Thursday, December 09, 2010

Meet Sasha the husky. Can you bring her home for the holidays?

Passing along a lovely note from Cate Martin, president of the Merry Oaks Neighborhood Association and friend of furries:


Sasha, a dog that I have been fostering for North Mecklenburg Animal Rescue, will win you over quickly. She is looking for her forever home. Let me tell you about her.

Sasha is a 2-and-a-half-year-old husky that has been with me for about eight weeks.

She had a rough start in life. She had never lived in a home and was tied to a tree for her first year and a half. She was then found roaming around.

It took some time, but the rescue was able to catch her. Huskies are not easily caught and Sasha stayed true to her breed in that respect. She was then placed in the shelter.

Sasha was skin and bones when she was found. In fact, so malnourished that she didn't have her full coat. She was heart-worm positive and had a handful of other issues.

Sasha didn't do well in the shelter. She wasn't eating and therefore, not gaining weight. The heart-worm treatment was especially difficult. So much so, the vet decided not to continue with the rest of the treatments. Life was hard for Sasha, but she's a fighter.

Here's the good news. Miraculously, Sasha is now heart-worm negative. She is gaining weight (approximately 40 pounds) and her coat is almost back to normal. She is healthy, calm and quiet, very good with kids and dogs. She LOVES her walks and is great on a leash.

Best of all, despite her neglect, she is full of forgiveness and love. You see, animals can teach more about love and forgiveness than we could ever teach them.

Because of her quiet nature, Sasha would do well in a home where she is the only dog or a home that has one other dog. She loves to lounge around on soft dog beds.

Like most huskies, Sasha craves the companionship of people. Most importantly, huskies are notorious escape artists and are driven by their exploring instincts to roam. Huskies are perhaps the most commonly lost dogs. That said, Sasha needs to be inside.

Maybe you know someone who is looking to add a dog to their family? Please pass this e-mail on to your friends. The adoption process is through North Mecklenburg Animal Rescue, but I am very glad to show off Sasha to anyone interested in adopting her. Please feel free to contact me if you want more information. Just maybe, Sasha will find her forever home for the holidays.

Check out the
North Mecklenburg Animal Rescue website.

As you think about the holidays this season, please take a moment to remember animals like Sasha. If you're not ready to adopt, perhaps you could make a donation. You see, one reason I advocate for North Mecklenburg Animal Rescue is because they help all kinds of dogs, not just the adoptable ones.

I wish you all the happiest of Holidays. Thanks again for passing on this e-mail.”

Fourth annual Merry Oaks Holiday Sale and Studio Tour

The fourth annual Merry Oaks Holiday Sale and Studio Tour is this Saturday, Dec. 11, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Come shop really local and support your artist neighbors.

Here’s a list of artists and studio locations:

Beth Brown and Raed Al-Rawi
3430 Draper Ave.
Painting and drawing

Rebecca Jones and Alex Clark
3430 Draper Ave.
Encaustic and oil paintings

Adrienne Dellinger and Greg Scott
2109 Arnold Drive
Ceramics and painting

Meredith Hebden
1911 Graybark Ave.

See Greg Scott, at or 704-996-9869

Monday, December 06, 2010

It's not too late to band your trees to fight cankerworms in Charlotte

No, it's not too late to band your trees in Charlotte to fight damage from cankerworms in the spring.

The banding, and smearing of the bands with Tanglefoot or some other sticky goo, prevents the female wingless moths from climbing up the trunks to lay eggs in the tops of the trees, primarily willow oaks. The moths make their climb in early winter after leaves have dropped. That leaf drop only happened at my house in the last couple of weeks.

In the spring, eggs hatch and then defoliate and weaken the trees. First to fall victim are the willow oaks, and then anything from dogwoods to maples, if the year is particularly bad, as 2008 was for the cankerworms in Charlotte.

Need help? Several local companies are available. I used Steve Barilovits, a chemistry student at the University of North Carolina and a Plaza-Midwood resident when he's not at school. Reach him through e-mail. That's him and his mom, Jane Laurent, in the photo.

If you're another local company offering to band trees in Charlotte, feel free to leave a note in the comments.

Background on the evil cankerworms: From 2009, including a lovely closeup of the evil female wingless moths;
From 2006, showing the damage that can happen to dogwoods if the worms don't have enough willow oaks to eat.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Plaza Midwood kicks off local holiday shopping season on Black Friday

The Plaza Midwood business corridor on Central Avenue is holding its first-ever holiday event, Holiday Central, from 3:30 to 8:30 p.m. this Friday.

Highlights include carolers, elves, Santa at the Charlotte Fire Department’s Station 8 and a Christmas tree lighting at Zada Jane’s. The Plaza Midwood Merchants Association received a city of Charlotte neighborhood services grant to help with the celebration.

Merchants in the business district will stay open until 8:30 p.m. and offer refreshments and specials.

A short schedule:
3:30 to 5:30 p.m.: Santa at Fire Station 8 at 1201 The Plaza. Face painting at The Source Realty Group at 1200 The Plaza.
6 p.m.: Tree lighting ceremony with Santa doing the honors in front of Zada Jane’s at 1601 Central Ave.

Facebook page for Plaza Midwood Neighborhood Association, plus Eugene Bradly of the city of Charlotte’s Neighborhood and Business Services division.

Gingerbread neighborhood, based on Plaza Midwood, from 2006, with a little help from Don Duffy Architecture.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Learn more about Charlotte's neighborhood Quality of Life Study

Charlotte’s Quality of Life neighborhood data gives people a chance to see how their neighborhoods are doing. The City of Charlotte is offering a series of sessions about the data, with one nearby meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 16, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Story Slam at 1401 Central Avenue.

Speakers are from UNC Charlotte’s Metropolitan Studies and the City of Charlotte’s Neighborhood and Business Services Department. The study serves as a benchmark for measuring the health of the city and its neighborhoods.

The Quality of Life Study divides the city into neighborhood statistical areas and examines 20 variables from databases maintained by the city, county and Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. The study labels each area as stable, transitional or challenged depending on those numbers.

Merry Oaks, combined with the nearby Country Club Heights area, is labeled stable. Nearby Briar Creek/Woodland, Windsor Park and Eastway/Sheffield are all labeled “transitioning.”

To sign up for the Tuesday night session or later sessions, visit the City of Charlotte’s website. Another session is scheduled from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18, at Biddle Hall at Johnson C. Smith University at 100 Beatties Ford Road.

The city site also has deeper information about the Quality of Life study.

The Charlotte Observer on the release of the quality of life study.
UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute on the study.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Where to get live 2010 election results for North Carolina and Mecklenburg County

For live election results for North Carolina and Mecklenburg County, here are a few direct links to the election results from the N.C. Board of Elections, with results Tuesday night.

The election numbers include maps and precinct lists.

Here are statewide election results, including the U.S. Senate race for North Carolina with Elaine Marshall (D) and Richard Burr (R) and Michael Beitler (L), as well as the U.S. House races for the 8th District, with Larry Kissell (D), Harold Johnson (R) and Thomas Hill (L).

Here are Mecklenburg County election results, including board of county commissioners, Mecklenburg sheriff, Mecklenburg judicial races, and the Mecklenburg bonds referendum.

Here's a Mecklenburg voter turnout map.

For national election results with lovely graphics and maps, see The New York Times.

For a direct, permanent link to local, state and national news coverage in The Charlotte Observer, see The Observer's results page.

Close call between Larry Kissell and Harold Johnson for N.C. House District 8

The 8th District of North Carolina, sprawling from Charlotte center-city neighborhoods like Merry Oaks east to Fayetteville, is one of those watched to see how many House seats will switch from Democrats to Republicans nationally.

Larry Kissell, a Democrat in his first term, faces Republican Harold Johnson, a former television sports anchor, and Libertarian Thomas Hill. Kissell narrowly unseated Republican Robin Hayes in 2008 in the district that has traditionally voted Republican for this race.

FiveThirtyEight, a polling aggregation site affiliated with The New York Times, narrowly gives the race to Johnson. Early voting charts provided by The Civitas Vote Tracker, part of the Civitas Institute, a conservative organization, show details about early voting, if you'd like to read tea leaves.

We shall see, Tuesday night.

Background on the race from The Charlotte Observer's Jim Morrill, on Oct. 17.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Great pumpkin wall rises again in the Elizabeth neighborhood of Charlotte

The Great Pumpkin Wall has risen again in Elizabeth, at the corner of Clement Avenue and Eighth Street. As of today, it looks as if it needs some help from expert carvers.

You can also carve at home and bring your pumpkin to the wall.

Official lighting ceremony is at dusk on Friday, Oct. 29. Trick-or-treating at the wall is Saturday, Oct. 30.

Note: The Merry Oaks neighborhood is trick-or-treating on Sunday. Other nearby neighborhoods like Plaza Midwood are planning events for Saturday. The Plaza Midwood Fall Crawl, to raise money to band trees against cankerworms, is on Saturday.

In the photo of the young carvers:
Sophie Cleghorn (left), daughter of John Cleghorn of Caldwell Memorial Presbyterian Church, and friend Kate Hader.

For past pumpkin wall posts, go here.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Charlotte voting information

Here's a Google gadget to help you find out where and how to vote on Nov. 2.

Let me know how it works for you. Information about early voting locations is available separately from the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections, in a PDF document.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Where to get runoff election results for North Carolina and Charlotte

For Tuesday evening runoff election results in North Carolina and Charlotte, see the Mecklenburg Board of Elections site. This link takes you directly to the results page.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Runoff election is Tuesday in Charlotte: U.S. Senate, Eighth District Congressional races

Tuesday's election runoff in Charlotte gives voters the chance to be heard, loudly, because turnout is expected to be very low. Your vote will count.

Democrats and Republicans each have one race on the runoff ballot, and unaffiliated voters can vote in one of those races as well.

Your options:

For U.S. Senate:
Cal Cunningham
Elaine Marshall

For U.S. House, District 8, candidates are:
Tim D'Annunzio
Harold Johnson

Unaffiliated voters who voted Democratic in the first primary can vote in the Democratic runoff.
Unaffiliated voters who voted Republican in the first primary can vote in the Republican runoff.
Unaffiliated voters who did not vote in the first primary can choose whether to vote in the Democratic runoff or Republican runoff.

Republican voters in the nearby 12th Congressional district have a runoff choice as well:
Scott Cumbie
Greg Dority

For all results, see the Mecklenburg Board of Elections site on Tuesday night.

Polling place for Merry Oaks is Precinct 29, at Merry Oaks Elementary School. Voting hours are 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., according to board of elections documents.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Power outage in Plaza Midwood area reminds residents to plan ahead

(Edited: 10:50 a.m. Wednesday)

Power went out for thousands of residents in east and central Charlotte about 5 p.m. Tuesday and was restored for most people by 10:45 a.m. Wednesday.

The outage is a good reminder of the need to plan ahead and make sure you have supplies and backup plans for outages.

Wednesday morning, about six bucket trucks were working the lines along Briar Creek just south of Central Avenue at 7:45 a.m. For updates, check Duke Energy's outage information site. It also has useful tips.

Two points:
1. Make plans to deal with frozen food: If the power remains off, perhaps folks should make plans for a neighborhood cookout this evening or next, to avoid wasting defrosted meat. If you have extra food that has defrosted and is still good, but too much for your family or neighbors, remember Loaves and Fishes at St. Andrews Church on Central Avenue. The organization, which is also likely without power, provides food for the need on Wednesday and Thursday mornings. Donations are welcome.

2. Coordinate infrastructure upgrades? Perhaps as work proceeds in the next year or so on sewer capacity along Briar Creek, somehow work could be coordinated on upgrading and even burying the power lines along the same route. If trees and green spaces are going to be disrupted for sewer work, it makes sense to use that disruption to upgrade all infrastructure along or near the same right of way. Duke has said in the past that burying lines is too expensive in older neighborhoods; it even seems like finding a way to use federal stimulus money to help with the work would be wise. Much productive work has been redistributed to people's homes these days with the increased use of home computers and the changes to a wider freelance and contract economy; using stimulus money to strengthen that capacity seems wise. While I'm playing pie in the sky, broadband capacity could be examined and strengthened at the same time.

Just wishful thinking. Stay cool. Support your neighbors.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Don't look away: Charlotte development on Central Avenue decimates trees

When a site is too painful to see, we often turn away.

I know many people who can't bear to look at the photos coming out of Gulf Coast states.

I know many neighbors closer to home who can't bear to look at this once-treed space at 3223 Central Avenue, at the intersection of Briar Creek Road.

Sometimes, it's important to look.

Background and earlier photos of the tumbling trees on Under Oak.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Trees tumble at former Duo property on Central Avenue at Briar Creek Road

Here's a quick slideshow of some of the construction at 3223 Central Avenue, at the intersection of Briar Creek Road. The wooded property, once owned by the Renfrow family, will become a nursing home. No rezoning was required. The photos are from June 1.

It's important to take a good look as the Charlotte City Council considers a new tree ordinance. The property across the street, once heavily wooded with an old farm house, was redeveloped recently for The Vyne, which cleared land for three condo buildings. Only one building was built before construction halted.

February, 2010, news of the Duo property sale, including a Google aerial map of the property at 3223 Central Avenue.
History of the Duo and Vyne properties, including photos at maps of the topography.
A Charlotte tree study, from the Charlotte Business Journal.
Charlotte's tree loss, from The Naked City.
Pushback from developers, in response to tree ordinance discussions.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Old map of Merry Oaks and Plaza Midwood

Doing a little spring cleaning on the computer, I ran into a screenshot of this old map of Merry Oaks and nearby Plaza Midwood, from about 1950 or 1955.

The map gives some clues to topography and the effects of urban development in the years since it was made.

It also confirms some neighborhood tales. See the oval just below Cosby Street in Merry Oaks? That's a lake, now Birchcroft Apartments, named Lake Jared or Lake David, perhaps.

Smaller ponds dot areas in Plaza Midwood, uphill from Briar Creek to the left. Peppercorn Lane, paralleling a water branch that flows into Briar Creek, was not that long in recent years, and trees filled the area around the branch until infill development came to Plaza Midwood about 10 to 15 years ago.

Older maps are available too: A 1930s map showed empty spaces where Merry Oaks would grow, after World War II. I wish I could link directly to the site where I found this; but my only clue is a partial address in the original screenshot:
...the rest of the address is cut off.

But it's likely the site was linked through Mecklenburg's Polaris system, or a Mecklenburg County website. If you find it, please share.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Villa Heights Voice delivers nearby news, partnering with The Charlotte Observer

Leaders in the nearby Villa Heights community have started a neighborhood news site, “Villa Heights Voice,” as part of a partnership with The Charlotte Observer.

It’s a great place to check for nearby news you won’t get anywhere else. It’s also part of a national trend of big, traditional news organizations partnering with smaller sites to provide local information. Other sites working with The Observer include Ballantyne Scoop,, QCityMetro, and Tega Cay Talk, all through a program of J-Lab at American University.

But Villa Heights shares some interests with Merry Oaks: a focus on the Eastway division of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department, the same zoning inspector for residential concerns (unless staffing changes affect assignments), the same city council representative (Patsy Kinsey) and a focus on the availability and concentration of affordable housing.

They also write often about nearby Cordelia Park and efforts to create an EcoDistrict with their nearby neighborhoods, Belmont and Optimist Park.

The neighborhood is roughly north of Parkwood Avenue and east of North Davidson Street, over to Matheson and The Plaza. It includes the yummy Amelie’s Bakery and is close to the NoDa neighborhood.

Some other recent sites also focus on events and businesses in NoDa itself:, from the NoDa Business Organization, and a closed site for the NoDa neighborhood, which occasionally opens pages for events, like a scavenger hunt planned for May.

I’m adding Villa Heights and Noda to the “Connections” list here. Check them out.

A disclaimer and a promotional note: I was paid to give the Villa Heights organization some journalism lessons. If you or your organization want similar coaching, feel free to contact me with the form at the bottom left.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mecklenburg residents look at how government spends money and find interesting numbers

As news of closings and layoffs because of budget woes hits staffers and users of schools and libraries in Mecklenburg County, reporter April Bethea of The Charlotte Observer wrote a post asking residents to help cut money elsewhere.

This money talk on the surface is not sexy stuff, but money for everyone will continue to tighten in the next fiscal year, endangering county services and the employment of some of our neighbors into 2011 and beyond.

As of Wednesday morning, Bethea had about 45 responses, and some provided surprising details. Commenter JAT, who appears to be Jeff Taylor of the conservative Meck Deck blog, shared some shocking numbers of money paid to cab services for transportation for the Department of Social Services in the previous fiscal year. He provided a PDF link to one document, from Fiscal Year 2008-09, that showed two cab companies getting $4.5 million combined in reimbursements. The DSS spending document, a detailed 1,311 pages, is available now on Google Docs.

And yes, $4.5 million:
$2,302,372 for Crown Cab Co.
$2,249,903 for AA Prestige Taxi Service,
in Fiscal Year 2008-2009.

One line item for AA Prestige shows a bill dated Oct. 6, 2008, for Medicaid transportation services for trips from Sept. 22 to Sept. 28, seven days, at a cost of $35,376.71, or about $5,000 per day.

Many of those payments, however, were attributed to Medicaid and the N.C. Department of Transportation’s ROAP, which I think is the Rural Operating Assistance Program, funded by federal money passed through the state.

That federal Medicaid transportation money is supposed to be managed at the county level, according to one state document available on Google Docs. This document, a report by the Department of Health and Human Services, shared an examination of Medicaid management by North Carolina and suggested “areas of vulnerability,” in December 2008, during the same period of the high payments to the two cab companies.

One area of vulnerability: “Not adequately conducting oversight of the NEMT program.” NEMT is non-emergency medical transportation program.

The document says that each county in North Carolina is responsible for its own NEMT program, but oversight could be better:

“DMA (the N.C. Division of Medical Assistance) has advised that they have not consistently checked on whether the counties verify delivery of services, check for exclusions, and request disclosures regarding owners and managing employees."

Total state NEMT payments during Fiscal year 2007 were more than $33 million, which was offset against each county’s share of Medicaid reimbursement, the document says, and a review examined one month of services in 60 counties for 2002 to 2007. The review showed $38,380 in billing inconsistencies during that month and numerous procedural issues.

The report recommended consistent oversight of the NEMT program, including guidance to the counties to verify the delivery of services billed, recover overpayments identified in the state’s review and return the federal share. The document also calls for a statewide audit.

So the large numbers in the local DSS budget paid to cab companies in Mecklenburg County likely are mostly federal dollars, and are merely documented on Mecklenburg County’s social services budget. Scrutiny of them won’t save library and school jobs.

But Bethea’s smart call for ideas and the responses from readers have unearthed some interesting hints of other ways tax money could be spent more wisely. Her method also shows a way that county residents can sort through information overload to help keep an eye on government spending. Jeff Taylor of the Meck Deck deserves credit for examining the document and raising the issue.

N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue has plans for a press conference today to announce a plan to oversee Medicaid spending, according to a Twitter feed from her office. Some details of the Medicaid plan are available at WRAL.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

East Charlotte's Eastland Mall: It's not quite dead, yet

Here's a quick slideshow of Eastland Mall, with photos taken March 17, just a few days before one of the largest remaining anchors, Burlington Coat Factory, was scheduled to close. In some pockets, the mall still has life.

Monday, March 22, 2010

How did U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell vote on health care?

U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell, who represents Merry Oaks and the 8th District, voted against the health care measure on Sunday evening.

Links for more information: The Charlotte Observer
Kissell’s words, in The Fayetteville Observer
Background at UnderOak

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Opinion: Focus on the numbers as emotional budget woes hit Charlotte hard

Thursday’s county budget drama focused on libraries, with the news that about half the Charlotte library branches will close in two weeks and 140 people will be laid off. The branch closest to Merry Oaks, Plaza Midwood, has been spared, but the ripple effects of layoffs will affect us all.

Outrage from book lovers on Twitter ran strong, and library staffers immediately pointed reading fans to a donation site and a Facebook fan page. At this point, it’s unclear whether those donations will prevent branch closings.

A few people remained skeptical, though, about the emotional appeal. Those who have watched budget talks over the years in Mecklenburg County have seen proposed cuts targeted at our county’s most valued institutions. The drama seems designed to soften up the largest number of employees, friends and family to be open to the idea of raising taxes.

But in this Great Recession year, I suggest some caution. Raising taxes can endanger struggling families as much as the ripple effect of county layoffs. And buried deep in budget documents are places where cuts can be made with less impact on the community.

Digging into the budget documents, however, takes time and effort by individuals and county employees, and often the numbers are quite unclear.

The budget document for last fiscal year was a book, 613 pages long and 24.7 megs of PDF download, printed in full color with photos and promotional information as well as numbers (at a cost of what?). Very few Mecklenburg residents, or perhaps even county commissioners, can dig through that book and find the hidden corners where money could be cut without affecting county residents as much as libraries or schools. A more filtered, clear presentation of the numbers might give residents and commissioners an easier way of finding other money to cut.

Yet to come: A likely crisis and emotional appeal to save our schools from similar budget cuts. Last year’s problem caused teachers to be laid off and then asked to return two months later when federal money arrived. Many teachers chose to avoid the drama and move into other opportunities. Let’s hope this year doesn’t include a repeat.

Throughout the drama, some numbers remain clear: This recession hits lower-paid employees harder than those with higher salaries, and the ripple effect of that pattern affects everyone. That pattern has been common in private industry; it doesn’t have to be the pattern in our local government.

Links for digging deeper:

Salaries for county, city and school employees, from The Charlotte Observer.

Current budget documents from Mecklenburg County.

2009-2010 budget document, (the big one of 24.7 megs. It’ll take you two hours to skim through.)

2008-2009 budget documents, (a svelte 10 megs).

Donation page for the library.

Crossroads Charlotte job discussion report, with tips and noting the disparities of who is affected most by unemployment.

Image: Cover of the 24.7 meg, 613-page budget book for 2009-2010

Monday, March 15, 2010

U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell’s vote on health care

The battle for the health care vote for U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell, who represents Merry Oaks and the sprawling 8th District, still seems up in the air.

Television ads from the Employers for a Health Economy are airing regularly during evening newscasts asking people to call Kissell’s office and urge a vote against the health care bill, and emails from Democratic organizations continue to hit inboxes., a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, gives some context to the television ad.

For updates, you can also check BlueNC, which is publishing open letters from constituents, and you can also check stories from reporter Jim Morrill at The Charlotte Observer about the 8th District primary and election.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Make your Merry Oaks dog a star

In Merry Oaks, we love our dogs and dog neighbors.

So here’s a chance to win a year’s supply of dog food from Pedigree and Food Lion, a gift basket, a painting and unending fame for your four-legged companions.

Send a photo of your dog and $12 to Mecklenburg County’s Top Dog contest, and your pet could become the grand marshal of the parade at Bark in the Park, a dog festival on April 24 at Metrolina Expo, 7100 Statesville Road. Your dog could also become the logo for the event.

Here are details on the dog contest from Mecklenburg County.

Three top dogs will be announced on March 31, 2010, and the public will get to vote on the winner from April 1 to April 16.

Park and Rec also seeks volunteers to help with Bark in the Park. Interested? Call Lori Saylor at 704-336-5478 or email her.

Good luck. I hear some cats are lobbying for equal time.

Photo: Lulu the Wonderdog, a neighbor’s loyal, sweet partial Rottweiler, in 2007.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Charlotte neighborhoods petition to support trees

Now circulating through the center-city neighborhood email groups:
A petition supporting Charlotte’s street trees.

The petition asks city council members to put a line item of $500,000 in next year’s budget to fund street-tree maintenance and replanting.

Charlotte used to be called “The City of Trees,” and apparently some residents still want it that way.

Discussions about strengthening the city’s tree ordinance are under way, and developers talked at a recent city council public hearing about their increased costs if the rules tighten. Read Mary Newsom’s Naked City for more details. And see the tree ordinance background from Susan Stabley of the Charlotte Business Journal.

Now back to the tree email.

From Debra Glennon of the Dilworth Neighborhood Environment Committee:
“We're planning give a presentation to City Council at their March 22 meeting, and give them the signed petition and letters from neighborhood associations. Only if we get a strong show of support will we get the council's attention for this very important issue.”

Chantilly Neighborhood Association members are also circulating the request.

Suggestion, if you want to sign the petition: Include your real name and your ZIP code. Anonymous signings won’t help.

U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell faces pressure on health care vote

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 in November voted against a House bill to change health care.

As the health-care issue hits prime time this week, it’s possible Kissell will vote against it again, writes Jim Morrill of The Charlotte Observer.

Kissell faces one Democratic challenger in the May 4 primary, Nancy Shakir, who backs the House reform bill. All six Republican candidates for the seat oppose Democratic health care proposals, according to Morrill. One Libertarian candidate, Thomas Hill, has also filed for the seat.

According to a Talking Points Memo story in early January, few voters knew he opposed the earlier form of the bill, and his "no" did not hurt him in the polls at the time.

Background links, including donation information, from November 2009.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Design Help: 5 Cents (an update)

Here’s an updated photo of Booth 3651 created by Civic By Design for the Southern Spring Home and Garden Show. at the nearby Park Expo and Conference Center (formerly the Charlotte Merchandise Mart).

About 20 architects, landscape architects, interior designers, construction designers and a graphic designer plan to staff the booth during the show, which starts Wednesday (today!). The show lasts through March 9 (Tuesday).

Said Tom Low of Civic By Design in an email update: "We plan to add a short explanation with a plaque on the counter - 'Meet a Design Profession, Ask a Question, donate a Nickel,' with some other details, and center the booth in the space."

Anyone can ask a designer a question for a nickel. Proceeds will go to Friendship Trays, a local nonprofit.
Go here for more on the effort to help underemployed designers.

Photo from Civic By Design.

Free booth space for designers at Charlotte's Southern Spring Show

Designers who are unemployed or underemployed are invited to sign up for a free booth at the Southern Spring Home and Garden Show from March 3 through March 9 at the nearby Park Expo and Conference Center (formerly the Charlotte Merchandise Mart).
The idea arose from a discussion in early February at the Civic By Design Forum in Charlotte. Discussion was spurred by a story of an unemployed Seattle architect who set up a booth at a farmers’ market to promote himself. The sign on the booth read, "Architecture 5¢."
At the show, anyone can ask a designer a question for a nickel. Proceeds will go to Friendship Trays, a local nonprofit. “Design” is defined loosely, including architecture, garden design, commercial interiors, graphic design or community projects.
Designers can bring marketing materials, business cards, and working materials, which can be put on easels during a shift, but must be removed after the shift.
Interested? Email Brenda Campbell at with your time availability. Or just look for the booth when you’re at the show.
Civic By Design thanks Corrugated Container Corporation for their sponsorship of “Design Help 5¢.” The photo is a prototype of the booth at a Corrugated Container facility. The photo is provided by Civic By Design.

Architect, or Whatever, from The New York Times
When life gives lemons, architects may have answers, from The Charlotte Observer

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.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Heavy rains flood low areas in Charlotte and wash flotsam into creeks

The waves of heavy rain that hit Charlotte late Sunday night and early Monday overloaded drains and creeks and washed debris down the creek beds.

A small blue dumpster is stuck on the Central Avenue bridge over Briar Creek at the moment. A Charlotte Special Services truck was parked nearby.

Debris also clogged the edges of the pedestrian bridge over Briar Creek connecting Merry Oaks and nearby Plaza Midwood. Sand and mud on the bridge indicated that at some point late Sunday or early Monday, the creek overwashed the bridge.

A Charlotte Fire Department alert early Monday indicated that the department had responded to a call for "rescue and evacuation" at 1600 Masonic Drive about 1 a.m., and also responded to a person trapped in a flooded vehicle at 3800 Country Club Drive about 3:25 a.m.

For future similar situations, you can follow @charlotteFD on Twitter. And another good person to follow: Brad Panovich, or @wxbrad, chief meteorologist at News Channel 36, WCNC-NBC TV.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Why redecorate when you can just accessorize?

This Easter Bunny in the 3400 block of Draper Avenue in Merry Oaks put on a hat and added some sparkling accessories to get through the winter holidays.

Why completely redecorate when you can just accessorize?

For a closeup, click on the photo and check out the tasteful small white Christmas lights around the bunny's chair.

What's up with pink ribbons on trees on the former Tuscan property on Central Avenue?

Pink ribbons and a few pink dots have appeared on trees of various sizes on the former Tuscan property at 3223 Central Avenue, at the intersection with Briar Creek Road.

The 9-acre property once belonged to developer Rip Farris, who planned a 58-unit condominium complex at the site. After a foreclosure, the land is now owned by New Dominion Bank, with an address of 1111 Metropolitan Avenue, Suite 500, Charlotte, N.C. 28204, according to county property records.

Has anyone heard anything about clearing planned on the land?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Bechtler Museum of Modern Art opens in Charlotte

Clearly, the Bechtler Museum’s opening on Saturday is much more than neighborhood news.

But what makes this museum of modern art so exciting for people in central Charlotte is its accessibility. It’s hard to imagine: Works by Picasso, le Corbusier, Miro and more are only four miles away, with easy parking, in a beautiful building that presents the art in proportions that soar without overwhelming. The building also frames intriguing views of South Tryon Street.

The Bechtler has the ability to awe like the great museums of New York. At the same time, it’s easy to set aside an hour or two for a visit.

And it's relatively inexpensive. Adult tickets are $8; students, teachers and senior citizens get in for $6, youth 11 to 18 pay $4, and children 10 and under get in free.
Go visit. For hours, see the Bechtler's website.

More photos from the Bechtler’s opening day at Flickr.
Miriam Durkin on the Bechtler in The Charlotte Observer.
Phillip Larrimore on the Bechtler in Charlotte Viewpoint.

Top photo: Panorama stitched together by friend and photographer Gary O'Brien, who shares panorama techniques at The Panoramist.