Monday, July 27, 2009

City council candidates' forum

Charlotte East Community Partners is holding a candidates’ forum for city council candidates from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Hickory Grove Recreation Center Gymnasium, 6709 Pence Road in Charlotte.
All six District 1, District 4 and District 5 Candidates, and 14 of the 15 at-large Candidates are confirmed. This forum is the only East Charlotte forum before the primary on Sept. 15.
Council members for District 1 and District 5 represent East Charlotte. The incumbent in District 1 is Patsy Kinsey. Challenger is Owen Sutkowski. The incumbent in District 5 is Nancy Carter. Challenger is Darrell Bonapart.
The N.C. Women’s Political Caucus has endorsed the incumbents for those districts as well as at-large candidate Susan Burgess.
Details about other candidates are available through the Mecklenburg Board of Elections candidates’ list.
Moderator is N.C. Rep. Tricia Cotham, a Democrat who represents District 100.
Candidates will each make opening statements, answer questions prepared by a committee representing the sponsoring organizations and make closing statements.
Sponsors are Charlotte East Community Partners, Eastside Political Action Committee, Neighbors for a Safer Charlotte, Plaza Eastway Partners and Windsor Park Neighbors.
Questions? Contact Heather Ferguson, CECP President, with questions at
Sources: Emails from CECP and Bonapart. MBOE website.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Feeding the hungry

St. John’s Baptist Church at 300 Hawthorne Lane in Elizabeth held a farmers’ market on July 19 to raise money for the hungry.
The sale included vegetables from backyard gardens and plants. Rumor has it that some of the veggies came from Caldwell Memorial Church’s garden as well.
The sale raised a whopping $661.46, said organizer Betty Harkey. The church is considering another sale in mid-August.
A representative from the Society of St.Andrew Gleaning Network was impressed with the results and is planning to suggest the idea to other churches, according to the church’s Family News newsletter.
Want to contribute or help? Call Peggy at the church office at (704) 333-5428.
The best part for me in addition to the money raised: Amazing soup made by my daughter from the plentiful butternut squash. She combined the best of about three recipes. Here’s one.
Tip: Try it with nutmeg instead of rosemary and thyme, and don’t leave out the apple.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Charlotte's outerbelt vs. Independence Boulevard

"See there's a highway to the right of us I took it years ago.”
Distraction #74, Avett Brothers

Circuit City.
Toys R Us.
Service Merchandise.
Barnes and Noble.
Wolfe Camera.
When I moved into a neighborhood off Idlewild Road on Charlotte’s east side in 1993, I moved minutes away from big-box land along Independence Boulevard ( U.S. 74.) For the parent of a toddler, it was perfect, except in December, when every other consumer swarmed the boulevard and parking lots.

Now that part of Independence Boulevard has many empty big boxes.

Nearby neighborhoods are hanging on, waiting for a widening and realignment of Independence Boulevard, with the elimination of three traffic lights between Albemarle Road and Conference Drive. Some residents hope the widening will spur an increase in home values, which has happened for neighborhoods closer to downtown along the corridor.

And now Gov. Bev Perdue has given Charlotte a choice: Finish the final northern segment of the outerbelt or complete the Independence Boulevard project.

The next step: the Mecklenburg Union Metropolitan Planning Organization is scheduled to make a decision in August. If they don’t pick the outerbelt over Independence, construction on I-485 probably won't begin in 2015, according to an article in The Charlotte Observer by Steve Harrison. That choice followed a February 2009 promise from the governor to speed construction of I-485.

I moved away from big-box land in 1999, toward downtown Charlotte. My commute shortened dramatically. And after a few years of big-box deprivation, Target moved nearby.

So I don’t really have a dog in the fight for or against widening of Independence. But the future health of those east side neighborhoods affects me, and flaws exist in the decision-making process now:

  • The vice chairman of MUMPO, Anthony Foxx, is a Democratic candidate for Charlotte mayor. One city council member who represents the area, Nancy Carter, faces a political challenge from Darrell Bonapart, who has led the Charlotte East Community Partners. Any decisions or pronouncements from those candidates will be strongly influenced by short-term political goals.
  • MUMPO is heavily weighted toward favoring work on Independence. Of the 17-member board, 8 are from Union County. Only three represent northern Mecklenburg towns. And towns in Iredell County that would be greatly affected by an improved outerbelt have no representation on the board.
  • Plans for Independence are out of date, given our changed economy. The retail industry has moved dramatically online. Federal funding for light rail appears light years away. Housing needs have changed too.
  • The process isn’t transparent enough. Lists of the landowners affected by either decision should be online, and searchable, with the proper identities behind corporations and businesses available. While a PDF map of the Independence widening has been available online for a while, new technical capabilities of adding transparency are available now, and taxpayers have more reason than ever to check for themselves for conflicts of interest.

A representative for Charlotte East Community Partners has said the organization would rather postpone the Independence widening. Representatives of another neighborhood organization, Coventry Woods Neighborhood Association, want the Independence work to proceed before the outerbelt, and they’ve urged Carter and Foxx in email to support that idea.

Given the circumstances, any decision should wait until after the November mayor and council election, though of course broad debate during the political season is in order. And given other factors, perhaps widening Independence first isn’t such a good idea.

Ideas have surfaced about whether the Independence widening should be done at all, or whether it should be done differently, as a boulevard or parkway like in Washington, D.C., and other cities. More time might allow alternative ideas to develop.

Throughout its history, Independence Boulevard has disrupted neighborhoods. A delay might give us a chance to rethink its future.

More information at MUMPO.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Rabbits, raccoons and bears, oh my

Summer brings out all kinds of critters.
Now, in July in Merry Oaks, the visitors appear to be mainly cute and harmless, like the rabbit that hangs out in my front yard.
But earlier in the spring, the neighborhood had its share of raccoons, which often carry rabies and wreak havoc in garbage cans. And friends in the mountains have had larger visitors this summer, as bears wander beyond sanctuaries into private property.
How do you encourage the unwanted critters to go elsewhere?
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission issued some reminders in late June about bear behavior, designed to give the humans a few tips on encouraging critters to leave. North Carolina’s bear population has rebounded in the last 30 years, and the bears often wander.
The bear rules will work for raccoons in urban neighborhoods as well. The big idea: If the humans provide no food, the critters will go away. (If you’re lucky.)
What’s hard: Many city dwellers and rural friends love to encourage certain wildlife visitors, and compost piles have gained popularity. But hard choices have to be made when unwanted visitors won’t go away. Outside food attracts the unwanted critters as well as the wanted, so listen to tips from the Wildlife Resources Commission:

  • Keep bags of trash inside cans stored in a garage, basement or other secure area, and place them outside for pickup as late as possible – not the night before.
  • Use a secure latch on the garbage cans. (Bungee cords work great for keeping out raccoons; I’ve heard of using ammonia on and around trash cans to deter bears.)
  • Stop feeding wild birds during spring and summer.
  • Avoid leaving dog or cat food outdoors. If you must feed pets outdoors, bring the empty bowls inside after all the food is eaten.
  • Clean food and grease from barbecue grills. Bears (and other critters) are attracted to the smell.

With luck, the removal of food will make unwanted critters go elsewhere. If that doesn’t work: Some people recommend borrowing or owning dogs to mark the territory.

If all else fails in urban areas with raccoons, various companies offer critter control services. In rural areas with consistent bear visitors, a hunting season does exist, and the population is not endangered. Personally, I wouldn't want to face that decision.