Its a feud that plays out regularly in Charlotte: A neighborhood battles a politically connected builder over a proposed development.
And there is usually one outcome: The developer gets much or all of what it wants.
But Monday night, the Charlotte City Council rejected developer Lincoln Harriss rezoning request for a drug store and office building in Dilworth. The rezoning lost by a 9-3 vote a victory that surprised one leader of the opposition.
We usually lose everything, said Cindy Schwartz of the Dilworth Community Development Association. We have never out and out won before that I or anyone can recall. We always negotiate until there is an impasse, and we take what we can get.
The rezoning focused on 2 acres at East Morehead Street and Kenilworth Avenue an area near uptown thats transitioning from a residential neighborhood to an area with more offices. Lincoln Harris wanted to build a Walgreens and an office building, which would have required the demolition of several buildings, including a Tudor-style apartment building from the 1920s.
The land can be developed with offices, but the standalone drug store needed a council-approved zoning change.
City staff supported the rezoning, and the zoning committee of the Charlotte -Mecklenburg Planning Commission unanimously endorsed the project.
What worked in Dilworth?
In the aftermath of Mondays vote, there wasnt a consensus as to how the residents won. Some praised their organization, which included a flurry of emails to council members and yard signs throughout the area. Another view is that the council member who represents the area, Patsy Kinsey, was instrumental in convincing colleagues to vote against the rezoning.
Walter Fields, a prominent land-use attorney who represented Lincoln Harris, said the neighborhoods organization was important.
I have a lot of respect for the Dilworth folks, Fields said. They pulled out all the stops. There were people signing petitions because it was the neighborly thing to do.
Dilworth, started in 1891 as the citys first street-car neighborhood, is one of the citys wealthier neighborhoods. Its residents, whose neighborhood association formed in 1971, vote in relatively large numbers in city elections. It is a proverbial squeaky wheel in Charlotte.
But both Fields and Schwartz noted that Dilworth has often lost other rezoning battles.
For instance, two years ago, some Dilworth residents opposed the size of a Charlotte Housing Authority plan to replace one-story apartments with towers off South Boulevard. The authority made some changes to its plan, but the City Council ultimately supported its vision for more dense housing.
Earlier this year, some residents were concerned about the Duke Endowment building under construction on Morehead Street, whose height was allowed to exceed existing zoning. And several years ago, Dilworth residents failed to stop a rezoning to allow a 85-foot-tall condominium at South Boulevard and Ideal Way, near Macs Speed Shop. (That project was a casualty of the recession and never built. A veterinarian is now building on the site.)
Other neighborhoods have also come up short in recent rezonings.
Developers more often win
Last year, Crosland won the right to build a fast-food restaurant at its Quail Corners shopping center in south Charlotte, even though it had signed an agreement years ago not to build one.
In September, City Council approved a $50 million apartment complex at Barclay Downs Drive and Morrison Boulevard in the SouthPark area, which was strongly opposed by a nearby swim club and neighborhood residents. After months of negotiations, the swim club withdrew its protest petition, citing concessions from the developer that included decreasing the height of the building.
Charlotte is historically a pro-business city that encourages growth. In addition, developers and land-use attorneys are among the top donors to campaigns, and many builders have long relationships with elected officials.
Lincoln Harris is one of the citys most prominent developers. Its chief executive, Johnny Harris, is a civic booster whose family owned the land that became SouthPark mall. Among his accomplishments: He helped land the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament at Quail Hollow Club.
Lincoln Harris is a longtime developer, Fields said. If this was someone who just got off the plane from Tulsa, that would be one thing. Thats why this was difficult for Patsy and some of the council members.
Fields said there was misinformation about what Lincoln Harris could or couldnt do on the site. He said many residents believed that if the rezoning was defeated, the corner would stay the same.
Property wont be left alone
Fields said Lincoln Harris has the ability to build a much larger office building on site than what it had first proposed.
To this very day, if you ask 50 people in Dilworth, they would say that because it got turned down, the property wont develop, Fields said.
On Saturday, a Lincoln Harris executive sent council members an email urging them to approve the rezoning. The email noted that an alternate plan would impact nearby residents more and could hurt their property values.
Kinsey said before the meeting that she hadnt read the email, and that it didnt impact her decision.
Council member David Howard voted for the rezoning, along with council members Andy Dulin and Warren Cooksey.
The drug store plan, Howard said, is a less-intense plan at a busy intersection.
Thats what my vote was about, said Howard, a developer with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership.
District representative key
Howard said the biggest factor in the 9-3 vote wasnt the emails from residents, but Kinseys opposition to the project. Other council members often take their voting cues from council member whose district includes the area in question.
The kiss of death is to not have support of the district, Howard said. Once Patsy had decided how she would vote on it, that took care of it.
Last year, when council members approved Croslands request to build a fast-food restaurant at Quail Corners, Dulin, who represents the area, had said he was torn on his vote. But he voted for Croslands proposal, and nine other council members voted with him.
In the Walgreens rezoning, there was a difference of opinion as to whether the proposal was consistent with recently adopted plans for the area.
City staff said the proposal was in line with the Midtown-Morehead-Cherry plan. During Mondays meeting, Kinsey said she disagreed. She couldnt be reached for comment Tuesday.
Council member Beth Pickering said she was troubled by the communication between the planning department and the neighbors.
Im concerned about what has gone on. We dont want neighbors to not trust the process, Pickering said. Staff writer Caroline McMillan contributed.
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