Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Family rescues a dog from hunger and cold in Chantilly Park (and how you can help too)

This is Sampson. Or Shadowfax.

He was hungry, cold and alone in Chantilly Park near 135 Wyanoke Ave., off Seventh Street at Firefighter Place.

A family found him, made friends and took him home, then called Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Control to pick him up and try to find his owner, in case he had just wandered from home nearby.
Is he yours? You can check with animal control to find out how to get in touch and reclaim him. The family that found him, though, has fallen slightly in love and hopes to adopt him if his rightful owner doesn’t show up.

(Update: Animal control people on Tuesday contacted the family who found the dog to let them know the owner had reclaimed Sampson/Shadowfax. Word had gone out on the Yahoo message group for the Chantilly neighborhood, and perhaps that's how the owner located the missing pet.)

The family deserves praise for not only rescuing this dog from hunger and cold but also helping to make one local park feel safer for people with very small children or smaller dogs. The German shepherds that roamed the Briar Creek Greenway near Merry Oaks were intimidating for awhile, but persistent neighbors rescued those dogs after tons of work.

While you’re browsing: check out the other stray dogs, cats, rats and rabbits at animal control that need homes. Or consider donating through animal control to the pet food bank through Second Harvest, which helps feeds pets as well as humans.

Photos: Courtesy of Jim Mitchem, a local adman and dad. (Yes, his family found Sampson/Shadowfax.)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Merry Oaks art crawl appears on Crossroads Charlotte

The neighborhood art crawl for Merry Oaks generated visitors, sales and a Youtube video and story by Tanya Jameson on Crossroads Charlotte, a site that highlights people working across cultures in Charlotte.

The video is embedded above, but do yourself a favor and check out the full story on the art crawl and the rest of the Crossroads Charlotte site.
And here is background on the artists.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Merry Oaks prepares for annual art crawl

It's back!

As part of a full day of holiday celebrations in Merry Oaks, neighborhood artists are offering their wares during an art crawl from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12.

It's a great chance to shop really locally and support neighborhood talent.

Here are the artists, with links to their web pages when available:

Adrienne Dellinger and Greg Scott
Pots with Purpose
2109 Arnold Drive
Adrienne is studio manager for Charlotte's Clayworks, has studied at Penland and has fired pots and dug clay with the legendary Carolina potter Burlon Craig. Greg Scott is a potter and has also created large projects such as a mural on Central Avenue (that's a detail of the mural at the top of this post.)

Meredith Hebden
the laughing earth
1911 Graybark Avenue
Meredith won a "Critic's Pick" as Best Local Artist from Creative Loafing's 2006 Best of Charlotte awards. She's also an amazing gardener.

Alex Clark, Rebecca Jones and Kurt Gabriel
3430 Draper Avenue
Paintings (Alex), encaustics (Rebecca) and jewelry and sculpture (Kurt)

Raed Al-rawi

3540 Draper Avenue

Patty Perkins

The Princess Beads
2301 Arnold Drive

Patty created a map of where the artists will show their work.

Also Saturday, groups are getting together for caroling between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. in the neighborhood, followed by a gathering with hot chocolate and dessert at Cate Martin's home at 2301 Arnold Drive from 8:15 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Detail of Greg Scott's mural funded by an Arts and Science Council grant, on the side of Blue Bar at 2906 Central Avenue. Greg, who is primarily a potter, used the greenway bridge over Briar Creek as part of his inspiration.

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 GovTrac.us.

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 CLTBlog.com.

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 CLTBlog.com 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 Davidsonnews.net)

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.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More Elizabeth pumpkin wall images

This post is because one can never have enough pumpkin pictures in one's life.

The images are from the official lighting ceremony of the Elizabeth neighborhood's pumpkin wall at 525 Clement Ave.

More Charlotte Halloween details and activities.

Note: These photos are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works license. Details. I'd appreciate being contacted before any reuse.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Elizabeth's pumpkin wall lighting is Wednesday

The traditional pumpkin wall lighting ceremony in Charlotte’s Elizabeth neighborhood is this Wednesday, and it appears at this point that weather will cooperate.
The wall is at 525 Clement Ave.
The photo here shows how the wall was shaping up as of Saturday, Oct. 24, this year. And see more historical pictures from earlier years at the wall.
Other nearby Halloween festivities: Elizabeth’s Trunk or Treat and potluck dinner at Upper Independence Park on Oct. 31, near the rose garden near 1900 Park Drive, just off Seventh Street. The event focuses on NON-sweet treats and decorated trunks.
In Plaza Midwood, the Van Landingham Estate at 2010 The Plaza is hosting its first ever Haunted Estate Party, with spooky music, dancing, candy, cookies and punch, and heavier foods for sale, including a cash bar for the grownups.
Then, of course, the trick-or-treat action moves to the neighborhoods. Check out Tommy Tomlinson’s recent column about what Halloween feels like in Plaza Midwood, a traditional hot spot.
Remember safety tips.
And don’t forget to brush your teeth.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Setting free the trees in Merry Oaks

About 10 neighbors plus three workers with the Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation Department showed up with loppers, clippers, gloves and rain jackets in the rain Saturday at the Briar Creek Greenway to liberate some trees from invasive vines.

Invasive plants were strangling some valuable trees of various ages and species at the Briar Creek Greenway between Arnold Drive and Masonic Drive. The Park and Recreation workers provided some tools and information about which trees were most worth saving, and they dove into thick woods to rescue some of the most valuable trees near a wetland area.

Volunteers chose specific trees or clusters to liberate. The trees were identified earlier, photographed by freelance photographer Nancy Pierce and shared with the neighborhood with a flyer about the project.

Entrance to the greenway from the Merry Oaks neighborhood is near 1950 Arnold Drive.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pumpkin wall rises soon in the Elizabeth neighborhood

It’s Pumpkin Wall time.
Scaffolding for the the traditional Elizabeth pumpkin wall is up on Clement Avenue in the Elizabeth neighborhood.
Nightly pumpkin carving starts Friday, Oct. 23. Neighbors are also invited to carve their own pumpkin at home and bring it to the wall.
The wall lighting ceremony will be at dusk on Wednesday, Oct. 28.

The wall has been a tradition sinced 2004 and has often included a political message. The scaffolding and wiring are key to the success of the project, brought to the neighborhood and the city by The Woodpeckers, a neighborhood group.
Photos here are from 2006 through 2008. The messages capture a glimpse of historic concerns over time: the “Pray for Rain” pumpkin came after a drought year, and the date on the wall in 2007 refers to Inauguration Day in 2009, at a time when the next president remained unclear.
What will the wall say this year?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Charlotte candidates' forum for Eastside

A candidates' forum for mayor and city council candidates is tonight, Oct. 13, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Amity Presbyterian Church, 2831 N. Sharon Amity Rd.

An informal meet-and-greet begins at 6 p.m.

Both Anthony Foxx and John Lassiter, mayor candidates, will be at the forum, as well as the eight candidates for at large seats on city council. (On your ballot, you get to vote for four.)

In the first half of the program, at-large candidates will each respond to the same questions; in the second half, mayoral candidates will each be asked identical questions. Most questions were written by an ad hoc group of neighborhood leaders to reflect the concerns of East Charlotte neighborhoods.

Moderator Mary Newsom, award-winning land-use columnist for the The Charlotte Observer, will also have time to add her own questions.

Co-sponsor neighborhoods and organizations include the neighborhood associations of Coventry Woods, Winterfield, Windsor Park, Country Club Heights, Merry Oaks, Birnam Woods, Easthaven, Idlewild Farms, Marlwood Acres, Plaza Eastway Partners, and Vernedale Farms; the condo associations of The Oaks, Coventry Woods, Rosecroft and Candlewood; plus Charlotte East Community Partners and East Charlotte Political Action

For background on the candidates, one good source of information is CharMeckVotes.

Early voting begins Thursday at the Hal Marshall Annex, 618 North College St., in downtown Charlotte. For details, visit the Mecklenburg Board of Elections.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Plaza Midwood Chantilly Chili Cookoff on Saturday

Late notice, but at least it's notice:
The sixth annual Plaza Midwood Chantilly Chili Cookoff is from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, with hot food and hot sounds from a variety of bands. Location is 1318-D Central Avenue, otherwise known as MMR Racing (Goose's Shop), at the historic buildings in the back of the Family Dollar lot.
Host is Chris "Goose" Mcelhattan.
The event is a fundraiser for Hospice and Palliative Care in Charlotte.
The list of bands:

  • Loose Lugnuts
  • Belmont Playboys
  • Time
  • Aqualads
  • Johnson Boys
  • Nita Belk and The Swingin' Soiree

From the event's official website:
"The Plaza Midwood Chantilly Chili Cookoff started in 2003 by Chris “Goose” McElhattan to benefit Hospice Palliative of Charlotte Region.
As a long-time resident and business owner of the Plaza Midwood-Chantilly area, he frequented many of the area restaurants, where he met Clarissa Vaughan. They met and became fast friends when she worked at The Bayou Kitchen. As with many people in the PMC area you don’t just make friends — you make family.

In the spring of 2003, Clarissa got the news that no one wants to hear - breast cancer. And being such great friends, Goose decided he wanted to do something to give back — not only for those dealing with breast cancer, but all types of cancer. Thus the PMC Chili Cookoff was born in October of 2003.

... Goose and his crew have now raised over $50,000 for Hospice."

More details: Plaza Midwood-Chantilly cookoff.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Charlotte rental property rules move forward

The Community Safety Committee of the Charlotte City Council unanimously agreed Monday to move a revised rental ordinance aimed at reducing crime to the full council on Oct. 12.

Committee members hope to give the full council time to consider the plan and vote on it Nov. 9 instead of passing the issue to a newly elected council in December.

The plan focuses on registration and fees for owners whose properties fall into the worst 4 percent in terms of “disorderly activity,” which does not include domestic violence or complaints about trash.

“The only people who pay are those who hit or exceed the threshold,” said Ken Miller, deputy chief for the administrative services group of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

The owner of a single-family rental property could face a registration fee of $335 and a meeting with police if just one violent crime occurred on the property, Miller said. But, he said, “We expect we would lose a number of those during the review process.”

An owner of one of the largest class of rental properties, with 300 or more rental units, could face a registration fee of $1,300 and a meeting with police if the property fell into the worst 4 percent of properties.

Property owners would be notified of any need to register by certified mail to the name and address listed with the Mecklenburg County’s Office of the Tax Assessor. The plan includes penalties for not responding to the notice.

Appeals would be possible to a citizens’ rental review board.

Officials are continuing to make tinkers to the draft proposal before the Oct. 12 meeting.

Safety committee members are Chair Warren Turner, Vice Chair Patsy Kinsey, Andy Dulin and Edwin Peacock.

Background on the proposed rental ordinance.

Save the trees, and then feast with Merry Oaks

Merry Oaks celebrates fall with a vine-fighting, tree-saving project, followed by a potluck and general meeting on Saturday, Oct. 24.

Invasive plants are strangling some valuable trees of various ages and species at the Briar Creek Greenway between Arnold Drive and Masonic Drive. Workers from the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation department will work with neighbors and volunteers to liberate the trees and save the tree canopy for the future.
Time is from 9 a.m. to noon (or 1 p.m., it's kind of loose.)

Biking friends and Plaza Midwood neighbors: You're specifically invited. This greenway and the bridge over Briar Creek benefit Plaza Midwood as well as Merry Oaks, providing a safe, green haven for bicyclists and pedestrians. We're glad to be connected with nearby neighborhoods after years of working for the bridge and greenway. We can help keep connectivity strong and beautiful by working to save the tree canopy.

The event is the same day as the Plaza Midwood Fall Crawl, a day full of tree banding, music, costumes and beer. But the battle against the canker worms has shown that we're all reliant on each other when it comes to protecting our green tree canopy. So if you're particularly energetic, you can make a full day out of saving trees and hanging out with neighbors.

Later the same day, the annual fall potluck begins at 6 p.m. at Cate Martin's home, with a brief general meeting at 7:15 p.m. Community police representatives and possibly some local candidates will likely be there. Here are details.
Freelance photographer and neighbor Nancy Pierce has documented specific trees to save, and you can pick a specific tree or cluster of trees by checking the event's flyer.

Charlotte rental property rules update

The Community Safety Committee of the Charlotte City Council plans a special meeting at 4:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 5, in Room 280 of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Government Center to discuss a revised plan for a rental ordinance aimed at reducing crime.

The plan requires statistical analysis in order to aim only at those properties that are giving police and nearby residents headaches. It also estimates enough revenue from fees on those properties to pay for two civilian staffers at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department to administer the program.

And the plan calls for the use of existing property tax records to notify and find property owners.

It also establishes a rental property review board, with seven members, "representative of the residential rental, tenant and homeowner community."

A few quick numbers from the plan:
$143,434.83: Salary plus benefits for the two employees. That includes $5,721.95 for N.C. state retirement and $3,576.22 in 401K contributions.
$37,000.00: The cost of two Chevy Malibus
$4,000.00: The cost of two laptops and licenses (I wonder if this estimate is too low; make sure the employees access to expensive Lexis/Nexis subscriptions, and perhaps their ability to find the property owners behind corporations holding some of these properties could improve).
$229,180.00: Total estimated fees from the program, affecting 587 properties.

Ideas after a letter about the ordinance from the Eastside Political Action Committee
Holding property owners accountable

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Charlotte proposed rental ordinance update

The Eastside Political Action Committee this week sent an email about the proposed Charlotte rental ordinance with a letter from Paul Paskoff, director of the research and planning division for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

Charlotte's rental property ordinance has been cussed and discussed for months now, and meanwhile police and the neighbors of troubled properties have had to deal with major problems. Certainly something must be done; maybe deeper research can help.

The letter makes clear that issues exist with current property records in Mecklenburg County. Records with valid contact information have many uses for various departments and a healthy community. Perhaps the implosion of the housing market, foreclosures and the bundling of risky real-estate loans have made finding property owners more difficult, but the community problems remain or worsen. And if those economic factors are major contributors, then the problems are national in scope, with perhaps ideas and assistance on a national level.

Paskoff's letter listed three reasons why he thinks an annual mandatory registration process is best for people who rent out their property.

And it listed concerns with the alternate idea offered by the Greater Charlotte Apartment Association and the Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition, relying on the register of deeds office or the Mecklenburg County Property Assessment and Land Records Management Office. His research showed that those offices don't have records with contact information, and those offices don't have the resources to gather the information without imposing fees for document management.

A couple of new ideas surfaced in the letter:
Register of Deeds David Granberry suggested that police work with the Mecklenburg County Tax Assessor's Office to get access to information about property owners. And Paskoff wrapped up his letter by saying a mandatory annual registration could be useful for other city departments, such as the Economic and Neighborhood Development Department (Property Code Division), the Charlotte Fire Department and and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities.

A long–term solution is needed; but a short–term fix is crucial as well. From the minutes of the July City Council meeting, council member Susan Burgess speaking:

"I can think of no better argument for this ordinance than 1813 Tyvola Road. For a year and a half, it's been a nuisance, it's been a danger, and it's been a blight to that entire neighborhood, and the reason nothing has been done about it is that no one can find the owner. I looked at the tax records one time. The tax was paid by some entity called 'Government Bank.' I know the Police Department has been involved, Code Enforcement has worked hard, but there is no person that anybody can find to help remedy this awful, awful situation. This neighborhood has lived with giant rats, with vagrants, with just terrible things going on in this property, and this ordinance would help us solve that problem and as it's repeated all over the city. We have all heard from neighborhood leaders and others who are just neighbors of these properties who are just so frustrated – they have just had it."

What remains unclear: How to fix the problem. A new database of ONLY property owners who rent their property leaves out modernization of property owners who DON'T rent out their property.

The deeper problems should be fixed. At the same time, police need help now in being able to find absentee landlords who fail to monitor their renters and thus increase the workload on police and the danger to nearby communities.

A couple of quick thoughts:
Perhaps a forensic researcher can track specific problem property owners, while the community takes a broader, longer look at how to modernize property records for the whole city.

Police know where the hot spots are, and a targeted effort would focus resources on the problems instead of increasing fees and work for all people who rent property. "Just Google it" won't find the owners; professional, paid research is required. Law firms have long employed special librarians for such work, and those same law firms have also cut back on employment of those people. They have the skills and access to databases on the deep web and can find stuff the ordinary Googler can't.

Mayor Pat McCrory touched on this in the July council minutes:
"The technology has changed so much, and if we just find out that one bank is the only contact we have, I don't think we are doing enough research. It might take a little more searching, an extra step to find out who that bank is and contacts there and who they are paying for, but there is a lot of data out there, and this is true with a lot of companies who are dealing with the same tenants. I want to make sure we take advantage of what existing data and resources are out there before we create another one."

Would using a police researcher to find specific properties be more efficient than managing a full police database of all rental properties? As long as documented increased police calls are available for specific properties, targeted research to find those property owners seems to be legally and ethically valid. (But I'm no legal expert; let me know if otherwise.)

Certainly funding is an issue, so asking questions about the most efficient use of available funds is crucial.

Short term (in government terms), requiring valid contact information for properties when property taxes are paid seems to be a valid solution to investigate further.

Long term, to modernize all records, perhaps other options are available beyond increased fees and taxes. Is there civic grant money available to modernize records? One Charlotte organization received more than $277,000 to create a virtual community library last year. Spending money to research and write grant applications would take resources, of course, but perhaps the return on investment would be higher.

Sources: City Council minutes, in PDF, from July.
Email from the Eastside PAC.
Knight Foundation community grant program.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Charlotte primary election voting results

For official results of the Sept. 15 primary, check the Mecklenburg Board of Elections.

For District 1 City Council, which covers Merry Oaks, Patsy Kinsey had 67.02 percent of the votes with all precincts reporting.

For District 5 City Council, which covers areas just east of Merry Oaks, Nancy Carter had 60.97% percent of the votes with all precincts reporting.

For District 2 City Council, James (Smuggie) Mitchell, Jr. had 81.07 percent of the votes with all precincts reporting.

Top four at-large Democratic candidates: Patrick Cannon, Susan Burgess, David Howard and Darrin L. Rankin.

Top four at-large Republic candidates:
Edwin B. Peacock III, Matthew Ridenhour, Tariq Scott Bokhari and Jaye Rao.

Republican primary for mayor: John Lassiter.

Voter turnout was 4.33%, according to the Board of Elections website.

The turnout map from the Board of Elections appears to show turnout of more than 10 percent in two precincts near Merry Oaks: Midwood Baptist Church at 2029 Mecklenburg Avenue in Plaza Midwood (Precinct 15) and Shamrock Gardens Elementary School at Shamrock Gardens Elementary School, covering parts of Plaza Midwood and Country Club Heights (Precinct 44). At Shamrock, turnout totaled 12.56 percent.

Precinct 29, at Merry Oaks Elementary School at 3508 Draper Ave., totaled just over 5 percent in turnout.

Turnout was more than 10 percent in the southern piece of the Charlotte pie that generally mirrors the Myers Park High School attendance zone.

Precinct 16, at East Stonewall Ame Zion Church at 1729 Griers Grove Rd. in northwest Charlotte, also had more than 10 percent turnout.

Friday, September 11, 2009

East Charlotte's Taste of the World

Mark your calendars and buy tickets to a great international food experience.
Taste of the World is Oct. 8.
The event is a guided tour by bus to sample international dishes at three East Charlotte restaurants, with an opening reception starting at 5:15 p.m. at SMS Catering at 1764 Norland Rd., plus dessert and coffee at the Van Landingham Estate at 2010 The Plaza.
This year, the event is sponsored by Crossroads Charlotte and organized by Charlotte East. The restaurant list is up to 15 and represents foods from Indian to Cuba.
Cost is $30. You can buy tickets via PayPal at Charlotte East.
Crossroads correspondents are telling the stories of the restaurant owners and the cultures behind the restaurants here.
Questions? Email Taste of the World.
Restaurant listing and descriptions from Charlotte East, with a note that more restaurants may join:
Ben Thanh (Vietnamese)
Brazas Brazilian Grill
Café Central
Congas Cuban Café
Dim Sum
Fu Lin Asian Cuisine
Linares Mexican Restaurant
Middle Eastern Deli
Mama’s Caribbean Grill
Namaste (Indian)
Pollos Mario
Portofino’s Ristorante Italiano
Pizza and More

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Vote in the Charlotte primary

Primary Day for Charlotte City Council and Mayor is Tuesday.

This vote settles the races for Districts 1, 2 and 5, determining three seats on the 11–member board that governs the city of Charlotte. The districts only have Democratic candidates running, and those who win the primary face no Republican opposition in November.

Turnout in these small municipal races has generally hovered around 5 percent. You can check whether you live in those districts at the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections site. Districts 1 and 5 cover a large swath of central, north and east Charlotte; District 2 covers north and west Charlotte.

Patsy Kinsey faces Owen Sutkowski in District 1, James “Smuggie” Mitchell faces Aaron “Fatso” Sanders in District 2, and Nancy Carter faces Darrell Bonapart in District 5.

You can vote early at the Hal Marshall Center at 618 N. College Street from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday or Friday, or on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Election Day hours are from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

People registered as independents can choose whether they want a Republican or Democrat ballot. The Republican ballot includes a primary for mayor, with John Lassiter facing Martin Davis and Jack Stratton.

If you haven’t registered, you can still do so and vote with one–stop voting, through Saturday. You cannot both register and vote on Election Day, Sept. 15. Here are details.

Through Sept. 8, 333 people had voted at the Hal Marshall Center, and 83 absentee by mail ballots had been approved by the Board of Elections, according to the board’s site.

In the 2007 municipal primary, voter turnout was 5 percent, with a mayoral primary, a Republican at–large council primary and one district primary, according to the board of elections’ site. Early voters totaled 1,713, and the board certified 57 absentee ballots, according to the site.

In the 2005 municipal primary, voter turnout ranged from 4 percent to 10 percent, covering a Republican primary for mayor, a Democratic primary for at–large candidates and primaries in four districts. The 10 percent turnout was in one district with a Republican primary. Early voters totaled 2,377, with 78 absentee ballots, according to the site.

Doing your research:
You can read candidate profiles and search a database of candidates’ answers to questions at The Charlotte Observer, and here are the paper’s endorsements.
And the League of Women Voters, Kids Voting Mecklenburg and Generation Engage paired up to create CharMeckVotes to provide information about candidates in Charlotte and in towns across Mecklenburg.