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Weddington affordable housing plan draws criticism

By Fred Clasen-Kelly
frkelly@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte-Mecklenburg planners have recommended rezoning 7 acres in south Charlotte for apartments, intensifying another battle over where to build affordable housing.

City Council members will listen to presentations from the nonprofit developer and angry neighbors during a meeting Monday.

Residents from Willowmere and nearby neighborhoods have vowed to contest the rezoning of property on Weddington Road, between Simfield Church Road and Portstewart Lane.

The vacant land owned by New Dominion Bank was once the site of a planned daycare center. But that proposal has been scrapped, and now the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership wants to build a three-story, 70-unit apartment complex for people making a maximum of 60 percent of area median income, or about $35,000 a year for a family of three.

Rents would range up to $965 a month for teachers, police officers, retail workers and others who might not be able to afford housing in the neighborhood, the developer says.

The plan has once again pitted some Charlotte officials’ desire to spread affordable housing across the city against residents who say it should go elsewhere.

Loud protests from neighbors have forced developers to drop plans for affordable housing in affluent areas such as Ballantyne and Berewick in recent years. Residents’ complaints and a City Council vote stopped the Housing Partnership from building 90 low-income apartments near the Ayrsley area of southwest Charlotte in 2010.

A city memo dated Dec. 13 shows that planners have recommended that the council support the rezoning along Weddington Road, contingent upon minor, technical changes to the site plan.

Critics argue that the apartments would worsen traffic congestion. But planners said the apartments would create less traffic than the daycare center that was previously approved.

“The analysis is right on,” said Julie Porter, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, the largest private, nonprofit affordable housing developer in the Charlotte area.

Porter said the site is ideal because it is near “major employment centers,” including medical offices, financial institutions and retail.

Residents said they understand the need for affordable housing but do not believe their part of town is suitable for multifamily housing.

Ben Meaney, who moved to the area six years ago, said it takes him 45 minutes to commute from his house to work uptown. Meaney said he fears new apartments would add to traffic congestion.

“It’s already dangerous,” he said. “People are making illegal turns.”

Michael Kelley, one of the protest leaders, said building apartments in the area “doesn’t make sense.”

Kelley said some places don’t have sidewalks, the area is filled with two-lane roads that can’t handle additional traffic and the apartments threaten to add to school crowding.

Estimates say the apartments could bring anywhere from 13 to 45 new students to nearby public schools.

“It doesn’t fit the vision,” for the area, Kelley said. He added: “When we moved here behind my house was a field of cows.”

The City Council will not decide the issue Monday. A final vote isn’t expected until January.

(Note: Story updated at noon Dec. 16, 2013, to correct which entity owns the vacant land.)

Clasen-Kelly: 704 358-5027
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