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Residents protest against southeast Charlotte housing rezoning

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/12/16/21/30/EkEIZ.Em.138.jpeg|209
    Robert Lahser - rlahser@charlotteobserver.com
    Residents hold up signs in opposition to a proposed low-income housing in their area during Monday night’s Charlotte City Council meeting.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/12/16/21/31/KnkSw.Em.138.jpeg|209
    Robert Lahser - rlahser@charlotteobserver.com
    Residents hold up signs in opposition to a proposed low-income housing in their area during Monday night’s Charlotte City Council meeting.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/12/16/21/31/fJOFy.Em.138.jpeg|209
    Robert Lahser - rlahser@charlotteobserver.com
    Residents hold up signs in opposition to a proposed low-income housing in their area during Monday night’s Charlotte City Council meeting.

Hundreds of residents near a proposed affordable housing development along Weddington Road lobbied the Charlotte City Council on Monday night to reject a rezoning needed for the project to move forward.

The fight over the proposed rezoning of 7.2 acres in far southeast Charlotte marks the latest battle in the city’s long-running attempt to disperse subsidized housing to parts of the city where few such units exist. The intensity of Monday’s protest was similar to opposition in 2010 to a proposed affordable housing project off Johnston Road near Ballantyne, in which the developer withdrew his rezoning application in the face of neighborhood opposition.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership wants to build 70 apartments on the land, on the west side of Weddington Road between Simfield Church Road and Portstewart Lane. That vacant property is currently zoned for a day care, and the partnership needs council members to rezone the property to allow the multi-family apartments.

The partnership said the site is excellent for workforce housing. Though there is no public transportation nearby, partnership president Julie Porter said it’s an “ideal” site for affordable housing.

She said it’s near numerous amenities, such as a grocery store, parks and close to jobs in a fast-growing area of the city.

“We have an excellent record of financial stewardship,” Porter said. “We would not spend financial resources unless we believed it would allow (residents) to take advantage of nearby employment opportunities.”

At that moment in Porter’s statement before council members, many in the chamber laughed. The opposition believes the site isn’t appropriate for affordable housing, in part because of a lack of sidewalks and a concern that it would lead to too much traffic congestion.

The council chamber was standing-room only, with nearly 300 people inside. Outside in the lobby, roughly 100 people watched the hearing on a closed-circuit television.

Many wore red shirts and waved signs that said: “Weddington Road Say No to the Rezone.”

“This is challenging work,” Porter said. “It often results in the opposition we see tonight.”

Michael Kelley, who lives near the proposed site in the Willowmere neighborhood, was one of two people to speak against the project. He said he spoke on behalf of 10 neighborhoods and 2,100 people who signed a petition against the rezoning.

He said he supported the partnership’s mission of bringing affordable housing to the area, but questioned whether the 7.2-acre site was the best choice.

“What is the impact on surrounding community?” Kelley asked. “Does it conform with current land use policies? There is no public transportation.”

He said the area was once rural farmland, and that the local road network hasn’t been expanded to account for the new single-family homes in the area. The apartments would make traffic worse, he said.

A representative from Socrates Academy, a charter school across Weddington Road from the site, also objected to the rezoning. The school is concerned that residents of the apartment complex might use the school’s parking lot if there aren’t enough spaces at the site.

After the meeting, resident Laurie Maloney said in an interview that she opposes the rezoning.

“We’re not happy,” she said. “… An apartment complex doesn’t belong here.”

Maloney said two important issues are a lack of sidewalks and the likelihood of increased traffic. She said the fact that the apartments would be subsidized doesn’t account for her opposition.

Council members asked only a few questions, and didn’t give an indication of how they would vote.

District 1 council member Patsy Kinsey asked about how traffic would flow onto Weddington Road. District 5 member John Autry and Mayor Patrick Cannon asked about storm water runoff.

Only Kenny Smith indicated he might vote against the project, saying it didn’t appear to be well-suited for workforce housing.

At-large member David Howard recused himself from the discussion because he works for the partnership.

The council will likely vote on the rezoning next month. Because residents have filed a protest petition, it needs a super-majority of nine votes to pass.

City staff recommended council members approve the rezoning.

The rezoning goes against the area’s long-range plan, but city staff member Tammie Keplinger said the city wants “to encourage a range of housing types and densities to meet (needs).”

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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