter crops amid receding floodwaters from nearby Briar Creek. The Country Club Heights community garden is in the 2900 block of Dunlavin Way, and Briar Creek runs next to it, with some open land created when homes in the floodplain were bought out by Mecklenburg County's Stormwater Services.

A neighbor from Merry Oaks saw me poking around and stopped to chat about the possibilities of a similar garden for our neighborhood, and I shared information about the garden plots available at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church last season and in the coming year. But we also brainstormed about other locations and considered the open land on Harbinger Lane in the Briar Creek floodplain, also created when homes were bought out by the county.

She raised a question, though: What about the safety of possible creek floodwaters? Are they clean or yucky? Have past floods left any heavy metals in the soil?

Luckily, we have the New York Times' amazing data from its series, "Toxic Waters," published in fall 2009. The report covers the entire country, but you can dig down to specific geographic areas. And figuring out whether your garden water and soil are clean seems to be a perfect example of news that oozes and affects you at home.

Plus, with some Googling around, some government documents are also available, but the data is often in pdf documents or is difficult to interpret. I found one strong source: The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources has a good mapping tool for source water assessment reports, allowing you to zoom in to specific areas and see former landfills or other possible sources of contaminants. It's likely for primary use to see what sources could flow into the city water supply, but it can give you an idea of what's in your creek water and your floodplains.

It appears that Briar Creek in Charlotte, for now, is not on North Carolina's list of "impaired waters," though much of the creek basin has an old sewer pipe slated for replacement. Other nearby creeks, like Irwin Creek, ARE on the list of "303(d)" streams, or officially impaired, if I read one government document correctly.

So the placement of the Country Club Heights garden looks ideal, on an officially "clean" creek (for now), and downstream mostly from residential areas and open park land. To be sure, residential areas can add their own fecal material from pets and pesticides and fertilizer from lawns, but I would have no qualms eating lovely veggies from the Country Club Heights garden. The county's Stormwater Services folks are planning a meeting with Country Club Heights residents at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 24 at St. Luke United Methodist Church, 2019 Shamrock Drive, to get ideas on what to do with adjacent space.

For Merry Oaks, the decision of garden placement is trickier. Our possible plot would be downstream from the Charlotte Country Club golf course. And while golf courses have focused on becoming more conscientious in recent years, I might feel better about eating veggies from higher ground, at the St. Andrew's plots. That land is right next to Central Avenue, but water would come from the church's city water pipes.

Thoughts? Floodplain or higher ground for your neighborhood? Or do you know of more state or local data available on water quality (and flood water quality) in specific streams?

Further links
Mecklenburg County plans to update local floodplain maps. The maps are different from Federal Emergency Management floodplain maps:
WCNC video of Jan. 25 flooding along Dunlavin Way. Story erroneously calls the creek Sugar Creek. Preroll advertisement, but story shows flooding is still an issue.
Flotsam further downstream, at Briar Creek and Central Avenue,from the Jan. 25 rain.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The garden in winter in Charlotte

Yeah, yeah, I know most of the snow is melted or turned into a muddy mess.
But more snow could arrive this weekend, so here's a quick look at the beauty of the snow when it first fell.
And these photos reflect the garden in winter, something Elizabeth Lawrence wrote about poignantly in her book, "A Southern Garden."
More snapshots soon, of kids and families and dogs playing in the snow on Merryview.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Development updates along Central Avenue, from the Merry Oaks newsletter

The following development report is from Nancy Pierce, neighborhood advocate for Merry Oaks, in the winter newsletter:

The Renfrow property at 3200 block of Central Ave., across from Briar Creek Road intersection: The former Renfrow property, 8.9 acres across Briar Creek Road from Central Avenue, is being held after foreclosure by New Dominion Bank. A bank spokesman says there is an interested purchaser, but he can’t reveal who that entity is. The orange-ribbon wrapped trees are part of the land survey process. Basically, the potential buyer is ascertaining how many trees would have to be saved under the City tree save ordinance (not many). The property is zoned for apartments. Given the current economic situation, development is unlikely any time soon.

The Vyne at 3220 Central Ave.: The developer of the Vyne on Central at Briar Creek is out of business, like many other developers. Underground infrastructure is in for Phase Two (you can see the pipes) but plans for Phase Two are off.

Birchcroft Apartments at 3143 Central Ave.: Some Merry Oaks homes on Cosby back up to the Birchcroft Apartments on Central Avenue.
In October 2008, Birchcroft was sold to a real estate investment group identified by property management as “Alpha Atlantic Company” in Florida. It is being managed by LoMax properties in Greensboro (336-275-6212). Office manager on site during business hours is Kim at 704 536 3520.

Image from Google Maps, showing the intersection of Briar Creek Road and Central Avenue. Birchcroft is on the left on the north side of Central Avenue; the Renfrow property is immediately to the right of it. The Vyne development is not shown in the aerial. It is on the southwest corner of the intersection.